Chapter 16: The Antagonist, Pills
Many things make shadows. Like humans. Many things move. Like Dom. No one was there.
I try not to think about the night of New Year's Eve in the park with Christian. It's too much to think about it anyway, so my brain doesn't go there again. That night has set off a rise of anxiety in me. I knew that would happen, I chose to risk that, but it doesn't mean I've been resting easy.
There wasn't the slightest bit of consideration in making the decision to be with Christian that I wouldn't be able to sleep in the days following. I've probably only gotten two hours of sleep. In those two hours, I've felt my brain shift gears from anxious to paranoid, going back and forth between the two without a full stop. Never once is my head quiet, no mantra seems to work. The ceiling is in my view so long I convince myself my eyes have frozen in their place.
Aiden goes in and out of our dorm room, talks to me here and there, I don't move. The sun comes up and goes down, I don't move. Its rays bleed through the glass of the unclean window that doesn't open anymore because I don't move. Plus it's becoming pointless believing fresh air will allow me to truly breathe - it never really does. How different would life be if I didn't have anxiety and I didn't care and I could actually breathe?
If I was that privileged, everything tells me Christian would be all that matters in my life right now... and getting good college grades too.
Something recreates the feeling of his hand in mine. Dislodging my eyes from the series of equations I've eye-drawn on the ceiling trying to arrange my thoughts, an ache spears through my temples as I look down at my fingers laced together, my own hand in my own hand. There's a sad loneliness in that.
Maybe it's because I'm sleep deprived, or maybe it's because I still have an ounce of understanding through the severed wires in my brain, but all I know is that my heart's clawing out of my chest for reasons unrelated to anxiety. Reasons like Christian liking me, and me liking him.
How do I accept liking someone who makes my system crash? When I'm around Christian, any corner of my brain that isn't being watered down by my attention seeking heart is only ever thinking, when he ends up not what you want him to be, what are you going to do? Laying here, I tell myself that won't happen.
Get in another hour of sleep, stop telling yourself that won't happen when it will. That won't happen.
This year's resolutions: to believe myself not the voice in my head, and to take care of myself. So when my lungs start to pain in my sleep because it feels like I'm not getting any air in, the first thing I do is visit a doctor.
Step one: Get better. Get better.
Step two: Not Christian. Christian.
"I'm going to prescribe you pills."
I stop sinking my eyes into the cream yellow wall. Instead, I drive them into the pregnancy poster - with a millisecond-lasting thought of Gemma - because I can't look Doctor Olson in his eyes. My teeth clamp together in a vast scarlet rage but I force a smile. It's more directed to the cork bulletin board nailed above Doctor Olson's desk with leaflets and posters pinned up.
"Pills don't work," I say calmly without the intention of implying I know better than a doctor with a degree. His white tooth grin is sickening, as is his low laugh and gravelly voice. He clicks away at his mouse, navigating the correct prescription to print out for me.
"Oh, I can assure you, they work."
"But the thoughts, the complete fucking spiralling... it doesn't stop." I don't feel apologetic for swearing when he's just trying to 'help' me. "It's just... turtles all the fucking way down like John Green wrote... excusing the profanity."
Doctor Olson keeps grinning. What has he got to be happy about? Prescribing pills and allowing his patients to dope themselves up because medication is the route to go for anxiety? He rests back in his swivel chair, pausing to focus on me. Links his hands behind his head like he's at a resort in the Bahamas, like this discussion of my deterioration deserves a piña colada, a face mask and a damn foot rub.
"These pills aren't for your thoughts. These block the effects of norepinephrine resulting in control over the physical symptoms of anxiety, like sweating, rapid heart rate or shaky hands." Nore-what?
He turns back to his computer, clicking away, and I shortly hear the parts in his printer hum into place. With a black ink pen, he authorizes the prescription with his signature.
"I would like to see you in six weeks time. If you feel these pills aren't working for you and your anxiety attacks are getting progressively worse, we could possibly talk about giving you benzodiazephines then."
I stare at Doctor Olson confused, waiting for him to rephrase benzo-something in a non-scientific way. He looks back at me like it's the most obvious thing in the world.
"Xanax," he says.
"Xanax," I hum.
"For short term management." He hands me the prescription. "My doctor's opinion is that your anxiety seems to be based on circumstances."
Funny, Mom said the total opposite, and I trust her over Doctor Olson nevermind her absent knowledge of dealing with the mentally gone.
"Xanax is highly addictive though, and there are side effects such as memory problems, insomnia - which is a developing issue for you - and trouble concentrating. These effects won't go hand in hand with college, so I feel it's best we avoid getting you on these."
He begins to tap the letters on his keyboard, taking a sip of his coffee midway. There are drops of liquid on his chipped bumblebee cup which looks like it hasn't seen soap for a few days of brews. The trash can a meter away from me is overflowing with tissue and bad print outs, a mountain of waste I hope is designated recycling. Everything screams unprofessional.
"I'm going to refer you to a therapist. You should receive a letter in a few weeks."
He smiles me off and I get out of that grimy room.
Classes start back up tomorrow, the workload will get more demanding and I don't think I can handle myself let alone college. I sit at my desk with the cylinder of pills in my hand but I can't bring myself to take one. Screwing the lid back on, I rub my face. The essay opened on my laptop will have to wait, as will the globe, as will the Milkyway galaxy, as will the entire universe.
I don't realize Gemma pushing the door open and entering as soon as I should do. I must have missed her knock. A spruce blue hoodie - too many sizes up she could pass it for fashion - covers her. I have a feeling she went on a shopping spree in the men's section over the Christmas break.
She closes the door softly behind her and as she approaches me, I notice her puffy eyes and the redness through her makeup. She smiles weakly. I take her into a momentary hug, putting aside my dislike for being touched by anyone.
"You're the only one who doesn't care," she says, a tinge of desperation in her voice hoping it stays that way. "My parents found out. They went to church every day for a week praying I don't mess up my life anymore. What's worse? Having a kid at my age or having a kid and letting them wash out my bank account?"
"Having a kid at your age and letting them wash out your bank account," I say.
"Okay, I get it. Now, who's going to invent the undo button already?" She flops down on my bed, holding herself together better than I am when I personally think she's got it worse. "How're you coping?"
I stare at my unfinished essay, unable to answer her truthfully so I'd rather not answer at all. My fingers glide across the keys as I type a sentence one hundred per cent incoherent into the document. Delete, repeat, anything to avoid answering Gemma.
"You want to say better but it's a lie, you can be honest with me."
"I could be honest with myself too, but half the time I'm not," I deflect.
"So let's just lie about how we're doing because it's not damaging dealing with things alone."
Her being right is bugging me but for some reason, I can still stand her, probably because she gets me.
"Draft my essay and I'll be honest with you," I offer. "I can't write smelling the hoard of bad food coming from Aiden's side of the room."
She snorts, "Therefore, window." Now that I'm facing her, she takes the time to analyse me. "You look like you haven't slept in ages."
I haven't had coffee in ages either. I'm coming down from a long-lasting streak of daily cups and I look ten times worse. Darkness has weaved its way into the skin under my eyes. I know I'm looking cored out because I haven't eaten properly in days too. If I tell Gemma this, she will tell me to get rid of the thing causing the anxiety that's causing my insomnia, to rip it from the roots because it's triggering things out of my control.
But I don't think I want to get rid of Christian. Do you really want to sacrifice your sleep as a price?
"Please tell me you've seen someone?" Gemma questions. It's then she sees the container on my desk. "Dude, you can't rely on pills for the rest of your life. What if you were born in a different time? There wouldn't even be medication like benzos."
"They're not benzos."
"Good because the minute I see you with Xanax or some other form of benzos, hemisphere belly or not, I will attack you."
Her phone pings mid-sentence but she doesn't even look at it. She's genuinely worried about me, maybe just as much as I'm worried about myself. I wish she wouldn't worry though. She comes closer to me.
"Listen, your life is not some fucking one star rated book because the protagonist, you, doesn't have any character development and gives in to the antagonist, pills. One day you'll be better because you'll be doing better because you did better, so do better now."
For some reason, it all makes sense to me. No pills. Got it? Got it.
Her phone pings again. This time she picks it up, checks the person, but puts it to the side shortly after.
"I want you to do better," she tells me.
For a third time her phone goes off, but this time she's getting a whole string of texts one after the other. From the change of color cast on her face, I can tell she's thumb printed into her phone and is reading the messages coming in at meteoric speeds. She goes from being invested in my wellbeing to being roped into whatever drama I assume has got her eyes wide open. Before I know it, she's rushing up.
"Something's happening with Christian."
My heart gets that full stop my brain needs.
"I don't know. Just 'Christian', 'drama' and 'urgent'. I mean, it's all hearsay and this doesn't sound like Christian but I have to find out." She's got the door wide open when she turns back to me. "Aren't you coming?"
I scratch my cheek. "Drama isn't my cup of coffee."
She deadpans me. "It's Christian."
"It's drama and it's socializing," I debate back sheepishly.
"Don't you want to know what's going on?"
"No." Yes. "Yes."
We see the slate gray smoke before we see the patches of amber flames on the frat house's front lawn. There are too many people here for me to not sweat over the amount. I can't hear what it's about through all the commotion, but I spot Christian almost instantly amongst the confusion.
Shock and anger have sunk deep into every part of his face as he waves out the fire on a leather book that's only been marred on its outside. Mrs Morales extinguishes what she can of what appears like personal belongings alight. Piercing shouts cut through my ears - every shout is battered by another and nothing makes sense. Gemma clutches me close and being closed in like this starts to trigger me.
I take in the frat members acting like they haven't seen fire before, thriving off the chaotic scene. Then I notice Megan and I don't think I've ever seen fury embodied like that. She's lost a screw or ten thousand, holding a lit match in her hand. She doesn't stop murdering her voice and threatening Christian until one of the frat guys physically hold her back and cover her mouth. Even then she hysterically targets the lit match directly at Christian.
That's when the cops come. That's when the street is overwhelmed by their sirens and nerve-racking yells, the crowd's volume which raises a deaf-inducing amount of notches, and people barging everyone to get the better video of Megan's arrest. Even when she's forced into handcuffs, she goes on, the perfect definition of insane.
The whole time, I don't know what has caused this to happen, what Christian did so bad Megan decided to set fire to his things. Then as she fights against the cops as they take her away, she says it.
"YOU DON'T FUCKING BREAK UP WITH ME! I FUCKING BREAK UP WITH YOU!"
I think, if that's what breaking up looks like then why do people get together with people they don't see themselves marrying? Why is this happening now when they broke up last year? It takes me two seconds to realize exactly what that means.
He's been with her this whole time.
My heart gets that second full stop my brain needs.
Christian finally notices me and I've never seen him look so horrified and troubled ever before. I pray to the universe he doesn't call out after me to try and explain himself. The cogwheels would start turning in everyone's head, dots will be connected, and it wouldn't be hard to tell he has - had - something going on with me too and that's why this is happening.
I need to get away from here.
As I leave I see Dom. There he is lingering in the background watching everything unfold with a look on his face I can't decipher.