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  1. I wake up to shattered glass and vomit on the floor of the motel room. Shallow cuts on my hand, specks of blood on the sheets. I don't know how I got here, how I paid for this room. There was a man! I remember. He must've taken care of it. I don't know where he went, can't even recall what he looked like. Must've scared him away.

    And that's fine with me.

    I try to recollect the details of last night. I see a broken handle of whiskey that explains the glass, the cuts, the pounding headache. I know Nico abandoned me on the side of the road. Where am I anyway? Just why did I break that bottle?

    I feel hazy, confused, but lucid enough to know I need to escape before the damage is discovered. I put on my shoes, step carefully over the mess on the carpet. The smell is horrendous. I brush white dust off the bedside table, flush the empty bag. I hear a knock, maybe next door. Panicked, I grab my purse and dash from the room leaving the door open. I run outside, bounding down the sidewalk as if I know where I'm going. I check the time—late for lab. No wait, it's Saturday. Or Sunday? I don't know. Where am I going?

    I stop. Do I call Nico? Will he come save me? I'm scared, alone, and full of twitching nerves. He answers the phone. "Yes?" He sounds terse.

    "Where am I?"

    "How should I know?"

    "You left me. Why did you leave me?"

    "You cannot be serious. Don't you remember anything?"

    I realize I'm crying. "I'm scared, Nico. Please come get me. I don't know where I'm going, don't know what happened."

    He sighs, is silent for several moments. "Did you wander off far?"

    I look around. I can't recognize anything. I see no street signs, but don't want to move any further. The sun is burning my eyes, my skin. "I don't know. I don't know. Come, please."

    "Don't you see anything?" he says, so frustrated.

    "A bar. And I'm near a hotel…motel, whatever." He sighs again, air crackling loudly into the receiver. He tells me he'll find me. An hour later he does. I see the gigantic cracks in his windshield, and realize that is probably what I did that resulted in my abandonment. "Oh god, Nico. I'm so sorry." My eyes are welling up again, and I sniff back tears and mucus. "I don't know what I was thinking."

    "I don't think anyone in the world knows what you're thinking." He glances at me for a second, then puts his eyes back on the road. "You look awful."

    "I am awful. An awful, awful thing. I don't know what's wrong with me, I feel so…" I can't think of a word, a phrase, to describe just what's going on in my head. There is a darkness creeping into my mind again, negative thoughts swirling. They won't stop. "Is it the cocaine? I'm done with it."

    "Good. And maybe, I don't know. Coke's never made me bug out like that, but you've been going pretty hard with it."

    I rest my head against the passenger door, staring at the mess I've made of his car. I suddenly know—I feel like that window. Like something has broken inside of me, tearing through my psyche. It has to be the cocaine. I can't—don't want to—recognize it as something else. "That bag. You should sell it, pay for the window."

    Nico laughs, pulling into his parking spot. "I think we should dump it. You can figure out another way to pay for the damage."

    "He's going to come for me," I say, as the magnitude of my crime finally dawns on me. T could kill me. Would he kill me? "I have to leave, or he'll find me. Hurt me, maybe you."

    "What are you talking about?" I shake my head—can't tell him, he'll be liable. I've put everyone I know in danger. What the fuck was I thinking? Where has my head been?

    I need a drink.

    Nico gets me a beer, allows me to stay the night. I don't sleep, instead spend the time packing everything into my car again. I can't put him in danger. I already have. Oh, the awful things I've done—my brain throws the memories at me like daggers. Where did this all come from? I feel I've lost control, the sudden plummet from the top of the atmosphere resulting in a spectacular crash in my head. I hear one thought clearly above the rest of the mess in there—you're going to die.
    [HR][/HR]
    I'm going to die. I'm certain of this. And not in the way everyone knows, the way we all eventually meet our demise. My time is soon; I can feel the seconds of my life tick away with each heartbeat. You're going to die. I fell asleep in my car this morning, a few blocks away from Nico's. I check the time, the date. I'm late for lab, for real this time. I speed there, park illegally, run inside desperate to maintain my rock star status in their eyes. "You missed lab meeting," my professor says. "What's up?"

    "I overslept," I say, the only thing I can think of. "I'm so sorry." I'm sure I look terrible, the same clothes I've had on since Saturday wrinkled, smelly. My hair is frizzy, out of control.

    "You do look tired. Grab some coffee, we'll talk about the project." I follow her into her office, take out a pen and paper while she spits rapid-fire instructions at me. I was able to follow her, just a few days ago, but now I can't keep up. I scribble random words that I catch, nod along like everything is fine. "Does that make sense?"

    "Of course," I lie. "I can handle it."

    I go to my desk and want nothing more than to curl under it and hide, go to sleep. I just need to calm down, and everything will be fine. The grad student supervising me tells me he needs my help sacrificing. That's what we call it—sacrificing. We end the animal's life and scoop out its brain, all in the name of science. I feel queasy, but I help him. This was all fine a week ago. Watch the white rat heads plop into the sink, collect them and snip out the brain from the skull. The snapping bone, the blood running rose pink with the water from the faucet, the twitching body of the lab rat on the miniature guillotine—it's all too much. We trap the rats in an anesthesia chamber, the isoflurane gas making them spin and press against the walls until they plop, breathing slowly. I lift them from the bowl and he chop, chop, chops away at head after head. You're going to die, you filthy rat.

    I'm rattled, completely. I visit my freak mice, press my hand against a cage while they sniff at the plastic. "I'm so sorry," I say, and I know they understand. I get the crazy idea to set them free—resist it. "It's for the greater good!" They squeak, fighting each other in the cages. I wonder if they're feeling the rage I feel sometimes, the crushing misery. It's sinking in, I can feel it. You want to die.
    [HR][/HR]
    I wake up in my car again. I think it's the day I'm supposed to move into my new apartment, but my sense of time is all screwed up. I've been living in my car for a few days now. Agitated—it's the best word to describe the thoughts and energy running through me. I feel the stardust inside of me, feel my connection to the universe. It's a spiky, nervous feeling. I'm channeling too much of the cosmos, and I cannot handle all of the power. I need to harness it, to pull myself through whatever it is I'm experiencing right now. It's 2 AM, the clock tells me, and I'm laughing through tears. And I'm scared. I think everyone knows about the cocaine, am afraid to look anyone in the eye. They'll know who I am and they will tell T how to find me, and I will be dead. I want to be dead—you want to die—but not at his hand. I have to control this to the end. I close my eyes and see blood and rat fur stuck to the blade of the guillotine. I hear the crack of bone and it feels like my own neck cracking, my own brain being plucked out and examined. What would they find?

    I pull out my phone, dial the last number that called me. It's Jeremy. I sob loudly as soon as he answers. "He didn't get to you!"

    "Hey," he says softly. "Where are you?"

    "You know I can't tell you that."

    "Yeah, maybe you shouldn't," he agrees, laughing a little. "He's looking for you, you know. You're not still here are you?"

    "I'm far away. From everyone I know, everyone I've hurt. I'm sorry, Jeremy."

    He lets the name slide. "Sorry for what? I'm fine. I'm worried about you."

    "My parents," I cry. "Are they gonna be okay?"

    "Don't think he knows where to find them. You fucked up big," he laughs.

    "Like I don't know that." I sniff loudly. "I know god," I say.

    "You what?"

    "I've found this thing you call 'God'. It's the stardust inside. The driving forces of physics propelling our lives forward. I feel it. It's scary."

    "Calm down. Nothing to be afraid of, I'll—"

    "Except my finish. But I'm not afraid of that either, really. I'm scared of an afterlife. I couldn't bear to go through this again." He starts to interrupt, but I continue. "One life was hard enough, but to suffer infinitely would be so incredibly unfair I'd kill myself a million times if I could. I will, if I need to."

    "Cara, wait—"

    "For what? Death? We're acquainted. Close friends, now. It's coming." People walk past my car. I stop talking. Jeremy is silent. When they're far enough, I continue. "I'm sorry for leaving. For everything I've done. I used you."

    "Used me?"

    "I've used everyone. Everything. The world was mine and I took it, crushed it, snorted it up. Everything is used up, and so am I." You're going to die. You want to die, filthy thing. "Oh my god, I can't do this. I have to go." I hang up before he can object, and start the car. The radio blares static, and it sounds like the familiar noise in my head. I switch the radio station, hear the singer communicating specifically to me, and just drive.

    I look at everyone I drive past and feel a strange connection to them. I'm either afraid of or in complete understanding with every stranger I make millisecond glimpses at in high speed. Some are against me, and I have to rush by them. One honks at me as I cut in front of him and speed away.

    Been driving in circles for hours. Still not tired. 6 AM. I pull into my illegal lab parking space, swipe my keycard like it's a magic wand and run into the building. The lights are still on at my desk. I must stay on top of my work, no matter how I feel. I pull my samples from the freezer and try to remember the next steps while they thaw.

    Looking around, there are sharp objects all around me. They antagonize me—you want to die, you deserve this. I've always been afraid of sharp things, cannot believe the scalpels and razors I've handled during my time here. I don't dare close my eyes, knowing the rodent blood and gore waiting for me behind my lids.

    Leaving the samples to perish, I exit the lab for the nearest bathroom. I am a monster, the mirror tells me so. I hear the thought repetitively. I see the mice cut open and pinned to a Styrofoam board, blood pumping out as formaldehyde pumps in. It's for the greater good, are we giving a depressed mouse what it wants? A release from the pain? I imagine myself trapped on the board, waiting for my insides to be cut out and preserved. They will play with my brain when I am done.
    [HR][/HR]
    Who knows how long I've been staying in my car now? The last time I went to lab? Everyone is calling. I can't talk to anybody, don't even speak to the cashier when I pay for my liquor. It's afternoon, I know that much. I'm feeling quite nervous, sitting in the backseat, so I take a swig of vodka. Then another. I laugh to myself, warmth spreading through my chest. Another. I stop counting, then, and just drink. Poison the thoughts away, smothering them with a chemical blanket. I'm walking, I notice. Did I lock my door? Does that matter? A car horn honks. I'm in the middle of the street, apparently. I bow to the driver in thanks, keep moving.

    I was going to finally return to lab, I remember. "Excuse me, where am I?" The woman ignores me. "Where is this? How do I get to—" He brushes past. "Will anyone listen? I'm very late. I need to be somewhere, and I don't know where I am." I step into the street again, stumble. Two teenage boys stop, help me to my feet. I smell like a cloud of ethanol. "Please help me," I say. "Where am I?" One points to a street sign. I clap my hands, hop down the sidewalk.

    "Excuse me, ma'am." He touches my arm. "You feeling okay?" I don't know if this cop knows what happened. If he's a good or bad guy, if he'll turn me into the law or to T. But I can't stop myself from speaking.

    "It's the stardust," I explain. "It's keeping me up at night, and now I'm a mess. There is neon blood flowing through my veins—" He mumbles into his walkie. "No, you're not understanding."

    "Tell me again," he says, guiding me to his car. Alarms ring in my head, but he says he's listening so maybe he'll understand.

    "There's this star stuff inside. Of me, of you. Mine is burning bright. I'm being haunted. And hunted." The carnage pops into my mind again. The rat's head rolls into the sink. The ketamine killed him. Dead gray eyes. I'm in the cop's car, and his partner is asking my name.

    "It doesn't really matter," I'm saying, but he has my bag. He finds my identification, and I'm prepared for my execution. "Are you going to give me to him?"

    "We're going to call your family," partner cop says. "Get you somewhere safe, okay?"

    "Nowhere is safe," I tell him. I'm trapped, fooled into this car cage by kind eyes. "Please let me go." They don't. I'm ready to die, and scared out of my mind at the same time.

    We're in front of a hospital. Both policemen escort me into the ER, one guiding me with his hand on my shoulder. "We've got a potential 5150 here," I hear the other say to a nurse.

    "What's the story?" she asks, smiling at me. I open my mouth, but the cop touching me interrupts.

    "Found her a few blocks from here. She's drunk, for sure, but I think something else is going on."

    "I'm not drunk," I laugh. "You haven't seen me drunk. You see, I had just a little bit. To calm down. Everything is a mess right now." The tears are flowing again.

    "She was mumbling something about stardust inside of her. Seemed paranoid, distressed."

    I look at the nurse's ID badge and realize I know where I am. "This is my hospital! I work here!" They keep talking about me like I'm not there. "I go to school here, I work in a lab in this medical center. It's where I was trying to go. I have to get back to my lab, to the mice." Ignore.

    "We'll take care of her," the nurse says. "Cara? Is that how you say it? Would you like to come with me?"

    "No, I have to go," I wail. She nods. The cops strong-arm me down the halls, to the psych ward, into a room. They wait with me for years. No escape. "Please," I'm crying. "Just let me go. I'll get it together."

    A doctor in a spotless white coat enters. She's grinning at me, and it looks mean. I cry even harder. "What'd you bring me today?" An awful, awful thing. That's what they brought you. I want to die.

    The cops explain the story again, as the doctor walks over to me. "I'm Dr. Garland." She gently touches my knee. "What's going on? Why the tears?"

    "I'm not supposed to be here. I've made a huge mess of this." I stop crying. Try to look normal. My smile is wide. "Please. This is a misunderstanding. I was trying to tell them about how we're made of stars, and some burn brighter and harder than others but the collapse…" I lose my train of thought when I realize what her face is communicating to me: you're crazy, it's saying. "I'm fine, I really am."

    "Here's the deal," she replies. "Why don't you stay here with us for a little while, instead of going with them and being booked for public intoxication? Just sleep it off with us."

    I feel defeated. They're never letting me out of here. I let the nurse draw blood and listen to the doctor tell me they're going to run a few labs, make sure everything is okay. I watch the blood fill the glass tube and begin to weep again, reminded again of pain and death and tiny mouse brains. "It's going to be okay," the nurse tells me.

    "Nothing will be. Ever again. I can feel it happening, deeper than before." But she's already walked out of the room. I curl up on the uncomfortable bed and spend hours, maybe, staring at the wall. Just sleep it off, and they'll let me go. But I can't fall asleep. My mind won't allow it, and it's out of my control now.
    [HR][/HR]
    I stay up through the whole night. Different nurses come to check on me. They ask if I want something to put me to sleep, and I refuse. In the morning, Dr. Garland comes back, with a scared seeming, younger looking doctor next to her. "Good morning!" She's entirely too happy, and I want to slap it out of her. "This is Dr. Marshall, my resident. He's going to sit in on this interview, is that alright?"

    "I don't have anything to say. I try to tell people things all the time and they never listen. How do you think I ended up here?"

    "Right, of course. I'm going to listen though, okay? You mentioned stars yesterday. Are they significant to you?"

    "Significant to us all," I reply. "I'm so full of their energy right now. It's overwhelming, really. I can't stand it."

    "You feel sort of restless? A little agitated?" I laugh, but the tears have already started again.

    "Agitated. That's exactly the word I'd use. Everything is spinning, not like I'm drunk…just like, I can't keep up. I've cracked a bit."

    "Cracked?"

    I wave my hands in the air, hop off the bed. "Everything was fine! Then suddenly I couldn't do anything anymore. All I want to do is…" I can't tell her that. Then they'll lock me away for sure.

    "What is it you want to do, Cara?" I sit back down and shake my head. "Are you thinking about hurting yourself?"

    I figure they must train you in telepathy when you're learning to be a shrink. Or maybe the aura of death surrounds me and she can sense it, see it on my face, read it in my eyes. "It's all I can think about."

    "Walk me through yesterday. What was going on?" I tell her about the nerves and the vodka, about how I was just trying to find my way back to lab. Then it all comes spilling out. I disjointedly tell her about Jeremy, about Nico, about the cocaine and T, about the death and despair I sense when I close my eyes, about how wonderfully graduate school started out, about how I just want to be back home, dancing with Anna and feeling on top of the world again.

    "It was a beautiful summer," I sigh.

    "I can imagine," Dr. Garland says, nodding. Her resident seems fascinated, if still a bit frightened. They're both taking notes.

    "You can just crack open my skull," I say. "And find the answers there because I have none. I couldn't tell you what went wrong. Everything was fine until it wasn't."

    "How's your sleeping been? I've been told you were up all night."

    "I sleep when I can. I was going without it for a good bit."

    "Ever get the feeling your thoughts are racing? Just too fast to keep up with?" I nod. "Is it worse when you're feeling really good?" I nod again. My education tells me where she's going with this, and I don't like it. She asks about prior depression, and I tell her about the meds and the hypomania. The resident nods sagely. They think they've figured me out.

    "You're clearly not feeling too well right now," she says. "Why don't we see if we can help you out with that?"

    "You mean medication."

    "That's right. Let's just give it a try, shall we?"

    I grab my head with both hands, pull at my hair. "There's no way out of this, is there?" They say nothing. "Do you promise to help me?" I ask after a few minutes. She promises, and exits the room. A nurse comes back with a cup of pills. I swallow them without water, curl back up into a ball on the bed. I'm feeling woozy, after a bit, and know I'm being chemically restrained. I welcome it.
    [HR][/HR]
    "Good morning, sunshine," the nurse greets me. Is that sarcasm? I'm too tired to care. "How are you feeling today?"

    My tongue is heavy, the message I'm trying to communicate struggles against its weight. "Drugged," is all I can get out.

    She checks my chart. "You're on a pretty high dose anti-psychotic. Just to help put you to sleep until the episode passes." Episode, like a TV show—after thirty-minutes the storyline ends. If only my brain would move on so quickly. "Dr. Garland may lower it, if it's just too much for you."

    "I feel all fuzzy," I say. "Like, I can't think of…words. The words I wanna say. How long have I been asleep?"

    "About a day and a half. Your body had a lot of catching up to do, I imagine."

    "When can I get out of here?" I examine the room, the pale green walls, an empty bed beside me. I cannot believe I am in a mental hospital, right now. The nurse calmly explains I've been placed on an additional involuntary hold, a "5250" she says.

    "That means your treatment team has decided you need a little more time with us. Until—"

    "I'm not a 'danger to myself or others'?" I know the protocol all too well, too learned for my own good. "I'm not going to hurt myself." It comes out of my mouth at the same time the thought returns—you want to die. I close my eyes, expecting the usual death and blood. But everything seems a bit clearer in my head, if only due to the muddling of my brain by the medication.

    "We just want you to feel better," she says. "I'll let Dr. Garland know you're awake. She'll be able to explain a little more."

    The doctor visits after a while, her coat still blindingly white. "Why do psychiatrists even wear the coats?" I wonder out loud. She laughs, sitting down.

    "It's just so we feel important," Dr. Garland jokes. "But you have no idea, the kind of stuff that gets flung at us around here." She shudders a bit, imagining shit tossing psychotics I guess. "Nurse Johnson explained you'll be here just a tad longer, yes?"

    "Yes. Why?"

    She tells me I'm in the middle of a pretty bad mixed episode. "You're experiencing both manic and depressive symptoms right now. The racing thoughts, the suicidal ideation, feeling—"

    "I know what a mixed episode is. I own the DSM." An eyebrow raises at that. "I used to want to be a shrink, you know."

    "What changed your mind?"

    I shrug. "Figured I was too crazy, after the depression."

    "When did it first start?"

    Another shrug. "Maybe back in high school, even. Didn't get bad until college, around sophomore year. That's when I started the pills."

    "And why'd you stop?"

    "I felt fine! I just didn't feel like one of those people who needed to be on it for life, you know?" She nods. I look to the ceiling, trying not to cry again. "I know the first try made me 'hypomanic'," I say, finger quotes and all. "But the second one was fine. It cured me, so I stopped."

    "It's the nature of the bipolar beast, to tell you you're fine."

    "Bipolar," I repeat. "I just don't think it's that serious."

    "Depression on its own is serious, Cara."

    "I know," I sigh. "But bipolar? That's crazy. Like bag lady crazy." Dr. Garland shakes her head. She explains it's a disorder that comes in many colors and flavors, a chronic condition that can be managed.

    "Like diabetes," she says. I laugh. They always compare it to diabetes. "From what you've told me you've been pretty manic all summer. You're cycling now, the pure depression was probably next."

    "So okay. Mixed episode, whatever. Why do I have to stay here?" She tells me they just need a little more time to make sure the episode passes while I'm still under their care, to figure out the best treatment options for me.

    "We've got you on lithium and an antipsychotic right now, in order to treat the breakthrough episode. That may change as your symptoms recede…or progress."

    "You're just trying to make me sleep until it goes away." Dr. Garland starts to speak again. "And that's fine! I'm just calling you out." She smiles, shaking her head.

    "You're a special girl," she says. "We're going to take care of you."

    And, like that, I believe her.
    [HR][/HR]
    I spend two weeks, total, in the wards. I meet a man named Odysseus, according to him, who claims his mission in life was prophesized by the Gods. We become friends, chatting casually before and after the group therapy sessions, holding cups of decaf while he explains he was chosen to rid the world of evil through his manifesto, which he had been trying to disseminate through radio and television, in pamphlets to strangers on the street. "That's how they found me," he says. "The evil forces brought me here, trying to fight off my good. The fucking cops, man—"

    "They're not on your side," I nod.

    "Exactly! I see you understand." I don't, but I nod again, always nod when he's talking to me.

    I call my parents. They tell me they're flying out to drag me back home once I'm released, and it takes everything in me not to tell them a drug dealer is after my head. But then I speak to Jeremy, who tells me he's paid part of my debt and T isn't even trying to kill me. "So chill," he says. "But you owe me 580 dollars," he laughs, "At least."

    I talk to Anna, and she can't help but sound vindicated. "I knew something was wrong." I roll my eyes. Like she can see me, she says, "But I'm glad you're okay. We were so worried."

    The drugs make me feel a little blunted, my mind not as sharp as I thought it was the past couple of months. Dr. Garland removes the lithium from my treatment, adds a different mood stabilizer. The dark, depressing thoughts lift. I notice how quiet it is in my head, no longer sensing the impending doom and bloody, gory thoughts. It's the strangest thing, hearing nothing but linear thoughts in my own mind. Finally I can concentrate on one thing at a time, no longer totally distracted by everything around me, having to pluck out one coherent thought to communicate.

    I see pain and grandiosity like I've never even pondered amongst the halls. Individuals suffering from a multitude of disabling mental illnesses. Some of them, Dr. Garland says, are treatment resistant. Banished to a life in and out of mental hospitals. I'm lucky, she says, they caught it early. My prognosis is good, as long as I listen to the professionals. She warns me not to believe the part of my mind that says everything is okay and not to trust the doctors. "This is treatable. You can go back to your life, in time." I notice she doesn't say normal, never normal. What is normal, anyway? I thought I knew, maybe I just wanted to feel like mania was normal. Who wouldn't want to feel at the peak of their existence, like they were totally in control of their life and the world?

    I sit in the backseat while my parents drive me all the way back, pressed into a small corner by all of my belongings. My school granted me a year's medical leave, when I'm supposed to get my shit together I guess. The thought still lurks in my head, that the 'professionals' are wrong and just don't understand the world like I do, but the medication calms me down enough to think somewhat rationally about my beliefs and actions. They don't help the guilt I feel over my summer trip in madness, but Dr. Garland says that will come in time. I'm trying to believe her. Watch the miles pass on the highway, exit by exit.

    I don't know what I'll return home to, what tricks my mind may play on me in the future. It's disturbing, knowing a bodily organ such as the brain can turn against you at any moment like someone suffering from kidney disease. I still feel sedated, worn out by the medication. But I know the synapses are rebuilding, firing correctly, and find comfort in that. My star burned bright and collapsed just as powerfully, but the stellar remnants inside me have yet to finish their evolution.
  2. July:

    We’re in his cousin’s driveway again. I’m sweating hard, the car getting too hot for me to handle—I crack open the door a little. “What are you doing?” Jeremy hisses, shutting it again. Not sure why he’s so worried. We’ve been caught before.

    I never was even the slightest bit inclined to do something like this, but now there’s something about outdoor sex that excites me. His friends are in the car behind us, knowing fully well what’s going on behind the foggy windows.

    I clasp my bra back on, pull my underwear up. I’m feeling almost faint from the afterglow. He’s humming along to a song on the hip-hop playlist I made just for him, eyes closed. I’m silent for the first time in a while—he’s commented on my endless stream of chatter before—playing with the giant cross on the end of the chain he’s wearing. He glances down at my hand, smiling. “I still don’t get why you don’t believe in god.” He shakes his head. I don’t let it ruin my moment, running my fingers along one of his tattoos.

    “Tell me,” I say. “Tell me why I should.” He shakes his head again, then shrugs. He begins to explain, but I’m not really listening. I’m certain that nothing he could say would sway me. I continue to examine his fifteen tattoos. I wonder when and why he got so many. He wants two more, he’s told me. “Love” and “Hate”, on opposite sides of his torso.

    “You can’t explain faith,” he’s saying when I tune in again. “It’s just…I know there is a lord, and he’s taking care of me.” Jeremy looks at me like, “Well?” I nod again, and he looks exasperated. “How can you explain miracles? Real miracles! Like life.”

    “I can explain life,” I laugh.

    “Bullshit. Where’d the world come from, then?”

    “Well, the beginning of life and the beginning of the universe are two different things,” I reply, sitting up. “But they’re intertwined in a beautiful way.”

    “What are you talking about?”

    “Stars!” I say with a little too much enthusiasm. “It’s all from stardust. There’s that Carl Sagan quote...‘The nitrogen in our DNA, calcium in our teeth, iron in our blood’?”

    “The fuck are you saying?”

    “He’s a famous scientist. He was saying all the parts that make up the world, and the parts that made life…they all came from collapsing insides of stars. Isn’t that fucking beautiful? To come from the stars?”

    “I don’t get it,” Jeremy shrugs. He points upward, ostensibly to the heavens. “He’s up there. God is truth.” I just grin at him, yet again unbothered by the chasm that is the differences between us.

    Later, inside of his cousin’s house in their makeshift studio, I’m watching him record a track, witnessing the switch between Jeremy—which is what he’s called in my head—and Young LG, which I’ll never call him to his face. It feels too ridiculous. I’m happy to learn, however, that he’s actually pretty good at what he does. His rhyming, his word play, the flow—it’s clear that this is his own form of genius.

    4 A.M. sneaks up on me. But I’m not tired, haven’t been in a while. Sometimes I can feel the energy building up in me, making me twitch and fidget, pace back and forth. Restlessness zaps through my brain, my body. But I’m young, and it’s summer, the perfect time to feel so alive. Jeremy wraps me in a hug so tight and long I wonder if he’ll ever let go. When he does, I’m presented with his beautiful smile, dimples denting his cheeks slightly. “See you tomorrow,” he says, sort of sadly. Tomorrow—our last day working together.

    I informed my managers of my plans to leave sort of late, but it had to be that way. Not that I give one shit about pissing them off. An opportunity to leave for San Francisco arose when a professor contacted me about starting a research rotation before the semester begins, pay and all. I’ve been miserable, fast food and failure scented too long for my tastes, and found it impossible to turn down. I cannot wait to be immersed in the world of research and academia. Where I belong.
    Jeremy despised high school, and cannot wrap his head around going back to more in college, let alone volunteering your youth away in graduate school. I’ve tried to explain to him why it appeals to me. Unfortunately, the magic of scientific discovery is lost on him.
    [HR][/HR]
    The ideas are bubbling in my mind, and I eagerly scrawl them down in my black, tattered journal. I want to study genes associated with schizophrenia. I want to discover a new anti-depressant, to flip the switch in the brain that turns sadness into euthymia. I am capable of anything. I imagine the mice and rats I will work with—can see myself plating cells and culturing neurons. The thoughts I have almost overwhelm me. I can feel them bumping together in my head, shouting over each other. I scribble them all.

    Upon finding out I’ll be moving away early, I decide to contact an old friend of mine who moved to Oakland back in high school. I met Nicolai junior year, and haven’t seen him since graduation when he bit my earlobe. My earrings apparently reminded him of green M&Ms—the sexy ones, he’d said. He’s readily offered me a spot on his couch until I can afford to get my own place.

    I’ve been saving more money lately, hanging out with Jeremy. Budgeting for weed is not necessary around him and his friends, who smoke me out for free because they like seeing pretty girls get high. Jeremy just loves introducing me to everyone he knows. “Guess how old she is?” he always asks, because apparently I really do look sixteen. The guys all flirt with me slyly, but he doesn’t seem to mind. Almost seems proud of it.

    Nearly all of his friends rap—they have a group, in fact—and a good number of them deal. I flash smiles and girlish pouts to get free dime bags and blunts. They seem fascinated by me, a blabbering genius mess, while Jeremy just looks on. He’s smiling, but behind it I know he’s warning them to back off.

    “It’s fucking hot in here,” his friend Dame says. He and three of the others have popped some Molly, and I’m jealous. Jeremy says he doesn’t fuck with anything but the green, but I find myself craving a different high suddenly.

    “Do you have any more?” I ask, hoping for a yes and betting I look cute enough to get a dose for free.

    “You’re not ready for this,” Dame laughs. “And I’m out anyway.”

    “Let’s get more!” I clap my hands like an excited child.

    “Don’t listen to her,” Jeremy says.

    “Yes, listen to me. We’ll get more. I’ve got money. How much is it?”

    Dame smiles slowly, not nearly as dazzling as Jeremy can. “You want me to hook you up?”

    I make a noise of disgust, impatient. “That’s what I said, nigga.” Everyone laughs, loudly, at that. I don’t know whether to revel in it, or feel like they’re all laughing at me. I just laugh along. “Help me out.”

    “I’ll make a call.”
    [HR][/HR]
    He doesn’t find me any Molly. But he does introduce me to a man named T. Only T. “Teeee,” I say, giggling. He raises an eyebrow at me, and both Jeremy and Dame give me a look that says, “Shut the fuck up.” They both seem afraid of him. I’m afraid of no one. “I’m Cara. Nice to meet you,” I continue with a grin, extending my hand. T snorts a little laugh, grabbing my hand. He kisses it and keeps holding on, guiding me inside his apartment. Jeremy’s nostrils flare a bit, but he says nothing.

    “What are you looking for?” T asks.

    “Whatcha got?” I ask, bouncing a little in my chair. His living room is impeccable, and I’m impressed. His furniture and giant TV let me know he’s good at his job as an independent pharmaceutical sales representative, my own personal spin on the term ‘drug dealer’. T smiles almost evilly at me, but I’m still not afraid. I just smile back, sweetly. “A girl can only smoke so much weed,” I say.

    “I’m out of E,” he informs me. “But I’ve got some pretty good shit you may be into.”

    “Break it out!” I’m almost yelling. Jeremy looks really uneasy. Dame is grinning his fucking face off.

    T leaves the room, comes back with a baggie of white shit. “That could be anything,” I say. “Heroin. PCP. The fuck is it?” It doesn’t matter, though. I’m prepared to snort anything.

    “Plain old white girl,” he says, dumping some onto his glass coffee table. So cliché. Cocaine was always on my no-no list, but tonight I’m feeling invincible. He chops up a little baby line for me. “You in?”

    “How much is it?”

    “This is on the house,” T replies, giving me the same lecherous grin. He presents me with a rolled up twenty-dollar bill, and I can only think about all of the hands that may have ever touched it. The infection I’m setting my sinuses up for. “You ready?”

    “You’re damned right, I am,” I laugh, taking it from him. I inhale deeply, then release. I’m ready. I stick it up my nose, hands shaking already, and loudly sniff the fine white powder from the table. It’s as if I’m snorting snow—it numbs the way an application of ice would. “Good god,” I say, throwing my head back. It drips down my throat, anesthetizing the whole way down. T and Dame laugh, Jeremy shakes his head.

    “Want another?” I nod, and he fashions a bigger line for me this time. “Be careful, girl.”

    “Careful,” I repeat, smiling. “You don’t know me, T.” The next line shoots straight to my brain, where it’s supposed to go. “Holy shit,” I say, not more than a minute later. “Brain zaps.” I shake my head back and forth, feeling my thoughts speed up even further. Feeling my sense of well being ramp up to one hundred thousand billion. I start babbling then, telling them about how cocaine blocks the dopamine transporter’s function, which causes a build up at the synapses. “Dopamine’s my favorite neurotransmitter. I wear it around my neck,” I say, playing with my necklace. “It’s supposed to be the feel good chemical, but it does so much more. Basic human instinct relies on dopamine. Food. Sex.” I rub my nose. “Movement! So important for movement. You know, in Parkinson’s disorder—”

    “She always does this,” Dame says, seeming to apologize to T. He waves him off, looking at me as I continue to ramble on.

    “And schizophrenia,” I continue. “Most anti-psychotics block the D2 dopamine receptor. So it has a role in that disorder, definitely. Myself, I find the addiction aspect of it interesting. Your whole dopaminergic system hijacked by a silly chemical.” I laugh heartily. “Not gonna happen to me though. I’m stronger than this shit.” I reach for the credit card myself, and cut up another line. T laughs at my boldness.

    “We need to go soon,” Jeremy says to me. I’d nearly forgotten he was here.

    “One more,” I whine. He looks to T, who nods, and just shrugs.

    “Do whatever you want.” He almost looks disappointed in me. I really couldn’t care less. If I thought I was on top of the world before, I’m standing on the fucking moon now.

    One more line, up the nose. My whole face is numb, my jaw clenched tightly during the few seconds I’m not opening my mouth to speak. The words are coming out at breakneck speed, and I can tell by their faces they can’t keep up, but I’m unable to stop, to slow down.

    Before we leave, T slips me a tiny bag. More coke. I beam at him. “You’ll come back to see me?”

    “Without a doubt,” I reply, before Jeremy takes my hand and leads me away from sin.
    [HR][/HR]
    My mother and I are arguing again. I’m angry, but my main concern is that I’m sniffing too much. Voice too nasally. I’m afraid she knows. She’s worried about me, asking where I was all night. She’s totally blowing my high, right now.

    We progress to the silent anger act of this play that I’ve seen too many times. I’m breathing deeply, having just unleashed a torrent of screams. My heart is beating so quickly I can hear it, and it’s probably not just the cocaine. I wish for the millionth time I lived anywhere but home. Letting out another growl of frustration, I reach for the closest thing I can throw—a couch pillow, lucky for her.

    Her eyes are wide. She seems scared, defeated. She steps toward me slowly, looking at me the way a person eyes a vicious dog in his path. “Your behavior lately…it’s just frightening, really.”

    “Oh, do tell!” I shout. She voices her concerns like she’s made a list: the drinking, the anger and irritability, the minute-to-minute mood swings, my agitated, hurried nature.

    “And you’re gone every night, and I have no idea where you are. You look like you haven’t slept in days.”

    “I’m twenty fucking two. I don’t need as much sleep as your decrepit, old—”

    “Don’t talk to me that way,” she snaps. “Listen. Stop pacing and listen. I’ve been reading and—”

    “Have you?” I laugh. “Whatcha been reading, genius?”

    “The way those anti-depressants first made you act,” she continues over me. “I remember it so well. You weren’t yourself, and you’re acting the same way now. Worse, really.”

    “This is myself,” I say. “Haven’t you considered this is just me? I’m feeling fine. I’m feeling finer than fine, completely amazing, thank you.”

    “I’m just worried it’s something else. These articles...”

    “These articles, these articles,” I mimic. “Tell me more, doctor.”

    “It’s called hypermania, Cara, and I think—”

    “It’s called hypomania, you idiot, and I think you’re full of shit.” I cross my arms like a petulant kid. “You have no idea, no idea, what you’re talking about.” I guess I said it rather heatedly, because she takes a step back. I bare my teeth in the meanest grin I can muster. I’m winning. I always win.

    “We should really see another doctor about this,” she says quietly. “Depression may not be the only problem.”

    “Stop trying to pathologize my happiness,” I cry. “I’ve read the DSM, twice. I know that hypomania induced by anti-depressants—”

    “You’re talking too fast,” she interrupts. “I really—”

    I scream louder. “Hypomania induced by anti-depressants does not count toward the diagnosis of another ‘problem’.”

    My dad finally steps out of their bedroom. “The hell is going on out here?”

    “I’m just happy!” I exclaim. I’m smiling big, unable to control it. Suddenly, I am very happy, a light switched on in my head bringing me out of the darkness of my anger. “I really am. Why won’t anyone just let me be great?”
    My mother is completely baffled, I can tell. She can’t understand. Nobody ever does.
    [HR][/HR]
    “I’ve been thinking,” Jeremy says. “Maybe I could go back to school.”

    “Oh?” I’m listening, but distracted by everything in the studio. So many buttons I’d like to press. His mix-tape playing in the background. Bottles clinking. The smell of marijuana in the air, his friends’ stoned laughter.

    “Yeah. I could study audio production, or something. Make this shit more professional, you know?”

    “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I say. I pull my final bit of my cocaine out of my bag, and Jeremy rolls his eyes. Ignoring him, I take the last bump. “I’ve been thinking, as well.”

    “‘Bout what?”

    “You’re brilliant, you know?” I say, right as he’s asking. “You’re a genius. I know genius.” He laughs, shaking his head. “I’m serious! You could do anything. Go back to school. It’s a great idea. You’re so smart.” I had a point, but I can’t find it anymore. The thoughts in my head blur together, the radio in my mind changing stations second to second. The coke finally helps me pick out the right one again. “But yes! I’ve been thinking. I could be your manager.”

    Jeremy snorts. “My what?” He slaps my hand away when I tap my fingers against the soundboard. I can’t stop fidgeting.

    “I could do it! Listen. You’re amazing. I mean that. I could get you on the radio.”

    “How you gonna do that?” I wave my hands, shaking my head.

    “Irrelevant. I can do it. Can’t be too hard.” I wish I had more cocaine. Jeremy’s cousin passes him a blunt, and before he can hand it back, I pluck it from his fingers and take a big puff.

    “You’re cut off,” he laughs, handing it back to his cousin. “You trippin.”

    “I’m gonna make you famous,” I insist. “Listen. I’m moving away, across the country. I can make you big from coast to coast, dude.”

    “Dude,” he laughs. He just keeps shaking his head. It’s making me mad, really.

    “Hey,” I snap. “I can do it. We can do it. And you could come to California with me, and—”

    “Stop. Stop it. You sound crazy.”

    I groan. “Crazy, crazy, crazy,” I rant. “That’s all I hear. Nobody understands. You people don’t know shit.” He looks confused. “I’m perfectly normal.”

    “I didn’t say—”

    “It’s like nobody is on my level right now. I’m up here,” I say, raising both of my arms to the sky. “In the clouds. Dancing in the troposphere. Nobody can reach me. Nobody can hear me, clearly, because nobody is ever listening to a goddamned thing I have to say.”

    “You make no sense right now.”

    “You are so beneath me, Jeremy,” I hiss at him.

    “That’s not my fucking name.”

    “Well, Young LG is a stupid name,” I shout. “And you’d know that if you knew anything, you moron.” I expect anger, but his face is still set on befuddlement. Bemusement, really.

    “Whatever. You trippin,” he says again. “You need some air or something.”

    “Listen to me! Can you hear me down there?” I yell. Everyone is looking at us, and I couldn’t give a shit. They don’t understand. “You don’t deserve my help. Good luck with your rap career, you shithead.” I stand up and grab my purse. He grabs my arm to stop me.

    “Where you going? You’re fucked up.” He’s holding onto my hand, and looking at me with so much concern I want to chew his face off and spit it back at him.

    “This world is fucked up. You’re all fucked. I’m out of here.” Jeremy lets go of me, and shrugs.

    “Do what you want. I’m done.”

    “I was finished first!” I yell. I win again.

    I leave the house and head to my car—drive in circles, nowhere to go. It’s only ten-o-clock, and I refuse to go home. I park the car and look at my phone, thumbing through the contacts. I finally come across the perfect number to call.

    T lets me into his apartment, smiling as creepily as before. “Back for more, huh?”

    “I have no money,” I say. “But you’ll help me out anyway?”

    “I’ve got you, girl.” He relaxes on his couch, arm slung across the back of it. He pats the seat next to him, and I plop down on the cold leather. My skirt is so short, my legs immediately freeze. “What do you need?”

    “Cocaine, please!” I say so cheerily it makes him laugh. “But I’ll take whatever you got.”

    “Try this.” He reaches for a bottle of pills on the table, hands me one. “Wait about fifteen, then we’ll do some lines. Trust me.”

    So I do. Exactly eighteen minutes later—I time it—I’m feeling flushed. A little nauseated. But good. Giggly. “I’m ready,” I say. He hands me the rolled up bill, and I snort the fattest line laid out. It takes a minute, but suddenly I understand. “What was that?”

    “Oxy,” he replies. “Mixed with the coke?” He kisses his fingers.

    “It’s fabulous,” I tell him. I feel the head rush of the cocaine, and the cloudy euphoria of the Oxy all at once. I’m so warm, the cold feeling of the couch long forgotten. “I feel like I’m flying.” I’ve transcended another plane of the atmosphere. My phone vibrates next to me—Jeremy. Ignore.

    T puts his hand on my leg. I stare it, seeing him rub up and down my thigh but unable to feel a thing. “Can I have another line?”

    “Anything you want,” he grins. I brush his hand away and lean forward to numb myself even further. I know what he wants in exchange, and know I’m uninterested. But I hear the pearly white lines calling to me, telling me it’s okay, and I let him put his hand back on my leg after sniffing a second.

    “Like your skirt,” he says, grazing further and further up. Then I hear ringing, and T groans, removing his hand. “I need to get this. Be right back.” He looks at me, his eyes saying, “Don’t move.” I pull at my skirt, but it doesn’t get any longer.

    When he leaves the room, I rub a little powder against my gums, like in the movies. I’m not ready for this. For the first time in a while, I’m uncertain of my actions and a little scared. He’s taking so long. I do another line. I reach for the large bag of coke he’s got just sitting on the table, opening it to lay out another—pause. It occurs to me that I could just leave. Forever. I look again at the massive amount of illicit drug in my hands. I could take it. And go. Forever. I’m capable of anything but doing what he wants me to do, right now.

    I look around like there are security cameras. For all I know there are. Don’t really care, though. Just have to get out of here. I close the bag and put it in my purse, not thinking twice. I hear him yelling in the other room, and twitch nervously. I have to leave. Have to go. I stand slowly, feeling dizzy, and step carefully toward the door.

    “You listen to me,” I hear him say threateningly. “If you don’t have it by tomorrow,” he’s saying as I close the door quietly. Escape, is all I can think. Get out now. It may be the coke, but I’m paranoid as hell. I leave with my lights turned off, just in case he’s looking out the window for my car. And I drive. Drive and drive.
    It’s 2 A.M. and I can finally go home. But I cannot stay there. I have to get out. I spend the rest of the night packing as much as I can into my small car. It’s at least half of my stuff. Forget the rest, I think. My mind spins, still feeling a little dazed. The Oxy, I think, has got me tired for the first time in weeks. More cocaine. I laugh when I brandish the bag from my purse. “Why, look!” I say out loud. “More cocaine!” I take a few bumps from my finger. I’m ready to go.
    And so I do. I drive for a day and twelve hours—over 2,500 miles—non-stop, to Oakland. My phone rings constantly—my parents, Anna, Jeremy. I answer for no one.
    [HR][/HR]
    When I reach Nicolai’s place, I’m wide-awake, no substance abuse necessary. The thrill of escape, of being in a new place, fueling me. He’s rightly shocked to see me. “Wow. I thought you wouldn’t be here for a week or so?”

    “Change of plans!” I chirp. “Hope that’s no inconvenience.” But I don’t really care.

    “Not at all,” he replies. “Just a surprise. A pleasant one,” he assures me. “You look good.”

    I know I’ve got dark circles under my eyes, a messy bun on top of my head. But I feel pretty all the same. “You too, Nico.” He doesn’t seem to mind the nickname, even though in high school he insisted it was a girl’s name. His eyes are bigger and bluer than I remembered, his light brown hair much longer. I’m fascinated by his eyelashes, curlier and lengthier than mine even after mascara.

    “You’ve gotta be tired,” he says. “Take my bed.”

    “I’m fine!” I’m feeling a coke crash coming on, though. “You got any weed?”

    Nico smiles. “Who do you think you’re talking to?” He rolls a beautiful joint, well practiced. “I can’t believe you smoke now. Remember when—”

    “You tried to buy me weed for my birthday?” I laugh. “Or maybe that time we were working on a group project outside of the classroom and you wanted to go to your car to get high?”

    “That’s the one,” he says with a grin. “You nipped that in the bud pretty quick.”

    The weed brings me down gently. I forget all about why I ran away, about the clusterfuck I’ve probably left behind me. “I missed you, man. Thanks for saving me.”

    He shrugs, not knowing how very much I mean it. “Anytime.” We finish the joint, and I’m actually sleepy. “Go. Go to bed,” he insists, and I don’t fight. I stand to give him a hug, and when he lets go he blurts, “I have a girlfriend.”

    “Okay?”

    “I just wanted you to know,” he mumbles. I give him a little smile. It’s like he’s daring me. I don’t back down from dares anymore.

    The next day he introduces me to this girlfriend. Her name is Amber, and she’s beautiful. She’s also entirely too comfortable having a strange girl living with her boyfriend. She offers to cook dinner. “I heard you were going to grad school out here?” she asks, stirring something that smells amazing. “That’s so cool! What are you studying?”

    “Neuroscience,” I reply, staring at Nico. He’s looking back at me, nervously. “I want to cure depression, I think.”

    “Wow!” Amber turns the burner off and leaves the kitchen to sit down next to me on the couch. “That’s really cool. So you’re, like, really smart?”

    “Like, kind of,” I say meanly. She didn’t deserve it. She’s oblivious though, and keeps talking about how she wishes she could do something like that, telling me she and Nico met while they studied history together at the small college they went to. “Neuroscience…no way I could do that. I’m so impressed.”

    “She’s sweet,” I say when dinner’s done and she’s left.

    “Yeah,” Nico replies. He drums his fingers on his guitar. He’s still trying to find his calling in life. A musician, maybe. A painter the next moment. A barista by trade. “We’ve been together a little while now.”

    “The love of your life?” I tease. Nico laughs, putting his guitar down and walking over to his kitchen.

    “Something like that.” He goes through his refrigerator. “Here we go!” he says, presenting a bottle of champagne—I’m sorry, “sparkling wine”. I wonder briefly why he didn’t pull it out while Amber was here.

    “Pop the cork!” I squeal. “Wait right here.” I go to his bedroom to get my purse, and come back with my giant bag of coke. He’s completely stunned. The cork shoots across the room.

    “Whoa,” he says, and I’m not sure if he’s talking about the loud pop or my stunning reveal.

    “Would you like some?” I say, offering it like candy. “There’s plenty.” I laugh.

    “I can see that.” He brings over two glasses, not champagne flutes, of the wine. “I’ll have a bit, sure. Haven’t done coke in a while. Where the hell did you get so much?”

    I giggle as I pour some out onto a hardback book in my lap. His table is so dirty. “A friend. Of a friend…of a friend.” He gets close to me so he can lean down and snort. I notice he smells like a girl—Amber, probably.

    “You’ve changed,” he says, pinching his nostrils open and shut. “And oh my god, this is the best shit I’ve ever had.”

    “You feeling it?” I ask. “The dopamine? That rush? Pure euphoria?”

    “I’m feeling a little hyper,” he says. “Pretty damn good.”

    “A little?” I jump up, the book falling from my lap, cocaine dusting the floor and the couch. “This stuff is magical. I’ve been running on it for days now.”

    Nico shakes his head at me. “That’s how you end up addicted. You should get rid of it, maybe.”

    “Will do!” I sit on the floor and pour more onto the cover of the book. Snort. “See! All gone.” I laugh crazily, but he just laughs along. He gets it, I think. He may understand.

    We do a little more before he insists we’ve had enough. “I’m not making a trip to the ER tonight.” He plays his guitar for me, and I dance around his messy living room, tripping over things on the cluttered floor. His pupils are gigantic, his smile even bigger, as he watches me move. He stops strumming suddenly. “We should go to bed.”

    “I’m not even close to tired.”

    “I know,” he replies, standing up. He takes my hand, leading me to his room. I get it. This is the double dare.
    [HR][/HR]
    Nico sleeps it off all the next morning. I don’t even fall asleep. I happily buzz about, cleaning his kitchen, his living room. I scrub an insane amount of gunk from his stovetop and counters, wash every dish twice. I throw away an almost endless amount of empty cigarette packs, singing to myself. When he wakes up I’m in the middle of rearranging his bookshelf by author and title. “Well hello there,” he laughs. “What are you doing?”

    “Fixing your library.” I jump up from the pile of novels and textbooks, flinging myself toward him. “Sleep well?” I ask, kissing his cheek.

    “Not at all. Have you been up this whole time?” I nod. “Did you do more?”

    “No!” And it’s the truth. The bag sits on the now pristine table, untouched since last night. I can tell he doesn’t believe me, like nobody could have the amount of energy I have right now without chemical help. He doesn’t know the half of it. “Are you hungry? I’m not hungry. But I could cook! Do you cook? Let’s make breakfast. Do you like pancakes? I prefer waffles, but pancakes—”

    “Stop,” he says. “Slow down. Have a seat.” I join him on the couch, where he sits with his head in his hands. “Fucking hangover.”

    “Hydrate. See, the alcohol dehydrogenase has caused a build up of acetaldehyde, which—”

    “Speak English for a second,” Nico laughs. “I don’t believe you didn’t have any more blow. You’re so speedy right now.”

    “I’m a speedy girl.” I get him a glass of water, and come back and try to roll a joint. I’ve always been bad at it. He fixes my damage and sparks it, exhaling and looking a little relieved from his hungover state. “Do you often cheat on your girlfriend?” I ask casually. He sort of glares at me, and then shakes his head. “So I’m special?”

    “You’re special all right,” he replies, laughing. He lights a cigarette. “I don’t know…I always wanted you, you know. Back in high school. You were an innocent little know-it-all. I wanted to corrupt you, maybe.”

    “The world beat you to it, huh?”

    “I guess so.” He smashes his cigarette in the ashtray and leaves it there, but the ember refuses to go out. I watch it burn. “It’s not that I don’t love Amber…” He sighs. “I just think, maybe, I have the capacity to love more than one person at a time.”

    I snort, and he hits my arm lightly. I tap him back, and it turns into a flirtatious fight. He’s pinned me to the couch, rubs his hand under my shirt. It’s too easy, really.
    [HR][/HR]
    I finally return my parents’ and Anna’s phone calls, and they are irate. I don’t see their point really, and just happily tell them I’m safe and excited to start my research. I hang up the phone and get ready to go, getting instructions on public transit from Nico. When I reach my lab, I almost feel tingly. I’m home.

    My project involves working with genetically modified mice, prone to “depression-like” behavior. You never call the mice depressed. “We can’t ask a mouse how it feels,” my professor says. But I can understand the mice, I think. I run the behavioral tests—forcing them to swim, hanging them by their tails. I can see the despair in their little eyes. I know how they feel, I really do. I’m so glad to be free of it. I suck neurotransmitters out of their brains with a probe, compare the normal mice to my little freaks. I work long hours, sometimes all night, and get an incredible amount of work done in just over a week.

    “You’re kind of a rock star,” the older student I’m working with tells me. And I know. But it’s nice to hear it.

    When I leave lab I return to Nico’s, living together in fake domestic bliss. Amber doesn’t come over anymore, he only goes out to see her. But when he comes back, he’s all mine. We sleep together every night, the actual sleeping part often optional with the amount of cocaine we’re running through.

    “We really gotta get rid of this,” Nico says. He’s had a little too much and he’s freaking out, standing up to look out of his window every three seconds. “What if the cops come? What if—”

    “Why would they? Are you a fugitive?” He’s moving around more than I am, an accomplishment. “Relax!”

    He finally sits down for good, watching in amazement as I do another line, then another. “You’re out of control.”

    “I’m so in control right now it’s not even funny. I’m running things. Do you realize the greatness I’m capable of?”

    “I realize how arrogant you are,” he laughs. He looks toward the window again. I ignore his comment.

    “This is gonna be great. Grad school, I mean. I’m on the top of my game right now, and I can’t be stopped. Do you realize this? Do you?” I start laughing madly.

    “We should sell it,” Nico says suddenly. “I know some people.”

    “No way! I earned this shit. It is my bounty.” I twirl around, thinking about how I almost can’t remember the last time I felt badly. Thinking about how it all could have been avoided, if I’d only known. All the vodka shots I could have taken, all the drugs I could’ve swallowed, smoked and snorted back in high school. I could’ve controlled my mind instead of the other way around. I could’ve been out of bed in college, out of my dorm room cave of misery. “Smoke a little bit,” I tell Nico. “It’ll bring you down. Then we’ll go out.”

    “Go out?” he says, like it’s the most ridiculous thing he’s ever heard. He starts packing a bowl, heeding my advice. “I’m done. No way.”

    “Come on. I’m moving to my place soon. We need to cherish our last few days together.” I hit the bowl then get up to look for something to put a little bit of the coke in, to take out with me. “Yes, we must leave. Finish that up,” I tell him, watching as he exhales a haze of smoke. “This is going to be fun.”
    [HR][/HR]
    I don’t know where the time goes. It’s escaped me, literally, my brain unable to recall how I got into the car with Nico, exactly where we were before we were driving. I don’t know how much I’ve had to drink, but I can guess it’s a fair amount because I’m screaming. Just screaming, no words, kicking my feet against his dashboard.

    “We’re going to wreck,” he snaps. “Fucking quit it.”

    I can’t stop. “You’re not listening to me!” I yell, words finally coming to me.

    “You’re not saying anything! Stop kicking.” I move my feet harder. One slips, crashing into his windshield. Crack. I cackle. He slams on the breaks. “Are you insane? You’re fucking insane! What is wrong with you?” I can’t stop laughing. Until the screaming starts again, me shaking my head over and over trying to slow down all the words tumbling together in my mind—my own thoughts, running marathon speed. I just want it to slow down.

    “It won’t stop,” I say, gasping. “It won’t stop!” I have to scream again. Nico covers his ears and growls.

    “Freaking stop it already! Look what you’ve done. You’re paying for this shit.”

    I open the door and stumble out of the car. I can barely stand up straight. The noise in my head is so, so loud—so, so incomprehensible. It’s plain madness. I stand on the sidewalk and shout. It’s late so nobody’s outside, nobody’s listening. Nobody ever does.

    “Get in. Get in!”

    I pound my fist against my forehead, trying to quiet things down. It just gets louder. “Stop!” I order my mind. “Just stop!”

    “Fine!” Nico shrieks. “Just stay there. I don’t give a shit.” He drives off. And I’m all alone, with just the whirring thoughts in my head. I don’t care about finding my way back. I shout until my voice is weak and raspy. It could be for hours, I don’t know. The noise doesn’t stop, and I start to cry. But I’m not sad, quite the opposite. It’s the oddest feeling I’ve ever had. Like I’m so happy, I could kill myself.
  3. Late June:

    A professor of mine told me that I have an adolescent brain. “Not to insult you or anything,” she’d said. “It’s just that at twenty-two, your brain is still developing.” It’s the thought that I’m almost done that powers me through my days lately—my days at a job designed for adolescents, the kind of job that teenagers work because they don’t know any better. Because they don’t expect to be treated like human beings yet, are used to being shit on all day, every day. But…I went to college, you know? I’ve been accepted to the neuroscience graduate program at a top ten university. I’m so fucking above this McJob and nobody even knows, the half-wits.

    “Can I get a number three? No onions,” the sack-of-shit customer asks. He’s polite enough, but looking through me like I’m an automaton or something. As if there’s no difference between ordering here and the fucking drive-thru. “No,” I want to say. “Fuck you,” I want to spit. “Have a nice day,” I want to add, for the perfect finish. Instead I push the picture—a freaking picture! —of the number three on my screen and acquiesce. I mumble his total, he pays, and I thank him without a hint of earnestness. He doesn’t care. Nobody ever does.

    I’m a pleasant person, really. In fact, lately I’ve been on top of the fucking world. Spending my time thinking about my move to San Fran, picturing nights with my roomie drinking and smoking weed while we discuss the finer points of cognitive neuroscience, imagining the big discovery I, a mere grad student, will make in the field. But then my parents knocked me down a peg or thousand reminding me I’ll have to fund said big move by myself. The graduate student stipend doesn’t come until after the semester starts, so I had to find a job. The economy demanded me to work fast food. So I come here every day, take in the ketchup and french-fry scented air, and want to kill myself. Then I go home and drink whole bottles of wine to remind myself I’m a fucking adult, scribbling madly in my journal and cackling loudly in my room as I drunkenly make big, big plans for my future. I’m going places. Who the hell are these people? What are they going to contribute to the world?

    “Watch out,” this kid Jeremy says behind me as he sweeps a broom underneath my register. I look at him and smile. I don’t know how old he is, but he’s one of the cutest guys I’ve ever seen in my life, and the bright spot of my current bleak circumstances. I’m so for real on this. When I’m away from here, if I’m not drinking or smoking away the crazy building inside my brain, I’m thinking about him. Sometimes while masturbating. A lot of the time masturbating. He’s hot, and I’m really horny. Probably, he’s seventeen. I’m a goddamned child molester, probably.
    [HR][/HR]
    After leaving for the night, my friend Anna says she wants to go out and I’m more than happy to oblige. She’s driving so I’m already deep into a bottle, feeling warm and excited. I talk her ear off about everything but my idiotic job, never that, while she paints her face on. I haven’t even told her—any of my friends—where I work, it’s so shameful. Sometimes I feel it’d be easier to just do it, to have a helpful ear to rant to rather than the pages of my worn out notebook. But I can’t. My inflated ego always nixes the idea. “Why are you talking so fast?” Anna asks, applying mascara. I shrug even though she can’t see me and keep going. She “uh-huh”s and “oh really?”s in the appropriate places, but I know she’s not listening. Nobody ever does. I take another swig.

    It takes a century, but finally we’re ready to go. We blast music on the way and I rap along expertly making her laugh like it always does. When we arrive I’m already past tipsy, walking carefully in the purple heels I borrowed from her. I feel ridiculous, but in an incredible sort of way. She’s allowed herself two drinks as if that’s not still illegal, so she heads straight to the bar. I’ve already blown my paycheck on a fuck-ton of weed and clothes, like I’m not supposed to be saving for my apartment and the move. Whatever. So I accept readily when this guy offers me a drink. I want to be drunk. I want double vision and to be in a spinning room to match how my mind already feels.

    I never dance, but tonight I am, twirling and shaking around the floor—I was born for this very purpose. The random who bought me one, two, three drinks is holding my waist while I laugh and move to a song I hate. I feel beautiful and full of light. A star, bursting with energy, a fucking supernova, feeling the dopamine rush while the alcohol floods my brain with GABA disinhibiting me. I always think about neurotransmitters when I’m under the influence. It reminds me it’s all just chemical, life, all about electrons spinning and working to create what we experience. Reminds me how magic it seems that all this came from nothing but natural reactions.

    I’m sweaty but I don’t care, he doesn’t care. He kisses my wet neck and I growl in his ear, ‘cause it feels so good and I just don’t care. The moment is gorgeous and so are we. I close my eyes and though it’s dark my vision is overwhelmed by bright, white light. White light, white heat, I think—the Velvet Underground.

    “Hey, you okay?” Anna yells over the music. She seems concerned, side eyeing the guy hard. His grip on my waist tightens, ready to combat the impending cock block.

    “Fine!” I shout back. “So fine!” She looks unconvinced but I keep dancing. Just keep dancing. “Fantastically fine. So sublime.” I giggle at my alliterative rhyme and suddenly feel dizzy. “I may vomit, though, if that’s okay with everyone.”

    “If you puke on me, I may not take you home,” Random says, smiling. He’s got a wonderful smile, and I decide I must go home with him. I’m insanely in need of sex, like now.

    “You’re not taking her home,” Anna snaps. “I am. Come on, we need to go.”

    “Stop!” I whine. “I’m okay, I know what I’m doing.”

    “I seriously doubt that,” she replies. “Come on.” She grabs my arm and I wanna hit her, but the hand on my other arm is being held by Random.

    “Can I get your number then?” he asks, my hand slipping from his as Anna pulls me away. I shout it as I’m led away from the dance floor, for everyone to hear.

    “You’re insane,” Anna says when we’re out in the summer night air. She laughs uneasily. I shriek with glee, grabbing her and spinning around until she’s laughing for real.

    “Glorious, my friend,” I say, out of breath. “Simply glorious.”

    “Hey!” someone yells behind us. “Hey, wait!” I turn to find Random guy running to catch up with us. Anna links arms with me and starts to walk faster but I stop moving.

    “What are you doing?” She asks, seeming concerned.

    “I didn’t quite catch your number,” he says, grinning a beautiful grin. I beam back at him and start to say, “Four-oh-four,” when Anna interrupts.

    “Look. She’s really drunk and doesn’t know what she’s doing. I can’t let her do this.”

    “Who the fuck are you?” I snap. “I’m a goddamned adult, I’ll give my number out as I please.”

    She drops my arm and looks shocked. “I’m just trying to—”

    “In fact,” I continue, “I don’t think I need to go home with you.” I look to Random and ask, “What’s your name?”

    “Brett,” he says, still dazzling me with his smile. “You wanna get out of here?”

    “I do, Brett. I really, really do.” I grab his hand and start running, Anna yelling my name behind us. I laugh as I hear her call ringing out through the night, like the universe is screaming my name.
    [HR][/HR]
    He’s no Jeremy, but in this moment Brett is seriously beautiful to me. I’m already naked and he’s taking off his pants slowly, like he’s trying to titillate me. I’m horny and impatient. “Could you be any slower?” I groan, less sexily and more angrily. He laughs nervously, dropping his jeans to the ground—he’s really pale. I stand on his bed and start bouncing, unable to control the energy coursing through my being. Brett stops me by grabbing my legs, and I giggle when he pushes me back onto the mattress. Finally. Release.

    The next morning I wake up suddenly, in the way you do when you’ve had too much to drink the night before. When you’re still a little intoxicated. When you’re not sure how you got to bed. Then comes the terrifying moment when I realize I don’t know where I am at all, fuck how I got to bed. Whose bed is this? Where is Anna? Where is my bra?

    “Hey,” some guy says, entering the room. “Morning.” He smiles sort of sweetly at me. His curly, dark hair is disheveled. I’m no idiot, so I know what went down.

    “Hi,” I reply. I lie back down and stare at his ceiling. “I’m sorry, but I don’t remember your name.”

    He walks over to the bed and sits down, looking at me like he’s sort of uncomfortable. “Brett,” he says, laughing a little.

    “Brett,” I repeat. “Where are my clothes?” He gestures around the room, my shit scattered all across the floor. I sigh and get out of the bed, collecting my stuff while I’m shamelessly naked.

    As I’m hooking my bra back on, Brett asks if I’d like to go get breakfast. “Pancakes or something?” My head is killing me. My brain is spinning, as usual.

    “I couldn’t bear to eat,” I say to him. “Plus I don’t get breakfast with strangers.”

    “You just sleep with them?”

    “When it’s necessary,” I say, shrugging. “Thanks for your services.”

    “You’re making me feel like a prostitute.”

    I smile. “Except you give it away for free.” Then I frown when I realize he’s my only way home. But I’ve spent enough time with this man I can’t even remember, of that I am sure. I hold Anna’s heels in my hand as I exit, waving goodbye.

    I don’t know where I am. I can’t find my way home and I’m pretty sure I can’t call anyone for help. I just walk, barefoot, until I find a bus stop. I sit on the bench and try to make the noise in my head go away. Doesn’t work. It never does.
    [HR][/HR]
    “I just can’t believe you followed a stranger home,” she says. I’ve finally made it back to my side of town, rescued at the bus station by a slightly pissed Anna. I’m dancing around her kitchen, waiting for the apology brownies I’m making for her to finish baking. “You’re acting kind of weird lately.”

    “What is weird?” I ask. “You’re weird. Everyone is weird. Weird is normal.”

    “Not, like, scary weird though.”

    “Scary weird was like college,” I reply, poking the center of the brownies with a toothpick. Still wet.

    I’m getting a lot of annoying feedback on my behavior lately. My friends seem worried—my parents, exhausted. But I dare anyone to tell me I’m acting too weird, feeling too good. This is me. This is what normal should feel like. It’s like they don’t remember just last year, in school. I miss everything about college except the crushing depression that almost ruined my life. Could’ve taken my life. It happened every February. Late afternoon, and I’d still be ensconced in the sheets covering my tiny twin sized bed. I couldn’t muster the energy to take a shower. The bacterial slime layer covering my teeth wasn’t enough to push me out the door. Even hunger, a basic human instinct, didn’t provide enough motivation for me to leave my room. I ignored any phone calls, any knocks on my door—human interaction virtually nonexistent. There were periods of tearfulness, times where I couldn’t help but to be totally consumed by every hopeless thought that could ever run through my mind. I cried quietly, so as to not be detected by my roommates, lying on my side letting my pillow soak up the tears.

    Things got bad enough for my professors to refer me to the counseling center at school, where they promptly sent me to a shrink. She never spoke out loud of a diagnosis, just scribbled in my chart. But I’d perused the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders on my own enough to know what the notes said—Major Depressive Episode. She prescribed some happy pills, and I followed her instructions. Over the next few visits she seemed concerned. “Hypomania,” she said. Blah blah blah, “talking too fast”, blah blah “agitated”. “Elevated mood,” she continued. Whatever. Wasn’t that supposed to be how an SSRI worked? The serotonin transporter gets blocked, the neurochemical builds up at my synapses, and boom. Happy. Elevated mood, elevated me.

    Despite my claims of feeling just fine thank you, she switched my meds to a different class. And, what do you know, I felt normal.


    “What is normal?” my psychology professor would ask.

    “Is normal relative?” my philosophy professor would wonder.

    I knew normal, my new normal. So a few months ago, I quit the pills. Depression cured. Problem solved.
    [HR][/HR]
    I’ve been up two days in a row now. Everything feels strange, like a lucid dream. Like, maybe I fell asleep and didn’t recognize it, but I still sense everything. The puffs of smoke I’m releasing swirl around my head, clouding my vision, leaving a hazy feeling to the air. I’m not tired, not a bit. Not even the weed can bring me down.

    Colors are brighter. The blue of my work shirt has intensified, as though it had been freshly dyed. I close my eyes as I adjust my ponytail through the ugly hat they make me wear, and I swear I see rainbows. The visible spectrum overwhelms my vision, and when I open my eyes the world seems different. Better. This is some really good stuff I’m smoking.

    I’m sitting in my car, in the parking lot outside of my job. Five minutes late. They need me though. They won’t care. I take a quick look around before hitting my bowl again, choking back the smoke, releasing only when I feel dizzy from the lack of breath. The smoke billows around me and I’ve never felt so happy. So at peace with the world.

    This is all part of my routine. I can’t go in there until I’m high.

    I hold the bowl to my mouth again, flick the lighter. Before I can inhale, I hear a knock against my window.

    Oh fuck.

    I’m caught.

    Can I charm my way out of this?

    I open my eyes as I’m lowering my piece, and look out the window not at all prepared to face the consequences. But I don’t have to. It’s Jeremy. He’s grinning, straight white teeth greeting me, relieving me. He gestures for me to open the passenger door, and I let him in.

    “You stupid as hell,” he laughs, sitting down and slamming my door shut. “Cops stay patrolling this lot.” I shrug. This is the most he’s ever said to me. All I can focus on is how good he smells, his soap or cologne or whatever overpowering the smoke smell. “Don’t you wanna keep your job?” he asks.

    “I’m not worried,” I reply. “I do this every day.” He raises his eyebrows and laughs again. The stupid uniform looks good on him. His dark brown skin stands out, light brown eyes sparkle. The hat covers his hair, but I’ve seen it before, short and twisted up because he’s trying to grow out locks.

    “You think you badass, huh?” I smile at him, and hold my bowl out. His beautiful eyes widen. “You serious?” I nod. He licks his lips nervously, and then finally reaches out to take it. His hands are lovely, like he should be a piano player or something. He sparks the lighter and takes a huge hit, resting his head back as he exhales a whirling dragon of smoke. I see the rainbows again when he smiles at me.

    “Good shit,” he says. “Let’s get in there before we both get fired.” Jeremy exits my car and walks around it, opening the door for me, extending his hand.

    I am madly in love.

    He tells me not to call him Jeremy, but LG. “My name’s not Jeremy,” he says, in a way that says there’s more to the story but he’s not saying. I imagine he’s named after a father who left, then wonder if I’m stereotyping. Anyway, he goes on to say when he raps he goes by Young LG, and I try not to laugh at the fact he’s a rapper. Of course he is.

    Other than brown skin, it’s clear we have nothing in common. Still I’m drawn to him, smiling goofily as he speaks to me, asks for my number. Then I remember. “How old are you?”

    He grins, “Why’s it matter?”

    “You’re not sixteen are you?”

    “Do I look sixteen?” he says, offended. “I’m nineteen. You look sixteen,” he counters, flipping my curly ponytail.

    Nineteen. I can deal with that, I guess. I was so different at nineteen than I am at twenty-two, though, but I’ll ignore that and just go with it. Ignoring the beep in the drive-thru headset, I begin to recite, “Four-oh-four…”
  4. I'm feeling really bad about this writing contest. I can't shake it. Just had to share with my blog.

    I let little things devour me, though.
  5. A professor of mine told me that I have an adolescent brain. “Not to insult you or anything,” she’d said. “It’s just that at twenty-two, your brain is still developing.” It’s the thought that I’m almost done that powers me through my days lately—my days at a shitty job designed for adolescents, the kind of job that teenagers work because they don’t know any better. Because they don’t expect to be treated like human beings yet, are used to being shit on all day, every day. But, like…I went to college, you know? I’ve been accepted to the neuroscience graduate program at a top ten university. I’m so fucking above this McJob and nobody even knows, the fucking half-wits.

    “Can I get a number three? No onions,” the sack-of-shit customer asks. He’s polite enough, but looking through me like I’m an automaton or something. Like there’s no difference between ordering here and the fucking drive-thru. “No,” I want to say. “Fuck you,” I want to spit. “Have a nice day,” I want to add, for the perfect finish. Instead I push the picture—a fucking picture! —of the number three on my screen and acquiesce. I mumble his total, he pays, and I thank him without a hint of earnestness. He doesn’t care. Nobody ever does.

    I’m a pleasant person, really. In fact, lately I’ve been on top of the fucking world. Spending my time thinking about my move to San Fran, picturing nights with my roomie drinking and smoking weed while we discuss the finer points of cognitive neuroscience, imagining the big discovery I, a mere grad student, will make in the field. But then my parents knocked me down a peg or thousand reminding me I’ll have to fund said big move by myself. The graduate student stipend doesn’t come until after the semester starts, so I had to find a job. The shit economy said I had to work fast food. So I come here every day and want to kill myself, and go home and drink whole bottles of wine to remind myself I’m a fucking adult, scribbling madly in my journal and cackling loudly in my room as I drunkenly make big, big plans for my future. I’m going places. Who the fuck are these people? What are they going to contribute to the world?

    “Watch out,” this kid Jeremy says behind me as he sweeps a broom underneath my register. I look at him and smile. I don’t know how old he is, but he’s one of the cutest guys I’ve ever seen in my life, and the bright spot of my current bleak circumstances. I’m so for real on this. When I’m away from here, if I’m not drinking or smoking away the crazy building inside my brain, I’m thinking about him. Sometimes while masturbating. A lot of the time masturbating. He’s hot, and I’m really horny. Probably, he’s seventeen. I’m a goddamned child molester, probably.



    After I leave for the night, my friend Anna says she wants to go out and I’m more than happy to oblige. She’s driving so I’m already deep into a bottle, feeling warm and excited. I talk her ear off about everything but my fuck-ass job, never that, while she paints her face on. I haven’t even told her—any of my friends—where I work, it’s so shameful. Sometimes I feel it’d be easier if I did, to have a helpful ear to rant to rather than the pages of my worn out notebook. But I can’t. My inflated ego always nixes the idea. “Why are you talking so fast?” Anna asks, applying mascara. I shrug even though she can’t see me and keep going. She “uh-huh”s and “oh really?”s in the appropriate places, but I know she’s not listening. Nobody ever does. I take another swig.

    It takes what feels like a century, but finally we’re ready to go. We blast music on the way and I rap along expertly making her laugh like it always does. When we arrive I’m already past tipsy, walking carefully in the purple heels I borrowed from her. I feel ridiculous, but in an incredible sort of way. She’s allowed herself two drinks like that’s not still illegal, so she heads straight to the bar. I’ve already blown my paycheck on a fuck-ton of weed and clothes, like I’m not supposed to be saving for my apartment and the move. Whatever. So I accept readily when this guy offers me a drink. I want to be drunk. I want double vision and to be in a spinning room to match how my mind already feels.

    I never dance, but tonight I am, twirling and shaking around the floor like I was born for this very purpose. The random who bought me one, two, three drinks is holding my waist while I laugh and move to a song I hate. I feel beautiful and full of light, like a star, bursting with energy like a fucking supernova, feeling the dopamine rush while the alcohol floods my brain with GABA disinhibiting me. I always think about neurotransmitters when I’m under the influence. It reminds me it’s all just chemical, life, all about electrons spinning and working to create what we experience. Reminds me how magic it seems that all this came from nothing but natural reactions.

    I’m sweaty but I don’t care, he doesn’t care. He kisses my wet neck and I growl in his ear, ‘cause it feels so good and I just don’t care. The moment is gorgeous and so are we. I close my eyes and though it’s dark my vision is overwhelmed by bright, white light. White light, white heat, I think, like the Velvet Underground.

    “Hey, you okay?” Anna yells over the music. She seems concerned, side eyeing the guy hard. His grip on my waist tightens, ready to combat the impending cock block.

    “Fine!” I shout back. “So fine!” She looks unconvinced but I keep dancing. Just keep dancing. “Fantastically fine. So sublime.” I giggle at my alliterative rhyme and suddenly feel dizzy. “I may vomit, though, if that’s okay with everyone.”

    “If you puke on me, I may not take you home,” Random says, smiling. He’s got a wonderful smile, and I decide I need to go home with him. I’m insanely in need of sex, like now.

    “You’re not taking her home,” Anna snaps. “I am. Come on, we need to go.”

    “Stop!” I whine. “I’m okay, I know what I’m doing.”

    “I seriously doubt that,” she replies. “Come on.” She grabs my arm and I wanna hit her, but the hand on my other arm is being held by Random.

    “Can I get your number then?” he asks, my hand slipping from his as Anna pulls me away. I shout it as I’m led away from the dance floor, for everyone to hear.

    “You’re insane,” Anna says when we’re out in the summer night air. She laughs uneasily. I shriek with glee, grabbing her and spinning around until she’s laughing for real.

    “Glorious, my friend,” I say, out of breath. “Simply glorious.”

    “Hey!” someone yells behind us. “Hey, wait!” I turn to find Random guy running to catch up with us. Anna links arms with me and starts to walk faster but I stop moving.

    “What are you doing?” She asks, seeming concerned.
    “I didn’t quite catch your number,” he says, grinning a beautiful grin. I beam back at him and start to say, “Four-oh-four,” when Anna interrupts.

    “Look. She’s really drunk and doesn’t know what she’s doing. I can’t let her do this.”


    “Who the fuck are you?” I snap. “I’m a goddamned adult, I’ll give my number out as I please.”

    She drops my arm and looks shocked. “I’m just trying to—”

    “In fact,” I continue, “I don’t think I need to go home with you.” I look to Random and ask, “What’s your name?”

    “Brett,” he says, still dazzling me with his smile. “You wanna get out of here?”

    “I do, Brett. I really, really do.” I grab his hand and start running, Anna yelling my name behind us. I laugh as I hear my name ringing out through the night, like the universe is screaming my name.



    He’s no Jeremy, but in this moment Brett is seriously beautiful to me. I’m already naked and he’s taking off his pants slowly, like he’s trying to titillate me. I’m horny and impatient. “Could you be any slower?” I groan, less sexily and more angrily. He laughs nervously, dropping his jeans to the ground. I stand on his bed and start bouncing, unable to control the energy coursing through my being. Brett stops me by grabbing my legs, and I giggle when he pushes me back onto the mattress. Finally. Release.

    The next morning I wake up suddenly, in the way you do when you’ve had too much to drink the night before. When you’re still a little intoxicated. When you’re not sure how you got to bed. Then comes the terrifying moment when I realize I don’t know where I am at all, fuck how I got to bed. Whose bed is this? Where is Anna? Where is my bra?

    “Hey,” some guy says, entering the room. “Morning.” He smiles sort of sweetly at me. I’m no idiot, so I know what went down.

    “Hi,” I reply. I lie back down and stare at his ceiling. “I’m sorry, but I don’t remember your name.”

    He walks over to the bed and sits down, looking at me like he’s sort of uncomfortable. “Brett,” he says, laughing a little.

    “Brett,” I repeat. “Where are my clothes?” He gestures around the room, my shit scattered all across the floor. I sigh and get out of the bed, collecting my stuff while I’m shamelessly naked.

    As I’m hooking my bra back on, Brett asks if I’d like to go get breakfast. “Pancakes or something?” My head is killing me. My brain is spinning, as usual.

    “I couldn’t bear to eat,” I say to him. “Plus I don’t get breakfast with strangers.”

    “You just sleep with them?”

    “When it’s necessary,” I say, shrugging. “Thanks for your services.”

    “You’re making me feel like a prostitute.”

    I smile. “Except you give it away for free.” Then I frown when I realize he’s my only way home. But I’ve spent enough time with this man I can’t even remember, of that I am sure. I hold Anna’s heels in my hand as I exit, waving goodbye.

    I don’t know where I am. I can’t find my way home and I’m pretty sure I can’t call anyone for help. I just walk, barefoot, until I find a bus stop. I sit on the bench and try to make the noise in my head go away. Doesn’t work. It never does.



    “I just can’t believe you followed a stranger home,” she says. I’ve finally made it back to my side of town, rescued at the bus station by a slightly pissed Anna. I’m dancing around her kitchen, waiting for the apology brownies I’m making for her to finish baking. “You’re acting kind of weird lately.”

    “What is weird?” I ask. “You’re weird. Everyone is weird. Weird is normal.”

    “Not, like, scary weird though.”

    “Scary weird was like college,” I reply, poking the center of the brownies with a toothpick. Still wet.

    I’m getting a lot of annoying feedback on my behavior lately. My friends seem worried—my parents, exhausted. But I dare anyone to tell me I’m acting too weird, feeling too good. This is me. This is what normal should feel like. It’s like they don’t remember just last year, in school. I miss everything about college except the crushing depression that almost ruined my life. Could’ve taken my life.

    It is late afternoon, but I am still ensconced in sheets covering the tiny twin sized bed in my dorm room. I have yet to attempt to take a shower, let alone brush my teeth. But the bacterial slime layer on my teeth is not enough to lift me from my bed, to push me out the door. I feel hunger, just as a basic human need, but it is easy enough to ignore when you cannot muster the motivation to leave your room. I ignore any phone calls, any knocks on my door. Human interaction is virtually nonexistent for me lately. There are periods of tearfulness, times when I cannot help but to be totally consumed by every hopeless thought that could ever run through my mind. I cry quietly, lying on my side as the pillow I am resting on soaks up the tears.
    The hunger I feel eventually becomes too strong, a survival instinct my body clings to, and I creep out of my room to clean myself up. I cannot leave to get food until it is dark though, until I don't have to worry about bumping into classmates who will undoubtedly ask where I've been the past three weeks or so. Even then, I have to smoke some weed to stave off the feelings of dread and panic that leaving my room will cause. Stoned, but still nervous, I leave the building, wondering yet again if tomorrow will be the day I feel normal again. I have felt this way before, but I always snap out of it eventually. Still, the cyclical nature of the episodes disturbs me, as I feel controlled by the whims of my own mind.


    Things got bad enough for my professors to refer me to the counseling center at school, where they promptly sent me to a shrink. She never spoke out loud of a diagnosis, just scribbled in my chart. But I’d perused the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders on my own enough to know what the notes said—Major Depressive Episode. She prescribed some happy pills, and I followed her instructions. Over the next few visits she seemed concerned. “Hypomania,” she said. Blah blah blah, “talking too fast”, blah blah “agitated”. “Elevated mood,” she continued. Whatever. Wasn’t that supposed to be how an SSRI worked? The serotonin transporter gets blocked, the neurochemical builds up at my synapses, and boom. Happy. Elevated mood, elevated me.

    Despite my claims of feeling just fine thank you, she switched my meds to a different class. And, what do you know, I felt normal.

    “What is normal?” my psychology professor would ask.

    “Is normal relative?” my philosophy professor would wonder.

    I knew normal, my new normal. So a few months ago I quit the pills. Depression cured. Problem solved.