Lowest Common Denominator
Open your eyes, lids like mousetraps freshly tripped. Try to time travel, make mathematical calculations, whatever it'd take to figure out what day it is and where you're supposed to be (but definitely aren't). Feel the dampness under your back. It matches the dampness on your face. Shiver. Shudder. Shake. As you slept, you sweat yourself into mid-July. It stayed December outside your window.
Wick away the wetness on your face. Feel for your legs. They're still attached and still wearing last night's tights. You sweat through those too. Hope it's only sweat. Tell yourself to change the sheets. Wait — tell yourself to remember to change the sheets. There are a lot of things you need to change. Don't think about that now. Tell yourself to remember to think about that later. Say words like triage and damage control. You can only fix so much at any one time.
Sit up. Fear the clock. Avert your eyes like the digits are a solar eclipse. Know what seeing them will do to you. Try to find the kitchen with your eyes closed. Feel in front of you for where you think the doorway should be. Do considerable damage to your knee walking into what's actually ahead. Open your eyes. Hate your desk. Hate the piles of unopened mail full of warnings and types of worse you can only imagine. Hate the empty bottles taking up all the space that should be taken up by other things. Hate them even more for being empty.
Spy the clock. See that it's unplugged. Smirk. Think it's a good sign. Think it says that the you-of-yesterday had some prescience, enforced the advanced directive on telling time, knew you wouldn't want it told. Think it means there may be an inheritance awaiting you in the kitchen. Let it get you giddy. Now crush the feeling. Crush it hard. It's making you queasy, and you were already seasick from the way your legs have been following the ebb and flow of a Category 5 hurricane. Wonder where your umbrella is. Realize it wouldn't be much help.
Shuffle down the hall, sure not to pick either foot all the way up off the floor. Get to the kitchen. Be not-so-glad you came, at least from the doorway, at least at first glance. It looks like it played host to a party — not necessarily a fun one, but definitely a raucous one, definitely the kind that causes even forgiving neighbors to call the cops. Except you didn't have a party and you know it. You may not know a lot, you may remember less, but you swear that you didn't have a party. You'd swear on your own life if only your own life meant enough to you for that kind of thing to count.
For a fraction of a second, wish you had a roommate so it could turn out that the mess is neither one you made nor one you need to clean up. Kill the thought. Quickly reanimate the millions of reasons you opted to live alone: let in those ghosts of bygone bad times and friends who stopped being friends the instant the last box went into the backseat; see the specters of those whose bad habits reactivated or exacerbated your own; recall the shadowy figures of the few people you'd found through Craigslist thinking you'd keep yourself clean in more ways than one in the company of strangers, how quickly they learned the truth and kicked you out, how quickly that became your reason for living alone (as if they were the problem, as if you weren't the problem no matter where you went).
Feel like your head is a stone slab the ancients are etching their histories into at this very moment. Every one of your joints is beginning to throb. If you don't start treasure hunting through the trash can that is your kitchen — no, if you don't find any X-marks-the-spots as you go this many paces from a pile of empty bottles and through the drifts of different-sized plastic baggies — you're going to be sick. Fuck, you're already sick. It's more like you're going to be so sick you'll wish you could skip to the part when they zip up the body bag following a call about a bad smell and non-responses to all knocks at the door.
Don't think like that yet though. There's still hope. Try not to think about how incredibly pathetic it is that that's your definition of hope. Trudge along through the crumpled paper and crushed cans carpeting the floor. Your teeth shiver, chatter, clatter. Nothing can get your bones buzzing quite like wearing damp clothes in an unheated kitchen (not to mention the other culprits involved in making you tremble so).
Check the fridge. Nothing but a few cans of diet soda, an unopened box of pasta that probably belongs in the cabinet (but what do you care?), and some prehistoric eggs. You thought of throwing them out the day you realized they were a month past their expiration date, but then you grabbed a bottle and told yourself you'd take care of it later. That was three, maybe four, months ago. Say oops. Think how awful and unused your voice sounds. Wonder what time it is, what day of the week, when you last talked while someone was around to hear it.
No bottles in the fridge. Pray to the god of the freezer. Open the door, slowly, as if trying to sneak up on a skittish animal, one you can't bear to have run away. Your shivering worsens with every second. You don't even try to reach the heater. This is more important. (That, and you can't afford to run it in here.)
The freezer breathes out frost and fog while you suck in air so you can hold your breath as an act of good faith, as a way of saying I believe in you. Peek in. A few packs of cigs (superstition). You take one out. A stack of ice cube trays, some empty with no reason for being in there. Most full in anticipation of whatever beverage their inhabitants get assigned to. You imagine the cubes for a moment as eager school children raising their hands, saying pick me, please pick me, like floating in whatever ends up being your breakfast is some big honor on par with getting to be captain of the kickball team. It isn't. It's just life — and death — for an ice cube. Shake your head to hemorrhage the image. Worry that maybe this is the hallucination phase setting in. But so soon? Steel yourself in case what comes next is bad news, a forecast that calls for sweats both hot and cold, continued tremors, more seeing of things that aren't there to be seen.
Open the door the rest of the way. Feel relief. Feel like shouting huzzah or hallelujah or speaking in tongues. Keep quiet though. Stifle your sigh of believing your life has been saved. Three bottles, all barely above empty, will keep you from seizing, shaking, sweating — but not for long. They'll get you to the other side of the kitchen to take stock and see what else you've used up.
Drain the first bottle right from its rim. Decide not to waste time and do the same with the second. The third has enough left inside to earn it a glass. It's only a few ounces, but it can sustain you better as a travel companion than it can as a swig. Start your odyssey across the kitchen, one hand clinging to the counter for support, the other nearly strangling the glass that's actually what's keeping you standing. Your quake has become a quiver. The cold feels far less cold.
Reach the other side of the kitchen. Feel the thrill, the pride a marathon runner must on reaching his own type of finish line. Celebrate by draining your glass. Start to feel capable of assessing your situation. Inventory is essential, then hunter-gatherer duties will begin. All the little plastic pouches are empty save for one. You don't know what it holds. Play detective. Suck two lines to solve the mystery. Feel far more equipped to finish your to-do list. Feel great in fact. Don't let the moment go to waste — it won't last long.
Rush back to your room, feet far more steady even though they probably shouldn't be. Locate your wallet. Find your phone. Four missed calls. Click ignore one, two, three, four times.
Read the texts. Wish you hadn't. Assure your parents that you're okay, that everything is fine. Everything is not fine, but that's not news you're willing to share. Delete the other messages.
You need to hurry before you start to hurt again. Consider showering. Consider the cold and decide to skip it. Get dressed. Try to look good. Wonder whether there's a point, whether everyone can tell no matter what you do. Decide it doesn't make a difference, that it's too late to make yourself look healthy. You'd need months for that. You'd need to want to do the things it'd take to get you there, and they aren't things you want to do.
Clean up some anyway. Slide new eyeliner over what's left from last night. Curl your lashes. Rearrange the clips in your hair. Conceal the dark circles under your eyes like you conceal everything else.
Finish the bag. Wish you hadn't finished the bottle. Everything is empty now. Don't think about that. Don't try to figure out when you last felt full. Not food-wise — life-wise.
Grab your coat, bag, keys, wallet, phone. The unsteadiness revisits you as you put on your shoes. Glance one last time in the mirror. Assure yourself that no one can tell, that only an eyewitness could know the truth. Hope you can fool others as well as you can fool yourself.
is engaged in the lengthy process of transcribing hundreds of pages of her writing from barely legible blue ink into reader-friendly (twenty-first-century) Times New Roman type. She loves her dogs, Freddie, Charlie, and Parker, more than anything else in the universe. She can be found online at srmadwaypens
and at @SamanthaMadway