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A Little Taste
At first, I think everything must be blurry because I’m not wearing my contacts. Then I think that maybe it’s because I’m drunk. I’ve never been drunk before. And then I think that maybe it’s because I’m dying. My head hurts, like the arch of my brow is trying to straighten itself out, a curved plank of wood being pried from the ends. If it bends any further, I’m certain my skull will split apart, right from the center of my forehead. All I want to do is curl up and lie on the worn rug on the bathroom floor, but something keeps wrenching my arms to my sides, forcing me to lie flat on my back. To face the suppressive darkness above, pushing down on me, on the ever-intensifying pain in my head. Again, I am held down. My body moves quickly, yet I follow lethargically. Again, something pulls me back. Someone keeps screaming. The sound is so shrill, so distant, that it isn’t until I hear my name—
“Natasha, stop that!”
—that I even realize it’s me. It’s me, trying to save me.
I can hear myself:
“Don’t call me that, don’t call me that.” She sobs.
Don’t say my name like that; don’t be disappointed in me like that, she begs.
“Well, what do you want us to call you?
“Tasha.” There’s no hesitation. “Call me Tasha.”
Be my friend, she pleads.
I bid shame farewell when I wake up in a hospital bed, garbed in the gown devoid of shape and support, tubes protruding from my arm, my thumb—other places, too. Weariness keeps me from raising my head or lifting the hot, heavy sheets tucked over me, but it lets me smile and nod politely, answer the nurses respectfully when they ask me questions. Easy questions: Who is our president? How many fingers am I holding up? Are you on your period? What’s the date?
I have to look across the room for that one. The calendar’s bold numbers are blurry but legible, and this time I know it’s only because I’m not wearing contacts.
It’s still Friday, 11/11/11. But it can’t be the same day that I took the pills, or drank the rum, or cried next to the toilet because my friend didn’t pick up the phone and I couldn’t throw anything up. It can’t even be the same life. In my life, I always win the “Never Have I Ever” game because I’ve never been in the hospital for anything more than a check-up. Ever.
I had imagined rays of light from the heavens shining down upon her entrance. Radiant, golden auras and halos glowing around her head. She would smile, eyes perhaps glazed with tears, but mostly full of gratitude. She would come just to see me, and clasp my hand to reassure me she was there.
But it isn’t like what I imagined.
I’ve surrendered all embarrassment, all secrets and privileges, yet I can tell she still holds these things close to herself, as if they are the only things she can hold onto. She has the bearing of an exhausted traveler, shoulders slumped and posture forsaken. The fatigue in her face reflects mine, and the sense of despair clouds over us both. She does not touch me. Her words do not touch me. I can hardly tell if she really wants to be with me at all.
She leaves abruptly, but she calls me later. There hangs even more of a heavy space between us now, but at least now we can attribute it to merely distance.
“You can tell someone if you need to,” I offer. I even want her to, honestly.
“No—you can’t tell anyone.”
The bluntness takes me aback. “Why not?”
“I just don’t think everyone can handle it right now. Did you hear about Mrs. Christenson?”
I don’t remember being told, but somehow, I know. While I was ripping dreams and shredding hopes and burying them in black plastic bags, others were having them cruelly wrenched from their hands. Teachers, friends, grandfathers—probably thousands more I would never know.
I feel selfish. It tastes sour in the back of my mouth.
“Yeah.” I swallow it down. “I guess you’re right.”
It can’t be much healthier, but it tastes a lot better than the alcohol did.