AN: Feedback would be greatly appreciated. Revised 2/19/13
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 friends 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.
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 Cara?" 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.
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.
"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.
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.
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…"