On the phone, at a gas station, in our dreams
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Sybil Smith lives in Vermont on the Connecticut River. She no longer feels the need to dazzle the world with her eloquence, and her greatest joy comes from taking care of a baby. She has been sober for more than eight years.
Having been a writer myself, I should admire her refusal to give up. Instead it makes me impatient with her. I believe M. lives in this myth of greatness in which her every habit or quirk is worthy of the autobiography being written in her head. It is the endless soliloquy of the interior paramour. Why do I believe this? Because I used to be that way myself.
The pills are about the size of a bing-cherry pit in diameter and are a faint green color, like the eggs of some songbirds. On one side they have a deeply inscribed SZ, on the other, the number 789. They are Ritalin, the ten-milligram kind. Imogene knows them by sight because occasionally patients admitted to the psychiatric ward where she works as a nurse have containers of assorted pills, and she has learned to spot the ones that will get her high.
I have a rooster named Henry. He is what’s called a “Barred Rock,” which means he is white with black specks — or maybe black with white specks; it’s hard to tell. In his large and elegantly plumed tail he has one iridescent green feather. The spurs on the back of his legs are two inches long and come to sharp points. He has a brilliant red comb and red wattles and is, all in all, a handsome rooster. Sometimes parents who walk by on the road with their kids stop to admire him.
Dell is sitting at the nurses’ desk trying to read Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, an assignment for her playwriting class. She can get away with this because the head honchos have all gone home, and evening has settled its lazy, sticky lassitude over the psychiatric unit.
After I graduated from college, I worked as a prep aide at a large hospital. The prep aide was the person who went around each night and shaved patients for their surgery in the morning.
Growing up, my siblings and I were aware of the enormous volume of water contained there. We knew that if the dam broke, our house would be swept away. It was tangible evidence of something we already felt: that we were never really safe.
There is a remnant of cool left to him. It’s in the way he combs his gray hair back with a little wave at the top. It’s in his gold neck-chains and the way he lights his Camel straights: one-handed, with an ornate Zippo lighter.
I was walking on the ice. Let me say up front that I am not a foolish woman, that the ice was thick and I was dressed warmly. Let me add that, though I do drink too much on occasion, I wasn’t drinking that morning. I’d just had one teeny-tiny hit of good pot. That was all.
Sometimes when I’m sad, I become convinced that the world is going to end. And it will end someday, of course, but scientists give it billions of years yet. My “sense of impending doom” (the phrase psychiatrists use to describe this type of fear) is all out of proportion to what I know to be true.