As I close my eyes and let the Valium seep into my bloodstream under my tongue, I imagine my happy places, just like my therapist told me. I let the tears fall from under closed lids like rain droplets from a swollen cloud. I let my mother hold me. I let the nurses watch me deteriorate as I sink into a drug-induced sadness that no one can help me up from.
I hate this feeling of “letting.” My walls come down suddenly and all at once, reminding me that being vulnerable has never been a choice I have consciously taken. You’ve got to drug me and threaten me with needles in order to get me to let up. I checked my courage at the door like overweight luggage and am now just a child in pain. I am dissolved into the figure of a sick, broken bird on an Ikea reclining chair.
I pretend like I am okay. I pretend that this is something I am doing voluntarily. I am thankful for the help. I pretend to believe that these injections will help me. I control my breath and walk into the examination room, wincing at the sight of the cold metal table with three syringes and a can of lidocaine on it. I follow the doctor’s commands in a submissive haze and fall onto the table. I tell myself that this is not my last resort and that more hope lies beyond the doorway to my left. This isn’t the end, only another hurdle that my foot got hooked on mid-jump.
With my face pressed against the sanitary tissue on the table, I try to imagine the last time I wasn’t in pain. The last time I felt like a kid. An untouchable, happy kid. This is when I begin to curse the deep breathing and meditative exercises I’ve been taught. It’s just dissociation. Tune in so carefully that you can tune right out.
I am brought back to the summer beaches of Cannon Beach, Oregon. I can see myself reading books on the sand, wrapped in a blanket to ward off the frigid breeze. I can feel the tiny grain stuck in my eye and hiding itself so far to the right that I look like a maniac, blinking repeatedly and fingering my eyelid like its a vinyl at a DJ bar. It is an overcast afternoon with rain clouds hugging the horizon that is sprawled out before me on a wondrous stretch of ocean.
That morning, I went out to uncover sand-dollars with my mother near Haystack Rock, collecting them in plastic newspaper bags. We got up at the crack of dawn, when the morning mist was still melting around all visible figures, and wandered around the shore. In the evening, after walking around the town barefoot and ordering Nutella crepes from the local shop, I will walk on the small islands the tide reveals come sundown. I will stand there on my small, temporary worlds, in the middle of the ocean, with sun rays at my fingertips. I will sing songs I make up on the spot under my breath and wonder when my life will really begin. Life was so serene and tangible.
With the soft pop of the syringe sanitary top, I am forced back. I can hear the doctor talking, but I can’t decipher his words. After all, it is likely just a blur of useless disclaimers, trying to prepare me for what I am about to feel. I never liked doctors much who lied to me or complimented me into some minor state of trust. At least this time, he told me it was going to hurt.
It’s not the pain I am worried about. Frankly, I am not necessarily worried about anything. I am hopeful that it will help. Hope is the worst pain of them all.
Having needles in your head feels exactly like you’d expect. The insertion is numbed by Lidocaine, but there is a malicious presence in the back of your skull, creeping up your scalp. I can feel his fingers pushing the numbing fluids around my nerves like he is trying to navigate a map of very complex and very damaged streets. There’s been road work for years now, I want to tell him. I just flinch but let his hands do as they please, a game I have played for many years now.
As I wait for the second needle, I am back in Cannon Beach, only this time, I am in the house with the purple hydrangeas in the lawn. There are two sets of bunkbeds, each neighboring a window that looks out onto the ocean. I am sitting at the desk, writing away in my notebook. To the right of me, there is a window that looks directly into the neighbor’s bedroom. There is a teenage girl in there, cleaning her closet and discarding laundry all around. I watch with a thrill of existing without being seen, a sensation I have sought ever since. I write my stories in the quiet night with my friend, the neighbor girl, picking out her outfit for the fourth of July.
The second needle enters the right side of my head and I give up. I stop crying because I am dried out and my oceans of resources are back in Oregon. I can feel my mascara sticking to the sanitary tissue stretched over the table, rubbing the charcoal pigment around my eyes. It burns, but that is the only sensation I allow myself to feel. What’s the point in feeling pain when it is a feeling you have mastered? It is time to move on, for I have felt all it has to offer me.
But it stays. It stays like the scent of my ex-boyfriend’s cologne that some days, I still can’t shake. It stays like an unwanted cousin clinging to my heels at a family event. It stays like a hangover lingering in my stomach after Christmas Eve special eggnog. It stays, I tell myself, because it has nowhere else to go. It sticks to me like a malignant presence because it knows that I understand it. I am the only one who can properly articulate what it feels like. At least that’s the lie I have manufactured and chewed until it has melted into my tongue like the dissolvable Valium.
The third injection comes and I think I can see God. Only this time, He doesn’t feel like sunbeams in my hands, like the world is alive on my skin. He hurts, and I realize there is no point in believing in something that only watches you suffer every day. No one is up there, at least not for me. At least not now. I think about my old coworker telling me to “ask” if He is there. I ask, but just got the answering machine again.
Hey God, it’s me. Just wondering if there’s a point to the whole me being a child and wanting to die thing or if you’re just bored. LMK!!
The doctor moves the third shot of anesthesia around the bulb in my neck, a hardened knot that disappears and reappears every few weeks as a result of my muscles trying to protect my nerves. I feel my hips lift softly from the table and try to recoil from his touch, but his hands remain in place, kneading my neck with the needle still in. I want to scream at him and stab myself with the dirty syringes. I want it to end. But all the nurses see is a wince. They hear a whimper and congratulate me on my high pain tolerance.
I am so tired.
My mother helps me stand up and guides me to the bathroom, where I hold my head in my hands to stop myself from bashing it against the porcelain. As I pee, I can’t even feel the urine leaving my body. I link my fingers together and press on my lower stomach, trying to push out whatever I have in me. The Valium has done a successful job of numbing most of my physical processes, and although my mind is no longer racing through past memories, it is still slowly strolling through a few.
As I stare at my blotchy red face in the mirror, mascara smeared all around my lid, I remember the first time a boy called me beautiful. I was fourteen, and he left the next summer when I was stuck on that tiny island in the ocean. Sometimes I wonder if he still thinks of me and if, like the beach sunsets, his affection still lingering like the misty, colorful haze of orange sherbet and lemon ice. The girlish, immature part of me wishes he still does, even though I’m fully aware that many days have past since then and we are two entirely different people. I wonder if he would still think I was beautiful after seeing me like this. I wonder if anyone would. I wish I could be her again, so infatuated with a boy and a sunset in Oregon. I wish I could be eating crepes, walking barefoot among the flowers, and reading my books on the shore.
But mostly, I wish I was back on my island, so separate from the force of the waves, so sure about my stories, my boy, and my life. If I close my eyes hard enough, I can almost feel that damn grain of sand still stuck in my eye.