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  1. My best friend is going to die. And it’s my fault. That was the accusation screaming inside my head—like the chorus of a heavy metal song—when the doctor came striding in, asking about tacos. “Chicken or beef?” the nurse added. She was wearing magenta scrubs bright enough to blind someone. Maybe both their vision had been compromised. Could they not see the body right in front of us? “It’s this little game Doctor Mullion likes to play, asking what she should order for lunch,” the nurse explained. “My personal vote is pork.” Little game? My best friend is going to die. And it’s my fault. After rubbing a spurt of sanitizer onto her hands, the doctor took a few steps closer. “So Molly—it is Molly, right?” I must have nodded. “Molly, you’ll have to forgive my growling stomach. But I heard you might be able to help us figure out what happened to your friend. As far as you know, is this her first benzodiazepine overdose?” “No—no. See…that’s the thing,” I stammered, distracted by the tube protruding from Cate’s mouth. A different doctor had intubated her upon arrival, breezing out the door before I could ask any questions of my own. “This isn’t some sort of drug overdose. I keep telling everyone that, but no one seems to be listening.” I then sucked down a deep breath before repeating everything I’d already told the EMTs: What Instant Ten was. How I’d gotten it. And what I suspected might have gone wrong. “So let me get this straight,” the doctor said, folding her arms across her chest. It was impossible to miss the side glance she and the nurse exchanged—confirmation I was next in line for a drug test. “You think your friend’s overdose isn’t an overdose at all. It’s a side effect from a magical invention called Instant Ten…which you got from a girl named Van?” She didn’t let me answer. “And may I ask…is this so-called Instant Ten something you’ve been using as well?” I admitted that it was. “But obviously, I had no idea it was dangerous.” “Right. But then doesn’t it seem a bit odd you aren’t suffering any sort of life-threatening reaction yourself?” Life-threatening. My best friend is going to die. And it’s my fault. I shook my head, determined to prove my point. “I know how this all sounds—like an episode straight out of The Twilight Zone or Black Mirror. And I have no idea why the same thing hasn’t happened to me. But I promise it’s the truth!” I then began rummaging through my purse—a cesspool of toys and used tissues and half-eaten granola bars—insistent on showing them Instant 10. “Just give me a second, and I’ll find it again.” “That really won’t be necessary,” the doctor said, dodging the miniature fire truck I’d accidentally tossed toward her head. “Molly, I’m sure this is all a big shock. However, let me assure you, we see BZD overdoses each and every day, and these are the telltale signs: vomiting, muscle slackness, erratic breathing, pupil dilation, loss of consciousness…” She was ticking symptoms off as casually as a waitress reciting beverage choices but didn’t get the chance to finish. Because the machine hulking in the corner, watching over us like an armed guard, suddenly switched from chirping to red-alert beeping. And as a swarm of nurses came charging in, barking new accusations—Respiratory distress! Plummeting oxygen levels!—Cate’s bed went churning out the door. “Wait—what’s happening? Where are you going?” I tried to keep pace with them in the hallway but was quickly edged to the side by the fluorescent nurse. “They’re moving her to the ICU, which is facing significant capacity constraints. But I promise your friend is in good hands. Let’s get you back to the waiting room, okay?” “But I can’t just leave her. You don’t understand!” And despite my ongoing protests, with a few quick steps, the nurse somehow steered me all the way back to the ER lobby, asking that I take a seat. Instead, I paced alongside the front desk like a caged tiger, my mind jumping from regret to panic to despair—an exercise so exhausting, I eventually collapsed onto one of the blue padded chairs. Head falling into my hands, I allowed my fingernails to dig into the tender flesh where the hair had been ripped from my scalp just minutes before the ambulance came hurtling into my driveway. I wondered if I might go into cardiac arrest. A survival mechanism: my heart’s way of rejecting further trauma. There simply wasn’t a world in which I could handle another loss of this magnitude. Not after what had happened to my mother. My best friend is going to die. And it’s my fault. But wouldn’t Cate herself be the first to say that I needed to stop thinking negative thoughts? Positive visualization! Manifest your thoughts into reality. I closed my eyes, trying to picture her laughing instead of gagging on that tube. I opened my eyes. I’d tried to stop her, hadn’t I? But had I tried hard enough? I whipped my phone from my purse, anxious to see if Van had finally replied to my earlier barrage of messages: 10:04 a.m. Van? R u there? Something’s wrong VERY WRONG I know u said not to share Instant 10 But it was used w/o my permission And now … Something terrible has happened PLEASE CALL ME 10:12 a.m. Van, I’m serious CALL ME NOW OR I’M CALLING 911 10:33 a.m. I am BEGGING u to help me This is a matter of life and death!!! Still nothing in return. Such cruel silence—the opposite of the instant gratification I’d been conditioned to crave by the glowing box held in my hand; a hunk of glass and precious metal that could do anything I told it to. Almost anything. It couldn’t fill Cate’s lungs with air. It couldn’t undo the past. My thumbs had just launched an attack on the screen—violently tapping a new round of messages to Van—when a blur of movement filled my peripheral vision. Looking up, I expected to find the same nurse from before. But there was no magenta. Only gray. Gray blazers. Putty-colored pants. And the blur was actually two people. People who I could tell weren’t hospital staff. Just like the officers who showed up on my doorstep after the episode with my daughter…these people had badges. And when I tried to speak, I swallowed my defense whole. I was trying to help. To make things better. I never meant to hurt anyone.
  2. Chapter 1 NOW- July 28th Fog blankets my mind hiding my memory in its mist. Floating spots and light trails cloud my vision, and I’m groggy like I’m waking up from general anesthesia. Did I have surgery? It can’t be— they don’t strap you down. Four-point restraints choke my ankles and wrists, cementing me into a corpse pose. My temples tighten into a vice-like grip, threatening to crush my skull, and the only sound is blood smashing between my ears. My eyelids grow heavy, and the light recedes to dark. I drift in and out of consciousness. A mix of bleach and antiseptic sting my nostrils pulling me awake like they’re smelling salts, and the frigid air nips my bare skin. I’m nearly naked, left in only a bra and underwear. Goosebumps crawl up my arms. Was I abducted? The room is practically empty: yellowing white walls, drop ceilings, and the bed holding me hostage. My tricep throbs, and the pulsating pain shoots down to my hand. A fluorescent ceiling light floods my eyes and spotlights a memory— someone charged me from behind and stuck a needle in my arm. The rest of the memory slips away, fading into the light’s dark edges. My thoughts scatter with no sense of direction like a colony of crazy ants. What’s happening? Why can’t I remember anything? My mind twists, wringing itself out like a wet rag, dripping facts: my name is Addie Davenport, I’m twenty-four, no, twenty-five years old, and…. What else? I reach for the answers at the tip of my brain. They’re close but then slide into the grooves of my cerebrum, and I’m snatched back into a red haze. A clicking noise comes across the room, yanking me from my drowsiness. A door creaks, and footsteps follow. My pulse slams against my neck, my lip quivers, and I squeeze my eyes shut. Don’t move. You’re in restraints. You’re in danger. The footsteps grow louder and louder. One set clatter, and the others stomp, and then—they stop. The mattress sinks on one side of my body and then on the other, like hands are pressing it down. Body heat hovers over me, and breath hits my face, reeking of coffee and cigarettes. “What’s this?” A woman says with a gruff voice, “she’s not awake.” She lifts her body, and the mattress expands back into place. A lump grows in my dry throat. The woman takes my chin and turns my head from side to side, inspecting my face. I’m not a good actress— playing dead is difficult, but when your life is at risk, you somehow are capable of anything. “I swear I saw her eyes open,” a man says with no emotion in his monotone voice, “ Guess she’s still out.” She releases my chin. “Or she’s playing games with us.” She smacks my cheek in rapid succession. “Come on now.” Then, she grabs my shoulders and shakes me. I relax my muscles, making my body limp. My terror helps— it’s paralyzing. She drops me. “What sedative did they give her?” Sedative. That’s why I’m out of it. “Uhhh, I dunno,” the man says. “Do you?” “Propo something, ” another man says with a close to identical flat tone as the other. “Propofol,” The woman says. She presses her fingertips against my upper and lower eyelid. She begins to pry them apart, and a door slams. She rips her fingers away, and someone walks across the room. Their feet fall slow and loud. “What’s going on here?” A man says, deep and stone hard. “ Where are her clothes? Why the hell is she in restraints? I didn’t permit you to do this.” “What was I supposed to do?” the woman’s voice falters, “ Who knows what she’ll do when she wakes up, so I thought….” She’s afraid of him. He’s stopping them and seems to be in charge. Should I open my eyes and yell for his help? I repress the temptation. I don’t know enough yet, he could be dangerous, and if he’s in charge, he played a role in bringing me here. Wherever here is. “So you thought you’d strip her and cuff her to the bed? A bit much—even for you,” He says. “But, she might get violent again,” She says. Violent? Again? I’ve never been violent…as far as I know. “Remove the restraints and get me when she starts talking. You’re wasting my time,” The authoritative man says. “Of course, sir, ” She says. His footsteps pick up, fade, and the door closes. Silence fills the room. Then, the woman’s raspy voice pierces it. “Look what you two did. He’s pissed. Take off the restraints when she’s awake and —“ “But, but the doctor said now.” One of the men says. Doctor? I must be in a hospital. “And I said when she wakes up.” “We will.” The men say simultaneously. They stamp away, and the door clicks close. Nothing makes sense. My chest constricts, and anxiety bubbles inside it. My body and breath tremble as I suffer in my stillness, and tears coat my eyelashes. Are they gone? I can’t keep this up much longer. I peek out one eye and then the other— no one is in the room. My joints loosen, and I exhale. A moment of relief before the fear kicks back in. I twist my wrists against the restraints, and the material scrapes my skin, reminding me of my old boogie board’s wrist strap. The sensation conjures a childhood image of my sister paddling in the ocean when she was alive, physically and mentally. A wave rolls over the visual and washes her away. Who are those people? What do they want? I tilt my head down to the cuffs. There’s a label on them with words, but they’re fuzzy and blurred. My pupils zoom in and out like a camera lens, then shift into focus. Property of SBHC. What’s SBHC? I dig through my sandy brain. Think. I sift through my confusion, breaking up my clumped memories. S-B-H— I gasp. The air disappears from the room, and I bite back a scream. I know where I am and why. Chapter 2 One Week Before- July 21st It only takes seven minutes to hang yourself. I focused on the waiting room’s black and white tiled floor, tangled in the thought. Whoever implemented the fifteen-minute check should be in prison. Those eight minutes…Stop. Stop. Stop. Use the coping technique. Step one-take a deep breath: I inhaled through my nose and exhaled through my mouth. The intrusive thought floated. Step two-notice your surroundings: the minimalistic doctor’s office resembled a checkerboard. A velvet, traffic-cone orange couch splashed color onto the monochrome space. A flurry of skyscrapers filled the panoramic window, and a door stared at me with a nameplate engraved Dr. Nia Davis, Ph.D. Dessert sage lingered in the air like she smudged her office. The image flashed in my mind: Dr. Davis waving a burning sage stick, ridding the negative energy the patients dragged in— patients like me. Step three- Identify the trigger: Normally, my fixations stemmed from anxiety and grief over one person—my sister, Danielle. But, my upcoming flight home for my aunt Helen’s funeral caused my hostile thoughts that day. I left Florida the year before, vowing never to return. Helen broke that vow for me. The thought deflated. The final step- set my intention: move on. The thought disappeared like my memories from last summer. Dr. Davis emerged from her office, her hair spiraled out in every direction, yet each curl in its place. “Addie.” As I stood, her gaze traveled to the wrinkled tank top I dug out of my hamper that morning and over to my suitcase. She pulled together the sides of her crisp navy blazer and held the door open with her back. “Come on in.” Her office matched the waiting room’s color scheme and decor. A modern white desk sat beneath a window without photos or personal effects. She hid her life from patients, yet, she encouraged me to share everything about mine. No wonder people avoided shrinks—I did, doctors didn’t help my sister. But, my anxiety grew unmanageable, and I needed relief— pills—the kind only psychiatrists prescribe. I sat knock-kneed on the edge of another orange velvet couch while Dr. Davis grabbed her notebook. She took a seat across from me. “Happy to see you again,” she said with a smile, “how have you been?” “Ok, I guess. The Xanax helps.” At first, I planned on only seeing Dr. Davis once, getting the prescription, and going on my gloomy way. But she convinced me I needed more than pills, and my plan morphed into seeking a diagnosis. What was wrong with me? Now, at my third appointment, my question remained unanswered. My frustration heated and verged on coming to a boil. “But, why aren’t I feeling better?” I wrapped my arms around myself. “Doesn’t grief heal with time? It should be getting easier.” She tilted her head to the side.” Sometimes grief doesn’t follow a straight path, and there might be more going on here. But, don’t worry, we’ll figure it out.” She opened her notebook. “Are you still having difficulty studying?” I graduated from law school a few months back, and the bar exam loomed over me. Studying for the bar challenged me more than it should’ve. I couldn’t focus on anything other than Danielle’s death. “It’s hard to concentrate,” I said. She pointed to my suitcase. “Going somewhere?’ “I’m going to a funeral,” I hung my head, “my aunt Helen died.” The corners of her mouth sunk. “I’m so sorry for your loss. Were you close?” “When I was younger, we were, but we haven’t been for a long time. I saw her at Danielle’s funeral, and that’s the last we spoke.” “How does the decline of your relationship make you feel?” She asked. Dr. Davis’s soothing voice hypnotized me. During our sessions, she managed to wrangle my issues and rope them out of me without pulling too tight, easing me into opening up to her about my spiraling grief: my daydreams Danielle didn’t die, my guilt for not saving her, and my memory loss of the days surrounding her death. “Guilty. I should’ve kept in touch more.” I said. “Don’t be hard on yourself. It happens.” She changed the topic. “Isn’t your exam this week?” I nodded. “Do you feel ready?” She asked. I blew out my cheeks. “Kinda, I’m stressed out about it and nervous, though. I’m having more of those intrusive thoughts too.” She spoke as she took notes. “Have you been using the coping techniques?” “It only helps get rid of them. It doesn’t stop them from coming.” My thoughts were like an endless game of whack-a-mole. Once I hit one another popped up. “I see. Are the thoughts all about Danielle? Or other things as well? “She asked. Once again, I gave her information, and she gave me none in return. Just tell me. Give me a diagnosis. It had to be PGD—prolonged grief disorder. I was stuck in a grieving purgatory, like a piece of hardened gum underneath a park bench. After researching, PGD made sense. I had all the symptoms. But Dr. Davis wasn’t convinced. “I don’t mean to be rude, and I know you’re doing your job, which I know little about, but I hoped you settled on a diagnosis. Is it what I think it is? PGD?” I asked. Her gaze raised from her notebook to me. “You need to slow down and stop self-diagnosing through the internet. I need to rule out all other possibilities, and I haven’t gotten your blood results either.” Maddening. Blood tests wouldn’t tell her anything about my grief. “I’m sorry I haven’t gone for the blood work, but it’s tough to fit it in with the bar coming up. The days keep getting away from me, I start studying, and before I know it, it’s five o’clock in the morning. I don’t see the point anyway.” “Trouble sleeping?” She asked. I drew my eyebrows together. “Well, no, not exactly. I just lose track of time,” “And in the past, did you experience this? Insomnia or any other unusual sleep patterns?” “Sometimes I’ve had trouble sleeping. I wouldn’t say it was unusual. It’s more like whatever I had going on at the time. Like I’d sleep a lot, and then I wouldn’t. I’ve been a student for a really long time, you know. My schedule isn’t normal. Things change with final exams or when I have papers due.” She wrote in her notebook again. “I see.” Dr. Davis’s favorite phrase—I see. Passive words concealing any reaction or glimpse into what she thought of my responses. “Would you say your appetite changes with your sleep patterns?” “I never really thought about that. When I study, I don’t eat as much as I should.” “Have you ever stayed up for four days or more?” She asked. I tilted my head back and then straightened it. “God, I don’t know. It couldn’t be days.” Could it? “It’s nothing I’m concerned about.” Danielle had the sleep issues, not me. Her bipolar disorder would leave her bursting with energy or completely zapped of it. “The only thing unusual is a reoccurring dream. In the dream, I’m falling and it’s pouring rain …” I stared at the wall, “it feels so real.” “Dreams of falling usually mean you subconsciously feel the loss of control over your life or something in your life. With what you’re going through, it makes sense. They’ll stop as you heal.” She changed the topic. “Do you think going home for the funeral will help you?” “What do you mean?” She tapped her pen against the paper. “I think being in the location where the trauma took place can help. I hadn’t suggested it before because I don’t think you’re ready, and you’ve been adamant that you never want to go home. But, now that you need to, facing your past can help you heal and remember.” She set the pen in the crease of her notebook. “I don’t want you going if you feel like you can’t handle it. You aren’t required to go to the funeral. Your family will understand.” “I know, but it’s the right thing to do,” I said. “But is it right for you? “ I turned to the window. “Helen played a big role in my childhood. I should be there.” A small flock of birds circled the building across the street. Last Spring, they found thousands of migrating birds dead from building collisions. They flew to the reflection of trees from Central Park in the glass, mistaking it for their home, and crashed. Misinterpreting something could be deadly. “Then use this as an opportunity to unearth the memories you’re missing. I’m still not clear what the root of the fractured memories are—” “They’re repressed memories from trauma, and I’m not sure I want to remember,” I said. She wagged her finger. “Again, self-diagnosing. Don’t do it. It could be something else entirely.” Something else? “I’ll face those memories after you determine my diagnosis.” She crossed her legs and leaned forward. “You might not have a choice. Memories can surface at any time. There are countless triggers. It can be as simple as a smell, a place, or an object,” Dr. Davis talked with her hands, “something you read or watch.” My arm hair rose. “But maybe the memories won’t surface.” She checked her watch. “I’m afraid we’re out of time.” She got up from her chair and nestled her notebook under her arm. “Let me walk you out.” Dr. Davis led me out of her office and into the waiting room. “Have a safe trip.” She handed me her card with handwriting at the bottom—cell: 347-689-1001. I raised my head and searched her eyes. “I normally don’t give out my personal number, but you can call me if you need me.” Concern spread over her face. “This trip might be more difficult than you think.”
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