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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.

 

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