Ryan groaned in pain as she pulled yet another dusty box from beneath her bed.
Where the hell is it?
Of all the days she could have broken her laptop charger, it had to be the day before her exposition was due. College alone was already a grueling enough experience, but let’s tap on any other obstacles we can for good measure! After all, they don’t call it the old college try for nothing.
I know there’s another charger under here. I just packed it.
Ryan flattened the upper half of her body against the cold wooden floor and shimmied underneath the bed frame as far as her stature would allow, reaching for the last box of junk that was crammed against the wall toward the very top of the space beneath the bed.
Having just moved into a new one-bedroom atop the beautiful city of San Diego, Ryan knew for a fact that she had a spare charger, because she herself had shoved it into a box mere weeks ago before loading it into a truck and trudging it up three flights of stairs; while Golden Hill was a beautiful place to live, some of the buildings seemed to have been erected in the same week of the Declaration of Independence, including Ryan’s new apartment complex, proudly sans-elevator.
For Ryan, everything in life seemed to be excessively demanding. Crawling her way to a bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Engineering was enough to make her question everything she ever thought she wanted to do with her career. Living 3,000 miles away from her entire family had its pros and cons, but it got lonely. Moving in with her girlfriend could be seen as a big step, but their conflicting schedules between classes and full time jobs left her feeling, at times, like she and the love of her life were just roommates. What the hell was the actual point of anything? Why was everyone so desperate for mediocrity, so impatient to jump on that running wheel and never get off?
Will there ever be a payoff?
After dragging the furthermost box out into the open, Ryan exhaled deeply, blowing stray hairs out of her face and sagging her back against the wall. This was it; the last box. If it’s not here, that means a trip to Best Buy in rush hour, and I can kiss my parking spot goodbye.
Ryan tore off the cheap packing tape and threw back the flaps of the box.
Her heart sank; of course. Nothing useful. Just like my life.
Journals. Ten, maybe twenty of them. She knew there were ten, maybe twenty because she had also just packed this box during the time that she packed the now Treasure Chest containing her charger and various electronics. With a swift wave of irritation, Ryan was again reminded how much she hated moving. She sighed and hastily began thumbing through her old journals, finally defeated and giving up on getting her laptop to turn on in the foreseeable future. Ryan eyed the old, beaten books with curiosity.
Why is it that these things seem to keep following me around?
Ryan hadn’t actually looked in any of her old journals since her family mailed them to her. She was certain they were trying to do a good thing, but Ryan tended to avoid blatant reminders of such a traumatic time in her life; the last thing she intended to do was relive them. Somehow, the journals still turned up time and time again, almost begging to be read. She rolled her eyes at the thought.
But when Ryan tried to push the box back under the bed, she felt that old familiar twinge of magnetic pull toward the stacks of pages. She wondered what was inside; she wondered if maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing to remember where she came from.
Attention deficit and defeated, Ryan succumbed to the temptation and picked up a journal that appeared to be the most beaten up of the stack. Traffic needed to die down anyway, and it’s not like I’ll be getting any work done until then with no damn laptop. The journal she had chosen was a deep brown leather-bound beauty, filled with thick sheets of parchment paper all frayed at the edges; this had always been her favorite kind. She flipped a page toward the end of the book that had been marked with the string attached to the spine.
There’s no way to write about stress without sounding like an excerpt from a Chicken Soup for the Soul novel. I guess there’s one catch to this, and it’s writing about stress, sitting alone in a behavioral health ward against your will detoxing from heroin and crystal meth getting ready to spend 28 days in rehab.
Oddly enough, my stressors really aren’t focused on this ridiculous journey I’m on or what’s going to become of me or if I’m about to be in California or Virginia for the next month. I’m excited to hop on a plane if I get to visit the west coast and I view it as nothing more than a paid vacation and a tolerance break. Not like I’m even getting high anymore anyway, so god knows I need one.
Stress is kind of a stupid thing to write about, unless of course you’re a lyricist and you can turn it into something catchy like Twenty One Pilots did. Stress is far from tangible. Stress only begins in the joints and bones and from there it takes free reign over every part of you that once was free. Stress
Ryan slammed the book shut and closed her eyes, momentarily sinking back into the strangely cold bath that was now simply a memory transcribed in her journal only three years prior. Whoa. Three years. Three years since she sat in a mental hospital white-knuckling for her life.
Sometimes it still didn’t feel real. The time she spent in rehab; the time (actually, times) she almost died. Other times, Ryan’s era as an intravenous drug user was the only reality she could feel, and this life of engineering and hard work became a blur of fantasy. Who even am I, she would ask herself; how did I get here?
Well, on a plane, obviously. Ryan stared at the words on the page and the imagery burst into life behind her eyelids as though it were happening in the present, again and again. Three years prior she had left North Carolina weighing fifty pounds less, covered in track marks and bloodstains.
Three years prior she was living from hotel to hotel, selling sex for a spoonful of sugar.
Three years prior she was a chronic college dropout, isolated from her friends and family.
Three years prior, her doctor and family had forced her into -- she glanced back down at the page -- “a paid vacation and a tolerance break.”
She let out a soft laugh, but even still, Ryan felt the warmth begin to burn behind her eyelids. She had become so comfortable in her new life. Her only roof was once her car; her only income was once her body; her only vice once littered her arms in black and blue pricks, her veins with scar tissue. How could anyone be so discontent when statistically, they shouldn’t even be alive? She had tried so hard to bury the battered, drug addicted girl she pulled from the wreckage those three years ago, but at what cost? Five minutes ago Twenty Nineteen Ryan was pissed to lose a good parking spot; Twenty Sixteen Ryan would have had to sleep in that spot, curled up in her backseat.
Do I even deserve any of this?
Ryan stared blankly at the ceiling. She blinked and sighed. Shaking out the heebie-jeebies, she opened the journal to a different page, rewinding her reminiscence by a few months. The journal fell open to a cold December night.
Chills. Shakes. Everything looks weird. Like i have rose colored glasses on but they arent rose colored. They are blurry and glassy and they keep blinking on and off.
Body: fucking hurts. Back hurts. Hands and muscles and bones just feel hollow. Lightning bolts keep sending shock waves through my central nervous system. Thats how i know it’s really the dope more than the speed that i ever bounced off of before. This hurts in a way that i have never felt.
My body is one of those globe things that is all electric and when you touch it all the neurons zap to your finger.
Chills are shooting down my spine and down my arms and back up. Its like having flu symptoms i think. When i try to sleep i wake up paralyzed with this loud buzzing in my ears and i feel certain i am finally dying. There are times when this possibility fills me with terror. But sometimes i find myself wondering if i could ever be so lucky.
For a moment, Twenty Nineteen Ryan was catapulted back into the pits of the coldest December of her life, and the chills she felt those four years prior were as real and present as they ever had been. Detoxification. Withdrawal. Pain; raw, unadulterated pain. The desire for anything but this feeling, even if it meant death. She remembered the late nights tossing and turning, unable to sleep and eat, but feeling the utmost hunger and exhaustion. She remembered the cold sweats. The trembling fingers. The tears that ran in silent rivers down her face as she flicked the bright orange syringe cap onto the floor and pulled the plunger back, knowing it was the last thing she wanted to do.
To think that she had forgotten, or at least tried to forget this. To think that she sat ungratefully and mindlessly on her hardwood floors, working on an exposition that exhibited a level of skill and intelligence that had once been wiped from the map of her future by the drug and human trafficking industry and her failed attempts at formal education. She pushed herself up from the floor and stood before the bedroom mirror, arms reaching out to her sides, a few inches from her hips.
There were no bruises, no pinpricks. Where Ryan once was a whopping eighty-seven pounds, she now filled out a size medium top and six pant sizes up from her last day with a needle in her arm. The pools of deep black that once formed beneath her eyes had been eradicated, leaving behind only the slightest twinge of purple which could be expected from any college student. Her hair fell in dark waves past her shoulders, no longer thinning, breaking and falling out from malnutrition.
Ryan stared at the image of the girl in the mirror, a stark contrast to the girl whose scrawling handwriting filled the pages of twenty-something journals in a cardboard box that now collected dust beneath her bed, and suddenly she understood that she had everything Ryan thought she would never have again. This was her time; this was her life. This time, the warmth burning behind her eyes was full of gratitude and astonishing joy.
She sank to her knees and picked up the leather-bound journal once more, a sparkling current running from the cover through her palm. For a moment, Ryan felt her heartbeat rising in her throat as she flipped the journal open one last time; this time, to the last page. She grabbed a pen.
it’s been 1300 days since i have gotten high
since i have felt nothing
and everything, all at once
since i have closed the blinds on my
soul, locked the cage
in which i stowed my
sanity, dropped the key
in a spoon,
melted it down;
became no one,
and everyone, all at once
became the chemist,
the doctor, all at once
Ph.D written in
my blood across my arm.
i knew best.
since i took to the lock
on the bathroom door,
1300 days since my fingers
shook, a puppet
tangled in my own strings,
one of which is now
wrapped around my
arm, like a vine,
like a bow
around a gift,
just add water.
its been 1300 days since i have gotten high
push in, pull back, push in,
pull back, flash of red;
glaring stop signs i once thought were
push in, check again,
drift a little,
i am gone. i am gone
i am finally gone and that
is just the way i like me.
its been 1300 days since i have gotten high
1300 days since the lights
stayed off, the doors
stayed closed, the room
but god, my head,
its been 1300 days since i have gotten high
but if i close my eyes
its only been 1.
its been 1300 days, but i am finally alive.
Ryan slammed the book shut a second time, picked up her keys and glanced at the time: 5:38 pm. The 805 would be a parking lot.
The thought made her smile.