***Warning: Contains explicit language, mentions suicide/self-harm and substance abuse***
I really hate my job. I’m staring at the clock like a jailbird waiting for their cell to finally open, to taste the sweet nectar of freedom. It’s an odd sensation — a cocktail of relief and nauseating anxiety. Today’s the day I stick up for myself. Today’s the day I tell the dragon lady I refuse to work on my day off. She'll listen to me because I'll sound confident, stern, and oh my gosh, here she comes! My back straightens.
In she walks with two technicians and an intern at her heels. She’s on her bluetooth, on a conference call with the district leader. A disembodied voice shouts, "One pharmacy call." It repeats three times, but no one reaches for the phone.
“Maddy, can you get the phone?" Diane, the pharmacy manager, shouts. She uses that biting tone that I know so well. I want to tell her that my twelve-hour shift is over and the other staff members could get it, but I don’t. Why provoke her?
Reluctantly, I answer. “Remington Pharmacy, pharmacist Maddy speaking, how may I help you?”
“Yeah, those pills y’all sold me on Tuesday — something’s wrong with them. They didn’t work, and they taste god-awful. They’re gummy, for Christ’s sake. I want a refund.”
“Sorry to hear that, sir. Can you tell me your name and date of birth?”
“Franklin Upshaw, December 12th, 1978.”
I search for him on the computer and sigh when I scan his drug history profile. “Mr. Upshaw, those weren’t to be taken by mouth. Those were suppositories.”
“Well, how the hell am I supposed to take them?" Mr. Upshaw shouts, loud enough for me to pull the receiver away from my ear.
“You put them up your rectum. It says insert rectally on the label. Did you read the label?”
“Somebody should’ve told me that. I still want a refund.”
In the end, after several minutes of explaining, re-explaining, and being screamed at with expletives, I have no choice but to hand the call over to Diane. She takes the call, and judging by her tomato red color, she's not making headway with Mr. Upshaw either. Great, now I’ll have to start this conversation with her in a bad mood.
“Sir, we do not issue refunds because you misused a medication. I beg your pardon? Sir… sir!”
The phone clangs loudly after Diane slams it down. She glares at me. "Next time, clean up your own mess, Maddy. Why are you sitting down? You don't get paid to sit. Last week, a stool was broken; no doubt it was you who did it. Breaking things costs the company money, Maddy."
She berates me like this often, like I’m a child, not at all like a 30-year-old with a doctorate degree. When we're alone, it's embarrassing enough, but she does it to me in front of 19-year-old technicians who emulate her behavior and treat me like dirt. I will not cry. I won’t. I must muster the courage to say what I need to say. The bile begins to rise, and I feel off-kilter like a tugboat jostled by angry waves. Suddenly, I yearn for something to comfort me. When I was eight, it was Teddy. I would squeeze his little cotton-filled body until all the butterflies fluttered away from my stomach. Where were the teddy bears for adults?
“I…I wanted to speak with you.” I say, hating the squeaky way my voice sounds.
She ignores me and answers another pharmacy call.
I clear my throat and speak a little louder. “I won’t be able to work on Saturday, my Nana’s birthday is that day, and well…anyway, that was supposed to be my day off.”
Her back is turned from me, and she faces the computer screen as she continues to assist a patient. I just stand there for several minutes, feeling like an idiot. When she finally hangs up, she turns to face me.
“Your Nana? Time off has to be approved by me, and since no one agreed to pick up the shift, you’re needed here.”
“But, I put that request in a year in advance. There was plenty of time to—”
“I don’t remember you requesting anything. You’re needed here.” She picks up another call and gives me the “look” that says this conversation is over.
Defeated, I hang up my white coat and exit the pharmacy. As I drive home, I imagine the disappointment on Nana's face when I tell her I won't be able to celebrate her special day with her. My eyes well up with tears. I’m exhausted; my feet and ankles throb from rushing from the pharmacy drive-through window, the pickup area, the drop-off area, and answering phones all night. During my twelve-hour shift, I work alone without any assistance from technicians or interns. I’d quit at the drop of a hat if it weren’t for these damn student loans. My life feels like it doesn't even belong to me anymore. It belongs to Sallie Mae.
I reach into the glove box to find some tissue. I only take my eyes off the road for a few seconds, but when I look up, there’s someone in a dirty teddy bear costume right in the middle of the road. The left button-eye is flopping down, just like my Teddy. I panic and jerk the steering wheel to the right. Tires screech and I lose control as my car plummets into a ditch. I bang my head against the driver's seat window. It starts to get blurry, and then everything turns black.
Beep. Beep. Beep.
“I will be right with you,” I tell the window. Ugh, my head fills like it’s filled with a bag of heavy sharp nails. As I peel my eyes open, I notice harsh fluorescent lights above me. My nose wrinkles at the smell of antibacterial soap and Lysol. I turn to the right. It’s a window displaying the Chicago skyline, not a drive-through window. I look at my arm; it’s connected to thin tubes that run up to an IV pole. The beeping belongs to the heart monitor. “Get Well Soon” cards and a bouquet of daisies are on the table beside the bed.
“Oh my god, she’s up. Come, she’s up,” Mom shouts. Mom’s exhausted eyes meet mine, and she smiles. “Oh, honey, you scared us all half to death.”
“I’m fine now, mom, don’t worry.” I feel as if my vocal cords have been rubbed with sandpaper, and my mouth feels as dry as a desert. Nana shuffles in, her walking cane tapping lightly against the tile floors. A large bag hangs over her left shoulder.
“How are you feeling, my sweetheart?” Asks Nana.
My throat hurts, so I point at my forehead to communicate that I have a headache. Then, I lift my hand to my throat to indicate my throat hurts too. Nana pulls something out of her bag as mom tries to summon a nurse for me.
When I see it, my heart skips a beat. A barely there cheeky smile with threadbare stitching, matted, dirty brown fur, shiny black buttons for eyes. Teddy. Nana found Teddy. As she places him on my chest, I feel my eyes pool over. She runs her hand down my hair and says, “Nana’s here. I knew you needed him; I always know what you need, sweetie.”
“Look, like I said, my daughter’s in pain; she’s in tears, for goodness sake,” Mom says to the nurse while pointing at me. “She needs another dose of morphine.”
I’m given 2 mg of Morphine via IV, and soon I’m weightless, floating on a cloud of cotton candy, without a care in the world. Teddy floats up with me.
“Heyyyy, long time, no see, Maddy,” says Teddy. His lips don’t move, but I can hear him as clear as day.
“Hey, Teddy. I’ve really missed you.” I say. “But, why were you in the middle of the road?”
Teddy just laughs and jumps up and down on the cloud. “Guess what, Maddy?”
“It’s Saturday, and you’re not at work. Yippee!"
"Yippee!" I bounce up and down, laughing hysterically. I hear someone in the distance talking.
Oh, yeah, she’s high as a kite.
As a result of my injuries, I am granted a three-week leave of absence. I have a lacerated ear, a fractured collarbone, and a few bumps and bruises, but nothing too severe. Honestly, I haven’t felt this well in years. No pharmacy calls, no irate patients, no horrible bosses. I feel entirely free, and I have Teddy. Nana reschedules her birthday celebration, and I’m able to attend.
As Auntie Mora places the cone party hat on Nana's head, my heart fills with gratitude.
“I almost missed this,” I say to myself.
A knowing smile and a wink appear on Nana's face as she blows out her candles on the cake. It is a yellow, three-tiered mountain of icing with swirly floral patterns. What does she wish for? My guess is it’s about me. When something isn't right with me, Nana knows. Always.
It’s been only two and a half weeks. In that time, I lost 9 lbs, helped organize my friend’s baby shower, took Nana to bingo twice, attended a speed dating event, and bought myself some new stylish clothes.
The date for returning to work looms ever closer, and I take more pain pills. I'm almost out. But it's the only way I can hear Teddy. I need him to calm my anxiety, now more than ever.
His cheerful, comforting, musical voice fills my ears as I drown the Percocet with a glass of red wine.
“Maddy, what's got you down, kiddo?”
“I return to work in five days. I hate it there. I just wish I had more time off.”
Teddy chuckles. “Just quit, you silly goose.”
“But, I’m scared, Teddy.”
Teddy turns on the speakers and puts on Prince’s “1999.” From the looks of things, he’s twerking on the couch, gyrating his cute cotton bottom in the air. I throw my head back and laugh.
“You’re going to pop your stitching moving like that,” I tell him. Soon, I grab the wine bottle and join him on the couch. As droplets of wine drip down the corners of my mouth, I’m lost in a fog of euphoria, forgetting all about my problems at work. Now, believe me when I say I am well aware I have lost my mind, but the thing is… I really don’t care. This feels amazing, and I’m having a blast. My anxiety is a million miles away; it’s as if it never existed in the first place. I can hear tapping and yelling somewhere in the distance.
Hey, I’m trying to sleep down here!
I’m whipping my hair from side to side, bouncing on the couch, laughing hysterically.
“Get it, Maddy!” yells Teddy.
“Oh, yeah, I still got it. I can still work it," I tell him, swirling my arms around.
I lose my footing, stumble off the couch, and hit my head on the coffee table. When I wake up, I’m drenched in wine. Teddy’s unanimated form sits on the couch.
I notice a deep cut on my forehead when I get up to go to the bathroom. Sticky blood is caked down the side of my face. It probably will need stitches. What a relief. I can probably get more Percocet, allowing me to speak to Teddy. I walk back to the couch, pick him up, and squeeze tight.
Before turning off the ignition, I pop four Percocets. I take deep, steady breaths. Unanimated, Teddy sits in his seatbelt on the passenger side, strapped in his car seat. Upon checking my makeup in the rearview mirror, I notice that my hair rollers are still in. I scramble to pull them out with shaking hands before I’m late to work. The last roller lands in Teddy's eye, the one already flopping down.
“Ouch, Maddy. That hurt.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Teddy. I’m running late, and I forgot to take my rollers out."
Teddy chuckles. “I’m kidding, you silly goose. I can’t feel pain.”
There’s a moment of confusion before I laugh nervously, shake my head, and say, “Right. Stupid. Of course not.”
“And you know I don’t need a car seat. My insides are made of cotton.”
I nod, and Teddy’s face does something it never did before. It frowns.
“Frankly, Maddy, I’m a little concerned.”
“Concerned?” I pick at the cuticles of my nails and look at the dashboard clock. Already five minutes late, Diane’s about to blow a gasket.
Teddy’s eyes narrow. “You are talking to a stuffed bear in a crowded parking lot. You’re becoming a drug addict.”
“I am not,” I say defensively. “I just want to talk to you. You’re my best friend.”
Teddy gets up and smacks me with his tiny stuffed paw. Of course, it doesn’t hurt my face, but it does hurt my feelings.
“I thought I told you to quit, you idiot.”
My bottom lip wobbles and it's a challenge push down the lump in my throat. “I can’t quit. My student loans, my career….”
“Maddy, don’t you realize you didn’t see a bear costume the day of the crash? You crashed your car on purpose because you’re miserable here. Fuck your student loans and double fuck your career.”
I shake my head in disbelief. Fresh tears spill out without my consent. This can’t be true. I wouldn’t do that to my family.
“No, no there was a man in a costume, and I swerved so I wouldn’t hit him," I insist.
“Enough, Maddy. Quit before it’s too late before you lose what’s left of your mind.”
Teddy wouldn’t lie to me. He loves me too much. Nana found him for a reason — it was when I needed him most. I start the engine and make a three-point turn out of the parking lot. As I am driving home, I notice Teddy has changed back to being a regular bear.
“Thank you, Teddy," I say. "Goodbye.”
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I like the flow push.