I have always have been an anxious creature. Living always in my comfort bubble. For instance, even during the last pandemic, the fact that I was confined me to my one-bedroom apartment was not so bothering to me. I wasn’t going out much before either.
What was taxing my nerves was this anxiety; “What if I get sick and die in excruciating pain, gasping for air?” Because that was the tableau that was drawn by media for this covid-19 disease.
So, since my panic attacks aggravated after the lockdown, I had an online consultation with my psychiatrist and he gave me a reboot. No more just alprazolam (known mostly like Xanax), but serious stuff like paroxetine and clonazepam. Now, next step was the trip to pharmacy.
The thing is, I was into a bind here. Closer to my house there was this pharmacy where worked a woman I kind of liked. She drew my attention since I saw her for the first time. Colored stockings with matching short skirt, a transparent black blouse that could be glimpsed behind the white lab coat was enough to make me dream. And I’m not a damned horny teenage boy, damn it! I’m 45. And I am single. Still single, always.
One of the first symptoms this pandemic inflicted on me was from the digestive area. So, when I went to the pharmacy to get some antiacid, I saw her. Probably she was new because I would have noticed her before.
Her nametag gave me the info I needed to ‘stalk’ her on Facebook; Margaret Franks, senior pharmacist.
The online search gave me more pictures of her and also the information that she is a single mom. Now the question was: will I ever get past my pathological shyness with girls and approach her?
In the meantime, I needed to get my meds. I received the prescription from the doctor by mail, and all what remained to do was to get the meds. But I couldn’t go to the pharmacy where Margaret was working.
If she finds out about my mental issues, it will blow away my chances with her.
So, I kept walking one block further, to the next pharmacy. Here, the element of novelty was a homeless guy that was stationed next to the entrance. He seemed to be a young man with a dirty face partially hidden by an equally dirty hair and beard. Strange was that he was not begging for money in particular. He was asking for meds. Benzodiazepines, more specifically. Later I found out that because of this, he was called Benzo by the onlookers or the neighborhood residents.
At my first visit to that pharmacy, I got my prescription and when I left, of course, Benzo approached me.
“Please man, help a brother in sufferance!” he said, having a pained expression.
I stood in place and I questioned him, although this is not usually in my nature. But his begging eyes made me curious.
“And what is that sufferance you are talking about?” I asked.
“The life itself. Life is pain!” he shouted, raising from where he was standing.
Here it goes! I said to myself. The usual prophetic speech about ‘the end is near’…
But no, he had a different discourse.
“You see, brother, (can I call you that? Because I see the same pain in you, man!) life struck me down when I was most happy. I was in love and I had a job. The world was mine, and I had dreams. How foolish of me to think all will be fabulous, with rainbows, and unicorns!”
“What happened?” I asked, wanting to know more and also to stop his rant.
“I worked hard to get the dream apartment for me and my fiancée. You know, extra shifts, extra projects, and so on. But I got sick. Burnout Syndrome, they said.”
“That is a pretty common illness these days,” I interjected. “With the right treatment and proper rest, you can overcome it.”
I was a big fat liar here. I was feeling bad for some years already and I had better times and worse times, but I could never call myself cured.
“I had meds,” continued Benzo. “I even had counseling. One hundred dollars for fifty damn minutes! And what good it did to me? Nothing! Nada!”
Comparing his case with mine, I had to say, “At least you had the support of a woman who loved you, right?”
“At first she supported me, but after a while she had enough of my depression and moods and kicked me out of her apartment.”
Ouch! That was hard indeed.
“But for sure, you can have a legit prescription for your meds. Why begging for them?” I insisted.
“Since I couldn’t work anymore, I lost my insurance as well. I can’t see a private practice doctor. And the doctors at the General won’t give me anymore. They want to get me and put me in the looney bin!”
It seemed reasonable for the doctors from the General Hospital to want him admitted to the psych ward. But I saw ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest’ movie and I won’t go there also by choice.
“So, will you give me some benzos? You have some, right? I see it in your face.”
I don’t know what he really saw on my face, but I had no way to back down from this, so I dug into the paper bag the pharmacist gave me and got out the clonazepam bottle. I removed the cap and put like five or six pills into my palm and handed them to the guy in front of me.
“I still think you should not take these without medical advice,” I said while putting the clonazepam bottle back into the bag.
But after he got what he needed, Benzo ignored me, so I moved on.
Fast forward, one year later. The pandemics bad numbers are low now. Many say it’s over. Will see about that…
I got vaccinated against this new damned virus, so the pressure on my mind was somehow dampened. I still take my benzos though, but in a lower dose.
But more important is that I finally had the guts to ask Margaret out on a date. First, I sent her a friend request on Facebook. And she accepted! Next, I went to the pharmacy and told her I want to know her also in the real world. And again, to my pleasant amazement, she accepted.
We walked around the park from neighborhood for our first date and talked about everything in the moon and the stars. For the second one we had a nice dinner in a restaurant chosen by me, but that seemed to be to her liking too.
A relationship was in the cards for me and that itself was a sign that I was better and my life was getting back on track.
One day, searching through my meds cabinet, I found a box with 30 alprazolam tablets, all untouched. And being resolute to not come back to using them, I gave them to Benzo when I had to go to that pharmacy again.
The joy in his face made me think I did a nice gesture for him. But I felt somehow the need to say, “Benzo, man, don’t take them all at once! It’s good to last longer, right?”
He mumbled something and waived his hand dismissively.
Now I felt it was time to take my relation with Margaret to a new level. The physical level. Until now we agreed to take it slow and it was fine by me. I hadn’t been with a woman for over three years and I was nervous like I was a teenager again.
So, I picked-up a nice bouquet of autumn flowers on my way to the pharmacy, wanting to surprise Margaret with a romantic invitation at the end of her shift. Once arrived there, I saw that Margaret was not there. My mood bubble deflated instantly. I asked her colleague Olivia about her. I knew Liv to be a bit of a gossiper, and she didn’t disappoint me.
“They urgently called Margaret to the General Hospital,” she said, seeing my wandering look.
“Oh, my God! Is she all right?” I asked, feeling a weakness in my knees.
“Yes. You know, she was called because Chance, her ex-boyfriend… (what am I saying? Actually, he was her ex-fiancée) was taken there in critical condition. The poor guy had no one else and she couldn’t let him down. You can’t easily forget so many good years with someone, right?”
How would I know? I never had a longer relation with a woman before. I hoped that now was my time for that, finally. Ex-boyfriend or not, I had to be there for Margaret, not for him. To support her.
So, I jumped in the next cab I saw coming my way, and I stopped only at the entrance of the General Hospital. To my annoyance, the receptionist didn’t want to give me any info on Chance Garfield since I wasn’t a relative or something.
I texted Margaret: “I am at the hospital, where are you?”
Few seconds later I got the laconic reply: “Neurology, third floor.”
I took the elevator, the flowers still clutched in my left hand. Feverishly, I exited the elevator looking for Margaret’s silhouette. Ah, there she was near the coffee machine. It looked like she was preparing for a wait there. So much with my romantic plans!
“Johnny! How nice of you to come here,” she said when she saw me approaching.
I kissed her lips slightly.
“How could I not come? I will be always by your side, you know that. How is your friend?”
“Bad! Very bad. He is in a deep coma and the doctors are reserved about his chances.”
How ironic, and his name is Chance, I thought.
“I’m sorry,” I said, trying to sound sympathetic. “Was he in an accident or what?”
Margaret took her coffee cup and sipped slowly. Then we walked toward the room where her friend was kept.
“No, no accident. Chance had a rough patch lately, and it seems that now he hit the bottom.”
Her words were not so enlightening, but I didn’t push for more. When we entered the room 1849, my heart stopped. The man connected to the machines was not a stranger to me. It was Benzo!
Margaret sat on the chair next to the bed while I remained like a stone near the door. It pained me to see the remorse in her eyes. She was feeling responsible for his state, because she left him when he needed the most? Or she was still having feelings for him and only now, facing his probable death, she re-discovered them?
Anyhow, this was not good for me. I was boggling my mind to come up with something to make myself scarce. I was the third wheel there, anyway.
Margaret caressed Benzo’s hand, saying with a sudden angry voice, “And when you think there is an a-hole there who gave him an entire box of Xanax. This was too much for Chance. He took them all at once.”
Gulp! What is she finds out I am that guy? Who cares? This relation is burned for me, anyway.
“I will strangle him myself with my bare hands if I find him,” continued the woman.
A bit over the top this reaction, if you ask me.
I checked my phone overtly, and then I said something about some damned urgency at work.
“Talk to you later! I hope your friend gets better!” I said in a not so sincere voice, and closed the door behind me.
When I was in the lobby, I noticed I still had the flowers in my hand. I threw them in the next bin saying, “That’s for you, buddy! Thanks for helping me dodge the bullet!”
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I liked this story, needs a little editing but what story doesn't. I love how you connected the girlfriend and Benzo, that was neat and, surprisingly, I didn't see it coming. Nice job!
Thank you, I like to write short stories with a punch line. And, since English is not my first language, errors have a tendency to slip in my texts. :)
I feel like a misfit in this competition, although is not all for the win. But it's also not my style to write a page about deep feelings, and the movement of each fiber of my being just to wake up from bed in the morning. :)