Sex, Drugs, and Psychiatric Wards: A Novel

By Eve Lopez

This book is a work of fiction. Incidents, names, characters, and places are products of the author's imagination and used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual locales or events or persons living or dead is coincidental. Copyright © 2012 by Eve Lopez All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by

copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher, addressed “Attention: Permissions Coordinator,” at the address below. everenelopez@yahoo.com

Table of Contents When She Went Away 7 High School 11 The Guidance Counselor 14 Moving Away to College 16 The Dorm Situation 20 The Professor 24 Creekview, CA 26 The Frat Party 28 Freshman 37 Winter Break in Los Angeles 40 What’s Your Major? 43

St. Patrick’s Day – Sophomore Year 45 Belief 53 Roommates 54 The End of the Summer Party 56 Highs 62 Tango 67 Cocaine and Sex 70 Mushrooms and the Moon 73 The Student Health Clinic 74 Obsession 75 Flowers That Bite 82 The Procedure 85

June in Creekview 88 Summer Alone 90 Falling Apart 93 It’s a Question of Ethics 95 That Kind of Woman 97 Party at My Place 99 August Hell 101 The Return of Joy 102 A Bad Trip 103 The Phone Call 105 Posters That Come to Life 107 Strapped Down 109 Inappropriate in the E.R. 110

The Mental Hospital 116 How Are You Feeling? 122 The Evaluation 125 The Visit From Mother 127 Female Group Therapy 134 The End of the Commitment 145 Fires 147 Welcome Back 148 Truth or Dare 151 The Letter – Flunking Out of School 153 Another Woman Reaches Her Breaking Point 154 That Woman 159

Joy Leaves 160 After the Winter 162 Sickness 169 February in Creekview 171 Friday Night at the Coffee House 172 A Music Festival 173 Happy Times 174 The Myth of Happiness 175 April Wedding 177 Nightmares 179 Late 180 Perfect Circles 182

Window Dressing 184 Graduation Weekend 185 A Studio Apartment Meant for One 187 What Happened In the Car 189 Breakdown 194 Stomach Pumping 196 Psychiatric Ward 197 County 198 Back at the Suicide Resort 200 Insurance Companies and Scars 201 After the Fall 204 Time to Leave 206

The City 209 About the Author 210

When She Went Away When I was 10, my mother disappeared. It was one of those hot, muggy days in one of the valleys surrounding Los Angeles. The air was stifling, thick with exhaust and heat. I hated walking home on those days – that particular day had been an orange-alert day, one that meant we weren’t allowed outdoors during recess or lunch because it was considered “unhealthy.” I got home and my mother wasn’t there. This wasn’t cause for alarm – my mother had a sister who lived nearby, and the church was only a few miles away.

I sat in front of the TV and waited. I was an only child. I was used to waiting for people. By myself. The sun began to set. My father came home from work and took one of those family-sized frozen dinner casseroles out of the freezer, and stuck it in the oven. He retreated to the garage to work on one of his projects. An hour later, he came in, served up two dishes, one for himself, and retreated back into the garage. I fell asleep, as I often did, on the living room couch, reading a book. When I woke up the next morning, it was

late. Past 8:00 a.m. This was not unusual either – my mother often forgot to wake me up and I learned to live with the pissy looks from teachers and the ridicule from other students. In fourth grade, I was aware of the discomfort my presence often caused – I wore thick glasses with plastic frames and the wrong shoes. I was long past wanting to be with the other, pretty girls. It was like wishing to win the lottery – I didn’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about it. I got dressed quickly and ran all the way to school. It was spelling quiz day. My teacher refused to repeat the first part of the quiz that I’d missed. When the quiz was over, she came over to glare at me. “I have told you before that if you’re late, you will not get any special treatment

from me,” she said in a low, even voice. I looked down. I willed the tears that formed in my eyes to not drop to the desk. They did anyway. My teacher walked away, satisfied. That afternoon was a repeat of the previous, of the previous, of the previous. Days blend together when you spend most of your time alone. When you’re a kid and you spend most of your time by yourself, you learn to tell time by which TV programs are on, not by the clothes you wore yesterday or who was going to the class president’s birthday party on Friday. Those things didn’t exist for me.

It wasn’t until a few days later that I asked my father where my mother was. This was mere curiosity – it was not unusual for her to spend days in bed; it was not unusual to not see her for several days. My mother was a stay-at-home mom, and was known to spend days reading the Bible and whispering verses to herself over and over while mostly ignoring me. My father worked for an office supply company, the same job he’d had ever since he’d left the Army in 1967. He was a Vietnam War veteran. No one ever guessed it from looking at him; he rarely spoke about it. My dad looked at me from over his

glasses and sighed. “Your mother’s gone away for a while,” was all he said. Away? A while? “Where did she go?” My father lowered the volume on the television set and asked, “Has anyone said anything to you?” No one had said anything to me. “Your mom is in a place where she can rest. She’s okay. There’s nothing to worry about. She’s just a little bit sick, and she needs some time away.” I knew exactly what he was talking about.

For years, I’d heard my grandmother mutter, “Crazy” during Christmas and Thanksgiving holidays when my mother would pull a trademark act like saying Jesus had told her it was a sin to display the Nativity scene (this seemed to be due to the fact that Nativity scenes were made up of tiny statues, which were related to false gods, which Jesus did not approve of), or that the microwave my grandma insisted on using for warming up leftovers was going to give us all cancer. I knew the phrases “nuthouse,” “funny farm,” “crazy house,” and so on. For years, I’d heard neighbors mutter about strait-jackets and such – actually, one of those neighbors, a kindly elderly woman to everyone else on the block, a

raging crone to our family, had once screamed in her cackling voice, “Someone ought to tie you up in a strait-jacket, you crazy bitch!” after my mother caused a spectacle by twirling around in the front lawn sprinklers, completely naked. For the next few days, I would ask when my mother was coming back, and my father would look at me quietly and shake his head. Once, I asked if I could visit her, and my father said gently, “Do you really want to see Mom?” And I remembered her pulling my hair. I remembered the embarrassment the day she walked into my classroom with a stack of newspapers for our recycle drive,

tossed them over the heads of the rest of the kids, and walked out without another word. I remembered being late every single morning, the blank look on her face, the time she slapped me when I asked what was for dinner, the times she’d promise to pick me up when it was raining and she’d never show, and I would walk home and get drenched. I remembered how for as long as I could remember, I was in charge of cleaning and cooking and washing my own clothes. I could remember standing on a step stool to throw my laundry into the washing machine, because I was too small to get up there by myself.

I remembered once burning myself with the iron, while I was trying to erase the wrinkles in a blouse I wanted to wear for school picture day. I had screamed in pain without thinking; my father had run inside and as he put burn ointment and a bandage over my arm, his voice was thick as he said, “Lucy, if you need something ironed, please tell me.” My mother had slept through the whole thing. I remembered climbing on top of the dryer to hit the right buttons to dry clothes. I remembered that from the time I could walk, I knew how to drag chairs from their spots under the table, to the counters under the cupboards. To open the cupboards for a box of cereal or a can of

soup. I remembered my father supervising me, teaching me how to work the gas range and the worry across his face when he told me, when I was in kindergarten, “Do NOT touch this stove when I’m not here. If you’re hungry, and Mom won’t wake up, you have to eat something cold until I get home from work. Ask your mother first. If she can’t do it, you have to eat something cold.” And as I remembered all of this, I realized I didn’t really want to see my mother. I didn’t want to see her at all. And my father saw the looks that passed over my face, and he nodded, and went back to his television program.

After a while, I stopped asking when she was coming back. It was a long time before I saw my mother again.

High School I had one friend during my freshman year. She was tiny, dark, and covered in small moles. She had glasses, too, and every day, she brought the same sandwich – American cheese on white bread, carrot sticks, and a Capri juice. She was from India – a fellow outcast. My algebra teacher hated me. She caught me sleeping during the second week of classes and brought my drool to the attention of the other students. I did not cry; I was able to wait until class was over. The algebra teacher hated the other girls

in class, too. She read, out loud to the entire class, a note one girl had passed to her friend. It was about a boy she had a crush on, but who had ignored her at a party the previous Friday. The algebra teacher read it in a loud voice, and the entire class whooped and cheered, because the boy the girl was writing about was in that class, too. He sat there, smirking at his desk. My art teacher looked over my work once in a while and offered side comments on shading and color. I was not the best student in class, but not the worst, either. I was average at everything. The best student in art was a quiet Japanese-American boy who drew

animated, comic-strip characters in bright colors and sharp lines. He was good and everyone knew it, including him. My favorite class was history, because the teacher gave a reading assignment at the beginning of every class and no one was allowed to talk for the entire hour. There were no groups to form, no assignments to be read out loud. Once a week, we wrote short essays and turned them in. We got them back the following week and as a grade, received either a check, a check plus, or a check minus. I got checks every week. English was the worst, worse than algebra, because at least two times a week, we were told to form groups or choose partners.

I sat in the very back of the class and stared at my desk. Sometimes, the teacher clapped her hands like we were in kindergarten and asked who didn’t have a partner. Once, I didn’t say anything, and no one who was sitting around me said anything either, and when it was time to go around to each of the groups, I pretended I was a part of the boy-boy couple next to me. They knew what was going on and didn’t mind because they hated the teacher and sat in the back so they could sleep and ignore the assignments. But after class, the teacher pulled me aside and asked me about the group, and I stared at her, not saying a word, and she

said through her teeth, “When I tell everyone to get into groups, you need to get into a group. Do you understand, Lucy?” and I nodded and walked numbly out of the classroom, the faces of the kids and the posters on the walls of the corridor a blurry fog. I bought magazines like Teen and Seventeen, and sometimes I sent away for free stuff, but when I got it in the mail, I put it in a drawer in my bedroom, the lipsticks and bath gels unopened. I flipped through the pages of the magazines sometimes. The girls wore tight white jeans and tank tops that hugged their breasts.

They curled up on canopied beds and talked on pink phones. They were blond cheerleaders, picked up for school by boys with shiny hair and convertibles. They wore bikinis at the beach; they wore glittery blue and purple eye shadows and pink lip gloss. It was the late 1980s and the outfits were all in neon or pastel: fluorescent greens, hot pinks, bright yellows. They were beautiful. Once, I went to the mall by myself and tried on a tight blouse that criss-crossed in the front, but it bulged in the wrong

places. It didn’t look right. I stared at my face, and my glasses fogged up because it was hot in the dressing room. So I took the blouse off, walked out of the store, and caught the bus back home.

The Guidance Counselor At the beginning of junior year, each of us was brought into the school office for a session with the guidance counselor. I was in the college prep classes and knew that college could be my ticket out – that I could be whatever I wanted to be, that I could make something of myself. Even though I got all Cs, I still thought this. I thought I was special, unique, just misunderstood, until that day in the guidance counselor’s office. He encouraged everyone to call him Sam. But everyone who called him Sam was either on his football team, his debate

team, or in his speech class, where rumor had it he taught kids how to roll joints and talk people out of committing suicide. “Lucy,” he said with a smile. “I haven’t seen you in a while, how are your classes?” “Good,” I said. He had, in fact, never seen me, because I’d never gone or been called into his office, and I’d never taken a class with him. “I’ve been looking over your transcripts,” Sam said, spreading some papers across his desk, along with a manila folder. He acted like he’d been studying them for hours, had maybe even been up all night

looking at them. “Have you given some thought to where you want to go to school?” I had not. I’d used to think I’d go someplace like Harvard or Georgetown. The Ds in algebra, my average grades in everything else, and the fact that teachers talked constantly about how important extra-curricular activities were on college applications (activities of which, of course, I was no part) had dissuaded me. “If you retake the second-semester math class you failed last year, and went to summer school to boost your history scores, I’m sure you’d be a shoe-in for the state college,” Sam said. “Okay,” I said.

He looked at me and then crossed his arms. “You know, college boards like to look at a student’s overall performance. Not just grades, but clubs and organizations and sports activities.” I said nothing. “Well, then, so do you know what you want to study?” What did I want to study? I didn’t want to study anything. I wanted to live some place where no one knew me, where maybe I could start over, and no one would know that I lived in a world where no one talked to me, where

being called on in class caused heart palpitations and sweat, a world where I didn’t go out on the weekends, not during the day, not even to the library, where my world consisted of hellish days of classrooms and long nights of TV in my house. “Lucy? Got any idea what you want to major in?” He actually snapped his fingers at me like I was a dog. Life. Love. Art. Music. Concerts. Parties. Do those things really happen for other people? Can I do that, too? “Lucy?” He was getting mad. I looked at him. My unimportance was written all over his face.

I was not special, I was not misunderstood: I was nobody. “No,” I said.

Moving Away to College I chose a state college campus far from where I lived. It was a few hours north of San Francisco, where I’d never even been. I chose a campus that was the polar opposite of Los Angeles, a glittery city filled with rock stars, all-night clubs, recording studios, the Hollywood Hills, Laurel Canyon, the Sunset Strip. I grew up 30 miles away in a valley, a million miles away. The college campus I chose was small and in a rural area. Neither my dad nor I talked much during

the long drive from L.A. to the college. We left at 4:00 a.m. It was gray. The sky was smoky; we’d had fires in the Angeles Forest that summer. My mouth was dry and my eyes were scratchy. I’d taken a cue from every teen movie I’d ever seen where the duck turns into a swan and was wearing contact lenses that dried up in my eyes. I didn’t look back toward the house when we turned on to the freeway. I didn’t look back toward the palm trees lining the streets. I didn’t look back at all. We stopped for coffee and donuts before the Grapevine. I slept and woke up surrounded by mountains, somewhere in between Bakersfield and nowhere. My

father was listening to country music and smoking cigarettes. Driving north on I-5 was a sad experience. There was almost nothing to see except farmland and mountains. The gas stations and fast food places were staffed with women missing teeth and young pimpled teenagers. We stopped for lunch at a fast food place, and my throat closed up at the sight of a girl with a baby slung over her shoulder, and two little boys hitting each other as they each held on to the hem of her striped cotton blouse. She was younger than I was. We got to the college campus at dusk. Parents were not allowed to stay overnight

in the dorms; my dad had reserved himself a motel room on the other side of town. The place was mostly deserted. A few students with backpacks walked down the brush-lined paths. Somewhere, we heard water – the college brochure had featured a wide-angle shot of a creek that ran through the campus. We found my dorm room, and in the lobby, a sleepy-faced young man with a scraggly beard gave us the keys and a map. The map made the campus look as big as a city. No elevator. I didn’t have much stuff anyway. The dorm room came with a bed, dresser, and desk. It actually came with

two beds on opposite sides. The room wasn’t that big – about as big as my room at home. I’d never shared a room with anyone before. I wondered if my roommate was shy, too. Maybe in a day or so, we’d be giggling over a bowl of popcorn, watching a Brad Pitt movie, planning on meeting at a coffee house to study. Maybe her major was something like biochemistry or foreign literature. I was an undeclared major because I didn’t know anything about what I wanted to do. Moving my stuff lasted only an hour. When we finished, we walked back toward the truck and my dad drove us into town. There were several square blocks of bars, cafés, and bookstores. Curiosity shops. Record stores. My stomach turned in

excited flip-flops. Did people actually live in places like this? We found an all-night diner on the outskirts of town. My father ordered a steak and salad, and I had a chicken sandwich. We drank coffee and my dad talked about how he’d never gone to college, that only two of his brothers had gone because that was the way my grandfather wanted it. “I was supposed to go work at the post office,” my dad said. “My brothers were going to go to college to become lawyers or bankers. My dad wanted me to work at the post office. I wasn’t smart enough to be a lawyer or a banker, so my dad thought I’d make a good mail man.” He smiled again. “Instead, I got drafted into

Vietnam.” My father hardly ever smiled. “Everything was different then.” I wasn’t hungry. I excused myself to the bathroom and swallowed down tears. I got a call on the dorm phone early the next morning. “Your dad is here in the lobby,” a crisp female voice said. I hurriedly pulled on some clothes and splashed water on my face. My dad was there, looking solemn. “Well, Lucy, I’ve got to head back. Still have to go to work on Monday.” I nodded, and for a long moment, I looked around the lobby. The place was empty. I’d never been this far away from home before. I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t

even really know me. I didn’t want to be left there. Not all by myself. “I know you’re going to do fine,” my dad was saying. “You’re very smart and you can do anything you want to do.” No, I can’t, I thought. I didn’t learn how to tie my shoes until I was 7-years-old. Couldn’t tell time on a clock until I was 11. I didn’t know anything about what was going on in the world. I didn’t know how to talk to people. People seemed to know this and they didn’t talk to me. I didn’t like ordering things in restaurants or asking salespeople for help. I was still scared of

the dark. I’d never spent the night at anyone’s house, let alone a strange room hundreds of miles away from my house. I suddenly remembered my first day of junior high school. My father had taken the morning off from work to walk with me to the bus stop that first day. We didn’t speak at all during the threeblock trip. I didn’t want him to know how terrified I was, and I guess he didn’t know what to say. When we got close and saw that there were already a few other kids waiting, he stopped, gave me three folded dollar bills, and shook my hand. “Good luck, Lucy,”

he said solemnly, and walked back toward the house. As I stared at him in the dorm lobby in the college town that was about to become my own, I thought about that day when everything was left unsaid. I thought about what to say. Dad, you’re going to be at the house all by yourself. What are you going to do? Did I ever say thank you for teaching me how to swim? How to dribble and shoot a basketball? Did I say thank you for giving me school clothes money every September? Did you know how sorry I was that one time when the softball flew into the window of the bathroom? I’m in charge of the cooking and the cleaning and the washing. What are you going to

do? Please, please. Don’t leave me here all by myself. “Bye, Dad. Thanks for helping me move up here and everything.” “No problem. Give me a call when classes start.” We shook hands. I had just turned 19-years-old and I was on my own.

The Dorm Situation Later that afternoon, I unpacked. I wondered where everyone was – I wasn’t early. It was a Saturday and classes started on Monday. I wondered where my roommate was – my dorm card said her name was Stephanie. The dorm room had stuff all over the place – CDs, clothes, posters on the walls. It looked like she’d already moved in – I wondered why I hadn’t met her yet. I hung up my sweaters and blouses, folded jeans and underwear, and placed them in the dresser drawers. That summer, I’d bought some clothes that I hoped looked something like what I saw in the

magazines. Little silver earrings, jeans flared slightly at the ends. A few plaid items. It was the post-grunge era, but people were still wearing plaid shirts and babydoll dresses. It was early evening. The dorm was completely silent, though I could occasionally hear voices from the walkway underneath my third-floor window. I could hear boys talking in low voices and a couple of girls giggling. I stretched out on my bed, hugging the pillow. There was a phone already hooked up, but I didn’t have anyone to call. I looked over at my bookcase for something to read. No, better to not be reading. Too obvious. If Stephanie walked in, she’d form an instant impression and I

didn’t want to be that lame girl reading alone in her room. The television sat in the corner. I walked over and turned it on. I flipped until I found a rerun of one of the sitcoms I watched, and fell asleep. I woke up late the next morning. The sun was a little muted, but still there, hanging a little lower than it seemed it ought to, even though it was almost noon. Taking a shower in a new place was strange and unsettling. The bathroom echoed because I was the only one in there, and the tiles were cold underneath my feet. I took my time shampooing and conditioning my hair. At home, showers were my favorite time of the day, but after

10 minutes, the water would get cold. I kept waiting for the water in the dorm bathroom to get cold, but it didn’t. So I stayed there, standing under the spray of water, my eyes closed, feeling myself almost drift back to sleep again. Finally, I got out. The pads of my fingers were pruny. The bathroom was cold. Too big for steam to have time to gather. Trying to get dressed in the bathroom was new, too – how did people keep their feet dry? I couldn’t figure it out. I needed another towel to be able to do everything right. Walking back to my room, a towel around my head, I heard some hollers, male hollers, from the other side of the dorm. I was living in a coed dorm. I’d forgotten.

I couldn’t find my keys. Had I left them in my room? The voices were getting closer. I fumbled through the clothes and bathroom stuff in my arms, finally locating them in a sweater I’d worn to walk through the drafty hallway. They were coming up the stairs. I was wearing only towels. I dropped the keys, grabbed them, and frantically tried to decipher which one was the key to the room. I managed to open the door right as the first guy got to the top of the stairs, a tall, dark-haired guy wearing a green sweater. He caught my eye for a split second before I fell into my room and slammed it shut behind me.

“Watch it,” a sharp female voice barked. I whirled around. A girl my age was sitting on the bed. Her eyebrows were plucked and pointed together in a firm V. Her eyes were dark blue and glaring. She wore a bulky white sweater and dark blue jeans and black-and-white tennis shoes. She pointed to her dresser. “Don’t play my CDs, okay? I’ve spent a lot of time building this collection and I just don’t want anything to get broken.” I hadn’t touched her CDs or anything else. But I nodded and shrugged. “Okay,” I said. “What time do your classes start?” she

said. “Uh … 11:00 a.m. I have mostly late classes, I think. I have to check.” “That’s fine. I have a 10:00 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 11:00 on Monday, Wednesday, Friday.” I nodded. “If you get up earlier than me, try to be respectful. These rooms are too fucking small for two people, if you ask me.” I didn’t say anything. My entire body felt small. I felt I had shrunk to insignificance. I sat down on my bed and picked a book off the shelf, and stared at it. Stephanie

slammed out of the room a few minutes later. I didn’t look up. Night came. I heard groups of students walking toward the cafeteria. I waited until 8:00 p.m., thinking the crowd would be gone. Stephanie swept into the room, followed by a short girl with a pug nose and curly blond hair, and a tall, thin girl with glasses. The short one said, “Hey!” as soon as she saw me. “So you’re Lucy. I’m Jennifer. This one,” she pointed to the girl with classes, “is Jill. So what do you think of this place?” “It’s nice, I guess,” I said warily. Looking

around the room, I conceded, “The rooms are a little small.” “So you’re a freshman?” “Yeah.” “We’re all sophomores. Usually they like to stick people together according to year, but there were way too many freshmen this year. They spilled over into all the dorms.” Stephanie was rummaging in her drawers, looking for something, not looking at anyone. “Have you gone to dinner yet?” the taller one asked me.

“No, no, I got caught up in this book. I was just going to go.” “Oh, come with us. We just got back from a movie and Stephanie forgot her gloves. Her suede gloves that her mommy gave her.” “Shut up, Jen!” Stephanie snapped. Jill took my hand and helped me off the bed. We walked to the dinner hall. The tables were stuffed with students, and they looked a lot different than the people at my high school. A group of young guys with laptops and long, pony-tailed hair were being visited by an enormous guy

wearing a suit. Two small girls in high heels walked to a table of two other girls wearing tie-dye and scarves. Stephanie didn’t say a word to me during the entire meal. Later, when we were alone, back in our room, she said, “Do yourself a favor and make new friends. I have my established set of friends already, and we’ve been friends for a year. You get what I’m saying, right?” I got it. I’d thought it would be simple. Wear clothes and blend in, wear pretty jewelry and whatever fashions I could afford. Read books on the lawns of the campus,

and drink cappuccinos in the cafés surrounding the school. Take poetry classes, go to concerts, meet new people. I could see, though, that things had not exactly changed. As I lay awake that night, listening to Stephanie’s soft snores, I kept thinking: Nobody knows you here. You can fake it. You can fake it, this thing that everyone has that you don’t. The student newspaper came out weekly. When I picked up my first copy, the headline read: Creekview State Freshman, 18, Dead From Alcohol Poisoning.

The Professor I walked into the classroom and stopped in mid-stride. He was sitting cross-legged on the long desk in the front, near the whiteboard. I was early; there were just a few other people sitting in class. One of them was near the window, and the other two were in the first row near the door. He could have been any age. Thirties, forties, maybe even early fifties. His hair fell in soft waves over his forehead, creased as he bent over a large hardback book. When he looked up, his glasses

caught the light and I felt a slight jolt; behind them, his eyes looked right into mine, a dead-on gaze, and then he smiled and his teeth behind his mouth were perfect and white, his lips were slightly full, deeply maroon. Small laugh lines appeared. I felt my heart pause, then leap into a wham-wham-wham mode. He held out his hand and I took it. He was still looking right at me, looking at me right in the eyes and not letting his gaze wander, looking right at me like he was really seeing me and was glad to. “I’m the instructor, John Garden. Call me John.”

“I’m Lucy,” I tried to say, but my throat betrayed me and closed up. I swallowed hard and finally choked out, “Lucy.” John reached behind him and opened a brown notepad. He scanned the list of names and put a check mark next to what must have been mine. He smiled again, as though he had not noticed that I was falling apart, as though it was normal and in fact a regular occurrence that students opened their mouths and no sound came out when they tried to introduce themselves. He opened his arm out to the room. The girl next to the window was engrossed in a book. The two guys in the first row were fidgeting and looking at their shoes.

“Have a seat wherever you’d like,” he said, still smiling, and my heart continued its wham-wham-wham even after I’d taken my seat. In the back.

Creekview, CA Creekview: Population 60,000. Located in rural northern California. Creekview State University: Population 16,000. Opened in 1889 and became a teachers college in 1921. At one time, it was a highly regarded liberal arts college. Currently, the school ranks third amongst public four-year universities in the Western part of the United States. Creekview State University began appearing with occasional frequency on annual lists of “Top 10 Party Schools” after Playboy magazine named Creekview State “The Number One Party School in the U.S.” in the mid-1980s. Professors

here have graduated from some of the most prestigious colleges in the nation, including Stanford, Harvard, Brown, and Berkeley. Students are drawn to Creekview’s beautiful creeks and rivers. Less than five miles from campus is the historic Creekview Park, the fourth-largest municipal park west of the Mississippi River. Creekview Park stretches all the way to the Cascade Mountains. Students can enjoy day and weekend hikes, swimming holes, horseback riding, picnics, and barbeques. The city of Creekview hosts an eclectic array of cafés, nightclubs, museums, art galleries, and restaurants. There are four all-night diners that cater to students

studying for exams, and a variety of fine dining. Historic Downtown Creekview, which borders the south side of campus, features an annual Main Street Parade, farmers market on Saturday mornings, and street festivals for every holiday. The town is a lively mix of students, families, young adults, and retirees. Families flock to Creekview due to the low crime rate and the high performance of the public schools. Young adults find the nightlife exciting, and the college offers a wide choice of post-graduate degrees and opportunities. More than 500 employers from every sector of the workforce visit Creekview

during recruitment week in the spring; Creekview students are known for their well-rounded education and academic drive. People come to Creekview because they find the town’s motto to be true: It’s a nice place to live.

The Frat Party A couple of months after I started classes freshman year, a girl who lived in the same hall as me grabbed me as I was coming back from dinner. She was in one of my classes, but I didn’t know her name. “Lucy, what are you doing tonight?” “Studying, I guess.” “No, no, no! That is so not what you’re doing tonight. You’re coming with me to the frat party downtown.” Frat party. I had never been to any type of party before.

“My bitch roommate promised she’d come with me and now she’s saying, ‘Uhhh! I’ve got all this homework! Can’t you just go by yourself?’ Her voice got high and whiny and then she switched and laughed. “I’m so not going to a frat party by myself, not if I want to hook up with Greg.” “Greg?” “He’s going with like five of his guy friends? And he asked if I was going to be there tonight when I saw him this morning in my media class? And I was like, ‘Oh, probably,’ and then he said, ‘Well, I certainly hope so,’ and then he like fucking winked at me!” The girl hopped up and down. “So like, Lucy, I don’t know

that many people yet, and Tracy, Trish, and Tara are all in the city for the weekend, and Josh and Carl next door don’t want to go because they think frat parties are stupid, and that one girl that’s down the hall that’s in my theme class is sick or something and then my bitch roommate’s totally flaking out on me. So, do you want to come? It’s a kegger and that frat house is like totally filled with hot guys.” I could feel something start to wiggle in the bottom of my stomach. It reminded me of how I felt on the first day of what felt like spring every year. Not the actual first day of spring, but the first day when you felt that warmth in the air, when you could not just smell it and

see it, but you could feel it, feel how something was getting past the bite in the air. It was like that moment when you knew winter was almost over, that the long sweaters and bulky jackets weren’t going to be needed for very much longer, that the chill every morning was going to pass, and that one day soon you’d wake up and it would be summer. “I’ll go.” We walked through the campus. We passed groups of students and couples. The guys wore khakis or jeans. The girls wore short skirts and sandals. Everyone smelled like perfume and the night.

It was a chilly night and our breath made slight rings of fog. Downtown, every bar and club was lined with people outside. Doors opened and walking past, you could smell the insides. The smell was a mixture of cologne, liquor, gym socks, sweat, and heat. Doors closed and I could still hear muted sounds of bands and jukeboxes playing loud rock music, hip-hop music, heavy metal music, grunge music. They were playing Soundgarden and Beastie Boys and Alice in Chains. We made a right, away from downtown, and we walked around groups of people – guys carrying 12-packs of Bud Ice in each hand, girls clutching purses and boys’

arms, people walking alone, people walking slowly, sauntering, ambling, and people walking fast, girls almost skipping. Nonstop chatter and noise. Soon, we were on a street lined with threeand four-story Victorian mansions. They were painted in whites, deep blues, pale yellows. Some of the houses looked a little run down, with empty beer cans strewn about, people hanging out on porches, bits of clothing hanging from the trees. Other houses had beautiful manicured lawns, picket fences, and garden furniture. We knew the party was on from a block away. There was a huge crowd around one of the houses – groups upon groups of people and backpacks bulging with beer.

We became part of the mass. We were not pushed or shoved, and we didn’t fight our way through. We simply became a part of it. The girl and I (I still didn’t know her name) made our way slowly through the crowd. The porch was less populated – people were using the window sills that overlooked the front yard as seats to lean out of, waving cigarettes around the outside. Walking into the house, we saw a room to our right that was a circle of couches. Big couches with huge pillows. A few girls were curled up on one end of a couch. On the couch on the opposite side of the

doorway, a line of boys sat, bottles in hands, eyes half-closed, nodding off. They were not sleeping but they were not awake. They did not speak. “I’m going to find the bathroom,” the girl I was with yelled in my right ear. She had to yell because the music was deafening. I looked around, and noticed speakers had been somehow strung from every corner of the room. Maybe they had been nailed in. In the couch room, there was a multicolored disco ball hanging from the ceiling. The girl I was with made her way up the staircase, dodging a couple of boys who came hurtling down, around the corner, off in the direction of the back of the house.

I began to panic at being there by myself. I wondered if I should wait there, at the base of the stairs, and wait for her. A girl in a tight, short black dress sauntered down the staircase. Her eyes were heavy with mascara, her hair was long, dark, straight. She pulled it away from her face while she walked down the stairs, and she glanced down at me with a half-smirk. I could not stand there and wait for my new friend. Not knowing where else to go, I walked quickly up the stairs. People were leaning against doors, doorways, the walls. It was poorly lit up there; no lights, really, just

some buzz from what seemed like a florescent bulb somewhere. Some of the doors were closed. There was a line toward the end of the hallway and I took my place at the end. Some of the girls were chattering, some of them were preening in front of compact mirrors, and some of them simply stood there and waited, their arms folded in front of them. The line was long. Inching forward every five minutes or so, I waited for the girl I came with to come out. It was finally my turn and she hadn’t come out. She wasn’t there. In the bathroom, I smoothed out my hair and reached into my bag for my lipstick,

drawing it on carefully, making sure it was even and rubbed together. I looked okay. Everything was okay. I flushed the toilet and headed back outside, down the stairs. I walked toward the back of the house, and there was a weirdly enormous kitchen with almost nothing but floor space filled with people, mostly guys. I moved past them, toward the sink and refrigerator, and the counters were lined with huge bottles of alcohol. I pretended I was looking for something, but this guy standing next to the sink saw me and handed me an empty red cup. My heart pounded, and I left the kitchen,

still clutching the red plastic cup. There was a screen door that led to the backyard. It squeaked open and I was shocked at the sight of a sea of people back there. Huge speakers were everywhere – it felt and sounded like a live orchestra of heavy-metal instruments were there, right there, in the backyard, but I couldn’t see a band. It was just the speakers, screaming, pulsating, making the air turn alive with sound and electricity. I realized that I was never going to find that girl I came to the party with. “Crazy, huh?”

I turned and there was a boy. His hair was dark, longish, wavy. Tall with long arms and big shoulders. He smiled at me, a sleepy smile, and threw his right arm over my shoulder. “Fucking crazy scene,” he said lazily, bopping up and down a little. He noticed I was clutching the empty red plastic cup and he started leading me to the corner of the long porch. By the hand. There were three kegs sitting in blue tubs of ice. The guy took my plastic cup, pumped the keg, and filled the cup. There was a lot of foam. He downed the rest of his cup, and filled it up again. “So what’s your name, angel?” he said, chuckling to himself.

“Lucy.” “Great,” he mumbled, falling back to the side of the house. He sort of lounged there for a minute while I alternated between staring at him, wondering if he was going to fall over, and looking over the throngs of people in the huge backyard. “Lucy!” the guy yelled. I leaned against the house next to him. He smelled like beer and lotion. “What’s your name, mister?” I said. “Mister!” The guy laughed, a low and deep guy laugh. “How about ‘hombre’?” I smiled.

“Ian,” he said with that slow smile. “Now we know each other.” I laughed. Uneasily. Ian grabbed my hand suddenly and tossed his red plastic cup over his shoulder. “Fuck this shit,” he said. “Let’s go upstairs.” Something was happening and I was fairly certain I didn’t want it to happen. It was like a television program where you know something’s imminent, and you’re just not sure what it is. Ian continued to hold my hand as we made our way up the long staircase, making our

way around the people hugging the banisters and sitting on the stairs. He fished a key out of his jeans pocket and opened the door to a dark room. “You live in this house?” “Yeah, this is my second year. Everyone locks their doors, because if we didn’t, we wouldn’t have anything left.” Downstairs, something smashed, like a huge bottle or a punch bowl, and we could hear the sounds of laughter and clapping. He flipped on a light, and I could see the room was really tiny. I wondered how many guys lived in this house. His bed was made, covered in a deep-blue comforter. There were textbooks and a

few legal pads on the floor near his nightstand, a TV/VCR combo in the corner. Ian shut the door. It was freezing in there. I shivered and wrapped my hands around my arms. I felt pain in my right hand, and discovered, with surprise, that I’d been clenching both of my hands and the nails of my right hand had left red half-moons in my palm. I tried to relax, and unfolded my fingers, taking some breaths, wondering if this bedroom had any heat. Ian sat down next to me and stared at the

door. And then he leaned over suddenly and kissed me. My lips immediately felt like they were on fire. They burned. I was in shock because I had never been kissed before and I didn’t know why he was kissing me. My heart thumped, my stomach jumped, my lips burned. Ian started tracing my cheeks with the backs of his fingers. Everything had heated up quickly. I wasn’t shivering anymore. I was warm. He put his other hand on my other cheek, and it was like he was holding my face as

he kissed me. I kissed him back, scared, knowing I wasn’t doing it right, could not possibly be doing it right. Ian pushed me back on the bed. His body suddenly covered mine, and I felt this sudden burst of bright heat. I swung one of my legs, so my left leg was down on the floor, and my right foot was down on the bed, and Ian settled himself in between my legs, and stretched out on top of me, then reached down and I heard a zipper being pulled but it wasn’t mine. He started muttering and mumbling something in my ear, but I couldn’t understand what he was saying, and then he reached further down and pulled up my

skirt and pressed something hard against my thigh, the very inner thigh, the crease. I jumped and sat upright on the bed, feeling sweat pierce out of my pores. I couldn’t breathe. I clawed at my throat and smoothed down my skirt, trying to remember about taking deep breaths, but my whole body was shaking, shaking, shaking, and I couldn’t remember ever feeling this confused, frustrated, and scared. And then I knew that it was not going to happen. I knew that it could, and so easily, too. Everything can happen so easily. But it wasn’t going to happen. Not then.

Not with him. Not in that room. I got up abruptly. He pushed me back down. My heart was already racing, and I said, “I can’t.” “Yes, you can.” Something inside me stirred. “No, you don’t understand. I really can’t.” “What is it, herpes? I got condoms.” He grinned at me, a Halloween mask in the dirty light. I turned and walked out the door.

Pandemonium. Girls were running, one after another, from the bedroom next door to us. Screaming and giggling, they raced down the stairs. The music had reached multi-proportional levels of sound. The walls actually seemed to be not just vibrating, but rumbling, rolling, jumping out from the frames. The kitchen was trashed. I looked outside, in the backyard, and people were jumping around. Walking toward the front of the house, I heard the unmistakable sounds of sirens. I peeked out with a dozen or so other people, and sure enough, a line of cops were on the other side of the street. They

did not leave their cars. “Disperse! You’ve had some complaints from your neighbors, so everyone has to leave right now!” one of the cops called from his horn. Bottles began flying. Girls in tight clothes became shrieking animals and guys threw wine and beer bottles over the heads of the crowds. They smashed against the street, but a few of them hit their targets, and glass broke against the windshields of the cop cars. I didn’t want to think about what was going to happen next. But what happened next was that the cop

cars, as they were being pelted with empty and half-filled liquor bottles, simply drove very slowly in a single line away from the house. Shaking, I understood it was time for me to leave. I peered around the kitchen area, in the back room where there was a huge TV and a foosball game, and there was a bathroom back there. I went to open it, and the girl I went there with fell out. Her eyes were wild and she wasn’t wearing her blouse. Her small breasts were falling out of the tight white bra she wore.

“Lucy,” she said, her head rolling around, “I’ve got to get home and get to bed.” We walked back to our dorm, two girls shivering in the November night. We passed a few people who either did not notice the girl wasn’t wearing a blouse, or didn’t care. The girl talked fast the whole way back. Her eyes were very dark, her pupils enormous, and she was talking about coke and sex and that guy she never bumped into. I couldn’t follow her train of words. When we reached the doors of the dorm hall, she hugged me, and she kind of moaned and half-laughed, and she told me to call her later. I said I would, but I

didn’t know what “later” meant and I didn’t know her name, or her number, and I felt a rush of shame because I knew I didn’t care. She turned to the left down the hall and I turned to the right, toward the bathroom. I sat down on the toilet and peed, and almost started to cry from relief. I rinsed my mouth out in the sink and stared at myself for a few minutes. When I headed to my room, I thought I’d go to sleep right away. I was exhausted and I smelled like sweat and beer and something indescribable. The smell of a man.

When I climbed into bed, my heart was still thumping. It took me a long time to fall asleep.

Freshman When I woke up the next morning, it was after 1:00 p.m. I’d missed my morning class. I pulled on some jeans and walked to the cafeteria, grabbing a tray and filling a plate with warm pasta. On my way to one of the tables in the back, I ran into the girl from the previous night. “I feel like shit,” she said, glaring at me. “I’m really not in the best mood today.” I watched her walk back to the food court and get a glass of water, and I walked

back to a table and ate alone. Over the next few months, we ran into each other every so often in the lobby of the dorm, and at first we looked at each other and half-nodded, half-smiled, but after a while we just ignored each other, and eventually became strangers again. I never found out her name. A few weeks after the party, I was walking to class from the library. The day was crisp and clear, and I was wearing dark blue jeans and a thick black jacket. My mind was on my logic test – I’d spent the last two nights cramming, wondering why I left everything to the last minute, scared about flunking, knowing I probably wouldn’t, wondering why everyone in the class grasped everything so much better

and quicker than I did, wondering why everyone in the class seemed to know so much more. I was walking to the logic class on one of the paths along the creek. From up ahead, a group of guys were leaving the science building, and one of them started walking on the path toward me. It was Ian from the frat party. I swung my backpack further up my shoulder. Ian was wearing a long, black trench coat and dark pants. His hair fell over his forehead. He saw me, and I smiled and waved. We met walking opposite each other on the path.

I said, “Hey, how’s it going?” “Not bad,” he said, looking surprised. “How ‘bout you?” “Test I’m probably going to flunk,” I said, motioning toward the building I was headed to. “Nah, everybody thinks that,” he said. We both paused, and he hiked his backpack up over his shoulder like I had done earlier. “So … you walk down this path often?” he said, grinning. “Every day,” I said, and I was suddenly a little nervous. He held out his hand, “I’m Ian. What’s your name?”

I laughed and shook his hand. “That’s funny,” I said. “What do you mean?” Ian’s eyes were open and light. My stomach started to sink and I understood he was not being funny. He had no idea who I was. He didn’t remember me at all. My head pounded. I opened my mouth, but nothing came out. So I covered it and coughed a little, and then there was nothing to say, nothing at all, and so I simply turned and continued walking toward the building.

When I got to my classroom, it was filled with people and absolutely no one was talking. It was five minutes before the professor was going to get there and start the test. I looked around the classroom and opened up my textbook. The words and letters and formulas blurred. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Minutes later, I heard the door open and the professor began to speak. The other students began rustling, putting books and notes away, taking out pens, and I continued to breathe, not wanting to open my eyes.

Winter Break in Los Angeles The end of the semester came and I went home for winter vacation. These were the things I noticed when I got home: My room seemed smaller and the carpet seemed dirtier. The neighbors were exactly the same and espresso stands were multiplying. It was hot, and at night, you could feel the Santa Ana winds blowing and howling. I could also feel the heat of the city 30 miles away, and the noise from houses far away. And I felt like I didn’t belong there, had never really belonged there.

Everything seemed so much quieter. The streets looked cleaner. The neighborhood seemed empty. It was 95 degrees Fahrenheit. In the middle of December. The hot winds rolled over the valleys; the palm trees whisked back and forth in the breeze, the hot breeze, the fucking palm trees, the fucking palm trees everywhere, making every street look like every movie cliché about L.A. I’d ever seen. I stared at those palm trees, and I would dig my nails into my palms as they swayed. One day, I asked to borrow my dad’s car,

and he gave the keys to me, looking at me carefully, and he told me to drive safely and not be out too late. It was noon. I drove west on the 10 freeway, toward the city. All the way down to Santa Monica. Before my mother left, during the good parts when she was okay, my mother would sometimes take me to the boardwalk at Santa Monica Pier. They had a Ferris wheel and video arcade parlor. Sometimes she would buy slices of pizza and we would walk along the water.

Sometimes she would help me build sand castles. Once, it was getting to be late afternoon and it was a school night. My dad wasn’t home from work, and I was watching TV, and my mom suddenly came out and asked if I wanted to take a trip to the beach to watch the sunset. We tossed a salad and made sandwiches, put everything in plastic containers, and we got into her car and headed toward the beach. We made it with time to spare. We trudged across the sand, and climbed up onto a lifeguard station. Everyone was gone, except for a few homeless people. My mother was not scared and I huddled

close to her. The sun sank into the water and my mother put her arm around my shoulder. I ate the salad and sandwich, tasting the crispness of the vegetables and the tang of mustard, and my mother’s face was illuminated by the red, sinking sun. We stayed there and ate with her arm around me, until the beach was dark. I thought about this as I walked along the edge of the water, the only person on the beach not wearing a bathing suit. Seemingly the only person on the beach alone that day. I walked along the sand, picking up bits of rock, and watching the tanning bodies on beach towels.

My father and I had Christmas dinner at my grandmother’s house and they asked me about school and I couldn’t really say all that much. I didn’t tell them about how the walls of the dorm lobby were sometimes covered in vomit and urine, and how sometimes I felt more alone than I did when I really was alone. I didn’t talk about my roommate Stephanie, and how she came home drunk once and woke me up and started calling a fucking slut, a fucking whore, and I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about, and how after that, she didn’t say one word to me until the end of the semester, when I was packing to catch the

shuttle to the airport, and she told me to have a nice vacation and I was so shocked I couldn’t say a word. I didn’t tell them about how this dorm guy tried to kiss me the week before, and how I’d leaned back and could smell his breath, like decay, rot, and so I’d left. And that the next day, a girl from across the hall asked me if it was true that I’d blown him and two other guys. There was an odd heaviness in the air during Christmas dinner and I wasn’t sure if it was me or if it was everyone else. No one mentioned my mother. It was just me, my father, and my grandparents, and we watched the football

game on TV. I had a painful headache. My dad dropped me off at the airport and I felt a lump in my throat because we hadn’t really talked much in the few weeks I’d been home. I hadn’t really seen anyone because I didn’t have any friends down there, or anywhere for that matter. I wanted to tell my dad everything, but there were no words. He gave me a hundred dollar bill and shook my hand. “Have a safe trip,” he said. “Thanks, Dad,” I said, and walked on to the plane. I had an aisle seat. I could see the waiting area I was just in. My dad was there, at the

window. He couldn’t see me. The plane left the gate slowly. I turned my head, so I could still see him. He waved a few times at the plane, not knowing if I could see him, but waving anyway, and I waved back, even knowing that he couldn’t see me. The tears came then, slow, hot, dripping.

What’s Your Major? Over the next year, I spent most evenings reading and writing for the essay classes in my newly declared history major. In the catalog for the history department, it said people who had degrees in history enjoyed a wide array of opportunities, including working in schools and government sectors. I didn’t want to work in a school or government sector and in fact, I did not know what a government sector actually was. But at the end of my first semester, the counselor who brought me in didn’t care: “Declare a major or you can’t sign

up for classes. It doesn’t matter what you declare because you can always change your mind later.” I chose history because that department was closest to my dorm room and I’d remembered liking history in high school. The dorm situation changed. At the end of my spring semester, freshman year, Stephanie moved with her friends into an apartment off-campus. I was not given a new roommate. Most of the people I knew freshman year moved out. They moved into duplexes, Victorians divided into studios, two- and three-bedroom apartments, fraternity and sorority houses. Most freshmen didn’t

continue the dorm experience into sophomore year, but most freshmen made friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, drinking buddies, and party acquaintances to form families with outside of the dorms. This did not happen to me. I went home for the summer and turned 20. My father took me out to dinner. He asked me about my classes and seemed pleased when I told him I was taking history as a major because I was thinking about becoming a history teacher. I was not thinking about becoming a history teacher, but that is what I told him, because I didn’t want him to think I was aimless. My father’s mother, my grandmother, was a kindergarten teacher

for many years, and my dad looked proud and said, “I know you’ll make Teacher of the Year.” And then I felt like hell for lying. I felt the pull of a graduation date in the not-too-distant future, and my stomach pulled then, too.

St. Patrick’s Day – Sophomore Year It was St. Patrick’s Day in Creekview and all hell had broken loose. For the over-21 crowd, the bars opened at 6:00 a.m. No one who was not 21 or did not have an extremely good fake California ID bothered with downtown bars. They went to house parties. The house parties took place in almost every apartment complex around town, and the bigger frat houses. “Dorm rats” held their own pre-parties in various rooms, drinking beer and smoking pot before shuffling toward town.

It was easy to get lost, even in that small town. Though everyone, after a while started to look familiar, you got the impression of tiny solar systems within the larger universe. The group by the fountain. The group outside the circle of people playing cards on a blanket on the lawn. The group of environmental studies majors taking samples from the creek, from the trees and rose gardens, and from the dirt paths intersecting all around the campus. The sorority girls, with their pink and blue skirts.

The artists, with their nose piercings and hair in shades of green and blue. We had dreams. The students down by the creek still somehow thought they could save the world maybe, and the people there by the fountain dreamed of their short films and video projects getting them interviews with Gus Van Sant or Quentin Tarantino. And even the guys wearing ratty sweaters and getting stoned near the P.E. building dreamed of the music industry, the artists’ circles in New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and Los Angeles. We all had dreams, but on St. Patrick’s Day in Creekview, no one was thinking about anything except getting fucked up.

In my gender studies class, a group of kids invited everyone to their place, 5:00 a.m., March 17. I was partners with one of the girls, Joy, and we’d just been getting to know each other. She lived in a studio south of campus. She called me at 4:00 a.m. to make sure I was awake and getting ready. I hadn’t gotten a lot of sleep, and I wasn’t really coherent, and wasn’t really sure if I’d heard Joy correctly: Had she really just asked me to pick up some condoms and lube on the way over to her place? The talk of sex was constant, maddening, infuriating. In my gender studies class, we were given a survey at the beginning of the semester asking about our sexual history and though I considered lying, I

didn’t, and wrote the truth about number of sexual partners – zero – history of STDs – none – and my favorite position – unknown. The week after we were given the test, the professor, who wanted us to call her Terry – and since she was gay and sort of butch, no one was really sure if it stood for Terrance or Theresa and truthfully, no one cared – discussed the results of the class poll, and she said usually, there were one or two virgins per class per semester and this semester there were five. Terry seemed shocked by this information and so was I, and the whole class immediately took furtive glances at their neighbors, wondering who the five were.

There were about 50 people in that class – we sat in one of the lecture halls that could fit 100. I sat in the back, so I had a front-seat view to this movie, and I picked out two of the others immediately: the heavy guy with glasses who took an aisle seat two rows back from the front, and the tiny exchange student from China who sat in the very front and never said a word to anyone, ever, it seemed. I wondered if people were taking the same inventory I was and coming up with me on the list, but then Terry told the class that a dozen of us had herpes, and I stopped caring. After Joy and I got off the phone, I glared at the little red numbers on the alarm clock and wondered why I was getting up

at that hour at all. Then I headed to the showers. I almost fell asleep under the soothing blast of hot water. Back in my room, I slipped on underwear and dark tights, then removed the tags from the dress I’d bought a few days prior. Dark green with tiny flowers and flared at the wrists. I blow-dried my hair and brushed it straight, tying it back with silver barrettes, and I tucked my makeup and money in a small purse that was fashioned like a backpack, and put it on the chair by the door.

Then I fell back asleep. Joy called at 5:00 a.m. to make sure I was on my way downtown, to her apartment, which was just three blocks from the party. I told her I was on my way, that I was going to hurry, but I wasn’t really because I knew by then that you shouldn’t be too early to a party. The campus buzzed. Green everywhere: green sweaters, girls in green tank tops (even though it was freezing), guys in large green hats and green sweatshirts, and lots of green blouses and even a few pairs of old green jeans from the 1980s. At the edge of downtown, green balloons were tied in front of most of the doors to the bars and clubs, and in front of every

single place: a long line of students waiting for the clock to click over to 6:00 a.m. I walked quickly to Joy’s apartment and knocked on her door. At the pre-party, someone gave me a drink that tasted like chocolate milk. Later, a drink that tasted like an oatmeal cookie. I asked what the name of the drink was, and was told: “Oatmeal Cookie.” And then nothing really mattered. The vodka tasted like water, ice water, and the cheap strawberry wine tasted like fruit juice. It was just drink after drink, shot after shot, and I took a break for a while. This guy started looking at me kind of

funny; his eyes crinkled up and his mouth was in a half-smile, and I wondered if I’d met him somewhere already because he had his hand on my knee, and I was having, for the first time in a long time, a really great time. Joy was somewhere off in the kitchen, mixing something frothy in the blender, and this guy with his hand on my knee was talking about law or pre-law or something. When I went to the bathroom, everything was bright but wobbly and I felt myself lose equilibrium, lose my balance, and I leaned over the toilet and vomited suddenly. I heaved and everything that came up was

pink and meaty and weird, and I vomited again. When I stood up, I felt slightly better, though I needed water, and my eyes were a little bloodshot; my skin was a little mottled. When I left the bathroom, I couldn’t wait to have another drink and continue my conversation with that guy whose hand I wanted back on my knee, but when I got back to where we had been sitting, he was nowhere to be found. So I sank down into the sofa and started to laugh. The time on the VCR blinked at me, and I realized it was mid-morning on a weekday when school was officially in session, but almost no one was going to

class, and I was drunk and everything was perfect. Joy ran over, her curly red hair swinging, laughing excitedly. One of the guys had a girlfriend who worked at the Oasis, a small bar on the other side of Fraternity Row, and he said she’d let us in, but only for part of the day. The cops wouldn’t start cracking down on underage people in bars until the evening. “Hurry, hurry, don’t you want to get in?” she asked, and I nodded. “I’ve got to get some water first,” I said. Joy brought me a huge plastic cup from Jack in the Box filled with icy water and I drank it; some spilled down my chin. I

wiped it up and looked in my compact. I asked Joy if I looked okay, but she was looking in her own compact, putting on a fresh coat of lipstick and without looking at me, she said, “Of course, Lucy, you look fine, you look perfect. Let’s go.” We walked downtown with two of the boys from the house, and we didn’t get more than a block away when the guy who’d had his hand on my knee earlier came running up to us. I smiled at him, glad he wasn’t gone after all, and he took my hand, and the five of us walked downtown. We passed by other groups, including a party of six or seven young, scrubbed guys and they screamed in unison, “Happy St. Patty’s Day!” at everyone they saw,

including us. We reached the Oasis and there was a line. One of the boys we were with, the boy whose girlfriend worked there, went to talk to the bouncer, and then he motioned to us, and we walked past the long line of revelers, and the bouncer motioned for the line to move back so we could get in, and it was like being waved in to a Hollywood club; we were on the list. The bouncer smiled at me, and he was beautiful, with dark blond hair, shining brown hair on his arms, his T-shirt bright and dark green, and I smiled back, pulling my hair out from my eyes and tossing it over my shoulder. He looked me up and down, and as soon as we got inside the bar, I headed to the bathroom and

amazingly enough there was no line. I felt bubbling, overcharged, not completely in control, but when I saw my reflection I was instantly calm because I looked normal. I looked happy. I looked good in what I was wearing. I looked like a girl who was at a bar with friends, celebrating, and when I walked out the door to look for the rest of the group, Joy skipped over and whispered in my ear, “Aaron really likes you.” I had a moment of panic. Which one was Aaron? Before I got a chance to ask, Joy skipped away toward the bar. I followed her, and from behind me, the

guy who’d had his hand on my knee earlier came and lightly touched the small of my back. Ah. Aaron. “Can I buy you a drink?” he said, smiling a little lopsidedly, with a bit of irony. I was touched. I felt something I’d never felt before. I’d never been in a bar before; no one had ever bought me a drink before. I smiled. “Well, I don’t know, that’s a pretty big step and we barely know each other.” Aaron laughed and jostled my arm. “You know, I think I’m prepared to make that commitment,” he said. I didn’t know what to order, so I said,

“Why don’t you order me something good?” “But I don’t know what you like,” he said. “I’m sure you’ll figure it out,” I told him, wondering who this person was talking, because it didn’t sound like me. I felt really exhilarated as I walked back toward the booth, swinging my purse, climbing into the dark, still-warm cushions where everyone was waiting. It was some time later when I found myself bent over, naked, on a bed. It was like waking up out of a fog, waking up in the morning, still half-asleep in dreams. It was like waking up after

everything’s been in shadowy darkness and seeing muted light from curtained windows. Someone handed me a bottle of something that looked like baby oil and I held it, not sure what I was supposed to do with it. Someone’s hands took the bottle from me, poured the liquid over an erect penis, pink and peachy, swirly and hard, and he slid it into my mouth. I moved my mouth over it, but then it started to feel weird, and so I slid it off and shook my head. The guy – what was his name, had I met him earlier? – flopped down on the pile of pillows in front of me, and started masturbating, sliding his fist up and down, up and down.

Someone slid in from behind me, and I closed my eyes. “Slowly, slowly, don’t fuck her up,” a male voice said softly, and I felt whoever was behind me put his hand on my shoulder and tense up slightly, before moving out, slowly, then moving back in. It filled me, filled me up, and made my insides jump. My entire body felt electrified. It was a comforting feeling, the feeling of being full, feeling safe, feeling hands on my body, someone inside me, a soothing voice in the background. When he moved out, I felt empty, and when he moved back inside it was like my body actually relaxed again and everything was okay again. I breathed,

deeply, even though my head was swimming and it was hard to see. Someone rolled me over and poured soft warm liquid over my mouth and kissed me, thrusting a tongue into my mouth. My lips were numb, so numb, and my whole body simply felt comfortable, like I was taking a warm bath, or sliding into silk pajamas during the winter. Hands over my breasts, fingers over my nipples. Mouths over mine. Someone grabbed my ass and massaged it, running their hands over my legs, my feet, my toes. Something hard in between my legs. Someone turned me over again so my back was on the mattress. My legs were spread gently, my whole body was covered by someone, and then the

thrusting, softly, slowly, and then with urgency and heat. He covered my head with his arm and I couldn’t see his face, but he lifted my upper leg up and thrust with the same movement and then moaned, moaned into my mouth and I moaned with him. And he thrust harder, deeper, and I couldn’t believe he was actually deeper in me, deeper than I would have thought possible. And I had a feeling of: It’s so easy, so easy to fall like this and it didn’t hurt at all. It felt comfortable, comforting. The guy on top of me grunted then, breathing into my mouth, and then he moved a little to breathe heavily into my

ear. He rolled off of me, and someone rolled me over, on my stomach, and then grabbed me around the hips and pulled me up so I was on my knees, and this guy was hard and fast, and I could feel it almost in my throat. Every time he thrust, sounds escaped me, sounds from my throat, my mouth open, and he was making almost the same noises and it felt good. And then he pulled out and something hot spilled over my back. Then there was a towel, wiping it up, and I suddenly felt shaky and tired, and I crawled under the covers of the bed, and someone helped me. I wanted water, but I couldn’t move anymore, and so I just put my head on the pillows and closed my eyes, and the smell was sweet, comfortable, glowing.

Belief When I was growing up, I never knew what life should be like. I only had a good idea of what it definitely should not be like. I remembered my mother’s anger, remembered being late for school, dirty clothes, dirty laundry, dirty dishes, dirty bathroom, dirty bedrooms, dirty car, and I caught glimpses of things from television and movies. And I believed somehow I would be someone.

That I wouldn’t turn into my mother. That when I grew up and was out on my own, I’d be free. I really believed that.

Roommates Joy and I moved in together the beginning of my junior year. The summer between my sophomore and junior years, I stayed in Creekview, working in the student library for a few hours a day and staying in the dorm that was open during the summer. Joy’s family lived in San Francisco, and she came up a few weeks before school started to party, get her books, and to look for an apartment with me. We found one a few days after she got to Creekview – the first floor of a renovated

Victorian on Fifth Street, a few blocks from the crush of bars, a few blocks from Fraternity Row, a five-minute walk to campus. The floors were hardwood and the walls, the manager promised, would be painted before we moved in. There were two bedrooms on opposite sides of the apartment, divided by a huge living room and cute kitchen. Since we were on the first floor, and the apartments on the second and third floors were accessed by stairs around the back, we declared the front porch ours and on the day we moved in, a week before school started, we found a dusty and pale blue couch at a thrift store, frayed around the edges and stained in some areas.

We sprayed it with perfume and deposited it on the porch, where we sat that evening and drank beers, watched the still-empty streets, and daydreamed about all the new boys and people we’d see when classes started again. A week after classes began, the headline on the front page of the school newspaper read: Creekview Sophomore, 19, Dead. The article said that the student, during one of the many parties during the first week of school, had either jumped or fallen off the roof of a three-story frat house. He died in the hospital, a few hours after his head hit the pavement. After St. Patrick’s Day the previous semester, I had hung out with Aaron, the

guy who’d spent that day with his hand on my knee for part of the time. It wasn’t until our third time hanging out that I remembered he was one of the guys in the bedroom that night, and when he realized I didn’t remember, we both tried to laugh it off, but then later, when he was kind of drunk, he mentioned the word “slut” and I got quiet, thinking it over. A month or so after that, we’d see each other out at parties, or occasionally on campus, and we’d simply nod and half-smile from across the room. A few weeks later, I ran into Ian, the guy from the first frat party I went to freshman year, who still didn’t remember me. But he smiled at me, and it was early evening on a downtown street, and I asked

him to walk me home. When we got there, I asked if he wanted to come up for a beer, even though I didn’t have any, and when we got to my room, I closed the door and began undressing him. He poked me with his penis for awhile, and it didn’t feel good, but I didn’t say anything; I just waited for it to be over. When I woke up in the morning, he was gone. Together, in our new apartment, Joy and I strung tiny white Christmas lights around the bay windows in the living room, and hung artwork on every wall. We framed posters of our favorite bands; we both loved grunge and punk. We had posters of Hole and Weezer and Nirvana

and the Ramones. We combined our small libraries and bought a few bookcases so they were lined everywhere – around the couches, and above the mantel. The fireplace didn’t work so we filled it with dried flowers and potpourri. We bought a couch and two easy chairs from a thrift store across town and Joy’s mom gave us a dining room table with a missing leg – one of Joy’s guy friends took off all the legs and nailed in new ones, painted black.

The End of the Summer Party The weekend before school started, Joy and I threw a party. It was all the people Joy was friends with, people that we’d met together, and lots of boys. Joy always had a lot of friends. Joy was the type of girl guys liked – long, dark red hair surrounded her freckled face like an aura. She had a great figure; she was small and friendly and bubbly. She was also the type of girl that other girls liked: She never said weird things or made people feel uncomfortable. In some ways we were opposites. I was

weird and I knew it. I was average-looking and I knew it. My hair was brown and messy; my eyes were brown; I sometimes felt featureless. I felt mousy and nervous, and I sometimes said things that made people uncomfortable. The night of the End of the Summer party, the house was packed. I didn’t even know that many people were in town – during the summer, when the students went away, Creekview resembled a ghost town. But the night of the party, it seemed like everyone came back to town just in time to see us. The Christmas lights sparkled and the liquor flowed. Joy’s bedroom was the unofficial stoners’ pad, and when I peeked in, there were a dozen or so people

passing around Joy’s huge purple bong. The porch was the smoking area, and the ash trays we’d put out were ignored – cigarette butts flew into the night, on to the lawn, or were crushed beneath sneakers and pumps into the floor of the porch. I grabbed a beer from the fridge and a plate of cheese and crackers from the buffet in the kitchen, and found a seat on the couch, in the middle of two boys I didn’t know. They were both drunk and out of it, and I was in a good mood, but didn’t want to flirt or introduce myself that night. Instead, I watched. Some guy who lived in a studio upstairs came down to talk to Joy, who was

wearing a red top that matched her hair perfectly. She was holding a beer in one hand and the other hand motioned animatedly at nothing. Some guys I remembered from meeting them at an end-of-finals party the previous year sat around the dining room table, playing quarters. The coins smacked the table hard, and I considered possible damage done to the table but decided to worry about it later. That girl Gina was there, the girl who always got her bra stapled to the ceiling of whatever house she was at, and her bra was still on, but it was only a matter of time. By 3:00 a.m., everyone was drunk or

passed out on one of our beds or couches. Joy’s guy for the night, a scrawny-looking guy with purple hair named Jack, gave us some cocaine as a housewarming present. I was slightly alarmed. Joy went to the kitchen and returned with straws, which she cut up into three. “You guys know not to share straws, right? It’s like sharing needles,” Joy said and led us into the bathroom. My heart thumped a little and the light was way too bright; the bathroom was too small for the three of us. Jack sat on the edge of the tub, and Joy was on the covered toilet seat, so I sat cross-legged on the floor. Joy pulled out an oversized compact and

shook out some of the white powder. She grabbed a card from her pocket – her student ID – and used it to form a line on the mirror, which she handed to me and smiled. I had to speak up. “Um,” I began, smiling and feeling stupid. “You’re going to have to show me. I’m new.” “This is your first line?” Jack said excitedly. “No way!” Joy yelled. I nodded and Jack and Joy high-fived. I was relieved.

Joy retrieved another mirror so that we could do it together at the same time. “Since it’s your first time, not too much,” Joy said, as tapped out a tiny bit on the other mirror, handed me the straw and told me to follow her lead. She leaned over with the straw and said, “It’s going to burn really badly, so you’ll want to get some water up there after.” She instructed me to watch her as she put the straw up her nose, leaned over the line, and sniffed quickly. I did the same. The whole thing was gone. She ran her fingers under the faucet and then sniffed those, too. I did the same. “Holy shit, Jack, where did you get this?” she said, her eyes red.

“Why, what’s wrong with it?” he said suspiciously. “No, it’s good, it’s really good. I’ve only gotten shit here in Creekview, that’s why I stopped buying it.” “I get it from my brother and his buddy in L.A.” “Yes!” Joy shouted. “How much do you have on you tonight?” “To sell?” “Yeah.” “Awww, I can’t sell you any tonight. It’s a party. This is on the house. Tomorrow,

maybe I can bring over what I have and you can decide what you want to do.” “At least three grams,” Joy said. “Sure, no problem.” “Around 5:00 p.m.?” “I’ll be here,” he said with shyness, looking up at Joy from under his lashes before he snorted a huge line from the mirror. I was in a daze. I felt great. I felt content. I felt happy. It was like being fully aware, fully alive. I noticed how bright Joy’s lipstick was, how beautiful she really was, and I noticed

how nervous Jack was, how much he really liked her. I had an urge to do something, anything, so I asked if I could have another line, and the two of them laughed, and Jack tapped some more powder out of the tiny plastic bag. I wondered if it was something like Santa’s bag of toys, bottomless, and I almost mentioned this, but thought better of it and didn’t. It was near dawn. Joy and Jack and I were on the front porch, smoking cigarettes. Every time I felt edgy and every time something annoyed me, or I realized how tired I was, or how far I’d gotten behind in my credits, having failed a few classes here and there, Jack or Joy seemed to notice and would hand me the mirror with

the coke. And I felt so grateful. It had stopped burning, and all I could feel was sweet powder, snow flaky and pure, traveling straight up to my brain and making everything okay. I didn’t want the night to end, and that seemed to make it go faster. When I saw people start to walk along the streets, some of them on their way to breakfast, some of them doing “walks of shame,” sometime around 8:00 a.m., I finally got up and told Joy and Jack I was going to bed. Joy whispered something to Jack and then she came up to me and asked if I was okay, and I told her I was. “You sure?” she whispered, and I nodded, and she hugged me and told me to drink a

lot of water. I fell into my bed, and the ceiling spun. My whole body ached, like I’d climbed a mountain or hiked a 50-mile trail, and I was exhausted. When I closed my eyes, though, nothing happened, and before I knew it, it was night time. Joy didn’t come home until the next night. It was the first day of classes. I’d made it to all of them that day, hiding in the back rows, feeling I must have some mark on my forehead, feeling a little paranoid. She opened the door to my room, and I was sleeping so lightly, I could feel the soft light from the hallway on my face.

She sat down on the edge of my bed and whispered my name. “Yeah?” I whispered back. “Oh, good you’re awake,” Joy said in her normal voice, and she reached over and flipped the switch on the lamp. I sat up, rubbing my eyes. Joy’s eyes were wide and bright, and she pulled out a few of those tiny plastic bags like the one Jack had brought. “Holy god,” I muttered, picking up each of the bags and turning it over in my hand. They were so small; the tiny plastic bags were like ones to hold jewelry, earrings, a small pendant charm or rock. “You bought all of these?”

“He gave me five grams for a hundred and fifty bucks!” Joy exclaimed, bouncing up and down on my bed. “He practically gave it to me! And this is the best coke I’ve ever had outside of San Francisco.” “He likes you,” I said, smiling, holding one of the tiny bags of coke up to the light of the lamp. It was pure white, like pristine snow. “Yeah, I know. He’s taking me out to dinner next weekend.” Dinner. I was shocked. Almost no one actually went out on real dates, or, at least, no one I knew. I could not remember the last time I had actually heard of two people going out to dinner

together on a date. And certainly, no one ever actually planned a date in advance. It didn’t happen. “Where are you going?” “The Ruins.” My mouth opened. The Ruins was the closest thing to a four-star restaurant in Creekview. People held weddings there. I’d never been there, but I’d heard stories of the fountains, the private rooms, the velvet seats and candles and candelabras hanging from the ceilings. It was where the rich kids went when their families came to visit them. Joy opened up one of the bags and reached into her purse. She fumbled for a few

minutes, then pulled out her flowery makeup bag. Inside were the mirror, paper-wrapped straws, a tiny pair of sewing scissors, and her library card. “Let’s have a little party to celebrate,” Joy said, and the next time either one of us slept, we’d switched from cocaine to crystal meth and five days had passed.

Highs I remember bumping into that one professor (“John Garden. Call me John.”) a few semesters after I took one of his classes for the first time. He would always look at me and really seem to see me. He’d say, “Hey, gorgeous,” and my stomach would do all sorts of happy flipflops. I knew he was married, and later, when I was at the movies with a boy I had a crush on, he and his wife, who looked much younger than she must have been, were sitting right in front of us. The professor had this way of sort of rolling his tongue around his mouth when he was amused, and this drove me nuts,

because he seemed to be amused most of the time. He taught a film class that I took one summer session, and one of the movies we watched was Easy Rider, and before he started the film, he told the class he hadn’t seen it in 25 years. “Did you drop acid before class?” one of the guys near the front of the class asked. The professor paused, then smiled. “No, but I was looking for weed earlier,” he said. “If anyone wants to talk to me, I’ll be out in the hallway.” He was sexy, with his slight Southern drawl and thick glasses. He spoke like summer nights, in a voice that always

sounded flirtatious, and he said, “You’re paper’s overdue,” in the same voice you’d imagine him saying, “Take off your panties.” Sometimes I’d daydream about him, except in my daydreams he wasn’t married and he lived alone in a big, rambling house, and whenever I was in his class, I would sometimes catch myself staring at him, and I’d have to remind myself to not be an asshole, because nothing was uncooler than liking someone you had no chance with. Joy and I stayed high for months. Cocaine and speed, crushed and licked and ran across our gums and snorted and smoked in little glass pipes. We lost incredible amounts of weight, but Joy’s body didn’t

react as well to the weight loss and one weekend her mom came up to visit, and she took one look at Joy and whisked her away to have lunch. When they got back, her mom went to go take a nap and Joy looked at me and said, “She knows,” and I felt suddenly guilty, as though the whole thing was my fault. Our student loans mostly went up our noses. Jack the coke dealer was Joy’s boyfriend for a whole three weeks before she decided he was too into playing video games to be much use other than having access to good drugs. Still, he came around and once in a while I’d hear them having sex, their voices carrying across the wide living room.

One weekday night, there was nothing to do. It was winter break, and the students were away in Hawaii, Mexico, the Bahamas, the Caribbean, Aspen, or wherever it was the rich kids went with their families during the winter holiday. Most students simply went home. Joy and I hadn’t done any coke or meth since the previous weekend, because we’d sworn to each other we were going to take it easy during the winter break and just chill out, let our bodies relax a bit, and we were thinking of cooking that night. Joy came in around 8:00 p.m., and I was on my bed, sort of reading a textbook, but not really, because when she came into my room, I was just staring at the wall,

wondering if I should take a photography class the next summer. The photo lab was close to our apartment, which would have meant I could stay late and not worry about scary walks home through the dark campus at night. “Okay, we’re going out,” Joy said without preamble. “For dinner?” I said, confused. “No, out out. Unless you’re hungry, then we can stop for pizza first.” “I’m really tired tonight,” I began, and it was the truth. The two- and three-week coke-and-meth binges followed by a week of “time off” had left me pretty much exhausted all the time.

“Chris is here,” Joy said. Chris was one of the many guys in Joy’s circle of friends. “Well, you guys can go out then,” I suggested, yawning. “That’s fine.” “Jesus! You and I had plans tonight,” Joy said, enunciating her words. “You think I’m going to just ditch you for some cock?” “It’s okay,” I said, laughing. “I’m giving you permission, so it’s not like you’re ditching me.” “Lucy, listen to what I’m saying! I wasn’t going to stand you up tonight, so I brought one for you, too.”

“Brought me what?” “A guy, Lucy,” she said, talking slowly, like I was retarded. “Which one?” “Jason.” “Which Jason?” “Guess.” “Yeah, right. Which one?” Joy looked right at me and sort of smiled and then she looked away. My stomach dropped and my mouth went dry. Uh-uh. Couldn’t be.

I shut my mouth and Joy watched my face as I started a hesitant smile. “Jason Miller, no way,” I said, hushed. “Yes, a belated Christmas present,” Joy said smugly. Jason Miller was kind of famous on campus. He was more than just insanely good looking. He modeled for a year in New York before leaving it to come to Creekview because, I overheard a girl telling her friend once, he hated hanging out with uneducated airheads and he wanted to get to know people who were “real.” He was majoring in journalism, took philosophy classes for his theme, and a couple of times I’d seen him coming in and out of the art building.

“For me?” I whispered, my stomach suddenly a large knot inside me. “Just for you,” Joy said gently. “Oh, you’ve got to be out of your fucking mind,” I said, deflating on to the bed. “He’s not going to go for me.” “He knows who you are, Lucy!” Joy squawked. “Like, he asked me about you.” “No, no,” I shouted, then suddenly I whispered, “Oh my god, please don’t tell me he’s here.” “They’re both waiting in the living room for you to get your lazy ass up and get dressed so we can all go out.”

I sprang up and flung open the door to my closet. “It’s impossible,” I told Joy through clenched teeth. “There’s just no way this happening.” “Shut up,” Joy said cheerfully, pulling a black dress from off a hanger and handing it to me. “I hope you took a shower today,” she added, running off to the bathroom to bring me some supplies. I put on deodorant and rubbed orange ginger lotion all over my body and then pulled on the clothes. Joy brushed my hair while I applied makeup: lipstick, blush, eyeliner. She went through the jewelry box on my vanity and brought me a pair of earrings, the silver ones with the tiny rubies she’d

given me as a gift. “Look, Lucy, you’re beautiful,” she whispered, hugging me from behind. I’m not, I thought. Not even close. But I was okay. I was fine. “Okay,” I said. My stomach cramped. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, and the two of us stepped out and closed my bedroom door behind us. I knew he was out there, but the rest of my body hasn’t gotten the message yet, because when I saw Jason sitting on the couch, my flesh broke out in a sea of cold goose bumps. It was basically like coming out of your

bedroom and seeing a movie star sitting on your couch. He smiled at me, the magazine-model smile he was famous for, and held his arm out. It couldn’t be. “Shall we?’ he said like we were in a black-and-white movie, and we walked out the front door, into the night.

Tango A few hours later, we were at Tango, a tapas bar with a dance floor. It wasn’t one of the usual hangouts Joy and I went to. When we walked inside and I saw the glistening hardwood floors, the red velvet chairs and booths, and the hostess, a flowing brunette wearing a red, flared flamenco dress, I was immediately intimidated. But the place was filled with students, kids our age, and we got a booth in the back room. We hadn’t even settled into our booth before Joy whipped out her flowery makeup bag and racked up four huge lines of cocaine on the table.

Jason looked at me, his eyebrows the tiniest bit raised. He had his arm draped around the top of the booth, a guy trick, not getting too close, just almost touching me. “It’s party time,” I said in a what I hoped was a wry voice. Jason seemed to understand, but he still said, “Wow, you girls are crazy. I haven’t done any of this in months.” We snorted it all and ordered drinks – pitcher of beers for the guys, sweet sangrias for Joy and me. Jason leaned in and quietly asked me what classes I was taking spring semester.

The music was lively, thumping. Streamers and tiny candles caught my eyes every time I looked up from my drink, and the fruit blended in with the juicy wine, and it tasted just like I thought he might taste – like the taste of being alive. I started to think I was dreaming when the professor I had a crush on walked in with a petite, blond woman. He was wearing a black jacket over black jeans and started following the hostess … toward our private room. I stared at him. He saw me right away. “Hey, gorgeous!” he called. Shocked, I stood up and went up to him

and shook his hand. He introduced me to the woman on his arm. “Lucy, this is the love of my life, my wife Helen. Helen, this is Lucy, one of my best students.” I held my hand out to Helen, and she surprised me by grabbing me for a hug. “It’s always so good to meet John’s students,” she said with enthusiasm and warmth. Her eyes looked into mine, and then she looked at the table where my friends were, and she said, softly, “Have fun tonight, but be careful, okay?” “Of course,” I said. “It was a pleasure meeting you.” And I could not help it; tears welled in my eyes and so I turned quickly away.

That one moment with her had touched me. She’d looked at me like her husband had always looked at me – like she’d really seen me and liked what she saw. I went back to the table to find Jason talking about his favorite movies, which, for some reason, were all movies that came out in the 1940s. And he talked about New York, and he talked about his ex-girlfriends, and he talked about his modeling career … I was high, dreamy, still feeling Helen’s warmth, and I kept up with the conversation by saying things like, “I know what you mean,” “Exactly,” and “Really?”

But I couldn’t really hear a word he was saying. John Garden. Call me John. Have fun tonight. Be careful. Jason’s gaze softened more and more, and he and Chris ordered a bottle of tequila, and started doing shots. Joy was drunk, and I was struggling mightily against my own drinks, and when we finally left Tango many hours later, none of us were walking a straight line. We walked back to Joy’s and my place.

I tried to think of something to say, anything, but I couldn’t, because the truth of the matter is that I wanted this. I wanted him. Badly. I didn’t know why I wanted him. It wasn’t just his beauty. It wasn’t just because his eyes were the color of Lake Isabella, or that the creases around his eyes reminded me of laughter. It wasn’t his hands, the silver, thickchained bracelet around his right wrist, the pink-red of his lips, the way he smelled, or the things he said. When we got to my door, I wanted to ask him inside, but I forgot his name for a moment and panicked.

Joy simply said, “We’ve got apricot ale and some snacks,” and everyone shuffled inside. Jason held his arm out toward the open door, the guy symbol of, “You first,” and I felt the tension in my neck release. I felt the cocaine melt with the drinks in my bloodstream. And even though Jason hadn’t mentioned how I looked, had not really flirted, had not grabbed my thigh or told me I was beautiful, or tried to hold my hand, or mentioned sex at all, I still somehow knew how things would end that night.

Cocaine and Sex One minute, Jason and I were doing lines on my dresser, and the next minute we were undressing each other. Jason had gotten us two glasses of water, and when he came back into the room, he just walked over to me, put his hands around me, and kissed me. It was not unexpected, but yet it was. He hadn’t come on to me at all that night. Every so often, I’d noticed him glancing at my lips or breasts, but it was normal, every-guy sort of glances, nothing I recognized as real attraction.

But he came over, and slid his body next to mine, and all of a sudden, I was being kissed. Not too wet, not dry, not too much tongue. Near precision and orchestration. My whole body lit up like a Christmas tree, ring by ring. The butterflies in my stomach, which had been absent the whole evening as I’d relaxed by getting high and drunk, returned. The muscles in my legs went out; my torso tightened, my toes clenched, my breasts and lower abdomen tingled, and I accidentally let out a moan in his mouth. He lowered me to the bed and touched me, one thumb pressed firmly in between my legs. Everything kicked into overdrive.

He tightened his grip. I felt lightening, I felt building, and as he kissed me and touched me, he began to grind his body into mine. I grew almost frantic. I started unbuttoning his shirt, wanting to feel his bare skin. He lifted my dress off, but left my bra on, and then nibbled my nipples through the silk. I ran my hands over his perfect body, the freckled arms, tanned in winter, smooth chest and short beard. The strands of his hair caught light from the lamp. Then he slipped his hand inside my panties, and I came then, hard, just like that. I writhed on the bed, reeling from the

intense waves of orgasm that washed over me, and that’s when he slid my underwear off in one sweep. I was on my back, on the bed, and his shirt was already off, so he unbuttoned his jeans and took them off, and then he hovered over me. My body raced from the cocaine and the orgasm. His lips were close to mine, his skin an inch or less away from my skin, and he just looked at me, smiling in a friendly type way, like I’d just said something he thought was funny, or we were sharing an ice cream cone on a 90degree day in July. Then, he placed one of his hands over my breast and started to massage it. I moaned again. He massaged my breast with one hand, and the other hand was helping his

body to balance over mine, and then with one of his knees, he nudged my thighs apart, and thrust forward, suddenly. I felt an explosion inside, and I screamed. And then he moved inside, outside in, out, just fucking me, fucking me hard, and sometimes his hands were on my hips, and sometimes they covered my breasts, playing with my nipples. And this furious, intense, insanely pleasurable sex went on forever, it seemed, bringing tears to my eyes, tears of joy. He began to move slowly, and when I started to moan, he sped up, then licked his thumb and circled it on my clit, still pumping away, and I came again, and

again, for seconds that seemed like minutes, that seemed to stretch forever. When it was over, he stroked my hair and smiled at me, and we didn’t fall asleep. Instead, he pulled on his jeans, and I climbed into some pajamas, and we joined Joy and Chris, who were watching Japanese animation in the living room. The TV was turned up really loud, but I was hit with sudden paranoia that they’d heard everything. When they heard us come into the living room, they both looked up and smiled, and Joy said, “Are you guys hungry?” and I realized of course they’d heard everything but they didn’t care – they were, if anything, happy for us.

Chris pulled out some mushrooms, gave them to Joy with a kiss, and said he had to get home. I walked Jason to the door and he kissed me on the cheek and said he’d talk with me later, and I watched him walk down the stairs, on to the street, into the night.

Mushrooms and the Moon Later, Joy and I sat on the couch on the front porch. We could smell the wet, early-morning grass. The moon glowed on us. It made rings around Joy. Chris had given us a pair of dried mushrooms. Joy had chopped them up and added them to some leftover spaghetti. We shared one big bowl with two forks. Everything breathed, in and out, curling up and then curling out, shrinking and then blooming. I shivered, suddenly.

Joy was beautiful, like something out of a Renaissance painting. Her red hair was in perfect ringlets surrounding her pale, freckled face. Everything was so beautiful. Tears suddenly fell easily from my eyes. Joy looked at me. “Is it raining? Am I crying?” she asked, her eyes wide. “I don’t know, I can’t tell,” I said. “I think we’re crying.” “Are we happy?” she asked. “I think so,” I wept. We wrapped our arms around each other and looked up at the moon.

The Student Health Clinic The nurses at the student health clinic really liked Joy. They’d give her almost anything she asked for – prescription pain killers, muscle relaxers – they even gave her a prescription for Valium once, though when she tried to get more they wouldn’t refill. The student health clinic was notorious for being strict with painkillers and benzos, but Joy charmed them. They passed her Vicodin like it was aspirin. Joy was generous with her pharmaceuticals. She left them in the bathroom vanity, except when we had guests, and then she hid them in her purse. The morning after the

sangria/cocaine/mushroom night with Jason and Chris, Joy knocked on my door around 1:00 p.m. and handed me a Vicodin and a glass of water. Her eyes were bloodshot and her face was puffy. I didn’t even want to think about what I looked like; I knew I looked like hell. “We have to stay in tonight,” Joy moaned, holding her head. “I haven’t felt like this in forever,” I said, even though as I said it, I remembered coming down from a coke binge just a few weeks prior, and feeling like I was maybe dying. I shook the thought out of my head and that jostled my equilibrium just enough that it made me nauseous – I jumped out of bed, past Joy, and made it to the bathroom in time to vomit in the

sink. When I got back to my room, Joy’d gone back to bed. I sunk into the covers and tried to go back to sleep, the phrase, “Sleep it off, sleep it off,” echoing and bouncing around in my head. I burrowed under the blankets and thought about Jason.

Obsession “Sometimes I feel like everyone knows something I don’t,” Jason said. We were walking though campus, on the way to the art building. Jason was the perfect mini-celebrity – he never seemed to notice girls looking at him, then looking away, girls leaning their heads together suddenly, the sorority girls flashing him smiles, and saying, “Hey, Jason,” with flips of their hair. He leaned in toward me. “I mean, when I was clubbing in New York, no one gave a shit about anything except getting into the next club or opening. It was wild, we’d be

dropping bombs in the Middle East, or you just knew back home someone’s family was really hurting, and when we’d go out, it was just, ‘Dude, you gotta go to this hairdresser downtown, he’s incredible,’ or someone talking about how to get past the velvet rope at this one club in the Village. It was all so unreal.” “I know, I know,” I said. “It’s like, I know I don’t really have anything to really worry about. I’m in college, everything’s fine, but for so long I’ve just felt this sort of …” “Pain,” Jason finished. I paused because I didn’t know anyone else who talked about it. “The pain,” I said in awe and felt a sudden wave of relief.

“You know about the pain,” I said, not even asking. “For a long time,” Jason said. And that was the moment I fell in love. We walked for a while and then I stopped him and hugged him. He let his hand slide gently down my back and said we should go to a movie that night. I had a paper due the next day, and it wasn’t going to get done. Sometimes I cut class early to get home and check my messages. Once out of every four or five times, there’d be a message from him, talking about his roommate, or how he thought Chris might have a serious drug problem, or wanting

to know when we could hook up later. I doodled his name in my notebook and smiled when I saw people looking at me, knowing everyone knew what I knew – I got him, the guy everyone wanted. Yeah, I wanted to say. I’m surprised, too. I thought about spring vacation, and wondered if he was going home and if he’d invite me with him. I thought about how he touched me, how I wanted to touch him all the time. I smiled dreamily at everyone. A guy in one of my history classes flirted with me and I smiled at him. Joy said I glowed. When he came over on school nights, it was hard to want to go to sleep. Most

nights, we’d sit out on the porch couch, drinking beers and talking. We’d watch people walk by and give them nicknames. “The Terminator,” to a tall big guy wearing a leather jacket. “Mary Poppins” to a girl with a long black skirt and a tucked-in polka-dot blouse. I spent nights wrapped in his arms and sometimes I thought about telling him I loved him, but I knew you weren’t supposed to do that, not when it had only been a few weeks. I drew his name in hearts in my notebooks and I thought about him. The four of us did a truckload of coke one night, and we were on completely

different planes. Joy wanted to go out and score some Ecstasy and have a few drinks while we were at it. Chris wanted to go to the sports bar and shoot pool. Jason just wanted to chill out for the night and sit around and talk and play cards. I honestly didn’t care what I did, as long as he was there, with me. Long after Jason and Chris went home, Jason because he had an early morning class, and Chris because he and Joy had gotten into some sort of quarrel, Joy and I were on another mission.

And for the next week, I got all my papers done in the middle of the night, between snorts of cocaine and cheap crank someone gave us at a party. Jason and I talked every day. He asked me how I was doing, and I knew what he was talking about, and told him the truth – I was doing fine. “Take it easy, Lucy,” he warned. “I’ve seen a lot of my friends get sucked in, and you definitely don’t ever want it to get to the point where you can’t stop.” I lost track of time and realized one day it had been a week since I’d really slept or eaten. I trudged into the kitchen, opened the refrigerator, and unstuck the lid off of

a random pot. Whatever had been in there had been in there for a long time. It was green, slimy, fuzzy, alive. The smell hit me a few seconds later, and my head was filled with it – my whole body was. I hadn’t had anything to eat in days, and so when my stomach lurched, I didn’t figure there would be much to retch. I walked quickly to the bathroom, and I was too slow. Deep yellow liquid vomit projected from my mouth all over the floor. I cleaned it up, feeling ill. Okay, I told

myself, taking deep breaths. No more drugs for a while. When I saw Joy later, I told her I was sick, and she believed it instantly – I couldn’t see what I looked like, but she told me I was green and ordered me into bed and an immediate cease and desist on all narcotics until I was better. I felt better the next morning when I woke up, and then a few hours later, right in the middle of class, the nausea overwhelmed me again. I walked out of class and made it outside of the building before heaving into the bushes. I looked around, but it was the middle of the class hour and not many people were around. No one saw me. No one saw the

girl with the messy brown hair, wearing the paisley blouse, throwing up in the bushes outside her class, wiping the tears that leaked out while she was heaving, wondering if something terrible was happening to her from all the drugs. A few days later, there had been no repeat and I was so grateful that I wasn’t sick anymore, so Joy and I went out to celebrate. We kept our pact and sipped beers all night long. A couple of weeks later I was at the student health center. Something was wrong. I just didn’t feel … right. Things looked weird, and one day, I had yelled at Joy for leaving the cheese I’d just bought out for the night so it was hard and yellow when I found it. Joy had just looked at me,

went back to the book she was reading for class, and said nothing. My whole body ached. I hadn’t done any drugs for weeks, and still, something was not right. “Lucy?” a nurse called. My weight was taken. I noticed I’d gained a few pounds. A few minutes later they took my blood pressure, and then the nurse asked questions about allergies and family medical history. I was given a cup for a urine sample and the nurse took blood, and then I was sent back out into the lobby to wait.

They called my name a half an hour later. The nurse led me into the side room at the bottom of the stairs. She was black and big, bosomy, and she was smiling at me kindly. I took a seat opposite of her, and she looked through my chart. I stared at posters of the human body. “So, Lucy, why don’t you tell me what the problem is,” she said. I took a deep breath, looked down at my hands, and spilled. “I was doing a lot of coke a few months ago, and then I stopped because I was getting sick and not eating and stuff.” I looked up at her to make sure she hadn’t suddenly dialed the cops, but she was still looking at me kindly and I realized that by

working in a college health clinic, she’d seen it all. I continued, “So, I haven’t done any drugs for about a month, but I feel like shit now – throwing up, really achy. I don’t know what’s going on.” The nurse said calmly, “You’re pregnant,” and the world sort of stopped. I actually did not believe I had heard correctly. It’s the aftermath of the coke, the meth, the mushrooms, my brain hissed at me. The room seemed surreal and bright. I realized I was holding my breath, and I let it all out in a swoop. I began stuttering. “What, what, what …”

“Pregnant.” Pregnant? No no no no, it must be some mistake. I was 21-years-old. “It’s got to be some mistake,” I said, and the nurse interrupted me immediately. “No, there’s no mistake, I’m afraid. Pregnancy test is definitely positive.” The nurse suddenly looked a little sad and my heart pumped away as I realized she was feeling sorry for me. I stared at floor as the nurse started talking and I didn’t hear a word she said. I thought about abortion clinics, baby

clothes, my mother, who I hadn’t seen in years, doing some more cocaine, smoking a cigarette, Jason. Jason. I took an odd route home that day, but maybe it wasn’t that odd. It was a route I took on days when I had plans to go over to Jason’s. I wondered if it was weird to show up unannounced. I wondered if he was home. It was around 6:00 p.m. I walked up the walkway to his apartment. The air was still cold with winter. It was March, and it meant it would be another month or so until the feeling of warmth

would be sensed beneath the bite in the wind. There was hardly a spring or fall in Creekview. Only long, hellish summers and freezing winters. With a few weeks of reprieves in between. I went up to his door and knocked. I knocked for a long time, but the house was dead quiet, and I couldn’t hear anyone. He wasn’t there. I walked home and climbed into bed. And I didn’t get out. I stopped going to classes.

I told Joy I was sick, and she believed me for a few days. Jason called and I told him I was sick and he told me to get better so we could go see the Aerosmith concert in Sacramento, which was a few hours’ drive away. The following week, though, when I still hadn’t gone to any of my classes, and still hadn’t gone out to any of the bars or clubs, and Joy noticed that every single time she went into my room, I was sleeping, she sat down on my bed and said, “I know there’s something wrong.” I wasn’t ready to talk at all, but I wasn’t ready to keep it a secret for longer than I had, either.

Because as soon as I said it, it would mean that it was actually happening. It’s one thing for a nurse to tell you; that could practically be on TV, people just talking. When you said it, though, when you said it out loud, that means it’s really happening. It’s real. “I think maybe you should talk to someone,” Joy was saying. I laughed then, a quiet laugh that still brought some tears. “Who did you have in mind?” I said in between gulps of dry laughter. “Lucy, come on. Go talk to someone. Go to the school wellness center. Maybe they’ll give you some Prozac.”

“You’re kidding.” “You’ve been ‘sick’ for weeks. I haven’t seen you have fun in forever. I know you thought we were doing too much coke, so we cut down. And you’re still depressed.” I didn’t say anything. Just looked down at my bed covers. I willed my voice to come, willed myself to say something. I couldn’t. Joy sighed, and then got up to leave. I grabbed her arm. I didn’t want to do it. But I didn’t want to be alone. I didn’t want to go on like that.

Her arm was bathed in darkness. It was dark out. Cold. She was wearing a longsleeved gray blouse. “Joy,” I whispered, and my throat closed up and that’s when the tears came. I said it. I didn’t want to say it, but I said it. Joy looked at me and her eyes were wide and she hugged me, and for a long time, we sat like that, not saying anything.

Flowers That Bite Jason came over later that night. Joy was cooking some type of broccoli and cheese concoction in the kitchen. I’d showered for the first time in days and had climbed into clean pajamas. He came into my bedroom carrying a bouquet of flowers. I was shocked. No one had ever given me flowers before. He sat down on my bed and looked at me. I leaned over and put my head on his chest.

Jason was wearing a navy overcoat and he took it off, and then touched my head. “Hey, Lucy, doing OK?” he asked, casually. I straightened up and looked at him and then it tumbled out. “I’m pregnant.” I watched his eyes widen, and turn back to normal, but darker. Smooth as stone. He half-smiled, and then said. “Really. You’re sure.” “Yeah. Positive.” “We used condoms every time, though,” he said, actually looking a little confused.

“No, we didn’t. Not every time.” “OK, OK, you’re right. Not every time.” He looked at his fingers, and then looked at me and smiled again. Tightly. “So what are you going to do?” I felt a flash of something go through me, some type of strange feeling like being zapped. It wasn’t fear, but it was close. It wasn’t anger, but it was close. My stomach clenched. “What do you mean,” I said slowly. “What am I going to do?” He laughed, “Easy, easy. I’ll go with you to have it taken care of. It’s no big deal, OK?”

I felt like I had been transported into an awful universe, some type of reality TV show where bad things happened to stupid people, and people didn’t act normal – they only faked acting normal. “You’ll go with me to take care of it,” I repeated. “Yeah, just let me know when it is, and I’ll make sure I’m there. Now, I’ve got to go, but give me a call if you need anything,” he said, inching toward the door. “Give you a call if I need anything,” I repeated, incredulous. “Yeah. And Lucy?” he asked, right before

he moved out the door. “Yeah?” I said. “You’re sure it’s mine?” I was speechless. The flash I felt earlier became a punch. Things flooded inside of me. Things were happening, terrible things, and I suddenly wanted to leap and strangle Jason, beautiful Jason, with his beautiful blue eyes, Jason, who used to always say the right thing. I giggled. I must have sounded like a maniac. I knew that Jason needed to leave right then and there, because the things that were happening inside of my body were not right. It wasn’t just being pregnant; there were other bad things

happening, too. Everything boiled together. I clamped my teeth down over the giggle and nodded, and he nodded and left, and then Joy came in and saw the look on my face and handed me, wordlessly, a bowl of the casserole she’d made, and a tiny blue pill I recognized as Valium. I ate the casserole and took the pill. When I woke up the next day, I could hear Joy watching TV. I walked barefoot out into the living room. Joy looked up and without a word, came over and hugged me.

The Procedure Joy went with me to the clinic a few days later. They didn’t do the procedure at the student health clinic on campus. She drove me in her little Volvo, even though it was only a quarter of a mile or so from campus. We checked in. It was quiet but with a Top-40 radio station on somewhere. I looked around, and I couldn’t help but think that the other girls were there for reasons other than mine. That it was just me. White forms. Blue forms. One pink form. A couple of cards. I was called in to be weighed and have urine and blood drawn

and my blood pressure taken. And then I waited for an hour. Joy flipped through fashion magazines. Occasionally, she would reach over and squeeze my hand. I gnawed my fingernails to the nubs. A woman called me in. We went to her office and she asked me a bunch of questions about how much I understood about the procedure, about my “situation,” my options, and whether or not I needed more time to think about things. If there was one thing I knew I did not need, it was more time to think about things. I’d thought of nothing else for weeks. I was tired of thinking about it. I wanted it gone. I wanted it done.

I had not spoken to nor seen Jason since that night he’d brought me flowers, and sometimes, I would think I had dreamed the whole thing. The only real proof I had was inside of me, and not for long. I lay down on the paper-swathed medical cot. I would give anything to not be here right now, I thought. I would have done anything to not be staring up at the ceiling in a clinic room, a huge, whirring noise coming from a nearby machine, a hand I didn’t recognize squeezing mine, thoughts of Jason’s body swirling around my head, making it ache.

I would have given anything to be anywhere but where I was right then. A machine made its noise and I couldn’t help but think it was some type of vacuum, and I closed my eyes. It’s possible this is just some horrible nightmare I’ll wake up from, I thought. But not probable. Taking everything into consideration, it did actually appear that this was really happening. I put my hands over face and my whole body heaved and I cried, but I couldn’t hear anything over the whirl of the machines; the sounds overwhelmed

everything else. I thought I heard someone scream. From the next room, maybe. I looked up at the doctor and the nurse who was holding my hand, but the nurse just gave me an encouraging look and the doctor wasn’t looking at me at all; she was looking between my legs, and I thought I must have imagined the scream, was perhaps just imagining the whole goddamned thing. I left with a paper bag full of thick maxi pads, a bottle with 10 Vicodins, and a three-month supply of birth control pills. The doctor told me to be careful. I nodded, stuffed the pills in my purse, and

held the brown paper bag under my arm. Joy signed something, and she helped me out to the car. I stared out the window. At home, I crawled into bed and fell asleep. And even though I woke up a few hours later, dreaming of dirt in my mouth, my pillow covered in saliva, I didn’t yell or cry. I just went back to sleep. And dreamed. In my dream, the street was slick with rain. It was night time. There were two women. One of them had long, curly blond hair, and one of them was a brunette. In the middle of them stood a

tall man, good looking in a gaunt sort of way, like a vampire. I was scared, because it seemed like they knew me, but I was pretty sure I didn’t know them. There were street lamps shining down on them, me, and the street, but still, I began walking away from them quickly. And then the guy said, “You know all about dead girls, don’t you, Lucy?” and he started to smile, a slow, cruel, evil smile, and I started to moan in the dream. I woke up moaning in real life, too.

June in Creekview It was the day of Joy’s graduation. Her parents came up for the weekend. I was still a junior; she was one year ahead of me. All over Creekview, graduating seniors were getting up at 5:00 a.m., hitting the bars with their parents in tow at 6:00 a.m., and having pre-parties until the graduation ceremony started at 11:00 a.m. June in Creekview was a time of intense heat and I could feel a type of panic and horror throughout the town.

Seniors were graduating. Many of them intended to stay in Creekview throughout the summer, but some were planning to move back in with their parents while they looked for jobs. I didn’t know anyone who actually had a job lined up right after graduation. Some students had applied to master’s programs. They weren’t leaving Creekview anytime soon. Joy and I and a few of our friends clinked glasses in a bar near the campus, and then Joy left with her family to get to the huge outdoor field where the ceremony would be held. That day in June, during Joy’s graduation, I sat in one of the plastic chairs, in the hot

sun, sweat dripping everywhere; it was a little slice of hell. I couldn’t stay through the three-hour ceremony; I was going to pass out from the alcohol and the heat. Making my apologies, I climbed over people and left. Joy wouldn’t have noticed; many people would be making speeches, and then there would be a long line of graduates waiting to get their blank pieces of paper – fake diplomas until their real ones arrived in the mail. I’d catch up with Joy later. I had been up forever; I wanted to go home and take a nap. Joy, I knew, would call me after the ceremony and I could meet up with the party after I slept.

On my way home, when I walked by where Jason lived, it was as though no time had passed.

Summer Alone Joy and I didn’t talk very much about what had happened that spring. As soon as the semester ended, I stayed in bed for another month or so. I gave up on my summer classes. It was pointless, especially when I remembered trying to get professors during spring semester to give me leeway and extend my deadlines, when I missed them all anyway. I couldn’t finish anything. I dropped all my summer classes a few days after they began. I saw Jason once in a while after that, but not often. I wasn’t going out that much at that point and he did not call or come over.

I left him a message one night when I couldn’t stop crying, couldn’t stop remembering, couldn’t stop the grief, the longing, and the pain of waiting for him. But he never returned my message, and gradually, I understood he was not coming back and further phone calls from me or knocking on his apartment door would constitute pathetic stalking. So I didn’t. And I didn’t do much of anything else, either. I didn’t want to go home for the summer, but didn’t want to stay.

I paid rent with what was left of my student loans for the semester. I bought a bus ticket to Oregon and spent two weeks camping in the sites that dot the Pacific Ocean. I hiked, bought a book to identify plants and indigenous insects. I saw waterfalls and dragonflies. Several days, I did nothing but walk. Ten, 15, 20 miles a day. Sometimes I cried. Most times I didn’t. I would stoop and pick up a few pebbles or run my hands through a creek and try not to listen to the tape that was playing over and over again in my head. One night, I decided to stay at a hostel. I took a shower and some of the other kids at the hostel, my age, had a couple of bottles of wine, and they asked if I wanted

to go across the street to the beach and watch the sunset. I went, and the wine warmed me instantly against the cool breeze of the coast. The sun set in brilliant patterns of deep pink, radiating orange and soft yellows. I was on my second glass of wine when I started to cry and I didn’t stop until I looked up, and it was dark, and everyone was gone, and then I started across the street, back into my bunk at the hostel. When I got back to the apartment in Creekview, there was a note on yellow stationery from Joy. Her favorite purple pen. Her handwriting looked like roses – swirling and fresh. Dear Lucy,

I hope your trip went well and that you’re back in one piece! I can’t wait to hear about your road trip when I get back. My parents forced me to come help them with some renovations on my grandparents’ house. Bummer. I’ll be in San Francisco for at least a couple of weeks. Want to join me? Give me a call at my parents when you get back. In the meantime, make sure to eat your vegetables, don’t stay out too late, and don’t do anything I would do! Love, Joy The shower felt good. I let the water spray over my body. Shampooing my hair felt like a luxury after two weeks of trucking

through forests, no matter how tame they were. I liked our bathroom. Joy’s favorite colors were yellow and purple, so we had thick, yellow-and-purple striped fuzzy towels. The curtain was deep purple with yellow flowers, and we always made sure to have lots of violet and lilac soap. There was a Van Gogh reproduction on the wall, Sunflowers, and the bathtub was lined with all our stuff: sugar body scrubs, vanilla and cocoa butter foam bath bubbles, shampoo for dry hair (me) and dyed hair (her), three kinds of conditioners, two scrubbies and one loofah, a small bottle of foot scrub, a body wash with jojoba and lavender for me, a block of homemade soap from the hippie place on Third Street.

There was stuff in the vanity and under the sink, and on top of the sink, and sometimes when I walked in, I felt awash and pleased with all the girly stuff – it made me feel like a girl in Friends, or a girl in Cosmo, some girl like me. I toweled off after the shower, combed my hair, and lay down on my bed. I felt relaxed. I was not sad that Joy was gone. I didn’t want to go visit her, either. I was not sad that I was alone in the apartment. I wanted to be alone.

Falling Apart I stopped being able to eat very much. I paced around sometimes. I watched TV but it was even stupider than what was going on in my head. So I turned it off one night, and I walked up to the independent video rental store on Broadway, and I rented a few videos they recommended. But I couldn’t follow the stories, and I didn’t think the comedies were funny, and I didn’t think the dramas were interesting. I didn’t want to see anything anymore. I went to the bookstore but I couldn’t

concentrate long enough on one book for it to be worth the money to buy. I looked at the magazines I used to love and all the girls on the covers looked like stupid, fake skeletons. I picked up a few local zines. They were filled with self-pitying and self-righteous bad poetry. I was beginning to think that nothing mattered. One night, I went out by myself. I ordered a Bloody Mary and sat near the door, watching people as they walked in. This guy made eye contact. I walked up to him and said just a few words. Twenty minutes later, he was in my bed,

and we were fucking like animals. I was on all fours, getting fucked by some guy whose name I didn’t know. Every time he grabbed my hips and thrust, it felt like it might be working. Like he was actually fucking out the parts of me that I didn’t want there anymore. Twenty minutes after that, he was walking home alone, and I was in my pajamas, flipping channels on the television, trying to figure out if I wanted to sleep. If I could sleep. A few nights later, I went back to the same bar and he was there, too. He was about to come over and talk to me, I could tell. I didn’t want to talk to him. I didn’t want

to think about the sex we’d had. I didn’t want to think about the fact that I didn’t even know his name. Before he got too close, I touched the guy sitting at the table next to me; the guy who was sitting with a few buddies, the guy who looked the easiest. Of course, it was hard to tell which was the easiest. They were all easy. I tapped him on the shoulder and whispered, “You look so cute,” into his ear, and he pulled me onto his lap, and I didn’t even think about looking over at the other guy, the guy I’d fucked two nights prior. I didn’t even think about what the look on his face might have been.

It’s a Question of Ethics One night, I went to one of the bars that Joy and I frequented. I sat alone at a table next to two guys and before long, they’d invited me to join them. We drank beers and I asked them what they were studying. One of them said, “Well, I’m done with the studying part. I’m teaching now. My friend just came up from San Francisco to visit for the weekend.” “You’re a teacher?” I said. I was surprised. “Do you teach at the high school or something?”

“No, I’m a professor at the university,” he said. “What? Creekview State?” He looked amused. “Yes. I’m a philosophy professor.” “I didn’t know professors came to this bar,” I said. “I’ve never seen any here before.” “Well, there are definitely unspoken ‘rules’ about where we’re supposed to go,” he said. He was kind of cute. He had bright eyes, a nice smile, a short beard.

I asked him where he lived, and was surprised when he told me he lived in one of the student areas off-campus. “I only live here during the week,” he explained. “On the weekends, I usually go to my place in San Francisco.” “It’s kind of a long drive,” I said. “It’s worth it,” he told me. “Just to … you know.” “Yeah. I know,” I said. At closing time, he asked if I wanted to come and see his place. He lived in typical student housing – two rooms in a split-up Victorian.

He came over to me and kissed me, and I kissed him back. Robotically. Just going through the motions. After we had sex, he said, “You know this is just a fling, right?” I couldn’t see his face in the dark. And I was glad he couldn’t see mine. “Sure,” I said. “And, you know, this isn’t really the type of thing we should … talk about,” he said. “What do you mean? Who cares? You’re not my professor.” “Yes, but we’re expected to hold certain

standards. I mean, I teach an ethics class. It’s a question of ethics.” I got up from the bed, and started pulling on my clothes. “A question of ethics,” I repeated. And then I started to laugh. I couldn’t help it. I laughed as I put on my shoes, and laughed as I walked out of his apartment, and I was still laughing as I walked down the street on my way home, except by the time I got to my apartment, I was crying. You know this is just a fling, right?

It’s a question of ethics.

That Kind of Woman It was the second week I was alone while Joy was still gone. I’d picked up this guy at a different bar and he’d spent the night. I hadn’t wanted him to spend the night. I didn’t like it and told him so. “You know, I’m really used to sleeping by myself,” I’d said when it didn’t look like he was in a big hurry to leave. “I don’t snore and I don’t steal the covers,” he smiled at me. Then he put his arms around me and fell promptly to

sleep. I lay still under the covers. The next morning, I woke up at 7:00 a.m. The heat from the July morning already permeated my bedroom. I looked over at the guy in my bed and felt anger and revulsion. There was a naked guy in my bed. I didn’t know his name, and I hadn’t wanted him to spend the night, and he was still there and I wanted him to leave. I didn’t ever want to see this guy again. I got up out of bed. I went and turned on my computer and make a lot of noise by dropping a pile of notebooks.

The noise woke him. I checked my email and I heard him sleepily say, “Morning. What’s for breakfast?” “I’ve actually got a lot of stuff to do today, so I think you’re on your own.” I tried to smile at him, even though I felt like screaming at him to get the fuck out. The sun was bright in my room. “Kicking your lover out of bed first thing in the morning?” he said, laughing. “Is that the kind of woman you are?” He swung his feet out of bed and on to the floor. I felt myself tighten. “I don’t think you know what kind of woman I am,” I said, forgetting to smile.

“You don’t know me very well.” “Oh, I know you,” he said casually. “Let me guess – some guy, or some guys really hurt you and now you’re Ms. Tough Chick, no one’s going to touch you, you’re not going to get close to anyone, right?” I stared at him. I imagined my hands wrapped around his throat. I imagined myself with a knife, hacking away at him. He wasn’t looking at me; he was looking for his shoes. “Yeah, I tried that for a while. It gets old.” He dressed and tied his shoes. He came over and gave me a kiss on my cheek and I had a terrible urge to wipe it

off, like I used to do to my grandmother’s kisses. He leaned over and scribbled something on the pad of paper by my keyboard. “There’s my number,” he said. “Give me a call if you change your mind.” I heard the front door shut softly in the living room. I stared at the piece of paper without seeing what was written. Then I took it, crumpled it, walked to the bathroom, and flushed it. I walked numbly to the living room and stared at the door.

I grabbed a vase of dried flowers that sat on the table and hurled it blindly, taking pleasure in hearing the smash, the sounds of a thousand shards of glass breaking against the wall.

Party at My Place I went to a different bar the next night, and ran into some people I’d met in one of my classes two semesters prior, and they invited me to sit and drink with them. I mentioned my roommate was out of town, and smiles spread across their faces. “Party! Party!” two guys started chanting, and the girls picked it up. “Party! Party!” they all chanted together, banging their drinks against the table in rhythm. “No, you guys, I don’t think so,” I began,

but my voice was drowned out. “Party! Party! Party! Party!” Hours later. I was on the floor of my bedroom. The apartment was wall-to-wall people. They’d invited everyone in town. They’d put up fliers. They’d brought coke, speed, mushrooms, acid, Ecstasy, little yellow pills and a keg. And bottle upon bottle of beer, wine, and liquor. The party was lasting forever. The walls of my bedroom were spinning. Some guy walked over me and

accidentally kicked me. I kicked him back and he fell to the floor and didn’t get up. Rock music came from everywhere. Alice in Chains were screaming from the speakers. Somewhere, I could hear a girl yelling, “It’s just so funny! It’s just so fucking funny!” Gina was there somewhere. I remembered watching her take off her bra, and a tall guy stapling it to the ceiling of the kitchen. I tried to focus, because I knew I must have passed out, and I needed to focus to figure out what the fuck was going on. There were three people on my bed. One naked, two half clothed. They were all having sex, one of them in front of her, one of them fucking her from behind, and

she was moaning, over and over, “Oh, god, oh, god, oh, god, oh, god.” I crawled from my bedroom into the bathroom and pulled myself up, balancing on the sink. Someone was sleeping in the bathtub. “Lucy! Lucy!” this guy called from behind me, and I had no idea who he was, but he was holding out a needle and it was like some type of nightmare, like he was some demented, male, college-age version of Nurse Ratchet, and he was saying in a sing-song voice, “Lucy! It’s time for your medicine!” “No,” I mumbled, but I knew he couldn’t hear me, wouldn’t hear me, and he came closer and closer and seized my arm and

plunged the needle in recklessly. The next time I awoke, the apartment was empty and trashed. And I would have thought I’d dreamed the whole thing except for the mess, the vomit in the bathroom, the used condoms in my bedroom, and the red prick in my left arm surrounded by a ring of swollen pink.

August Hell Joy called to say that her parents wanted her to stay with them for the whole summer. She pleaded with me to get on a bus and go stay with her. But I just couldn’t. I didn’t know why, but I couldn’t. Summer was an oven in Creekview, California. As soon as you walked outside, you felt the smothering, desert-like heat envelope your whole body. It was miserable and so I tried not to go out during the hours of the day when the sun was out.

On the first day of September, I opened up my front door and the headline on the newspaper said: Princess Diana Is Dead. I didn’t believe what I was reading. As I picked up the newspaper, and started reading the story, all I could think of was interviews I’d seen of her. The ones where she’d said she’d thrown herself down a flight of stairs. The ones where she said she’d been bulimic. The ones where she’d said she never had any idea that her husband had never really loved her. She only found that out after learning that her husband had been cheating on her the whole time they’d been married.

The Return of Joy When Joy finally returned in early September, she didn’t say much about the things that were missing or broken. I told her a little bit about the party, and she said, “I’m glad you had some fun while I was gone,” and I almost though she was joking, but then I realized the truth about everything must not have been evident on my face. She didn’t know. Spending time with her parents had calmed Joy down and she didn’t insist we go out every night. She was planning to stay in Creekview for a while to save money. With a brand-new degree in

media, she was working as a cocktail waitress on the other side of town a few nights a week. She started seeing this guy Dan, who lived across the street from us. He was a psych major and they started seeing a lot of each other and I started seeing a lot more television. I was cleaning up in the bathroom one day, a few weeks before classes started, and came across a baggie of mushrooms. I turned them over in my hand, wondering if they were still good. The phone rang and it was Joy. She was at the store with Dan – they were picking up groceries and wanted to know if I needed anything. I didn’t think I needed anything.

“We’re going to cook dinner over at his place,” Joy said. “Want to come over?” “I don’t know,” I said, still looking at the mushrooms. “I just found some fungus in the bathroom and I’m thinking about what I should do.” Code words. We always tried to remember to be careful when we talked on the phone. “Hey, you don’t have anything better to do, right?” Joy asked, and she was right; I didn’t. “Just be careful, OK? And have some fun! I’ll give you a call later and see how you’re doing.”

A Bad Trip Time stopped. The air crackled. I realized instantly that time moves necessarily in a linear-type way for most of us — it is the only way we can reconcile time within ourselves. The only way some of us can live is by knowing yesterday is in the past, tomorrow is in the future, dinner has to be put in the oven at 6:00 to be ready by 7:00. Time moves at a rate we are sometimes uncomfortable with – but it moves.

It wasn’t moving for me. Not anymore. There was an alarm clock in my bedroom. The clock blinked 3:16 p.m. I whirled around because I could hear crackling noises like loud static from behind me. There was nothing behind me. I looked outside the window and there they were: thick ropes of telephone lines draped over poles, long poles. They went up past the trees. Electricity was happening. It was everywhere. It was inside of me. The electricity crackled throughout the living room, throughout my body. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t swallow. My

heart was jack-hammering. I told myself I couldn’t panic. I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror. I could feel the earth move. Everything was in my head. The entire world that I knew was all in my head. And this I knew for certain: I was alone. Later. Hours later? Days later? No, I knew the truth – it was an eternity. I went outside. I was overwhelmed by the feeling that I was supposed to make a choice. A decision.

But I didn’t know what to do. The earth had moved, the sun was lower, it was darker. The pause lasted another lifetime. In that time, the earth seemed to die again and then be reborn. Again. I was tired of watching it — I could hear agonized voices, babies crying. From above me, I could hear voices calling. I was so confused. Had I been in a car wreck and was I in a hospital bed, with people rooting for me to live? Or was it true what I was

beginning to suspect … The driveway curved around to the main road. I had no idea which way was where. My sense of direction was gone. Didn’t know which way to town, which way the ocean was. Didn’t matter, because I was beginning to think that nothing existed anyway. How long had things been this way? How could I have missed it all up until now?

The Phone Call Back in the apartment, everything was spiraling into infinity. The colors of everything just leaped out at me; nothing was in shadows. Everything jumped – the books, the posters, the glint of my computer monitor. When the phone rang, I grabbed it to make it stop making the overwhelming sounds. The rings were piercing screams. It was long after the mushrooms had taken their devilish hold. I looked at the clock.

It said 3:16 p.m. No time had passed. On the other end of the phone was a guy I knew – he wasn’t really a friend. He was just some guy we hung out with sometimes. But maybe he was worse than that. For some reason, he asked, “What’s the average foot size of a woman?” I was bewildered. I looked around at my room, with everything jumping out at me. I tried to stay calm and act normal. “Um. Maybe about seven? Seven and a half?” He chuckled. “Oh, you thought I said, ‘What’s the average foot size of a

woman?’ I asked, ‘What’s the average foot size of a man?’” The room circled around me in great colors and I turned cold. “Oh,” I said. “Ten, maybe eleven?” The guy on the phone laughed. “Oh, you thought I asked you the average foot size of a man. I asked, ‘What’s the average height of a woman?’” Paranoia enveloped me like a fireball. I hung up the phone. And then I started to scream.

Posters That Come to Life My poster of Yosemite Falls became a motion picture. Beneath the huge boulder, underneath the waterfall, was a large, gray troll. I’d never noticed him before. He looked at me knowingly and danced around with glee. The trees were actually green giants, evil, dumb. The water rushed. I could hear it. The troll laughed. I was beyond terror.

I backed away from the waterfall, and began to sink to the floor, but I leaped up just as quickly because every fiber in the rug covering the floor was a writhing snake; it was a pit of creatures waiting to suck me in. I looked at the clock. It kept blinking 3:16 p.m. It wasn’t possible. But there it was: No time had passed. The phone rang again. I cringed. I couldn’t answer it. But I couldn’t not answer it, either. It was piercing my eardrums. I couldn’t bear it.

I picked up the phone. “Hey, sweetie, how’re you doing? Are you having a good trip?” I was confused. Was I supposed to say something? “Lucy? Are you OK?” My voice sounded strange, hollowly. But that made sense, didn’t it? Because I wasn’t really there. “Joy.” “Lucy, are you still tripping? I stared at the clock.

It had clicked over to 3:17 p.m. One minute? But I had just lived an eternity. I began to cry. “Joy,” I said. “Please help me. Come. I’m going to kill myself if this doesn’t stop.” “Lucy, stay right there. I’m on my way.” After I hung up the phone, another eternity passed and I couldn’t take it anymore. I felt for sure that either nothing existed, or I was dead anyway. I needed everything to be over right then and there.

And so I walked into the kitchen, grabbed a paring knife and sliced my left wrist open. My hands seemed to grow old, wither away, die … and then be reborn again. The blood flowed.

Strapped Down The next morning, when I woke up, I was covered in white sheets. My wrists and ankles were tied to a hospital bed. I was in a small room by myself and there was a bed pan on the floor next to me. A small window in the door was criss-crossed with white wire and I screamed for someone to come, someone, anyone, but no one came. And my body pulsed with waves of fear, desperation, and all I heard were the sounds of my own screams. I kept screaming, for hours it seemed, but no one heard me.

Inappropriate in the E.R. I could hear someone say something about me not taking things seriously. I was laughing, maybe. I was laughing a lot by then. Things seemed destined, preordained, and I was not surprised. It was a relief, almost. I was cold. Yellow blankets, white ones, thermal ones, and thin fuzzy ones with tiny blue teddy bears – they must have been rejects from the OB wing, the unit of newborns. I wanted to go and wish the poor, freshly born bastards luck.

I was kept in that room, tied down with blue straps, for the entire day. They brought me a tray of breakfast – runny scrambled eggs and bread, a frozen cup of what might have been orange juice, and something that smelled like coffee. A pitcher of ice water. I couldn’t eat. They brought a tray of lunch; it was covered with a tan plate cover and I didn’t touch it. For dinner, they brought a tray of macaroni and cheese, meat loaf, a pint of milk, and some Jell-O. I ate some of the macaroni. Every time the nurse came in with a tray

of food, she untied my right arm and when she came back to take the tray away a half hour or so later, she tied it back to the iron of the hospital bed. “I’m not crazy,” I said to her after lunch and she said nothing. When the nurse came to take the dinner tray away, I asked her if I could use the bathroom. I had not been able to use the bathroom all day and it was bad. The nurse said, without looking at me, “Bed pan’s right there.” “Please,” I said. I kept my voice calm. “I promise you I am not going to cause trouble. You can go in there with me if you’d like.”

She looked at me closely, then. She sighed and said, “Two minutes.” And then she untied my arms and legs from the bed. I got up. My feet hit the floor and there were painful prickles. My feet hadn’t made contact with a floor or supported my body weight in 24 hours or so. The nurse unlocked the door to the room – the cell – and pointed directly across the hallway. The bathroom was right there. She didn’t come in with me. There was even a lock on the door. I urinated forever, and washed my hands. Splashed water over my face. I looked dirty. My left wrist hurt. It was wrapped in a white bandage.

When I came out of the bathroom, I tried to open the door to go back into the room/cell. It was locked. I peeked inside. There was no one in there. I looked around the corner. There was an area that looked like a waiting room. Chairs covered with plastic cushions; tables with lamps. A few people populated the area. An elderly black woman rocked slowly back and forth. A very old and tiny gray man sat in the back corner of the room; the lamp next to him was dark. There was a long, paneled window that looked like it might be shielding a reception area. I walked up, thinking I must be in the waiting room to hell.

There was no one at the window. There was no bell to ring. I looked inside and there was no one there. From behind me, a door buzzed open, and I jumped. A middle-aged man in a white jacket and faded blue jeans, holding a chart, entered the room. He walked past me, down a well-lit hallway. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do since my room/cell was locked, so I sat down on one of the plastic-cushioned covered chairs, and I waited. Eventually, someone came out to talk to me. “Hello, Lucy,” a man in a white coat said,

smiling. Warmly. I had not seen him before. “How are you doing?” How was I doing? I pulled my legs up and tucked them underneath me, and I buried my face into the hospital pants, the blue hospital pajamas someone must have put on me the previous night. I cried. The doctor touched my arm. “Lucy, you’re going to be okay. You’re safe here.” I turned my head up and looked at him and I could not stop crying.

He had graying hair and wore glasses. He kept telling me I was going to be okay. Later, they told me they’d made contact with my father and with my insurance company. I was in a state facility and would be transferred to a private hospital later that night. I asked about my belongings, but I didn’t even know what belongings I had there. They told me all my belongings would go with me to the new hospital. Later, when they were ready to take me, someone placed a large orange plastic bag with black lettering on my lap. I was put in a wheelchair. It was policy when they transported people, they told me.

The previous night started coming back to me. I vaguely remembered two large guys, one on either side of me. I remembered being lifted off the floor. I remembered they half carried me, half dragged me. I remembered screaming. I remembered Joy, her hands on her face, sobbing as she called my name. No one said much during the drive in the ambulance. No lights, no sirens, no speeding. One guy drove, and another stayed in the back with me. The drive would take about an hour, one of the guys said, the one staying with me in back. He was almost my age, and he looked almost too young, almost too clean cut. We arrived at the new hospital. It looked like a courtyard of office buildings from

the outside. There was a small fountain in the middle of patches of green grass. It was very quiet – I could hear nothing but the sounds of water falling from the fountain. One of the ambulance guys, the guy that was driving, spoke into a radio. They wheeled me up to a set of sliding glass doors. The ambulance guy pressed a button and the doors opened. I was wheeled inside and the doors slid back and closed. There was a long hallway with beige carpet and windows near the front, from where we came in. They wheeled me further down to a part with no windows. No posters. Beige walls.

The ambulance guys were silent. Fear lurched into my stomach again. I was overcome with paranoia. What was going to happen to me in this place? I said, “Have you guys brought people here before?” “Oh, yeah,” the young guy said. He seemed relieved that silence was broken. “A couple of times. The last one was just a couple of weeks ago.” “What happened to him?” “Oh, nothing,” the ambulance guy said. “He’s just some guy who needed to get his shit together.” I had no idea what that meant. And I

wanted to ask. But before I got the chance, we were at another set of double doors and were being buzzed in. The other guy told me I could get out of the wheelchair and wait in one of the chairs. They were light brown, upholstered in industrial fabric. A brunette lady with glasses came out and the three of them whispered together for a few minutes. Then, one of the ambulance guys signed something on a clipboard, and the two of them left. The young guy turned and waved at me as he walked through the sliding double doors. I waved back, resting my head over my knees.

The brunette woman and I went into a small office. She asked for my name and birth date and social security number. She asked, “Do you know where you are?” “Yes,” I whispered. She asked, “Do you know why you’re here?” I was silent. I didn’t know what I was supposed to say. “Yes. I think so,” I said finally. “Why do you think you are here?” “Um, I guess I freaked out,” I said and looked at the wall.

The woman flipped through her clipboard. “It says here you were very inappropriate in the E.R.” “I was very inappropriate in the E.R.?” I say. “That’s what it says.” I considered. “So then there’s an appropriate way to behave in the E.R.?” I said. I didn’t even know what we were talking about. The woman didn’t say anything for a minute. Then she handed me a form and told me to read it carefully. “You’re here on a 72-hour observation,”

she said. “That’s mandatory according to law since you’re a danger to yourself. But we would like to assess you and your situation for an additional 14 days. It’s easier if you sign this to give permission to keep you for the additional two weeks.” “Check myself in?” I said, just to make sure I understood. “That’s correct.” I thought this over. “What if I don’t want to check myself in?” I said. The woman said, “We will keep you here for the remainder of your 72 hours, and then we’ll have to go to court to legally commit you.”

Commit me. The words went through my body and I began to shake. She saw this, and her voice lowered. “Most people who we ask generally ‘check themselves in’ as you say,” she said gently. “It’s easier that way.” “How long do people stay?” I whispered. “That depends on the situation, but we try to get people back on their feet as soon as possible. Around 10 to 14 days is the usual turnaround time.” “Ten days? Not 10 years?” I said. The woman smiled wanly. “Not 10 years. We’re not in the 1950s. This is a medical facility. There are no strait-jackets, no

shock treatments. You can refuse to take any medication prescribed. If we feel it’s completely necessary, we can take it to court, but we generally do not do that, especially when it’s someone your age. It’s entirely up to you.” I couldn’t gauge the situation. She seemed genuine. The form sat on the desk in front of me. I picked it up and read it. The whole thing. I turned it over, but it was just on one side. I picked up the pen, and signed my name at the bottom. There were three levels in the mental hospital. Level One was for the truly psychotic. That’s where they kept the isolation room. You could see it when you went through the main hallway to Level Two, where they put me. From what the

others said, Level Two seemed to be for the attempted suicides and general dramatics. Level Three, they said, was like Club Med. It was for the people who went off their Prozac and then thought about killing themselves, or for people who went off their Lithium and spent $10,000 on bathing suits, or for the people who simply wanted a few days of vacation time.

The Mental Hospital My bedroom had two queen-sized beds, but when I arrived, I was in there alone. I was given some hospital pajamas, but they told me I was not to wear them outside of my room unless I was on the way to or from the bathroom. “It’s important that you wear regular clothes,” the intake nurse told me the next morning. “We find people feel a whole lot better about themselves when they’re not spending the whole day in their PJs.” I only had one outfit with me and it was dirty, the outfit I had been wearing for two

days. It was splattered with blood. It was hard for me to believe it had only been two days. The nurse showed me the laundry room, and a room where there were shelves of clothing that had been donated or left behind. There were also packages of brand-new underwear. She told me I could take whatever I wanted until family or friends brought me my own clothes from my apartment. I found a pair of jeans that fit and a few blouses. I took a bra and a package of underwear, and threw my filthy clothes into the washing machine. The intake person gave me a thick binder of stuff. There were schedules. There were

rules. We didn’t have to eat if we didn’t want to, but if a patient refused to eat for more than a day or two, the doctors might stick them in Level One for an IV. Intravenous force-feeding was mainly for the anorexics. Breakfast was at 7:00 a.m., lunch was at noon, and dinner was at 6:00 p.m. There were snacks available throughout the day. Bed time was 10:00 p.m. Every day, there was group therapy. We had individual sessions throughout the day. There were schedules for therapeutic classes and workshops. We did not have to go to classes except

for group and our individual sessions. But we were not allowed to stay in bed all day, either. There was an arts and crafts room, an exercise room, a weight room, a music room, and a library. Outside, there was a running track and tennis courts. There were art therapy classes every day, music therapy twice a week, and the weight room, exercise room, and library were open in various hour-long increments throughout the days. Visiting hours for family and friends were twice a week, for two hours. “We find it’s not always a good idea for you to be spending a lot of time with your

family when you’re in here,” a nurse confided. “A lot of the times, they’re the reason you’re here in the first place.” She laughed and slapped her knee. We were expected to shower daily, and we could shower as many as two times a day, but not more than that. That was because obsessive-compulsives would spend their entire days in the shower if no one stopped them. “There is flexibility within the structure,” the nurse said. I was told I could use the pay phone whenever I wanted, and I could send and receive mail and no one would look at it, and then I was given a list of things I could have in my room, things I was not

allowed to have in my room but that could be kept in a safe for me, and things that I was not allowed to have, period. These were the things I could have in my room: Plants and flowers Makeup and toiletries Clothes and shoes Books Paper and pens These were things I had to keep in the safe at the nurses’ station: Cigarettes (I could access those if I wanted to during designated smoking times, which occurred several times a day.)

Jewelry that was not being worn (It was not recommended that we wear expensive jewelry, but it was not prohibited. However, as soon as you removed it, you had to tell someone to put it in your safe.) Postage stamps Razors (Those could be accessed three times a week for shaving.) These were things that we were not allowed to have: Cell phones, pagers, radios, televisions, CDs, or tapes Firearms Fireworks Lighters

Matches Knives or other cutlery Food Posters Alcohol or any type of drugs, including over-the-counter ones Sex toys Sexual activity was strictly prohibited. Any physical contact with other patients was prohibited also, excluding handshakes. Hugging, kissing, back rubs, and foot rubs were against the rules. “What happens if you break the rules?” I asked the nurse, and she gave me a look. I was told I was something called a “dual diagnosis,” which seemed to mean I was both a substance abuser and a mental case

all at the same time. So when group time came, it was like the AA meetings you saw on TV, but with longer introductions. “Hi, I’m Doug and I’m an alcoholic/manic depressive.” “Hi, I’m Christie, and I’m obsessive-compulsive and a cocaine addict.” “Hi, I’m Mark, I’m an alcoholic/addict/borderline personality.” There was a woman named Lori who introduced herself only as “Lori,” and Christie, the obsessive-compulsive who was sitting next to me, whispered,

“Schizo,” under her breath. I didn’t really understand what she meant. Later, when I saw Lori talking to the ceiling and muttering under her breath, I got it. There were only a handful of schizophrenics in Level Two. Most of them were kept in Level One. Level Two seemed to be a mixture of people who liked to drink a lot, do a whole bunch of drugs, fuck up their lives and their families’ lives, but not enough to be considered truly psychotic. I realized that everyone in there was in some type of middle- or upper-middle class because it was a private hospital. They had office jobs. They were lawyers and accountants and secretaries and

analysts and designers. On my first day of substance abuse therapy, I introduced myself as Lucy, and let it hang there. The group looked at me, waiting, and so I said, “I’m new.” The leader, a woman named Carol, looked at me encouragingly, but I was not motivated to speak. I didn’t know what to say. I was given a prescription for an antidepressant and an anti-anxiety medication. They came twice a day, tiny pink and blue pills, with a cup of water or juice. Medications were given out three times a day, but not everyone needed to take them three times a day, so our names were

called over the intercom when it was our turn. Our last names were never spoken over the loudspeaker; during intake, we signed confidentiality agreements, saying we would not disclose personal information about anyone in the facility. My father came to visit on the first visiting day available. He brought me a chicken sandwich and talked about my grandparents and his work. We were silent for much of the two hours. We walked around the hospital. I showed him the facilities, like I was giving him a tour. “No one knows about this, okay?” he finally said. “I told everyone I’m just visiting you at school.”

“Okay,” I said. My father stayed at a hotel in the area for a week. During his last visit, the medication had kicked in and was creating unpleasant side effects. I cried constantly. I didn’t mean to. I tried to have a normal conversation with him, but the tears streamed down my face. I didn’t even feel sad. I was actually feeling better than I’d felt in a while. “Dad, it’s just the medication,” I said, but my dad just looked out over the tennis court and didn’t say anything. It didn’t matter that he wasn’t saying anything, because what he was thinking was written all over his face. He was

afraid. My daughter’s going to end up like her mom. And behind the fear was guilt. I wanted to tell him that it was nobody’s fault. But as usual, I couldn’t find the right words. The nurse told me my body needed to adjust to the drugs, but a few days later, they switched the prescriptions for the anti-depressant and doubled the dose of the anti-anxiety medication. “Just to be safe,” they said. During my individual sessions, I talked about Jason. I talked about Joy. I missed her. I missed her laugh and the butterflies she wore around her neck. I missed my

apartment, and my dad assured me over the phone that my apartment would still be there, that he and Joy had been talking, and that she was going to come visit. She did, the following week. She hugged me, and said she was sorry, but I told her she didn’t have anything to be sorry for. Because she truly didn’t. She brought me my shampoo and conditioner and a few of my favorite outfits. I was touched that she’d also brought a pretty gift basket filled with soaps and lotions. She asked if I would be out by the time school started in late September, and I told her I thought I would. She gave me an update on our favorite

nighttime soap opera, and said she’d seen Jason a few days earlier and had ignored him. “He looks like he’s gained weight, too,” she said, and even though I knew she was lying, I felt a whole lot better, and the two of us laughed. Before she left, Joy gave me a makeover in the courtyard. Her fingers swept blush over my cheeks, mascara over my eyelashes, lip liner and dark red lipstick over my mouth. She brushed my hair shiny and fastened it with two butterfly clips she’d brought. “Thank you,” I whispered when she showed me my reflection in her mirror.

Joy hugged me. “The crazier we feel, the more beautiful we must look,” she announced.

How Are You Feeling? Everyone asked how we were feeling. We were told over and over that we weren’t crazy; we were normal people who had problems handling life. After group one day, a woman who found out I liked cocaine came and introduced herself to me as Lisa, an addict. She told me she loved speed because she found she could work on her art for hours and never tire. She came up with the most brilliant ideas on speed, she said. The most beautiful oil paintings. “Of course, we all think we’re brilliant on drugs,” she said, laughing like we were in

on a joke together. We must have been in on some type of joke together – but not that one. I couldn’t remember ever feeling brilliant, ever. During my psychiatric session, when the doctor asked me how I was feeling, I told him the truth, that I was feeling okay. “You haven’t responded as well as we’d like to the anti-depressant,” he said. I asked him what he meant. He flipped through my chart and showed me a few pages, the ones that kept track of how much I slept and how much food I ate.

“How do you know that stuff?” I said, curiously. “We’re keeping our eyes on you guys,” he said, like we were children with the potential to run amuck in a playground. “We’re watching you very carefully.” In group, I met Mark. He was in his early 30s. He had sort of spiky hair, mostly brown, with streaks of blond. He smoked a lot. During the day, he wore long-sleeved button downs and jeans. On weekend nights, he liked to change into sweaters, and even I could tell they were expensive. “I used to go out every night on the weekends,” he told me after group one

night. “This makes me feel like at least one of my routines is still intact.” He was tanned and had a slightly upturned nose. He always seemed to have a two- or three-day growth, and sometimes I thought about touching it, rubbing my fingers over it. He told me he worked at a law firm, and was talking to some potential clients one day, some old rich people, and one of them said he looked like Don Johnson, and for some reason, Mark took serious offense at this and lunged at the guy. He landed only a couple of punches before his colleagues pulled him off, and he proceeded to trash the entire office, throwing books, smashing lamps, and tearing up papers, until someone called

the cops and he was thrown into jail for a few nights. When he got out, his supervisor called him to tell him he was being given a few months off to “recuperate.” I asked him if that was the only time he’d freaked out like that, and he said it was just the first time at work, but he’d been flipping out at home with his roommates for about a year, every other month or so. “What’s wrong?” I asked him. “You know, I still haven’t really figured that one out,” he said. “I was drinking a whole lot, and gambling and stuff, and I guess I always had a problem dealing with anger, but I don’t know why I suddenly snapped.”

Mark paused. “Well, my father died last year.” I didn’t say anything. Mark came over a little closer. Our sides are barely touching. “He raised me pretty much by himself because my mother died when I was young. And when he was gone, I guess I started feeling like nothing mattered. That it didn’t matter what happened, because the worst that was going to happen already had.” I nodded and looked into his eyes.

We stared at each other for a minute or two, and then the intercom announced our names.

The Evaluation At the end of the two weeks, I was brought in for an evaluation. The truth was, I didn’t want to leave. I liked it there. It reminded me of what I thought summer camp would have been like had I ever gone. I liked the structure of the days, split up into sessions. I liked that I had someone I could spill my guts to every single day. My own therapist I could see every single day. I wanted to spend more time with Mark. I wanted to make a new collage in art

therapy. The music instructor for the music therapy group told me I had a nice voice. The place was basically like a resort for crazy people. Some of the older people who had been there before called it “Suicide Resort.” I was given a series of questions to answer and so I lied and told the doctor I was having suicidal thoughts and constant thoughts of doing drugs. But in truth, I felt fine. I just didn’t want to leave. The doctor recommended that I stay for another 14 days, and I signed on the

dotted line. “You’re ready for Level Three,” the doctor said and my heart suddenly sank because the three levels acted as separate entities and I didn’t want to leave Mark. “Um, I’m actually pretty comfortable where I’m at,” I started to say. And the doctor said, “You know I’m sensing a fear of getting well,” and so I shut up and said, “Level Three is fine.” My new roommate was named Courtney and she had dyed blue hair that matched her eyes. The rooms in Level Three looked like hotel rooms. There were fluffy pink bed

spreads and framed photos of flowers on the walls. My new blue-haired roommate had full red lips. She was quiet and didn’t say anything as I put clothes away in drawers, and arranged my binder and paperwork on the dresser near my bed. I lined up my shampoo and conditioner and a few other things next to the binder. I looked over at Courtney, and she was reading a book. I ventured a hello, and she said hello back, without looking up, and when I finished putting my stuff away, I went to the library and picked up a few books, too. When I came back, Courtney was

sleeping. That night, I dreamed of Creekview. Joy and Jason and I were leaning over a huge mirror with thick lines of cocaine. When I snorted my line, it tasted like cookie dough. And then I was suddenly eating cookies. “What kind of cookies are these?” I asked Joy. “They’re peanut butter,” she said. “But I hate peanut butter cookies,” I said. I was confused. “I like chocolate chip cookies, not peanut butter.” But everyone was leaning over the mirror, doing their lines, and they didn’t answer me.

I don’t want to eat the cookies anymore. I wanted to do a line of cocaine. But the three of them wouldn’t let me. “Stick with the cookies,” Jason told me. And when I woke up, it was the middle of the night. I rubbed my nose and turned my pillow over, because it was drenched with drool.

The Visit From Mother After my 14-day extension was up, the doctor called me in for another evaluation and signed me up for another 14 days. I didn’t ask him to; he simply told me, “We’re going to keep you for another two weeks.” School had already started; if I got out in two weeks, I’d barely make the deadline to add classes. Later, an administrator told me the insurance company would only cover another 14 days of in-patient care. “Usually, insurance companies have a 31-

day yearly cap, but you have special circumstances,” she said. What I later found out was that “special circumstances” meant that after 31 days, my father had made a deal with the insurance company and had started paying part of the bill. I didn’t even want to think about how much the place must have cost. I didn’t want to think that fall semester of my senior year was going to start and I wasn’t going to be there. After I’d been in the hospital for about five weeks, my name was called over the loudspeaker during visiting hours. I was sitting cross-legged on my bed in

my room, reading a romance novel from the library. I looked up, surprised, because I wasn’t expecting any visitors. My friends were a few hours away and my dad was about a thousand miles away in Los Angeles. I walked out, my book tucked underneath my arm, and I stopped one of the nurses walking by. “Did they call my name?” I asked her, but she didn’t know. I walked though the double doors to the visiting center lobby. Level Three was low-key and low-security – there were fewer buzzing sounds, fewer locked doors. About two-thirds of the people in Level Three could have left at any time; they weren’t under legal commitment orders that required them to stay on the hospital

grounds. Rumor had it that some people simply went to this mental hospital once a year to recuperate from the stresses of life. They stayed for the two weeks of their annual vacation and then left. I looked around the visiting center lobby, where visitors met the patients and then were led to the parts of the hospital that allowed outsiders. Bedrooms were offlimits. I didn’t see anyone I knew, so I figured I’d made a mistake. You’re hearing things again, Lucy. “Lucy?” I heard a small voice say from behind me.

I turned around. There was a woman there, short and round. She had long, Indianstraight dark hair with strands of white, and she wore thick glasses like the kind I used to wear in grade school. She smiled tentatively. “Hi, Lucy. How are you?” The voice hit me hard, and I took a step back. My breath caught and I suddenly felt very cold. I did not say anything. I stood back and wrapped my arms around my shoulders. I tucked my hair behind my ears and straightened my blouse. The woman didn’t say anything else,

either. She had a small smile playing around her mouth, but it was unsure. The woman was so much shorter than me. I didn’t remember her being so small. It was the first time I’d seen my mother in 10 years. “How did you know I was here?” I asked. My mother proved to be unsuited to these types of details and she simply waved her hand. “Oh, I talked to your dad a little while back – he needed some of my medical history or some type of thing. And then, the hospital called and here I am.” “The hospital called?” I hissed.

“Lucy, you look wonderful. Too thin, though, you should eat more.” My mother suddenly looped her arm through mine as though we were girlfriends taking a friendly walk through the park. “How have you been?” “How have I been?” I asked, incredulous. “Yes, tell me about your friends, tell me about school. Do you like your classmates?” Yeah, Mom, but only the ones who can make me come. “Do you know where I am?” I asked her. “Yes, it’s like squeezing water out of a turnip, getting information from your

father, but I know you’re going to college in … what’s the name of that town? Creekview? I am so proud of you, Lucy. What are you studying?” I’m studying sex and drugs, cocaine and men. I’m studying how to fuck and be fucked, and how to fuck up your life, lose everything. I’m studying how to consume and indulge in as much alcohol and drugs as possible without losing your sanity, and actually, I’m flunking that course. “Some history and stuff.” I was so shocked, having been placed in a bizarre reality that involved talking with my mother, that my words came out robotic. “Oh, that’s wonderful, sweetheart! You were always good at that sort of thing.

What kind of history?” “Actually, I’m thinking about going into historical film studies.” “What? Film? You mean you want to be an actress? Oh, Lucy, I would get a degree in something you can fall back on. You know, it’s nice to dream, but you have to be realistic. Don’t be so grandiose.” I was having problems swallowing and found myself breathing hard. My eyes were playing tricks on me – lights started dancing around. I couldn’t see straight. I had to sit down. I sat on the nearest thing I find. A bench. We were outside and it was a warm afternoon. Sticky. I was not surprised to

find that along with my heart, my head thumped, too. “I did not say I want to be an actress,” I said. She ignored this. “Lucy, I know what’s going on.” “No,” I said numbly. “You do not.” “Yes, I do,” she insisted. “And I want to know something.” What had my father told her? What had the hospital told her? I was suddenly ashamed, as though I were 5-years-old and had been caught not with my hands in the cookie jar, but on the floor of the bathroom, vomiting from worms in the

cookies in the cookie jar. “I want to know if you’ve said you’re sorry,” my mother said. I spilled over. “Sorry?” I screamed. I saw two nurses begin walking quickly to us. “What am I supposed to be sorry for? Who am I supposed to ‘apologize’ to?” “Jesus,” my mother said calmly. She faltered for a minute, and then continued. “You need to tell Jesus you’re sorry for hurting him.” I lunged at her then, and actually got my hands around her throat before the two male nurses pulled me off of her, as I screamed and hissed and spit and hit.

I was dragged to what I could only guess was Level One, but at that moment I was not thinking about anything except killing my mother. “You bitch! You fucking bitch! I’m going to kill you! I’m going to make you bleed. How could you do this to me? How could you leave me?” I was sobbing then, the screams running through my veins, and something filled with hate and anger taking over. They strapped me down in the familiar leather cuffs. One on each limb, shackled to the hospital bed. I turned away as a nurse came to inject me with something and then the world went dark, like a tunnel, and I was whisked

away in a big rush of unconsciousness. When I woke up, there was a nurse standing there, looking at a chart. I said nothing. The nurse looked up and cleared her throat. “Lucy, this is not the type of behavior we consider acceptable here at the hospital. Assault is a crime.” I didn’t even take that as a threat. My face felt dirty and muddy because I was crying. “Do you want to talk about this?” the nurse asked quietly. “I don’t know what to say.” And it was the truth.

I didn’t know if I was supposed to apologize or beg for mercy. I just knew that I was tired, so very tired, and the drugs had worn off, the Librium or Valium or Halcyon or whatever it was they’d given me. I wanted to close my eyes and have my entire life disappear. “Well, why don’t you tell me what happened,” the nurse continued. “It says here you physically – and unprovoked – assaulted your mother, tried to strangle her, screamed obscenities, and that both Victor and Michael were scratched and kicked by you when they pulled you off of her.”

I cringed. I liked Victor and Michael. They were nice and always joked around with the patients. I felt sick. “I don’t know what to say,” I repeated. “Well, you better figure something out,” the nurse said, and I could see she was not happy with me. I shook my head and looked at the floor. The tears dripped down my face, and I couldn’t wipe them away; my wrists were tied to the bed. My chest heaved. The nurse was silent. When I looked up, I opened my mouth and this is what came out: “I don’t think I should see my mother

anymore.” The nurse said, “Her name has been removed from the list of approved visitors. She won’t be able to come back.” As punishment, they kept me in the padded isolation room (untied) overnight. I had to sign another form letting me know that “further steps” would be taken if anything like that happened again. They eventually let me move back into my room on Level Three. I was shocked and grateful; I had fully expected to be pushed into Level One with the truly crazed ones or demoted to Level Two. But they simply upped my dosage of medication, added Lithium, and gave me

back my old room. Courtney was pissed because in my brief absence, they’d given her a new roommate, a suicidal deaf girl, and Courtney told me the deaf girl had kept her up all night, rocking back and forth and whispering, and that she really belonged in Level Two, not Three, but apparently Level Two was really overfilled, so they’d lowered their standards for Level Three until some rooms freed up. That explained things. The night I was in the isolation room, the deaf girl had apparently snuck up on Courtney and tried to pull out a chunk of her blue hair. Victor and Michael, who

were in high demand that day, had to restrain the deaf girl and stick her where I’d been in Level One. Musical chairs. Through the grapevine, I learned that back on Level Two, Mark had become involved – or as involved as you could be in a mental hospital – with a sunny, bipolar girl named Vivian. Vivian was super friendly and bouncy. “Manic,” the nurse whispered to me when Vivian had practically shouted, “Thank you and have a great day!” after the nurse had given Vivian her meds for the day. Mark was enamored of her and the two of them spent time doing yoga in the exercise room and though he was very friendly and said, “Hi, Lucy,” when I

bumped into him, even I knew that I’d been dumped.

Female Group Therapy Every day, we had group therapy. Three times a week, we had group therapy based on sex. Women met together and men met together separately. There was also a group for LGBT people, but it was a small group of no more than half a dozen people. On the first day of our female group therapy, the leader told us that 60 percent of us were there because of problems with our boyfriends or husbands. Looks of relief passed over us. We thought we were crazy. But it was the men who seemed to serve as catalysts. Most of us were on drugs. Most of us were alcoholics. We

were hooked on all three. Some of the stories were horrific and some were just plain sad, and in every single women’s’ group, multiple women sobbed. Jill Jill moved to Northern California from Seattle. She fell in love with a painter named Dylan. The slept together the first night, but it was only after they stayed awake until dawn talking about poetry and Nietzsche, only after she was sure he felt the same way about her. She said that one night was like four months of getting to know each other all at once. The next day, she went straight to his

place after work. She didn’t quite see how this could be construed by some as either stupid, desperate, or extremely ballsy. “You went to his apartment? After that one night? Just like that?” we asked, awed. “I didn’t for one minute think that it was just a one-night thing,” Jill said. “I really trusted him.” She said he was happy to see her, invited her in and made her tea, and the two of them slept together properly that night. They were together for three years. They went to book and poetry readings, and on weekend trips to San Francisco and to the Sonoma vineyards. He read The Little

Prince to her in bed. She cooked him vegetarian dinners. They moved in together quickly, after just a few months. They had several months of honeymoon and then they started arguing about things like money. They started having fights in which Dylan would storm out and return sometimes days later. Still, they would make up because, as she said, “Our lives were completely entwined. We spent almost every free minute together. Our friends were our friends, you know what I mean?” Jill came home from work one day, and found Dylan naked with one of “their” friends. In their bed.

She stood there, crying, while the two of them got dressed. It took her more than a year to get over him, she said. “It was awful. I couldn’t get out of bed. I finally lost my job. I’d been staying with a friend and when I couldn’t pay rent, I moved to the couch.” She eventually overdosed on a bottle containing 100 pills of Tylenol and wound up at the hospital on her parents’ insurance. “They think I’m so weak,” Jill whispered. “I used to be so strong.” Sandra

Sandra grew up in rural California. She had a younger brother and both of them were beaten as children and ridiculed as adults. Sandra met Taylor when they were both 24. Taylor had just gotten out of a fiveyear relationship, and Sandra had only had one boyfriend, a relationship that had lasted off and on for two years, but ended because her boyfriend kept saying, “I don’t really want a girlfriend right now.” They met at a poetry reading at a coffee house. Sandra got up to read at the open mike. Her poem was about the pain of menstruating and the pain of being diagnosed, during various parts of her adolescence and early adulthood, and at

different times, with bipolar, depression, post-traumatic-stress syndrome, and fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia was the only one she accepted, because it was the only disease that gave her drugs she liked. Taylor came up to her after the reading to tell her he really liked her poem. She took him home and they had sex. The next day, he left for work from her place and didn’t call. She roamed the entire neighborhood, looking into every single coffee house, pub, bar, and bookstore. Nothing.

She waited another day, calling up everyone she knew. By the third day, she was crying constantly, and he showed up at her doorstep. They had sex and made plans for the next night. He didn’t show up. For the next month or so, he would stop by about twice a week. They would have sex and then Sandra would obsess about him until the next time they had sex. Then, one day, she was walking into the coffee house where they were supposed to meet, and she saw Taylor and a girl she’d

never seen before whispering in the corner. Sandra walked up and introduced herself as Taylor’s girlfriend. Then all hell broke loose and Taylor called her a psycho. Sandra called him a loose dick. Then she threw her shoe at his face and ran out of the coffee house. Two weeks later, Sandra went to visit her parents. Her mother told her she was crazy and asked her when she was going to “get help.” Her father told her she’d gotten a whole lot uglier since the last time he’d seen her. Sandra hadn’t slept very well in over a month, and hadn’t eaten anything that

week. She went to the bathroom, got a razor out of the cabinet, and started cutting at her wrists, screaming as she did so. “My dad told me he didn’t want me staying there anymore, at the house. He kept telling me to leave. My mother humiliated me in front of him.” Her parents called the cops, and later that night, Sandra found herself in the psychiatric ward of the local hospital. Karen Karen was introduced to Matthew briefly by her friend Alice one semester at a private college in the San Francisco Bay Area, and remembered thinking that he

was definitely gay. They ended up in the same student apartment complex the next year. He remembered her right away, but she had some trouble placing him. It turned out his apartment was right across the courtyard from hers, and he’d wave to her from his window. She thought he was the tiniest bit creepy. Karen and Alice were hanging out in Alice’s room one night when Matthew dropped by. They all talked about movies and school, and then Karen went back to her place. “Matthew has a crush on you,” Alice told her.

Karen was 21 and had never had a serious boyfriend before. She was flattered and just the tiniest bit grossed out. “It wasn’t that he was super ugly or anything,” Karen said. “I just thought he was a little yucky.” She still had a photograph of him and she showed it to us in group therapy. “So you can see – he’s pretty normallooking,” Karen said. “But when he was sad or shy, sometimes he’d stare off into space and the effect was creepy – his face would go so blank, you could barely make out his features. It looked he was just shy of Down’s Syndrome.”

During this time, Karen was a heavy drinker. Having recently turned 21 and just discovering the joys of bars and clubhopping, and being able to buy beer and vodka with her groceries, Karen was drinking nearly every day. She spiked her morning coffee with Kahlua. “I was 21,” Karen said by way of explanation. One night, Karen and Matthew were sitting in her room and she was totally drunk, having returned from a friend’s party. Matthew had the habit of stopping by when he saw that she was home, and Karen felt indulgent enough toward him to not be threatened. Also, he had confided to Alice, who had spilled to Karen that he was a virgin, and so Karen didn’t take him

too seriously. A virgin? Not someone to take seriously. That night, he confessed to her that he was attracted to her. Karen laughed kindly and told him that while she was flattered, she thought of him only as a friend. This didn’t stop Matthew from visiting her nightly. She began to trust him, and the two of them began talking intimately about their families and childhoods. They would sit on her couch and talk until daybreak. Once, he tried to kiss her, and she turned away and gave him another lecture on how much she valued his friendship. The next day, he brought her flowers.

One night, after a particularly disturbing encounter with a frat boy, Karen came home from the bar and waited for Matthew to show up. When he hadn’t in 30 minutes, she called his apartment. He answered and he invited her over to his place. It started from there. They fooled around quite a bit for the next couple of months, never going all the way because both he and she wanted to keep his virginity intact for when he met “the one.” They didn’t say they were dating. They were just really good friends who happened to have sexual contact at night. It was about three months of this when Karen realized she didn’t want to see

anyone else but Matthew. He had ceased to be yucky. She found herself waiting for him to come home. She bought him computer games and cleaned his kitchen and cooked him homemade pizzas. “I started to really want him to be my boyfriend, you know?” Karen said. She popped the question after a night of drinking, after she turned down two date offers from other guys, and couldn’t lose the obsessive thinking about Matthew. She got Matthew on the phone and told him that considering that she felt she might be falling for him, and considering the fact that he seemed to like her a whole lot, and considering the fact that neither one of them was seeing anyone else, and

in fact, didn’t seem to want to see anyone else, and considering the fact that they were bringing each other to orgasm regularly, she thought it would be best to either be in a real relationship, or they should go back to being platonic friends so that she could get over him and see someone else. She held her breath and waited. Matthew said he’d have to think about it. Karen went to bed alone that night, but pretty confident. After all, the pseudo-sex they had was better than any intercourse she’d ever had. They would make out for hours, she said. They would make out naked for hours and hours until dawn, making each other come and then talking

about their lives. She was half in love with Matthew already, with his sweetness, his shyness, his “little-boy-wide-eyed-lost-in-the-big world” thing he had going on, she told us. When Matthew hadn’t called by the next evening, she called. She asked him if he’d given it some thought. He told her he had, but he just didn’t think it was going to work out. Karen held up well over the phone. She told him she was glad he’d spent some time thinking about it, that his friendship was important to her and she appreciated

the time. Matthew responded similarly. Then, Karen mixed up a huge bottle of orange juice and vodka, and a few hours later, she was having her stomach pumped in the E.R. She’d overdosed on her roommate’s prescription painkillers, and had been discovered lying in the middle of the kitchen floor, mumbling about suicide and Matthew. The day she told us this story in group, she just shook her head. We all looked at her with our mouths open. “No one told me to stay away from the sweet, shy ones, because those are the ones who’ll really fuck you up,” she said

bitterly. “Let me get this straight,” one of the other women in group said. “He pursued you for months … kept telling you he wanted you … and then, when you finally said you did, he said, ‘No thanks’?” Karen took a deep breath. “Yeah. That pretty much sums it up.” Tatum Tatum went to Creekview State University, too. We didn’t know each other, and when we found out we both went to the same school, we were sort of shocked.

Tatum and Justin met her freshman year. A year later, bored with the small town and lack of money-making opportunities, Justin returned to his hometown of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and took a job in his father’s law firm. Tatum was at first devastated, but then convinced herself it was only temporary. She and Justin spoke several times during the first week. She asked him if they were broken up or breaking up, and he told her he needed some space to figure out what he was doing and where his life was headed. This seemed reasonable to Tatum. So she waited a week before asking him when he was coming back.

“Listen, don’t you get it? I don’t really see myself coming back. I don’t think you’re the right one for me.” In group, Tatum told us, “I kept thinking, ‘It’s not supposed to hurt this much.’ I felt like I must be going crazy, because it wasn’t supposed to hurt that much.” Over the next several months, Tatum was able to extract the following information from Justin about why he dumped her. These were the reasons: He felt that at 125 pounds, she was too heavy. Tatum was 5 feet, 5 inches. He didn’t think she dressed very well (meaning she spent too much time in sweatshirts and blue jeans).

Her hair (dirty blond, natural) made her look mousy. So did her glasses. She acted ditzy. She spent too much time with her friends. Tatum said she fell out of touch with everyone. The next time people saw her, they were shocked at how thin she looked. Each time someone said something about her weight, she would beam, “I lost 20 pounds! People keep asking me how I did it, and it was easy. Anyone can do it.” She dyed her hair platinum blond, blowdried straight. She got contact lenses. She bought new clothes.

She got a brand-new tattoo on her left ankle, of a lady bug. “Lady bugs are good luck,” she explained. Justin came back. Her friends’ shock at her weight loss turned to dismay as she got thinner and thinner. Tatum kept dieting. Just to make sure. And eventually collapsed one day, weighing just under 80 pounds, and ended up at the hospital for treatment for anorexia. Tatum called Justin on the pay phone just about every day. But he hadn’t come to

visit her. “I did everything he told me to do,” Tatum told us. “Why hasn’t he come yet?” Viola There was only one word to describe the way Viola looked: exotic. No one would ever use a word like “pretty” about Viola. She could have been a model. Viola’s father was a Swedish, Americanborn Nordic-looking guy. He met Viola’s mother, a Vietnamese schoolteacher, during the war and brought her back to California.

Viola had dark skin and Asian eyes, deep hazel brown, flecked with green. Her lips were full enough to suspect collagen, but we all believed Viola when she said she’d never had any work done. She was 23. Viola’s body was slim and smooth, her breasts perky. She was tall for a girl. Viola was with her boyfriend, Phillip, for three years. He had a Ferrari and was good looking. Everyone said they made a greatlooking couple. Phillip’s father had berated him since he was a kid. A favorite was calling him “stupid.” Every so often, he would call Phillip and Viola would be able to hear his father from across the room.

“Jesus Christ, I wish you’d never been born. You’re worse than your dumb-ass mother, you little shit! You can’t do anything right, can you? What are you, stupid? Yeah, that’s it, you’re fucking stupid!” And so on and so forth. It was never made clear exactly what it was that made Phillip so stupid, but then again, nothing made sense about Phillip and his family, Viola explained. Sometimes, Viola would forget something, and Phillip would make as though to hit her. He never did, until she teased him about his shirt one day – she told him he looked like an underpaid, outof-work comedian working in a strip club,

and he backhanded her. Tears and apologies followed. He swore he’d never do it again. The next time they had an argument, he slapped her. She hauled off and punched him in the face. They didn’t break up because the sex, both immediately after an argument, and in between, was the best either one of them had ever had. Phillip eventually started calling Viola stupid, too. But that didn’t work because Viola had a 4.0 average in her biology major. So, when they argued (and it was almost

always over stupid stuff, Viola said) he started telling her, “You look like a cheap fucking whore,” and “No wonder all these guys are hitting on you, your ass is hanging out of your skirt,” and, “You’re fucking lucky to be with me. Most guys wouldn’t give a shit about you; they just want to pound you in the ass.” When he wasn’t hitting her or putting her down, Phillip would often buy Viola roses by the dozens, lend her the keys to his Ferrari, take her out to dinners, and buy her expensive jewelry. Viola started gaining weight. When it became obvious, at 140 pounds, he started calling her “Fatso.” When she got to 160 pounds, he became

vicious in his fights with her, and had by then taken to slugging her in the face. When she got to 180 pounds, he told her no one else would ever fuck her, she was the ugliest, most hideous person he had ever known, would never amount to anything, and that she was so stupid, she hadn’t even figured out that he’d been fucking her best friend for six months. Viola had had enough. She grabbed a butcher knife from the kitchen and attacked. Phillip went to the hospital with a deep gouge in his shoulder. Viola went to jail.

At the trial, she got off with three years of probation, some community service, court-ordered anger-management classes, and a 30-day commitment to the psychiatric facility. In group, none of us could believe that Viola used to weigh 180 pounds. She said that as soon as she got arrested, the pounds just melted off. She had no stretch marks that we could see. She spoke in a calm and lilting voice – no one could believe that once upon a time, this beautiful girl stabbed her boyfriend and was arrested. “Don’t believe the bad things people say to you,” Viola told us. ‘“Don’t listen to men when they put you down. It’s because they see your potential and they’re

jealous. They’re afraid.” I began to feel like the women understood me at the “Suicide Resort.” Most of the women were pretty normal. At least, they seemed normal to me. The drugs and the alcohol didn’t help, but it was always some guy who pushed most of them over the edge. I told them I felt lonely and they told me, You are not alone. But it felt like I was.

The End of the Commitment After six weeks, I left the hospital. So much for the “10 to 14 days” that woman had told me when I’d first gotten there. On the day before I left, I went through what they jokingly called the “exit interview.” The other patients told me that much like when you quit or get fired from a job, you go through a reverse interview process with an employer. It had been decided that the scene with my mother was a temporary setback best dealt with by avoiding my mother and taking

even more psychotropic drugs. I was given a written-out prescription for the anti-anxiety medication, the Lithium, and the anti-depressant. They’d been monitoring my blood from the Lithium ever since they’d first prescribed it after my mother visited, and it was apparently at a level that was conducive to what they wanted to occur. The muscle spasms and nausea had passed and I had not gained any weight; they told me I might have an increase in appetite, but so far, I hadn’t. This, to them, was the ultimate success – side effects nipped in the bud, patient’s got good blood levels and was actually okay with taking the meds.

The reason why I was OK with taking the meds was because I liked taking drugs. Courtney took the amethyst charm on the silver chain from around her neck and put it in an envelope with a letter that I opened in the taxi to the bus station. I put the charm on. “This is protection against bad thoughts, bad people, and overindulgence,” Courtney wrote in the letter. I waved goodbye to Victor and Michael, the male nurses, and my therapist and the psychiatric nurse, and the psychiatrist, and the woman who conducted the art therapy group. In my bag, I had my clothes, a ceramic tile ash tray, two stained-glass pieces (one of a parrot and one of a huge butterfly)

and my drawings and paintings of various scenes from my nightmares – the art therapy leader loved the chalk drawing of the people with straws up their noses leaning over chocolate chip cookies on a mirror. The bus ride to Creekview took nearly five hours. There was nothing for miles and miles. It was hills, mountains, farmland, and all the grass had been dried up for months. It was fire season; I could smell the heat coming from the sun, drying up every bit of moisture in the ground, and I could smell the dead, heated grass, wanting to turn into something else.

Fires When I was in middle school, during the Rodney King riots in L.A., the smoke from the burning buildings drifted eastward, into the valleys. We could smell it clearly from our house, and at night, we would watch the news. Small businessmen sat on top of the roofs of their businesses with guns. They shot at anyone who came near their stores. Teenagers and middle-aged people smiled for the cameras as they went inside deserted stores and came out carrying televisions and VCRs.

And it was like when they had the terrible Malibu fires a few years later – we were close enough to smell them, and close enough so that we watched on television, but it was still not happening to us, and therefore, it was very, very far away.

Welcome Back I returned to Creekview that fall and just barely made the deadline to add classes, and began my senior year. It was midnight one autumn night, and we were at Starry Night, the new club on Fifth and Elm. We were talking about a couple of freshmen who had just died. The school newspaper’s headline read: Two Creekview Freshmen Dead. One of them had been pledging a fraternity and had fallen asleep drunk and

choked to death on his own vomit. The fraternity was being investigated for hazing. One of them was a girl who had been at a rooftop party and she’d gotten drunk and either jumped or fallen. This happened every single year. The headlines never changed. That night, Joy was wearing a low-cut, red blouse with black lace around the edges. She’d decided to stay in Creekview for a few more months, because the tips she got as a cocktail waitress in Creekview were really good.

I could see why – everyone liked her. She would flirt with guys just a little bit, and they would reward her with dollar tips for every drink. She would flirt with girls just a little bit, too – she would say just the right thing, compliment a girl on her shoes or her earrings, and the girls tipped just as well as the guys. Most nights, Joy came home with more than $100, and that was a fortune, considering our twobedroom apartment cost $400 a month. It was something that happened to a lot of people who went to college in Creekview: It became easy to stay because it was so cheap and not quite the real world yet. Leaving became hard. Chris, Joy’s on-again, off-again boyfriend was there; he was stoned and

uncommunicative, sitting next to Gina, who still had her bra on, and who was pissed that Chris was so stoned. At 12:45 a.m., the club was packed – sorority girls on a last-call run screamed and poked their way into the place. The bouncer started letting in 18-year-olds who squirmed around their friends and disappeared on the dance floor. Joy was in good spirits because Joy was almost always in good spirits and it didn’t seem to bother her that Gina, Chris, and I stared into our drinks moodily, like we were at a funeral. People screamed to our right. Girls, highpitched and anxious. “I’m so fucked up,” one of them kept moaning, over and over

again. Chris finished his beer and slammed the mug down on the table. Gina spoke for the first time in two hours. “Do you always have to be such a goddamned drama queen?” she spat at him. I touched her on her shoulder. “Hey,” I said. “Relax.” Gina shrugged. Joy came over and dragged me by my arm, on to the dance floor. It was filthy with the smell of a hundred people, a thousand body parts. Some guy came up behind me and started

grinding; surprised, I looked behind to see who it was. He was grinding on me, but he was looking at Joy, who wrapped her arms around my waist and pretended to go down on me, and then I looked over at the table where our stuff was. Gina was pushing her way out of the booth. When she extracted herself, she grabbed a half-filled glass and threw it in Chris’s face. He didn’t respond right away, and by the time he did, Gina had left the club, still wearing her bra, and all Chris did was reach into his pocket for a joint. I twirled Joy into the arms of the guy grinding on me, and went to sit by Chris. I asked him what had happened and he ignored me and smoked his joint. I took it

from him, inhaled deeply, and handed it back. Chris didn’t look at me. Sometimes, there’s nothing to say.

Truth or Dare Later that same night, we were all at an after-party, playing Truth or Dare. Denise, a girl who didn’t like me very much, dared me to give some guy named Darrin a blow job in the bathroom. “In or out,” she said, and she smiled at me with malice. I couldn’t figure out why she didn’t like me – we didn’t even hang out in the same circles. Still, she’d made it pretty clear that she hated me. I stood up and took Darrin’s hand.

We went into one of the bedrooms and I told him to keep his fucking mouth shut. I unzipped his jeans and took out his penis and leaned in really close. I opened my mouth and breathed in with force. I smelled it, and everything looked okay. So I opened my mouth and closed it softly over his shaft, running my hands over his chest and then underneath, gently massaging his ass. He started breathing, and I could feel him growing hard and then harder in my mouth and he started touching my head, trying to move my head up and down, but I slapped his hand away. When he started to moan, I hiked up my skirt and shoved

my underwear to one side and I slid down on him. I knew I should have been using a condom but apparently, I wasn’t the type girl who minded fucking strangers without a condom. He yelled and bucked a bit, and I was so turned on, I couldn’t even breathe. He pumped, and I reached down to rub myself while I bounced up and down on him. He started to say something and I slammed my hand over his mouth and continued fucking him until I started to come, and then I took my hand off his mouth and put it over my own, so no one could hear me scream when I came. I got off of him, and he was still hard and

his cock was slick. He didn’t even care that I wasn’t there anymore – he started jerking off quickly and then he got quiet and then he grunted and came, squirting on the cover of the bed. I left the room first and I didn’t bother going to the bathroom to wash up. I came out and took a seat where I was sitting before, picked up my still-cold beer, and took a swig. “Next,” I said.

The Letter – Flunking Out of School At the end of the semester, I got a letter from the history department letting me know I had flunked out of school. This was partly because I had missed a lot of classes that semester. But I’d been fucking up in my classes for a long time. I celebrated by scoring a quarter of an eight ball of crystal meth. Joy came home to find me on my knees, searching the hardwood floors for any last bit of it. There had to be some left, somewhere, a tiny bit, just a tiny bit,

that’s all I needed. I was snapped out of this fugue by Joy coming home and when she read the letter, I almost thought, from the expression on her face, that she’d misunderstood and thought the letter was for her. I didn’t understand why she was so upset – Joy had already graduated. Finally, I understood the look of horror washing over Joy’s face was because of me.

Another Woman Reaches Her Breaking Point I should have gone to a good school. When I was in sixth grade, for some reason, I said I was going to be the world’s most greatest and famous lawyer. That’s what it said in the yearbook, at least. Maybe it was a bored teacher or an optimistic one, but that’s what it said. That’s what it said. I should have gone to Georgetown. I should have gone to Harvard, Penn State, Berkeley, Stanford, Brown. I should have studied more in high school. I didn’t know what had happened and why

I’d turned out to be such a crap student; it was all like a dream sequence that I wasn’t sure how to remember, not sure how to recall. Life is like that. You just don’t know what the hell is going on most of the time, and the only choice you have is to plow ahead. The problem is that when you don’t know what the hell is going on, then people want to teach you, and that’s when you start to learn the hard way. Three weeks after I got the letter, Joy brought home a manila envelope with instructions on how to get back into school. Joy was not getting my apathy and the only things she said that made any sense were, “Do you want to move back to L.A., then? Want to give up this

apartment? Want me to find a new roommate? Don’t be an asshole, Lucy.” And so, with Joy literally over my shoulder, I typed a two-page letter stating my case. One of the doctors at the hospital forwarded a statement to my college at my request. Enrollment was down that year; I was forced to declare a new major since the history department would no longer have me. I chose film studies, which I had planned to be a minor, but now it seemed that film would my major and I wouldn’t have a minor. I got a new set of classes, and the hopeful but sad look one can only get from someone who works for the public school system.

At home, I daydreamed about going for walks along the edge of the creek with a notebook or a beer, dreamed of reading something by Faulkner on the huge lawn by the arts building, thought about taking another art class just for fun, or volunteering with senior citizens or a million things you think about doing when you think you have some extra time, things that you weren’t planning on actually doing, things you think make you less of a person for not doing, more of a person for actually thinking about doing them. I walked through the campus in a semidaze. I wondered if it was February or September again. She’s not the same, she’s not the same. I

kept hearing it over and over again and I didn’t know what it meant, exactly. I knew that people knew what had happened over the summer – but I didn’t know that anything showed. I thought I had a poker face. I thought I was good at keeping my thoughts hidden. I went to my classes when spring semester started in January. I did not miss class, not a single one, not even when Gina called me to tell me her long-term, on-again, offagain boyfriend Jim had fallen in love with someone else, and that she tried to hold on to him and poured the guilt thick like syrup over him because they’d grown up together, went steady together in high school, lost their virginity together, and moved to Creekview together from

Eastern Washington. And then he left her. For good. She called me and wanted to drive to San Francisco, tear the city up, sleep at a hotel, and come back for school the following Monday. She didn’t listen when I told her I wasn’t feeling up for a road trip. I told her that maybe she should come out with Joy and me and have a few drinks and try to forget about things for a little while. Jim had moved out of the tiny cottage they shared a few days prior and things were starting to get to her. “Forget!” she screamed incredulously. “My whole life is ruined, Lucy. Am I supposed to watch Melrose Place and just

‘forget about it,’ is that what I’m supposed to do? “No, you don’t have to do that. Just come out with us. You’re not going to San Francisco.” Gina screamed and swore at me so loudly that my ears were still ringing 20 minutes later. I got her off the phone by promising we’d go out, have a few drinks, and throw darts at her ex-boyfriend’s face. Later, before we went out, I asked Joy about Gina’s ex-boyfriend, because she knew more about Gina and Jim than I did. “Oh, yeah, they were together in high school, but ever since they’ve moved here, he’s been trying to keep things a little

more casual and she freaks out over everything. I’ve tried talking to her but you can’t talk sense to someone who’s completely in denial. She doesn’t want to listen.” “Listen to what?” “Listen to what? The facts. He’s fucked everyone in this town.” I grew quiet. Gina stapled her bra to the ceiling of every house and bar she went to, but she was loyal to Jim. Everyone knew it. She’d never slept with anyone else. Ever. “Did you tell her that?” I said, shocked. “Well, no. Not exactly,” Joy admitted. “I

don’t want to be the one who tells her something like that. I just told her that he has, you know, a reputation. That he wasn’t worth it.” “Joy,” I whispered. “Did you fuck him?” “Yeah,” Joy said, confused. “Didn’t you fuck him, too?” And then I got it. I called Gina frantically and told her she had to come out with us that night. I didn’t want her to be by herself. The three of us, Joy, Gina, and I, went to the Creekview Tavern to start off and then made our way through the rest of downtown.

Several times, I took Joy aside to warn her not to say anything to Gina. Please, Joy, don’t tell her, I kept saying, and finally, Joy said calmly, “Do I look like I’m deaf or stupid?” and I shut up. Later, Joy was drunk and breathing in my face, kissing my nose and my cheeks softly. “Lucy, I really don’t think you should be mixing drugs,” she said, referring to the meds I was taking, prescribed by the people in the mental hospital, and the cocaine I was then snorting. “Lucy, I’m like, really worried about you,” she said, and her head seemed to get heavier and heavier, and she passed out, right in my lap.

Nothing much happened that night except we all got drunk, but for days, I felt like I was holding my breath, just waiting for Gina to find out the truth, wishing that I could hide it from her. And when I finally saw her again, she looked like hell. She hadn’t washed her hair – it looked frizzy and greasy – and she had dark circles underneath her eyes. I asked her to come over to watch some movies with Joy and me, but she looked right through me and my stomach turned over and I winced, because it had happened anyway and there was nothing I could have done about it. Nothing. A few days later, Gina hung herself. Her

cottage was one of those retro ones with crossbeams and pipes on the ceiling. She used one of her long scarves. She didn’t leave a note. There was no funeral in Creekview; her parents took her body home and the night after she died, Joy and I were engulfed in grief. We couldn’t stop drinking. We couldn’t stop weeping. We couldn’t stop thinking: Why didn’t we try harder? Why didn’t we do something? Why did we let her stay in that cottage alone? Why hadn’t we gone over to see her every single day? Later, we saw Jim at a bar. He was surrounded by sorority girls. He was drunk and laughing.

He looked like he didn’t have a care in the world.

That Woman On the evening news one night in January, Joy and I watched the President give a speech. It would become infamous. In the pivotal part of the speech, he said, “I never had sexual relations with that woman …” That woman. That woman. He was pointing and he looked like he was lying. Without even realizing what I was about to do, I picked up the nearest thing I could

find – it was one of my shoes – and I hurled it at the television. “You’re a fucking liar!” I screamed. Joy was alarmed. “Lucy …” she began. But by then I was sobbing. “How could he do that to her? He’s lying. Did you see that? Did you see the way he said ‘that woman’?” He’s a liar,” I said, choking with tears, while Joy pulled my head into her lap and smoothed my hair. “Yes, he’s lying,” she whispered. “Don’t worry. Everyone knows he’s lying. He’s just a guy. That’s just what they do.”

Joy Leaves At the end of the summer, Joy moved to San Francisco. She’d stayed in Creekview for more than a year after she’d graduated and had saved a great deal of money – enough to be comfortable paying sky-high rent in San Francisco. We’d celebrated my 23rd birthday that summer, just the two of us. I made the trip to San Francisco about once a month for the first semester. She was sharing a small apartment with another recent graduate, and the two of them were both temps, working as assistants at offices all over the city.

Joy and I would walk around the city, and sometimes take the BART into Berkeley. We’d walk around the university campus and buy jewelry on Telegraph Avenue. Later, we’d sometimes go to her favorite Italian restaurant in North Beach and become lost in the bookstores that were open until midnight. After moving into a studio several blocks from Joy’s and my old apartment, I lost touch with a lot of our mutual friends. With my own impending graduation looming, I withdrew and spent a lot of time alone. Some nights, I would simply sit in my chair by the window and look out at the street, thinking about things.

The studio next door to mine was empty for the first few weeks. Halfway through the fall semester, a guy moved in. We made eye contact, and one night, he came over with a six-pack, told me he’d just broken up with his girlfriend, and we were inseparable for eight weeks. In December, during a drunken night of sex and talk, I asked him if he thought we’d keep in touch after I graduated and moved away. “No,” he said. “Why not?” “What, you want me to lie to you? Our lives are going in totally different directions.”

“That doesn’t mean we can’t at least keep in touch,” I argued, feeling the old feeling of entering a trip. A bad one. “I’ve probably let things go too far,” he said, leaning back on the pillow and blowing smoke rings. I sat up and said, “What does that mean?” “It means that this isn’t going anywhere.” But you said that we had a connection. You fucked me like it mattered. You looked into my eyes, and you fucked me, and now you’re saying that none of it matters. I reached over and took a long swig from

the bottle of wine we’d been sharing. My head felt hot. My chest burned. My stomach clenched into a fist. I doubled over in pain and curled into a fetal position and started screaming. There were no words coming out of my mouth. Just a long, animal scream. He left. We didn’t really talk very much after that night, but I’d see him coming and going from his apartment, or smoking outside. We were polite, and sometimes, I’d see his ex-girlfriend coming to visit him, her face a quiet mask of triumph.

After the Winter Creekview was filled again with everyone who’d gone home for Christmas. I hadn’t gone anywhere. That winter, I would wake up and smoke weed and in the afternoons, I’d start drinking, and in the evenings I would sit by my front window, and I would watch the empty streets. I would watch the occasional person braving the icy winds of winter in Creekview. It was the first week of the new semester, and since I was midway through my fifth year of college, I thought it would be my last.

A trip to the Admissions office proved me wrong. I was too far behind and I would never be able to take all the film classes I needed to graduate. If I didn’t flunk any of my classes, the Admissions lady told me, I could participate in the graduation ceremony in June, but would still need to take a full load of summer classes and a credits-based internship, which would put my official graduation date sometime in autumn of that year. A lot of other Creekview State students were on the “five-year” plan, too. After that chat, I walked to the other side of town, to a bookstore I sometimes went to.

The bookstore was small and cramped and familiar, like a dozen other small used bookstores sprinkled around the town. The middle-aged man with hippy hair and glasses said hello as I walked in. Later, I paid for a Hunter Thompson paperback and asked to use the bathroom. “Sorry, we don’t have a public bathroom here,” he said. “Next door they do.” “Next door?” “Coffee house.” The coffee house next door was new. It hadn’t been there before. I slipped out the front door of the

bookstore. The night was getting into full swing. I kept my head down to avoid seeing anyone I knew. I just needed to use the bathroom. I opened the door to the coffee house and stepped inside. Soft jazz music was coming from the speakers. To the left, a long bar with taps and an espresso machine. To the right, a long, framed mirror. I walked toward the back of the room and saw several people surrounding a table, a meeting of some sort. I caught snags of their conversation: capitalism, the government, peace and freedom, stage, catalyst.

After using the bathroom, I went to the front counter and ordered a coffee. Holding the round cup and saucer, I surveyed the room. Small candles were in the center of each table. The place wasn’t even half-full, and the barista fiddled with something above the sink and the jazz music got a little louder. I walked to a table in the middle of the room and put my drink down. I missed Joy. I missed Gina, and felt the dull ache of impotence whenever I thought about her. I missed having sex with my neighbor.

I missed feeling alive. Spending winter inside my apartment, drunk and stoned, had left me feeling dead. I sat down and hung my coat over the back of the chair. I picked up the Hunter Thompson book and flipped through it a bit, then took out my journal and started sketching the inside of the coffee house. “Mind if I sit here?” a male voice asked. I looked up warily. He was tall, with broad shoulders and a short beard. He had a friendly smile on his face and huge, dark-blue eyes underneath a dusty pair of glasses.

The jeans and blue sweater he was wearing looked worn. I raised my eyebrows and shrugged. “Sure,” I said. The place was more than half-empty, but I wasn’t sure this was my cue to talk. I went back to drawing. He watched me for about a minute, and then said, “My name is Ethan,” holding his hand out. His wrist was circled by a Celtic bracelet. I smiled, and shook his hand. His handshake was firm and he was looking right into my eyes. “My name is Lucy,” I said. And inside, I thought: No. No. Not this time.

I will never do this again. I will never act like that again. I understand that certain people in life are meant to have relationships and certain people are not. I understand that not everyone is part of a couple, and it is a good thing to be single and alone. I can do whatever I want, go wherever I want. I like being by myself. I like it I like it I like it. I don’t think I want to do this again. I don’t think I’m going to do this again. He looks harmless, but I should be careful – it’s the harmless ones who are the most dangerous. Ethan said, “So what do you draw?”

“Nothing in particular,” I answered. I stuttered a little and tried to figure out why I was so nervous and the answer hit me in the stomach – I wasn’t used to talking to men unless we were drunk or high in a club. “Are you an artist?” he said. “No. Not really. I like to draw but I don’t have any talent,” I said, not having any idea of why I was telling him this. Ethan smiled at me and I got the feeling I had met him before, though I knew I hadn’t. He leaned forward. “Can I take you out to dinner tonight?” he said.

His eyes were very blue. I knew this was a mistake. I knew I was supposed to get up, gather my things, and head for the door. I knew I was supposed to go home and forget about this. I knew I was supposed to forget I ever met him. I knew I was supposed to stay away from them. “Sure,” I said, and then, despite myself, unable to help myself, I laughed out loud. We went to an all-night coffee shop. We talked about our families. Over the chatter and noise of the coffee shop, over steaming and never-ending mugs of coffee, Ethan and I talked.

He lived right around the corner from me. “I can’t believe I haven’t seen you before,” I said, as we walked out of the restaurant. “You walk right past people every day and don’t remember them,” Ethan said. We were walking back to my place. “Look at that,” Ethan said softly. I looked to where he was pointing – the top of the sky, the cold January sky black and covered in stars. “It’s beautiful,” I said. As we got closer to the area of where we lived, my heart started to race and I

suddenly wished, violently, that I was drunk, not crazy drunk, but just drunk enough so all of it would be a little easier. “So, which way?” I asked at the cross street where my apartment was. Ethan smiled and reached for my hand and my hand tingled from his touch. My voice sounded strange to my own ears, when I heard myself saying, “Do you want to come up and see my place?” He smiled and nodded. We held hands while walking up the stairs. Once we were inside my apartment, I

apologized for the mess. “It’s really small and hard to keep clean,” I said, grabbing an armload of clothes and shoving them in the closet. I scampered to the bathroom and pushed dirty underwear and a bra under the sink. Scooped up tampon wrappers into the wastebasket. Wiped down the toothpaste splatters on the faucet. When I came out, Ethan was sitting on my bed, looking at me. I sat down next to him and found myself unable to breathe. “I’m not really good at this,” I mumbled, because I didn’t know what else to say and because it was the truth. Ethan took his hands and put them over my face. They were cool, or maybe it was my face that seemed suddenly warm.

Then he leaned forward and kissed me gently. Later, I lay on my side, naked, my eyes closed. I felt soft fingers tracing my cheekbones, my eyebrows, my lips. I opened my eyes. Ethan’s glasses were on the nightstand. His eyes crinkled a tiny bit around the corners. His head was on the pillow. He touched my face gently and looked me in the eyes. Something inside of me grew. I leaned forward and rested my head against his chest to hide whatever it was in my eyes or face that was making him look at me that way.

The next morning, we walked to the cross street, and he kissed me goodbye. When I got home from school that day, there was a message from him thanking me for a nice evening and asking if I’d like to have coffee later on that night. I listened to the message three times. I was shocked. His behavior was violating all the “rules.” He was not supposed to call the very next day. That was not done. He was supposed to wait at least four days and drive me crazy. If he bothered to call at all. We had coffee that evening but I didn’t invite him home with me. I waited a couple of days and then we

went out again. He liked working at the jewelry shop in town, he told me. He’d lived in Creekview his whole life and the college that was the sun of this little universe didn’t appeal to him. His parents still lived in Creekview. He had been in one long-term relationship that had ended a few years prior. He was a few years older than me. He was vague and I understood because when he asked about my romantic past, I was vague as well. He had five brothers and sisters and they were all somewhere in Northern California; a few of them lived right there in Creekview.

Some day, he wanted to own his own coffee house in Creekview. He wanted to exhibit work by local artists. “Something like the old Last Exit, but updated,” he told me. The Last Exit, he said, was where all the artists, street kids, professors, old-time radicals, and others gathered to talk about life in 1980s Seattle. He said millionaires would mix with homeless people, and the place was open all night. He ran away there once, but didn’t stay for long because his parents went and found him and dragged him back to Creekview. It had eventually closed down. We strolled up and down Broadway.

Hipster students walked quickly and ducked into coffee houses or record stores or bars. The place was aging. I could feel it. It was like Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley or Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco; a party that wasn’t quite over, but was stretching into the morning hours, when most of the party-goers had either passed out or gone home. On Friday, he took me to a club. He bought drinks and we danced to techno. He brought me in closer while we danced, and I was temporarily ecstatic. And started to wonder when things were going to go wrong.

Sickness One night not too soon after, I hardly slept. He had spent the night. I was almost late for class. He actually walked me to school, walked me to the front door of the building. It didn’t make any sense. He was acting too nice. Just a week after we met, he introduced me to a few of his friends – Chris, an outof work-programmer; Omar, an artist. They weren’t students. A few days later, I woke up with a sore throat and fever. By the time I got to class, I felt truly ill.

You can never be exactly sure how you got sick, but once you are sick, you can usually pinpoint what sent you over the edge. Mine was not getting enough sleep for a few days and fucking Ethan in the rain while soaking wet and shivering. I went to the health clinic on campus. Strep throat. They gave me an injection and a prescription for Vicodin. I hated missing class. I had to graduate. Ethan brought me chicken soup. Homemade. I had a general idea of how long it took to make homemade chicken

soup – hours. He tucked me in and kissed me on the forehead. He didn’t even try to fuck me. The next morning, he brought me orange juice and warmed up some of the chicken soup on the stove. He made me drink a glass of water. When I got up to use the bathroom, I was horrified – my face was all blotchy and my nose was crusty. I looked even worse than I felt. I covered my face and ducked under the blankets so Ethan couldn’t see my face.

He lifted up the covers and said, “Peek-aboo.” He stayed and watched some TV, then left after I’d already fallen asleep. The next day, I woke up to the sound of a knock on my door. Thinking it was Ethan, I padded to the door in my nightgown. There was a guy holding flowers. A huge bouquet of flowers. And a get-well card. For me. Later that day, he came over, and we

fucked like crazy. My temperature had cooled; I grabbed the headboard and he fucked me from behind. There was nothing like it, really – the feeling of being completely filled. He used his right hand to massage the area around my right shoulder, and then he used that same hand to cup my breast, and tweak my nipple, and he used that same hand to travel down my breasts and over my belly, and down until he reached my clit. And his left hand was always on my left hip, grabbing me, guiding me, thrusting into me, while his right hand rubbed my breasts, rubbed my nipples, and rubbed my clit, so gently. My hands were on the headboard, and he

fucked me so gently at times that I started to cry, and at times he fucked me so hard, I started to scream. I was still screaming when he leaned over and bit me on my left shoulder, and I was still screaming as I came like I’d never come, ever, the orgasm lasting forever, the shudders and spasms running through my body, and as he bit me and sucked where he bit me, I exploded inside. It was only a few minutes later that the cops arrived, because one of my neighbors called them, certain that I was being murdered.

February in Creekview The sky was the blue you only saw on postcards. The clouds stretched forever, puffy and growing from the sun across the valley, beyond the mountains. An airplane rose, heading east. I thought with a sudden surety: Lust is more efficient than love.

Friday Night at the Coffee House I was supposed to meet Ethan at the coffee house, but I told him I needed to get some things done so perhaps he was giving me some free time before he showed up. Perhaps that was why I was waiting. He was late. We pursue that which retreats. And then I saw him, and he was wearing all black and had an earring in his left ear and things didn’t seem bad at all. Still, I couldn’t understand why things had gone so far. The whole thing was making me very

nervous.

A Music Festival Ethan and I went to a folk festival at the plaza in the center of town. It was fun, sitting with people, like I belonged. I had bad menstrual cramps and Ethan gave me some codeine he got from a friend. That, combined with the pot this girl gave me, put me in a weird headspace. I started thinking about Jason. When do you stop waiting for them to come back? I really did think that one day, he’d come to see me. That he’d see me walking down the street one day and regret what he’d done. Was this the type of thing that people “got over”? What about my

neighbor? The one I’d spent so many nights with, the guitar, the divulging, the spasms … Did he ever, for one minute, think that maybe he’d made the wrong decision? I doubted it. I knew with certainty that the moment they left, they never intended to come back. Maybe the key was to try not to feel. To not get close enough for them to hurt you. But I didn’t have that button on me. I didn’t have the button that maybe other people had. The button you pushed that stopped you from feeling. I had tried. But it had not worked.

Later, I saw some graffiti in the bathroom: Has anyone out there ever found someone who you knew was the right one, but you fucked up the relationship anyway?

Happy Times I used to think that guys liked me because they looked at me with blazing eyes. And they’d say these things. Things that sounded so wise at the time. Things that later, I would recognize as pick-up lines, just the things guys say when they want to get laid. And the moment they said what I would later recognize as a line, that’s when I knew for sure I was going to get dumped, before it even began, when I was stupid enough to still think I had the upper hand. Ethan and I talked about how terrible time was, how it went by so fast always, except when you wanted it to, and then it just

crawled. It was a beautiful morning and I was in his arms, the sun spreading out over us. It was a Saturday and I didn’t have class and Ethan had the day off from work. I thought about my neighbor, who was sleeping right next door. I thought about Jason, the one every girl wanted. The one I had, until I became a problem he had to cross off his list. I didn’t have much time left before graduation. I didn’t understand why it still hurt. Why all of it hurt.

The Myth of Happiness Joy came to visit me for a weekend in the spring, and we strolled through the streets, our arms linked. Joy looked great; after months of temp work, she’d gotten a job as an assistant at a music company. She catered to the whims of not-quite-famous bands, and told me about what it was like to work with musicians, to orchestrate an event at one of San Francisco’s hot nightclubs, to the monotony of proofreading promotional material, to the all-night drug fests in artists’ lofts. “I can’t wait for you to graduate,” Joy said

to me, as she turned her face upwards, to the cold sky, to the sun. The freckles on her nose and cheeks were the color of pomegranates. I wanted to touch them. I wanted what she seemed to have. Instead, I said, “Joy. Are you happy?” Joy’s face froze. She gave me a lopsided smile. “Do you mean at work?” “At work. In life. Your life.” Joy and I continued walking, making our way to the old record store where Joy wanted to buy some vintage vinyl albums.

I waited. “I wouldn’t say I was happy,” Joy said, finally. “My job, I guess is at about a seven.” Joy finally looked at me, and our eyes met for the first time in a long time, and we really looked at each other, and saw each other. And I saw that for all of the stories of freedom and musicians and San Francisco and nightclubs and drugs and cocktails and sex, even after you’ve gotten what you wanted, even after you, as a woman, are out there in the world, making a name for yourself, doing what you want, when you want, fucking who you want, when you want, the situation is essentially

hopeless. I began to think that happiness was a myth. Being with Joy made me lose track of time. We were in one of our old spots, a basement bar, Saturday night. Joy had to drive back to the city the next day. Ethan called me constantly, even though I’d told him I wanted to spend the weekend hanging out with Joy. He called all the time throughout the weekend. I felt guilty. I wished I could cry. But I’d done too

much coke. The next morning was Sunday, and I was miserable that Joy was leaving. We hugged. She told me she’d be back for Tatum’s wedding in April. Tatum, who I’d met in the mental hospital, was marrying her douche bag boyfriend Justin. I hadn’t asked for details because I hadn’t wanted to know. She had invited me to her wedding. She told me to invite however many people I wanted. Maybe she wanted as many people as there as possible to reassure her. Maybe the weather would be nice, Joy and

I mused, trying to spin things. Ethan called me just a few moments after Joy left. His voice was like water.

April Wedding The wedding was beautiful. Tatum glowed, but as she walked down the aisle next to her father, all done up in her white dress and veil, I felt a little sickened because she looked like a doll, a gift being presented. She had on too much makeup. Her normally tanned face was an unnatural white. Ethan came with me, and he looked great – he wore a black, short-sleeved silk shirt and black trousers. I had on one of my long black skirts, floor-length and gauzy, and a black quarter-length button-down silky blouse that tied at the sleeves.

Joy played along with us and wore a short black mini-dress. The wedding was pretty, the colors yellow. It was in a small church on the outskirts of Creekview. During the wedding ceremony, my mind wandered off and I thought about water. I thought about how, whenever I heard Ethan’s voice, it sounded like blue water. When I was younger, and was with my mother in Santa Monica, I remembered how the ocean spread forever. But I forgot sometimes how big it really was. I forgot that memory can never really duplicate it, how you can never truly

remember what the ocean looks like, or how you felt when you were looking at it. I’d always dreamed of being a part of things. Sometimes I thought I could be falling in love with Ethan. When he spoke to me and his voice flowed like water. Sometimes I thought I really could love him. But then I would remember how much I freaked out when he would call all the time those first few weeks, and how whenever I hung up the phone with him, I would stare at it with confusion and sometimes anger.

And I never really thought any of this would happen, anyway. Why was he still with me? Wasn’t it his job to get me attached, and then split?

Nightmares The nightmares did not begin without warning, really. When Ethan started talking about moving in together, I began to freak out. In one nightmare, we were in a dark coffee shop. He left me to go find a table, and when I got to the table, after making my way through the crowd, he’d turned into a horrible-looking elephant man, his forehead elongated and pulsing, the lower half of his face all teeth and lips and hair, like a gorilla. He sneered at me. A few days later, I had another nightmare that I could not remember the next

morning. That time, I woke us both up with my moaning. I woke up moaning, “No. I said no.” I knew what the problem was. I didn’t want him to spend every night in my apartment. I didn’t want to move in with him. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in Creekview.

Late We had dinner plans at 7:00 p.m. He called at 6:40 p.m. and told me it would be 45 minutes or an hour. It was almost 11:30 p.m. when he showed up. Casually, he said, “Hey.” At first, I was calm. “You know you were supposed to be here three hours ago?” “Yeah,” he sighed. “I got caught up

playing video games.” His casualness was like lighting a match. “Three fucking hours!” I screamed. Ethan did not argue, he just grew quiet. Three hours. Three fucking hours late. And I turned into somebody else. “Where the fuck have you been? Not even a fucking phone call. How could you do this? How could you not even fucking apologize? The first fucking thing you should have said was, ‘I’m so sorry.’ How could you? Three fucking hours. Video

games? Video games? Are you fucking kidding me?” Ethan simply got up and said, “I’ll talk to you later when you’ve calmed down.” And then he left. I was infuriated. And then I just felt tired. Defeated. I could not keep having my heart broken over and over again. I did not want to love him anymore. The hurt with each man was such that I

would always think, at the time, that it could not get worse. But I was wrong every time. I ended up twisted in my bed that night, sobbing into the sheets and my whole body felt turned inside out, and I didn’t want to feel that way … I didn’t want to feel that way ever again. But then the rollercoaster began; I remembered the way he looked at me and the way I felt when he touched me. And then I thought of the other times he had been late – sometimes just a few minutes, sometimes 20 minutes, sometimes almost an hour – and how I became that child again, waiting for her

mom to pick her up from school, waiting for someone who never came. I felt completely broken. Again.

Perfect Circles Ethan and I were on our way to have dinner with his parents. He let me drive his car, and we drove to the outskirts of Creekview, past the point where small town became suburb. We were driving around cul-de-sacs and it was a warm evening in late spring. We passed by two-story houses, big lawns, sprinklers out everywhere, children squealing as they ran through the falling water, parents pushing baby carriages on the wide sidewalks. This came out of my mouth involuntarily:

“God, I hope I never end up like this.” Ethan told me to stop the car. I pulled over. His voice sounded deadly. He leaned forward until his face was right in front of mine, not even inches apart. And then he shouted, “What’s wrong with this? This is what people want! Most people would kill to have this!” Since he was shouting in my face, I let my gaze wander to a point over his shoulder, beyond the glass of the passenger’s side window. A woman pushed a navy blue baby carriage past two toddlers running across the lawn.

The cul-de-sacs we’d been driving around in were perfect circles, perfect little mazes. You could get lost in them. I was lost in them. All I could think about was the time when one of my film professors showed us The Stepford Wives. I could remember sitting in the darkened theater on campus, my mouth open as everything I always feared was splashed across the screen. Ethan was still shouting so I brought my focus back to him. “This is what I want!” he was shouting. “This is what I want with you!” I shouted back, “I never said this is what I

wanted! I don’t want this! I never wanted this. After I graduate, I’m leaving this fucking place.” Ethan looked at me like I’d just hit him. “Where are you moving to?” he whispered. “I don’t know! I don’t know where I want to go! Maybe New York …” He snickered and rolled his eyes and said, “Oh my god, right, fucking NEW YORK! Of course! Are you kidding me? You think you’re going to live some type of goddamn Sex and the City life? Grow up! That’s not real! Who the hell do you think you are?”

I slapped him as hard as I could across his face. My hand left a distinct, red, leaf-like imprint on his cheek, and when I withdrew my hand, my palm stung. Quietly, I said, “I’m nobody.”

Window Dressing He lost his job at the jewelry store because the jewelry store went under. The economy, Ethan said. He’d worked there for three years. He hadn’t gone to college. Hadn’t ever wanted to. He didn’t have rent for the next month. And the thing was, he didn’t seem that upset about anything. “It’s life. These things happen,” he said, and I was stunned at how placid he seemed. How it seemed like he didn’t care. “Ethan, this is a big deal,” I said.

He shrugged carelessly. “Everything’s going to work out,” he said. We talked about things that night, but it was all window dressing. He talked about his friends he could crash with, places he could go to ask for jobs, but we both knew what was going to happen. He was going to end up living with me.

Graduation Weekend Graduation came in June. My father and grandparents came up. Joy came up for the weekend. They took pictures of me in my long black graduation robe. It was unbearable wearing all that thick, heavy cloth over my dress. A few graduating seniors passed out that day on the ceremony field. They were carried off by friends, while the faculty and the staff and the speakers continued to talk and talk and talk. As I sat there, under the sun, I noticed two guys dragging another guy in between them. They had his arms over their

shoulders and he looked passed out. He was wearing a Hawaiian lei over his graduation robe and he wore dark sunglasses. It was clear that his friends were somehow trying to get their passed-out friend to actually make it to his own graduation ceremony. As they dragged him down the grassy field, his head lolling back and forth, a security guard came up to them and spoke to them all in a low voice I couldn’t hear. One of the guys said, “Dude, he’s not drunk! He’s blind!” The security guard fetched a wheelchair, and they rolled their drunk friend to his

place in the field. I heard some girl behind me say, “He’s not fucking blind. He’s just fucking drunk.” My dad, my grandparents, Joy, and I all went out to dinner – Ethan hadn’t wanted to come – and no one said anything about why it had taken me so long to graduate, and no one mentioned the fact that I had not actually received my diploma yet. No one mentioned my mother. At some point during the dinner, my dad asked me what I was planning on doing after my summer classes and internship were over. To complete the credits I still needed to officially graduate, the school

had helped me find an internship program doing office work for one of the local publishing companies. Joy said, “She’s moving to San Francisco,” and my grandmother said, “You’re coming back home, aren’t you dear?” and I cleared my throat and said, “Actually, I’m thinking of moving to New York.” No one said anything for a while.

A Studio Apartment Meant for One My studio apartment was so small. The walls closed in as soon as Ethan and his stuff moved in. Sometimes he spent a few days at his parents’ house. Usually after an argument. Summer in Creekview rose to highs of more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit in July and August. It was unbearable. We screamed at each other. One night, I threw an empty beer bottle

against the wall, smashing it. I screamed. He yelled. I retreated to the bathroom and took a shower because that was the only other room in that tiny apartment. I’d lock myself in the bathroom and take a shower and sometimes cry. In the middle of arguing, he’d say, “I’m leaving!” and I would scream, “I hate you, I fucking hate you.” Because he could always leave. And I had no other place to go. And then I would be stuck in that tiny apartment, with his smells and his stuff, and the stuff he gave me, and the pictures of the two of us, and it seemed entirely unfair and wrong that I should be left like that. It seemed entirely unfair and wrong

that it was not I who could leave. He’s such a nice guy, everyone said. I never told anyone about our arguments; I never told Joy, even. I spent hours in the shower, letting the bathtub fill up, scooping up water over my face, feeling alone, indignant, awful … alone. Trapped. One night, the walls closed in so tight that I started screaming that I was moving out, that he could have the apartment, and he grabbed my wrists and kept saying, “Stop it! Stop it! I love you!” and I couldn’t stop.

During that time, I wasn’t able to get that one day at the mental hospital out of my mind. I had been sitting on the grassy hill outside of the hospital, and trying to explain to my visiting dad that I was fine, really, that the nonstop tears were just a side-effect of medications, and I had tried to smile as the tears rolled incessantly. And I remembered how my dad had just looked at me and asked me what was wrong, and I kept saying, Nothing, it’s just the meds, I’m fine, as I wiped the tears away with my hands, wiped my hands on my long, light blue skirt, staining it.

What Happened In the Car My summer classes ended – I’d passed them all – and Ethan and I had dinner with his parents to celebrate. While we were eating, his mother said, “So, Ethan tells us that you’re graduating at the end of the summer.” “Um, yes. Actually, I’ve already graduated. I just need to finish my internship to make up some credits,” I explained. “How lovely. Are they going to give you a job?” she asked.

Ethan shoveled food into his mouth. Ethan’s father drank from a can of beer. “Actually, I don’t plan on working there after the summer,” I said. “Why not?” Ethan’s mother looked at me with genuine curiosity. “Well – even if I was offered a job there – it wouldn’t pay very much – and I think there are other places …” “Oh, well, now, money isn’t the important thing, is it, honey?” Ethan’s mother smiled at me with saccharin. “And I’m sure there are other places around here that would love to hire a pretty young girl like you.”

Like where? The strip bar on Route 99? “Well,” I said, my stomach already a knot, my appetite already gone, “in a small town like this, most students don’t stay after they graduate. There’s just not enough of an economy to support us all.” Ethan’s mother’s smile turned into a thin line. “But of course you’re staying in Creekview with Ethan, aren’t you, dear? We’ve been thinking so much about you two!” She leaned over and grasped Ethan’s arm, and he looked up at her like a little boy looking up at his mommy. He was a little boy looking up at his mommy for approval.

“I’m thinking of moving to New York,” I said. Ethan’s mother looked at me and her eyes turned cold. “Ethan has lived here his whole life. He’s not moving across the country,” she said. My fists clenched up and I started to sweat. “I wasn’t talking about Ethan. I said that I’m thinking of moving to New York,” I said, slowly, my voice shaking. After dinner, we were driving back to the apartment, and Ethan made an abrupt wrong turn.

“Hey! Where are we going?” I said. He ignored me and drove faster. He sped through the dark streets and made sharp turns. I grabbed the handle on the car ceiling. “What the hell is wrong with you? Slow down!” I couldn’t believe he was driving that way. Like a maniac. Ethan pulled into the parking lot of a closed office building with a screech. His hands were still on the wheel of the car. He put the car in park, switched off the ignition, and switched off the headlights.

I let out my breath. “Okay,” I whispered. “I know we need to talk.” He got out and walked around the front of the car. I stared out at him. He was a good man, and I knew it, and I knew I was hurting him, and I didn’t know what I could do about it. I didn’t know how to make things right. I didn’t know how to fix it. I didn’t know how to walk away from something that I knew some part of me wanted. The problem was that a bigger part of me was curling up and threatening to die from it.

He walked to my side of the car and opened it. “Let’s talk in the back seat,” he said calmly. “So we can talk face to face.” I looked at him and nodded. I unhooked my seat belt, and got out of the car. Ethan opened the car’s back door. I turned away from him, and started to get into the back seat. Ethan shoved me forward, both hands on my backside, and my body was propelled to the other side of the car; my head hit the glass window. Then he pulled me by my thighs and ripped off my underwear. With one hand, he held my head down so my face was in

the seat cushion. With the other, he unzipped himself. I’d gone completely limp. I was dazed. But once I heard the unzipping of his jeans, I came back to myself. Slowly, as though from under water. “Ethan,” I said shakily, my voice muffled in the seat cushion. “Don’t . .. don’t. Don’t do this. Don’t do it. Don’t …” With one thrust, he shoved himself into me, and I screamed. I screamed harder as he thrust in and out. I was completely dry; that this would ever happen had never occurred to me. It had never occurred to me that it would hurt that much – that it would feel like I

was being fucked with a steel, jagged piece of metal. Tears streamed down my face. My left arm was pinned under me and I used my right arm to grab the back of the driver’sside seat, and I tried to twist around. Ethan grabbed my hair and pulled it, hard. I screamed again. He grabbed my right arm and twisted it around and I shrieked in pain. He used my arm as a support against my hip, and then he thrust again. I stopped screaming. I stopped thinking about where I was.

I stopped thinking about what he was doing to me. I closed my eyes. An image came to me. A memory. I remembered the professor. John Garden. Call me John. I remembered the way he looked at me like he really saw me. I remembered him telling me I was gorgeous. I remembered his wife, and the warmth of her embrace when she told me to be careful. I remembered the women in the mental hospital. The women from the group. I remembered one of them saying, about her boyfriend, “I felt so helpless. I felt so trapped.”

I opened my mouth and said, “Harder.” Ethan stopped in mid-thrust. “What did you just say?” he shouted. “You know I love it,” I said, and my tears had all dried up. My voice sounded alien to me; it sounded like I was talking with a throat full of dirt. “You know I like it rough. Do it right! Fuck me HARD, fuck me HARD! Do it!” My voice broke and my screams were raspy. Ethan pulled me back even further and pumped his hips, both his hands around my waist, and I kept thinking about John Garden. I remembered that first semester when I

was a freshman. I remembered walking into his classroom. I remembered the way my heart hammered, and I remembered his beauty, and how everything was still unknown. I remembered that day. That moment of hope. I started getting wet. I slipped my fingers down and rubbed myself furiously. “You little bitch,” Ethan shouted. “I’m going to come,” I whispered back. “Do it to me harder. That’s not hard enough,” and my last words came out in a

grunt, and then he pulled my hair again, and my whole body arched up, and then he came inside of me. He dragged me out of the car by my feet and tossed me on the pavement. My bare legs and backside scraped against the ground. He got into the car and peeled off. The tires screeched and threw pebbles and dirt over me as I lay there and looked at the ground. There was a bottle cap just a few inches from my eyes. Jagged edge up.

Breakdown My head was unclear. I walked back to the studio apartment. I walked back to the studio apartment, alone. I passed by the bars and the little clubs in the little town, and the night clung to my skin. It was hot. Every night, it was hot. My breath came in short gasps; my throat closed up; I saw the front door of my apartment from a block away, and I ran all the way. Unlocked it. Opened it. Closed it

behind me. Left the lights off. Walked to the bed area. To the closet. I remembered one of the women in the group therapy saying, “He completely destroyed me. But he always told me he loved me. And I believed him.” I opened the closet doors. His jeans. His T-shirts. His dress shirts. I put one end of a shirt under my shoe and lifted the other side with both my hands, but I was too weak. I’d lost all my energy in the parking lot. I walked to the kitchen and grabbed a

knife and slowly ripped all his clothes to shreds. Then I ripped the sheets on the bed. Then I ripped the blankets. Then I yanked the pictures of us off the dressers, and I hurled them through the bay windows; they smashed outside. I walked in a daze toward the kitchen area, and I opened up all the cupboard doors, and I took each glass and each plate and each bowl and each cup, and I threw them as hard as I could against the walls, one by one. Sometimes, the shards hit me when they bounced off the walls.

I opened the freezer and grabbed a bottle of vodka and I drank it fast. I looked wildly around the kitchen; there had to be more. There had to be more. There was always more. The last memory I had was of drinking the rest of a long-forgotten bottle of rum left behind a box of crackers. I had vague memories of hurling chairs against the windows so they would smash. I had vague memories of picking up the television set and throwing it down the stairs, listening to the screen burst open against the concrete steps. Vague memories of plants. Something about plants and water. Something about the

mattress and fire. Something about emptying every single bottle of pills. And gulping them, fistful by fistful. I had vague memories of grabbing a combination of pills – leftover ibuprofen, birth control, a few prescription painkillers, an entire, previously unopened bottle of Tylenol – and I swallowed them all and washed them down with rum.

Stomach Pumping The next thing I remembered was having a tube stuck down my throat. I thrashed on a hospital bed, and nurses were holding me down and shouting at me. And then they poured something that tasted like charcoal down my throat and held me down and forced me to swallow. And then I blacked out.

Psychiatric Ward When I woke up, I was in what looked like a prison cell. There were about 20 other women with me in that room. The women looked beaten. They looked bruised. They looked homeless. They looked bad. There were benches all around the room, but not enough for all of us to sit on, and so most of us were on the floor. I was connected to a portable IV and I dragged it behind me as I looked around and stumbled over brown and black and dirty white legs. I got to the door and tried

to open it, but of course it wouldn’t open. Above the door knob was a plexi-glass window. I rapped on the window, even as a woman threw herself off a bench and grabbed at my legs. I fell to my knees, hard, and I was afraid I’d broken something, but I hadn’t. The IV clattered and I felt something rip in the crook of my left elbow, where the IV had been connected. I grabbed the useless doorknob with both my hands and hauled myself up and banged on the plexi-glass window and shrieked at the top of my lungs. But no one came.

I found myself hurling my body against the door and smashing my head against the plexi-glass window. I felt like an animal; a trapped animal. I was an animal. I had no sense of being human anymore. I could feel and hear sounds coming out of my throat but I couldn’t recognize them as my own. And then, there was darkness.

County I woke up in a room that smelled like bleach, urine, and blood. I had the familiar feeling of shock and despair. Hospitals are always so cold. I looked down at my arms, the IV drip, the monitor beeping. I observed myself in a hospital gown, and looked up at the ceiling and tears dripped down the sides of my temples. As they always did.

One of my first visitors was from a division of the health department, a social worker who was there to determine if I was a psychopath or just another civilian having a bad night. She read from a thick pad of paper, the report from the police who had dragged me to the hospital, and the nurses who'd had the unfortunate task of providing medical care the night before. I winced as the social worker told me that the previous evening, a neighbor had smelled smoke coming from my apartment. I’d set my mattress on fire. When he came over, he spotted me dragging plants outside my apartment, watering them with an outdoor hose, breaking glass and walking on it, while

screaming at the top of my lungs indecipherable words. I put my face in my hands when the social worker told me that upon arriving at the hospital, I had continued my rampage by overturning a gurney and screaming obscenities at the doctors and nurses before they pumped my stomach and then finally tossed me in the big cell with the other crazy women. The social worker was kind. She told me that I had given the nurses a scare, that they’d had to give me dozens of stitches to repair the damage on my extremities from all the broken glass, and that they had recommended an immediate commitment at a psychiatric facility due to my apparent psychosis and attempted

suicide. The social worker was looking at me closely to determine if the nurses were right. She asked me what I was feeling. I responded honestly. I was feeling the way I always felt, whether I was in high heels at a party, in sweatpants at home, in jeans in the classroom, or in a hospital gown gaping in the back. "Humiliated," I said softly. She told me that Ethan’s family went to court to take out an emergency restraining

order against me. And that this was granted, even though I hadn’t done anything to them, nor to Ethan, nor to their house. The word “rape” never entered into any conversation; it never appeared in any paperwork. The next day, a nurse told me I was getting transferred back to the private mental hospital my insurance company owned.

Back at the Suicide Resort I was checked into Level Two. I saw the same staff. They greeted me like I was an old friend, and I smiled back, but I was just going through the motions. I was saying what needed to be said. I was doing what needed to be done. After three days, I checked out a shaving razor, per the regulations. I stripped and entered the bathroom shower and turned it on. Hot. I sat on the floor of the shower stall and let the water run over me, and I used my teeth to extract the razor blade from its

sheath. It popped out. One, two, three, four pops from its plastic, and it was free in my right hand. I closed my eyes and gritted my teeth and slashed at my upper right leg, hard. The pain came swiftly and then something else came, as well. Something I had suspected might happen, but had no real hopes for. Relief. It felt almost like that first snort of cocaine on a hot, summer evening. It felt almost like that first sip of Irish coffee on a cold night. Like that first gulp of beer on

a warm Saturday afternoon. The relief flooded me and my head cleared. I could think clearly. Breath I didn’t even know I was holding in came out in a rush. I opened my eyes and saw the gash on my leg, the blood pouring out, swirling down the drain, and then I closed my eyes again and let the tears come, trickling down my face. I didn’t feel them. They mingled with the water from the shower. Everything was warm and I felt an overwhelming sense of peace.

Insurance Companies and Scars My arms and legs became a pattern of scars. I learned to ask politely to borrow a cigarette from some of the older patients, and I learned to turn my back quickly and press the cigarette butt against my upper left arm, watching the pink blister pop up, and then turning around again, inhaling the cigarette quickly, handing it back to its owner, whose eyes always looked at me knowingly and without judgment. The doctors and nurses found out, of course. Because they wouldn’t just hand over bandages and peroxide to patients who asked for them.

You had to show them exactly why you needed them. But by that time, I just didn’t care anymore. I was sitting in the office of the head psychiatric nurse one day, a few weeks after I’d arrived. He looked at me like he knew me. I guess he did. “Lucy, the insurance company wants us to release you.” Inside, I jumped. Outside, I simply looked at him blankly.

“Okay,” I said. The nurse looked at me again. His eyes were so kind. I’d forgotten how often he’d given me an extra dose of a tranquilizer on a bad night, even though current medical convention advised against giving out tranquilizers because patients might get hooked. The idea that getting hooked on tranquilizers might be the best thing for some of us had apparently never crossed the minds of the psychiatrists. But this psychiatric nurse was different. From the very first time I ever met him, he’d always looked at me with those warm brown eyes.

Every 15 minutes, when he was on duty during suicide watches, he’d look to see if I was really asleep or just faking it. And on more than one occasion, he’d say, “Lucy, I’m not buying it. Please take this.” And he’d hand me a white pill and an hour later, I would be in dreamless sleep. I thought about all of this as he told me about my insurance, spoke about premiums and out-of-pocket pay, and what this would mean to my father’s insurance and bank account. I was 24-years-old. And so I opened my eyes and looked at him like he was a real person, and I didn’t cry.

“Lucy, I think we both know that you’re not ready. But when the hospital is no longer an option, the options from here get pretty bad. But I think you know that from your time in the county hospital.” He looked sad and helpless. I wanted to help him. I wanted to make it easier on him. But I didn’t want to lie anymore, and I didn’t want to just tell him what he wanted to hear, either. And so I told him, “I understand.”

And then something unexpected happened. He reached over his desk and held both his hands out. I didn’t know what to do. He motioned with his hands – he motioned for me to put my hands in his. I did. “Lucy,” he said. “Lucy, don’t hurt yourself anymore. It’s not worth it. They are not worth it. ” He looked me right in the eyes. “Lucy, do you understand what I’m telling

you?” he asked. “Yes,” I said. I did understand. “Yes. I do.” He asked me to sign a paper promising that I was not a danger to myself nor others. A paper promising that I wasn’t going to harm myself. I paused as I read through the legal document. I knew it was a mere formality. But every time I looked up at the doctor’s warm eyes, I closed my own and I didn’t want to lie.

I didn’t want to lie anymore. I signed on the dotted line.

After the Fall I was released from the hospital, bandages covering my wrists up to my elbows. My dad drove all the way from L.A. to pick me up and drive me back to Creekview. I tried to hide the bandages and the scars. And then something surprising happened. “Lucy,” my father said. “You have to graduate. You have to get out of here. Go to New York. Make something of your life. I know you can do it. I don’t want you to end up like your mother.”

And that was the first time that he had ever really acknowledged what it had been like to live in our house and how easily a person could rot and wither away somewhere in between my mother and his garage. I called the publishing company, asking if I could finish my internship. I didn’t know what else to do. I still needed my diploma. The small publishing company, run by a middle-aged woman with sympathetic eyes told me that would be fine. “I know what it’s like to be your age,” she said. I wore long-sleeved blouses to work.

After the breakdown, my landlord had thrown me out, and one of my internship friends had been storing what was left of my things for me. I crashed on her couch for a few weeks until I finished the internship, and paid the electricity bill to make up for it. One night, we were watching TV together, and I turned to her and I said, “You know what they’re like. You know what they do to us. Why do they do it?” She never took her eyes off the television. She didn’t speak for a moment. But when she did, this is what she said: “They do it to us because they can.”

Time to Leave In October, I finished my internship hours, brought the lady who owned the publishing company a bouquet of flowers and a thank-you card, and took one last trip to the Admissions office to fill out paperwork for my diploma. It arrived in the mail a few weeks later. I packed up my things into two suitcases, donated everything else to a thrift store, and took a bus to San Francisco to see Joy. She hadn’t changed at all. She still looked radiant and stunning in a bright blue, skintight dress. When she opened the door and

saw me, she hugged me and would not let go. She promised to visit me in New York, and I promised I’d come back to visit her in San Francisco. “Whatever they say, no matter what they do, don’t believe them,” she whispered to me when we embraced. And that was the last we spoke of it. A few days later, I had another bus ticket. I did not have my father to shake my hand; he’d done that through a phone call. “Lucy,” he said. And this was the first time I ever heard him really curse.

“Don’t let those motherfuckers get you down.” “Thanks, Dad,” I said on the long-distance call. I told him I’d call him from New York and let him know when I was settled. As the city turned into country roads that blurred into each other on the long Greyhound bus trip from San Francisco to New York City, I drew up the longsleeved sweater I was wearing and looked at all the scars. One after another after another. I traced them with my fingertips and let the tears fall. There was no one watching. Sometimes we passed by farmhouses and

I would see children playing on green lawns, and I would turn away, my stomach in knots. Sometimes we passed by truck stops and I would see old couples huddling against each other, taking slow and what looked like painful steps to small markets in the middle of nowhere. And I looked at them and felt like I would throw up. Once, an old woman made eye contact with me through the bus window. She looked right at me and her face was expressionless. But what I saw was an old woman who had been born and raised in whatever nameless town we were in, and I saw that she would never leave, had never left, was born and would die there.

And my memories hauled up the clean, perfect circles of two-story houses Ethan and I had gotten trapped in that one day. I turned away from the old woman’s gaze and I hugged myself close, tight, even after the bus left that dusty old town with that dusty old woman who’d held eye contact with me for too long. Days later, we would reach the bridge that led into the city, and it was night time. And for the first time, I realized what had brought me there. The city glittered – no, glimmered in the night. It looked … magical.

From the bus depot, I took a short cab ride to East 15th Street where there was a hostel I had booked for a few weeks until I found a job. I had enough money saved from my internship to last me two months, if I was careful and lucky. When the cab lurched to a halt, and I climbed out with my suitcases, onto the sidewalk, at 11:00 p.m. at night, and I saw all the people – all the strangers under umbrellas on sidewalk cafés, rushing in and out of subway stairs, in and out of shops – I looked at them all and for the first time ever, I felt like I belonged. For no reason whatsoever. I looked around at all the people I didn’t know, and for some reason, even with all

the scars, and the bags under my eyes, and the fatigue aching its way into my bones, I felt it. The men and women rushed by. Some of the women looked like those pictures in the magazines I pored over when I was a teenager. But most of them looked like normal women. They wore glasses like the kind I used to wear. They had different hair styles. They had straight hair, long hair, cropped hair, blond hair, black hair. They wore jeans, skirts, high heels, sneakers. The men were clean-shaven, bald, hairy, scruffy, old, young, middle-aged, my age.

They were different shapes and sizes; tall, short, thin, plump. They were a hundred different nationalities. The city rushed by; the people rushed by; the cars and yellow taxis rushed by.

The City Later, when I tried to explain what I felt when I got out of the taxi cab that night and knew, just knew, I was never able to explain it quite right. I was never able to explain the sights, the sounds, and the smells. I was never able to really explain how it felt, the knowing that crept through my body. I would remember the doctor’s kind eyes as he told me I wasn’t ready to leave, and I knew I wasn’t, but I also knew, somehow, that I never would be ready.

There would never be a good time to leave. And so when I left when I did, it was because I had to and because it was time. There are no good times for starting over or for moving on. There are just times. I was never able to explain how even though I was completely alone that night on East 15th Street, and didn’t know a single person in New York, I felt … like I belonged. I didn’t feel happy, that wasn’t it – but for some reason, that I never could figure out – I didn’t feel alone.

About the Author

Eve Lopez was born and raised in the suburbs of Los Angeles. She is a graduate of Chico State University in California. This is her first novel.

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