5. “Ne Me Quitte Pas” by Nina Simone (Jacques Brel cover)
Since quitting drinking, Ambien is the only thing that can lull you to sleep. Quick, effective, and less of a hangover in the morning. You decide that both your brain and body feel better and you go with it. While you’ve been making a conscious effort to walk along a straight and narrow path, you can justify replacing drugs and alcohol with pharmaceuticals.
The Ambien does, you notice, effect your dreams, and each dream is intense, vivid, and bizarre. Last night’s dream was no exception.
In the dream, you lit a post-coital smoke while next to The Ex in the bed you shared together. Naked, awash in afterglow, you lied on your back, taking long drags of a Parliament Light 100, the signature brand of the ex before The Ex, He Who Shall Not Be Named. It was a vivid dream. You could see the smoke swirling above you, forming familiar shapes. For a moment, they were like cloud forms. You took another drag and exhaled deeply towards the sky again. The Ex was lying next to you on his stomach, head turned to the side, watching you smoke. His face was neutral, not disgusted, as if he was looking past the cigarette and at you, deep into you. You’re not cuddling, but your bodies are pressed against one another’s. The cold, sweaty clamminess of his skin feels too real.
You awake panicked, cold and clammy yourself. The only creature sharing your bed is your brother’s cat, and he stirs similarly, looking at you as if to say “Why the fuck did you wake me?” You thumb the skin of your index and middle fingers, recalling the feeling of the dream cigarette, and you feel irrational guilt. The dream felt so real, and you question your reality for a moment, only to breathe a sigh of relief. You’re still a non-smoker. You’re still okay.
You’re also alone. This is no grand realization, just a statement of facts. But you’re bothered by the solitude.
Being “alone” is something you’ve felt for awhile. Not just alone physically, but as if no one understands you. It’s a thought that caused you to panic the day before at work. You were sitting at your desk, finalizing orders for contact lenses, when you began to shake and sweat. “I’m going to die alone,” you thought to yourself repeatedly. “I’m going to die alone and no one will know I’m dead until the scent drifts from my apartment into the hall.” The swift kick to the gut that the anxiety attack delivered left you debilitated and wary the rest of the day.
You stay in bed. It is 8:30 AM on your day off. You deserve to lounge about, you tell yourself. You pull the Egyptian cotton blanket over your head and become very aware of the stillness of the moment.
4. “Crazy in Love” by Antony and The Johnsons (Beyonce cover)
The stillness of the moment is interrupted as your anxiety creeps back in. You worry about work; your attendance, your performance, your temperament with customers. Your moods have gotten the best of you in recent weeks, and you fear it has shown in your performance. Customers have not complained, coworkers have no noticed any particular change. You are being hypercritical of yourself, holding your actions to impossible standards that you yourself set.
You left work early yesterday to deal with your anxiety privately, excusing yourself to your manager. You told him you were having “female trouble,” and being a squeamish male, he instructed you to go home and rest. That was your intention, but the drive only provoked further distress. You thought about The Ex for at least ten miles as you passed several exits, feeling pain and remorse as you thought about the places you wanted to take him. Magical places, historic places, romantic places. You wanted to be able to look back in one, two, five years time and say to him, “Remember when…?”
Both of you could have done better. You know this. You could have tried to salvage the relationship, but you didn’t. Your pride wouldn’t allow you to do so. You’re stubborn and you know it.
3. “Metal Heart” by Pedro the Lion (Cat Power cover)
The combined heat from the blanket and your heightened anxiety forces you to push all of your bedding to the empty side of the mattress and turn on both fans. Living without central air has been a hard adjustment, but you’ve managed. You always manage.
You practice your grounding exercises. The ones you learned in therapy, the expensive kind that you forced yourself to afford a few months ago, when you were motivated to “figure your brain out.” Five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.
When it is time to identify two things you can smell, you stop abruptly. You smell the remnants of your nag champa incense and the faintest hint of The Ex’s cologne on your blanket. Comfort quickly turns to anger; you throw the Egyptian cotton blanket across the room, grab your sheet, and wrap yourself up. The time is 8:58 AM, and you decide not to leave your bed any time soon.
2. “I’m On Fire” by Bat For Lashes (Bruce Springsteen cover)
It occurs to you, while focused on the texture of your sheets, that it has been a several weeks since you had sex.
The last person you invited into your bed was a friend visiting from California, in town for the weekend to attend his sister’s wedding. Despite being involved in the wedding, he made it a point to see you after the reception. Getting ready to pick him up from his hotel, you agonized over your looks, your hair, your outfit. You thought your skirt was too long, your makeup too heavy, and your hair too frizzy. Your German roommate swore to you that you looked great; you called her a liar and thanked her before you rushed out the door.
What started out as dinner and drinks lead to flirtation and admission of more-than-platonic feelings. In the haze of two Manhattans, you invited him back to your apartment, touching his knee lightly. He accepted the invite, touching your knee in return, fingers just under the fabric of your skirt. His hand found your knee again while in the car as you drove back to your place, wandering upward ever so slightly. Your heart jumped as he found your thigh.
“Is this okay?” he asked, cautiously lifting his hand.
“Yes.” you said, the words coming out softer than intended.
He kissed you at a stoplight, and he kissed just as you’d imagined. He held your hand as you lead him through your building to your apartment. Once through the threshold, he pulled you close and kissed you again, this time deeper and with a palpable, intense longing. The hours that followed were spent exploring one another, getting to know each other in a very different way.
1. “I Wish You Would” by Ryan Adams (Taylor Swift cover)
Though the lighting in your room was dim, you were taken aback by the remarkable greenness of his eyes. You didn’t anticipate his skin being so soft, nor did you anticipate his eagerness to fulfill your needs. These were all welcomed surprises, as was the way your bodies fit together, like two puzzle pieces. But the sex, while incredibly satisfying, was not the highlight of the evening. What was most gratifying to you was the cuddling and conversation that followed.
You and your friend stayed in bed for an hour, naked, just talking openly about anything that came to mind. You played with his hair while he talked about his job. You lightly bit his shoulder when he talked about future plans. He kissed your forehead when you told him you felt lonely in the city. He played with your nipples while you talked about changing careers.
There was a moment of pause. Lying there, covered in sweat, his body draped over yours, was the most intimate you’d felt in months, and the silence was welcomed. You memorized the moment as best as you could, wanting to exist in its perfection until the end of time.
But the time had to come to an end. It was three in the morning when you delivered him back to his hotel. You kissed a final goodbye and watched him pass through the revolving door.
What occurred in the following three days can only be described as the “suicide Tuesdays,” the feeling of complete hopelessness and depression following a weekend of doing ecstasy or cocaine, or in this case, intimacy.
Lying in bed, as you recall that night with your friend, you decide that you want to give the dating scene a serious try. Instead of looking for people to fuck for the night, you entertain the idea of actually getting to know someone over coffee instead of bourbon. he thought doesn’t provoke as much disgust or fear as it used to. Maybe you’re ready.
You pull the covers from your face and look at the clock. Nearing 10 AM, you decide to yourself that it is time to start your day. You’ve got a lot of laundry to do.