Weeks and Weeks
by Callie Zucker
Published on January 4, 2020 9:05 AM
DG Mag Issue 2
I’ve been clean eight weeks now, or two months. I can’t decide which sounds longer. Eight is the higher number, but weeks seem short when I talk about them out loud. Weeks seem like a unit of time I used when I hadn’t been clean a month yet, or when one month sounded a lot shorter than four weeks. When next week comes and it’s nine weeks, hopefully, I guess I’ll say nine weeks and not two months and one week, because adding the extra week on sounds like a kid bragging about their age. Talking about sobriety makes me feel like Julie with baby Ella, who went from one month to six months to eighteen months easy. Ella is twenty-six months now, but it seems easier to me to just say two. You are a two hundred and eighty-eight-month old baby, Lo, Gabriel used to joke. Even though a week is a week is a week, last week isn’t the same length as this week, and next week might be longer or shorter than the one after that. I guess what I’m trying to say is eight weeks feels longer than the past five years of my life, and that I’m proud of myself.
Stevie Nicks once said that Klonopin withdrawal was like being dragged into hell. Or something like that. All I know is that she was addicted to Klonopin too, which is why I spent a lot of time in rehab listening to Fleetwood Mac and wearing scarves, which Gabriel never let me hear the end of. We weren’t allowed to have our phones, but there was a computer in the rec room and I’d play albums off of Youtube while everyone else sent emails to their families and friends. I sent a few emails, so everyone knew I was alive, but I was tormented by the thought of them worrying about me in here, that they would feel obligated to respond to my emails and then come to resent me for it. I think it might have been easier for everyone, especially Julie, while I was in rehab. It was five weeks they didn’t have to worry about me or wonder where I was, or if they worried they knew exactly what to worry about instead of just vaguely worrying that I would hurt myself or someone else somehow. Like when I let Ella roll off the couch.
Gabriel was my closest friend in rehab. We were the same age, both grown up in the Bay Area, both artists of some sort with day jobs we actually enjoyed. He says he grew up in Oakland but he really means Montclair, which I guess is Oakland but it’s Oakland with an asterisk, not that anyone else at the center cared. Besides, I do the same thing—raised in Tiburon but I still say San Francisco most of the time. I first noticed in college that the wealthier the suburb you came from, the more you generalized the exact location of your upbringing. It was always “Chicago” or “New York” when they really meant Inverness or Scarsdale or a place like that. The richer someone was the more they pretended they were broke. Gabriel wasn’t super rich, but he knew a lot of really rich people who lived in the Oakland Hills and had like three houses, which is how he knew the people he was housesitting for in May. He invited me to come pretend to be a wealthy socialite with him for the weekend, so I took the Friday off of work and drove up from Los Angeles.
“They have like, three Rothkos,” he baited me, as if I needed a reason to lounge around in a mansion with a view of the entire bay for a few days. Besides, he was the real art fiend of the two of us. Despite my liberal arts education and highbrow posturing, I was essentially as much of a philistine as they come. I knew a good amount about art and appreciated it, but I only ever really engaged in dance. Besides, it’d been a good three and a half years (forty-two months, one hundred and sixty-eight weeks) since I’d done any serious dancing.
I tried not to blame the Klonopin for the end of my dance career, but it was an easy villain to pin the blame on. The truth is, Klonopin was really helpful at first. At the end of college, I was on the verge of insanity, working myself raw to try and create something marvelous and tragic. I was obsessed with dancing itself but also the idea of it ruining me, of putting my entire being into a performance. I wanted something beautiful worth dying for.
I had a catastrophic breakdown instead of changing the world, had to take a few months off school and gather myself. I spent the majority of those months between the salmon-colored stucco walls of my psychiatrist’s office, eating protein bars and trying to gain back all the weight I had lost. I was on edge constantly, terrified that I would never make something of myself, that I’d die unremarkable and unknown in a freak accident somewhere, and Julie would have nothing to write about in her eulogy of me. I would just be Charlotte, age blank, who was and did nothing.
Waking up felt like razor blades pressed against my neck; I either wanted to return to school or die, but I couldn’t do either without a wrecking ball of anxiety knocking my lungs flat. So the Klonopin helped a lot, dulled the sharpness of my nerves and allowed to return to school, graduate, get a job, check all of the young adult boxes I felt the need to check. Soon my body had become accustomed to the drug, found new ways to snake into my airways, leave me prostrate on the kitchen floor for an hour.
So Dr. Galen upped the dose. Then I upped the dose. Then I upped it again. I faked seizures to get higher doses from other doctors, found a friend of a friend who sold it alongside harder stuff. I figured I was fine because it was a prescription medicine, and it helped me. I don’t remember much from the couple years after graduating, except that I didn’t have panic attacks. I stopped performing and choreographing, stuck to teaching elementary school kids ballet and contemporary dance. I’d try to take a lower dose if I had to see Julie, but I’d shake so bad and get so anxious I cancelled half the time anyway. All very sob story, classic DARE shit. If I didn’t take enough, I’d feel embarrassed about how much I took.
Then I had a seizure at Ella’s birthday party. It was the first time I’d seen Julie in six months, because we’d gotten in a fight the last time I went over; I didn’t notice Ella roll off the couch, hit her head. She almost needed stitches. When I talked about it in group therapy, Gabriel came up afterwards and joked that she’d have a badass looking eyebrow scar forever, that I’d done her a favor. That’s how we first became friends.
He’s pretty much my only friend now, since I fell out of contact with everyone from college. I’d only seen him one other time since we left rehab, when he was down in LA for a night before he went and saw family in Sydney for three weeks. But we text constantly, talk on the phone a good amount. He’s even talked about moving down to Los Angeles, getting into the art scene down here.
The house was impossible to find, on some private road off a side street off another side street way up in the hills. I stopped to ask a UPS worker if she knew the way after twenty or so minutes of driving in circles, and she literally laughed out loud.
“Good luck, honey,” she said, getting in the truck and driving down the hill. When I finally found the house, it was late late afternoon, the light already starting to dull into a midwinter sunset.
I know I said I grew up pretty wealthy, but this house was next level wealthy garbage. The driveway itself was longer than the street I turned off of, and lined with ornate statuaries and hedges. I don’t know how it wasn’t visible from the highway; it was how I had imagined Wuthering Heights to look when I’d read the book in high school. Ornate Corinthian columns framed the front door, which had those golden leonine knockers I’d only ever read about in detective novels. Before I reached to grab one, Gabriel threw open the door.
“Hello, my dear Charlotte,” he said in an exaggerated Transatlantic accent, a cigarette in his left hand spitting smoke into the foyer. I had to laugh; he was dressed in a crimson satin robe, clearly meant to be floor length but only reaching mid-shin on his lanky frame. I liked that Gabriel was ridiculous, and brash, and inappropriate. My life felt so drained of color, first by the Klonopin and then by its absence; he gave back a tint to my existence, like a drop of food coloring in a glass of water. And if he was my friend, then didn’t that mean I could be brilliant too?
“Gab, you sure you should be smoking inside?” I walked inside, marveling at the obscenely high ceilings and wraparound staircase. The extravagance teetered on the border of being lavish and gauche; I wondered if this is what East-Coasters meant by “New Money.”
“I don’t care, it’s mine for the week. Come on, let me make you a drink. The shit in the liquor cabinet alone is twice my rent.” I dropped my bag and followed him into the living room, where he was already pouring me a glass of a cognac. I felt a twinge of unease that I tried to quash; I was still getting used to drinking while clean. I had to remind myself that I wasn’t an alcoholic, that a drink isn’t bad if it isn’t paired with the medicine cabinet. I accepted the glass and smiled.
“I don’t know how you’re so comfortable here, it’s way too fancy. I feel like I’m breaking things just by looking at them. How do people even live here?” I was perched on the edge of a maroon velvet couch, still finding reasons to feel out of place. Spotted: Rothko number one. A ruby studded ashtray. A set of first edition Charles Dickens novels.
“I’m drunk, that’s how. As I’m sure the owners constantly are. Family money of some sort, friends of a friend’s parents. Come check out the view.” He waved his hand and walked off again, leaving me stumbling in his path. Sometimes I felt like the Klonopin was still leaving my system or had affected me permanently, had left me slower and sluggish. I used to be a firecracker, a presence that filled the room just like Gabriel did, and now I struggled to really feel anywhere at all, like I had to scream to be seen.
Gabriel was leaping up the stairs two at a time. I heard the faint thrum of music playing from behind closed doors and struggled to keep him in sight as he bounded down the hallway. He threw open the doors to the second floor balcony with a flourish, his arms spread in the bodily equivalent to saying “voila!” The sun was setting, streaking clementine down the day’s end. In the distance, the city was beginning to light up in starts and flashes. The Bay Bridge was fully illuminated, its bright white lines undercut by a sea of rush hour brake lights. The silhouettes of the Oakland cranes loomed over the water like enormous crepuscular animals on the verge of waking, the water threw the sun’s fading beams back skyward.
“Crazy gorgeous, right?” Gabriel murmured, leaning on the balustrade beside me, our elbows just touching. I couldn't find words to respond. It was more than that, more than just a beautiful view. It was the kind of magnificent that made me feel deeply lonely, made me excruciatingly aware of my breathing, and my tongue in my mouth, and a strange swelling in my fingers. I was on the edge of feeling dizzy and turned away, tried to speak normally.
“Wow,” I managed.
“You okay, Char?” Gabriel looked at me, put a hand on my back. Putting hands on backs was not a thing we did; it jolted me back to the moment.
“Ah! Yes! I’m good, it’s good, all very nice.” I nervously chuckled and turned around, looking inside the house.
“Show me more of the house, this place is ridiculous!” I walked while I spoke, my insides vibrating. Gabriel returned to his previous energetics, bounding ahead of me.
“Actually, there’s one room you really need to see,” he said. “Give me one second.” He put his hands on my shoulders and stationed me by the staircase before rushing into the room where I had heard music before. He texted me to come in, which I found silly. I prepared to make fun of him for it as I opened the door to a sleek listening room with shelves of records lining the walls. I looked at Gabriel, confused as to why this was the room he wanted to show me most.
Then a record scratched as a new song began to play from the garish replication of an old-fashioned gramophone. I shut my eyes tight as memories of hellish withdrawal flooded my brain; old terrors danced behind my eyelids. I hadn’t listened to any Fleetwood Mac since rehab, since I’d blasted it in the common room and pretended to want to be clean, danced around the room lip-syncing until someone complained. I felt feverish, I wanted a pill. Oh my god, I wanted a pill.
My eyes were still shut when Gabriel kissed me, a bottle of brandy on his breath. I stumbled back and he followed, both hands holding my face with a febrile, wolfish intensity. It didn't make sense, this wasn’t our relationship, we weren’t like this. My stomach felt like a fishing sinker, my throat tight. I opened my eyes and saw his were too, the pupils eating away at the irises. I wrenched my face away and felt a wave of hot nausea rise in my throat.
“Are you high?” I asked.
“That’s not what this is about, Lo.” He rolled his eyes.
“Don’t… do that, Gabriel,” I faltered, and backed out of the room. He called after me in panic. I found the nearest bathroom down the hall and stood against the door, barely able to breathe. The wrecking ball was back. I locked the door.
“Charlotte! Char, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I don’t know what I was thinking, I misread the signs.”
“There were no signs, Gabriel!” I stammered. My hands were trembling. I looked in the mirror to try and calm myself down, tried to breathe in for four counts, hold for four counts, breathe out for four counts, but he was rambling outside.
“I’m sorry, I just thought, think, I don’t know, it makes sense! I know we’re just friends, I don’t want you to think I’ve been after this all along, I don’t know, but Charlotte, open the door! Charlotte. Open the door. Please. Come on, Lo,” He sounded on the verge of tears.
I opened the drawer for some sort of smelling salt, some soap or lotion to use to organize myself. Nothing. I opened the drawer on the right, which just had three boxes of those OB tampons in three different absorbencies. Underneath the sink, I found a set of essential oils. I struggled to open the first one I could get out of the box, and that’s when I saw them.
Pills. So many pills. I forced myself to look away but looked back immediately, scanning the labels. Trazadone, Ambien, Vicodin, Ondansetron, Adderall—there it was. Ativan. Not perfect, but something. I dropped the bottle on the floor, lemon-scented oil sinking into the rug on the tile floor. Why do rich people have so many pills? I didn’t care.
I struggled with the child lock, my hands still wild. Gabriel was still talking. Maybe crying. I wasn’t listening. I didn’t care. I poured a few into my hand. Turned on the sink and hit my teeth on the faucet trying to get water to swallow.
Even the action felt like worship, even seeing them made me think; it’s all worth it. It’s worth it. And they’ll always be here for me, pills, pills pills. Here they were, they knew I needed them, I was slipping into their soft gray bed of forgetting and unknowing, I was so happy without even trying to be, for the first time in so long. I wondered what Julie was doing, I touched my eyebrow where Ella had her scar. Oh my god, I felt okay, more than okay, I felt like I could rest again, no longer had to be a reacher grasper breather. I was full again. I was the only who knew how to feel full. I was the only one who knew what it was to be so full that the only thing left to do is die. The only thing left to do was die.
I didn’t care. I opened the door.
Callie Zucker is an emerging writer currently pursuing a Creative Writing major at Colorado College. She splits her time between Colorado and California. Her work can be seen in december magazine, Barnhouse Journal, Lockjaw magazine and others. You can also find her at @eggshellfriend on Twitter or @zuckercalathea on Instagram.