I always thought how idiotic that description would sound: the body is that of a well-nourished, middle-aged Caucasian male, the serous surfaces smooth and glistening with focal petechial hemorrhages. I am not rushing to throw myself out of the window or anything like that. I’ve just gotten on medication. Therefore, even the great memorial garden seems to me devalued by literal inflation. Any story contains only a limited volume of dead air: dark figure on the snow, motionless officer in the ravine, Sylvia by the gas stove fixing blueberry pancakes for her children, and even Ann with her daughter on the homey New England street—white garage door tightly shut in the background (actual picture in The New Yorker)—does not evoke real, painful interest in my imagination anymore.
Despite my sound deliberations, my shrink tells me that even he can’t get to me through the web of my twisted emotions. In fact, I think the scoundrel (Upper West Side office, house in the Hamptons, Columbia fellowship) might be right. The acceptance of the fact that I have clinical symptoms touches me like a soothing wave of self-pity. OK, I’m not worse than, say, XYZ. Or K! He comes here too. It’s really not incidental that in our crowd everybody screwed, more or less, everyone. Now half of them come to the same place for an indulgence. Actually, this is rather a self-indulgence since the patient does all the talking while the doctor is listening with this indifferent and wise expression. I bet he is speculating who is going to make the next World Series, while from time to time dropping an obligatory sentence, cryptically hinting at the patient’s pathological relationship with his mother while still in utero.
Sometime in the future, everyone will attend each other’s wake, bringing along tall, bored, well-groomed sons and grandsons; daughters, too, already looking for a their second half-life fix, and granddaughters with their black-panty-hosed legs, high heels, and tight funeral dresses—the ones JAPs usually wear for the Yom Kippur service, when cold, rusty foliage covers the vastness of suburban parking lots. Now they are all ready to enter their own recycling screwing network.
And then he says, “You just take a pill and dissolve it in a bottle of your favorite beverage and drink it for a couple of days from the same bottle.”
The feeling I experienced getting the medicine from our 24-hour CVS pharmacy faintly reminded me of the embarrassment I used to feel in my youth while buying condoms in our Moscow neighborhood pharmacy by the “May Day” subway station.
At home I have the first breathtaking gulp of Diet Coke. Sedimented, ominous white powder lies dormant at the bottom of the bottle. Two halves of the gelatin shell are suspended like pieces of an oil tanker right before the beginning of a new boring and convoluted environmental campaign.
I listen to my heart, and, being an advanced professional, I scrutinize myself gradually, part by part. One of the complaints I heard was decrease of libido. A while ago, that probably wouldn’t have hurt—just to carry me through the season, so to speak, and keep myself out of the line of fire after a third drink.
I wake up at night and, in a twilight phase, reach for my command control center with my right hand. It’s OK, resilient like a policeman’s rubber club. This feast of thrust. The usual cheerleading team in its sexy outfits shows up ready to begin its usual routine, but realizing that this is just a test, quickly fades away and retreats to its respective quarters. Some of them wane only to reappear the next day in person, though behaving much less predictably.
The next morning, the stuff tastes even better, and feeling some sort of euphoria, I am ready to gulp it down, though decide to stay in control, as I am supposed to according to the book. The book lies on my night table, and its cover is subconsciously designed for the cover of Invitation to a Beheading. It’s too bad that the author is dead, or whatever that means in his particular case. He would show you all: “the drug generation;” political correctness; joint custody; visitation rights; taxpayers frightened to look at thy neighbor’s wife, who never has time anyway, rushing to keep up with “the schedule;” and the vibrator, best little friend is in the drawer!
There is no doubt that Diet Coke is doing at least part of what it is supposed to be doing—meaning, making me less unhappy. “When do I stop?” I ask him. “I’ll feel it myself? Why should I always worry about something before that something really happens? I torture myself? It’s hard for me to live with myself?” But I heard that from women hundreds of times. “What is my main problem? I have to formulate myself (paying him of course), plus take medication?”
The real problem is the time—the time oozing between the fingers, and the closer they are, the faster it goes. It’s like looking for a lighter in the dark. In order to better explain myself, I use my usual trick and read him a poem called “Lighter.”
This time she comes in the morning:
Lighter colors, glasses, scarf,
Touching me with a veil of air around her,
Soft bird, like a soul,
I know her, although
I’ve never seen her before.
She comes every time when I feel this,
But I don’t even know
What she would look like next time.
I’m not even sure if it matters,
Since she will leave eventually
And may not come anymore.
I pull out a cigarette
And my fingers run around in a futile search.
She left and took the lighter.
The darkness stands still.
I hold an unlit cigarette in my mouth,
Nobody can see me
As I try to adjust my eyes
To being alone again.
When I finish reading, I put down the phone and walk to the window and raise a bottle of Diet Coke. I shake it and watch small particles slowly descend to the bottom through the dense, dark, cool solution. They are like the snowflakes in winter sunset light in the backyard. There is slow, early snowfall, still unsure of itself. Its intermittent rhythm somehow brings a sound. The telephone. That’s him, calling me to cancel my appointment next week. He’s going skiing to Aspen. He promises to call the pharmacy and order a refill for me before he goes.
For some reason, this very moment I find the lighter and pull out a cigarette from the white and red box with black letters of warning on its side.