The Night I (almost) Escaped Rehab
Listen to Editor in Chief Gabriel Nathan read this story:
Over a bland sandwich in a dirty diner, she asks me what I did last New Year’s Eve—an innocuous, getting-to-know-you date question. I am unsure, though, if she’s the proper audience with whom to share this story. Looking her in the eyes and admitting that I was a very different person will open the door to questions which might have made me vulnerable to judgment or her leaving the diner altogether. This new, potentially good thing can turn drier than this poorly-executed meal in front of me. I hesitate and casually offer, “I saw some show,” which isn’t a lie and, while the conversation advances, I think of the fuller story I am too afraid to tell:
That little voice screams at me and I’m awake.
My legs are barely on the bed.
My body is strewn diagonally across what smells like coarse hospital sheets.
They must have had to carry me here.
My mouth is a stale, empty beer can and my lungs are an ashtray.
I rub some of the arthritis out of my knuckles while prying the crust off my swollen eyes. The world I tried to escape roars back into existence.
I’m in a cubicle made of curtains wearing hospital scrubs and those little booties. I hear someone a few rows down who definitely needs to see someone about their sleep apnea. There’s a small tote bag on a chair that holds my housecoat and a pack of cigarettes.
That little voice in my head states its usual disdain for the face that meets its gaze in the mirror. The eyes are hidden in black, purple and green that comes with slamming your head in car doors to temporarily stop that little voice. The eyes don’t feel like my own anymore. The voice hasn’t ever felt like my own.
The voice has been the unwelcome consultant on all my interactions since grade school; the eternal pessimist camped out between my ears, hell-bent on ending my life. The voice screams that I’m worthless. Awkward. Ugly. Stupid. It says that I’m a terrible friend, an awful son, a worse lover. That’s why I’ll never be what she needed, what my folks wanted, or who I dreamed of being. That’s why kids picked on me in school or why I never really quite fit as an adult. The voice says I don’t belong because I’m worthless. I have no reason to stay alive.
The worst part is… the voice is sometimes right.
Lately, it’s been usually.
These days, I sit at home. I cry. I cut myself. I drink. I cut. When I’m out, I clench and try to hold it together till I can go home and lose myself in the pain.
I don’t hold it together most times. A loser’s life.
I used to care about things, didn’t I?
In the unlocked (for my safety) hospital bathroom, I swing my fist to my eye as hard as I can and for a second everything is softer and sways suspended in the fuzz of a concussion and the alcohol. I come back to reality and repeat this uppercut motion until I come to, this time on the floor. I cry. I sob. I wail. I absolutely can’t do this. I want to go home. Not my home. Not any home or place I’ve ever been. I want to go to the place I go when I black out. I want to be nothing. I don’t just want to die; I just want to have never existed.
I go back to my room and grab my housecoat. I ask the nurse when I can go home. She says it’s four in the morning. There’s something on the television but I haven’t been able to put my attention to anything in months. The tiniest bit of content gives me a flashback and sends my skin crawling. Bombarding me with blatant exploitation, commercials full of products I’ll never afford and actors that are much better looking than me. Everything reminds me of my worthlessness. The voice screams. I push my finger in to my eye and feel the pulsating pattern of its print against my retina. The voice used to relish the pain. It used to subside; now it seems it is never satiated.
I stare out the window with my remaining vision. There’s a perfect, new blanket of white powder stuck to the poplars and forest floor. I don’t remember anything. My heartbeat feels as though it might crack my skull like a walnut and it’s only in between the beats that I wonder what the date is. There’s much more snow than I remember. I wonder what happened?
“How long have I been here?”
“We just got you to sleep.”
The nurse and I are fluent in the same dialect of passive-aggressiveness. Answering my questions with statements only on the periphery of the subject. Delightful.
Her support staff comes in a door I hadn’t yet discovered on the far side of the nurse’s station. They chat. I sustain my gaze on the snow. They move from behind the nurse’s station to the small room across the hall.
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The fuzzy numbness that I find while dissociating is interrupted by the cold coming from the door.
Outside, I am your normal mental patient slumped in the corner with my housecoat and slippers. Inside, I am a general, rallying his platoons for battle.
I create a new, 4-step plan:
1. Get out of here
2. Get to town.
3. Get loaded.
4. Finally end this.
I find the door unlocked and walk through to the stillness of a winter night. I walk towards the highway through the fresh blanket of snow. As I’m leaving the facility, I’m flashed with headlights and I duck behind some signage at the road. I possess the strength and agility of a slightly-sedated ninja. The car turns right so I sprint left.
The air is ice in my lungs. The arteries in my temples are rushing rivers. My housecoat is a cape flying behind me in the wind and I am just the anti-hero this city has been looking for. I slow my pace to a gallop. The stars are out in the thousands. The woods seem still and timid, as though if there were any wolves, they’d come out wearing derby hats and offering tea. Running on the road is arduous.
“The further you get, the better,” it says.
The voice says all kinds of things to coax such work from its slave. It says that I just need some distance under my feet and a good buzz, that’s why it didn’t work this time. That’s why I woke up in rehab and not the morgue. Just need more blunt force, more pills, more black. The voice dangles carrots in front of this tired ass.
The voice speaks of a distillery down the highway. Finest rye whiskey in the world, some say. Aged in oak since you were just a twinkle in your dad’s eye. So strong, it could take the rust off your fender. So pure, it could take the faith out of your priest. A Canadian tradition. Same as hockey or colonization. There’s warehouses full of that strong, sterile nectar. Barrels and barrels, as high as the eye can see. No one would be the wiser if one were to be missing a few gallons. More likely, I’d just pull a whole barrel aside and dive right in. Slit my wrists in a tepid whiskey bath. Pickled and dead inside a bucket of swish. A Canadian Tradition.
The officious tone of an RCMP officer cuts through fantasy and I’m placed back in my frozen shoes on the icy highway. The red and blue of the patrol cruisers lights completely obliterate the serene ambiance.
“Skylar? Skylar Bouchard?” he asks.
I continue to jog diligently to the daydream distillery, to my daydream departure from this life, and the cop pulls alongside.
“Get in the car. It’s -25c. You must be freezing.”
I don’t feel the cold. I don’t feel anything. Numb in every facet.
“I don’t wanna go back” I croak. The little voice speaks through me in a childish plea. I start to sprint. The housecoat crusader flying off into the night.
“You can hop in right now and I’ll drive you back to rehab, or you can spend the night in jail and then I’ll drive you back to rehab?” his voice inflects as if I have an option.
I come to a sliding halt. I look at my frozen feet and then up at the stars. I let out a sigh from so deep it is as if I hadn’t stopped running in years. I watch my breath freeze and slowly float away. Tears flow and freeze on my cheeks.
The officer squeezes the button on his shoulder-mounted radio and states, “I’ve got him.”
The Mounties got their man. Another Canadian tradition.
“Can I warm up your coffee?”
The server brings me back to the present and I nod with my eyes as to not interrupt.
That little voice, smaller now than ever, says I don’t have the guts. It still wants me to bleed. It suggests keeping my cards close to my chest. That the strong, silent type gets the girl.
In this past year, I’ve been so perplexed by the counter-intuitive realization that comes with completely falling apart and having to put yourself back together.
There is no real strength without vulnerability.
Doubling down on poor date etiquette, I take a bite and interrupt her with a full mouth.
“Wait, do you actually want to know where I was last year?”