Authors: Laurie Gray
So maybe I seemed more distracted than usual. Maybe I was fixating just a little about where to get some more alcohol because that bottle I brought with me this morning was disappearing too fast, and I couldn't keep raiding my parents' liquor cabinet or I'd get caught. But it's not like I NEEDED the alcohol, not really. I
wasn't addicted or anything. It was just for security purposes. I'd feel better knowing it was there. Just in case.
Just in case what?
“Yo, Peter Pan!” Shanika snapped her fingers at me. “What is up with you today?”
“Nothing. I'm fine.”
“Why don't I believe you?”
“I give up.” I threw my hands up in the air for dramatic effect. “Why don't you believe me?”
“Are you kidding?” She thumped one of the hand drums she was holding. “Pay attention or I'll stop beating this drum and come beat your sorry little butt. You're making me look bad.”
I pushed everything out of my head except Peter Pan and let myself be totally present in Neverland.
After rehearsal, instead of calling Dad right away to come pick me up, I walked out with Shanika. “I'm really sorry I was so out of it today.”
“We all have good days and bad days. It's just the first time I ever saw you have a bad day on stage, you know?” Shanika sat down on a bench in the hallway to change from shoes to flip-flops for taekwondo. “But you came around.” She laughed. “And I didn't even have to beat your butt!”
“I will if I have to, and you better know it!” Shanika raised her eyebrows at me and threw in a little head bobbing for effect.
I realized there was no way I was going to work up the courage to ask her to buy alcohol for me. Not today, anyway. “Maybe I ought to follow you to taekwondo just so I can learn a few tricks to defend myself.”
“You can if you want. I'll be teaching a white belt class, so you could try it out of you're interested.”
“Do you really think right in the middle of the spring musical is a good time for me to take up a new hobby?” I asked.
Shanika laughed. “Up to you, Sandy. Taekwondo relaxes me. At the same time it keeps me feeling strong and focused.” She pulled out her car keys and stood up. “Are you going anywhere spring break?”
I shook my head and followed her out of the building.
“You could do the rank-advancement camp that week and go right from white belt to yellow belt just like that.” She snapped her fingers. She talked some more about the different belts and what they mean. When we got to her car, she asked, “So are you going with me, or what?”
I wanted to. Actually, I just wanted to stand there in the parking lot talking to Shanika forever, but she had to go. And I wasn't sure I could keep it together long enough to go with her that evening. I really wanted to go home, have a drink, and think this all through.
“Not tonight,” I said. “But I'll think about it. Especially the spring break thing.”
“Up to you,” Shanika said again as she climbed in the driver's side. She closed the door, rolled down the window and waved. “See you tomorrow!” she called as she drove away.
I called Dad to come get me as I walked back up to the building. Then I went into the restroom, checked under all the stall doors and when I was absolutely certain there was no one else around, I pulled out the vodka I had left in my water bottle. I stood in front of the mirror and tried to drink it down smoothly like water. I got it down, okay, but I couldn't keep my eyes from watering.
I need more practice. Or maybe I'll have to cry out the rest of these tears. Not here, though. Not now.
I splashed cold water in my face and stood over the sink until the water stopped dripping. Then I looked at myself in the mirror. Only it wasn't me that I saw staring back with empty eyes. It was some walking zombie. I reached for a paper towel.
I look in the mirror.
Don't like what I see.
I don't want to face this reflection of me.
The frustration is there. All the loneliness, too.
I can't hide it from me.
Can I hide it from you?
Dad would be outside any minute. What would he see? What would I say? I pulled a stick of spearmint gum from my backpack and chewed it slowly as I walked out of the building.
“Feeling better?” Dad asked when I slid into the car.
I nodded. “I'm just tired.”
“Are you hungry?”
I shook my head. “Not very. I just want to take a hot shower and crash.”
“Probably not a bad idea,” said Dad. “School okay today?”
“Rehearsal go okay?”
I nodded again.
“Let's just get you home.”
When we got home, Mom made sure I didn't have a fever (I didn't), and then fed me some white rice and ginger ale before sending me up to shower and go to bed.
I lay awake until after I heard my parents go to bed. I picked up my phone. No texts from Troy or Cassie. I thought about texting
them. I could call a Meeting of the Minds. Get this whole Aaron thing cleared up once and for all. But I couldn't quite shake Cassie's words.
He didn't assault you!
She had a point. Where were my bruises? It all happened so fast.
No blood, no foul. Get over it.
Even if Cassie wouldn't believe me, I could still tell Troy. He hated Aaron. He'd believe me. I could tell Troy.
But not tonight. Maybe in the morning . . . on the way to schoolâ¦if Cassie isn't there. Or maybe not. Maybe if I take a drink first, for courage.
I got up and pulled out the rum-filled water bottle. I opened the cap and tried to take a drink the way you would from a real water bottle. I felt my body jerk as I swallowed and kept my mouth shut tight to make sure the rum stayed down. When I finally breathed in, my nostrils were full of pungent, sweet fumes. I took one more swallow. I did much better on the second one.
That's enough. You have to pace yourself.
It wasn't until I lay back down in my bed that the tears filled my eyes. They rolled down the sides of my cheeks toward the middle of my ears, but then skirted down around my earlobes and onto my neck before dropping onto my pillow. My nose filled completely up until I had to open my mouth to breathe. I opened my mouth reluctantly, uncertain what sound might escape.
It was the roar of the oceanânot like when you're standing right there as the waves crash on the beach, but like when you're somewhere far away and put a conch shell to your ear. I could cry all night long, but my tears would never drain the ocean dry. High tide. Low tide. High tide. The tears would come and go. Ebb and flow. No matter how hard I cried, they would never really be gone.
Diseases desperate grown
By desperate appliance are relieved,
Or not at all.
, Act IV, Scene iii, Lines 9-11
to steal anything. When I walked into the grocery store the next Saturday, I just wanted to see how much a bottle of vodka would cost. I needed to know so when I worked up the courage to ask someone to buy it for me, I'd know what to expect. There was no one watching. I reached out and picked it up. I walked away from the liquor aisle in search of a less conspicuous place to inspect the bottle more closely. But then I was afraid someone would see me carrying the bottle, so I slipped it into my backpack.
I really was going to put it back. I walked around the store for several minutes looking for an opportunity, but it was just too risky. I went to the candy aisle and selected a multi-pack of gum. I held my breath as I paid for the gum and felt a surge of adrenaline when I walked out of the store. I just kept walking, never looking back. It was way too easy. So I tried another grocery store several
days later. Then another. I didn't like taking the bottles without paying for them. I wanted to pay for them so it wouldn't be stealing, but that wasn't an option. At least not until I found someone I could trust to buy a bottle for me.
I always bought something while I was in the store. In fact, I started buying Nyquil because it had quite a bit of alcohol in it. But it was loaded with other stuff, too, so I wasn't sure how much I could drink without accidently overdosing on it. Vodka felt so much safer and more effective.
I totally avoided Cassie and Aaron. Aside from Troy and Shanika, nobody at school seemed to notice anything. My parents knew something was up, though. Mom checked my temperature daily, and Dad kept asking me if I was hungry. Finally, the week before spring break they sat me down in the living room and asked me what was going on.
“We're really worried about you, Sandy,” Mom said. “You just haven't been yourself since you had that bout with the flu two weeks ago.”
I felt my throat tighten as panic shot from my stomach out through my fingers and down to my toes. I shrugged my shoulders and swallowed hard. “I'm just feeling tired, that's all.”
“But you go to bed early every night,” Dad said. “And you're sleeping in later, too.”
“And you still don't seem to have your appetite back,” Mom said. “I keep thinking you might have mono, but you haven't had a fever at all.”
Dad looked at me earnestly. “What do you think it is that's making you so tired all the time?”
“I don't know.” I barely whispered the lie.
Mom and Dad looked at each other. Dad shook his head; then Mom came and sat beside me on the sofa. She kissed my forehead. “Still no fever,” she reported. “But there's something going on in there.”
Dad nodded. “Is there something that's upsetting you? We haven't seen much of Troy or Cassie the last few weeks. Did something happen?”
I shook my head and dodged the question. “I've just been really busy with the musical, and they're not really into that.” Part of me wanted to tell them, but I didn't know where to start. What would they do? It's not like their knowing would change anything. Not really. Suddenly I had an inspiration. “I've been thinking about taking up taekwondo. Shanika, the one who plays Tiger Lily, is a black belt, and she said there's a camp over spring break I could go to.”
Mom and Dad both let out a sigh of relief. “I think that's a great idea!” Dad exclaimed.
Mom hesitated. “I think maybe we better have the doctor take a look, just to make sure you're okay first.”
“Ah, Mom,” I whined. “I'm okay. I don't need to see a doctor.”
“Maybe,” Mom replied. “But I've already scheduled an appointment for you tomorrow morning.”
I stared at her in disbelief. “You already made an appointment?” I felt a sudden flash of angry fear and bit my lower lip. “So when were you planning on telling me?”
“Right now,” Dad said. “That's why we're having this discussion.”
Mom nodded. “I've cleared my morning calendar so I can take you. The appointment's at 7:30, so you shouldn't miss much school.” My parents always liked to get the first appointment of the day before anybody had a chance to get behind.
“What doctor?” I asked, wondering whether it would be the pediatrician that I hadn't seen since I was ten or the family doctor I'd never seen at all. I really hadn't been to the doctor for anything except what the school required, and I did all of that at the clinics.
“Dr. Parks,” Mom said. “I think it's time for you to start going to our family doctor.”
“It's much easier to get an appointment there than at the pediatrician's office,” Dad added. “Maybe he can rule out mono and give you a clean bill of health to start this taekwondo class you're interested in.”
I went up to my room and texted Troy. “I don't need a ride to school 2mRO.”
He texted me back. “K.”
I waited for him to ask me why not, but he didn't. My phone was silent. Finally, I texted him again. “I have a Dr. appt.”
I thought about it. What was I supposed to say? “Yeah, I'll tell you later.”
The next morning Mom and I arrived at Dr. Parks' office a few minutes before the doors opened. When we walked into the abandoned waiting room, I went straight for a chair in the far corner. Mom checked in with the receptionist and filled out all of the paperwork. I had stuffed a small water bottle filled with vodka into the very bottom of the side pocket of my back pack, but I didn't dare pull it out while I was with Mom.
I dreaded seeing the doctor. I'd had only one gulp of vodka and a dose of Nyquil to steady my nerves. I brought the Nyquil with me, too, but I wasn't supposed to have it at school. There wasn't much in it, though, so I figured I could go to the bathroom, down
the rest of the bottle and throw it in the trash. I became increasingly fidgety as the waiting room filled with patients. I fiddled with a box of crÃ¨me-de-menthe flavored Altoids I bought at the grocery store last night before popping two in my mouth at the same time.
I was still sucking on the Altoids when the doctor started feeling around on my lymph nodes and wanted to take a look at my throat. Just as Mom said, “Spit those things out,” I swallowed, and down they went.
“They're gone,” I said, opening my mouth wide and letting the doctor push down my tongue with a wooden tongue depressor. Then he put on a glove and grabbed my tongue, twisting it up and down and all around while I did my best to suppress the glugging and gurgling noises. He had me lay down and poked around at my liver and spleen. Then he sent me out to empty my bladder in a specimen cup.
When I returned he was sitting on his little rolling stool, swiveling gently back and forth as Mom recounted my symptoms over the past few weeks. I could feel him staring at me. “I don't think it's mono,” he said, “but we'll run some tests and see what we come up with. I'd like to get a blood sample, too.” He turned to Mom. “You can wait here while I walk Sandy down to the phlebotomist.” Then he turned to me. “Come with me, Sandy.”