It’s my boyfriend, standing in the doorway of my studio and speaking softly. “Jennifer?”
“What?” I say. I had left the studio door open. He’s allowed to talk to me if I leave the door open. If I close the door it’s understood that I’m in the ‘Red Zone’ and he has to leave me alone unless the house is on fire. ‘Red Zone’ is supposed to mean that I’m deep in a groove with my painting and shouldn’t be disturbed. In reality it means I don’t want him bothering me. Today I forgot to close the door.
“Jennifer?” he says again, his voice still soft.
“What?” I say, looking up from my magazine.
“Well, I think there’s something you ought to see.” His voice stays soft, but his tone rises in urgency. It sounds panicky, fearful.
“What is it?” I ask.
“You better come downstairs.”
I follow him downstairs to the kitchen. He walks around to the far side of the breakfast bar and points at the counter. “See?” he asks.
There on the counter is a tiny white pill. It’s one of the many pills I take every morning. There are the supplemental vitamins and minerals, and there is the medication for my glaucoma. There’s the blood thinner, the cholesterol lower-er, and the one to stave off my IBS. And that’s just the starting line-up. The really heavy hitters don’t even make sense. First, I’m not epileptic, but the anticonvulsant levels out the swings of my bipolar fairly well. Second, I’ve not been diagnosed psychotic, but it’s an antipsychotic that picks up the slack where the anticonvulsant leaves off.
And there, on the counter, is the latter, the one that kept me out of the hospital last winter. That bad johnny is $125 a month, but last winter the cost wasn’t the problem. The problem was that I really didn’t care if I took it or not. When the shrink said, “But it will make you feel better, Jennifer. Don’t you want to feel better?” my response was sullen silence. Ask a manic depressive who’s scraping the bottom of the ‘will to live’ barrel if they want to feel better and that’s what you get. A non-answer from someone who doesn’t give a damn about feeling better.
You’d think such a life changing pill would be bigger. It’s even smaller than the flea pill we give Mr. Buckles. It’s tiny. So tiny that an extra one could easily slide out of the bottle when I tipped out my dose, so tiny that it could slip right out of my hand when I popped a fistful of meds into my mouth. Either way, the pill had landed on the kitchen counter this morning.
So which was it? Was it a wayward extra that I didn’t need to take? Or was it the one I should have taken? If I took this pill and I’d already taken one, I’d be doubling up for the day. If I didn’t take this pill and I hadn’t had one already, I’d miss a day. There was a 50/50 chance that I’d guess correctly, and my action based on that guess would have serious ramifications. How I chose to proceed would determine on whom disaster would fall. It would be me, or him.
If I took the pill twice, it would be hell for me. The known results of doubling up on this particular drug were well known. There had been medical studies done, and there were warnings on the package. I would experience dizziness, uncontrollable shaking in my extremities, blood in my stool, and an urgent need to pass said bloody stool.
In contrast, if I didn’t take a pill at all, it would be hell for my boyfriend. I would become ‘irritable’. Last time I missed a pill was on Valentine’s Day. I wanted to serve fresh grapefruit for brunch, but grapefruit is out of season in February, so it was impossible to peel. I couldn’t get a grip on it, and the tiny shards of rind got all up under my fingernails. It hurt. It made me angry. My boyfriend walked into the kitchen whistling ‘happy days are here again’, so I hurled the grapefruit at his head. It grazed his shoulder, bounced up, and smashed against the wall above the bay window. I had to pay the maid an extra twenty to climb up on the table and clean up the pulp and juice that had splattered on the glass.
So, my choices were to either inflict bodily harm on myself or to traumatize someone I cared about. It was a tough call. I stared at the pill and pushed it around the counter with my finger. I picked up the bottle and looked into it. I thought about sitting on the toilet all day, and then, as I looked into the eyes of my anxiety ridden boyfriend, I considered the certain end of our relationship. I knew what I needed to do. I picked up the pill, lifted my hand, and