Don’t Let Me Drown

I finally found the exit. Through a barred door with creaky hinges toward the back of my mind, where I mostly don’t go because the cobwebs of unpleasant memories are thick.

The spiders are long dead, of course. Only their gray, dried carcasses remain, hanging by threads or wound tightly in ancient silk strings strung across dark corridors and pressed into hard-to-reach corners. The spindled legs fold into hollow bodies and beady eyes, once shining with sabotage, are dull now. Those corpses still cast wide shadows, though, and they aren’t any less frightening than before.

It started with the drugs. I’d had them a long time, a potential prescription treasure chest with my name on it, sitting forgotten in my medicine cabinet. But really, before that, I suppose it started with the feeling that I was drowning on dry land in a stream of my own salty tears, because I was raped. I was drunk, he was drunk, I don’t really remember a whole lot and most people made it clear that I was asking for it. Then, the panic set in.

There is a pain associated with being in a state of panic which might be described as your chest falling into itself. Your lungs deflate and your heart pumps too fast. Hydrocodone made the panic disappear and, at first, grounded me. The pain faded to dull thumping; just slow heart beats casting ripples in my bloodstream. My thoughts were clouded, but things made more sense that way. Which makes no sense, of course.

I started with one dose, then worked my way to two at a time. If sleep refused to show mercy on me, or I woke in a fit of shaky breaths, I’d pop a few pills and roll away from life. It didn’t take long before that bottle, the one I was given for a sprained ankle, made no noise when I shook it.

The next bottle was easy enough to procure. The prescription for that second bottle came with a caveat, though, and I didn’t particularly want to see the doctor to have him “examine my injury.” Every single trip into the ether was a tick of the clock and I was all too aware of the countdown. So I stretched them.

Some mornings I woke with energy. Some days I wanted to wallow and feel something other than numbness, even if what I felt was excruciating shame. I turned a thirty day prescription into sixty.

Somewhere around the fifty-second day, I was hoarding them. I’d try to swallow the pills dry. If it went down easy, I’d gag myself to see if I could get it back up, deciding at the very last second that I could go without today. If it stuck to my dry throat, I’d fish it out with my fingers and hold the slimy thing in my hand, shaking.

A friend who owned a coffee shop on the outskirts of town had an employee, Will, who supplied us with weed sometimes. I’d only spoken to him once and didn’t know if he dealt narcotics to strangers.

The coffee was good, but the drive wasn’t worth the coffee, so I didn’t visit as much as I should have. On a pretty, sunny day I made the drive, and sat outside in my sweltering car until I saw him scurry through the shop door. A little bell jingled behind him and a cluster of girls giggled as they passed by him on the sidewalk. I jumped out and followed him down the block and around the corner. He did recognize me, but couldn’t remember my name, and I told him we’d keep it that way. He laughed, but agreed, and the next night I met him downtown. I slid him the cash while we stood under a yellow street light, tucked between two brick buildings. He handed me a plastic baggy rolled and folded over on itself. I forced a smile, said thank you and started toward my car.

His voice followed me. “That should last you a few weeks. Month maybe. You call me when you need more?”

I was looking at him over my shoulder and nodded, but never stopped walking. Images of being kidnapped by the drug dealer were flitting through my paranoid brain.

“That will require my phone number,” he said. The words came so naturally to him, like he had a delightful grasp on reality and had no idea what kind of pain I felt and what punishment I sought.

I squeezed the baggy in my sweaty palm and turned to face him. He had both hands shoved in his pockets and flashed a gorgeous smile at me. My face wandered over his, and over his body. I’d not really looked at him before. In that moment, I didn’t have the capacity to appreciate. I couldn’t even lust, now matter how hard I tried.

“Here,” he pulled out his phone and the screen lit up and threw shadows across his face. “Give me your number, and I can text you.”

“No,” I said.

“I’ll get your number eventually. You might as well give it to me, now.”

I did, begrudgingly. I told him my name was Lotte, and nothing more. He smiled and waved before turning and walking in the opposite direction.

Many hours later, with narcotics rolling through me like a snaking, roiling river cut into the side of a mountain, my phone buzzed beside me. “Lotte, or should I say Charlotte? It’s Will. You’re officially in my contacts list.”

I blinked at the little black letters against the lighted screen. “How do you know my name is Charlotte?” I asked. My buzz was fading into the background. The flood waters were rising again.

I stared at the phone for several minutes, waiting for his reply. When it didn’t come I chucked the phone across the bed and stretched out again so that my arms and legs each occupied a corner of the sunken mattress. In a haze on my bed I felt my body’s internal processes slow and the numbness take over in a delicious wave of relief. Like letting out an oxygen-depleted breath. I wouldn’t drown just yet.

#

The next morning I found a text message waiting, blinking happily on the screen.

“I stalked you on Facebook.” Will had sent the message in the middle of the night.

I fumbled with the touchscreen keyboard a few times, trying a few replies that I thought were cute or kitschy. I wiped them all away, though, and let all the energy seep out of my body as the drugs swept me away again and again.

I had all but forgotten Will and his stalking tendencies. But he messaged me again, a few days later.

“How are you?” He asked.

I’d taken an extra half dose and could barely see straight. My heart had been ripping at the seams and my lungs weren’t holding any air, so I took the leap from the ledge and I felt really fucking good. “I’m floating,” I said.

His response was almost instantaneous. “I wish I could give you a hug right now.”

“You should stay far away,” I said, almost without thinking about it.

“I think I refuse to do that.”

The tips of my fingers tingled with the potential energy of whatever words might fall out of them, but I distinguished the light on the screen instead and sailed for the rest of the afternoon.

#

I’d emptied the clear baggy into the goldenrod bottle because it made me feel less like an addict. I knew better, but it was a psychological response to the guilt I felt when I was sober. The baggy-turned-bottle that should have lasted a month lasted two weeks.

“I’m out. Can you meet me?” I sent the message after taking the last three pills in my bottle, somewhere in between night and morning.

“That should have lasted a month.”

“Well it didn’t. Can you meet or not?”

“Of course. I desperately want to see you again,” he said.

I blinked and felt the sting of hotness in my dry, bloodshot eyes. I could feel the panic rising inside me like raging river flood waters. I wanted to talk. I wanted him to keep talking to me. “What’s on your mind?” I said.

“I’m thinking about you. And, I’m trying not to sulk. Every idea in my head has a cloud over it. Makes me wanna puke. Or just disappear. You’re not the only one with bad days.”

Whatever I expected, that wasn’t it.

“I can relate. I need a fix. And I need to be fixed. I always feel like I’m going to drown.”

“There isn’t anything to fix,” he said.

“I honestly thought about swallowing an entire bottle of sleeping pills, or whatever else I could get my hands on and just fade away. That doesn’t happen very often, but those thoughts float by every once in a while.”

“I knew you’d understand, and it makes me feel a tad bit better. Slightly less alone. Those thoughts exist for me, too. I don’t think a person can be honest with themselves and the world if they can’t admit those fantasies exist,” he said.

“We’re pretty fucked up.”

“You’re telling me. They’d lock me up if they knew what was going on in my head. Luckily it’s too scary for anyone to look.”

I was crying. I wanted to look.

“I want to look,” I said.

“I want you to look.”

“Can you come here?” I asked.

“I’m already there.”

He did come. The conversation floated from drugs to pain to love and back again. Then I told him about my rape and instead of saying anything, he just held me against his body until I was wrapped in his warmth. He sang to me. And told me it wasn’t my fault and kept my head above the water.

He breathed life into me. Me, painstakingly crushed under the weight of the universe, and him, aware of our precarious, temporary state of being. That flowed from him like warm rays of sun, touched my skin and made me gorgeous.

#

We talked every single day. When I didn’t see him, I got little messages from him. When I did see him it was like I had been reborn.

I continued to take the pills. I almost didn’t have a choice. They were the batteries in my back making me run and keeping me upright. I found the more I let him see me bleed, the more our conversations became my drug, though. His words hypnotized me, and I could tell that I excited him, too.

Talk about a drug. He was unlike any white pill I could have choked down.

My heart ached when I wasn’t near him, or when the silence stretched on a little too long. Those were the times I contemplated throwing myself off a bridge, or washing down a handful of narcotics with a stiff drink. But then the little blue light on my phone would blink or I’d hear a soft knock on my door at 3 a.m. Then I’d fall into him instead of the void.

Then, one day he refused to sell me anything else and I told him it wasn’t his job to play God.

“This isn’t God. This is concern. This is me caring about you,” he said.

“If you cared about me, you’d stop pretending like I’m not broken. Or like you can make me all better.”

“I’m here for you. I’m so here. Please-,”

“Help me! Can’t you see I need this? Don’t let me drown, Will!”

It was storming again. The skies were dotted with dark gray inkblots. I was high and hearing voices in the thunder. I think I told him to go to hell. I think I started to flail and struggle when he tried to wrap his arms around me. I think I kicked him and punched his shoulder when he was trying to calm me. I think I blacked out, because I only really clearly remember waking up in complete darkness, completely alone.

For hours my entire body shook so hard I wondered if my muscles would fall away from my bones. Even then, shaking and puking, I made my way down to the street. I didn’t know where I’d go, or who I’d ask, but somehow I would find relief.

I didn’t have to go far. The 7-Eleven on the corner was teeming with the sketchy type. I messaged Will as I crossed Broadway and walked toward the neon beacon. It was late and people of the night buzzed around the convenience store like moths around a flame. “I found what I was looking for. Thanks for nothing,” I said.

I picked a guy leaning up against the building and asked him where I could score some pills. He looked me over, his eyes tiny slits and his lips curled up over yellow teeth, then nodded to a man in a crowd. This second man sauntered over and folded his arms across his chest, regarding me like a lost article of clothing.

“This one is asking for pills,” the first man said.

The second guy snickered and wiped a hand over his face. “What you want?”

I was shaking so violently that I didn’t think I’d be able to speak without biting off the tip of my tongue. “Anything. Codeine, Oxy?”

The second man snickered again, then nodded. “I got a few narcos. It’s $40 per. You got the cash?”

“Yes.” I fumbled in my pocket and pulled out a clump of damp, wrinkled bills. My phone started ringing in my back pocket, then. The two men looked me in my eyes and straightened from leaning on the wall. I shoved the bills at the second man and he fished out a small handful of yellow pills and slipped them into a little yellow envelope. I turned and scurried back down the sidewalk towards the street and home.

The phone was still ringing. “Hello?”

“Charlotte? Where are you?” Will asked.

“Went down the street,” I said.

“Where? I can come get you. I won’t let you drown,” he said. His voice was a light out at sea; a beacon, calling me.

The yellow envelope was crushed in my left fist, my phone was in my right fist, and before I could answer him, I was face-down on the ground and couldn’t breathe. The air had left my lungs in a painful thud. My phone landed hard on the concrete and the broken, plastic pieces scattered across the sidewalk. The envelope was still stuck in my sweaty palm. Despite my confusion I turned to my back and looked up. Two figures stood over me, their faces case in shadow. I felt their hands on me. I screamed, but a giant, sticky hand came down on my face and shoved a wad of cloth in my mouth. I kicked and failed, but they grabbed my arms and legs and drug me down the sidewalk, through dewy grass. My arms scraped against trees and bushes until I knew I was bleeding. And then we stopped. I could hear muffled voices and feel hands all over my body. They took the damp envelope out of my hand and took a few steps away from me.

I only allowed myself a few brief moments to comprehend my situation and feel pity. I hadn’t taken any of the pills, even though I’d wanted to and that might have saved my life. I was still sober, albeit weak from withdrawals, and I had never been more thankful to be alive and clear-minded. The two people were across the small clearing and their intentions were obvious.

A thick ring of duct tape was wrapped around my head, keeping the rag secure. My hands were still free, but I couldn’t make too much noise yet. Not until I was sure I could get away from them. I looked around, searching for anything I could grab on to, anything that might be hard or sharp.

Footsteps crunched in the dirt and one of the men stood over me. I grabbed a handful of dirt and grass and when he knelt down, I threw the dirt into his face, making contact with his nose. It crunched under my hand and he cried out. I rolled to escape his thrashing arms. I ripped and pulled at the tape until it was pulled down over my chin. I screamed. He was making noise, too. Lots and lots of noise.

The second person came over and grabbed one of my feet and pulled me towards him. Urgent hands were all over my legs and I reached out, digging my fingers into the dirt. Then my hand came down on a stick. Not a big one, not especially thick. I wrapped my hand around it anyways and flipped around so that my back was flat against the ground. The other man put one foot on either side of me and bent over. My arm came up from the dirt with all the force I could muster. The stick made contact with something soft on the man’s face. Something popped and warm liquid spilled over me. He screamed and dropped to his knees, landing on my chest and stomach with an audible crunching sound. For the second time, I couldn’t breath and when I moved my vision went black with pain. He rolled off of me, screaming louder and louder, and I scurried away from the two of them. In a matter of seconds, both of them were screaming and cursing. But, they weren’t coming after me.

Then other voices started to echo through the trees. Lights flickered through the brush. The other two men scattered, and I tried to call out but the only sound I could make were squeaky breaths, so I rolled out into the clearing again and hoped someone would find me.

#

In those moments vulnerability, lying in the dirt, I was transported to the depths of my mind. This time, instead of letting myself get caught in the webs, I tore through them. That’s when I found that door. In those few minutes before Will found me and the police came to take my statement and the ambulance swept me away to the ER, I decided to live. It had taken seeing the end of my life to realize I couldn’t float through the world anymore. So I opened that door and stepped into the unknown.

A few broken ribs is a reasonable price to pay for freedom. I threw away the drugs I was given in the ER, and Will stayed with me that night. We didn’t speak for a long time. Not until the black drained from the sky and pink, newborn light began to peek in through the slats in my blinds.

“What are you thinking?” I asked.

“I’m thinking of how thankful I am. And thinking about all the what-ifs.”

“The what-if game is dangerous.”

“We’re a lethal combo of over-thinkers, Charlotte. And that is dangerous. I’m not afraid of it, though.”

“I’m terrified,” I said.

“Fear can be good. You don’t have to be afraid of me, though,” he said, whispering into my hair.

Neither of us slept, though we needed it. Reality started to slip past me in those early hours. My vision went blurry and the heavy, coagulating blood in my veins turned to air and I started floating. But this time drugs didn’t take me. Will did.

“Sing to me,” I said.

He didn’t respond right away, but then he took a deep breath and the melody began.

Dear Incredulous one

I’m here to tell you

That life has just begun

And no matter what is next

Shame all the good lies

That truths confess

And no matter what’s ahead

Just bury the past

Like skin we shed

Our love goes on and on

Like melody in song

No matter the ties we sever

I’ll belong to you forever.1

The song wound around my skin and seeped through my pores and rode through my bloodstream until my heart began to beat stronger. Instead of the pulse of addiction, his song wrote a new tempo for my heart.

“Don’t let me drown,” I said, when the song finally stopped.

“Never,” he said. “We’ll make it through this storm. I’ll prove it to you, you don’t have to take my word for it.”


 

1- The Song Lyrics used in “Don’t Let Me Drown” were written by Eli Waterman and used with permission by the author.


 

Sarah Bredeman calls Kansas City home and enjoys reaping the benefits of that by eating a lot of BBQ and watching Royals baseball as often as possible. She is a recovering wanna-be cool kid, likes loud music and french fries, and can be found most Friday nights in her local comic book store. She graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and likes to explore psychological issues and the human condition in her work.
When she’s not writing original fiction, she writes about TV shows at HiddenRemote.com and rants and raves atagirlwhowrites.wordpress.com.

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