This synthetic down comforter is a foot thick and scented so floral-bleachy I gag. I smother my hangover, make myself a burrow, gag and dream and gag. Downstairs a kid thinner than a wrist plays guitar making fun of Eddie Vedder.
Dr. Reitman comes in to check on me. I have no seizures. He looks at my roommate, sleeping hour eighteen now. He stands still for a minute.
“She’s been out all day,” I say.
He says, “Just making sure she’s breathing.”
I can tell he’s uncomfortable in the privacy of this room of two sick women. This makes me trust him. When I told him, “half a fifth a day,” he wrote down a fifth a day.
In the office where we take medication, they ask us our names and birthdays every time. They check our mouths every time. Everyone gets to see the inside of my mouth.
Day two-ish I slip downstairs to smoke. I don’t know these people. It’s not their fault but I’m seething. They don’t say hi. Out of bed, I’m skinless. I smoke until all I can do is shit and sweat.
In the middle of the night my roommate says, “It happened. It’s me.”
I get dressed on the fourth day. I’m out of cigarettes so I sift through the ashtray.
Eric asks if this is my first rodeo. I give him a complicated answer. The answer is yes.
We eat our rehab food family-style. I say at dinner, “I only took two showers today,” because I’m ready to make a nice little joke. Everyone gets it.
Corey says, “Oh yeah, those first few days. I’d just lay in the shower and make noises.” He curls his hands up, crosses his eyes like a dead cartoon.
“At least three times a day, for sure,” says Matt. He has pimples and bright eyes, and when he gets mad he counts to ten and we’re happy for him.
My roommate tells us about being legally dead in Las Vegas. Corey tells stories about hustling famous people. DUIs, estranged daughters.
I don’t have any stories like that. Just a lot of empty bedrooms smearing the last few years.
A week in, I wake up remembering something. I’d always remembered it – I woke up with it newly mattering.
Case manager Liz found me outside. She crouched in front of me and said, “You’re here, at ARC. You’re smoking a cigarette. It’s morning. The sun is shining. You can feel the chair you’re sitting in.”
I kind of saw the sun then. I saw her face near mine. I couldn’t feel the chair. I couldn’t feel standing up. I must have followed her. In her office I told her everything with a hand pasted over both eyes.
Day fifteen, we play badminton in the yard. Joy inflates my chest, crushing my breath and yanking me upward.
“I’m having fun!” I scream at a nameless tech. “I feel like a fucking kid!”
Oranges bob on crowded branches. The grass is so green I can hear it. I smash the shuttlecock as hard as I can into the sun. I’ve never felt so healthy. It feels like rage.
Alex Benke holds an MFA from UMass Amherst and is a writer and teacher living in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in Queen Mob’s Teahouse, and elsewhere under another name.