By Kyle Labe
Content warning: assault, suicide, depression, abuse, death
Every morning I take pills because I am depressed, manic, and anxious. The first batch I received when I swerved my car off a mountainside. Those were replaced when I swallowed a handful and wound up in the institution. More were prescribed when I maced a stranger at a station because I believed he tried to assault me. Security explained that he was only trying to shove his way past, but I screamed so loud that I couldn’t hear them.
I visit a woman doctor now since I don’t trust a male one anymore. His life was too perfectly phony from the pictures on his desk for him to assign anti-depressants. Once a week I visit the same therapist, and once a week she uses a CBT map to no avail because I guess I’m a hard nut to crack.
Except, I haven’t thought of killing myself since my husband left me for my best friend. Then the doctor asks if I’m suicidal and I’m reminded it’s an option. I’m told this all runs on my mother’s side of the family, and between my brother and I, I’m the one who lucked out with feeling awful constantly.
Because my therapist suggests I leave my apartment more often, every morning I travel downtown to a café to order a medium London fog for $3.50. The first time I went I lied that my name was Henrietta, so now when I enter the barista hollers, “Morning, Henrietta!” instead of “Morning, Lori!” since I never bothered to correct them. Then, at nine, they call, “See you tomorrow, Henrietta!” and I take the subway to my job at the publishing house.
On this particular morning, there’s a new employee behind the counter, so I’m not greeted, nor am I Henrietta right now. I grew rather fond of Henrietta—I liked to imagine she was happy and beautiful. Forking over my $3.50, I grab my London fog and settle for a booth by the restroom.
I don’t comprehend how this will help me. Depression is a thief, and it steals every shred of humanness from you until you’re nothing left but a shell. It’s not pretty; it’s not glamorous. It sure as hell isn’t something that can be cured with a mediocre latte. Sure, I’m around human interaction here, but I still feel like shit. I’d prefer popping my pills and calling it a day, but my doctor tells me that comprehensive therapy is just as necessary in my case. Although, I fail to grasp why I need to work to feel remotely okay. That’s unfair.
The doorbell chimes, and my fingers unwillingly clench around the mug. I study him to assure that it’s him. My insides immediately submerge into an ice bath. I can physically feel every motor in my body shut down, but I keep my head buried. My eyes double-, triple-, quadruple-check, but it’s inevitably him, undoubtedly Greg Marlow. Greg Marlow. Greg Greg Greg Marlow Marlow Marlow Greg Marlow. My teenage dream. There he is, in the flesh, ordering a mocha two decades after he jettisoned me forever, and somehow he’s still the prettiest boy I’ve ever come across. He still has cartoonish moon pies for eyes, and a physique that melts. I doubt he’ll recognize me. Before, I commanded gazes, but now I’m so plain, so down and out from how I used to be.
He glances for a seat and we lock eyes. We don’t acknowledge one another, but I spot his eyes widen at me. I know his mind is racing, yet mine feels empty as a blank canvas.
He orders his mocha to-go but sits in the chair across from me.
“Lori,” he says like it hasn’t been 20 years, “Long time, no see.”
I practice a smile like I do in the mirror. “Hi Greg.”
“How are things?”
He sips his beverage and taps a finger. I think he’s torturing me, which wouldn’t be uncharacteristic.
I suppose I should interject. “What about you? How are you?
“I’ve been fine,” he says.
Silence occupies the next minute as we drink. I study his face. His nose, his cheekbones, his brown hair that he always wanted to grow out. His arms remain strong; he lifts the mug using his entire palm. He doesn’t notice me watching him.
I picture him at 17 and there’s hardly a change. Age, however, took out its wrath on me. I could recall myself as a teenager, but my therapist says there’s no use yearning for the past. We spend the present romanticizing it.
I wonder if I’ll tell my therapist about this.
“Are you still writing?” he questions.
“I’m a copyeditor down at Simon and Schuster.”
“How about you? You studied law, right?”
“It didn’t work out. I’m a financial advisor now.”
Why did he sit with me? We could have avoided this altogether and gone on with our days.
“You left law?” I ask.
“Couldn’t afford it.”
“You’re a financial advisor.”
His dad was a lawyer and hounded that Greg should follow in his footsteps. I always told Greg to do as he desired and not listen to his parents. I was so kind to him. I treated him better than I did myself. I would sit and listen to Greg for hours then head home and consider offing myself. And I never went to him. I always thought, if Greg should peek into my mind, it’d scare him away.
“Are you married?” he says.
I stifle a chuckle. Better to not venture there. “Not anymore,” I tell him. “What about you?”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
What if we had married each other? Would I have been happy? Just the thought of happiness feels so unrealistic it’s laughable.
“It was Kathy,” he says.
I’m not sure which shocks me more: that he married Kathy, or that she’s dead.
“Oh,” I say, peer down, and sip my drink. The tea bag smacks my mouth.
“We hit a rough patch when I told her about you, but we married straight out of grad school.”
“How did she pass?” I really shouldn’t ask, but I have to know.
“She hanged herself.”
He says it so nonchalantly that my stomach drops. It can’t be. Kathy wouldn’t hang herself. She was so sweet and so cheery. She doesn’t deserve it. I’m the one who should be dead—not her. I was a bitch. I was the home-wrecker. She never said a harsh word to me.
He snickers. “Remember when I first kissed you?”
I haven’t recuperated from the news. Why is he asking me this? For the love of God, Kathy hanged herself.
To respond, I nod, but mind isn’t in this room.
“Georgia Isaac had a party, and you and I—we were both drunk and made out in the bathroom. Kathy was in the other room. Remember? I’d been dating her for a month.”
Now she’s dead. “We were stupid and selfish,” I add.
“No, I don’t regret it. The only stupid part was that I couldn’t get enough of you after that night.”
“I felt so bad for Kathy.”
“Clearly not, or you wouldn’t have kept returning to me.”
I want him to stop. How is he talking of her like this? As if her ghost isn’t sitting here with us. For a moment, I glimpse at the ceiling fan and see her lifeless body dangling, and Greg ignores it.
I feel sick to my stomach and want to cry. There isn’t anyone here but us, yet I am so claustrophobic.
“Then we snuck off to the shore. It’s where we first fucked. And not once, but over and over and over again. I don’t think we went to the beach once that weekend.”
“What’d you ever tell Kathy?” I ask. Saying her name feels like licking poison.
“I told her I was with Nathan and the whole gang.”
Greg was always a good liar. That’s the first sign for anyone. It’s not how often a person speaks the truth, but how well they lie.
“And when her family vacationed in Cancun, remember that too?” he says. “I house-sat and we fucked on her bed.”
The way he says fuck is how a man chucks a blow-up doll on a mattress. The more he paints memories, regardless their decadence and whimsy, the more I recollect all he did to me. How he drained the life out of me just so he could last the day with his head held high. I always thought it was insecurity, but now I realize it was cruelty.
“I don’t feel comfortable talking about this,” I tell him finally.
“You’re right,” he says. “But you and I did have some fun times.”
With those words, he lays his hand atop mine. I gulp. I don’t know why I feel unsafe. I wonder if Kathy felt that way as well.
He checks his watch. “I should be going,” he says. “It was nice catching up with you.”
I notice that I’m a half hour late for my shift. He starts out the door and I follow.
“Greg,” I call.
He turns around and raises an eyebrow.
“Why did you do this?”
Cocking his head, he says, “Do what?”
He knows what I mean, but I change the subject. “You’re still the same slime you always were.”
“Are you still stuck on what happened? Listen, Lori, you were too much to handle. I had to leave.”
I chuckle. “Bullshit. You didn’t leave. You dropped me like I was garbage on the curb. You told me you would leave Kathy so we could run off somewhere. And then you disappeared!”
“Could you not shout? Get over it. We’re not 18 anymore.”
“Then you did the same thing to Kathy! And now she’s dead, Greg!”
“Quiet down—you’re making a scene.”
No, he doesn’t have a right to dictate me anymore. This is exactly what the guard said when that stranger assaulted me. This is what my doctor said when I smacked an orderly. It’s always all these men, and they all ridicule me the same. I always seem to be too loud. I always seem to lose my marbles.
I didn’t realize I teared up, and everyone nearby has stopped to gawk at me. They gape at me like I’m some circus freak. Greg turns to rush down the sidewalk. Everyone watches when I go back inside to fetch my purse. I dig through it desperate for my meds. I had one this morning, but I need it now. When I realize I forgot them in my apartment, I almost collapse to my knees. A new barista stares at me and waves, “Hi Henrietta!” I want to die.
When I arrive at work, I explain that the subway halted and there was no service to phone them.
The next morning, I decide on a different café, where I tell them my name is June and where their London fogs are a dollar cheaper.