You can get it over the counter now. It comes in a red box with stylized poppies on it as if it's whispering to you that what you'll experience is equivalent to striding carefree through a springtime field. The last time I went in to get some, the clerk at the checkout counter touched my hand as I slid the box over to her to scan.
"I can help you with that," she said. She was mousey with big eyes and the downtrodden look of someone who's worked retail for too long. She may have been flirting with me, I don't know. It wasn't on my mind. Plus she was short. And a woman. Not like any of that stuff matters now.
I spend a lot of time gazing at the ceiling with my arm over my chest. It's not that it puts you into a stupor, my thoughts are always as clear and prolific as any other time...they are just more focused, more neutral. When I'm on it, I feel like my neurons are rearranging themselves into circuits.
"You've been coming in early," said my boss one day at work when I first started taking it. He's a tall man (not that I'm into that) with wide shoulders and carefully combed hair. I'm not sure how smart he actually is--he delegates well, which means either he has no clue what goes on in the office, or he's an excellent sluggard and should have my admiration, but he's too bland an individual for me to bestow that honor to him.
"Is that a problem?" I said.
"No. No. You're just seem to be working harder."
"Can I get a raise?" He walked right into that one. Minus one for the intelligence.
He laughed nervously before fistbumping the wall of my cubicle and shuffling off and I thought about maybe reapplying my new found focus to pursuits other than work.
I took up painting. I had the free time now, so what the hell. At first I tried to copy famous works, but everything I made was objectively awful. I learned though. I spent about six hours everyday painting, so I learned quickly. Canvases were expensive so I painted over earlier things. I even bought a few atrocious paintings from the secondhand store--the sorts of things that depicted sad clowns and barns lit by sunsets--and painted over those since they were cheaper than fresh canvases. I really should have just done everything digitally, but I think I needed the physicality of it. The smell. The presence of the canvases piling up around my apartment and sort of filling in the spaces.
When it got to the point where I had paths between the piles, and I was taking one red box of pills a day, I stopped painting. I was just completely calm and incapable of boredom. I no longer needed to amuse myself. What started as a way to drown out the sorrow, mask it, morphed into a occupation with stillness in every sense of the word. Sitting still, laying still and staring at the ceiling, not even counting the bumps and divots and imperfections, and feeling how my mind was still. Apparently people used to meditate for decades to achieve that within you/without you nirvana.
It wasn't fun though, not that fun mattered.
I sold all the paintings online, in efficient, concise auctions--not that I made back the money I put into just the paints but that wasn't the point. The piles needed to go. They got in the way of the stillness. Then I sold my furniture, everything except the mattress. For awhile I had the urge to rip up the carpet and sell that too but I was afraid of the unfinished flooring underneath and how it would affect my stillness.
And then one day when it was raining hard and I was laying face down on the mattress just listening, I realized the stillness was the sorrow. There had been no real escape after all.
So I called.
"I'm sorry," I said into my cell phone.
There was a silence.
"Where have you been?" came the reply.
"At home. At work," I said. Then I added, "with some frequent trips to the pharmacy."
There was a sigh. She knew what I was hinting at.
"You've got to get off that stuff. There's been some studies in Sweden and--"
"Yes, I know. It should be banned."
"Is this why you've been--"
"No," I interrupted. "I was just...guilty."
"Are you on it now?"
"Yes," I said.
"I'm sorry you had to go through all that, all the aftermath," she said. "But you have to know I don't forgive you for what you did."
"I guess that's it then," she said after a pause. "That's all I ever wanted to say."
"Okay," I said.
We hung up. I sat and stared at the empty red box beside me as the rain quelled to a quiet drizzle and the need for stillness didn't seem so urgent.