Looking back, the easiest thing to remember was the weight of my tongue.
For the first time, I had realized the enormity of it. As it pushed and shoved against my teeth, I began to panic. Is it possible to choke on your own tongue? I swallowed. Nothing changed. Still, my tongue felt out of place. I sensed him talking next to me, yet my only concern was not suffocating. Breathing through my nose was a strange and new task. I kept my mouth close. I could not possibly answer him at this moment. I was sure my mouth would find it impossible to arrange sounds and syllables amongst the vast tongue that had invaded once familiar territory.
I focused on something else to try and ease my mind. My hands gripped along the steering wheel. I felt the pebbled material underneath my fingertips. The tightness from the seat belt strapping me in. This did not calm me. Now, I wondered how it was possible for me to breathe with this seat belt harness taut against my breastbone and with the enormous tongue crammed against my teeth.
The desire to shut my eyes and just sleep was overpowering. I wondered what would happen; I imagined the car flinging into the woods. Just let me sleep. Instead, I looked at the neon blue digital clock. 12:35. I felt myself fall deeper into this rabbit hole. Only four hours ago and everything had been different.
When we first arrived at his friend’s house, I forced myself not to cough. The stench of depression and cigarettes caused my eyes to water. A dog followed me, sniffing around my ankles. I bent down to scratch around his ears. The attention seemed new to him- causing him to change from curious to infatuated. As I sat down, the dog quickly jumped next to me.
In the living room, talk turned to which friends were in rehab, which ones were shoving needles in their arm. I knew that he used. I remember one of the earlier nights into our relationship. Hearing a credit card slam against a table before a nose meet the dust. When I sat up in bed and pretended naivety, he snapped to “just go to bed.” I did so, pretended that covers could protect from the boogeyman and activities that crept in the dark.
I faced the TV and let my mind detach from the surroundings, mindlessly petting the dog. After a while, I sensed him test the waters. His eyes jumped around the room, never quite landing on anything, never quite met my own. He had never left me in this house, the one where drugs were exchanged like fun dip between five year olds. I believed he never would.
“Would you be ok? If we left for just a bit? No more than fifteen.”
No, I internally screamed. No, you may not leave me in this house where I have seen people nod off, looked more dead than alive. Where a year ago, police broke down a door to find $50,000 worth of drugs and guns. Where I have seen rolled dollar bills scattered along tables. Where I have seen you snort heroin with ease. No, you may not leave me here. Even with this thirst to demand, impeccable table manners enforced after years of training came into play. My lips curved into a smile, a task that seemed impossible with the panic I felt creeping into my veins.
“Yeah. I’ll be fine.” I lied, and despite him claiming to know all my tells, the teases of how he would sweep me in poker, he believed me. He at it down quickly and without questions, sweet as sugar on his tongue. I turned toward the TV, watched the beginnings of a comedy about the end of the world.
Three of them walked out the door. I was left with a girl who nodded off about five minutes later. I watched as the plot developed and the clock showed how fifteen minutes had gone by. Another fifteen. Another fifteen. My phone piled in with stupid snapchats of him in the car driving through the streets of DC. The girl woke up from her own drug induced stupor. The dog leaned further into my side as it slept.
“The boys are so stupid.” My focus on the clock, the movie, and my own simmering anger made it hard for me to realize someone had spoke.
“What?” I cleared my throat. “What?”
“The boys,” the girl slurred again, her own voice raspy, “they could get arrested for this. They’re only on parole. If a cop catches them this late at night, they will definitely check that car. They’re all going to get arrested.” She said this with clarity and confidence. Before she nodded off earlier, she told me about how she spent a week in jail for her own charges. In this new world, she had become my tour guide.
She continued on, “I hope they get caught. They have nothing to live for at the moment. At least they’d be forced to get clean then.” She looked towards the tv and laughed as a character was stabbed in the thigh.
She was right about her boys. But mine? We had just graduated Grad school. We both had jobs lined up. Somehow, his willingness to risk his future made me feel even worse.
How large of an idiot was I? How stupid was I to fall for this boy? As I internally berated myself, the fifteen minutes he promised before his return had turned to an hour. Then another hour. The movie ended and started over. My phone died. I was grateful for it dying; if he texted or called, I had an excuse to ignore. The girl’s phone rang. She claimed poverty as the reason she was forced to move into this house with her boyfriend, yet she had the newest iPhone.
“You should’ve told me you needed a charger!” She ran to grab me a spare charger before I could beg for her not to. “He’s concerned about you. Told me to grab this for you.” She smiled as she handed me what she clearly saw as a favor. Her smile stretched widely, almost curled at the ends- it was ill-suiting and awkward. I smiled and took it from her. Thankfully, the charger did not reach my side, my phone would have to stay away from me. As it turned back on, I saw it flash to let me know that my phone had voicemails, missed calls, and texts. She also saw.
“Do you need a longer charger?”
“No, I’m ok.” I walked over and checked the messages. About three and a half hours had gone by. Nine o’clock had come and gone, it was now after midnight.
The anger gave me a willingness to leave and never look back. Instead of texting concerns or questions about where he was, I texted a warning. Either get back in fifteen or I’m driving back to Norfolk. The text message sent.
A part of me prayed he would not be back. I wanted an out. I wanted away from this boy I had fallen for. A boy where the fights we have are not about who forgot to clean the dishes, but about whether or not he is clean- clean from shit I never bothered to mess with nor wanted to. I had turned into Alice and was terribly lost inside a new world.
A screen door burst open ten minutes later. His friend sauntered into the kitchen.
“Sorry that took so long. Stuff happened.” His voice was dull and bored as he raided the fridge. My table manners kicked in.
“It’s really not a problem. I’m fine.” I wondered if my mother realized the manners forced onto me where now being used towards my boyfriend and his druggie friends.
The door burst open again.
“The cat… shit, I’m so sorry.” I heard him say to his friend. He turned to me, “Alice, can we-” I walked out the door before he could finish. Find the cat. The only thought I could focus on. Find the cat.
“Alice, babe. Come on. I’m sorry. The guy- he, I don’t know. You don’t understand how these things work.” He stated this as if I was a young child discovering the truth about Santa. Like he was sad for ruining the illusion, but thought I was naive for believing in it for so long. “We couldn’t just get it and leave. He drove us all over town. Then Brad wanted to stop at Burger King. I made him come straight here. I swear.”
I had so many darts I wanted to throw, deploring how awful it must’ve been not to stop for food. Or how he was not forced at all to drive around town. He made that choice. Instead, I just stated, “We need to find the cat.”
“Babe, come on. The cat will find it’s own way back.” His voice was drained, exhausted. The sound of it made me realize how tired I was. How I longed to reach the end of this nightmare.
“Fine, let’s just go. I want to go to bed.”
“OK.” He shrugged his way back inside.
I returned to my car. I wondered if I could just leave him here. He was in the car before I could reach a decision.
“Babe, I’m sorry. I know I keep messing this up. Please, please, please say something.” He smiled this innocent school boy smile. Looking at it, it was easy to see why his parents didn’t send him to rehab or boot camp. Never bothered giving him the kick in the ass he needed- he flashed this sweet, boyish smile, and you think, ‘now, how can someone like this ever do anything awful?’ The silence surrounding us pressed in on me, making every thought in my head more obvious. I turned on the car to drown it out.
Here was when I realized the weight of my tongue. The first memory attached to this moment.
I wanted to respond, I truly did. I wanted to scream he was an idiot, he deserved all of my hate. Scream how I’m driving right back to Norfolk, and I never wanted to hear from him again.
As I somehow found my own voice, his smile dropped. The charade of innocence fell like leaves in front of me. We both stared straight ahead as he started speaking again. “I’m such a fuck up, you should leave. You should go. I know you don’t deserve this.” I looked over at him. His head was cradled in his hands, but I could tell he was crying.
The job of fixing this turned over to me. I did not understand how the tables had turned, but I knew I could just solve it all by leaving. Going home and pretending these past six months had been a strange and bizarre dream. If friends asked what happened, I could spill the beans. No one would blame me for dumping a boy who ditched me for four hours so he could get drugs.
“I’m not leaving.” This surprised both of us, but I knew it was true. He told me of his own addictions and flaws before we were anything but lust and drunken maybes. He told me about everything I possibly needed to know to realize a relationship may not be the best idea. Instead I chose to trust that he could change. I wondered how many young adult novels were written about a girl stupid enough to fall in love with a boy she clearly shouldn’t. I knew the answer was probably in the hundreds. My story was unoriginal and common. My answer even more so- stay and fix the boy.
“No, you should really go. You’re done. I know you are.”
“No, I’m not. I’m not leaving you.” It was my job to fix this because I chose this story. I chose the boy who promised me nothing but his own desire for heroin. I chose this broken glass and became upset when it could not retain water. Yes, I was lost. However, unlike Alice, I didn’t fall down this hole. I jumped into Wonderland with eyes wide open. I reached over and forced him to look at me.
“I’m here. I’m still here.” and I was. Who knows, maybe this boy could become something amazing. I’ll give him an ultimatum in the morning- a certain amount of months to get clean or get lost. We’ll cry, we’ll cling to one another, he’ll throw the white dust into the toilet and watch as it’s washed away. Then we’ll go onto to a world of reliable, boring, predictable, normalcy. Or maybe he’ll die in heroin-induced stupor.
Either way, I’m here.
Alexandra Tobasco received her Bachelors in English Literature, Language, and Culture, as well as Professional Writing from Virginia Tech. The following year she went and received her Master’s in English Education from Virginia Tech. Afterward, she began teaching high schoolers in Virginia.