I was in this f-cked relationship with a woman who had the beginnings of a serious drinking problem. To be fair, I too swilled ten to twelve too many beers a day and was a heavy drug-user. This girl and I had first kissed when she came to my apartment to smoke some pot and, at the time, she already had a boyfriend, so technically I “stole” her away, to use the ex-boyfriend’s language, a man who told me this over yet more beers. Smoking pot, I know, is hardly “heavy drug use,” but I didn’t tell her about the cocaine and morphine and acid and magic mushrooms.
Within a couple months we moved into this tiny house down the street from the bar where we both worked. It was about two weeks in when we had our first serious fight and I shattered a table lamp against a wall. It would not be until much later that things got even worse (and that’s a whole other story altogether), but let me sum this up by telling you that the story I want to tell is about the second time I tried to kill myself.
Both times I took a bunch of pills — painkillers — whole bottles’ worth. The first time my girlfriend shoved her finger down my throat while I sat naked in the bathtub, and I puked out all these half-digested tablets that floated in a white frothy foam that circled down the drain like a miniature galaxy being eaten by its own supermassive black hole. The second time, though, I was alone and puking wouldn’t work, and after I realized that I didn’t want to die (mostly because — as it is with all people who attempt suicide and fail—I was too much of a pussy to follow through) I called 911.
The cops drove me to the hospital themselves rather than calling an ambulance. I was starting to nod out, so I guess they figured they didn’t have time to wait. When I woke up in the hospital, my throat hurt from the tubes they’d shoved down it to pump my stomach. The light was piercing, and a nurse shoved aside the curtain that walled me off and handed me a cup and said, drink this. It was liquid charcoal and it tasted exactly how you might think liquid charcoal would taste. I tried not to put my teeth together but when I did little bits of charcoal ground between them like I’d a mouth full of silt. The drip line from a bag of fluid ran from the pole that held it into the needle that was in my arm.
When the doctor showed up he didn’t say anything till after he’d looked in my eyes, then he asked how I felt, which was, other than a little grogginess and the aforementioned throat pain, fine. Then the doctor looked at me steadily and said, “Your girlfriend’s here. Do you want to see her?”
It took me a minute. She was the reason I was in that emergency room in the first place. I guess I was the reason, but, I can’t remember what we were fighting about — it doesn’t — none of it matters anymore. What matters is that there I lay, and I said yes, and a minute or two later the curtain again swept aside and in walked my girlfriend.
I can tell you that she was a pretty girl in a kind of destroyed way. Her auburn hair was naturally curly and she’d sometimes go for days without brushing it, always rolling it up in a bun, and the tendrils would dred together. Her eyes were green, the lids heavy, so that until she got closer you might think that she was Asian. Her lips held a native pout. I was glad to see her, but all she said was, “You’re not going home from here, you know that.”
I did not.
She said, “They’re taking you down by the river.”
We lived in Reno, Nevada, and the State Psychiatric Hospital was on the river — the Truckee — and I knew that that was what my girlfriend meant, and I knew that I did not want to go there. Everything around me was turquoise: the curtain that walled me off, the lone chair covered with what looked like my clothes, in the corner. The bed and its sheets were white. My gown, I would find out, was also turquoise but I didn’t know that yet. After my girlfriend dispatched this info to me she kissed her fingertips and pressed them to my forehead and that was that.
The rest of this story is one of those you-won’t-believe-this-because-this-could-only-happen-in-real-life-kind of stories.
Looking back, I don’t know if what my girlfriend told me was true. I think there’s some consent issues there, but maybe not. I was suicidal, even if I was too weak to pull it off, which I suppose made me even more a danger to myself than someone more committed, because I’d end up hurting my body pretty badly in all my failed attempts. But this is what happened: I listened to the sounds of the nurses and whoever else might be in that emergency room beyond the curtain, and when I thought they were on the room’s opposite end or gone altogether I pulled the IV from my arm and sat up. I don’t remember if this hurt, but there was blood.
On the chair I found my shirt and pants, but my shoes were not there, nor my keys or wallet. I didn’t care. I slipped out of the hospital gown and into my clothes and, barefoot, I slinked out from behind that curtain and found my way to the waiting room and the world outside.
Fortunately, it was summer, as winters in Reno — little known fact — are pretty damn cold, like high desert cold, in the shadow of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and all their ski resorts looming to the west. But summer nights are warm, and the asphalt crinked up against the soles of my feet and I walked gingerly from the emergency room breezeway to the much smoother concrete sidewalk on Mill Street.
If you’ve ever been to Reno then you know that the Truckee Meadows consists of both Reno and Sparks — two cities that butt up against each other and make for one metro area. Each has its downtown made up of casino neon. Mill Street can take you from one casino district to the other, and in the flat expanse that makes up the valley in which these two cities sit — and with the confusion of nighttime and probably my head not clear from all the codeine they hadn’t pumped from me — I started walking towards downtown Sparks and not Reno, where me and my girlfriend’s little house lived.
And here, finally, I’m getting to the cab part. I don’t know how far I walked before I realized I was going the wrong direction, but once I knew I decided I would not walk all the way back to Reno. When the cab passed and I hailed him he stopped. I said, “942 Ralston.” The cab driver either did not see the blood congealing on my arm from where I’d pulled the IV free, nor my bare feet, or he decided that it was Reno, Nevada, and he’d seen far weirder things.
In front of our house I told the cabbie to wait because the money was inside and I’d be right back. My girlfriend sat on the floor in front of the television. She looked at me the way someone looks at a ghost. I said, “I need seventeen dollars.” But she didn’t have any money. Her name was Sharon, and she would tell me stories of how, when she was a little girl, her mother got a job at Taco Bell so she could buy her daughters new school clothes because Sharon’s dad was too much of a cheapskate to pay for it. He once paddled my girlfriend because she sat in the shade of the cherry tree on a 100 degree Los Angeles afternoon, and he caught her there, cooling off, when she was supposed to be raking the fallen cherries. She told me that she was eight years old when that happened. I loved Sharon. It was a bad, desperate, mixed up kind of love, but I loved her.
And here’s the thing about codependent relationships: earlier that night, when we were both drunk and screaming at each other, we’d said the worst possible things humans who know each other intimately can say. And when I barged in to our house after the cab dropped me off I didn’t say hello, I didn’t say I love you, I said I need seventeen dollars. And my girlfriend who did not have the cash upended the change jar and sat on the floor with me as we added the quarters, dimes, and nickels up to twelve bucks. Twelve bucks: as much as I would end up paying for that hospital visit, despite the bills. And that pittance steamed the cabbie, as he glared at the papers sack of coins from his driver’s side window after he’d waited these last fifteen minutes. But he took the change and drove away. And I went back inside our little house, and I slept by my girlfriend’s side that night.