by JUDE ELLMAN
Winter break had concluded. A boy and a girl, locked in love and separated by a nation, were desperate to reunite. The frigid January air haunted every moment they spent outside. There was seldom a reason for them to step outdoors once reunited. When apart, she spent her time in California outdoors more often than not, she was rekindling old ties and falling headfirst into the hopeless romantics of wintertime love. He was, on the other hand a victim of himself. He didn’t step foot out of his home in frozen Pennsylvania. He knew what she was doing, and he felt just about dead.
He still wanted to love her. He wanted to be held. His parents and family provided him not a single comfort during his hellishly long five week stay at home. He hated the holiday season, she managed to ruin just about every holiday for him that year.
Snow fell from the sky and icicles draped the roof’s gutter directly outside his window. The building was adorned with a crown of thorns. The dorm hall would be well and crucified soon enough. When they did leave the antiquated concrete building that appeared to be ripped right out of a Soviet-era city block, it was for one of three things. Food, class, or intoxicants.
About a week after classes began for the second semester, they stopped being important to the two. He was more than smart enough to not go to a class and pass, he got A’s. The only time he went to class was when he was drunk or high enough to not be depressed. Before winter break, the drug of choice was cocaine. As soon as they were back in town, their affinity for snow resumed.
He wouldn’t spend his money on it. She would. Thousands of dollars were gone within a few weeks. Mostly hers. Every day she would feign being uninterested, preparing herself to deny the warning signs of addiction. And if he expressed any desire to do more of the drug she’d been feeding him, any at all, it was there an hour later.
“I’m not going to do any today,” she said, “I don’t feel any need to.”
“That’s good,” he laughed, “So were doing this again?” he prodded.
“No, we’re not doing anything.”
“Really…” he said as sarcastically humanly possible.
“Yes really, I don’t even want to do it! Do you?” He wanted to test her.
“I mean if it was here I would, just like always.”
“So, you want to do it?”
“I didn’t really say that I don’t want to pay for it. It’s not a sustainable addiction.”
“It’s not an addiction.”
“It is an addiction, we’ve done cocaine three times this week already. You’ve bought it all three times.” She didn’t like to hear this at all.
“Well then pitch in!” she shouted.
“I don’t support this,” he said like a manipulative little devil. He knew it was going to end with free cocaine. He had heard the expression, “nothing in this life is free,” many times. He misunderstood. He thought that being manipulative meant there would be no consequences, that he was somehow beating the system. He would come to find that if life can’t hit you one way, it will hit you another.
“Fine, well I’m going to get it anyway. Will you drive me?”
“No.” He assumed she was going to say she’ll take the bus. He knew he was going to end up driving her.
“Then I’m going to take the bus. It’s so cold out though,” she whined. Snow was actively falling in a mixture with some rain that turned immediately to ice upon impact with the road. It would be cruel to make her wait, and cruel to take her. He honestly did feel bad about letting the conversation get this far, but that wasn’t nearly enough to make him turn back.
“Fine,” he said like it was the end of the world. It always amused him to drive in wretched weather. They each put on multiple layers and made their way out to the car. She stood aside while he pushed snow off his car with his bare hands. His hands were blue when he finished. They got in the car, started it, and made their way down the now ice-covered slope of Hudson St.
Cars were sliding in every which direction. Their drug dealer lived in a mock frat house; it wasn’t chartered in any official capacity, but drunk, aspiring rapists inhabited it all the same. He did not have any connection to the dealer, she always met with him, and he always picked her up a few minutes later. The half mile drive down Hudson was slow, they were stuck behind infuriatingly cautious drivers. They were on the race to cocaine. Once they got there, she hopped out of the car, and he drove around the block.
While they were separated, he was petrified. He was always scared when she wasn’t around, mortified that she’d cheat on him every instance possible. In fairness to him, she had acted to reinforce this fear and would not say a word to confirm it. He tried to take his lap as fast as possible. After turning off Hudson onto Aurora, he made the first left turn he could. He was stuck behind someone driving 5 miles per hour. There was no way for him to get around, go back, nor accelerate the process. Blaring on the horn had proven not to work. He was trapped on Pleasant Street and experiencing the kind of panic and dread that only a woman could cause. As soon as there was room to speed around his obstacle, he flew.
He needed to stop the car, the turn was coming up quick, the road was covered in ice. He slammed the brakes, the car slid forward and rotated off course. He hit the gas, it took off forward and he narrowly avoided throwing his taillight into a parked car. He was back on Hudson, and the car was under control. He saw his woman bundled, standing outside in the snow. She raced back to the car.
“Are you okay?” he asked immediately.
“Yes, I’m fine,” she reassured him. She knew why he was paranoid and didn’t want to address it. He forced her to.
“You didn’t cheat on me?” he asked.
“No! You were gone two minutes.”
“That’s fair,” he said and then calmed down. He then remembered the cocaine, and eagerly began his drive back to campus. “Did you see me slide?”
“Yeah! You almost crashed.”
“No, I didn’t, I had it under control.”
He drove far too fast the whole way back. The car slid and groaned; the broken windshield wipers left visibility in a storm up to how fast he drove. The faster, the more the wind threw the snow off the car, and the more he could see. His driving terrified her, she expressed an uncharacteristic desire for self-preservation that irritated him.
Within minutes they were back at the dorm hall. They’d found a parking spot close to the building and sprinted through the bitter cold to the quasi safety of their residence. They raced up the three flights of stairs, each step an obstacle to happiness conquered.
Their room door slammed behind them, and immediately it was time for relief. For the single moment of peace in their waking hours.
She took hold of the elliptical black rolling tray they were using as a cutting board. She dumped the powder out of the bag, leaving the larger chunks unmolested. Right next to the cutting board on the dresser was a plastic cutting card and a rolled dollar bill. No preparation was ever needed, the dopamine dam was always on the precipice of a flood. She cut four lines and immediately did two of them. She gestured to him to do his.
He got up from his chair. He pressed a finger to his left nostril to block it off. He inhaled sharply, and then switched to blocking his right. After determining his right was significantly clearer, he promptly took the dollar bill and put two lines up it. He sat back down. She approached the tray again and cut four more lines. Their routine went on until the only cocaine left was the rocks in the bag.
They felt good. They felt alive for once. Awake, just like when they were children. In this state there was a reason to live, and no reason to fight with each other. Everything could be perfect, everything was perfect. Just so long as the merciful lord of neurotransmitters continued to permit it. They spoke on just about every topic: their dreams, goals, how they would change their behavior, do better in school, stop the drug use. Their conversations felt like ecstasy.
The gold of an unnoticeable high slipped away. Luckily, there was a remedy. She emptied all of the clumps out of the bag and crushed them under the side of their plastic cutting card. She slowly smushed the rocks into a patty-like powder and then cut it into a fine dust.
Her hands never moved quite as elegantly as when she was preparing cocaine. She cut four lines, did two, then stepped back from the dresser. He shot up and did his. Their cycle had resumed. Pleasant conversation had ushered the time away like it was never lived. The clock taunted them with an early hour as their cocaine had run out. Oblivion awaited as the last traces of joy were quickly circulated out of them by their racing hearts.
“Do you want to get more?” she asked.
“We shouldn’t,” he replied.
“But you want to?”
“I really don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“Why not? We didn’t do that much. It was only two grams and it’s only 8pm. We’ll just get another gram.”
“This is how addiction happens.”
“It’s not! I’m going to stop. This will be the last time.”
“Sure it is.”
“Fine you’re going to quit.”
“Oh my god!” he laughed at her. He wanted to do more just as much as her. “Yeah, after tonight.”
“So, we can get more? I’ll pay, you just have to drive me.”
“No, I’ll pitch in,” He sent her $40 from his phone.
She texted the dealer and began preparing to leave. The snow was falling even harder than before, although at this point it was only snow. They made their way out to the parking lot. They discovered a car that was buried in even more snow than just a few hours earlier. Like last time he used his bare hands to push it off. His frozen hands stung while wrapped around the steering wheel.
The road was empty and blanketed in a few inches of snow. The drive back down Hudson St. was unimpeded by irritating motorists. Very shortly they were back at the dorm hall, with another two grams of cocaine.
“I’m seeing things very clearly right now,” she said. “There is nothing to worry about.”
“What do you mean?”
“You know, like everything. There is just no reason for stress. There is no reason to worry. Ever.”
“So long as you have enough cocaine?”
“No, cocaine has nothing to do with it. You can do whatever you want in life and be fine. There is no reason to worry or to blame yourself.”
“For cheating on me?”
“Are you sure? It sounds like that is what you’re talking about.”
“Yes, I’m sure! Why don’t you believe me?”
“Because you’ve never given me a reason to, you’ve betrayed my trust before, and now you’re talking like you did it again.”
“No, I’m not, all I said is there is nothing to worry about.”
“It sounds like you are trying to excuse yourself.”
“No,” she said and ended the conversation.
They were doing cocaine at a faster pace than earlier. It was not killing the tension between them. For a while they stopped speaking altogether and continued their routine without words like workmen who have done the same job together on repeat. When the bag was about a gram lighter, their silence broke.
“You cheated on me over winter break. I know you did. Why were you spending so much time with your ex?”
“Because I have no friends at home. I didn’t cheat on you!”
“He’s not your friend. You’ve told me many times that you never really enjoyed him. That you just kept him around because you liked him giving attention to you. Well, I bet he did! I don’t know why I ever expected you would change.”
“Change! What do you mean change? I’m not some bad, dishonest person. You just think I am.”
“Well maybe I think you are because you have been. You’re not any ‘kind’ of person, but you sure as hell haven’t been an honest one to me. You’ve never listened to me, you taunted me. You wanted to feel strong, so you decided to hurt me just like you’ve been hurt, didn’t you?”
“Can’t you be honest with me for one second! I swear to fucking god!”
Suddenly there seemed to be a change in her. She stopped responding and just let him speak for a while. She let him explain why he felt like he did, she nodded along. There was a smile on her face, completely out of place for the conversation.
“Can you be honest! Did you cheat on me?” With her mouth wide open and her eyes glazed, she shook her head up and down.
“Yeah,” she mouthed. In an instant she was gone. She began making inhuman faces and noises, grunting and spitting, smiling and twitching around as if possessed by a demon. He stared at her in utter disbelief. She fell backwards and her whole body began to seize. She was biting her tongue and thrashing violently. For a few seconds, he sat paralyzed. Once he realized she was overdosing he sprang into action.
“Baby no! Baby no! Baby no!” he shouted in hopelessness. He was traumatized and acting, his mind was scattered to dust. He grabbed her to check her pulse. There was no heartbeat. She was blue in the face, spitting and thrashing while biting her tongue. He stuck his middle finger in her mouth and pushed her tongue out from between her teeth. She bit down on his finger with nearly full force. As he was doing this, he was dialing 911. The phone rang far too slow.
“Baby no!” he screamed. He had never called her baby before this incident. He pried his fingers out of her mouth. She didn’t release whatsoever and pulled off a significant lot of his skin. His hand was spewing blood. The phone continued to ring. He ran over to his backpack; a fleeting thought passed his mind and he remembered he had his Epi-pen. He thought of the scene in Pulp Fiction where Vincent Vega slams Mia Wallis in the chest with an adrenaline shot. It was his only hope at saving the girl he was so confused about loving.
“Hello, 911. What’s your emergency?” the phone spoke. He ignored the operator and plunged the epi-pen into her breastplate.
“My girlfriend is overdosing!” he screamed. “I’m at Ithaca College, Bogart Hall.” Her eyes shot open and sprang right up to her feet. She looked around the room with a look of panic on her face. She didn’t seem to recognize him. She turned around and made right for the door.
“Baby! Baby!” he screamed at her. She opened the door and sprinted out. She ran right into the wall across the hallway. He grabbed his phone and followed her.
“Stop!” he yelled. She was hyperventilating. She began running down the hallway. “You’re okay,” he said, “The ambulance is coming, you’re going to be okay.” She continued running, she tried to open the door to a random room, but it was locked. Once she got to the end of the hallway, she stopped running.
“Come with me, you’re going to be safe,” he said. The both of them were completely panicked, and she didn’t even know why.
“Okay,” she said. She still didn’t seem to recognize him. He led her down the stairwell and outside of the building. She did not have the time to put on her shoes, and once outside was standing in a puddle of snow and ice water in just her socks. The cold must have been sobering.
“Baby are you okay. Do you know what’s going on?”
“Why are we outside?”
“You overdosed, the police are their way.”
“Oh fuck, oh fuck.”
“It’s okay, you’re going to be safe.”
“Don’t call the police!” she yelled at him.
“They’re already on their way. You overdosed, I didn’t know what to do.”
“I didn’t overdose, I’m fine.”
“You are now, you overdosed just a minute ago!”
“So, the police are coming?”
“Yes. I’m sorry.”
“Baby, I’m so sorry. I was so scared.”
“Why are you calling me baby?”
“I’m sorry, I’m just so scared, I don’t know what’s going on.”
His phone spoke again. “Hello, where are you?”
“Bogart Hall, near the basketball hoop. She’s okay now, she’s breathing and she’s on her feet. Do you think she’s going to be okay?” There was no direct answer.
“Okay, and you said this was an overdose? What drugs were being taken?” She looked at him in fear.
“Cocaine,” he said. She mouthed the word no angrily and pushed him. He looked over at her, “I’m sorry, they need to know what happened so they can help you. I’m not going to let you get hurt!”
“Alright, the ambulance is on its way. Can you meet us in the lobby of the building?”
“Alright, we are on our way. We will see you in a few minutes.” He hung up the phone.
“Come on, let’s go.”
“I’m going to get in trouble!” she pleaded with him not to follow.
“No, you’re not, there are laws in place to protect students in this situation. They just want to make sure you are okay.”
“No, with my parents.”
“They’re not going to know. Just come on.”
She followed him in her frozen socks. They got to the building’s lobby and sat down on a bench, waiting for the police to arrive. A barrage of sirens interrupted the silence of the night, and the police followed shortly. They stormed into the building. She took up lying immediately.
“Is she the one who overdosed?” an officer asked.
“Yes, I think she’s stable now. Is she going to be okay?”
“Now that we’re here yes, you did the right thing to call.”
“It was cocaine she took?” She glared at him. She wanted him to lie. He didn’t see any way to do that.
“Were you doing cocaine?”
“Where did she overdose?”
“In my room.”
“Were you aware she was doing the drug?”
“But you weren’t doing it?”
“Correct. I didn’t think it was going to be a problem, she has done it before.”
“Where was she doing the cocaine?”
“I’m not sure, in the bathroom I assume.”
“So, she wasn’t doing it in your room?”
“No.” The officer shifted his attention to her.
“How do you feel right now, can you walk?”
“Yes,” she said. “I’m fine. I don’t need to go to the hospital.”
“I think you should go to the doctor,” her boyfriend added.
“No, I don’t need to. I’m fine. That wouldn’t accomplish anything. I just need to sleep.”
“I would recommend you go to the emergency room, it’s likely you suffered a brain injury,” said the officer.
“I told you I’m fine, I’m not going. I can choose to not go, right?”
“Yes, you are an adult. You can deny going to the hospital.”
“Well then I’m not going.” The officer shifted his attention back to him.
“You can’t make her go?”
“No, I can’t. I’m going to need her to fill out some paperwork before we leave.”
“Okay, I think she can do that. Can I go get her some shoes and her phone? Once she came back, she ran outside in a panic, she got her socks completely wet.”
“Yeah, go ahead.” He got up from the bench and made his way to the stairs.
“Take care of her please! I really love her,” he said on his way up. When out of sight he ran to his room. He did the remaining lines of cocaine and hid the rest of the paraphernalia throughout the room. He grabbed her shoes and cell phone then made his way back to the lobby. He gave her belongings to her before walking over to a cop that had summoned him.
“So, you weren’t doing any cocaine?”
“No, I already told you.”
“Do you know if there is any left? We would like to take it to the lab for a sample, so we can see if there was something else in it.”
“I don’t know, I wasn’t doing it.”
“Do you know who she bought it from?”
“No.” He looked down at his hand. It was dripping blood onto the floor. “When she was seizing, she was biting her tongue, I stuck my hand in her mouth to stop her, to make sure she could breathe. Can I go to the bathroom really quick to clean this up?”
“Yeah, do you need a band-aid?”
“That would be great, thanks.” The officer sifted through his pouch and handed a bandage to him. He went to the bathroom on the ground floor. He looked in the mirror and noticed his eyes were as red as his hand. His tongue was coated in a thick, white froth. He stuck his tongue out and scraped it back to front against his teeth. He washed his face, rinsed his mouth, and applied the bandage. He then returned to the lobby and sat next to his girlfriend.
“You’re not going to the doctor?” he asked her.
“No, I’m fine.”
“I can drive you myself, you don’t have to take the ambulance.”
“No, I don’t want to go, they won’t do anything for me now. I’ll just wait for a long time to be told not to do more drugs. I get it already.”
“Okay fine.” He saw that he couldn’t reason with her. She was almost done with the paperwork. The police approached them.
“Where were you doing the drugs?”
“The bathroom,” she said. She heard him lie earlier and expertly corroborated.
“But you overdosed in the room?”
“Yeah.” They turned their attention to him.
“Can we search your room? It would help us file a more thorough report.”
“In respect to living on school property, do I still have a Fourth Amendment right?”
“Yes, you are still entitled to all of your rights.”
“Then I am going to decline the search.”
“Okay.” The officer began packing up his things. The other officers did the same. She finished the paperwork and handed it in. A few of the vehicles parked outside started up and left.
“Before we go, I want to inform you that no legal action will be taken against either of you. You are protected under Good-Samaritan law. You will likely get a charge from the school for the ambulance fee. Guys, drugs like this are unsafe. There have been more and more overdoses like this every day, and most people aren’t so lucky. Straighten up.”
“Yes sir,” he said. “Thank you.” The officer left, and the two made their way up to the room. She began to cry. For hours he handed her tissues and she sobbed. She didn’t have very much to say. Occasionally she would say she wished she had died. He could not understand why, but he was far too tired to argue. He asked her if she cheated on him. She said no. She said she didn’t remember most of the night. He let it be.
When she finally got to sleep, he felt just like he did all winter break. Completely alone. He didn’t have a girl to love, but for some reason he loved her. He sat for hours smoking and thinking. There was no moral for him to find in this story, at least not one he would listen to, not one that provided any comfort. He thought about killing himself and letting her wake to a similar place of panic, dread, and guilt. He couldn’t do that to her.