I met Donna at the pharmacy. It was an hour before closing, and she was the only pharmacist on duty. She handed me my little orange bottle of citalopram, and asked me if I had any questions about my medication.
“I’m supposed to take it with wine, right?” I said. I don’t know why I said it. Maybe it was because she looked tired, and I wanted to see if I could liven her up.
She laughed like church bells, deep and resonant with just a shade of solemnity.
“Whiskey,” she said.
That’s when I knew I had to hold onto her.
It’s a strange thing starting a relationship with the girl who hands you your brain meds. She knows right from the get-go that you’re fucked in the head. It’s kind of freeing in a way. You don’t have to waste energy pretending to be normal.
I made a joke about this on our first date. We were at this hole-in-the-wall Italian place with the cliché red and white checked tablecloths.
“So you like anxious guys?” I said.
“Everybody’s got issues,” she said.
“I have panic attacks. Sometimes twice a week.” I thought she should know what she was getting into.
“That doesn’t scare me.”
It didn’t. I had an attack two days later, and she came over. She held me on the couch, and we watched This Old House. It was nice lying there, intertwined, her breath, warm and regular on the back of my neck. I tried to match my breathing to hers, to soften my exhalations, to mimic her composure.
In the episode we were watching, a demolition crew was tearing out a built-in bookcase ravaged by carpenter ants.
“When I was seven,” said Donna, “we discovered termites in our basement. They had eaten through one of the main support beams of the house. The beam was like papier-mâché. I remember my dad poked his finger right into it. My mom asked our contractor if it was fixable, and he told her it would be tough. They’d have to build a temporary wall, remove the steel supports, take out the damaged beam and slide in a new one. But it was fixable. Everything was fixable, he said.”
She hugged me, and I felt her heart against my back—a steady, patient pulse.
The following Monday, I drove Donna to the hospital. They had her biopsy results. She could have driven herself, but she didn’t want to be alone. Like me, she didn’t have anybody else. I steered with my left hand and held onto her with my right. We didn’t talk about it. We talked about our favorite Weezer songs, Sylvia Plath, how much we hated high school—anything but it.
In the waiting room, we were silent. The air was too thick to talk. Donna held my hand so tight it hurt, but I didn’t mind. In the end, that’s what other people are for. They’re for holding onto.
JACK SOMERS’ work has appeared in WhiskeyPaper, Jellyfish Review, Formercactus, The Molotov Cocktail, and a number of other publications. He lives in Cleveland with his wife and their three children. You can find him on Twitter @jsomers530 or visit him at http://www.jacksomerswriter.com.
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