We’re smoking and laughing, and I’m surprised that I’m staying awake despite the fact that I’m going on hour forty-three of being awake. The woman I have a crush on is bumming smokes from the pack I leave between us on the thin plastic table. I’m chain smoking, a habit that’s becoming more regular every time I drink. The drinking’s becoming more regular too.
The day started warm but ended cold. December only ever remembers it’s a winter month at night when you’re this far south. My fingers brush against the woman’s as we both reach for a cigarette. We laugh over the shared addiction, then all four of us laugh over how we’re all lighting up at the same time. Misery loves company as much as it loves cliché.
It happens when I light up. The little flame seems so bright it practically sparkles. My neck has felt stiff since I got here but like an idiot I ignored it. If I’m lucky it’s just a migraine.
Then my legs lock, and I realize I haven’t lit my cigarette yet. The flame is so bright I feel like the image of my friends is burning away. I take a quick puff and light my smoke halfway before tucking the lighter in my pocket.
My legs lock up. I have to clench my teeth before they’re loose enough to bend at the knee, and before things get bad I mumble something about grabbing another pack from my car. The three of them nod and drink and keep talking. The woman I have a crush on gives me a quick look of concern but that could just be me worrying that they’ll notice.
I get in the car and drop into the passenger seat, and as I lock the door my body seizes and I curl into a ball. The intense aggravation I felt as I walked has blown into full-scale fury, and I tuck my head between my knees to fight off the urge to scream.
I feel my phone vibrate in my pocket, and like an idiot I look to see who it is. A girl I used to love has texted me: “I miss you.” In two minutes the message will melt my heart, but right now I want to pull the phone apart in my hands. She saw me like this once. She lies, but doesn’t mean to. She could only miss something fixable.
I fight off the urge to roll out a pill and crush it in my teeth. It’s a short-term solution with long-term consequences of growing intensity. I’m doing good. I breathe and tighten myself. My legs and back are screaming from exertion but I stay still. If I rock the car they’ll see, and if they see they’ll know.
I’ve only dug my nails into my scalp. I haven’t left any marks. I take deep breaths, and my flushed skin now feels like ice. The adrenaline that roared through me makes me shake a little. That’s okay. It’s chilly. I’m supposed to shake a little.
The urge to be alone is still there. The urge to turn everyone away and just drive off will last until dawn. But it wasn’t that bad this time. The regular pills did their work. I didn’t hear whispers this time.
I calm down, grab another pack of smokes, and walk back to the garage. I send a text to another state: “I miss you too.” The woman I have a crush on smiles as I sit back down. I light another cigarette and listen to a joke one of our friends makes. I laugh even though I just want to yell.