You saw your end coming. Even as a child you knew you had an expiration date: purple numbers stamped into your flesh. They were smudged and impossible to read. Maybe December, while the snow trapped you inside with your own dark imagination.
In high school you cut yourself on the edges of your father’s death, your mother’s silence. Thin scars gathered on your arms. You sank in the tub and bathed in your own blooming self. Lexapro briefly lifted the weight on your chest. Penknife in the garbage, you practiced smiling.
For a while you thought of Prozac as an elegant butler; Mr. P didn’t allow peasants like Fury, Sorrow, or Lust over your threshold. Unsavory friendships with Laughter and Despair were broken off. Together, you and Mr. P spent Saturdays at the long empty table of your apathy polishing tarnished tines of silence. Friends said you seemed well.
That first summer after college you felt as if you could take the night by two corners and snap it like a wrinkled sheet until the Sun tumbled out. After tossing the daily dose of Zoloft into the sea, you could laugh again. You also started crying again. Spread out in the ocean like a mermaid’s, your future wife’s hair was salty and long, and you finally loved her.
After you married it seemed as if the increasing weight of happiness could be borne without a prescription. And then you clutched your newborn daughter through an endless first night, certain of her mortality, afraid of her nebulous eyes. She smelled like iron and baby powder—a wound you could not name. Your love was a bruise, pressed on by her fragile smile.
You flew through a solar system of pills scattered across the swirling marble countertop. There, the Adderall constellation that made you zing and zoom from daybreak to dusk, and next to it: Xanax that plumped up the world like a feather pillow. Ambien flung you wide across the dreaming heavens, like blinking stars. OxyContin: a supernova behind tender eyelids.
Your family and friends gathered in the living room to welcome you home from the hospital. They extracted promises to do better, to try harder. In exchange, sins were forgiven: vomiting at fundraisers, crashing into the guardrail, forgetting the baby at daycare. If you would only stop being so easily overwhelmed your mother just knew you could be happy again.
Eventually, you tried to appease your wife; once again your words were expensive. Seventy dollars per hour to explain the lemon-sharp tang of the world to a man who wanted to know about your sex life. Unsatisfactory days had an aftertaste of spoiled milk in bitter coffee.
She fled your leaking heart, and you held the absence of your family up against your ear like a seashell and heard the sound of your own blood roaring like high tide. You stopped trying to swim for shore and were swept out into the deep.
Your moment approached like a lover on bare feet. You took care to shower and shave. You paid fifty dollars for a haircut and smiled as you tipped the mohawked girl for her time. You ironed your best white shirt and favorite grey tie. You shined your shoes.
Finally, you went to see your daughter. You decided that she was traveling with an unreliable map, that you were simply a city she wouldn’t visit. Your ex-wife thought you seemed well.
Your expiration date was August 7th. You were thirty-six years old. You left a brief note.
I wanted to be better.
Ani King is a pen stealer, notebook hoarder, unreliable knitter, and obsessive reader from Lansing, Michigan.