I always see ghosts. I can’t help it. I lie awake at night staring above me – how many times will I count the ceiling tiles? – and alternate between conversations with my great aunt, uncle, grandparents, cousin Joseph who passed away last year, and scolding myself for my imagination.
Your thoughts are not who you are, I tell myself. I know this because I am reading an article in a magazine in the doctor’s office about how to worry less. I want to worry less. I worry so much. That’s why I’m here to see the doctor.
All my girlfriends take Xanax. For anxiety. They say it’s great. Some of them go through it quickly then complain the doctor won’t refill their prescriptions fast enough, others make a single prescription last for a year. “I just take it when I’m traveling and can’t fall asleep in a strange place,” one says. That sounds fine to me. Except I feel like I’m traveling every time I curl up in bed, one pillow under my head, another between my knees. I might need more than the doctor is willing to provide.
The door opens. My name is called. I rise, shifting my purse strap on my shoulder and clench the magazine in my fist. I realize I am clenching, take a breath and hold it more loosely, like a woman on vacation contemplating sunscreen. “Hello,” I say, walking forward. The nurse – is she a nurse? Assistant? I have no idea these days. Whatever she is, her smile is kind as she ushers me to the scale and lets me take my shoes off before stepping aboard.
Her smile remains steady through a blood pressure check and a pulse read. I wonder why they never tell you the numbers and whether they’re good or bad, just take your vitals, make their notes and move on. Who doesn’t want to know? High? Low? It’s insulting to have to ask, so I don’t.
I’m left sitting on a paper-covered table, feet dangling like a child’s, back aching from nothing to lean against, flipping though this magazine I’ve glommed onto. Apparently I am not moisturizing my skin enough. I should also be consuming more olive oil, but less sugar. Here is a smoothie with olive oil and apples and, of course, kale. And lemon. If I drink this every morning, my skin will glow.
My grandmother comes into the room. “I told you to eat lemons,” she says. Her eyes shimmer bright green like they always have. “Look at my hands,” she says. “All those years cooking for the family, you’d think they’d be nothing but dried up prunes, but no. Every meal I used olive oil. Every time I poured it in the pan, I rubbed it into my hands. Look. Do these look like the hands of an old lady?”
I look. Her hands look suspiciously young. “Maybe they have special lotion in Heaven,” I joke.
Grandmother narrows her eyes, her brows knit together. “You mock at your own peril,” she says. Before I can protest, explain, she vanishes.
My heart lurches a bit. I always loved her, admired her beauty and no-nonsense way. She would yell at my grandfather to help with the dishes when all the other men were hunkered down around the TV, hollering at the football game.
My mouth feels like sandpaper. Probably the residue of last night’s margarita binge. I search around for a paper cup, no luck, so I angle my head under the faucet, turn on the tap and inhale. The water tastes disgusting.
“You think that’s bad,” cousin Joseph says. “You should have come with us to Manzanillo in ’87. Man, that was an excellent trip, even if I did spent two days puking because I drank the water. Too much tequila, woke up in the middle of the night all cotton-mouthed, did what you just did, sucked the water right out of the tap. Only difference is, I could have died. You’re just put off because it’s not some kind of artisanal H20.”
I want to argue, but, well, he is kind of right. While I mull it over, he leaves without saying goodbye. Ghosts are like that.
Finally the doctor comes in. Asks me a few questions, makes a few notes. I stammer asking for the Xanax, overexplain my anxiety and why it would be okay, I’m not the addictive type, I don’t want her to think I’m some sort of junkie. She pauses, looks at me, opens her mouth like she wants to say something, then closes it. Finishes scribbling out the prescription, hands it to me.
I thank her. Hand the receptionist the $20 co-pay on the way out. Take the magazine with me, nonchalantly, the way I used to walk out of the drugstore with a tube of mascara and bottle of 151.
I’m not an addict. I’ll get the prescription filled tomorrow. I can wait. I drive home with Aunt Jane in the passenger seat telling me I need to eat more, am looking thin. The rearview mirror glows orange as dusk turns to evening turns to dark.
The sun sets and that was that.