They told us not to exchange names for the sake of anonymity. They wore lab coats and carried clipboards, we tended to listen to what they said. The girl launched my heart and hurtled it across the room without so much as making eye contact with me. When my heart streaked the wall, it pulsed a few times before quivering, then dying. It stained the wall a strawberry red so everyone else yielded it a warning sign. But I never knew her name because they told us not to exchange names.
It was a rule, and they enforced rules. None of us knew what the punishments were, but none of us demanded answers. We were damned, sentenced to death row, dispatched to Hell. But the ones in the lab coats – the ones carrying the clipboards – told us this was an opportunity. They announced our gratitude to us like telling ham it should be grateful to be served at supper. Maybe some of us were appreciative of rules. Maybe some of us thought we were a society of lost children without rules.
But I just wanted to know the name of the bitch who shattered through my thorax and strong-armed my heart out of my chest and laughed as ventricles and aortas dripped a Jackson Pollock melting candle blood bath on the floor.
Love was out of the question because who could fall in love with something that doesn’t have a name? No one goes to a shelter and adopts a skittering puppy known only as Dog. But once you name him Bernard – he finds a home. His eyes are liquid chocolate and you feel love in your heart as he slobbers all over your new sofa.
Seriously. Screw that bitch who pummeled me into submission and stole the one thing that was mine. I didn’t know her name, but a part of me sought revenge.
“You’re addicts here,” they told us. But we had the opportunity to start fresh. A new beginning. A resurrection without the need for a tomb or three-day weekend. They made it religious without mentioning God because they told us not to exchange names.
You know, for the sake of anonymity.
He created the world in seven days, the least we could do is reinvent ourselves.
Her star-eyes enchanted me. I know I said she didn’t make eye contact with me, but that didn’t stop me from looking at her eyes honeyed with golden-brown amber. I hated that feeling. That moony feeling, so I hated her. I hated her before she could even love me.
…but that didn’t make it buzz with electric pain any less when she rejected my advances.
I sat around an empty facility, making origami birds and painting river stones. They told me art would heal my wounds. They told me this was the salve to life’s burns. But didn’t they know it burned from the inside out? I knew fire performers who had swallowed less kerosene than I. But I listened dumbly as I brushed even strokes of acrylic paints onto rocks.
I swallowed my pills every night. Then, one by one, like inmates, they marched in. No names. Like mercenaries, I guess. Seven of them. I could have named them after the deadly sins; I could have named them after the rainbow – but who was Red? who was Indigo? I settled on days of the week.
Sunday sat across from me in the cafeteria that night, slurping his soup, face as boiling hot as a steamed lobster. “You know what really gets my goat,” he flared that night. He looked like a giant, bellowing, “Fee fie fo fum. I smell the blood of an Englishman. Be he alive or be he dead, I’ll grind his bones to make me bread.” I was too shy to speak, so I drank my minestrone and wiped my chin.
When I stumbled to bed that night, we’d had our anonymous groups, talking about our problems in a circle that felt like a knot. A man with waist-length hair and the muscles of Thor announced his vice was heroin. I squinted, remembering the junkies on 23rd Street. Scrawny and frail. Veins shattered and eyes like pinpricks. I tried not to scoff. We all had our weaknesses.
We all had our devils.
I listened to each one of them. Monday talked about her gambling addiction, writing blank checks to the casino and taking out a second mortgage. I could understand how an addiction could dig you into a hole and leave you bankrupted.
Tuesday whined about alcohol, that old workhorse. Her skin was wrinkled, raisins sat out in the sun. When she spoke, her body convulsed. Later, the facilitator told me in confidence, it was DTs – delirium tremors.
I never had anything as exotic as that. But I watched. Others had tells. Their fingers would twitch for a cigarette or they’d rub their eyes like light was a new concept for them.
Shit. I was ordinary. I painted my rocks. Figured if I did my time, they’d send me home. Thursday opened her elegant mouth to speak, and that’s when I became itchy. I was infested with something and could not stop scratching. Over the roar of beetles and the buzz of bugs, her quiet voice played out like a piano. I could not hear. The man next to me gnashed his teeth like he was taking a metal file to them. I clenched down hard like I was biting through a gag, but no words came out.
When Sunday spoke, I could finally hear again. He had said something about rage. Mentioned homicide. But these were just words, and when I lay down to sleep that night, my straitjacket was a comfortable embrace.