Deer in the Headlights

Quitting smoking is hard. It says so right in the nicotine replacement therapy packages I kept buying at CVS for two years straight so I wouldn’t have to go without my nic fix at work. I’ve switched to a vape, and tonight I ran out of my 3mg e-liquid, so I headed to the vape store to replace it with a 0mg liquid. I’ll hang onto the placebo effect for as long as I can.

I have a love-hate relationship with the vape store I go to. Yes, there is one a lot closer to my house, but the employees there don’t seem to know what they’re doing and everything is twice the price as the one closer to I-4. However, there is a man, J.J., at the store I go to with whom I have a brief, shameful history. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say, I was younger, stupider, and a lot more impulsive than I am now. He doesn’t harass me or anything, he’s actually quite pleasant, but I try to keep him at arm’s length.

As I drove to the store, Sonic Youth’s album Sister sizzled through my speakers, arguably a poor choice of music for someone who has anxiety about being behind the wheel. I love the first two songs on the album, “Schizophrenia” and “Catholic Block,” but the rest is a dizzying and terrifying soundscape of guitar feedback and yelling.

I touched the back of my neck. as I do when I’m anxious. When I was raped, almost two years ago, my rapist put his hand on the back of my neck to hold me still. How awkward the whole ordeal really was–my face pressed against a bookshelf, both of us standing up, him behind me…

I was smoking a pack of 305 filtered cigars a day back then, and they made me incredibly nauseous, but they were cheap and they kept the cravings at bay for the most part. I thought I would vomit as he continued to violate my body, but instead, I just gasped for air. I remember thinking that I hadn’t taken a breath that deep since before I started smoking.

But all that’s in the past now.

I arrived at the vape store and silenced my music. I just have to get in and out. I’m not going to stay and hang out. I don’t have to talk to him, I thought once I saw that J.J. was working the counter. I got what I needed–my 0mg e-liquid–paid, and left. That wasn’t so bad. I felt a little awkward; I was unable to make eye contact and my voice came out as a shaky murmur, hardly any sound at all. I had to repeat myself several times. But no crisis occurred, no Bad Men ambushed me, no one followed me to me car.

I will admit to having a last hurrah tonight. Rebecca came over after her first day at her new job, and I bummed a cigarette from her. I certainly don’t miss them. The taste is acrid and, well… smoky. Not exactly enjoyable.

Tomorrow, I will be nicotine-free and no doubt feel like I am losing my mind. So, not too different than how I already feel, just without the carcinogens.

On the drive home, most of the lights stayed in their places, but a few of them swirled around my face, and I tried to swat them away. Thankfully, there were very few people on the road. “Almost home, almost home,” I told myself aloud. 

I thought of all the men who have had access to my body. December has never been an easy time for me. December holds fragmented childhood memories of adults harming a little girl who might have been me. It is also the time a boy I was sort of dating during my senior year of high school forced me into doing something disgusting for him by holding me against the wall by my throat. My feet hung inches off the floor, I saw stars. I thought this was normal. I wanted love. I settled for attention. It would take me years to learn the difference.

Still driving, I passed through a stretch of road with only trees on one side. My headlights (Are my headlights on? Oh shit, did I forget to turn my headlights on again? No? Okay, good.) illuminate an animal standing on the side of the road. It is a deer, a male deer with regal antlers, just standing there. Waiting for me.

Clearly it is some kind of omen. I wonder if I am the only one seeing this. Real or not, I must be because there is no one else around to tell me if the animal is actually there. He doesn’t try to send me any thoughts. He doesn’t even move as I fly by in my car. He is a phantom, a mirage, there and then not, perhaps the ghost of the dead deer I saw at Magnolia Creek–it feels like a lifetime ago. Has it really only been a few years?

I feel like I have aged lifetimes since being diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. Friends have vaporized, either graduated and gotten jobs, or gotten married and started a family. I know that I still have a fighting chance, that I can get my Bachelor’s degree too, maybe even a Master’s depending on where my academic career takes me, that I can have a family, anything a “normal” person could want.

I tried to cut my own hair tonight. The last time I did this, my hair came out fantastic, but I took a chunk out of my hand. This time, my hands were unscathed, but I took a chunk out of my bangs, and I will be wearing clips and headbands until further notice. My sink is full of hair, but other than that, the bathroom counter doesn’t look too bad. These are the things I want to worry about.

A very creepy self-portrait from my last haircut.

I am terrified of ghosts. I see them everywhere, in the corners of my eye, leering over me in my sleep. They live inside my teeth. I have to stop myself from telling these things to everyone I meet. I want to warn them of the danger we’re all in. Is this what it means to “go crazy?” I miss the days when my fantasies were contained by a marbled composition book cover, just stories I wrote down for fun. Nights are always the hardest.

My one accomplishment of the day was that I made a phone call. I also went to the doctor, where I spent nearly three hours waiting for another office to fax some lab results over, only to be told that there is absolutely nothing wrong with me. (Aside from the obvious.)

With any luck, this means that at tomorrow’s psychiatrist appointment, I will get a prescription for Clozaril, and I will be back on the road to high-functioning sanity. Fingers crossed.

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