WALK TO THE LAKE • by P.J. Monroe

I had to walk to the lake. I could have walked to the river but the river was thirty blocks away and the lake was five blocks away and I had to get to water. So, I had to walk to the lake. It was February in Chicago, which put the temperature somewhere between ten and fifteen degrees. Wind chill made it -10. And, of course, it was colder by the lake, because it’s always colder by the lake. I was walking to the lake with my bottle. A little outing. The bottle said, “Diazepam.” It said other things, too. But all that mattered was that it was generic Valium.

It started last winter. I hate winters in Chicago. They’re so dark. They’re so dirty. They’re so cold. And it’s colder by the lake. I live by the lake. I had a root canal. It was that simple. It seems like it should have been more complicated than that. Just a root canal. I’ve never been good about going to the dentist. I have bad teeth. I take good care of them. Every dentist I’ve ever had has patted me on the head and told me how they can tell I take such good care of my teeth and then they say, I should schedule an appointment for another filling. But this was a root canal. And I freaked out. So my dentist gave me a rather generous prescription for Valium, which the pharmacist filled with the generic, Diazepam. And I took it. I took lots of it. Double the dosage prescribed and I still sobbed through the whole procedure. But I got in the chair, so it could be called somewhat effective. And then I got home and my mouth hurt, but I didn’t care so much. I watched television and found myself fascinated with Star Trek. I watched for hours, eating ice cream, before I fell asleep. I slept like a baby.

I started out taking the leftovers from my prescription rather slowly. Five milligrams here, ten there. Maybe just when we had to go out with people from my husband’s office. I’m so shy. I’m so scared of people. And I don’t drink. I don’t understand people who drink. It tastes so bad. And I don’t like the feeling it gives you. When you hit that perfect tipsy spot, you can’t maintain it. You either drink more and get drunk, which is unpleasant and sometimes leads to vomit or you stop drinking and drive yourself straight into an early hangover.

But then, I started taking them in order to get an occasional nap in the afternoon. A good afternoon nap meant I could be perky and happy when my husband came home in the evening. And I like my husband. So, I was really doing it for him. That’s what I told myself.

And then I ran out. I found myself looking it up on the internet. Why would someone take Valium, if they weren’t getting a root canal? I went to my doctor and told him I had really bad backache. I also told him I didn’t like the muscle relaxants, as they made me jittery. He gave me a prescription for Valium, which I filled at the Walgreen’s pharmacy. I went to a psychiatrist and told her about my social anxiety. She gave me a prescription for Valium, which I filled at the CVS pharmacy. I even found myself going into the emergency room for prescriptions that I could have filled at the hospital pharmacy.

And then I started taking them all the time. To relax. To sleep. To have energy later. Just all the time. And then I woke up today. And it was February. I don’t know how it got to be February. I remember March. I remember September. I remember Thanksgiving. And then it was just today. So I put on my coat and grabbed my bottle and started walking to the lake. And now I’m here. I throw the bottle into the lake. And I breathe a sigh of relief. I can feel the weight slipping away from me. I can feel the cold water rush up against my feet, soaking my tennis shoes. I look down and at my feet I see my own prescription bottle. I pick it up and put it in my pocket. So be it. Maybe next winter.

P.J. Monroe was recently relocated to the suburbs. She might die out here, so far from the city. Enjoy her work while you can.

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