Issue 1 Issue 1 Non-Fiction

Unwell Beings

By Lauren Lavín

Another wasted weekend leaned over the toilet, acid and bile sputtering out, unable to keep even water down until way past dark. My husband says we had a great time the night before, and I’m sure he’s right, but now I’m thrown off my medication cycle and will forget to take them on time, which will make me forget to eat and sleep, which will spill over into subsequent days, causing bigger disruptions in the cycle, which may as well be a part of the greater cycle at this point. Rhythmic bumps, reminders to start again. He wishes I were better at managing my health, at handling my liquor. Actually I don’t know if he does, but I also don’t know if I do. 

It sounds worse than it is when I describe it, the drinking, I’m sure, and I wonder what is normal. I am a dirtbag most days. I often forget to brush my teeth or wash my face until like 1pm if I do it at all. I don’t know if I have anything to say anymore, or if there’s a reason to say anything. I am unsure if it’s possible to do or to know anything in a way that matters, or if even that matters. 

Krissy sends me a video of two cats in the place she’s housesitting, and a text-as-caption that reads, “Unwell beings.” We became friends by writing for the same satirical music publication so I hear whispers of a joke set-up and read wry observation in even our normal and serious exchanges. The cats are sitting in the window, backs to her, both thumping their tails against the wall. 

I’ve been trying to help Krissy understand cats. One is twitching the end of its tail, which I tell Krissy means it’s intrigued. The other is thumping its whole tail against the wall—annoyed. 

That’s how I feel when my body’s thinnest innermost contents fight their way up my esophagus, yellow and alien-tasting, to drop pathetic in our filthy toilet. I twitch, unsteadied by curiosity, thump my elbows on the lip of the bowl and hold back a sweaty fistfull of hair, annoyed by the perfect circle of brown dried blood from some past period against porcelain, only visible from this familiar hunched angle. I should clean more. Mold and dust seem like worse problems on this end of the coast than they were down south. I am looking for something without moving toward it. 

I told my two friends Mark, also from the satirical music publication, that I’d work on a summer playlist over the weekend to swap with them. They made theirs already. Instead I spend the days working on a music video and drinking and drinking, punch the first few cans open in the morning while we mix corn syrup and food coloring into fake blood and I keep insisting we add cocoa powder, corn starch, things I pull from the dark backs of cabinets. I pretend to be dead and pretend to kill, I hide in Aaron’s bedroom and bag his head in black plastic, paint my friends’ faces and bodies cold sticky red, laugh loud and sit in unusual chairs to make room for rare company, and have no memory of the night ending. 

Later, when I’m between vomits, Michael asks “Do you remember me telling you to slow down?” I don’t, and I wonder if we are both lying. 

He has a point when he says it’s impossible to make me happy, sometimes. Or maybe he means that it’s impossible for me to feel happy. This is the kind of thing I am always asking him to define and specify for me, especially if we are arguing, which we do often in good and exciting ways but which we also do badly, particularly when we drink, and the asking feels like an automatic thing, a setting whose lock has been activated, an uncontrollable cycle.  “I can tell you’ve been drinking because we’re talking in circles” is a common refrain of mine, whether or not I have also been drinking. 

Dreams are uncommon when I take my medications on time, and sometimes I choose alcohol over meds because together they’re a bad mix and because the alcohol got there first that day. I dreamed last night that I was loading an old sewing machine, winding red thread around the bobbin and urging the whining of the motor through my foot, the cause of the spinning of the small plastic wheel. 

It might not be true, what I said earlier, about being a dirtbag most days and about how eternally I am unraveling shit with Michael. It might be that those days stand out more than all the ones when we are both up in the morning, when he makes eggs or I make oatmeal, when I go to work feeling good and come home feeling good, when we pass a guitar or a book back and forth and I tell him “I would like to marry you again and again.”

“I can’t fucking do this again, I don’t want to,” I insist to his back, meaning “drink alcohol,” but really I don’t mean it, I mean “be this sick again,” because what I believe should be a normal mild hangover keeps snowballing into a day or several without eating or meds, adding beads to a string of sick and useless moments. I’m telling it to him like it’s his fault but really I want a witness, and hate knowing I don’t mean it, that I’ll dry out for the week and we’ll be right back here. 

It’s tempting to believe that the misstep here is trying to keep up with a career drinker who is older than me, but then I remember how far back my string stretches, the uncountable beads from nights blacked out and driving between cities, showing up to work still drunk, compromising my body for the better part of a decade, and I wonder if I’ve ever been able to hold booze or if it’s something that has always poured straight through me. 

Words have meaning, but I don’t know what “alcoholic” or “addicted” means. It means my mother, who said “Today is my sobriety chip day” each and every year on my birthday. It means her constant, sobering reminders of the evils of alcohol and dangers of being born into a family of addicts, but never seeing her take a sip. It means no explanation for her terrifying rage. 

With Michael I guess I’m twisting it into meaning that I must be twisted into it, too. It means he will bring me home one of the drinks I like as a treat in a few days after I say I can’t do that again. He dries out sometimes for a month or so, forgives himself the occasional drink, so I do, too. For him, but not for myself. I resent the treat drink but accept it anyway, and other times ask him to bring me one. 

When Michael and I had our first fling or fell in love or whatever, he told me in the low privacy of my bedroom floor, “People pay attention to you when you speak. You should really check in with that.” It felt flattering and warm but at the same time like being handed a responsibility.

And now I seem to recall that responsibility when I’ve gone too far, too vivid, in my exorcisms. I say things like “I don’t like you when you drink” like I’m throwing a rock into a nest of ants and “Then again I am drinking when I don’t like you when you drink, so maybe it’s more like, when I drink I don’t like who you are when you drink” like I’m sweeping the ants back in. 

You have to say things out loud, or at least write them, or at least I do. I think everyone knows Vonnegut said that. 

“If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.” 

As I bemoan the time lost to making myself drink until I’m sick, the parts of the music video shoot I don’t remember and the ill uselessness that follows, I forget that the video is for a band I am in, and that it’s the band I’ve been wanting to be in since I picked up a guitar twenty years ago, and that the man who truly sees all of me is also in the band, and is married to me, and that he wants to help me make art all day, and that it is as if I am living a dream I dreamed for myself before I had consciousness. 

Or perhaps this is the magical thinking Allison told me is linked with types of anxiety and obsession disorders. No one can convince me that I wouldn’t be able to befriend a pack of wolves in the wild, for example. But then again, I also have fantasized about being eaten by wolves, a death I feel would make me more useful to something else than perhaps I have ever been in life. So either way is fine. 

Allison is also a comedy writer from the satirical music publication, and it occurs to me that at no point did I used to dream of a life with this many comedy writers in it, swapping sobriety advice, favorite records, tales of mental illness, and punching up one another’s lines by asking “What did you mean when you said this?” 

Words mean something, which is why Michael said he was an alcoholic right off the bat, and so easily, because it isn’t the most important thing about him in the way that my mother made it seem like the most important thing about her. Sometimes you have to work backwards when you are untangling knots. 

It’s like those string games kids do, cat’s cradle and all those, how you’d have to undo all your steps and go back methodically to figure out how to get it right. Patterns and tension build into brief moments that almost look like magic when you catch them at the right angle, like at my best friend Kate’s wedding, after I returned to the barn dance floor from getting her husband to smoke me out and she was sad no one was dancing with her, the flood of sunlight that broke through clouds when Michael appeared like a vision dancing wild among us, when the radiation of his exuberance drew in more dancers and I felt the exact same feelings of shock and pleasure I had wrestled with, had not understood, the first moment we met: “That’s my husband.” 

I am a dramatic, anguished pile on the couch. Downstairs, where it’s underground and cool, Michael composes vibrant, meditative music, all crystal glimmers and electric humming that floats through the floor. Then it falls silent, and he comes upstairs. 

“Do you want to come write next to me?” 

So I follow him down, where he asks my input on these long ambient compositions, and I am of use, and my high-pitched spinning slows to a stop. I tell him the music is perfect to write to. I’m doing it now.

Lauren Lavín‘s work appears in Fourteen Hills, Triangle House Review, HAD, The Hard Times: The First 40 Years (Mariner Books), and elsewhere. She lives and collaborates with her husband in Seattle.