Am I ever going to know where I hope to escape to? I understand that I’m trying escape from reality, but I’m still not clear on what the destination is.
I’m your number one fan. Can I please come to your factory sometime?
You feel like shit right now. But it’s not just now. You feel like shit all the time. Why?Drinking.
Is that true?
No, you’re fine.
Wow,I have no desire to escape myself today
throughThe only way out is through.
We ordered more quesadillas and another round of nachos. The steam rising off them was beautiful again. I didn’t feel full after eating. I felt bottomless.
“Actually, I’m going to smoke one more cigarette,” I said to my brother. I fished my pack out of the US Bank trash can, sucked down the final final smoke of my life, and threw the pack away again.
The only way out is threw. And thru. And through.
I got back into the car and asked my brother, “Should we go through the drive-through again?”
This time, he said no.
Pivotal scenes between me and garbage receptacles have echoed over the years, although echo isn’t the right word. An echo gets quieter over time. These echoes have gotten louder.
In 2013, I ate the last Pepperidge Farm raspberry thumbprint cookie of my life, then threw the rest of the bag into a Santa Monica dumpster.
Less than ten minutes later, I climbed in to get it back. I bulldozed the remaining cookies, then walked down the alley to 7-Eleven for a fresh bag.
In 2019, I threw my vape into the dumpster at my apartment building, which is visible from my office window. For three days, I looked down at it cockily, thinking, I am so powerful now. I am doing so well now. I can do anything now.
On the fourth day, I had an annoying phone conversation with a self-centered socialite who wanted me to write her idea into a novel for free. I was out walking while we talked. When I got home, I watched myself go not to the door, but rather to the dumpster. It took me a few minutes to find the correct bag. My hands got sticky rifling through other people’s trash. I found my vape next to an apple core and some squeezed lemon wedges. For the next few days, smoking it tasted like rotted fruit.
Every week, I put an amount of nicotine into my body that is immeasurable, at least to me, because I don’t measure it. Cigarettes are easy to count. The vape is a more mysterious creature.
My vape is bright blue, which is funny, because I don’t like the color blue.
My vape is my best friend, my lover, my god.
Last year, I dated a smoker and started smoking again. So now I’m vaping and smoking every day, and also every night, and also in the weird interim hours that belong to neither night nor day, like 3 and 4 a.m.
My hand, on its own, reaches out from under the covers to take hold of the bright blue god. My thumb knows where the button is. I don’t even open my eyes.
I suspect that Jane knows every crack in the sidewalk along the stretch between House of Pies and the French restaurant. I suspect that she knows where each one of her belongings is in the ceremonial scatter around her. I suspect that if she’s using drugs, they are not in the scatter. They are wrapped somewhere inside the sheet she wears like a toga.
Every fall, my sister gives salmon tours to fourth graders on the Yuba River. “The life cycle of the salmon is amazing,” she told me on the phone. So I asked her to tell me what it was.
The salmon are born in the river. For about a year, they stay there, learning to swim and find food. When they’re strong enough, they travel downstream and out into the ocean, where they spend the next ten or so years getting big, sometimes humongous. And then one day, for no trackable reason, a voice inside their head says, Go home.
Of all the river mouths, the salmon know which one they came from. They swim back upstream, and it’s difficult. They have to jump rapids. Some dam structures, the ones that don’t have salmon ladders on the sides, make it impossible. The salmon who do make it back to where they were born lay eggs. They’ve stopped eating by this time. The voice inside their head has said, No more food, it’s almost time to go further back home, back to the place that was home before home was a place.
And then they die.
After we went through the Mexican drive-through two times, I told my brother I would not be drinking for the rest of the weekend, and I didn’t. Instead, I ate so much buttered toast that I could barely change the channel.
The difference between me and my brother is that he has retained his natural instincts to preserve himself and I have not.
At some point (when?), my instincts went awry. They conflated self-preservation with self-destruction. According to my instincts, the line between what is good for me and what is bad for me is a theory, not a fact.
Will my natural instincts ever return, or will the rest of my life be, at best, a facsimile of health?
Where is my original river mouth?
Why doesn’t the voice inside my head know?
Along with being an Olympic-gold vaper (is this a word?), I also work out every day. I like to fight both sides of my war hard.
The reason why I’m an addict doesn’t interest me, because the answer is gray. I don’t like gray. I like black and I like white.
What I’m interested in is how much yogurt and nicotine I’m putting into my body, eleven years into sobriety.
What I’m interested in is what this will look like eleven years from now.
Where is my original river mouth?
Every week I arrange my yogurt in my fridge. The Wallaby tubs live on the top shelf in two rows. The Aris tubs used to live on the bottom shelf in three rows. Now that I’ve loved Aris to death, I buy eight Wallaby tubs instead of five. I usually don’t eat them all, but when they’re not in the fridge, I feel a void. Or I feel The Void.
Aris still hasn’t returned my email about coming to the factory, which is good, because I don’t need temptations right now.
According to the writer Geneen Roth, how a person relates to the food on their plate is how a person relates to the world.
The World Is on Your Plate: An Eating Meditation. This is the name of one of her books.
According to Geneen’s logic, my world is a snowy mess of erratically spooned-out yogurt in an earthenware bowl.
I should probably also mention that when I’m halfway done with my bowl of yogurt, I refill the bowl. I used to do this with my vodka sodas.
Do you want to go through the drive-through again?
The world on my plate is a world that can never be satisfied.
According to the Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön, “The problem is that the desire to change is fundamentally a form of aggression toward yourself.”
Here are some other problems:
The problem with growing up is that it makes home disappear.
What about the saying “You can never go home again”? Is this a problem? Or are memories the only home we really have?
The problem with pain is that it’s mostly invisible.
This problem is solved by the yogurt and the vape.
Look! The pain is on the outside now! Can you see it?
Every morning I wake up to the movement of my hand reaching out from under the covers to strangle the vape. I take a deep pull. I’m already filling my bowl of yogurt in my mind and making the list about the future I plan to have one day.
I like to escape reality while outlining how I will not escape reality later, which seems sort of evolved until you realize that the outlining is its own escape.
The problem is that self-awareness is not the same thing as change.
The problem is that what separates me from reality is not really the yogurt and the nicotine and the lists.
It’s the need to get home. Not to home itself, but to the idea of it.
The problem is that my idea of home is a memory I can’t quite remember.
The other problem is that my body has memorized it perfectly.
Home is the hand that reaches out from under the covers. It’s the stomach full of yogurt. It’s the voice that controls everything from a river mouth I cannot find.
Swan Huntley is a writer living in Los Angeles. Her novels include Getting Clean With Stevie Green, The Goddesses, and We Could Be Beautiful. She earned her MFA at Columbia University and has received fellowships from MacDowell and Yaddo. Her essays have appeared on Salon, The Rumpus, and Autostraddle, among others.