Adam Steel


Hard rain smattered against the asphalt as a streak of lightning appeared in the distance. On a typically quiet street in meddlesome suburbia, an awkward, white colonial stood out amongst the row of red-bricked Tudors. Pessimistically peering from one of its superfluous windows was Tasmin Lennox, a precocious, over-achieving eighteen-year-old who vowed to detach herself from her philosophy paper at six o’clock, just long enough to reassess the news she had received three days prior. For as long as she could remember, she had always been complemented on her gorgeous smile, which made the declaration about her problematic wisdom teeth all the more unsettling. Her date with the oral surgeon came exactly twelve days prior to her mid-term exams she had discovered, which left the girl distant and irritable.

Surprisingly, there was very little fear in Tasmin’s heart; she had never been a fan of strangers tooling around in her mouth with jagged, metal instruments. However, her only apprehension was due to the possible repercussions of her recovery, which could play a detrimental role in the outcome of her grade—a concept that she held in higher regard than anything else.

“Taz, Mom wants you to set the table!” cried Manny, her fifteen-year-old brother.

“Manny,” she said somberly to herself. Manny didn’t have to worry about crooked teeth or poor grades—he already had both. She would have postponed her surgery had it not been for the crippling headaches she would periodically receive as a result of the four pillars emerging from the back of her chops. Like squatters, they simply arrived, unannounced, and set up shop right on her jawbone. She popped her fourth Aspirin of the day and went bounding down the stairs.

There are those seniors who make it their aim to attain the most out of their last year in high school, and this year Tasmin was the undisputed Queen of Priority. Highest in all of her classes, she couldn’t wait to get to homeroom where she would then venture, with the rest of her English class, to the school library for the College Fair. She imagined the plethora of opportunities waiting for her. Opportunities to abscond to some academic kingdom, as it were, and surround herself with people more suited to her intelligence and interests.

“Taz! Taz!” she recognized the voice behind her as Enid, a girl she had known since the ninth grade. Her and Tasmin were the typical levelheaded seniors who associated exclusively with one another and spent their lunch periods in the library—by choice.

“I tried calling you on Saturday, but your mom said you wouldn’t come out of the bathroom,” Enid said, once she had come within about two feet of her friend. “I didn’t believe her at first, but then I thought about how you had to get your teeth out and how you were probably having a nervous breakdown about exams and so I decided to leave you alone.”

“Yeah. I don’t know what it is but I swear if they get infected and I have to postpone—”

“Ahhh…I was wondering when she was going to make an appearance.”

“Who?” Tasmin replied.

“Ms. Tasmin the Pessimist. You went on for quite a while there—I was beginning to think that she wasn’t going to show.” Enid claimed, brimming with sarcasm. “It all has to do with your subconscious, you know?”

“Don’t go off on one of your psychological rants again,” Tasmin said. “I can’t help it. I come from a long line of hypochondriacs. My father is a wuss, and so was his father, and his father.”

“You are that worried about exams?”

“I had a flawless studying schedule completely mapped out until these damned teeth started giving me migraines, for sobbing out loud!”

“Give me fifty bucks. I’ll take ’em out for you at lunch.”

“Yeah, okay!”

Dinner at the Lennox home was about as pleasant as tooth extraction itself. The inevitable ‘how was your day, dear?’ was thrown around to each member of the table. It had only recently appeared to Tasmin that nobody was genuinely inquisitive about the trials and tribulations of her day. Everybody put in a full day’s work just to come home and partake in yet another job: the role of mom, dad, sister and brother.

“When’s your surgery set to take place, Taz?” her father asked—the first unconventional question of the evening.

“Two weeks from Monday,” Tasmin replied, lackluster as usual.

“Well, I’m sure you’ll find the time will just fly by, honey,” her mother had added cautiously, as if interrupting a private conversation.

“I suppose.”

Two and a half weeks did arrive quicker than expected. Tasmin was flat on her back in the dentist chair. She was not at her family dentist’s office, yet the chair itself was identical. She considered the fact that some factory actually constructs hundreds, if not thousands of the same exact chairs. She noticed the model number inscribed on the armrest and thought about how many other models there were, and if any of them came with features that her chair didn’t have—anything to take her mind off of the set of pliers on the tray in front of her. The anesthesiologist entered and within minutes, she was out cold.

“That wasn’t too bad,” Tasmin said, rubbing her eyes.

“Yeah, piece of cake,” her mother replied. “Now we’ll stop off at the pharmacy and pick something up for the pain, because he said that the Novocain should wear off soon.”

She could feel the stitches with her tongue, running up and down the back of her mouth. She could sense that metallic taste of blood, but she tried to put it out of her mind.

Tasmin’s mother dropped her off at home and went back to work. She carried in the conspicuous paper bag with the big “R” on it—which contained a generous prescription of Percodan, accompanied with strict instructions. She didn’t take the medication right away but rather waited for the pain to emerge naturally, as it did sometime later. She quickly popped two tablets, without reading the recommended intake. The pleasure was like nothing she had ever experienced—subtle, yet eliminating every apprehension she had concerning the future, the healing process, or anything else for that matter. So pleasurable in fact, that she took two more an hour later.

Tasmin had woken at 2am the next morning. In all, she had consumed 7 tablets in a fourteen-hour period. This was unbeknownst to Mrs. Lennox, who had been immersed in her Martha Stewart Living the night before, trying to find some appetizing morsel to serve her family for dinner. Tasmin lurched back and forth in bed, trying to regain her once comfortable slumber, but to no avail. She crept downstairs at about 3:15 to make herself a cup of tea, but spontaneously ventured into the medicine cupboard instead. She thought to herself that a couple tablets of Sleep-Eeze would work twice as fast. Upon opening the blister pack, she discovered that there were three pills left, so rather than taking the maximum two, she went back upstairs with all three and a glass of water.

An entire week had past, and Tasmin was down to the last of her Percodan and her prescription permitted only one more refill. Tasmin was also going back to school on Monday, after a recuperative hiatus. Enid had delivered class notes to Tasmin every night after school to help prepare for her calculus exam, and every night commented, jokingly, on how horrible she looked. Also in this time, Tasmin had abstained from dinner on more than one occasion, and as a result, lost about five pounds.

“Wake up, honey” Tamsin’s mother whispered into her ear. The prospect of school had somehow lost its appeal to Tasmin, as she sulked off into the shower.

“Did you put any make-up on this morning?” asked Enid, upon seeing Tasmin in homeroom that day.

“Yeah, why?”

“You’re getting bags under your eyes. Did you get any sleep?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.” Tasmin snapped.

Tasmin had to wait another full week to refill her prescription, getting by on copious amounts of plain, old Aspirin. She did not want the pharmacist to think that she was some kind of junkie who popped painkillers like Pez. The long-awaited day arrived and sent Tasmin walking to the drugstore after school. She was fortunate that her mother had not noticed that she had used a three-week supply of painkillers in nine days.

“Are you following the dosage with these?” the pharmacist asked in an obnoxious, nasal voice. Like all pharmacists, he stood about three feet higher than everyone, towering over Tasmin in a menacing, accusatory stance.

“No, I have just had unbelievable headaches accompanied with these four simultaneous toothaches, and I just couldn’t mix these pills with Tylenol or Advil,” she answered with a surprisingly convincing lie, as she was caught completely off-guard. He reluctantly filled her order and gave her a stern warning about reading the accompanying literature. Tasmin left in a hurry, humiliated beyond belief, and proceeded to walk three city blocks to another drugstore (avoiding any further questioning) to pick-up a box of the sleeping pills that had worked wonders for her the week prior. She called her mother at about 6:30 to let her know that she would be late for dinner (because she “had been at the library with Enid”) and would pick something up on her way home. When she strolled in at 7:15, her mother and father were doing the dishes.

“Get all your homework done, Sweetie?” her father asked.

“Oh yeah, Dad.”

She kissed the two of them and traipsed up the stairs, heaving her bag onto the bed. Switching on her bathroom light, she had noticed that over the course of the day, the pain in her mouth had subsided. However, this did not diminish the fact that she had a full bottle of Percodan. She removed the wad of cotton and placed a few in her mouth. Three pills. Followed by two sleeping pills. She knew that it was irresponsible to ingest so many downers at once, but the euphoric effect completely immersed her in a state comparable to no other feeling she had experienced—not recently anyway. Leaving the bathroom, she held the walls for support, slinking back to her room. As she turned the bed down, she glared at the knapsack in the middle, realizing that she had three days to study for her calculus exam. Rather than panic, Tasmin went over to her record player, set “Court and Spark” onto the turntable and dropped onto the mattress like a dead weight. Within minutes she was fast asleep.

The highly anticipated calculus exam came—and went. Tasmin had fallen asleep at her desk, but not before scribbling some defunct equations onto her loose-leaf. It could not have been avoided—she had once again awoken at 3AM and lazed about in her bed for three hours. By the time her bus arrived, she had completely forgotten all that she had studied the night before. Surprisingly, Tasmin was not all that upset when her class let out that day. Enid was nowhere to be found, and she was not about to go off looking for her. The two girls hadn’t spoken in five days—Enid was concerned about Tasmin’s gaunt appearance and attitude day after day. Tasmin did not need pity from anybody. She ignored the phone calls altogether and gave strict instructions to her family that she was not at home if Enid were to inquire.

Questions about the exam bombarded the usual transparent conversation at the “dinner table of death” as Tasmin had now termed it.

“It was fine, okay? I did fine on it.” Nobody spoke for the rest of the meal.

“What was that all about at dinner?” Manny had followed her upstairs after doing the dishes. “Are you feelin’ okay?”

“What do you care?” Tasmin replied.

“You look like crap. You don’t say a word to anybody, I have to lie to Enid whenever she calls, and you have some serious bags under your eyes. You look like the walking dead every time I see you.”

Tasmin was dumbfounded at the range of emotion that her brother expressed. She was aware of her merciless attitude toward everyone in her life, particularly since the surgery, but had ultimately underestimated their concerns for her safety. She swallowed her pride and approached Manny with open-arms for the first time in years. The two shared a genuine embrace before Manny left the room without saying another word. The hug proved to be a surreal moment in an ordinary, abysmal day for Tasmin. Apart from a prominent pain at the back of her head, Tasmin’s body felt numb. She ran to her bathroom just in time to make it to the toilet to bring up what very little she had eaten that day. The vomit, for the most part, was blood red and visibly contained traces of pill capsules. Her esophagus throbbed and her abdominals ached from the constant wretch that accompanied every minute spent on the grimy bathmat. This was also the eighth visit she had made to the toilet in this manner since the preceding Sunday. As she lay on the floor, utterly feeble, she turned the water on in the shower and peeled off her clothes one by one, without removing her head from the bowl.

When she had summoned enough courage to try to stand, she received a massive rush of blood to the head. This dizzying effect, accompanied by the need to purge once again, hammered its weight upon Tasmin’s frail body and she could sense that she was about to pass out. Her eyes rolled back into her head and she proceeded to teeter back and forth. Her body came tumbling to the ground and on the way her head bluntly smacked the ceramic bathtub, which was followed by that immediate, and familiar, metallic taste in her mouth. She lay there, motionless, frozen in a fixed position in which she could feel none of her extremities.

Fixed on the door, Tasmin’s eyes began to glaze as the crimson river began to flow from its wound. Nothing could have prepared her for what this evening had in store. The addiction. The craving. The feeling of sheer empowerment and invincibility had all contributed to this downfall. It was unreasonable to blame this behavior on her teeth. Tasmin was never one to admit defeat. However, nothing of this magnitude had ever taken hold of her life and reprogrammed it in such a powerful manner. The darkness began to overtake her as she waited and prayed for morning. As she lay bleeding, all that she could see from the window at her angle was the alluring glow of the moon; the very same moon that she had viewed on restless nights like this one.