“Jason.” I feel her hands on my face now. “You know what the definition of insanity is?”
“Doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results.”
“What? Next time we’ll find your home? How? You going to fill another notebook tonight? Would it make a difference if you did?” She lays her hand on my chest. “Your heart is going crazy. You have to calm down.”
Rolling over, she turns off the lamp on the table between the beds.
Lies down beside me, but there’s nothing sexual about her touch.
My head feels better with the lights off.
The only illumination in the room is the blue neon light from the sign outside the window, and it’s late enough that the passing cars on the street below are few and far between.
Sleep is riding in. Mercifully.
I shut my eyes, thinking of the five notebooks stacked on my bedside table. Almost every page is filled with my increasingly manic scrawl. I keep thinking if I write enough, if I’m specific enough, that I’ll capture a full-enough picture of my world to finally take me home.
But it’s not happening.
Amanda isn’t wrong.
I’m looking for a grain of sand on an infinite beach.
In the morning, Amanda is no longer beside me. I lie on my side, watching the sunlight push through the blinds, listening to the noise of traffic humming through the walls. The clock is behind me on the bedside table. I can’t see the time, but it feels late. We’ve slept in.
I sit up, throw back the covers, look over at Amanda’s bed.
I start quickly toward the bathroom to see if she’s in there, but what I see on top of the dresser makes me stop.
A few coins.
And a piece of paper ripped out of a notebook, covered in Amanda’s handwriting.
Jason. After last night, it was clear to me that you’ve made a decision to go down a path I can’t follow. I struggled with this all night. As your friend, as a therapist, I want to help you. I want to fix you. But I can’t. And I can’t keep watching you fall down. Especially if I’m part of the reason you keep falling down. To what extent is our collective subconscious driving our connections to these worlds? It’s not that I don’t want you to get back to your wife. I want nothing more. But we’ve been together now for weeks. It’s hard not to get attached, especially under these circumstances, when you’re all I have.
I read your notebooks yesterday, when I was wondering if you’d left me, and honey, you’re missing the point. You’re writing down all these things about your Chicago, but not what you feel.
I’ve left you the backpack, half the ampoules, and half the money (a whopping $161 and change). I don’t know where I’ll end up. I’m curious and scared, but excited too. There’s a part of me that really wants to stay, but you need to choose your own next door to open. So do I.
Jason, I wish you nothing but happiness. Be safe. Amanda
AMPOULES REMAINING: 7
By myself, the full horror of the corridor sinks in.
I have never felt so alone.
There’s no Daniela in this world.
Chicago feels wrong without her.
I hate everything about it.
The color of the sky seems off.
The familiar buildings mock me.
Even the air tastes like a lie.
Because it isn’t my city.
AMPOULES REMAINING: 6
I’m striking out.
All night, I walk the streets alone.
Letting my system purge the drug.
I eat at an all-night diner and ride the train back to the South Side at dawn.
On my way to the abandoned power plant, three teenagers see me.
They’re on the other side of the road, but at this hour, the streets are empty.
They call out to me.
Taunts and slurs.
I ignore them.
But I know I’m in trouble when they start across the street, purposefully moving in my direction.
For a moment, I consider running, but they’re young and no doubt faster. Besides, it occurs to me as my mouth runs dry and the fight-or-flight response kicks an initial dump of adrenaline into my system that I may need my strength.
On the outskirts of a neighborhood, where the row houses end and a train yard begins, they catch up to me.
There’s no one else out at this hour.
No help in sight.
They’re even younger than I first thought, and the smell of malt liquor wafts off them like malicious cologne. The ragged energy they carry in their eyes suggests they’ve been out all night, perhaps searching for this exact opportunity.
The beating begins in earnest.
They don’t even bother talking shit.
I’m too tired, too broken to fight back.
Before I even know what’s happening, I’m down on the pavement getting kicked in the stomach, the back, the face.
I black out for a moment, and when I come to, I can feel their hands running up and down my body, searching—I assume—for a wallet that isn’t there.
They finally rip my backpack away, and as I bleed on the pavement, take off laughing and running down the street.
I lie there for a long time, listening to the volume of traffic steadily increase.
The day grows brighter.
People walk past me on the sidewalk without stopping.
Each breath drives a wedge of pain between my bruised ribs, and my left eye is swollen shut.
After a while, I manage to sit up.
Using a chain-link fence, I drag myself onto my feet.
I snake my hand up the inside of my shirt, my fingers grazing the piece of duct tape that’s affixed to my side.
It hurts like hell to peel it slowly back, but everything hurts like hell.
The ampoules are still there.
I stumble back into the box and shut myself inside.
My money is gone.
My notebooks are gone.
My syringes and needles.
I have nothing but my broken body and three more chances to get this right.
AMPOULES REMAINING: 2
I spend the first half of the day begging on a South Side street corner for enough money to catch a train into the city.