Off the Rails

by Amanda Fletcher   |   



Sunday, September 8, 2002

I wake up to the sound of the sink running, the smell of coffee. It is my first morning home from the hospital and everything hurts. Even the bright sun in my face. It is always sunny in Arizona, and for the first time that fills me with rage. I can see the heat on the other side of the window, and I am already sweating in the air-conditioned cool of the living room. I didn’t sleep so much as lose consciousness, sitting upright in the living room, here in this lawnchair, with the dive, the ICU, and the months to come, spent like this, playing out on the backs of my eyelids like an old TV. Just thinking about it all is exhausting. Yesterday they shot me up with hydroxyzine to control my anxiety. They gave me Demerol for the pain. They sent me home with muscle relaxers and hydrocodone. They made me sign a contract. I wonder if that’s because they can tell who I am. I’m sure I never said. Never told them how I’d shake a few crystals of speed into my palm when I woke up and again around dinnertime, licking it clean with my tongue. Chasing it with a Diet Coke. How I smoked it in a glass pipe for a few months, until the hallucinations got too intense. Maybe they could tell. Maybe it was in my blood or in my bad skin or in my hollowed-out eyes.


1. I AM RESPONSIBLE FOR MY CONTROLLED SUBSTANCE MEDICATIONS. If they are somehow lost, misplaced, or stolen, or if I use the medication up sooner than prescribed, I understand that IT WILL NOT BE REPLACED.

How many times have you combed the carpet, looking for drugs? Just one crystal you can drop in the pipe, knowing it’ll hold you over for another few hours, just that one hit. When the bag is full, you are careless. It’s possible there could be some down here, you think. The way you shake the bag to drop some in your palm, it could happen that some got lost, landed down here on the floor. It is feast or famine. You go so far as to hide some now and then, knowing you could forget about it. Tweakers think in spurts—it requires effort to get from here to there.

2. I WILL NOT REQUEST OR ACCEPT controlled substance medication from another physician or individual while I am receiving such medications from the doctors who are making me sign this form. It is illegal to do so and may endanger my health. The only exception is if something is prescribed to me while I am admitted in the hospital.

I got my drugs from Mike, and he got them from some guy who wanted to use my car in a drive-by. Mike was the keeper. He always knew when and where and how much I was using, and I had to wait until he pulled out the stash. At first that was fine. They’d smoke before going into the shop for the night, and I’d take a hit on the way to the gym. After awhile, I didn’t want to wait for him. I wanted to get high when I wanted to. I started stealing a little out of the packet in the fridge. We kept it in the butter drawer. And maybe he knew I was dipping, probably pointed it out to everyone, made some kind of joke that was no joke at all. So I went in on a bag with a friend. A girl he knew but didn’t know was buying. She paid so I did the pickup. I’d meet her guy at the Walmart down the street from her house. We’d meet in an aisle and pretend we hadn’t seen each other in a while—oh hey it’s you how are you—and then we’d hug one arm overtop and the other down low enough to drop money in his pocket, feel the envelope drop into mine—so good to see you hope to see you again real soon.



Once, when we were at Laughlin for a bike show, I freaked out and flushed all of our drugs down the toilet, a bag of speed as big as my hand. Nevada is a zero-tolerance state. I thought Mike was going to kill me—it was Draper who was cool about it. So they were sober and I was high because that girl was there and she had a stash but we couldn’t say because her boyfriend didn’t know. She begged me not to rat her out. And she didn’t have enough for all of us, anyway.

• WILL NOT BE MADE IF I “RUN OUT EARLY.” I am responsible for taking my medication in the dose prescribed and for keeping track of the amount on hand.

I was a responsible user. I wanted to get buzzed and not eat. I didn’t want to be blitzed out of my mind. I was a functional addict. Went to work, went to the gym, carried on. Just a few crystals in my hand a few hours apart. Smoke a little weed to come down. Take a valium if I was really stuck—hey, maybe even stay up all night. And, yeah, maybe I passed out that one time and didn’t show up for work, but it was just that once. The other time I was just late. Mike, though, he never wanted to sleep. He’d go days and days. Just do more. And it didn’t really matter because he was the boss. The only people he had to hold it together for were his parents. And he was good at that.

• WILL NOT BE MADE AS AN “EMERGENCY” such as a Friday afternoon because I suddenly realize that I will “run out tomorrow.” I must keep track of the medication and plan ahead. I WILL CALL AT LEAST 24 HOURS AHEAD IF I NEED ASSISTANCE with a controlled substance medication prescription.

People get high and don’t go off the rails is all I’m saying. They know how much they have and how much they need and when they’re going to need more. Maybe tweakers are just hyperaware of what’s happening. We’re good planners.

4. I understand that IF I VIOLATE ANY OF THE ABOVE CONDITIONS, my controlled substance prescriptions and/or treatment may be ended immediately. If there is a violation involved in obtaining controlled substances from another individual as described above, I may also be reported to my primary physician, local and medical facilities, and other authorities.

I wasn’t the one who finally said I needed help. That was Mike. Crying on his knees. Explaining to his doctor how he couldn’t make change at the liquor store anymore. The prescription for Wellbutrin hidden under the bathroom counter and never refilled. I didn’t want to stop. I was fine. But woman fine, like, full of fucking rage because he was the one who’d started this whole thing and now he couldn’t handle it. I loved not feeling hungry. I loved tracing my hip bones with my fingertips, how my jeans hung off them, like a hanger. The disconnect was so soothing, gliding through the world on a hum of adrenalin. I felt like I was the opposite of him, like I could handle anything.

*   *   *

Here’s the thing about handling shit: It’s not about being brave. It’s about not having a choice. I left Mike because it was the only option. I went home with Chad because it was the only way I knew how to grieve. I took that trip to the lake because I couldn’t be alone. Now here I am, sitting in a chair in my best friends’ living room, wearing hospital pants and a T-shirt that says Whatever with the neck cut out to fit around my head and the halo screwed into my skull. Like I can handle anything.

The sheepskin lining of the plastic vest is hot against my bare breasts. My head throbs and my eyes ache, so much that I am doing my best to keep them closed against the too-bright room and the urge to look around. I want a cup of coffee, but I can’t drink it. Think about how you need to tip your head to the lip of the mug, what it means to take a sip of some hot liquid. In the halo I need to drink everything out of a straw. I can put some ice in it, Emma says, rushing around the kitchen before work. OK, I tell her, hoping that the caffeine will help me go to the bathroom. The opiates are making me constipated and I’m starting to freak out about it. The only reason I fucked with speed in the first place was because it took away the insatiable hunger that I had no cure for, other than to eat and eat and eat. The joy I felt watching the weight fall off me when I started getting high is indescribable. I wasn’t hungry. I just was. It was a miracle, the lightness of being. Now I am this thick thing, here in this chair. If I think about it too hard I will start to scream.

There is a need to be otherworldly, inhuman. Ethereal. Void means to discharge or to drain away, but it is also the state of being completely empty, clear, and free.

Chad’s mother comes over in the afternoon. It is their first meeting, made even more strange because Chad is at work. She brings the girl two bottles of lemon-flavored magnesium citrate. I had a colonoscopy last week, she says. This stuff worked like a charm. The girl drinks an entire bottle, spends the afternoon in the bathroom, and by the time it is dark, she is me again.
I am shuffling out of the bathroom when the doorbell rings. Can you grab that, Sal asks. Seriously, I say. It’s for you, Fletcher. Fine, I say.

It’s Chad. He’s wearing a short-sleeved button-down tucked into his jeans, and he smells good, like it’s a date or something. I met your mom today, I blurt at him. I know, he says, in that quiet way that I’m starting to realize is just how he is. I see movement around his legs. See him reach behind him for a tiny arm in a pink T-shirt. This is Presley, he says. She peeks out from behind him. Say hi to Amanda, Presley.

I can see how she reaches out to me, holding up the ratty hairpiece she’s just dragged up the driveway, clasped in both hands. Thank you, I say to this tiny blue-eyed towhead. She looks just like me. Come in, Emma says from behind me. I’m just making dinner. She crouches low, says, Are you hungry, Presley? And the little girl nods.

When he sees the hairpiece, Sal asks what it is. It’s a wig, I tell him. Where did it come from, he asks. Presley gave it to me, I say. Why, he asks. She left it in the boat, Chad says. Took it off right before she took that dive. He gestures at the halo in conclusion. Hold up, Sal says before turning to me. You were wearing a wig at the lake, he asks. And when I say, yeah so, his braying laugh follows me all the way back to my chair.

I am too much and not enough all at the same time.

I wonder how that’s possible.



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A 2012 PEN America Emerging Voices Fellow, Amanda Fletcher has worked with the Emerging Voices Fellowship (EV) since 2015. As program manager, Amanda cultivates relationships with acclaimed authors in order to pair them with fellows, invite them to private author evenings, and ask them to teach specialty workshops. She also manages the fellowship’s annual reading series and the extensive alumni network. Prior to her job with PEN, Amanda was a writer and editor for AfterParty Magazine and previously worked with a global nonprofit where she helped young chief executives tell their stories. An active member of the Los Angeles literary community, Amanda has served as a moderator for the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, taught writing workshops for at-risk communities, been a guest on numerous writing podcasts, and read sections of her memoir in progress for Tongue & Groove, Dirty Laundry Lit, Vamp, Roar Shack, Release, and Why There Are Words—Los Angeles. ​ A prolific travel and freelance feature writer, her work has been published in the Los Angeles Review of Books, the Orange County Register, Coast, and Hippocampus magazines, Heritage Future, Far & Wide, Ember, and many more. Originally from Canada, Amanda lives in Los Angeles and is working on her memoir HALO.

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