Featured in Colorado Review
Published Summer 2017
The years from 2007 through 2011 blur in my memory. Some moments I can barely make out—they’re like streetlights on a rainy night, no more than gauze in the dark. Others interlock, firm. These are the years my daughter and I lived in Oklahoma, where we landed after brief stops in three other states after my release from rehab in 2006. I was, after all the moves and miscalculations, still mind wandering and restless. My daughter was four.
Halfway between Dallas and the Oklahoma border, there’s a 7-Eleven on the northbound side of I-35 in Denton, Texas, where we now live.
After my daughter’s birth in 2002, there were nights I sat in the rocking chair next to her crib, understanding that the world would be better if I killed myself. And her. I’d grip the arms of the chair and flex every muscle in my body to stop myself. One night, I walked into the room where her father was reading and sat on the edge of the bed beside him. I admitted I had no feelings—for him, for her, for myself—but that we could be friends; we could raise her together. We’d be fine. Our lives would be fine.
He left four months later.
The bed-headed clerk rushes back from the gas pumps outside. He’s apologizing, explaining he’s been shouting away the man who hovers in the mornings asking anyone who’s filling up for a couple of bucks. “Every damn day,” he mumbles. I set my Big Gulp on the counter, fumble in my purse for enough change.
Not long after my daughter’s father left, I described the apathy to my doctor and she diagnosed me with postpartum depression. She prescribed Lexapro, an antidepressant, making me promise to see a psychiatrist, but I knew I wouldn’t do it, couldn’t do it. I was in my final semester of graduate school, and my daughter was six months old. I had classes to teach and seminar papers and a thesis to write. I had very little money, university insurance, and no time. I took the Lexapro anyway. As the weeks passed, I realized I had always felt a little down my entire life. The pills lifted that heaviness.
Twentysomething clerks come and go here, most lasting a month or so except for the stout blonde woman, Sharon, who’s in her mid-thirties and gets her nails painted the color of whatever holiday nears. My favorite so far has been the sparkling silver she had done for New Year’s. She calls me “sweetie” and “babe.” When she’s busy stocking the chip aisle or cleaning the coffee machine during lulls in the morning rush, I wave a dollar in the air on my way to the register, tell her I’ll leave it on the counter. Other mornings, I’ll hand her eighty-six cents on my way back to the fountain drink machine, where I pour Diet Dr Pepper into a plastic cup. Every morning.
A thin boy in a large cowboy hat sets down a twenty, and when the manager hands him two packs of smokes, the boy shakes his head, tosses his hand toward the cigarettes. “No, not this one—the Reds,” he says rudely. The manager, a slight, balding Middle Eastern man, pauses, takes a long look at him before asking for ID. Cowboy looks out to his truck at the gas pumps, says he doesn’t have it. The manager slides the cigarettes back, says, “No.” “But I already paid for ’em.” I feel sorry for Cowboy until he stomps toward the door then shoves it open, hurling a “Fuck you” at the morning.
The Gold Peak tea machine in the back of the store has had a handwritten Out of Order!!! sign taped to it since we moved here about a year ago, and the front window has never been without a Now Hiring sign. I wonder how much 7-Eleven pays, because I see one of the clerks walking back to his apartment in my complex after his shift. It’s not lost on me that as a professor, I share the same housing as an employee at the nearest convenience store.
On a night when the Powerball jackpot soars over 400 million, my daughter and I rush to the store with only thirty minutes before ticket sales end at nine. The strangers inside the store make a ribbon from the two registers and through the candy aisle before curving at the Gatorades in the back cooler. We all stand, shuffling our feet, craning our necks to see what’s taking so long, smiling awkwardly each time someone asks where the line ends. The lottery computer fights and loses against all the other ones churning across the country. Trevor, the clerk, shouts toward us that a ticket took ten minutes to print after the machine shut down and had to be rebooted. And then, a sudden clearing when a young Hispanic woman toward the front of the line hits the floor, fainting. “Someone get some water!” I abandon my place in line, run to the fountain machine and get a Big Gulp of ice and water, then hand it to her, still on the floor. Within minutes, three tall men in navy emt uniforms move through the crowd. They usher her out into a dark night, the flashing blue and red lights blaring against the hush of our shared delusion.
After graduate school, I took a tenure-track position at a small university in Utah. There, a new doctor traded my Lexapro for Wellbutrin. I remember looking at the pill bottle in a drawer in the kitchen and feeling listless, but I don’t remember how Effexor, the orange pill, became my next med. The bottle had a large X on the label, warning me against alcohol, but I ignored it. What followed was a fast dissolve into marathon sessions of Chardonnay that began as soon as my daughter, then sixteen months, fell asleep in her crib. The Effexor catapulted my wine consumption to precarious peaks that left me staggering around the house in the middle of the night, often waking up in the hall, or more than once, on the steps of the front porch. With Effexor, I could drink what is equivalent to a box of wine every night, and after enough of those nights and the toxic mix of the antidepressants surging with the gallon of depressants in my system, my thoughts were as dark as the nights I drank through.
On the morning I called the rehab center, the counselor gave me an intake interview.
“Do you have thoughts of harming yourself?” Yes.
“Do you have thoughts of harming anyone else?” Yes.
Jill Talbot is the author of The Way We Weren't: A Memoir (Soft Skull, 2015) and the editor of Metawritings: Toward a Theory of Nonfiction (Iowa, 2012). She teaches in the creative writing program at University of North Texas.