The Italic House is my favorite place to meet people for appointments. There's something about warm, earthy tones and overpriced coffee to make people feel good and unaware of anything outside of themselves. Everyone comes here for midday, romantic ambiance or they're here to show off their Instagram-worthy writing setups.
Window tables are the best to watch for whomever I'm supposed to meet, but I have to get there before the light gets too inspirational. There's enough space to set up my pad and sprawls out while I wait. This window table is an easy escape after a disappointing prognosis.
Italic isn't busy today, so I should get a drink while I set up. I sling my olive colored messenger bag over the side of the mahogany chair and hope Lacey's not late or blows me off.
"Hi there, I am Cara and I'll be your waitress today, can I start you off with something to drink?" the waitress asks. I order two cappuccinos and a glass of water while trying to avoid eye contact with her. Watching the Amazon waitress walk away is difficult for me to avoid. She's the kind of rare kind of beautiful creature in the wild, you should make a move, but I don't because I'm not here to flirt. In the meantime, I pull out a pen, my prescription pad, and my tablet for the day's news and gossip on detestable social networks.
"So and so got his degree in chemical engineering," I murmur. "They got a puppy...got a Coke Zero...new car...intellectual meme...stupid meme."
Cara breaks my concentration with the drinks. I fixate on her sandy blonde, ponytail and chiseled face. There's something faintly European about her, but I won't mention it. "Anything else from the menu?" she asks.
"Come back in a little bit," I say. Someone would wink here, but I keep it casual and leave my attraction implied.
"Okay, take your time," she says flashing her perfect, white teeth.
I reach into the inner pocket of my denim jacket for my flask. This cappuccino looks like it could use some Irish influence. Next, I lean into my bag for an orange, phosphorescent bottle reading "Bitter Pills/Jackson Walsh/Take two pills whenever needed./Drink with alcohol to get full effect./Keep at even ratio." I pop two orange capsules with a chaser from the flask.
I clicked and twirled my pen like Alan Cumming in Goldeneye. It takes a special kind annoyed and dexterity to recreate this scene; I was impressed. Scrolling through the feed of humblebrag: "4.0 GPA...internship with father's company...grandma out of the hospital...mixtape is 'fiyah'...oh, a deal on jeans. Where the hell are you Lacey?"
The bell over the door rang and Lacey walks in wearing a white sundress and an oversized hat she thinks is "chic." Her ebony hair is like a cloud underneath and is probably the reason why she's late. This will be an interesting appointment.
"Jackson, how are you?" she says in her excited inflection. "Did you hear that (blah, blah) ..."
"Got a Coke Zero," I answer.
"Graduated with their chemical engineering degree," Lacey drones on. "(Whatever) got the Coke Zero."
"I'm great, Lacey, stellar, really," I say.
"I'm sorry, Jack," she says taking her place. "It's great they're doing so well. I know I wouldn't be able to do that."
"Listen, we need to talk about our exchange before (Whatshername's) engagement party?"
Lacey pokes through her text messages while fiddling with her hair. I popped a couple of more pills with a whiskey back to brace myself for her. "What about it?"
"Well, you ditched me for one thing," I say. "I'm lucky I was called into work then. You know how embarrassing it would be to be the only single person at that thing?"
"But you might not have been the only single person there," she says, furrowing her manicured eyebrows. "You know I was going out of town with Patrick and you could have benefited from going stag."
"I knew the night before," I deadpan. "You told me the night before and I had no chance to find another date. You made me sound like I was crazy or obsessed with you or something. I felt like I needed Lithium. Like crazy."
"I'm sorry, Jack, but I wouldn't have known anyone, either," Lacey says. "I didn't think you wanted to go."
I pull out my flask for another dose and chase it down with some cappuccino. My dose helps me give others the necessary dosage to fix their mistakes, so it's best to keep my meds and alcohol intake at a one to one ratio.
With a couple more Goldeneye pen clicks, I fill out Lacey's prescription. My chicken scratch is barely legible, but the blue ink drives the point home. The best possible remedy is a bit of a cold shoulder. The paper rips off the pad in one swift light-as-air, satisfying motion
"What's going on?" Lacey asks. Her brown eyes were wide and bewildered.
"You can go now," I order with a blank stare. "You will feel it almost immediately and will have to keep taking it for a few months or until I check for any change."
Lacey's upper cheekbones twitch as she reads the prescription, like a product of anger, sadness, and relief on her face. The shock value hit her hard but felt normal to me because I inoculated myself. She rubbed her temples as if she had a sharp headache leaving the coffee house and question if something is wrong, but she only feels the cold shoulder as prescribed.
I walk a fine line between easy going and control freak because it's an enticing power dynamic. When I decide she's cured of her selfishness problem, things will be awkward before it gets normal. Lacey is a returning patient I am always happy to serve.
My companion left in a bit of a rush, so Cara returns to check on me likely for a good tip. "Is everything okay?" she asks. "That girl left pretty quickly. She didn't even touch the drink you bought."
"It's great, Cara," I say. "I am feeling a bit peckish, though. How about the Mediterranean Chicken Wrap?"
"Are you sure everything's okay?" Cara asks again. "She looked pretty stunned about what happened. Was she your girlfriend?"
"You see, Cara, that's a privileged conversation," I say hoping the alcohol hasn't kicked in. "I'm not comfortable discussing it with someone I just met."
"Oh, I'm sorry, I get right on that wrap," Cara stammers, worrying about getting stiffed. She walks into the kitchen, but she doesn't need to worry about her tip because I know she works hard.
It's been a couple of months without Lacey. She's tried contacting me to a brief, disinterested and frosty reception. Her prescription is working as it should.
Another appointment at Italic calls for another dose of medicine. There's no time to wonder about what an attractive, yet unattainable waitress thought of me this time.
The coffee house is crowded. It's what I get for agreeing to meet at 9:30 on a Sunday morning. My table is open, but Elise waits for me at a table against the wall. Great, she can't even do that right. I take another dose and hit off of my flask for good measure before squeezing onto the bench along the wall with my prescription pad ready.
"Hey, Jack, it's been a minute," Elise says with a slight smile. She looks like she's been traipsing a college campus and sink her manicure into a good party. Her strawberry blonde hair is in a disheveled bun with last night's makeup painted on. At least she made an effort to put on a clean tank top and jean shorts, a step up for her.
"I'm okay, I guess," I reply and scan the room for Cara so I can quietly admire her.
"You looking for someone else?" Elise asks gazing at me. "I'm pretty sure you came here to get some breakfast with me. Or am I not good enough?"
Shit, why does she have to talk like that? I'm only allowed to talk like that. Our waitress approaches the table, but she looks like a mousy bag lady. Perhaps she's nice.
"Hi there, I'm (yeah) and I'll be your waitress today," she says with an earnest demeanor. "Can I start you off with something to drink?"
"Coffee, loaded with sugar," Elise says mid-groan.
"Water for me," I order. "Hey, can you tell me if Cara is working today?"
"Oh, Cara ended up getting a part in some play on Broadway," the bag lady says. "She's having the time of her life. I'm so happy for her."
Shit sandwich. I take a double, but I don't wanna deal with Elise and small talk. My prescription is low, but I won't need a refill after the appointment.
"So did you hear Lacey is getting married to (that guy)?" Elise asks. "I guess he threw this big party and claimed it was for the summer solstice. There's no way that anyone but Lacey would believe he'd throw a party for the summer solstice. Who does that?"
Time for two more pills. I did know they were serious again, but it slipped my mind after muting her social media presence. How could they be engaged after a couple of months?
"That's nice," I say in the middle of a gulp from my flask. "Sucks I couldn't be there, I was super busy. I barely had time to fit this in."
"Are you okay, Jackson?" Elise asks. "You seem to be hitting it hard."
"You seem to be hitting it hard" is rich coming from her. Does she not remember trying to drive around when she was so drunk she should be comatose? I sure as hell know that I wouldn't make that kind of decision with three other people to worry about.
"Elise," I start in. "Have you looked at yourself lately? Like really, go look in a mirror and see how your life is turning out."
"What the fuck?" Elise asks, stunned. "What is your deal? Are you going through some 'I'm angry so I'm gonna be mad at the world' phase? Who are you to judge people?"
"You're a mess," I say. "I've tried and tried to help you and get active because I'm your best friend. But what are you doing besides dragging yourself and anyone around you down? I'm going to have to give you something pretty aggressive because I care."
I scratch out a prescription for a strong case of silent treatment. No words, no presence in each other's lives. It will be long and arduous, but I'll survive. Whether we do is another story.
"Are you so unhappy with your life to lash out at me?" Elise asks.
It's hard for me to deal because I care about Elise, but I can't stand to look at or talk to the vacuous person she's become: a party girl with no aspirations beyond the bottle. Pretty rich coming from me since I'm taking swigs out of a flask to keep myself taken care of. At least I know that I have problems.
The bag lady returns with our drinks, but I rip off Elise's prescription and leave a five dollar tip before escaping The Italic House. I can't stay here anymore. Another dose of my medicine is necessary as I push through the glass door. I hope we'll get something out of this but not our speaking for a long time is best. I'll survive by referring to her case with others for their opinion, except I only have one person to talk to since I'm still waiting to finish with Lacey's cold shoulder.
The last few months have been pretty chill. Most days, I need a couple of bitter pills a week to get by, so I haven't needed my own prescription for the sake of other people. I've been busy working on my communications degree and a couple of part-time jobs. When I do opt for a social life -- outside of text messages and social media swiping through click bait and news -- I'm hanging out with Shane or my cousin Aluna with whoever else rolls along.
I've managed to relax away from the daily stressors but anyone can relax, so it's no big deal. Tonight, I'm meeting up with Shane for some dinner and a drink before running around for whatever seems fun. It's a night to forget about priorities and be young. The bitter October cold isn't anything to stop us from enjoying ourselves, I'll wear more clothes than any rational person.
We decide to go to The Carousel because it is the right place to go for a decent meal and start off a good night. I'm running late from my job at the radio station and he got out of class before I left work, so we meet at the restaurant. The crowd is thick here, but I find Shane in a booth toward the back.
"How was traffic?" he asks pushing up his glasses in the middle of a text message from his girlfriend. "You're earlier than I thought because of the mess on the highway."
"It wasn't bad," I say. "Honestly, I would have been here sooner if I finished my guest schedule this morning instead of walking in at ten. My own fault. How was class?"
"It was good," Shane answers. He goes on about an anthropological study his class talked about for the first few minutes we're together. It's interesting, but I wouldn't have known enough to contribute. Sometimes I wish I was interested enough in anything the way he is. I respect his curiosity and other people like him for the genuine desire to exercise their intelligence.
The meal is simple, warm and inviting like the bar. There's nothing like a medium rare bar burger and a beer to make me happy. I didn't need any pills or my flask as if something was going right in my life.
"Have you heard anything about Elise, lately?" I ask.
"Yeah, I guess she's in school now," Shane answers. "I saw on (some social network) she got a job at a bank and she's got a boyfriend now."
I'm happy for her. Something must be going right in her life, but I am a little jealous of the guy. There were a couple of points in my life I thought we could work out, but she either did something to piss me off or I chose the friendship over romance. Usually, those feelings emerge when a guy showed interest in her, a common occurrence for girls I kept in the friend-zone. I start to show my own interest like someone stole a toy from me, but I couldn't muster a real move.
"Oh, yeah," I say. "Good for her for cleaning up her act. Maybe all she needed was an extra push in the right direction." I sound a little self-righteous like I was the catalyst for someone's life changes, but I get those feelings whenever a friend made good choices. I look at (some social network) to check if I was right. My eyes widen at the engagement party pictures, but I'm happy for her.
Shane looks annoyed, so I put my phone in the pocket and we talk about some current events. We'd gab about politics and pop culture then take playful jabs about each other's differing opinions. Our dialogue is innocent enough to pass the time before dinner.
"I can't believe you would support (insert politician)'s policy about (insert hot-button issue)," I nearly shout. "You don't get it. Your opinion is so stupid and pointless, I thought you knew better."
"You can't see the logic behind why this is happening," Shane asserts. "Don't say my opinion is stupid because you can't see it."
"If you opened your eyes, you'd see it's stupid," I shoot back. "I don't know how you could support that."
"You know how ignorant you sound by arguing something is wrong by saying it's stupid," he said. "If you paid attention to anything other than yourself you could learn something."
"How dare you say I'm ignorant?" I argue my feeble defense. "I work hard and pay as much attention to what's going on in the world as much as anyone else."
This exchange goes on until our meals arrive and for as many good points I made, I defend the two bad ones I lobbed out. Eventually the conversation turns to digs about character and personality. It's safe to say this night will end earlier than anticipated.
He pulls out six phosphorescent bottles -- like the one for my bitter pills -- and sits them in front of me. I recognize each one: one for Lacey's cold shoulder; one for Elise's silent treatment; one for pain in the ass--for a former friend named Brandon; one for a downer to Jasmine. The last bottle reads: "Tranquilizer/Jackson Walsh/Take until you're a better person."
I look up and he was gone. My cell phone logged into (annoying social network) is the only thing on the table -- although I didn't log back in -- and all traces of the food was gone. I remove myself from the table, knocking over the five pill bottles and cascading the pharmaceuticals over the table. In a daze, I make my way through the bar to the men's room, clutching the phone in both hands. I need a minute to collect myself.
I lock the bathroom door and stare in the LED light to see how everyone I wrote a prescription to fix their life is doing. Everyone looked happy. The common denominator: I wasn't in any of the posts or pictures, even though I could have been. Instead, I choose to live in the perpetual, hypocritical state taking issue with everyone else's problems instead of my own.
I throw my overpriced phone at the dirty, porcelain toilet and it shatters into pieces in and around the well-worn commode. I break down in tears and slide down the door because I may have overdosed on my own medicine. This feeling was nothing like what my bitter pills gave me.
In the midst of the torrent of tears, I wonder if I missed any of my patients. Those bottles did not represent all the meds I've given out through the years because I would have died looking at all those pharmaceuticals. There's no way I would have been able to take it all at once. How could I manage to dish it out to other people so often?
Everyone is capable of giving others what they need or deserve. I should have known it from the beginning. Maybe I should've served them just desserts. Maybe my friends would've stayed around.
Maybe it's me.
It is me.