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I have always loved Halloween.

There are the visuals: monster movies, baskets of brightly colored candy bars, costumes that amaze, confuse, and seduce, a full moon that shines like a spotlight upon tiny towns with gothic spires and picket fences, scarecrows and jack-o-lanterns.

Picture

PARIS, FRANCE-

I was pulled over by the French police today.

I suppose it was only a matter of time before it happened.

Every time I see the police here I actually physically cringe because I’m so afraid of them.

But this morning I didn’t see them. I didn’t know they were there.

I also didn’t know I’d done anything wrong.

Frenchpolice

I had just gone through a yellow light, only to go about one car length to the next yellow light where I stopped.

Yes, there were two stop lights one after the other. About 10 meters (yards) apart, if that.

So I’m sitting here at the light when I see a cop walking toward me.

My stomach sinks. I begin replaying the last scene in my head. Was the light red? Did I forget to signal? Was I driving too fast? What’s he doing?

Oh no! He’s knocking on my window.

He doesn’t even wait for me to finish unrolling my window before he demands that I pull over across the street.

“OK,” I say.

But I continue to wait at the red light because I have to do a u-turn to pull over to the spot he’s pointing to.

“You ran a red light back there. Did you see all the other cars stop? Why did you keep going?” he asks me (in French of course).

“Oh. I didn’t realize it was red. I thought it was a yellow light.”

Yellowlight

“Are you trying to be smart with me?! If you’re going to get smart with me I can be a real asshole! Is that what you want?”

“Erm. No. I’m sorry. I’m not trying to be difficult.”

“Well, why are you driving if you don’t know your colors. If you can’t tell the difference between green and red you shouldn’t be driving. Now pull over across the street.”

“I am. I mean, I’m going to. I’m just waiting for the light. Oh, there it is.”

So I pull over across the street where he had indicated. And at this point I have absolutely no idea what I said to upset him so much. My hands are shaking and my eyes are tearing up.

Once I’m pulled over he starts in on me again.

“Garbly, garble, blah, blah, garble, the bus … récoule.”

“What? I’m sorry. I’m not trying to be difficult but I really don’t understand.”

“Garb-ly, gar-ble, BLAH, BLAH, GAR-BLE, THE BUS … RE-COULE!” he says it slower and louder, as though I’m in some kind of comedy show where they’re making fun of people who do this. Saying it louder does not help me to know what the words mean, it just scares me.

Now I’m really crying. I have no idea what he’s asking me to do. I pulled over where he asked me to. I don’t see a bus in my rearview mirror.

I am parked in a bus stop area though, so maybe he wants me to back up? Yes. Let’s try that.

I begin backing up and I say, “Like this?”

OUI!

He instructs me to continue backing up. When I finally am told to stop, he asks me for my license and registration, which I give him.

The registration cards here are in fancy little plastic blue billfolds and I didn’t know I needed to take it out for him.

He throws it back through the window and demands that I take it out of the plastic, which I do, hands shaking.

Everything I do seems to only make this situation worse. I know I’m not trying to be difficult, but for some reason he’s convinced that I am.

Traffictree

He looks at my license and asks me where I’m from.

I look at him confused. Did he really just ask me where I’m from? Or did I hear him wrong? Because it says right on my license in all caps: CALIFORNIA.

“Erm.”

Again, with the slow loud talking, he asks me where I’m from.

“California, is that it?!” he asks.

Oui. Je viens de Californie.

At this point a second officer comes and I think I’m saved. He must be here to translate for me.

The first cop turns his back to me and speaks in the direction of the translator cop.

Il faut faire attention ici,” he says.

Il faut vraiment faire attention ici,” translator cop repeats.

Il y a des piétons partout ici, et les véhicules d’urgences aussi.”

And again translator cop repeats IN FRENCH.

Trafficlight

At this point I’m really beginning to feel as though I’m on candid camera or something.

This looks like a comic sketch.

It goes on for several minutes: The first cop lecturing me, and the second cop repeating the lecture word for word, translating it from French into … French … as though hearing it twice will suddenly make me understand French better.

The imaginary bus I left space for should drive up right about now and hit both of them. Or maybe someone will come running down the street with pies for me to shove in their faces.

Are they going to break into song and dance next? I wonder.

“Is this really happening right now?” I’m thinking, when suddenly something translator cop says catches my attention.

Meme si le feu est orange il faut arrêter.

LIGHT BULB! Ah, so the first cop thought I was being smart because I called it a yellow light. Well, how was I supposed to know it was called an orange light here? Aren’t orange and yellow pretty much the same anyway?

“Sorry officer. I didn’t realize I had to stop for orange lights as well,” I say through my tears.

“Well, driving in Paris isn’t like driving in Provence. There you may be able to do that, but here it’s much more dangerous,” says translator cop, who is the only one talking anymore.

The first cop hands me back my papers and license.

Then translator cop smiles and says, “This isn’t the United States. We aren’t as severe as the police in the U.S., are we?”

In my head I say, “Well, in all the times I’ve been pulled over at home I’ve never been yelled at by a police officer, nor have I cried.”

But I say, “Erm. I don’t know.”

“No, we’re not so bad,” he says.

And then they take a few steps back from my car and begin pointedly ignoring me.

What is going on here? Does this mean I get to go?

“Can I go then?” I ask.

“Go ahead.” they say. “Just make a left at the next street and a left at the following light and you’ll end up back where you were headed.”

“OK. Thanks.”

I wipe away my tears and begin slowly driving away, unsure whether they’d suddenly change their minds and begin running madcap after my car, holding onto the bumper as I drag them behind me.

P.S. I looked for the word “recouler” in the dictionary when I got home and it wasn’t in there. I guess it means “to roll back” but I can’t be certain. I do know it doesn’t mean, literally translated, “to back up,” nor does it mean “to move in reverse.”

You buy a house. Alone.

You paint your living room. Alone.

One Saturday in October, you force yourself to drive to the hardware store, buy a sander, a pry bar, a carpet knife, a nail set, three kinds of sandpaper, and a can of finish.

This is my record of quitting smoking with the cessation drug Chantix.

Note 1: Always consult your doctor about drug dosages.

Note 2: This is not the diary of a pack-a-day puffer. I cannot attest to the stuff’s efficacy with hardcore smokers.

But I can attest to a hardcore and irrational love for smoking.

Especially with wine.

Or vodka tonics.

Or Baileys.

Or anything alcoholic, let’s be honest.

I love smoking on my balcony before bed staring at the moon.

I love smoking on foreign beaches.

I love smoking on special occasions.

Stressful occasions.

Occasions such as Saturday.

I’d never take a smoke break at work – that’s gross – but happy hour on a Wednesday? Pass the lighter.

This year I turned 30, which is simply too old to be smoking.

How does Chantix work? you may be wondering.

Varenicline, the mellifluous chemical in Chantix, sneaks up and latches on the nicotinic receptors in your brain.

Normally when you smoke nicotine attaches to those nicotinic receptors, sending a message to your brain to release dopamine.

But when Varenicline’s hanging out it prevents nicotine from binding itself to the same pleasure receptors, meaning you can’t derive pleasure from nicotine.

Essentially, Chantix cock blocks your Marlboro Lights.

QUIT DAYS 1-7

Because it takes a week to build up in the body, popping half a milligram twice daily of Chantix has no discernible effect. Continue to smoke when the mood strikes.

USEFUL READER TIP – In Texas at least, the cheapest place to fill your Chantix script is the pharmacy at Sam’s Club. Membership not required.

QUIT DAY 8

One milligram twice daily (double the dosage) doesn’t fuck around.

Listlessness.

Nausea.

I keep attempting to smoke but my beloveds smell and taste like industrial polymer, like the poison they are.

The last thing I love is no longer lovable.

Relief/grief. It’s a weird combo.

QUIT DAY 9

Cranky.

Foggy.

Forming a complete thought is

Secondhand smoke makes me heave.

I nearly pass out in my hot yoga class. Which may be the Chantix or the 105 degree heat. Hard to say. I manage to stagger from the room despite the teacher’s dirty look. You are not supposed to leave the room in hot yoga. It’s very bad form.

I meekly apologize to the teacher after class, after twenty panicky minutes sitting in the stinky locker room trying not to die.


QUIT DAY 10

Fuck that guy in grade 10 who stole his mother’s Du Mauriers and brought them to school.

Fuck RJR.

Fuck me.

Fuck.

The rest of the side effects have arrived at that side effect frat party going on my body. Shortness of
breath/dizziness/headaches/irritability/nightmares/and because I write anonymously I will admit/ diarrhea.

Like PMS and food poisoning together.

QUIT DAYS 11-25

Insomnia.

Mild depression.

Chantix has locked into my nicotinic receptors like Z tetrads into T tetrads. The only urge is hand to mouth. Attempted smoking tastes repulsive.

When I’m lucky enough to actually be asleep I have vivid, acid trip nightmares the online ex-smoker community refers to as Chantix Dreams. Usually involving graphic violence and/or rough sex acts.

Pfizer unleashes a barrage of “GetQuit” email encouragements written by idiots who clearly never suffered from a nicotine addiction.

Example email encouragement: You’ve been Quit for 3 weeks. Reward yourself with a latte!

Idiots. Latte is standard.

I deserve porcelain veneers.

Or Lasik eye surgery. Some major health-related reward.


QUIT DAY 26

The nightmares are euphemistically noted on the warning papers stapled to the paper bag the pharmacy gives you like this: Changes in dreaming are possible.

QUIT DAY 37

5:27AM.

I’m up. UP.

The doctor’s office opens in three more hours. Christ.

I think about my life.

Overlooking a few things, my life is pleasant.

I think about my clothes. Mental wardrobe inventory.

I think about being awake and bored.

I get up, get ready, get going.

Eight on the dot I call Dr. Williams and rattle off the list of side effects.

Just go ahead and stop taking the medication, he says.

Cold turkey? I ask incredulously. At this point I’ve been reading the online Chantix forums and I know the cold turkey thing is not good (which I relay this to Dr. Williams, I think a little testily).

Back to half a milligram then, he suggests (I think a little impatiently). The side effects tend to show up at the higher dosage. We hang up.

Where the fuck did Dr. Williams go to medical school? I wonder to myself for the first time in the five years I’ve been going to him.

Irritated, I stomp to the kitchen and cut every pill in two. Little blue bits go flying behind the stove and fridge under the force of the knife.

QUIT DAY 54

I’ve got this shit on lock.

0.5mg in the mornings only, on a full stomach only.

Pound water all day.

Some type of exhausting cardio after work.

Tylenol PM Rapid Release Gels before bed.

Resignation.


QUIT DAY 75

I don’t smoke any more.

Smoking is over for me.

I am a non-smoker.

I’m still taking half a milligram of Chantix. I’m still having nightmares that would make Wes Craven piss himself. I’m still taking the odd puff at the bar when my decision-making skills are impaired by alcohol and it still tastes like nail polish remover with gasoline. When I even go to bars. Drinking without smoking = sex without orgasm.

In summary, Chantix at the lower dosage doesn’t limit normal life functioning and it makes cigarettes suck.

Depression and sleeplessness seem like a small price to pay for breaking an addiction.

Before I begin any cross-posting from The U.E.S. Journal I would like to share with The Nervous Breakdown the introduction to my first issue from a few years ago, as well as one of the first pieces I wrote for it.  Sure, The Upper East Side is just another neighborhood, but to me it also feels like a novel or soap opera, and I wouldn’t want you to jump in at a part that didn’t make sense or was boring.  Frankly, this also buys me some time to tweak (I hate that word, does anyone have a better expression, not including “flush out?”) my next few posts.

The subway train slows into the station and smoothes to a soft, comfortable stop.

It’s the fourth stop on my five-stop ride.

There are no seats available and I find myself standing directly opposite the set of entrance/exit doors.

Doors open, several people exit.

In the wake of their exit stands a rugged-looking hombre in his early 40s, holding a tall-boy of Mahoua Classica in one hand–the Madrileña king of beers–and a cigarette in the other. His dark green trenchcoat is bedraggled and frayed; his well-worn jeans end to reveal a pair of once-white tennis shoes that look like they were soaked for days in asparagus-alimented piss.

At his feet lies an old typewriter.

Part One

A week before I left for Bread Loaf in August, our friend, Sherri’s*, daughter was killed by an ex-boyfriend. He shot her multiple times in her apartment, and then walked outside to the parking lot and killed himself. The complex has them on videotape: Daneel standing her ground, telling him “It’s over, Manny. Go home,” and then walking back up the stairs to her place, Manny in his car, getting his gun from the glove compartment, loading it with bullets kept in the trunk, walking back up to Daneel’s, then back down before putting the gun under his chin. It took him thirteen minutes to die.

I’d gotten up early that Saturday to weed the garden before the day’s heat, had run inside to catch the house phone, a call from my sister in California. I heard my husband’s cell phone ring, and he came into the den. “You need to get off the phone,” he said, “quickly.” Sherri had called. Daneel had been murdered, shot. Could he stop the autopsy? Didn’t we know the Jefferson Parish District Attorney? She didn’t want her daughter cut on. She’d been crying too hard to understand.

“Daneel was murdered,” he said to me, stunned.

“Daneel?” I said. “Murdered? No, that can’t be.”

Malcolm called Sherri’s husband. “Demetrius,” he said. “I’m going to repeat this to you so you don’t have to say the words out loud. I want to understand. Daneel . . . she was shot to death this morning at 5:30?”

Demetrius said, yes, she had been.

“The guy then killed himself?”

Yes, Demetrius said.

Daneel was twenty-six, a post-op nurse, and she lived across the street from her younger sister, Erica, twenty-one, who didn’t yet know. Daneel’s father, Pico, a New Orleans police officer, was on his way to tell her.

I sat on the kitchen floor and cried into my hands, and Malcolm leaned against the counter and wept. “This can’t be,” we said, stuck records. Our own teenage son was upstairs sleeping in his room.

We showered, dressed and left for Sherri and Demetrius’ house on the West Bank. It was almost eleven and the family had been informed at 9:30. I drove so Malcolm could make calls. The police investigator explained that an autopsy had to be done, by state law. Bullets remained in Daneel and they needed to be recovered as evidence. “I don’t want Sherri to know that,” he said to me. He phoned Demetrius to tell him what the woman had said. “She told me Daneel didn’t suffer.”

Their house is in a well landscaped neighborhood off General DeGaulle. The directions were simple, but I made two wrong turns getting there, had to wait for the same slow-changing traffic lights to cycle. “Just take your time,” Malcolm said. We gripped hands, rested them on the console. “You don’t recover from this,” he said. His father had died suddenly of a heart attack when Malcolm was eighteen.

There were cars in the garage and the driveway, a police car at the curb. Some young black guys stood outside in the heat in baggy shorts and striped Polos. They nodded quietly to us as we went inside. We’d never been to Sherri’s house before. She’d worked with us for ten years but we’d always seen her on our side of the river. We walked into despair, people in each other’s arms crying, and Malcolm and I put our arms around Sherri and cried. “I don’t understand,” I said. I don’t remember what Sherri or Malcolm said. We held each other in an awkward bear hug, a triangle of crying. But I’d never seen or heard grief that fresh. I’d had grandparents die, but not by surprise, and at the end of their lives, not on the upswing.

“The girls spent all yesterday with my mother across the lake,” Sherri told us. “It was my father’s birthday.” Sherri’s dad had been buried six months before. They’d lost their home in New Orleans East when the levees broke, and had just moved into a new place in Covington, close to Sherri’s brother, a doctor. Her mom sat on the sofa with Erica in her arms. I sat beside Erica. She let me hold her, and we cried. “I can’t believe this,” I said. “Manny didn’t like me,” she said. “He was harassing Daneel.” “Physically,” I said. “Never,” Erica said, “but with text messaging and the phone. She’d been broken up with him since January.” It was August 11th. “I was with her until ten thirty, until she told me to go home, she wanted to turn off the phone and sleep.”

“He had a gun?” I said.

“His dad got robbed after the storm, so he bought one to have,” Erica said.

Malcolm came to her and she jumped up into his arms. He’d known Sherri’s girls since middle school. When they walked into the office, his heartbeat stuttered. They were astonishing, Creoles with creamy skin and pale green eyes, graceful and lanky in their tiny jeans and t-shirts. A few weeks ago, they’d both showed up in his door, but he’d been on the phone. By the time he went down the hall to find them, they’d gone to their respective jobs, and he’d regretted that chance to visit, so the next time they came in and he was on the phone, this time with me, he’d said, “I gotta go, there are two beautiful women standing in my doorway,” like I’d understand. I hung up quicker than I needed to, not wanting to yield even though we hadn’t been talking about anything important.

Sherri’s brother got up with his wife to leave. They were going to the funeral home to begin arrangements. “Do you have a priest?” I asked Sherri. “Not one we’re close to,” she said. “Do you want to use ours?” I offered, and she said she did. I stepped outside the front door to call Father Hermes, a Jesuit, and left a message on his cell phone. Our son, Andrew, called from Subway to see if his dad and I wanted a sandwich. “Sweetie, something terrible’s happened, but not to Dad and me,” I said, and I told him about Daneel. He stayed quiet until he said, flatly, “Miss Sherri’s okay.”

“Not okay, but she’s with family. I’ve never seen crying like this, Andrew. It’s the saddest room.”

“How’s Erica?” he said.

“Not good. She was with her sister until late last night. I think she knew things had turned bad between Daneel and the guy.” I didn’t yet know his name.

“She’s gonna feel guilty,” he said.

“I don’t know. We’re finding stuff out slowly.” I told him graphic details to keep him on the phone, to bring him into this grief with us because he’d been out late the night before, missed curfew by a mile, and I’d gone to bed pissed at him. “I don’t trust you,” I’d told him in the kitchen that morning when he’d stumbled downstairs with a lame excuse. “Go back to bed.”

“When’s the funeral?” he said, but it was too soon to know. My flight to Vermont was on Friday. “I hope before I go,” I said. It was Sunday.

“It’s gonna be crowded,” Andrew said. He sounded so sad, unschooled in the protocols of grieving. So was I.

“What do we do?” he said.

“You offer help, you make yourself available,” I said. “Maybe later you can bring over Popeye’s?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I will.”

“Our family’s tight again,” I said, worried that he might not take how much his dad and I loved him for granted.

“I know,” he said.

(*The names of the family have been changed to protect their privacy.)