After Jofka was asleep at night, I’d sit down at my typewriter with a glass of wine or scotch. I might not have known what I was doing with my life, but I did know I had to be productive. Despite active alcoholism, I was pretty disciplined and didn’t need group therapy to tell me that if the creative part of my brain wasn’t working, the darkest of all despairs loomed. I started a series of short stories, some of which were published, most of which got lost. They were the basis of a portfolio to get me into graduate school (I was one term short of my B.A. but I figured maybe, if my portfolio was good enough, no one would notice).
I hardly ever saw Patsy, whose son was with her at the house one week, and with his dad the next. But Cornelia and I often went out together to bars, parties, thrift shops, bookstores. We enjoyed cooking together and talking about the events of the day. We also enjoyed drinking together, so in time we became a lethal combination. Tall and beautiful with that seductive, Dutch-accented voice, Cornelia reeled men in like foolish fish in a net. I felt very grateful to her. I’d come home at the end of the day, exhausted, and there she was, high on something I mistook for life, eyes bright, the house warm and welcoming. Those first few months in Cambridge she was my main support because, truly, I was clueless, and she knew much more about navigating the world as a single woman than I did.
But she wasn’t well. I went home to glacial treatment from Franyo that Thanksgiving, and when I returned, a bottle of painkillers that I’d been prescribed for a dental procedure, was missing. It had been hidden beneath a pile of socks in my top bureau drawer. I’d taken two of the thirty pills. When I asked Cornelia about it, she replied instantly, “Oh yes, sorry, I was having some pain and I didn’t think you needed them anymore.” She returned the bottle, empty save for one pill. So twenty-seven pills in five or six days? I didn’t know what that meant, but chose to ignore it. Life returned to its usual pattern with me and Cornelia, but a little red warning sign had started to flash on and off in my brain. I chose to ignore that, too.
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