Something I Do Alone – Alisha Wexler
February 26, 2021
I had never left the country before, and because I was nearly done kicking, figured this was the perfect time to do it. I got a one-way ticket to Copenhagen because flights were cheap, quit my job and told them I was sick, called Dylan and told him it was over.
My dad told me I couldn’t run away from my problems. I scoffed and said “obviously” and that I would never be that much of a cliché.
My mom worried about me and started sending mediocre care packages with things like Craisins, peanut butter, and Olay body washes. She called and pleaded with me to go back to the doctor, so I made my first appointment in months.
The cute receptionist handed me a small plastic cup and pointed to the bathroom. I peed, screwed the top on, washed my hands, and grabbed a few complimentary condoms from a bowl on the counter.
“Long time no see,” my doctor greeted me.“Glad you’re back.” He was this young Korean guy and a real fitness freak, so we’d speak about cardio, crash diets, and biohacking a lot. Then he’d stick a large needle right into the muscle of my ass cheek and inject a syrupy medication that blocked my opiate receptors.
He prescribed a new drug and I asked whether or not it would make me fat. He assured me it wouldn’t. “This just helps with anxiety,” he said. “My girlfriend even takes them for the appetite suppressing side effect.” He also told me they ate a lot of asparagus since it was a great diuretic.
I asked if I could get the shot. He said no, that I’d have to come back after a full detox. I don’t remember what I said before I left, but it must have sounded hopeless because he said, “Hey, we still have a good feeling about you.” I asked why and he said, “You’re the only patient who looks up and smiles when we call you in from the lobby.”
My flight was in two days. Dylan called and asked if he could see me before I left but it was 92 degrees and I didn’t have AC, and I hadn’t bothered to change my sheets in weeks, and my towels were thumbtacked over the windows to keep the light out. So I said no.
A ditzy girl I knew from high school lived in Copenhagen. She said I could stay with her but ended up leaving two days after I arrived. “I’m visiting my boyfriend in Helsinki,” she explained. “He’s this super hot Finnish guy with Asbergers.” She told me they were in love and showed me a photo of him. He was pretty hot.
Denmark was okay. The water was sweeter and slimier than it was in the States. I got annoyed having to explain to bartenders what a tequila soda was. I hated how the toilets were in the showers and the Danes’ pudding-mouthed language that sounded like drunk baby German.
After hours of wandering the city alone, I went into a bar that let me smoke inside. I always ended up where the bloodless-faced people were. People who idled around discreetly like drones and who I was certain—if I approached with the right questions—could lead me to dope. I was a truffle pig for dope.
Instead, I spoke to a wholesome-looking couple from Iceland who must have been unremarkable because I remember nothing else about them. I do remember the night was cold and misty and I stood outside crying on the phone to Dylan, spending the inflated international data fee of however-much-per-minute because I didn’t know what else to do.
“I felt lonely, so I came to a place where I didn’t know anyone,” I said to him, then asked if he was fucking other girls. He said, “Things have happened.” I said that was fine and understandable. He also told me he loved me and that he didn’t care whether or not I loved him, but he’d been praying to a God he didn’t believe in for me to get better.
I went to a museum in Jægersborg designed by Zaha Hadid that had sci-fi-looking curved walls and black lava concrete. The building had been renovated from its previous Neo-Classical style but they probably should have left it that way. I saw “Scandinavia’s biggest Monet exhibition,” which had no water lilies, only cathedrals and haystacks. I took photos and sent them to my dad. He asked how I was doing and I forgot to reply. It was raining unpredictably so no one went outside except for me. I sloshed around a field of grass, looking for the fog-emitting weather vane sculpture that populated my feed when I searched the museum’s geotag on Instagram. I never found it and sat on a wet wooden lawn chair instead. The sky was gray in no distinctive way and I laid there for a while looking at it.
The intense flu-like symptoms had passed, but I still couldn’t sleep. For a week, I writhed in bed, legs restless, stomach cramping. My head was hot and my feet were freezing. Every night I sweated through the sheets, but only vomited on them once.
The nausea and dehydration didn’t stop my nicotine cravings, so I lit cigarettes and managed to take two, maybe three hits before becoming overwhelmingly light-headed. But the weather was lovely and there was a balcony with a nice view and I liked the idea of sitting there, smoking a cigarette, overlooking the skyline, so I just let them burn out in my shaky hand and watched the smoke ribbon dance up to nowhere.
When I regained my energy, I went to a wine bar and met a guy named Frederik who played boyfriend/girlfriend with me. He accompanied me to dinner and coffee and drinks, and we just hung out and walked around the city and went shopping and fucked and watched movies and swam, but I didn’t let him come to museums with me because that’s something I do alone.
Frederik pointed up to bring my attention to the corkscrew spires. They stood like guardians over the horizon of red rooftops. We sat by the canal and looked at one on top of a church with its spiral turning counterclockwise—the wrong direction. He told me the architect was so ashamed he committed suicide by jumping from the top of it.
I bought one of those little point-and-shoot cameras that everyone had because I guess I supposed posterity was important. That night I found hundreds of rose petals scattered all over the sidewalk and snapped bright flashes of photos. Frederik pulled my sleeve and said, “C’mon, it’s just trash.” I told him I wouldn’t consider it trash—Copenhagen was too clean to have good trash. He asked me what I meant by that and I didn’t feel like explaining. I didn’t want to accidentally say something profound, appeal to his pathos, and have him get all attached to me. So I said I didn’t know. We both looked at the petals. They were red, and light pink, and wilted, and trampled all over.
One day on my way to Frederik’s flat, I stopped by an art gallery in a building that used to be a slaughterhouse. The director and his wife were cool and friendly, chatting it up with me even after the gallery closed. They gave me a tote bag that said “Die Revolution sind wir” and took me to an opening at the Worker’s Museum where people were drinking champagne, and taking clay pots, and smashing them on the ground. There, I met another couple who took me to a metal venue in the Meatpacking District where a young gothy punk band played. I laughed because the guys in the band were so sad and so cute and could have easily been the members of a successful boy band. We talked to the singer after the show and he asked me if I knew where to get meth in L.A.
I forgot to tell Frederik I wasn’t coming and didn’t bother to text him the rest of the time I was in town. When I left Copenhagen, he kept trying to FaceTime me and telling me he could come visit, then started harassing me and calling me a bitch because I never responded. So I blocked him.
Dylan’s mom texted and I rolled my eyes wondering what she wanted. I spent years faking an interest in the lives of Bravolebrities so we’d have something to talk about, and now she reached out all the time to keep me up to date with “the gossip.” She asked, “How are you?” and how was I supposed to answer that? “Recovering, Pam! How the fuck are you?”
I met her when I was 19 and high on the Percocets Dylan gave me. She was real cute, shimmying around the large kitchen island and greeting me with a sing-songy “weeellll helllooo!” She grabbed me by the shoulders and said, “Ugh! My God! You are just the tiniest little thing!” and pulled me in for a hug I was too stiff to warmly reciprocate. My nose was itchy from the pills. A strand of her hair extension got caught in the crook of my glasses. I took it out when she wasn’t looking.
It was the first time Dylan brought me to his family’s home. I remembered feeling an immediate sense of thawing even though it wasn’t cold outside. Three excited golden retrievers ambushed us at the door and the mantelpiece in the foyer was proudly decorated with pathetic family portraits. Ones where they wore color-coordinated outfits, jumped on the beach, sat on plastic logs and posed in front of Christmas trees. The decor was beige and cream-colored, and I felt like some kind of stray cat he was bringing in.
His surly father, Richie, put me at ease. He was always a little drunk and a little sloppy despite being a prominent physician with celebrity patients. The old man in the “diabeetus” commercials was one of them. When we first met, he kissed me on the lips and assured everyone, “It’s an Italian thing!” Even though his mouth wasn’t puckered tightly enough and I felt a wetness, I appreciated the discomfort in a house that was otherwise far too comfortable.
I didn’t expect Dylan to live in such a cozy home with “shoot for the moon, honey” parents. I was a teenager and he was a grungy older guy who I assumed lived in a punk house with a mattress on the ground. It was embarrassing to realize I was capable of mythologizing a person like that.
I met him when I was 13 and he was 17, but the gap between those numbers seems much wider when they’re put into a sentence versus how wide it actually felt. He and his friends were always skating on the stairwell in the alleyway behind my house. He started letting me borrow his skate videos because I said I liked the music in them. I’d go home and put them on, pausing at each montage to write down the lyrics of the songs playing. Then I’d Google the lyrics and find the titles, search on Limewire and download them. Discovering music was more fun then, when it felt like honest work. Dylan was in some of the videos. He skated to a Three 6 Mafia song in one, and some glam song in another that began with a catchy bass line and had some lyrics about ice cream.
Two years later, once I no longer looked like a boy wearing lip gloss, he stopped calling me dude and started asking me awkwardly flattering, rhetorical questions like, “Do you even know how pretty you are?”
I started to think he was annoying and kind of ugly, but tricked him into taking my virginity anyway by telling him he wasn’t. I was on my back and his long, stringy hair looked like linguini dangling over my face. At some point I inhaled an overwhelming scent of freesia and realized his hair wasn’t greasy because he was filthy but because he wasn’t fully rinsing out his conditioner. I thought about that until he finished.
After that, I couldn’t look at Dylan without imagining him looking at me, or speak to him without imagining him hearing me. In him, I could only see myself, and that was the first and only time another person made me feel too aware of my own body.
I told my mom, who instructed me to “always be a little out of reach.” I asked, “What happens if he doesn’t care that I am?” She said to tell myself, “who the fuck cares!” every day until I believed it—which I never actually did, but I appreciated the concept. My older cousin Kaitlin doubled down on this by assuring me Dylan was so “whatever.” Finally, after my high school graduation, he asked me to be his girlfriend. Now he’s the only boyfriend I’ve ever had.
It occurred to me that I’d never felt the sentimentality I heard in music or saw in films. They were never about love, they were only about longing for it. Everything was always fine with Dylan, so I never had to long. He never told me no and always gave me what I wanted (so long as I never asked questions I didn’t want to know the answers to).
I shouldn’t have said anything to him, and maybe I wouldn’t had I someone else to talk to. I called and told him it was his fault I may never know what heartbreak feels like.
“It sounds like you want me to apologize for being a good boyfriend, but we both know I haven’t always been. You just never really cared.”
“Are you coming home? love, mom,” my mom texted. I don’t remember how I answered but she called and said, “When you were little you asked for a guitar.” I told her I didn’t remember.
“I should have gotten you the guitar,” she said.
I told her it was fine.
“I told you that you’d only practice for a week then get over it.”
I affirmed that was exactly what would have happened but she started asking questions I didn’t want to answer.
“What if I hadn’t discouraged you? What if you loved it? What if you had something, anything that you loved doing right now?”
I told her to stop, that I didn’t care about the guitar.
“How about I get you one now? Is it too late? What about that guitar video game?”
I demanded she shut up about the guitar, that it’s not about the guitar, that the guitar wouldn’t have saved me. She asked me to come home and said, “You don’t have to go through this alone,” or something generic like that, but it kind of made me sad anyway.
I thought about things I should have regretted but didn’t, and things that worried me but didn’t matter now. I thought of my friend who died and their brother who told me I couldn’t come to the funeral, and how I didn’t even care to ask why. I thought about the empty Arrowhead water bottles piled under the seat of my car, and the hours I wasted waiting in parking lots, and the things I cried over that never happened, and all the Fentanyl-laced deaths, and the droughts, and the brush fires, and the air’s particle pollution, and the .jpegs on my screen that made me feel bad about myself, and the things I should have shoplifted from CVS, and Whole Foods, and Barney’s, but never did because I was too afraid to.
At three weeks clean my skin was clear and I felt an unfuckwithable hopefulness—for what, I didn’t know. After a jog, I walked to the docks and stripped to my bra and shorts. Go, I said to myself, standing at the edge of the harbor. Jump. Do it. Do it now. Now. NOW. And when I felt the water’s icy shock I didn’t emerge until every cell of my body had made peace with it.
I climbed out and laid on the dock, turning my head to watch nearby strangers with bodies like tanned sculptures; too flawless to look away from, but too flawless to turn me on. I didn’t want to touch a human that looked divine. I imagined if I tried, I’d turn to stone. I decided my next boyfriend would have a belly, a belly that would fit perfectly into the hollow between my hip bones when he fucked me.
I walked toward Norreport station, toggling between tabs: the booking portal on my airline’s app and the GPS with directions to the train. I bought the least expensive flight back, three days away.
When I arrived at the station, I thought about my age, only 26. But only didn’t feel like the right word. I felt like I had done all I could do. Already was a better word. I’m already 26.
Twenty minutes went by and the trains passed one after another. If they weren’t stopping at this platform, why was everyone lingering around?
I’d be home in three days and I didn’t understand the reason for the hollow worry churning inside me. Sometimes the body reacted in ways secret to the mind, like I could ask it, “Hey, hello, what the fuck is going on in here?” But, I figured it out: I can get high. It was the kind of realization that seemed to creep out of a dark corner, a thought hiding in wait for the right moment to cut in. I wanted to call the old friends who hated me. I wanted to call them right now. “I’m better,” I’d say. “I know I’ve said this before, but I’m really better this time.” My desire to not get high existed separately from my excitement to get high. In a Pavlovian way, I already felt high. I’d text the dealer when I landed. Or, I’d delete and block the number so I didn’t text him—but I’d tried that before, and learned that blocked numbers could be retrieved within the phone’s settings. And of course, there was Dylan, whose number I’d always know by heart. Dylan usually enabled me, and if he didn’t, could be manipulated into doing so. I didn’t want to get high. I couldn’t wait to get high. I’d most likely get high. Back and forth and back and forth.
As the trains continued to whirr by, I thought, I could.
There were three things that could happen to me—four if you count the wild card of natural disaster or freak accident. One – I recover. Two – I wouldn’t get better or worse. Three – I die. I didn’t know which I was most afraid of.
“Yes, but those three scenarios apply to everyone,” my dad told me over the phone. “Plus, you’re missing the possibilities of going to jail or getting institutionalized.”
I wish I had spent more time in castles while I was in Denmark. I only went to one on my last day in town. It was just outside of Malmö, and I think it was a famous one, but I forgot what for. Maybe it inspired Macbeth or Hamlet but even if that were true, I don’t remember which play takes place in Denmark.
I entered a room that had a ceiling mural with a muscular old man painted directly above me. He looked like the God in Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam except he was biting the nipple off a baby.
I exited the castle through the drawbridge, walking across the moat. I noticed two copper hands that had turned faded turquoise, clinging to the ledge of the bridge. I imagined that something they loved so much told them to hold on until they oxidized.