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You fail to see it coming. It’s always zombie humans or dogs, or even a god-forsaken crow. A fish you wouldn’t expect. Not while taking a selfie, knee-deep in the Caribbean sea. Not while your boyfriend, Phil, scrolls through his phone on one of the top ten most beautiful beaches in the world. Your reflexes are on point, though. The moment you feel the knife-like jab in your ankle, your heel skyrockets, and as the fish’s half-dead face flashes before your eyes, you stomp its tiny skull.
And yet it’s too late. You know this in your bones. Though you couldn’t explain how, you know exactly what has transpired, and you brace for the sudden turning – the 30-second epileptic fit. But again, it’s not like in the movies; it’s not like how they say.
For the next twenty-four nerve-wracking hours, nothing happens. This is the calm before the storm, because soon enough the fatigue sets in. One might call it boredom. You’re home now, the thrill of vacation-time spent, energy levels so precipitously low, you double your coffee intake, post selfies by the hour, scroll, like, check… just to keep from nodding off.
But digital dopamine can only do so much. Now the fatigue brings pain, thumping through your taut veins, crushing every nerve ending, pinning you down with its uncompromising weight.
Your doctor prescribes Adderall and Xanax, and for a while you float. You recall the sting of the fish’s bite, the electric stab that jolted you awake, how you nearly dropped your phone. The way your life flashed before your eyes. Not birthdays, weddings, or promotions; but sunsets, quiet moments, Phil’s goofy grin… You wonder how you got it all wrong. When did the highs get prioritized? When did you stop listening? Why did no one warn you?
The amphetamines and benzos bring more pain, which morphs into a constant, relentless, insatiable need. Coke, booze, shopping, porn… None of it works for long. The more you stuff into your deteriorating body, the worse you feel. The more you understand that there is no staving off the inevitable. Your limbs shake, bloat, decay. This is the real turning, the chemical torching of bridges. Impatience eats you alive. You take what you want. And you always want more. And yet more is never enough. While binging on the same Netflix show for the fifth time, drool slides over your chin.
You plod on like a fish in the Sahara. You understand now how that fish felt – the one that glommed onto you. You feel its fish disease swishing through your body. You remember reading somewhere that goldfish have a nine-second attention span. Or is it five?
You long for childhood days when you climbed trees, built forts, went for walks to nowhere. You pine for the quiet, gentle, mundane pleasure of dusk settling in. You know that this is all you ever needed: mild, peaceful moments. And yet somewhere along the way, you lost your balance; you squandered it all. And now it’s too late. You eye Phil as he scrolls through his phone, his body beaming the healthy glow of the living. You wish you could unwind the clock, bring Phil with you. But you know your stimulant-addled brain is too wrecked for anything so ordinary. Your body wants one thing now and one thing only: to sink its teeth into the hard, crispy shell of Phil’s skull. To gnash and savor the sweet, juicy, incomparable flavor of life inside. And suddenly you’re energized, more energized than you’ve felt in years – the promise of thirty seconds of euphoria driving you forward.
And as you move towards him – slowly, painfully, agonizingly – regret rises like a mist. If only you’d left your phone ashore that day. If only you’d allowed yourself to feel the cool, gentle breeze on your face; the hot Caribbean sun on your back; the warm water lapping playfully against your pale, exposed skin.