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The End of Pills

Big empty

Big empty

I finished the last of these yesterday, three months’ worth. The reasons I was taking it have been gone for some time, but I have kept taking it in the hopes they stay gone.

Some distrust pills. They have had bad experiences, friends and relatives too attracted to the wrong kinds, feel that fate should have its way free of distractions. Reliance on them is a moral weakness or a chain to the man. I can identify with these sentiments, but these aren’t the kinds of pills you’re thinking of. They don’t make you feel good or make anything bigger that’s too small. They are not the kinds of pills people worry about.

We have so many pills aimed at every conceivable ailment. Go lift your library’s copy of the Physician’s Desk Reference– it weighs at least twenty pounds. Each is described with an almost dismissive assurance that the might of science and reason can make everything pertinent known, even as each drug’s method of action, effect on non-target systems, and long-term effects are described as unknown or poorly understood. We take them anyway.

When you are a kid you take them for a couple weeks or days and whatever you took them for goes away and you feel fine. Drugs are your friend. Easy. As you get older your simple faith is tested: you take some and nothing happens, or they make you sick. The reversal stuns with its betrayal of the fine order of things. One more facet of the adult lie–that those older than us know what they are doing–is pulled away, revealing shiftless and worried people in worn clothes behind the curtain. Parents, mentors and teachers all let us in on all the things they’d been keeping from us. Welcome to getting older, they say, and roll their eyes and hand us this booby prize like an unwanted puppy.

We take them anyway, more of them, different ones, combinations. We know they offer better than reasonable chances of doing something, and in some cases we are desperate they do anything. There is something within us with a terror that cannot be washed out, and we hope the pills are small enough to get into those dark crevices and perform magic.

Doctors in documentaries I see are droopy, beleaguered trained bears locked in a ridiculous dance with their existential foe and master. There is really very little we can do, they say. We have a few successes here and there, but we have a terrible average against entropy. The house always wins in the end.

Maybe. Now we are old enough to have been alone in the tiny medical room, sterile white or covered with kid-friendly posters of fuzzy giraffes reminding kids to pone sus vacunas, waiting for someone to come and tell us something. In the fluorescent hum or dusty window sunlight, we realize that the person who walks through the door will tell us something, and whatever it is, our lives will change. It is a terrible room to be in, indistinguishable from those rooms you went to as a kid–you went there to get better and always did. Now it’s a room where another adult will come, and you know what tired and feeble creatures they are. The waiting is terrible but at least presents the inchoate hope of chance, that the outcome is still on the other side, unknown, at least, to you. The waiting pulls your skin.

At the bottom of the empty pill bottle is that room, a long time ago now. A light dust coats the inside, and the summer sun makes the plastic glow. For it is summer and everything is warm and green and the dust is from a time I remember like I remember a dream.

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