My alarm went off at noon. The kitchen alarm. My head was cocooned in pillows, I barely heard it. I propped myself up on one elbow and rubbed my eyes. I sat up slowly and pulled open my curtains. Sunlight filtered through the gauzy shade. The rain had stopped.
My socks were balled up on the floor by the bed. I turned them right-side out and pulled them on. Left. Then right. I shimmied and shrugged on my uniform and shuffled to the kitchen. I sliced an avocado in half, drowned it in hot sauce, and scraped the guts out of the skin.
I was back at my desk before the rest of the office returned from lunch. I hammered diligently at the keyboard, checked messages and scribbled notes on a print-out. I made myself look busier than I actually was. I leveraged some of the senior leadership for suggestions on a project I was starting.
I hand-jammed notes onto another sheet of paper and punched them into an e-mail. As soon as it left my outbox I leaned back and held a post-it note in front of my supervisor.
“I’ve got a thing at EBH.” I said.
“EBH? What the fuck for?”
He never looked up from his computer. I filled out the intake form at Behavioral Health and the clerk directed me to a computer in a cubicle. I answered a series of repetitive, intrusive questions, being mindful of catch-evasions. I was instructed to wait while the shrink sat in her office, sifting through my answers.
Another soldier walked into the office and slipped on the freshly mopped floor, skidding and slamming into a trash can before falling unceremoniously on her ass.
“What th’ fuck!?” she squealed. She turned to me, the sole witness.
“Sir . . . did you see that shit!?”
A door opened and two civilians poked their heads in. They twisted their faces with mild concern, but made no move to help her up. She struggled to her feet and was immediately escorted into the office area by a shrink, who seemed to know her.
Another doc came out to greet me. She was thirtyish. Blonde. Conservative dress. No ring. No visible hickies, marks, or bruises.
Once seated in her office, she leafed through a print-out and looked up at me.
“Before we start, do you have any questions about disclosure? About what constitutes a reportable . . .”
“. . . Because sometimes people don’t fully understand when we are required to inform . . .”
“Her body has been at the bottom of the bay for so long, they’ll find more of her in tuna cans.”
I stared straight at her, maintaining dispassionate eye contact. ‘Dead Hooker’ litmus test. She cracked an uneasy smile. She tried to sell it, but no laugh.
“I’ve just been reviewing your history . . . and . . . everything seems . . . normal . . . “
I suppressed the urge to laugh by immediately redirecting. I pointed at the hollows under my eyes.
“I don’t sleep.”
She cocked her head at me. She asked about anxiety, stressors, patterns of behavior. I told her it wasn’t an Afghanistan thing. I correlated my sleep issues with job changes. I explained that I had emotionally divorced myself from the military, and that I was already transitioning out. My frantic schedule, frequent travel, and field time interfered with my healthy stress outlets.
“Caffeine? How much are you drinking a day? How late do you drink . . . coffee? Or . . . energy sodas?”
“All of it.” I smirked. “Five, six hundred milligrams a day. Used to be over a gram.”
She had barely formed the last “s“. She blinked twice and asked about medication.
“Nothing scripted,” I said.
“What about over-the-counter?”
“You want the list?”
She wrinkled her eyebrows and reached for a pen.
“I take B-complex, sublingual. Niacin and thiamine separate. Normally I take L-arginine, but I’m out. L-theanine. Baccopa. Phosphatidyl Serine. Vitamin C. I’m also out of my pro-biotic . . . “
“Every day . . . ?” she balked.
“No, I take certain things on certain days, to maintain levels. Anything more is pissing out money. I take non-acetyl cysteine and milk thistle daily. Plus fifty to seventy five milligrams of diphenhydramine hydrochloride to knock me out. Six hundred micro-grams of melatonin to keep me out. It’s psychoactive at three hundred. Most people take three to ten miligrams . . .
“I don’t keep alcohol in the house during the week. Sleep stuff used to last weeks. The last month, it’s every day. I don’t want to keep pumping this stuff through my liver to keep my sleep schedule regulated.”
I cut the list short out of boredom. She kept scribbling notes.
This process was going to take weeks before she gave me a pill. After the list I rattled off, the mechanical way I dropped in alcohol before she could ask, I had drug seeking behavior written on my forehead.
“Well, you obviously care about your health,” she said, without looking up.
“I check my urine every few days. Glucose, Protein. My ‘specific gravity’ comes up low, but that’s caffeine and dehydration. My bilirubin levels are normal. Urobilirubin won’t show anemic dysfunction, but that ain’t an issue.”
“Uh huh . . . “
“I had the medics put in a referral for a Panel 7 to check my hepatic function for the Hell of it.”
“What did you go to school for?” she asked.
After a pregnant pause she told me that she realized that I “didn’t want drugs”, but that a sleeping pill would only be a stop-gap until I finished transitioning. She thought that it would be gentler on my body than what I was already taking.
If I didn’t feel comfortable with medication, she could refer me to a sleep group for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia. I told her I wasn’t going to have the time to be consistent talking about dream journals.
She ordered the pills.