Austin P. Swearengin lives and works in Brooklyn, NY
It isn’t at all an easy thing to know someone that is a constant user of painkillers. I personally have only known one person who I can recall that was affected by them, and she was a beautiful young woman living in a small town in the outskirts of San Diego. I met her once when I was visiting for an RV show. I must have been no older than 15, and she was probably no older than 27, but I remember her very well, sunken eyes and long dark hair, extremely tan skin that looked more like burning sand than actual skin, and she had an amazing accent that I was never able to pinpoint, but I imagine she was Polish or Czech or something of the sort, and she stood above me slightly even though I was already close to six feet tall, totally unsure of myself around her, I caught myself watching her closely from the windows of the motor homes scattered throughout the parking lot. The wind would blow harshly for a second or two and you could watch her duck and hold her head, and when I asked her why she would do this she seemed terrified and spoke feverishly about terrible storms where she was from that could hold over a town and create terrible depression in the people of the towns, so much so that some weaker locals couldn’t handle it after a while and they would become too depressed and end their lives, and she talked about her grandfather who had lived there his entire life without ever leaving this little town with the terrible storms for over 60 years, and she was a little kid then but she remembered one night after the storm had been there for well over a week, the wind stopped and all was silent and after barely sleeping for the entire week she had slept better that night than any other night in her entire life, and living with her family for her whole life, with all of her family including her aunts and uncles and cousins, and you know what I mean by her entire family, but anyway upon awaking the next morning it seemed strangely quiet still because with everyone in the house it seemed strange to ever be the first one up, so she walked out of the bedroom and realized she was the first one awake so after trying to clear the sleepies from her eyes went to go wake up her grandfather whom she liked the most in her family, and walked into his bedroom but noticed all of his lights were still off and the shades drawn and maybe he was still asleep, so she went to shake him awake, but halfway through the darkness something that she did not recognize in the middle of the room stopped her in her tracks, which was heavy and moved too gracefully with her movements to be on the ground, and when she went to turn on the light she realized it was her grandfather in the middle of the room, and he was hanging from a rope from the wooden I-beam in the ceiling. She asked me later to come by her small motor home on the outlying section of the parking lot for a drink, and I had drank alcohol before so it didn’t scare me too much, and she said I could trust her so I did. The sky was starting to get dark and deciding it was time to make my excursion I headed out to where I was told I should go. The sun was just over the football stadium behind me, feeling the breeze in my hair I wondered what kind of terrible storms could be so bad that they caused such harsh emotional reactions in full grown adults, but I was suddenly taken out of my thoughts when she appeared at the door telling me to come inside and play cards with her over some cheap tequila she scored from an event earlier in the day. After a few drinks and a game of rummy we said our goodbyes and I walked back to the RV where I was staying with my mother. As I walked away I caught a glimpse of her standing in the window one last time and realized that above those sunken eyes of hers she proudly kept what seemed to be very close to a unibrow which was strange for me because where I was from the older girls would always get rid of such prominent features, but I realized how much I liked it and envied the hair of her brow and I was struck that I hadn’t noticed it before. I asked about her the next day, and someone told me that she was in the hospital because she had drank too much the night before and taken something called Quaaludes, which I didn’t know what that meant until later in high school when I was told all about it because some my friends were experimenting with painkillers and knew what they were. A few days after I met her I was told she had over-dosed and died in her sleep. I think about that day every so often and since I never actually knew her name and she never knew mine it seemed only right that I should have something to hold in my memory as her name, so now when I think back and remember those few brief moments we spent together I try to pretend I am there walking away from that motor home looking at Frida Quaaludes standing in the window unaware of me walking across the parking lot to the RV where I was staying.