The house is drowning. Your bedroom with your bright patterned curtains. The floral wallpaper in the corner by the closet. It splinters and peels and dances among the bubbles. Weightless. Your clothes are wet and heavy. Drag you down like bottles tied to your wrists. Far below the surface where you won’t breathe or see or hear. The words drown before they reach you. Swallowed in carbonated waves. You drown and I drown and she drowns. We reach for each other but the current draws us away. Our fingers splayed and stretched. Pulled taut like rope. The dog is drowning. The oak table and its high-backed chairs. My glasses and your lipstick. Bubbles rise from the bottom and swim past your floating limbs. Feel like ants in your skin. The lava lamp and the movies we watched. Memorized. Recited. Rehearsed. Consumed in gulps before our eyes. Bent into impossible shapes. Pulled and twisted and knotted as they glide. The claw-footed bathtub and eyelash curler. Needle and thread pool behind the couch where we used to hide. Windows bow and threaten to break. She pours and we sink beneath the surface. She pours as we drown. And she drowns. Her bleary eyes open and her lips curved into a shapeless smile.
Memory acts as both caretaker and tyrant. Laughter and ache. I thought you were me. That we were us, always. Your hand around my wrist. Your mouth moving so fast I could barely keep up. Passing a cigarette back and forth. Or a joint. Enough for me but you went further. Down a path I could not take. Left me standing behind the gate, forced to watch as you sank in the sand. I thought we would walk side-by-side or take turns. Leading. Following. Always on the same road. I thought you were me. But you branched off. Splintered. The you that was me is now only memory. It haunts and coddles in turns.
She argues it’s a disease. By which she means she can’t help it. It isn’t her fault. It is her burden to bear just as it is yours. What she really means is: she shouldn’t be held accountable for the nights spent sleeping in the driveway or the plethora of fender-benders. The black-outs and the hook-ups. The absences from work or home or ballgames or birthdays. For the endless last times. She looks right at you and says, What do you want me to do? As though she has no other choice. As though abstinence were equivalent to death. Or worse. She says she was born with this. That it’s written in her genes, which means it’s written in yours. She says this to garner sympathy, you understand. For her. Your shared genetic affliction is supposed to give you common ground, to bridge the chasm over which you peer at her. But it does not link you; it has nothing to do with you—you know this. You know that it is both a disease and a choice. By which you mean: she did not choose you.
Two-thirds of addicts will relapse before reaching their first anniversary. They tell you this in group. Hello. My name is_________and I am an addict. I once traded my mother’s coveted onyx and white gold necklace for one weekend’s supply. Which I used up before the night was over. She used to say that onyx sharpens the mind of its wearer and wards off negative thinking. I never wore it. It was promised to my sister. Which meant I’d robbed them both. Fifty percent of addicts will return to using within two years of getting clean. Return to a world without constant stifling denial. Where you get to be the you that only you know. The you that everyone who claims to love you hates because they can’t know that you. They can never know the freedom, the fucking ecstasy that that you has been privileged to know.
If I make it five years, there’s only a fifteen percent chance I’ll ever be that me again.
A chameleon’s skin changes color in response to emotion. Such as fear. Chartreuse to olive green. Anger is bright and hot and textured. Like the flesh of a ripe cherry. She says it’s for real this time. She’s going to see it through. She isn’t just broken, she’s humbled. But she still hasn’t apologized. Isn’t that one of the steps? Confess to all the ways she’s wronged me and say that she’s sorry. And mean it. I almost didn’t recognize her. Sunken cheeks and hollow eyes. Shiny, like blown glass. Chameleons are adapted for visual hunting. She may look like death but the way her eyes flit over me reveal her disguise. Her mind still sharp despite all she’s done, apparent in her razor-edged cheekbones and protruding clavicle that looks like it should pierce her sallow skin. Would she even bleed? Is there still a beating heart inside her caving chest? In mine, only vacant space. Fuck the necklace. I’m talking about her transformation. Of bearing witness to it, helpless. What color is shame? Black like my necrotic heart. Heartless, my eyes are fully open. I see past my own memory. See beneath her pageantry. See her for the predator she has become.
Nicole Burdge is an emerging writer and student in the Northeast Ohio MFA. “Lost in Transformation” is her first published short story. She lives in Akron, where she is writing a novel that blends magical realism with modern gothic.