Sunday Stories: “This Strange Safe Place”


This Strange Safe Place
by Claudia Rose

I am a writer. I write because it’s the only way I make sense to myself and because I have to, knowing what the other options are if I don’t. I have never been normal. I would not know normal from a hole in the wall. I do know, however, that it is not considered normal to throw yourself down a flight of stairs in the ninth grade because you’d rather break both your legs than go to school that day. I know it is not considered normal to blurt out random sounds, sometimes words but not often, to quiet the noise in your head. The sounds that remind you how uncomfortable it feels just to exist. The noise in my head was always worse at night which is why I started taking prescription pills. They were supposed to help although nobody really explained what they were for; they were described to me as a “temporary solution” while I made “life changes.” What happened was I started taking them and then just couldn’t stop. A week in I was taking triple the prescribed dose and the effects weren’t even kicking the shit out of me like they should have been. The only thing different was that I needed a cigarette to get me out of bed in the morning. Having a cigarette became my only reason to wake up, or else I would have just laid there and slept all day. Sometimes I would just sleep until my whole body ached and I would have to get up and walk around just to loosen my joints. On days when even a cigarette couldn’t get me out of bed in the morning I would wake up for an hour or two in the afternoon, smoke a cigarette, boil some water on my hot plate, add the pasta, eat a fraction of the pasta, and go back to bed. At least on those days I felt like I’d done something.

I had tried to actually do things when I first started taking the pills during the day, not knowing what effect they’d have on me if I didn’t go right to sleep. I once hailed down a car on a busy street, waving to a man I didn’t know thinking he was someone different but not exactly sure who. He pulled over and I got into the car and only a few seconds later did I realize he was looking at me like “Who the fuck are you?” I freaked out and ran away into the cold. I didn’t say a word. I was living at France in this time and I couldn’t explain myself quickly enough to the man in the car so I just left. Even now, my French being much better than it was, I’m not sure I’d be able to express to a complete stranger that I was on drugs, I was lost, I was confused, that I thought he was somebody different as well as somebody that I didn’t know.

I also wrote a lot of emails. I wrote emails to ex-college professors, old coworkers, friends I wasn’t even close to anymore and maybe never was. I wrote really long fucking emails that made no sense. I sent hundreds of them. I pretended to be sick and was mysterious about the details but claimed I didn’t want their pity. I asked for advice, told them about my days even though I knew they didn’t care. I reread the emails one day when I’d been sober for about a week. I wasn’t done with pills but I’d realized how badly they were fucking me up and I tried to quit, the first of many times. I read about four or five emails and then just deleted my entire Gmail inbox. I didn’t even read them; I couldn’t even remember sending them. I just wiped the whole thing clean as if in deleting them it would be like it had never happened. I just prayed nobody responded. Nobody ever did.

I also wrote forty pages of what I thought was going to be a novel in a little white notebook. I remember writing feverishly into the night, the story unwinding from my brain as if it were a spool of thread tied around my wrist and I just kept writing and writing, the words spilling forth as though I were possessed. I felt alive when I was writing, as I always have. When I got back into bed, my wrist cramped from writing all night, I would think about finishing the book, sending it to publishers back in New York. This was when I was taking triple the dosage four or five times a day. Anytime I woke up, even if only for a minute, I would pop another pill. I pulled out the notebook a couple of weeks ago, I hadn’t looked at it since I got back to New York, and I’ve been sober for almost a year now. The story isn’t a story. Most of the words are misspelled if they aren’t left out completely. The sentences make no sense at all. “Before” is meant to be “become,” if I can piece that together this sentence makes sense, sort of. By “ass” did I mean “ash”? Let’s see, if I substitute all of the “ass”es for “ash”es then maybe I can figure out what’s going on here…It’s like unscrambling and then piecing together the puzzle that is my mind, foreign to me when altered. Eventually I just got tired of it and buried the notebook in the bottom of my drawer. It made me sick to think about. It made me want to take more pills and just go to sleep. Maybe write more nonsense, who knows.

On New Year’s Eve I was passed out in a hotel room in Paris. It sounds exciting, I’m sure many people were passed out in a hotel room in Paris on New Year’s Eve, except I was probably one of the select few who had been passed out the entire day, who had never left their hotel room. I woke up at three o’clock in the morning and ate the leftover crusts of a small pizza I had bought the day before that I’d left sitting in the box next to my bed because I was too lazy to bring it down to the trash. Or I didn’t want the hotel concierge to know I’d eaten an entire pizza. I hadn’t been able to eat for days, being asleep all day made my body confused about what meals should be eaten when. I couldn’t stomach anything other than Starbucks muffins and pizzas for weeks but when I did eat, I ate. After I finished the pizza I turned on the television and watched Robert Smith sing on some live-concert New Years Eve Special. He looked like a fat, old, clown. It made me depressed so I went downstairs to chat with the nighttime concierge. He asked me why I wasn’t asleep and I told him that I don’t sleep at night, only during the day. I didn’t try to explain to him how many drugs I was on in my broken French. He told me, if I understood correctly, that he was scared for me which seemed a bit dramatic. It might have been. I went back upstairs and finished reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated and decided that I didn’t believe in god. I could never believe in a god that let the Holocaust happen, I decided. I can’t even remember what that book is about. Presumably it has something to do with the Holocaust but honestly I have no idea. I should probably reread it…

I stopped taking pills when I decided to rejoin the real world one night as I stared into a frozen Lake Geneva in the middle of winter, at night, in sub-zero cold. I realized at that moment that it’s just too easy to isolate yourself in this world, to just give up and be content to drown out the noise. I didn’t want to live that way. I didn’t want to be the kind of person who only looked forward to a cigarette. I came back to New York, realizing more clearly now that I’d run away, and I’m trying to confront the noise in my head instead of drowning it out with sleeping pills and booze. I’m trying to get to a point where I’m just comfortable to exist. Writing helps, it is my saving grace. Without it I wouldn’t be anywhere I would know where to find myself. It doesn’t help everything, it can’t, and I don’t expect it to. Since coming back to New York I’ve become more impulsive, quitting three jobs in five months after only the first day. I have more frequent panic attacks, but at least I’m feeling something, right? At least I’m a part of something greater than myself. Now, when I’m overcome with feelings of impending doom and paranoia, embarrassment at my own existence, time running out, etc… I try to put it down on paper. At least the words will be there, and spelled correctly. At least I won’t have to piece it together on a day I can actually keep my eyes open for longer than a few minutes. It’s harder in a lot of ways, but I wouldn’t trade this, this ability to feel, for anything in the world.

Claudia Rose is a Bronx based author currently working in many formats who spends her time between NYC and upstate NY with her two rescue hounds. She loves coffee and beer.

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