There’s nothing Lily Mortenson loathed more than sobriety. Except, of course, Valentine’s Day, a “holiday” that made the notion of temperance even more laughable than usual. In Lily’s case, it was no longer just alcohol that enabled her to “elevate” her mind to a state of consciousness that would make her feel semi-okay, if by semi-okay what was meant simply entailed basic functioning. Lily had, for this reason, made a conscious decision to go into pharmaceutical sales roughly six years ago, when she was just twenty-five years old. At that age, it seemed very sophisticated. At thirty-one, like everything else, it just felt like one more thing contributing to her downward spiral. Being that her highest form of education was junior college at Nassau Community College, it wasn’t likely that a career change would be in the cards–higher education was so expensive in America, which is, partially, why the population is rather daft.
So Lily contented herself with some of the more rewarding aspects of the job: a heavy and endless rotation of Valium, Klonopin and Librium to be chased with the alcoholic beverage of her choosing. The effects it had on her personality–droopiness and a euphoric aura–are, in part, what made her such a successful sales rep. All she had to do was start chatting some guy up at the grocery store, the movie theater or the bar to get him interested in buying some supplies for his wife. If she happened to fuck the guy too, so be it. She wasn’t morally averse to being the other woman. For, in this life, you were either married or the other woman. The overlapping classification in between that Venn diagram of categories was undesirable sad sack. Essentially, you were doomed to fall into the middle no matter what spectrum you were on.
The other thing about Lily’s increasing drug addiction was that it stemmed from what the DSM has yet to classify as Lana Del Rey Syndrome–obsessing over the same person you lost to “fate” years and years ago. In Lily’s case, it was a teacher from her high school, Mr. James, first name Brant. She always called him Mr. James though, it added to the hot factor, clearly. She was seventeen and enamored of the way he taught tragic literature–Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, The Bell Jar (he was that rare breed of teacher who knew that the quickest way to a female’s heart was by assigning hot mess female authors). She pursued him as much as “polite society” would allow, exposing some cleavage here, bending over in front of his desk there. But she refused to make any move on him for fear that he did not reciprocate her feelings. There is truly no worse emotional experience than lack of returned sentiments. It’s the equivalent of a psychological sucker punch. And then one day, seemingly out of the blue, Mr. James rang Lily’s doorbell, apparently willing to take a chance on causing suspicion among her parents, though, luckily, Lily had been a latchkey kid since the age of ten.
“Hi,” he said, the sun causing a particularly noticeable gleam against the hair gel he had doused his black locks with. His plaid button-front shirt and khakis looked even more incongruous outside of the classroom.
“Hi,” Lily returned.
“I was wondering… may I come in?”
Her heart aflutter, Lily opened the door wider.
Mr. James was only the second person Lily had ever slept with, the first being a gawky boy when they were both fifteen and at theater camp. She was pretty sure he was just doing it to prove to himself that he wasn’t gay, which he was. Thus, she counted Mr. James as her true first. Yet somehow, she never suspected during the four months that made up their tryst, consisting of him coming over every day to her house after school, that he might be married. Which, yes, he was. And to a girl not very much older than she, even. Brynna James was twenty-four, blonde and slightly overweight. Lily discovered her existence one day while at the mall, Roosevelt Field, meandering in that aimless sort of way that only a mall can truly support. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Mr. James–his signature plaid catching her glance. He was walking out of, of all places, Aeropostale. Just as she was about to approach him excitedly, she saw the blonde in question come out after him with a shopping bag, kissing him bombastically on the lips as what was presumably to serve as a thank you for buying her her shit.
Lily felt like she might have a panic attack. She didn’t know what a panic attack was supposed to be like, but she was fairly certain it was meant to feel this crippling. She knew she couldn’t be seen though, practically running, ultimately, to Auntie Anne’s. The forty-something cashier, evidently uncaring about her plight, demanded to know if she was planning to buy anything. Not wanting to be bothered further by the shrew, she nodded her head, indicating she would purchase a pretzel.
She sat on a bench near the women’s bathroom with her pretzel in hand, panting heavily, for what must have been two hours. As the mall’s foot traffic began to wane, she suddenly knew she would never love again. If this is what it was–to be completely at the mercy of how someone else’s actions would affect you–then fuck it. She would not be so susceptible to the so-called allure of romance next time.
Still, she couldn’t help but think of Mr. James every so often–or really, anytime she had sex with anyone. Internally comparing her various lovers to what Mr. James would have done or how he would have acted, she especially fantasized about him on Valentine’s Day, when the sight of couples “in love” all around her was nearly impossible to ignore.
In truth, single people give more of a shit about Valentine’s Day. It puts into sharp contrast just where they are in life versus what seems to be that hyperbolic quantity, “everyone else.” That’s why Lily needed some extra meds to get through the day, or rather, not get through it. How could she have known that she would overestimate her body’s tolerance limit? It had always been so resilient in the past.
When she was found splayed out on the sofa in her living room with an empty bottle of wine and a number of empty pill bottles on the coffee table, it was roughly a month later. Mr. James read about it in the Long Island Press one morning while at the table eating scrambled eggs, turned to his wife and said, “One of my former students died of a pill overdose.”
His wife shrugged and somewhat callously commented, “So much drug use in this town.”