Beep, beep, beep. Pause, silence, restart. Louder this time. A voice comes on. It is neither male nor female. “Attention all incoming students. This is a fire drill designed to orient all first years with the health and safety procedures at the university. Please proceed downstairs in an orderly fashion and further instructions shall be shared outside.” The speaker switches off, and the halls are flooded with people.
Chaos wakes me up, but I do not need to look down at my watch. I know it is time. My body knows it is time. 5:00pm on the dot. I fumble for the orange bottle on my nightstand table. The nightstand is new, but the bottle is the same. No matter where I go, the happy pills follow me. A dose of serotonin that makes me tolerable. Everyone told me that college would be a “fresh start”, but how can a place change what I have always struggled with? Fuck this shit. I roll over onto one side, shove a tablet into my dry throat, and swallow it without any water. Then, I decide to see what the commotion is about and saunter out of my room.
“I think I’m going to faint.”
“What if we never get out of here?”
“Are they lying to us about this being a drill? I smell smoke. Sometimes, they say it’s a drill so we don’t freak out.”
“I think I left a cigarette butt on the window sill. It was still lit…could it have? I would never be able to forgive myself if it did.”
“I don’t know any of you, but if something happens to me, tell my parents I love them.”
I listen to words, hoping that some of them will make sense to me, but none of them align. As the speech I listen to flows into one another, I silently follow the herd that stampedes on ahead of me. I have no desire to make small talk with anyone, even if I will get an answer from it. The only person I have spoken to thus far has been my roommate. Unlike me, he is a third year student and knows the entire campus. He offered to introduce me to his friends, but I declined so I could take a short nap. He left soon after, and I was finally able to get some rest. Maybe I’ll take him up on the offer tomorrow.
As I get caught up in my own thoughts, I realise that I am now standing alone in the hallway. The lights flicker on and off, but instead of going from black to white, they go from pink to blue. Perhaps this is normal, I reassure myself, as I cross my arms against one another. I continue walking, even though the passage seems to go on forever. Where is the light at the end of this tunnel? My hand brushes against my skin, and I am immediately drenched in sweat. I stop for a moment to collect myself, but now all I see is the gray wall. It beckons to me, and it invites me to step inside it. No no, I remind myself, walls cannot move. How long have I been stuck here for now? It seems like an eternity. I glance at my watch, but the numbers are doing a dance for me. I make out two 5s and an “o”. 5-uh-oh-5. I giggle to myself, the show that the digits are putting on for me is quite entertaining. But then, they start to mock me and I feel as if I am going to throw up again.
When I realise that something is wrong, I do not know what to do. I am all alone now. I can no longer scream for my parents and have them next to me in an instant. I still try to, but I find myself gaping with no sound. Memories flash through me as if I have just pressed a rewind button. The teacher that yelled at me in class one, the girl that told me she would never love me, the friend that blocked my number overnight. If only I could vomit and have all of this never come back. What if no one loves me? What if no one will ever love me? I deserve to die, to end my worthless existence, to stop everyone else from suffering because of me. I gasp to take in breaths as my lungs start failing on me. Is this my last breath? Or will it be the next one? I struggle for air and then everything goes black.
“Wake up, wake up. How did you get here? Everyone else had come outside for the fire drill and you were just lying here alone. Come on, come on. Grab my arm and let me help you back to our room.”
I look up to see my roommate and grip his arm. I cannot answer his questions. I am still light-headed. I, too, do not know what just happened to me. Bits and pieces come to me as I stand up and follow him.
“I…woke up, heard something…took my meds. Then…uh…I was behind everyone…and I couldn’t keep up. It…was…like a dream or something.”
He does not say anything to me. His eyes widen and he shakes his head in disbelief. His face is stuck in shock. Still unable to process anything, he points to two identical orange bottles on the nightstand table full of the same white pills.
“You know how your bottle is full of your medicine, right? Well…my bottle contains something that’s a bit more…fun…than your usual painkiller. The one you just took…that’s called Black Sunshine. It’ll help you either find a ray of light on the worst of days or you won’t find any light on the best ones. I know, I know…not the safest thing to take. But, it’s transcendent, I’ll tell you that. Come out on the good side, come out on the bad side- it doesn’t matter- you’re a changed person now. It sounds a bit cliche, yes, having a strange trip and seeing life differently. Welcome to college. Take a few more of those and I’m sure you’ll fit right in.”