Clara Roberts                                              

The Taste of Escape

At school I grow antsy during class and look out the Plexiglas windows, so similar to the ones surrounding the waiting rooms at Sheppard Pratt Hospital where I have therapy every week. Madness slices its own insanity. Everything previously moving along at a steady pace begins to rewind and fast-forward—I stop knowing what it is like not being irritable, frightened, uncontrollable and enmeshed in the blackest holes of the mind. I yearn to sit down and wait for the last remnants of February’s snow. I feel the suspicion of snowfall that might spill one last time for the year—then vanish beneath trembling feet. My tears drip down, not like staccato drips of rain, but like the persistent blows of thick snow I hope will layer the ground.

Therapy does not diminish the distortions fogging up rational perspectives, goals my concerned, slightly anxious therapist says will lock the past up into its rightful place in a metal filing cabinet.

I hang out with people who think they possess the answers—answers to how to get around the dark waves of life without time’s tide swallowing me. They are not part of the homogenous parade of my fellow private school students; they are more real—more exposed to life’s rawness. Many are failures and proud of it. They choose to be part of the kind of “project party forever” Michael Alig started in his Club Kid days. I think maybe they can teach me to embrace all my misgivings. They do not make me wish I had one of Travis Bickle’s guns (from Scorsese’s Taxi Driver) so I could go up to all of the phonies and say “suck on this,” leaving me with blood-soaked fingers, ones all too used to feeling self-inflicted wounds. A madman could put a gun to my head and I would laugh in his face.

Inner peace and epiphanies of lessons learned are too weak. Nothing can override the potency of memory, so vivid and concrete that I do not need my mom or therapist to preach about how my mind is sending me over the edge. The memories are of unburied mistakes, moments of never fitting in, hospitalizations defining me as a weakling child, humiliations and the homesickness preventing me from ever leaving Baltimore. This inexorable city proves longing is a state of mind. When my spirit breaks with each passing year, the pursuit of normalcy will not happen, no matter which city I choose to run off to.                                             


I sneak out of the house with my friend, Brooke, who is sleeping over. We are outside sitting on the green porch steps waiting to be picked up. Brooke stares up at the black sky with her big blue eyes and puts her champagne-blonde hair up in a ponytail. I look at her hair, pensive, longing. Mine is growing back after I chopped it off during a manic episode months ago. 

“He’s pulling up,” Brooke says. We make sure to close the green gate to the backyard as we make our way to the alley. When I hop into the back of the car I quiver with exultation because Iggy, the guy I am hooking up with, is making steady eye contact with me through the rearview mirror, even while he starts driving. There’s an African-American guy in the passenger seat named Antonio who Brooke likes. We all are holding lit cigarettes, the clouded smoke seeping out the sunroof into the humid summer night.

“Where to?” asks Iggy.

“Wyman Park. Just go down this street for three minutes and we’ll be there,” I instruct.

“Either of you girls want some yeyo?”

“Yes.” Brooke and I are bopping our heads up and down. We may as well have been screaming in agreement. I am jittery from hearing the opportunity of experimenting with something new. People who look down on others for trying drugs seem phony and exactly the kind I love to avoid.  They must’ve loved the 1990s commercial where Rachael Leigh Cook smashes an egg onto a frying pan and says this is your brain on drugs while looking deep into the camera. But she doesn’t reveal that addicts want their brain scraped of all its light, allowing dimness to simplify their overwhelming sensitivity and pain. People shouldn’t care if I have a happy ending. No one you know can look me in the eyes and give a confident response. When I hit the do-gooders with the news that I’m dancing with a criminal lifestyle, I feel my presence is acknowledged. Abrasive and dark, I’m never spared of stares and judgment. 

We sit on a soggy hill and Iggy pulls out a bag of white dust. He flips open a knife, scoops up the powder, and shoves it under my nose to snort. Minutes speed ahead of us and the bag is more than half empty. I feel a slight cut on my left nostril because the tip of the knife poked it too hard. I speed-walk around the playground at the park and gaze up at the trees, repeating to Iggy how the stars make the branches look like crystals. Iggy nods in agreement and shoves his tongue in my mouth. My gums go numb after he offers the remnants of cocaine from licking his knife. I strain my eyes ahead and see Antonio and Brooke having sex by the playground.

I am able to run away from the uneasy dread of my future that keeps breathing against my back and ears. The metallic taste seeps down my throat, the sourness turning into a numbing pulse on my tongue and gums.

Using always comes to this. The peak of enlightenment never lasts, then comes the endless search for a shock to make me alive again. For a moment, I’m a necessary part of this world.

But only for a moment.

Clara Roberts is a graduate from the MA in writing program at Johns Hopkins University. Her poetry and nonfiction have been published in Entropy Magazine, Heartwood Literary Magazine, Idle Ink, Serotonin Poetry, trampset, and other venues. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland, where she finds material to write about every day.