White Whale Review: An Online Literary Magazine Untitled Document
WHITE WHALE REVIEW
Sarah Rae
Sarah Rae is a native of New Orleans. She received her MFA in creative writing from CCNY. Her work appears most recently in The Battered Suitcase, Dew on the Kudzu, and Big Muddy. She is currently shopping novels and finishing a Master of Arts in psychology. More can be found on her website www.sarahrae.net.

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Ingestion of an unknown substance

Sarah Rae

 

I was just getting over a cold the week before finals. It was a spring cold. The kind that compels people to say, “Well, it’s the weather-change.” I went to bed early after my last lecture and woke up feeling worse than I had at the start of the cold. Just walking across a room had me winded. It felt as though my chest was filled with sand. Apparently this was bronchitis. At twenty-six, I’d never had any respiratory problems. So I wasn’t a good candidate to be treated with antibiotics. I was advised to rest and drink herbal tea. I spent a lot of time in my living room staring into space, breathing, forgiving myself for not being able to study vigorously. I organized notecards and lecture recordings. Then I usually immerse myself in possible test questions until my mind feels soft as pudding and I’m unable to think outside the parameters of the test material. However, my poorly oxygenated brain kept blanking. Barely prepared and contagious, I would take my exams with reckless abandon.

Notecards resting in my lap, I had a bowl of soup in front of me that I could neither smell nor taste. “Hello?”

“Hey tootsie, you got a minute?” It’s rare that my Dad ever sounds so serious on the phone. In fact most of the voicemails he leaves are just him singing songs with my name in it. Sarah Maria. Sarah Smile. Sarah-Sarah, no time is a good time for goodbye.

“Mhmm,” my stomach suddenly felt encased in stone. I waited for him to say my brother’s name, but it didn’t come.

“It’s little Scotty. He’s on life support.” My cousin Scott was seventeen years old.

“What? Why?”

“We don’t know what happened yet. He went out with friends in the city last night. Sometime late he was brought to Baptist and then transferred to Oschner ICU. They didn’t get ahold of Scott til noon today.” Scott is Scotty’s father, my Dad’s brother. “His liver is failing. They’ve said something about possibly drugs—ecstasy, but he’s all beat up. I hardly recognize him.” He heard me sniffle. “I’m


going to find out who did this, baby-girl, don’t worry. I just wanted you to know what’s going on. I’m leaving the hospital now, we’ve been here since lunch.”

“Call me if anything changes.” I hung up and poured the soup down the sink. The terror comes before the sadness. I know this about myself. That was the order when they said people were dying in New Orleans, that we weren’t allowed to go home. When people said we shouldn’t rebuild. The terror had me for a year while my brother disappeared into his paranoid schizophrenia. Terror when he told me sincerely about things that weren’t real. It wasn’t until the shabby, frightened rendition of him took his place that terror gave me over to sadness.

Not sure where to put my feelings, naturally they ended up on my boyfriend. “Have you ever heard of someone overdosing on ecstasy?”

“Ah, no. I mean, people getting hospitalized for dehy—”

“Dehydration. But not liver failure. Not dying.”

“Right, but you’re the one who has more

experience with party drugs like that.” I was a raver in high school. I wondered if I should have talked to my cousin about it.

“Should I tell my professors? No, he’ll be fine, right? There’s no reason to put off my exams.”

“Well—”

“No, it would be worse to move the exams. I need—to keep my schedule.” I need my life to be as predictable as my brother does. And then, in a sweep of what felt like selfishness, I said, “I wonder how this will affect Pat.”

My boyfriend didn’t have to say much. His wide eyes showed me that he understood. It is of the utmost importance that Pat take his medicine, above any of his other treatments, and stress can make him change his mind about compliance. My mind went here instead of considering the worst for Scotty. No one overdoses on ecstasy.

 

The next day he was still unconscious. The doctors ran a CAT scan and it took hours before they came back with a reading. They said he was


most likely brain dead. In ten minutes they came back and said, “Nevermind, the results are inconclusive.” Of course they had to make such a despicable mistake. The type of unforgivable clinical error you see on TV.

Scotty was swollen. Nearly beyond recognition. Not just his brain, all of him doubled in size. “Sarah, his hands are so beat up. His face—” My mother was different than the rest of my family. Death has taken things close to her since she was a girl. She has an old, reverent way of dealing with it.

“What do the kids he was with have to say for themselves? Where were they?” The details were fuzzy and wouldn’t unravel fast enough.

“They said Scotty jumped out of the car at a red-light and went running away. They don’t know anything else. The police picked him up, I’m not sure the street. I don’t know the neighborhood. Near Prytania theater,” she says as my aunt whispers it into her ear.

“The police? I thought it was an ambulance.”

“He was near some sort of apartment complex

thing. The guard there tried to talk to him and apparently Scotty was violent so he called the cops. NOPD could tell he wasn’t in his right mind so they got an ambulance.”

“What did he say to the cops?”

“No one said. Sarah, I don’t think he said anything.” She paused trying to think of the best things to disclose. No undue stress. “He was hurting himself.”

“Hurting himself?”

“They said he was hitting his head on things. Beating it on the ground, on the cement. Running into things full-force like he didn’t see they were there.”

“He looks so beat up, I don’t know. Who could do all that to themself?”

Scotty didn’t live in New Orleans. He lived forty miles away from the city in the suburbs. Kids end up in the city on the weekend because there’s more to do there. And that’s another thing. It wasn’t the weekend. He was out doing drugs in New Orleans on


a Thursday night, had school the next morning at 7:30 am.

Thinking about him in New Orleans, wandering uptown, my haunt, my neighborhood. It was the place I spent so many long nights chasing boys, chain-smoking, drunk driving with the top-down hoping a palmetto bug didn’t fall from the oak trees. All my friends lived there. When I come home to visit, driving into uptown New Orleans is like being kissed for the first time. Did one of my friends drive past Scotty that night? How far was he from Jodi’s apartment? How surrounded by safety was he?

“I have to go, baby-girl. They want me to go in and talk to him for a little bit. I love you. Here’s your Dad.”

“Hey, sweetie.”

“Hey, Dad.”

“Still don’t know much more than we did yesterday. They have a liver here, but he’s too unstable for a transplant.”

“Isn’t he unstable because his liver failed?”

“I don’t know, sweetheart.” My parents thought of me for solace. They wanted to hug me, Here’s mine. Thank God, she’s okay. I heard it in their voices, in their overused terms of endearment. “They said he took more than ecstasy, maybe ecstasy and LSD. He mighta been drinking, too.”

I tried to imagine what that might be like, but I couldn’t. Doubling down on amphetamines and hallucinogens, that isn’t recreational, that’s something else. “Still nothing about the friends he was with?”

“No, but the cops will handle them,” he said with venom. Clearly he felt the other kids held the key to what happened to Scotty. “Little bastards didn’t even bother to call his family when he went missing.”

“I dunno. If I had taken drugs and one of my friends went missing, I might not have called his folks. I mean, that’s looking out for both of you.” A lot of my friends in high school took drugs. I even associated with some people who were most definitely the wrong crowd. Very few of them would have called my parents, but they would not have abandoned me in such a state.


“But—” Dad held his breath.

“They didn’t know how bad it would be. My friends get wasted and wander off even today. Nothing like this has ever happened.”

“I know what you mean,” he admitted. “But they’ll still have to answer for it.”

“How many kids was he with?”

“I’m not sure. A couple. We can’t get a straight answer, apparently none of them were kids he knew from school.”

Each time I spoke with my parents, they never had enough information to give. They communicated disjointed facts that made it even harder to crack my books than before. I kept siphoning through what I knew about drugs and what I knew about Scotty trying to make connections.

I saw him at Christmas and he seemed mature. That may not seem like saying much, but Scotty had ADHD. Woefully averse to doing any work and always disobedient, he got kicked out of schools

again and again. I remember trying to tutor him once when I was in college. He was learning 5th grade grammar. It was hard to keep him in the room. Then I had to worry about him leaving the kitchen table. Then there was the homework itself. He’d hear the TV in the next room and start talking about whatever he heard. He would ask me if I saw the new South Park and then proceed to recite the entire episode to me, whether I had seen it or not. When he would finally answer a question, he always gave me the right one.

Before he was old enough to go to school, there was something different about Scotty. He was like a Tasmanian devil. Everywhere he went, havoc would follow. I was young myself and I still knew to lock the door to my room when he came over to my house. Inevitably, something was going to be broken and I didn’t want it to be something of mine. He seemed to have a pretty high threshold for excitement. He was extraordinarily antagonistic. Never worried about the unpleasant consequences, he did many things just to get a rise of someone. Once I was having a conversation with my brother at a family get-together. Scotty was a kindergartner


at the time. While I was talking, he sat on my foot, wrapped his legs and arms around my leg. It took me a moment to feel something and realize that he was farting on my foot. I was shocked and he was just looking up at me with a snide grin on his face. Entirely unreasonable, my brother had to pry the flatulent child from my leg. We thought he’d be a juvenile delinquent, but we were all surprised. Once he got to high school, he seemed to settle into things. He was funny, not menacing. Empathetic, not pushing buttons. Always a skinny kid, he filled out. He had taken up wrestling and considered becoming an EMT when he finished school. He talked to me about it at Christmas dinner. It was like the animal inside him had finally grown tired.

That high threshold for sensation, for excitement—this idea tied into my studies, my exams. I’ve learned a lot about sensation seeking behavior in school. In fact, it is tied to the criterion for diagnosing antisocial personality disorder, evidenced in early development by juvenile delinquency. ADHD has similarly dulled sensations. The sense of reward we keep in mind when we set out to accomplish something however difficult or unpleasant, that sense isn’t there in ADHD. That

future satisfaction is too far off for them and instead they turn to something that is immediately rewarding like watching TV and playing video games.

 

It was Sunday, Mother’s Day, and Scotty was still unconscious. His mother’s family and some Pentecostal friends were praying over him. My mother kept trying to get his sisters to go into the hospital room talk to him, massage his hands. “He wouldn’t want it to be this way,” they said. Scotty wouldn’t have wanted us to make such a fuss. All the wailing, praying, encouragement. Come back to us, Scott. It's not just the serious attention we were all paying, the tears and graveness that would have made him uncomfortable. He wouldn’t have liked knowing that he had done something warranting that kind of attention.

The minute I found out he was in the hospital, I knew he’d wake up and he’d laugh it off. He’d minimize what had happened, maybe not even learning his lesson. If anyone knew how to make us laugh about something so patently unfunny, it was him.


Scotty had two older sisters. They had ideas about what Scotty was up to the night he went to the hospital. Their details eventually fell in to place with other facts the police had gathered and painted a kind of picture leading up to the night of May 6th. He had been arrested that semester. Pulled over for speeding, the cops found marijuana in his car. He was put in some kind of juvenile drug prevention program. Every other week, he would take a blood test for THC, and only for THC. He wasn’t screened for any other drugs. A certain degree of privacy intact, Scotty started doing those drugs they didn’t screen him for. One of his sisters counseled him, tried to discourage him, but his attitude was that he had to do other drugs. He didn’t want to. The system forced his hand.

It didn’t matter. It still didn’t make sense. How does one go so rapidly from marijuana to mixing ecstasy and acid at once? I never understood mixing drugs. One was always enough for me. I’ve watched friends, mostly males, bury themselves deep and deeper into a stupor. I think the worst that ever happened was one waking up on a stranger’s porch stoop with a broken hand. Nothing like liver failure. Never a coma. Why was he so ill? I

hated acid because the perceptual changes lasted so long, but ecstasy was different. It gave a warm fuzzy feeling about everything, then you went to bed and woke up the next day sore. I got into cars with drivers who were rolling. I never considered the consequences of what I was doing, neither did my friends. We knew people who died driving under the influence, leaving raves and wrapping their cars around trees. The danger felt so far off from us. I even knew people who took meth and straightened themselves out, pushed that danger away. Danger was for other people in other lives.

And who were these kids who he didn’t meet from school? When he was in middle school, I remember my grandmother telling me that sometimes Scotty would disappear for a couple hours. He’d hop the fence behind his house and go for a walk, usually meeting people along the way. He befriended a few kids from trailer parks, probably even hitched a couple times. He wasn’t shy. And his perception of risk was way off.

The facts piled up this other life that Scotty led. Not a double life. Not something that seedy or extensive, but just another life he didn’t share


with us. A personal life, a kind of freedom most people don’t inherit until they turned eighteen. My brother was the same way, my parents let him do anything. My family has this sort of idea that boys will just sort of take care of themselves, but girls need to be protected. When I was sixteen I wasn’t allowed to go to the movies without an adult, not much older Scotty was out with kids in downtown New Orleans on a weeknight. When his parents were contacted by the hospital, they were at a loss as to where Scotty had been and who he had been with.

Still my parents kept saying things like, “If he was my son...” Not thinking about all the times that my brother and I had to face dicey decisions growing up. Just like every teenager does. Scotty made some bad choices, maybe a series of bad ones.

 

Dad called me Sunday afternoon, “I think they’re postponing it. I don’t think they want him to go on Mother’s Day.”

“Jesus Christ. And still nobody will tell us what

really happened?” Breathing was even harder that day and crying so much didn’t help.

“The police have a video.”

“Wha-a-ch-t?” I sputtered.

“When they pull out their taser—”

“Taser?”

“They didn’t use it, but as soon as they pull one out it has a camera on it that records. They offered to let me watch it.”

“Don’t, Dad. Don’t watch it.”

“Someone has to. His father can’t do it. He’s like the walking dead, Sarah, he’s destroyed.”

I tried, but couldn’t imagine my uncle that way. My uncle the clown, the constant comedian, a never-serious person. “Don’t go alone then, promise you won’t.”

“Okay, but we have to know. Someone has to see it.” My Dad’s grief took the form of vengeance. He still felt as though someone had hurt Scotty, rather than Scotty hurting himself. He was determined to


make someone pay for it whether it was the cops or the other kids. He needed a place to hang this anger that Scotty was taken from us and that we would never be the same again.

But I didn’t feel angry. I felt confused. I felt there must be someone somewhere we needed to explain everything to. “Look it was an honest mistake. Easy come, easy go. Right?” All the stupid things I did as a teenager. I can’t imagine having to answer to my parents for all of them, but to answer for it with one’s life.

 

I had an exam Monday evening and still couldn’t focus on my notes. My bronchitis made it impossible not to cough. Armed with an arsenal of not just cough drops but hard candies and chocolates to suck on in class. I piled them on my desk before the test was handed out, so as to not conceal them. Then popped one after the other for two hours. I left feeling confident, my brain purged and weak. Every few steps I took out of the building, I would gasp quietly, partly reveling in the fact that this was probably the sickest I had ever been in my life. Trying to remember it, log it away, for a bit of

perspective. Turning my cell back on I had a voicemail from both of my parents. I knew Scotty was gone.

I got on the subway and I could see him. Clear as day. When he was a toddler. Head in my lap with a bottle in his hand. He was sweaty and sticky. I brushed his hair back and he just watched me peacefully. Noticing how quiet it was for once, my uncle looked at us and said, “He really likes you, Sarah.” I don’t know if I cried there on the train or walking the blocks to my apartment. I wasn’t there.

 

Tuesday I had emails, friend requests, from children. I couldn’t tell how old they were because many didn’t post an age, a city, a school. They’re kids, they don’t need to disclose much. They see most of their Facebook friends every day. I was sure some lied about their ages, and that’s when I put it together. Scotty was also my Facebook friend, his profile always said he was born in 1986, instead of 1992. Touched, I added the kids, which eventually led me to a page that classmates set up in Scotty’s memory. They were “raising money for his funeral.” Telling people where to find these little


rubber bracelets so they could contribute. The money was unnecessary, it was the comments that mattered. Scotty knew so many people, kids at schools he never went to. So many people who said he was the first thing to make them smile every day.

The kids also used this Facebook forum to talk about how he died, but they mostly got it all wrong. They believed he was beaten and mugged. Back and forth until it was clear he’d be a legend with these kids. But some people made disparaging remarks about Scotty which Facebook removed, and I thankfully never saw. Still the insult of watching the wrong information be spread was painful, too. How do you even communicate the uncertainty we felt those four days in the hospital, the vagueness and incompetence of his doctors, the reticence of these trash-bags he called friends? It wasn’t for lack of wanting to set the record straight that neither I nor my family members ever commented on these speculations. We couldn’t because it would give short shrift to the gaping hole in our hearts. The grief we felt in real time.

I spent a lot of time on the phone with my parents talking about what had happened. Scotty’s

family naturally went into mourning, went into silence. My father was the one extracting information from the NOPD prior to the release of the police report. He learned that police responded to a complaint not on Thursday night but Friday morning around 2:30am. They found Scotty lying in the street yelling and striking his head on the ground. He behaved violently towards others when approached. He had punched cars and run full force into trees. They assessed the bizarre behavior as being drug-related and called for an ambulance. It took several men to detain him. He attempted to bite the EMTs. He had to be wrapped in a gurney to be put into the ambulance.

Another male was picked up that morning displaying similar behavior, he was attacking a taxi cab. He was taken to another hospital. Police were still waiting to interview the kids that Scotty had been with, but presumably this was one of them. His associates were to present themselves to the sheriff’s office Friday afternoon or a warrant would be issued for their arrest. In the meantime, my aunt and uncle received a letter from an anonymous name and address. Apparently a doctor who lived


in uptown New Orleans, witnessed Scotty’s arrest. He just wanted the family to know that the NOPD used the utmost care in detaining him. They laid him in the grass to protect his head. They were genuinely concerned and frightened for Scotty’s well-being. Surely, they had never seen anything like this.

 

The police report was filed and my father given a clearer picture of the events that transpired. The night of Thursday May 6th, Scotty and three friends drove to New Orleans. Let’s call them Charlie, Beth, and Nate. They went to a bar called The Dragon’s Den on Frenchman Street. A bar notorious for not carding at the door, I remember him bringing it up last Christmas. I thought nothing of it. “Yeah, I’ve been there before. I like Molly’s at the end of Decatur better,” mentioning a bar that does card. The Dragon’s Den was 4 miles from where Scotty was picked up. Through the French Quarter, past Lee Circle, all the way in the residential area.

Things got hazy after this point. Nate met an older guy at the bar who he knew personally. This guy took them over to his house, where they did

drugs and then went back out again. Being a former daily pot-smoker this is probably how it went down: They went to the bar hoping to run into Nate’s friend and they had to go to the guy’s place because he had to call his dealer. A dealer won’t just meet anyone anywhere whenever they want something. You need to be someone they know, in a place they know. They acquired ecstasy and LSD together, an act called candy-flipping. Charlie, Nate, and Scotty all candy-flipped. Beth abstained and didn’t consume any illicit substances that evening.

When Charlie started to respond strongly to the drugs, the older guy probably wanted them the fuck out of his house. So they all left. In the car, Charlie, tripping out of his mind, got out of the car at a red light and ran into the night. Scotty got out and went after him. This was the last time that Nate and Beth saw Scotty alive.

Beth decided to call it a night and drive the 40 miles back home. Nate, afraid to leave his friends behind, decided to stay at the Dragon’s Den. He called Scotty and Charlie repeatedly, but they didn’t answer. Eventually, he slept over at the older guy’s house where they got high earlier in the night.


Nate never identifies this older guy for the police probably out of fear for the guy and probably because he intends to get drugs from him again in the future. Clearly, Nate did not have a bad trip.

Ten minutes after police arrive on the scene and discover Scotty, just a few blocks away they found Charlie attacking a taxi cab. They were taken to different hospitals. Charlie later made a full recovery, although the events of that night are a total blur in his memory.

 

I had more exams to study for, but I left them on the back burner. Kept slacking off. Reading Scotty’s memorial Facebook page. Photos of the kids I friended kept popping up in the News Feed. They were having end of the year parties, unwinding, going out to the beach. I’d put on the TV and noticed that shows like South Park and The Family Guy are just always on one station or another. All the stupid things in the world, how could these have outlived him?

There were so many things I wished I had told my cousin. I know it may not have changed

anything, but I still wish. I wish I had told him about my own drug use. We could have talked about the Dragon’s Den. About the State Palace. About sneaking around with my friends. Wish I had told him that my brother, his own cousin, had also been arrested for possession of marijuana. Our parents had to drive to Mississippi in the middle of the night to bail him out. These things happen, and destruction doesn’t have to follow destruction. I wish I had told him about my awful LSD trip, stoned for days and thinking I should go to the hospital. My brother took care of me, gave me Benadryl and slept on the floor next to me to make me more comfortable. “You’re supposed to take care of each other. It’s not suppose to be this way.”

“I know. It shouldn’t,” Mom sighs. My parents, despite being conservative, also believe in the legalization of marijuana.

“Even if they just taught kids about the effects of drugs. About the interactions and bad trips and what to do. They had classes like that before raves.” I’ve talked to my Mom about a lot things that I never expected to reveal. We’ve been on and off the phone for days, taking turns crying on each other’s


shoulder.

“Any knowledge is better than no knowledge.”

“What was he thinking?”

“We’ll never know. He was convinced of something that wasn’t real.” Just like my brother.

“He must have been terrified?”

“Maybe he wasn’t anything. I don’t think he felt anything.”

I hoped she was right. I hoped Scotty’s final moments were just a painless, destructive, video game. That he had 70,000 points and unlocked bonus level 20.

 

In the end, it felt like it all came down to one bad trip. I knew perfectly well that everyone responds differently to different drugs. I knew that given our family history of schizophrenia and other dopaminergic problems that drugs like hallucinogens and marijuana are riskier for us than for other people. But how could a bad trip mean the end?

It took weeks for the toxicology to be sent from Missouri. I needed to see it because I couldn’t let it rest. Why did Scotty not make a full recovery like that other other kid? I read it, like a fool. As if I was ready. Like being around clinicians day in and day out has given me the ability to read about my cousin described as cool, full rigor, purple, fixed.

The list of injuries in addition to liver and renal failure was extensive. Abrasion, contusion, hematoma, edema. So many. Things that wouldn’t have been if it weren’t for the fact that he was willfully injuring himself. When he died, his abrasions were healing and his drug screen was free of all narcotics except for Benadryl. It was ruled accidental. The cause was deemed multisystem organ failure secondary to ingestion of an unknown substance. Of course, we all thought we knew the substance. No doctor, no witness, no one indicated he had taken anything but LSD and MDMA. It should have read multisystem organ failure due to beating himself to death after ingesting illicit substances. Even though the report didn’t shed as much light as I thought it would, I was satisfied. I was ready to go somewhere else with my grief. His birthday was coming up and I wanted to do


something special, something he’d like. My Dad wasn’t ready though. He needed more answers, even if just for the sake of my aunt and uncle. He pushed and pushed.

“Dad saw a pathologist who agreed to go over Scotty’s autopsy report if we also got his intake information at the two hospitals.”

“Why?”

“Blood work taken when he first came into the hospitals will give the pathologist an idea of what happened once he got to ICU. Whether it was the drugs or the injuries. That killed him.”

“Can’t it be both?” I could tell from her voice she felt the way I did, that the answer wasn’t that important anymore.

“I guess, really, ultimately, it’s biology, right? It comes down to biology.”

“Sarah, you know he used to come here every morning. He’d make himself breakfast before he went to school.” My grandmother, amazingly, held it together through all this. Held me together, too. “Sometimes he brought friends over here with him

and they’d both make something to eat. Joke and shoot the breeze with me.”

“Well we all did that, Maw-Maw.” My grandmother’s funny. A cool lady. I always took great pride in introducing my friends to her. They all called her Aunt Julie. All my cousins have been the same way. She’s a kind of shelter in the storm, especially for a teen. Let’s you be whoever you are.

“You coming to see me soon? How’s Mat doing, y'all still together?” she always asked tentatively. She has never met my boyfriend.

“He’s fine, we’re fine. He’s taking me out for dinner tonight. Celebrating my grades being posted.” In fact they had probably been posted for a while, I had just forgotten about them.

“Ya did good, lil sister?”

“I did much better than I thought, actually,” I coughed. All that was left of my bronchitis was a little, winded tickle.

“When ya gonna be finished with it?”

“A year.”


She laughs because I’m always in school. I have two Masters. A career student. “And what are you studying now?”

“Psychology. Concentration is alcohol and substance abuse counseling.”

“Well,” she paused. “He’d think that was funny.”

“You know, you’re right. I bet he thinks that’s pretty funny.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright© Sarah Rae. White Whale Review, issue 3.1


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