Medicine Cabinet



The bottle says an adult should not exceed six pills in a twenty-four hour period without consulting a doctor. Most nights, my dad shakes himself out a loose handful; at work, I think he keeps them in a little bowl on his desk, like some people have M & M’s or Skittles. We buy the bottle at a warehouse store and it’s the size of a jar of mayonnaise.


In bed at night I kept having this feeling like I couldn’t breathe and the doctor said it was panic attacks but I had had panic attacks before and this felt different — it was in the muscles of my stomach, it was wrapped around my throat. I thought there had to be something I could take to make it stop. My mom asked me if it felt like heartburn and I said I didn’t know what heartburn felt like. Like it sounds, she said.


My mom has had horrible migraines her whole life; the medication she’s on now doesn’t have too many side effects, but all through my childhood, when she felt a migraine coming on, she would swallow a pill with a glass of water in the morning and then go up to her bedroom and die for the rest of the day, waking at sunset to make us dinner.

Xanax (.5 mg)

The first time I had a Xanax, my chest unclenched and I told my mom that I finally knew what it was like to be a real person in the world, how normal felt. You can only take this for a short period of time, the doctor told me, because it’s addictive.

Celexa (1 mg)

Trying to figure out whether an anti-depressant is working or not is one of the most depressing activities I know. The self-consciousness and emotional insecurity this inquiry inspires are exactly the sort of self-consciousness and emotional insecurity that you are taking the pill to try to get rid of.


In college, I stopped taking any over the counter painkillers because I was drinking too much and I could never get it straight which pill was less worse to take with alcohol; the one that shrunk your liver, the one wore away the lining of your stomach, or the one that could shut down your kidneys.

BC Goody’s

It’s white powder in a tight little wax paper envelope. You unfold the envelope and put the edge of it on your tongue and shoot the powder down your throat in one fast move, chasing it with water. When all I knew about drugs was what I had seen on TV, I would tell my dad that maybe he should snort his medicine, that it might work better that way.

Celexa (.5 mg)

About a month after the doctor upped the dosage on my anti-depressant, my dad broke down in his office after a conference call and decided he was going to try going on one too. We put our pill bottles in the medicine cabinet side by side and my mom made sleeves out of construction paper to distinguish between them — mine was green, his was blue.


My girlfriend told me the other day that she “believes strongly in zinc” and I laughed at her, but the truth is that when I have a cold, my faith in Vitamin C is greater than most people’s faith in God.

Xanax (1 mg)

At the time, my dad had health insurance and I didn’t, so when his doctor gave him a Xanax scrip, he refilled it every month but didn’t take it very often, even when he needed it. When I was accepted to graduate school and about to move away from home, he gave me the bottle like another father might give his son an old gold watch that had been in the family for years.


One of the weirdest side effects of my brother’s Adderall is how it cleans his apartment for him, he tells me. It loads the dishwasher, it picks up the dirty clothes, it vacuums the fibers of the carpet into perfect lines. If only it could make him care about school, my mother says after a couple cocktails, if only there were a pill for that.


My dog was taking this anti-inflammatory for a problem with her leg while I was taking the anti-depressant for the problem with my head. We took these medicines at the prescribed dosages for the prescribed times but neither of them really worked. Now both bottles sit in the medicine cabinet, unused and gathering dust. On nights when I’m back home, I let her into my bed and I rub her leg and stroke her hair — I am her anti-inflammatory and she is my anti-depressant.

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image – Robert S. Donovan