A Hard Pill to Swallow (Part 1)


Alexandra Risi

I’ve never been the kind of girl to wish on stars. In my opinion, the whole act seems pointless. Placing all of your faith into a single, hot ball of gas miles away ensures that you’ll never really do anything you strive to without a silly crutch. My father has always warned me to never get caught up in the fairytales that life spins for us, since he said it would blind us from what was really there all along. I’m not one to typically listen to my dad, or any adult for that matter, but I’m also not one to let some puny star decide my fate. 

As I slip on my leather jacket, the wears and tears hug me in the way that an old friend would. Sure, I haven’t been working at CuriCorp for more than a year, but I’ve been dreaming of this life for as long as I can remember, and this jacket has gotten me through every step of the way. The house whispers with each step I take, as I inch towards the front door. Waking up at 5:30 every morning is not my idea of fun, but it’s all worth it to be one of the lead “analysts” for the greatest preventative security company on the planet. As I’m about to walk through the doorway, a red post-it catches my attention out of the corner of my eye, reading “Don’t Take Your Pills!”. Oh. That. 

My doctor put me on pills a few weeks ago to control my anxiety attacks. He scribbled and scribbled countless directions on where to get the pills, when to take them, and how not to dispose of them. Each eerie scratch on the bright yellow slip increased my anxiety tenfold, and a lurking feeling of distrust latched itself onto my shoulder. I tried each day to follow his extensive list of instructions, but when I swallowed each pill, I was left feeling… empty. That typically energy and excitement that swarmed through my brain gradually faded, until I was left a robotic shell of what I once was. I decided the anxiety attacks were worth it, and that I wouldn’t be subject to numbness over something that I could control. Besides, I chose this job knowing the full risks associated with it, so I can handle a moment of hyperventilation or two. I stare at the post-it for a few more seconds, crumple it up, and shove it in my pocket as the door slams behind me.

CuriCorp was never in the cards for me. I was supposed to go to college, find a major in something trivial, and work a 9-5 job until I found a husband. Then, he would provide for me, and all my worries would cease. I would be reduced to a simple housewife, with four key functions to carry out for the rest of my life. But when I was nine, and my family was on our way to the circus, I saw the building that would change my life. 

Tall, stainless windows lined a sharp, rectangular building rounded off with a gold dome. The doors practically sparkled with an invitation, and the bright, bold signs lining the front entranced my mind. For the whole day, all I could think of was CuriCorp. No matter what crazy animals passed me or how many times my sister begged for more popcorn, I could only see the building’s silhouette, and I dreamed of all of the wonders that could be inside. It was like the company had been embedded into my brain, and was now a permanent part of me. I knew that I had to figure out how to steer my life towards this palace, as it felt like this incredible opportunity had fallen right into my lap. So, up until about 8 months ago, I have visited the building at least twice a month each month. There was never anything for me to do while I was there, but watching the action and excitement unfold was enough to keep a teenager like me entertained. The second I could submit an application, I did, and I spent the next three months of my life tossing and turning in my bed, anxiously waiting for that letter of approval.

On June 3rd, I broke the seal of my new life and began my first day on the job. So far, my days have been filled with scalding coffee cups, sticky keyboards, and the consistent ringing of a printer in my ear. Every day, the numbers and mission details absorb into my brain, to the point where I feel more knowledgeable than the boss himself.

 Speaking of the boss, I received an email from the mystery man last night, encouraging me to attend a private meeting in his office today. As the screen lit up with his obviously embellished words, I stripped down each sentence to its bare form, and realized that this could mean one of two things: I’m getting promoted, or I can kiss my dreams goodbye. I refuse to release this elegant building from my grasp and made sure to display that attitude as I waltz through the CuriCorp Doors and make my way to the office.

As I push on the large mahogany doors, I see a glimpse of light escape from the chamber in front of me. I wipe my hands on my jacket and enter the room, repeatedly praying in my head.

I observe the room around me and my attention is grabbed by the back of a huge, black leather chair. Although the hinges on the door were smooth and silent, the figure in the chair still feels my presence and turns around almost instantly. Now, I’m face to face with the man I can only assume is my boss. His eyes are sharp and focused, while his hair is limp and fading. As he shows me his teeth in an eerie grin, I gulp and wait for an invitation of some sort. 

As if he’s reading my thoughts, his scratchy voice bounces off the walls. “Come sit, won’t you?” 

I take cautious, calculated steps towards the small folding chair set out in front of me. When I sit down, the chair nearly buckles underneath me and my legs are practically glued to the cheap fabric. I feel anxious, almost trapped, as the man in front of me clears his throat and begins to speak.

“I’ve got to tell you, you’ve really been doing some great work for us here your past year at CuriCorp. You’ve got great numbers and a real ‘can-do-it’ attitude. So, we’re transferring you to head a team at our new facility just north of Calluha. It’s a really great promotion, and who knows, if you keep up this attitude, maybe one day you could be sitting in a chair just like mine.”

I stare at the large indents in his black leather chair, and how they look like they’re anxiously waiting to swallow him whole. Although he is speaking of a great opportunity for me, his voice couldn’t sound more hushed and disinterested. I don’t know if this is a direct result of his tone, but I’m not too excited about the opportunity either. With some sort of unbridled confidence, I say to him, “No, thanks.”

He looks up from the Newton’s Cradle he was playing with, and for once, actually sees me. “What do you mean, ‘no thanks’?”

I clear my throat and attempt to show off my “qualified worker” voice. “Listen, I’m really grateful that you considered me for this opportunity, but I’m happy where I am. Calluha is nearly an hour away from here, and besides, I’ve made a family here. I have a support system. So I think I would rather continue doing what I’m doing.”

His once eerie smile loses its vibrancy as he mentions, “Families can easily be rearranged. I really don’t think you’re thinking this through very clearly.”

I offer a light chuckle and say “Again, thanks but no thanks. My head is in the right place, my thoughts are clearer than ever, and this promotion just isn’t the one for me.”

His glare burns holes in my jacket and I begin to sweat profusely. I look over at the thermometer and see that it reads 66 degrees Celsius. 66! That’s impossible! The room begins to spin, and I assume I’m hallucinating as he breaks my trance and says “Do you need to take off your jacket?”

I nod and quickly rush to the metal pole in the corner of the room. I peel off the suffocating leather and practically throw it onto the hook in front of me. As I turn around, my eyes dart to the bright red Post-It, floating to the floor.

The man’s eyes pierce me once again. “What’s that?”. 

I laugh and go to pick up the paper, “Oh it’s nothing, just some silly reminder I had.”

“Bring it here.” His voice commands me, and I’m left handing him proof of my disobedience. As he quickly glances at the Post-It, his expression completely changes. Any nastiness I saw from him before could be considered angelic compared to the scowl forming on his face. 

“You haven’t been taking your anxiety medication?”

“No, not at the moment. My attacks have been getting much better, really, and I don’t think they’re necessary.”

His judging glare forms itself into words as he says, “You’re not one to override the pristine doctors of this community and decide when you do or do not listen to their instruction.” Without a moment of hesitation, he pulls out a piece of paper and begins scribbling away with that all-too-familiar scratching. 

As my mind realizes what’s happening, I yell out “No! Please don’t do this! I’ll go back on my pills I swear to you. I can be good. I will be good.”

My pleading makes no difference to him, and he barely even acknowledges my presence as the corporate phrases spew out of his mouth. “An employee who cannot follow simple instructions is an employee who will NOT be a part of this corporation. Now go downstairs and pack up your things. I want you out in the next half of an hour.”

As he hands me the red slip of paper, I crumple it up and shove it in my jacket as I begin to leave the room. The tears blur my eyes, and all of the colors in the room mesh into one, big gray blob. As I’m about to touch the inviting doors, I bump into a piece of posterboard next to them. I use the heartbreaking slip to wipe my tears and naturally bend down to pick up the board. 

The elaborate illustrations on the board depict a brain on one side, filled with life and information, compared to a smooth, round, pink ball. As I look at the red lettering above, I read the title, “The Pill Initiative.” My heart sinks into my stomach as I slowly rise and my shaky hand reaches for the doorknob.

Within the blink of an eye, a searing pain shoots through the back of my head, and I’m falling to the ground – fast. The world around me melts into a shade of navy blue, and now all I can see are little white dots. Sure, I’ve never been one to wish on stars, but now, I’m hoping and praying on every star I see that I can make it out of this alive.