To Brian, my CVS pharmacist,
I would like to think you’d know me by now, but I know you see a lot of people when you’re working. Do you like your job? Do you have nightmares of people popping pills and immediately asking you for more? Or of the white paper bags seeking revenge and stapling you? Why do you wear a white coat? Is it to blend into the walls? Do you work all the time or are you simply conveniently there when I frequent CVS? What does CVS stand for? Scratch that. I can look the answer up — Convenience, Value, and Service. I wonder how many people know what the three red block letters entail. What you do not know about me is I’m curious. I ask questions. Well, maybe now you’ve noticed.
I’m sure you have met some shaky people. Sad lives meet in CVS. I know you’ve seen me cry when I came in to pick up my anti-depressant. Anti-helpfully, my doctor forgot to refill it, again. You explained I wouldn’t be taking my pill that day. I cried and survived.
While most people see me as a happy, healthy individual, you see me with my credit card ready and my hand out asking for three white paper bags stapled together so I can rip them each open with a satisfying jerk.
Sometimes it’s simple and you only see me once a month. Do you notice that? Do you ever worry when my anti-depressants sit on the shelf for days among the sea of white bags? Or do you know I’ll eventually appear to pick them up? Do the warnings on the bags ever make you nervous? Do you picture the people picking up their “may impair the ability to drive or operate machinery” pills speeding in Maserati’s plowing through crosswalks inebriatedly unaware? I regret typing that question.
Some months you see me on two separate occasions: one time for one antidepressant and the second time for the other. We bond those months, don’t we?
Occasionally I don’t walk all the way back to the pharmacy, instead just browsing the aisles for organic panty-liners, zit cream, chocolate-covered espresso beans, or gum. You did not see me the day I stopped at CVS to get a few cans of baked beans to take to my friend’s pig roast. I don’t only come to CVS for medication.
Would you recognize me outside of CVS? Are pharmaceutical companies tricking us? Are you worried about super viruses? Do you see more men or women? I bet you have enough stories to fill the endless supply of clementine-colored CVS pill bottles. Do you ever ask people out or become friends with customers picking up their prescriptions (besides me, of course)? Did you notice my eyebrow rose when you stuttered and I thought you were going to ask me out, ruining our perfect relationship? I’m glad you didn’t. Please don’t.
I want to know more about you but can never ask because of the line forming behind me impatiently and the one lady who always coughs causing her boogers to plummet to the carpet. Why is she always there when I am at CVS? You already know my birthday, address, medical history, phone number (since I always forget my CVS Rewards card), school, and that I volunteer because you asked me about my t-shirt that one day. I told you about tutoring students in the city and that I want to be a teacher. You said you want to volunteer in the city too. Have you signed up for anything yet? Why did you become a pharmacist? Do you believe you are helping people or enabling them to diagnose themselves with pill deficiencies?
If this thought-infused letter feels like an interrogation, don’t finish reading it. Or do. Or act like you did. Or grin when you see me next, secretly slipping an epistolary response in one of the white paper bags prior to stapling it. Or don’t. I’ll check the bag anyways.
You’ve seen me knock over the stand that displays a thousand pages of coupons and scramble to put it all back in order. You saw my face quickly turn cherry-cough-drop-red, make sure the damn stand wouldn’t fall over again, and decide to leave the store instead of waiting in line for my tiny white pills with a bunch of senior citizens who just witnessed my clumsiness (boogers fly out when the lady laughs too). You noticed me waiting in line for a flu shot debating whether they actually work or not and consequently leaving the store. Maybe another day I’ll fall for modern medicine’s inoculations or succumb to my mother’s admonishing. “Get a flu shot,” she nags. Did you get one?
You’ve never seen that I wave to the surveillance camera every time I walk into CVS. You didn’t see me the day that I woke up twice, thus taking my pills twice. On the phone with Poison Control, I did not think to call you or dizzily walk to your dominion. You don’t see that when I’m in a hurry that means my dog is waiting for me in the car and I imagine her twelve-pound body is enough to honk the horn obnoxiously until I return. People stare at her fogging up my windows and wait to see if I’ll return.
You didn’t see me when I was prescribed my pills, in denial. I still don’t believe it. I lie to myself every time I enter CVS. I see the surveillance monitor with my image looking down on me. I wave to the version of me who lives in a parallel universe and whose smiles are fueled by (two) antidepressants. She relies on modern medicine, and I don’t.
However, a part of me believes I am/was depressed. Facing the fact that my brain mixed up contentment with despair for three months allowed me to seek help, tell my parents, and stop crying in the shower. I was tired of crying; I’m not a crier. Many people I know and love explained individually that they also have been depressed at some point in their lives. It was comforting to see they understood the incomprehensible, but mostly unnerving that depression has seeped its way into the minds of several of the people whom I love.
I winced last week at mass; the priest used the word “depressing” nine times in his eight-minute homily. If anything is depressing, it’s the fact that people abuse the word so often, denying anyone a break from the oppression of depression. Do you think about any of this reality when my hand is stretched out waiting for my pills?
I despised pharmacists until I met you. Would you ever think that about me? Yes, pharmacy is a noble field, but I carried bad experiences with me each time I walked up to the Pick-Up counter until you stood there. I’ll tell you why I shivered when interacting with pharmacists. Four years ago, I was tasked with picking up my mother’s pain pills — heavy, chalky, ovals of drug abuse waiting to happen. The pharmacists would give me the third degree, making sure I wouldn’t pop any of those bad boys on my return trip home to my aching mother. Terrifying interrogation conveyed through sharp pill-counting eyes. Goodness, I would never swallow those pills after seeing my mom loony, drab, and dry. Since then I dragged my feet at the pharmacy, but that was until I was prescribed a few medications myself and met you. Now waiting in the Pick-Up line, I am free to people-watch instead of holding my breath.
In a few months, you won’t be seeing me anymore. Moving means transferring my prescriptions to another store where I’ll meet another pharmacist. I put my CVS Rewards card on my car key-chain so the new pharmacist will never know my phone number. I wonder if that pharmacist will ask me with no curiosity at all if the weather is nice outside like you sometimes do. Why don’t they have windows in the pharmacy area of CVS? You should be able to tell if it is nice outside or if an apocalyptic black doom hovers over us. That way you won’t have to act like you care and ask people what the outside world is like today. Instead, you can share what the mysteriously dismal self-medicating world is like today, an inside view of the intricacies of side effects, drug mixology interactions, and generic brand Claritin-D. A window would be good for you. I’m sure you could use a break from the white bags, white walls, white shelves, white coats.
See you soon,