Angel Pills


Illustration by Alexandria Heather

Richard has told you his version of things—most of which is accurate—but believe me, what I’m going to tell you now is the key to undoing this mess. Richard, please stop. You’ve said your piece, now just let me add this one thing.

Here, do you see this bottle? I got it from Maggie, the manager of Stacy’s Natural Foods down on First Street, a friend and trusted resource for many years, so certainly I had no reason to doubt her—I mean, the capsules looked so much like those bulky multiple vitamin-mineral supplements that one would be hard-pressed to detect a visual difference in—who could have guessed the hell they would bring down on my family? Although it’s true that Maggie couldn’t vouch for them one hundred percent since they were new to the marketplace, not yet FDA approved, meaning that she had no customer testimonials with which to reassure me, and yet if you looked on the Internet, plenty of parents and doctors alike were raving about this Angeliva treatment, better known as Angel Pills, and since I was at the end of my rope, I figured what the hell. It’s worth a try.

Okay, so in retrospect yes, it does seem somewhat risky, but I assure you that I resorted to the pills only after the more orthodox parenting techniques had failed: lecturing, pleading, threatening, grounding, taking away of the car keys and the iPhone and the Internet, rearranging of her bedroom according to the principles of feng shui—all  of these exhausted before I turned to Dear Amy, that advice columnist, who apparently had no time for the likes of me, and to Jesus Christ himself, atheist although I am and have been for the past twenty years, which just goes to show you how desperate I had become, with sleep deprivation also a factor—but all of these I tried, I swear to you, before I slipped that capsule to Jenna one morning at breakfast, passing it off as a new vitamin/mineral supplement for vegans, which she and I both are in spite of Richard’s constant ragging about riboflavin and iron. Please don’t stare at me like that. I had to do something, didn’t I?

They went to work overnight, those angel pills, worked like magic, I swear to God, and oh, what a sweet change from the bitchy, secretive behavior we had been subjected to in the previous months, the surliness, the pouting, we could do not one thing right, could we Richard? And then the very next day, here she is dancing into my studio, asking me to read a story she wants to submit to the high school literary magazine—a quirky little piece about a shopping mall in an alternate universe; kid stuff, sure, but clever enough, and grammatically perfect, as far as I could tell.

Not that it matters much, the writing—although I admit she’s not bad at it; she inherited some of my genes, so naturally she’ll be pulled in a creative direction now and then, but science is really her thing: chemistry, biology, all the classes I struggled with in high school she aces, no problem, so it’s only natural she plans to be a doctor, like Rickard here—and she’s on track, too. Or at least she was, until this recent shit-storm hit, right on track for acceptance at both Stanford and Cal Poly, her top choices,  no easy feat for kids these days, with all the demands placed on them by the universities, as if the hormones and social pressure alone aren’t enough to keep them—and us—constantly on the brink of madness. But it all came easy for our Jenna: the A plus average, the extra-curriculars, the honors and awards, and what a great group of friends, too—nice kids from good homes, just like her: motivated, responsible and well behaved. We thought we’d won the kid lottery, didn’t we, Richard?

So looking back, all was well until the new semester began, kids got shuffled into different classes, and Jenna became lab partners with Cody Hall, this kid we had never heard of until she started complaining about having to do more than her share of the chemistry projects, and he certainly was never a part of her social group, but next thing you know the phone rings at half past three on a school night and it’s the local police—maybe it was one of you two, I don’t remember—letting us know they’ve found Jenna and Cody parked out by the lake with a six-pack.  Richard drove out to retrieve her, assuring me that kids do this stuff, it’s not such a big deal, we’ll just give the lecture about household rules and expectations and ground her for a week, he said. Jenna claimed to be “freaked out” by the whole police thing, said she didn’t know what she could’ve been thinking. It would most definitely not happen again.

Next night I was up until long after midnight overworking a painting for the upcoming local arts festival—a stressful enough time for me even without Jenna’s bullshit—when suddenly I was struck by a gut-wrenching attack of mother’s intuition, so I rushed to Jenna’s room and sure enough, the bed was empty and the window thrown open, no concern for the utility bill or the safety of the rest of us. She didn’t get home until around 4:00 a.m.—I’m pretty sure there was weed involved this time—and after another lecture, this one actually more of a shoutfest, Jenna shrugged and said, “Okay, you win. You’re right. Whatever.”  When she went wandering again the next night, Richard bolted her windows shut, but as we soon learned, that’s nothing a love-struck boyfriend with a screwdriver can’t fix.

This went on for about a month, with Jenna coming in at all hours under the influence of God knows what, along with recorded phone messages from the school reporting that she was skipping classes here and there, and one call from her Advanced Chemistry teacher concerned about the dive in Jenna’s grade, with Jenna hoping to get into Stanford and all. Who could blame me for turning to Maggie and the Angel Pills?

So when Jenna allowed—no, she actually asked me to read her little sci-fi shopping mall story, I was thrilled to see such results from only one pill, but the next day was even better: a red-eyed Jenna came home with the news that she had broken up with Cody, said it was for the best; he was wrong for her, too wild, so she’d decided to focus on schoolwork and hang out with her real friends, and she hoped to win back her father’s and my trust. We crossed our fingers and dared to hope.

Two days later, I was collecting moldy Dr. Pepper cans and other trash from Jenna’s room when I found the Bible. Yep. Oh, I was startled, sure, but then I thought okay, this could be a good thing, even though we’re not churchgoers, Richard and I, because I sometimes worry that maybe we should’ve given Jenna a little more exposure to religion so that she could draw her own conclusions from more than an occasional Christmas pageant. So let her explore, I thought. No harm there.

At dinner one night, almost two weeks exactly after she took that first pill, she mentioned that “by the way” she had joined the First Baptist Church over on East Avenue after accepting Jesus as her personal savior, sending chills through my agnostic heart, I must confess—no offense, if either one of you is religious.

And when she said she probably wouldn’t be going to Stanford or Cal Poly after all, that she was researching a bible college in Texas where she could prepare to serve the Lord as a minister, I knew I had to get her off those damn pills. I didn’t know, I swear to God—oh, I guess there must’ve been a warning somewhere in all that paper that came with the bottle, but nobody reads that stuff, right? I didn’t know, until I spoke with Maggie just a few minutes ago, that you can’t just stop the pills cold turkey; you need to be weaned off, or there can be certain side effects. So as soon as Jenna left the table I stupidly jumped right up and fed the half bottle of remaining pills to the garbage disposal.

Richard has already told you the rest: this morning Jenna was gone, leaving this little note that basically says don’t bother to look, and  Richard suspects she’s run off with Cody. Yes, of course we’ve called his house, but nobody’s picking up, which is par for the course over there.

Richard thinks the sudden withdrawal from the pills has messed with Jenna’s brain chemistry, causing her to revert to the old self-destructive behavior, but on that we disagree. Stop trying to shush me, Richard. They need this information.

What I think is that the side effects caused by the withdrawal might be taking another form. Look right over there, by her bedroom door. Do you see them?  Richard will tell you they’re from the old down comforter that she dragged around as a baby, and that she must’ve rescued it from the attic to take with her on this latest adventure, dropping feathers along the way. But I’m pretty sure I threw away what was left of that rag years ago. I know I did.

And I’ll tell you another thing I’m certain of: those pills were definitely affecting Jenna, and in a good way at first. There were a couple of nights, right after her break-up with Cody, when I awoke in a near-panic and rushed into her room, but each time, I found her smiling in her sleep, so sweet and peaceful, her hair and skin glowing in the moonlight, hands folded under her chin, looking as if she were ready for the “Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep” thing we used to do when she was a little girl.

Oh, I saw that look you just gave each other, but I didn’t imagine any of this, I tell you. Somehow those pills made Jenna want to be good. She was maybe a little confused about what “good” really means, that’s all. And the dosage was probably just a tad too high, which would explain the feathers.

And as you can probably tell by his sour face and the way he keeps trying to cut me off, Richard holds me responsible, points out that I haven’t slept more than a few hours in a row for several months now, and wants to convince me I’m losing it, which just dumps more stress on me and isn’t the least bit productive, in my opinion. I think our only hope is to get Jenna back home and on the pills again, at a reduced dosage of say, half a pill a day, or one every other day; I’ll have to do some research, talk to Maggie. The important thing here—and on this I think we can all agree, even Richard—is that we get our girl home and back on track before the college application deadline.

I see from your faces that you blame me for this mess, maybe because you’re too young to have teenage children of your own. Just wait until you’re on the receiving end of one of those three a.m. phone calls. But please don’t let your judgmental attitudes stop you from doing your job. You are the police, after all, judging by your badges and your guns. It’s your duty to find my daughter and bring her home.

PEGGY SCHIMMELMAN is a writer and poet from Livermore, CA. She is the author of Whippoorwills, a novel, and her short stories and poems can be seen in the Comstock Review, Pacific review, Aleola, and others. Her poetry chapbook, Crazytown, is undergoing publication. When not writing, she reads and plays around with percussion.

ALEXANDRIA HEATHER is mostly water.