Intermezzo

Twenty years ago, none of us knew what an intervention was, never mind how to actually conduct one. Drew, Burke, and Sarah didn’t pack my bag ahead of time. They didn’t bring in a facilitator or a list of grievances. They weren’t going to stuff me in the back of Sarah’s car and ship me off to the nearest rehab clinic. But they pushed their way into my dorm room right after my third Vivarin/Jolt Cola tonic kicked in, determined to talk to me. It was the last thing I needed on a Wednesday night with two papers due on Friday, and an exam first thing next Monday.

Drew, Burke, and Sarah were true friends to me. The best. The kind that didn’t care that most of the horizontal space in my room was covered in books and papers. They just found spots for themselves on the floor, my bed, or leaning against the doorjamb. They sat there silently prodding each other to make the first move. Finally, Drew spat it out. “We think you need to cool it on the Vivarin.”

I thought they were joking. I didn’t major in music like they did; I wanted to eat after graduation. But The Four Musketeers just had to stay together after high school, so I followed them right into the university’s marching band, which was like one big, six-month long, unchaperoned band camp. Drinking, smoking, and screwing ourselves silly, that was acceptable behavior. But trying to stay awake to get off academic probation, that was a problem.

I tried to push my jittery anger down. “I just have to make it through this week,” I said. “I can’t believe you’re actually ganging up on me."

“When did you sleep last?” Burke said. Sunday, but they already knew that. Burke especially. We’d gotten into it on Monday after rehearsal because of some crack he made about god knows what, and I almost bit his head off in a caffeine-fueled rage.

I picked up and rearranged some random sheaves of notebook paper. “Do we really have to have this discussion now?”

“All-nighters aren’t healthy,” Sarah said. She was the last person to talk about what was healthy, given the things she’d done with three-fourths of the trumpet section. But I knew that she knew it, too, which is when it started to sink in. They were seriously worried.

Drew stood up and went into the medicine cabinet above the sink. “Where is it?"

“The desk,” said Burke, who reached under my bed and found my last six-pack of Jolt Cola.

I was too stunned to stop Sarah from snatching the Vivarin bottle off my desk and tossing it to Drew. My body and my mind froze in disbelief (or from crashing down from my increasingly fleeting caffeine rush). I couldn’t find any words of protest that didn’t make me sound exactly like the crack whore in Boyz n the Hood. “Yeah, fine. Whatever,” I said. “Can I get back to work now, please? Some of us have actual schoolwork to do.”

“Yeah fine. Whatever,” Drew mocked as he pocketed my pills.

Sarah gave me a hug. I didn’t return it. “We made something for you,” she said. Burke reached into his shirt pocket, pulled out a cassette, and tossed it to her. “It’s us,” said Sarah, holding the tape to my face whose masking-tape label read Study Music. “I wrote it in Comp III and we played it in Brass Choir.” She slid in the tape into my boom box and hit play. The music was pleasant enough. Busy, but not obnoxious.

“We’ll check on you tomorrow,” said Burke as he followed Drew out. The trash can underneath the sink, filled with Jolt empties caught his eye. “I don’t know how you drink this crap."

“I want that back later,” I yelled.

“After you’ve let yourself sleep a bit,” said Sarah. She hugged me again and this time, I snuggled her.

“Thanks,” I whispered, already feeling guilty about what I was planning.

As soon as she shut the door behind them, I rummaged through my bottom desk-drawer until I found two wrinkled foil packs of No-Doz. I wondered if I could make them last until I could get a new bottle of the Vivarin. But I needed to get stuff done, so I scraped together enough change for a Mountain Dew from the basement vending machine, and chased down all four pills.

I turned up Sarah’s music, waiting for the pills to take effect. But I didn’t feel anything after twenty minutes, not even after I chugged the rest of the Dew. I thought my Nirvana tape would help. I tried to reach for it, but my arms wouldn’t move.

I struggled to lift a proverbial finger. My eyelids sagged. I couldn’t understand how, after all the caffeine I’d ingested in the previous two hours. I felt myself sliding down my chair, like syrup over pancakes. I yawned so deeply, I closed my eyes and when I opened them, I realized this was my friends’ fault. “Jerks,” I whispered. But I didn’t mean it.

Sarah’s music, played by my friends, was reaching for me from my speakers. Four sets of staff lines—First and Second Trumpet, French Horn, and Tuba—streamed from my boom box just like in the cartoons. The notes separated from the lines and eased into my ears as each staff line slid down along my back and wrapped gently around my arms and legs, lifting me out of my chair and slipping me between the sheets of my bed, like a record into its sleeve.

And the next morning, after the best night’s sleep I’d had in three semesters, I got two non-jittery hours of reading in before class. Their tape became a regular part of my academic life for the rest of the year. Until the night Drew, Burke, and Sarah came to my room with familiar looks on their faces.

Ω

Don Pizarro  Don Pizarro's website has subsisted on red-eyes and gallows humor since 1973. His work has appeared online at McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Fantasy Magazine, Reflection&’s Edge, and other places.  He lives and writes in upstate New York.