Love in the Time of Xanax

Prescription pills and their effect - one woman tells her story. Marie Claire has the story.

girl and guy kissing
girl and guy kissing
(Image credit: Kateryna Govorushchenko)

When I met Hank at a jazz club in Brooklyn for our first date, he seemed like a gentleman — a mild-mannered Midwesterner with an MBA and some kind of straitlaced business job. He was rock-star skinny, and the physical chemistry was automatic: We couldn't stop grinning; our knees kept bumping into each other. I felt jittery in a good way, and Hank seemed like he did, too. Conversation moved fast — spurred in part by Hank's audio-visual props. While telling me about a recent trip to Sicily, he pulled out a tiny camera so I could see the short videos he'd taken there. Then, smiling, he flipped down the collar of his cargo jacket to reveal special hooks for his iPod earbuds. For his third trick, he showed me a Swiss Army pillbox attached to his key chain. The stylish metal accoutrement was covered by a clear flap of plastic emblazoned with the company's logo, through which slender white tablets were visible.

"What are those?" I asked.

"Just Xanax. They're prescription."

Sheepishly, I said, "Remind me: What's that stuff for again?"

"It's an antianxiety drug. It helps me not be a stress case."

I wondered momentarily if it was odd that Hank was packing meds on a first date, but then figured probably not. I didn't know exactly how Xanax worked; maybe it was the kind of thing you took if your subway train got evacuated because of a bomb scare or the corner bagel store ran out of your favorite kind. There are so many things in New York that could make a person freak out — including the problem of excessive perspiration, which was plaguing me that night, since the club wasn't very well air-conditioned. I excused myself to go to the bathroom, where I took out the Arrid Extra Dry I always carry in my bag and applied it to my underarms, the soles of my feet, and the underside of my panties.

When I returned, Hank and I decided to have another round, on my front stoop. Later on, we ventured upstairs to my apartment, even though I'd just moved in a few days earlier and it was a junkyard of unpacked boxes.

Hank sat down, and I immediately started clearing away the boxes and searching for wineglasses. After handing him a zinfandel in a nice stem, Hank said, "Okay. Now, will you finally relax?"

He grabbed my hand and pulled me toward him. "You really need to chill out," he said. "You're kind of uptight."

Me, uptight? I've been accused of many things, but never of being anal. I'm cool, dude! I wanted to say.

"Listen," Hank said casually. "I have an idea. Why don't we take some Xanax? It's a great high if you've been drinking. It makes you forget all your hang-ups. You become the real you."

"Ohhhkay, pusher-man."

"Seriously, it's amazing," he said, with allure in his voice. "Kind of like smoking dope, without the paranoia. Or like getting really drunk, except you don't get sloppy. And no matter how much you drink, you won't feel hungover tomorrow — no headache, no nausea, nothing. Just a little spaced out. Plus, you'll sleep like a baby."

Now, you might wonder why I would even consider this proposition.

The thing was, I used to be a hard partier. It started back in high school in New Jersey. I'd booze it up whenever someone's parents went away and there was a kegger; or when the Bergen Catholic boys would throw a party in a cheap motel room; or when my friends would drive into Manhattan and we'd go to some hole-in-the-wall bar. Once I made it to the Ivy League and saw how many of my fellow coeds were toking up — and still acing their classes — I joined in. Weed was the gateway drug to some more intense stuff.

Then one night I took a ride with a Russian limo driver and wound up snorting lines off his clipboard as he sped through red lights. Our joyride ended in a fender bender. After that, I swore off illegal substances.

I'd been 100 percent drug-free for a couple of years, and told Hank as much.

"It's not 'drugs.' It's prescription medication," he replied.

He had a point. How harmful could it be? "You sure this isn't a roofie or something?" I asked.

"Come on," Hank said, placing a Xanax in my hand. "You invited me here. And I'm asking you if you want it — not doping your drink with it. If it'll make you feel better, I'll take that one," he said, pointing to the pill in my palm.

I nodded — yeah, take it — feeling like I'd dodged a bullet. But when he swallowed it, I took the next one he offered in a flash. A scene from The Princess Bride flickered through my mind — the one where the evil genius Vizzini thinks he's outsmarted the Dread Pirate Roberts, in a somewhat similar situation with a poisoned chalice. Then Vizzini dies.

But I was already down the rabbit hole. The stuff worked fast, and my inhibitions were swept away. In no time, I proposed that we ... lie down and cuddle. (Sad but true: My deepest, darkest desire was to spoon.)

"How about we lounge around naked instead?" Hank suggested. "We'll talk about our bodies. Like nudists. We'll snap pictures. It'll be liberating." Did I consider the fact that the photos could wind up in the hands of his friends — or worse? Nope, not in that state.

"Sounds fun," I giggled. This, despite the fact that I normally have the body confidence of Jabba the Hutt. "But no sex. I'm not into one-night stands."

Once we were undressed, it became apparent that I had a few other anxieties too deeply entrenched for Xanax to erase — although so did he.

"Am I getting droopy?" I asked him.

"Nope. Still plenty perky. But do you think my stomach is kind of soft?"

"Come on. You look great."

He took out the camera, and I did a pinup-girl pose while he snapped away — despite the fact that I'd never even gotten into bed with the last guy I'd dated till the lights were off.

The next thing I remember is waking up next to Hank with the early-morning light coming in the bare windows. He had on my red-paisley eye mask, pushed up around his hair, Mick Jagger–style. "Sex now?" he whispered.

"No, go back to sleep," I mumbled, barely awake. "Didn't you say Xanax makes you sleep?"

"I take it all the time, so I have a tolerance. Mind if I check my e-mail?"

When I woke up again — hangover-free but as groggy as a toddler after a midday nap — Hank had vanished. Everything was so topsy-turvy that I half-expected to find him under a pile of clothes or in an empty box, but no dice. I did, however, discover a pair of my spandex exercise pants at the foot of my bed ... and suddenly remembered how Hank had pulled them on, pushed his hair back with the psychedelic eye mask, and lip-synched around the room to "Under My Thumb."

What else had I forgotten?

I texted Hank to ask. Then I called my best friend, who exclaimed, "Xanax? That's, like, the thinking man's date-rape drug!"

That's when I remembered the pictures. Holy pornography! Was I going to Google my name and see myself in all my laser-hair-removed glory?

"Why'd you take it?" my friend demanded. Why had I? Especially when I'd given up drugs so I could avoid the kind of anxiety I was now feeling.

Well, I'd been motivated, in part, by feeling old: I'd turned 33 a few weeks earlier and had started to think that all the wild adventures of my life had already taken place. Plus, Xanax was prescription; it had seemed so harmless! So had Hank, for some reason.

I ran to the computer. There was a note from him on my screen: There's a present in your butter compartment.

Checking the fridge, I found a small white pill on top of a mustard tube. Then a text message beeped on my cell. Don't worry, Hank had written. We didn't screw. But, hey, did I leave my camera there?

I spotted it on my desk. How serendipitous. I'd delete everything.

"I am getting too old for this," I told my phone.