Chapter 1:

It’s a 000000000 Life


Content warning: Dark subject matter and implications, sexual scenes, abuse, drug and alcohol addiction, suicidal ideation, and strong language.

Disclaimer: The nature of this story requires that I depict cultures and demographics that aren’t my own, and thus this story is inherently appropriative. I do not mean to offend anyone. I depict these cultures due to my genuine admiration for and interest in them. I have done research into these cultures and have attempted to depict them as accurately as possible, and without stereotypes. If anyone is offended by this work, I genuinely apologize. The last thing I want is to upset anyone, but just because that is my intention, that doesn’t mean I will succeed. Once again, apologies to anyone this work offends due to my potential failures, and I hope you can find enjoyment from it.


I suppose my story should begin with when I was sucking a dick, my thoughts primarily on a dumb fucking anime I had watched.

My knees were pressing into the thin carpet of a musty hotel room, the client pressing my head into his crotch so hard it was difficult to properly suck him off, and yet all I could think about was that shitty anime. You’d think the blowjob I was performing would be number one in my thoughts, but that was something I could do on autopilot. Occasionally I’d return to reality, and when I would, I’d make sure to do some tricks with my tongue to show the client I was still engaged. He’d complain if it seemed like I wasn’t giving it my all.

Despite my best efforts to focus on my job, my ADHD made my mind wander around until it landed back on that one terrible anime. It had been stuck in my craw for years now. Every time I thought about it, I’d get all meshugganah and go on a mental rant to myself about why it sucked.

The series was called Al-Kimiya: I Died as the Djinn King My First Time Around, so This Time I’m Going to Try to Live a Quiet Life, but All These Girls Won’t Leave Me Alone in this Inside-Out World!! It was based on a light novel, and it was a typical power fantasy harem series about an overpowered guy with no personality getting all the bitches because he’s strong and nice, though nice usually just meant he displayed basic human decency. The protagonist had special powers that were different from everyone else’s, and so people discriminated against him and called him weak despite being way stronger. He had to prove everybody wrong as he went to a school meant to teach people how to use this series’ flavor of crazy anime magic.

The only way it could be more generic was if it was an isekai. God I hated isekai stories with the heat of all the stars in the sky.

It wasn’t because the show was generic that I couldn’t stop thinking about it. What really bothered me was that there were so many good ideas in the story that were wasted. The whole story takes place in what’s basically an inside-out planet where the inside is hollow and you stand on the underside of the planet’s surface, so the curve of the planet goes in the opposite direction which lets you see countries that are thousands of kilometers away, and instead of a sky, you only see the other side of the undersurface. Also there’s all these normal planets within this inside out one that all revolve around this thing called the Nucleus that basically acts as the Sun. It’s a weird world that’s such a memorable story setting, but it was wasted on harem drek.

“Ghk khhhh!” I gagged and coughed. The guy I was sucking off kept trying to shove his dick as far in as he could. You’d think guys would be a little gentler with the woman who was in the perfect dick biting position, but most johns didn’t think of that. I accidentally threw up on a guy’s dick one time after he hit my uvula. He nearly killed me after that.

The worst part was that his hands were pawing at my head and ruining my hair. I had just gotten it styled into a cute black pixie cut.

It really was a gamble with clients. Sometimes you’d get really nice ones, sometimes they’d be forgettable, and sometimes they’d be a nightmare. That’s probably how it was with all people facing jobs, but with an illegal and unregulated career like sex work, those nightmare clients had more impact.

Eventually the session ended with the client being pissy that he had only cum once, but he didn’t want to fork over the cash to extend the session, so he had to deal with it. We left the motel and got in the client’s car, the john taking me through the night streets of Queens back to where he found me.

My mind bounced between topics as we traveled in silence. I saw a closed corner store I somehow never noticed before and thought about how I could have always missed it. Then I thought about how pretty the less fancy parts of New York City were to me, with all the stores and homes being dirty, aged, and lived in. After that I thought about Al-Kimiya, followed by how I really wanted some heroin, and then Al-Kimiya again.

I was feeling nauseous and my stomach hurt by the time we got to my corner. It was on Jamaica Avenue, an elevated railway known as the Jamaica Avenue J Line hanging over the road.

With the client’s cash in my purse, I left his car without a word and headed over to my corner where a steel beam holding up the overpass was planted.

“Hey, Eve, how’d it go?” Leaning against the beam and smoking a cigarette was one of the two other prostitutes working the same corner as me. Her name was Tyronica Clay. She was a black woman with an afro, and her body was hugged by a short one-piece dress with fishnets.

I was wearing a one-piece too, actually, though I didn’t have the fishnets, they’d distract from my tattoos. I had a black heart on my left breast and some stars on my right shoulder.

Our other coworker was Amina Aziz, a short woman in a tube top and a miniskirt. She was Arab, like me, though unlike me she wasn’t half Ashkenazi Jewish.

“It was fine, though my hair's all messed up cause he was trying to, like, get his dick all the way down to my stomach.” I pulled out a pack of cigs and lit one for myself as I got chills. “I hope Sam’s got some skag.”

“You blow through it too fast, you gotta pace yourself.”

“I know, but there was this rave, and the alcohol wasn’t doing it for me, and I didn’t want to waste money buying more, so I needed something to really get me feeling good before getting on the dance floor, but, like, I’m so resistant now so I gotta do so much just to get that high, like, it sucks!” I touched my index finger to my cheek. “Now I’m out and my guts feel like they’re twisting in knots, and my body hurts all over like I just got pummeled by Muhammad Ali or something! Hey, do either of you know if heroin makes you constipated? Because I haven’t shit in, like, a few days and I’m worried. I’ll sit on the toilet with my legs up for an hour and only a few pebbles of crap come out!”

“TMI. Also, talk quieter. Also, don’t ramble.” Amina’s upper lip curled and her arms crossed.

“Oop, sorry.” I took a drag of my cig. “So did I miss anything?”

“I gave a guy a handie in an alley, but otherwise you’ve missed nothing.” Tyronica leaned her head back into the beam. “I need to find something to make me stand out. Eve, you’re lucky, you’ve got big tits. Every man-child in the city gets all giddy when they see big knockers.”

“My implants aren’t really that big, it’s just that my body’s so thin and bony that it makes my tits stand out and stuff. The thing that really draws guys in is that I’m a transwoman, they think having sex with me is taboo or weird or kinky or whatevs.”

“Either way, you’ve got a fetish you can pander to. I don’t got that, at least nothing on the rare side.”

“Yeah, you don’t really have anything, like, special. You could try to bring attention to your figure, but your butt’s small and your chest is really flat.”

“Wow, thanks, bitch.”

“I’m sorry!” I raised my hands as if to hide myself behind them. “I-”

“Spoke without thinking. Whatever, I’m not gonna throw a hissy fit every time you do that.”

“Sorry.” My head leaned to one side as I decided to stop myself from apologizing further. I probably would have said something rude again if I did.

My eyes darted around to avoid looking at Tyronica, and it was then that I spotted Amina’s current expression. Her mouth was stretched wide and the skin around her eyes was scrunching together.

“Amina, are you okay?” I was afraid that Amina would be bothered by my inquiry, but I also didn’t want to risk not speaking up if she needed help.

“N-” Amina stopped. Her expression shifted around until it settled so her features were drooping as she sighed. “Money’s tight, that’s all. I haven’t been pulling in anyone lately. I don’t know how I'm gonna get through the month. Sam is gonna be pissed.”

“That sucks. I wish there was something I could do, but I’m just skirting by myself.” Tyronica took a puff of her cigarette. “You can crash at my place for a few days if you lose your apartment.”


Without thinking, I reached into my purse and pulled out my earnings for the night. After that I took out a big chunk of the money I kept stashed in one of my shoes. The majority of my savings was always on me since my apartment was pretty easy to break into, and every bank around had blacklisted me given my shit credit score.

I held the cash out to Amina.


“Wait, are you serious?” Tyronica’s grip on her cig loosened.

Amina just looked at me, jaw hanging low.

"You just said you needed money.” I shrugged.

“But so do you.”

“I’ll scrape by, I always do.” I smiled and held the money further out towards Amina.

While her hand hesitated for a moment, Amina eventually snatched the bills from my hand, her eyes rapidly switching back and forth from looking at the money and looking at me.

“Thank you.” Amina’s voice was high pitched. “I…I’ll make it up to you.”

“No need, just pay it forward. We gotta watch out for each other in this business.”

Amina was quiet again, before walking up to me and giving me a hug.

“Thank you so much.”

“You’re welcome.” I hugged Amina back.

A warmth filled my chest, but that warmth was dispersed by a skipped heartbeat when I noticed an SUV pulling up to the curb next to us. Amina and I let go of each other. I pushed out my chest and butt to look as appealing as possible.

Then I recognized the vehicle. It didn’t belong to a john.

The SUV’s front passenger side window opened a third of the way. Through the gap I could see an unmemorable looking man wearing a t-shirt and jeans. It was Sam.

“Shalom.” I said.

“What’d you make?”

Amina, Tyronica, and I held out what we had earned so far that night. We had to reach into the window for Sam to take it. He never reached out of his car, we always had to be the ones to cross the threshold. Every muscle in my body grew tense as Sam counted our individual earnings, and the aching and nausea my withdrawal was causing grew worse.

Sam flicked through the meager stack I gave him three times instead of the usual two.

“Eve, the fuck is this? If you’re holding out on m-”

“I’m not, you can check-”

“Don’t fucking interrupt me.”

My jaw clenched shut so hard my teeth banged into each other. My sweat was cold.

“Get in.” Sam unlocked the passenger door and I didn’t hesitate to enter. Before I even finished closing the door, Sam began pawing at my body and rifling through my purse. He was so rough that it felt like I was getting punched over and over. My vagina hurt especially after he finished checking there. Sam helped pay for the procedure that gave me that vagina. The remaining money in my shoe was hidden in a secret pocket I made, so Sam didn’t find it. A growl from Sam accompanied the completion of his search. “Get out.”

I exited the vehicle so fast that I stumbled and nearly fell on my face.

“Why’re you making next to nothing?” Sam said.

“I think I’m just unlucky tonight. You know I usually pull better than this.”

“I don’t care about usually, I care about now. Shape up. Understand?”


Sam grunted and started to raise the window.

“Hold on, um…” I spoke up and Sam stopped just before his window was completely closed.


“What about my heroin?” I squirmed in place, my eyes shutting when Sam glared at me.

“Are you serious?”

“I’m sorry, you’re right. I didn’t earn it.” I spoke quickly.

“Get your shit together, then we can talk about my heroin. My heroin. Capiche?”

“Capiche.” My breathing was shaky.

Sam closed the window and drove off.

I felt lightheaded as the tension left my body.

“I’m sorry, Eve.” Amina hung her head. “If you hadn’t helped me, you wouldn’t have gotten in trouble.”

“It’s not your fault, I chose to give you my money knowing what would happen.”

Giving away most of the cash I had on hand definitely wasn’t smart, but I’d rather Sam be pissed at me than at one of my few friends. That said, I had no idea how I’d pay rent, or for food, or for anything for the next month. What was messed up was that such a question would normally be a sword of Damocles over most people’s heads, but for me it was just the same old same old, I was honestly more anxious about when I’d get my next fix of heroin. It really showed how fucked up my priorities had become. This wasn’t to say I actually believed that heroin was more important than things like food, but my subconscious mind had placed my addiction at the top of my list of worries.

I regretted not being a freelance prostitute, then I wouldn’t have had to give most of my earnings to a pimp, and said pimp wouldn’t have forced me into trying heroin so he could make me dependent on him for getting more.

“Such is life,” I said to myself.

After that, Tyronica, Amina, and I continued working the corner until the Sun threatened to rise. It was then that we returned to our homes.

I entered the closet that I called my apartment and went under a desk. I was claustrophilic so I liked being in tight spaces, they made me feel safe, like I was being hugged by my mother. Despite getting cozy with a blanket under the desk, I struggled to fall asleep, and not just from the withdrawal, and not just from my anxieties over how I’d get the money I needed, but also because I couldn’t stop thinking about how much I hated Al-Kimiya.

So many thoughts, so many responsibilities, and I couldn’t focus on any single one long enough to run through the idea to its end. It was like a crowd of people were all screaming in my head, their voices blending together and becoming indecipherable. My heart was beating against my ribcage as I was hit with a mountain of stress that I didn’t know how to cope with. My ADHD was making that night, like many nights, agony.

Time crawled, every minute feeling like ten.

Eventually my exhaustion forced me to sleep.

My alarm woke me up, my body thoroughly not rested, and the withdrawal was hitting me even harder than yesterday. All my limbs were weak and I was freezing. The only thing in my head was a hunger for heroin. Even when I tried to think of other things and let my ADHD take over, my cravings would force their way to the forefront of my mind. As I got dressed for my day job at a fast food place, throwing up in my toilet halfway through the process, all I could do was think of ways to get the money I needed. It wasn’t money for things like rent, but for heroin.

Then I grabbed my phone and glanced at the screen. It was Saturday, and it wasn’t just any old Saturday. Normally I’d go clubbing or bar hopping on weekends since I didn’t have work, but this was a special day that only came once a year. A big dumb smile formed on my face as I got hyped up.

I removed my uniform and dressed up in a white turtleneck, black jeans, and my favorite big gold-colored hoop earrings. For breakfast I ate a microwavable cheese filled knish and drank the last beer in my minifridge. My heroin cravings were crammed in the corners of my brain thanks to the joy that was now at my mind’s forefront as I left my microapartment.

There was time before I had to be at the place I oh so desperately wanted to go, so I thought about what else I needed to get done, and once more money came to mind. I seriously needed some cash or I was screwed.

“Do I really gotta ask them?” I said as I took the subway towards ‘them’ in Brooklyn.

My destination was the Arab community on Fifth Avenue in Bay Ridge. Sitting amongst many stores with signs written in both English and Arabic was a Moroccan restaurant with an apartment above it.

Upon entering the building, I was smacked in the face with nostalgia. The place had barely changed since I was a little kid. I remembered racing between the marble tables when there were no customers. The walls were stucco-white with some spots covered in Zellij style tile mosaics. One wall had a panoramic picture of Rabat, the capital of Morocco.

At the counter in front of the kitchen was a woman in her sixties with skin slightly darker than mine, but similar facial features. She wore a type of long robe called a djellaba. It had a hood, but she kept it down.

The woman looked at me and smiled a tiny smile, exhaling harshly through her nose as she did.

“Eve, what are you doing here?”

“Hi, mom. I was in the area and decided to pop by.” I walked around the counter and hugged my mom. “How have things been?”

“Alright. We’re still getting used to your father’s osteoporosis. He broke his leg a few months ago and it’s still healing.”

“He broke his leg? Why didn’t you tell me?” I leaned forward.

“We didn’t see any reason to.”

“But I could have helped somehow. I could have gotten groceries for you two or something, so you wouldn’t have to go out.”

“Oh, your brother has been doing that for us, no need to worry.” My mother waved her hand as if to swat away my suggestion.

“Wait, so you told Eli? Did you tell Laylah?”

“Yes, but we only told them because Laylah’s close by and Eli needs to be involved in everything or he gets upset. It’s nothing to do with you, don’t worry.” My mother touched my upper arm.

I knew my mother intended her saying, “It’s nothing to do with you,” as a statement of how I did nothing wrong, but I couldn’t help but feel that she also meant it as, “It’s none of your business.”

“Can I see dad? Is he upstairs?” My voice was less energetic than I intended.

“Sure, go ahead. I need to stay down here and man the restaurant, but you can go right up.”

Go right up I did. Unlike the restaurant below, the upstairs was way different from my memories of my youth. There were a lot of little alterations, like new furniture or furniture in different places than they used to be, but they added up to make my childhood home feel like it no longer existed.

On the couch, watching an old Bruce Lee movie while flailing his arms around in imitation of the star on the screen, was my father. He was a portly old man, partly due to his love of his wife’s cooking. His skin was fair and he was currently wearing a Night of the Living Dead t-shirt with shorts. There was a cast on his left leg that was signed by several people.

“Hey, dad.” I waved my fingers.

“Eve, what are you doing here?” My dad smiled and exhaled from his nose. It was the same reaction as my mom. That didn’t feel good for some reason.

“I just thought I’d pop by since it’s been, like, a while. How’s your leg? You never told me about it.”

“Hey, it’s a broken leg, what’s there to say?” My dad shrugged exaggeratedly. “At least now I got an excuse to sit around binging my favorite movies. How’re things with you?”

“Same as always.”

“Here.” My dad slapped the seat on the couch neat to him. “Sit with me.”

As directed, I sat next to my dad and watched as Bruce Lee beat up Chuck Norris on the TV. My dad and I sat in silence for a bit until my dad spoke up.

“When you say things are the same as always, I’m guessing that means you’re still having money troubles.”

“Yeah.” I kept looking at the TV rather than my father.

“And you still can’t find a better job?”


“And you still go out partying when you should be saving up?”


“And are you still doing drugs?”

I didn’t say anything. I sniffled because my nose was runny.

“Oy vey.” My father sighed as he spoke.

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t say sorry, sorry doesn’t fix anything. You gotta try to be better, I mean really try and keep on trying. I know it’s hard, and I know life’s unfair, but you gotta persevere despite that, otherwise things will never shape up for you.”

“I know.”

“It’s not enough to know, you have to follow through.”

I nodded.

We went back to watching the movie in silence.

But then I felt an impulse and, without thinking about tact or delicacy, spoke up about why I had visited my parents in the first place.

“Dad, can I borrow some more money?”

My father rubbed his face and chuckled.

“Y’know, your siblings always take forever to get to the point. I always have to say, ‘tachlis, talk tachlis,’ but I never have to do that with you.”

“Yesterday, I gave some of my cash to someone who really needed it, and so now I’m probably not gonna have enough to cover, like, the essentials and stuff. I know I should think of myself first, but she was in trouble and I couldn’t stand by doing nothing, but unless I get lucky and make more than usual by doing my, uh, night job, then I’ll get kicked out of my apartment. I swear I won’t waste the money on you know what, I’m gonna keep clean, and I really will this time, and I won’t go out to bars or clubs or anywhere that costs money to go or that’ll tempt me with-”

“Shush.” My dad raised a finger which stopped my yammering. “You said you’ll be homeless if I don’t help you?”


Closing his eyes for a few seconds, my dad sat still and silent. His eyes opened again and he pointed towards the refrigerator in the kitchen.

“Go into the freezer. We still keep our cash hidden in the ice maker. Take four thousand.”

“Are you sur-”

“Just take it.” There was a sharpness to my father’s tone.

Without another word, I went to the freezer, opened it, and shoved my hand in the ice box, ignoring the cold as I dug out a few rolls of bills. I put three thousand in my purse, as I couldn’t bring myself to take the full four thousand.

“I'm sorry.” I said.

“Quit saying sorry. Just make sure you use that money wisely, alright?”


I checked the time on my phone and saw that the thing I was waiting for was getting closer.

“You got somewhere to be?” My dad said.


“Then don’t let me keep you.”

“It’s fine, it’s still a while away.”

“Go, I can tell you’re anxious.” My dad’s hands waved through the air as if to shoo me away.

Honestly, I don’t think I came off as anxious to leave.

“I guess I’ll go. I hope you heal up soon.” I moved towards the stairs.

“Thank you. Be safe.”

“I will. Call me next time something big happens. I love you.”

“I love you too.”

My father didn’t look at me as I left.

I told my mom goodbye and exited my childhood home.

Instead of moving on to my next destination, I just stood on the sidewalk, thumbing the newly acquired money in my purse. The sick feeling I had wasn’t just from the withdrawal, but from the guilt I was suffocating in. Too many times. My parents and I had gone through this song and dance too many times. We used to argue, but we didn’t bother now.

What was wrong with me? How did I end up like this?

There were so many reasons. I did terribly in school. Traditional education didn’t work for me, I just didn’t learn the way the school wanted me to learn. My ADHD didn’t help, nor did my habit of sneaking out to clubs when I should have been studying. I ended up dropping out of high school, so I tried to get whatever work I could, but options were very limited for someone with my background. It didn’t take long for me to start hooking, and the next thing I knew I was doing drugs. Life moved so fast from there that everything became a blur.

Next thing I knew, I was forty-two and still repeating the same mistakes. Any progress I’d make would be ruined, either by factors beyond my control, or due to my own failings.

One time I saved up a good amount of money, only to get robbed by a group of guys who also kicked the shit out of me, which meant I had to spend even more money on medical bills. The cops didn’t bother to do an investigation when I reported what happened.

Another time, I wasted money I got from my parents on a multi-day bender. Every time I thought about that, I wanted to pretend I wasn’t myself.

“Such is life.” I said to myself.

There was no use dwelling on the past. I just had to do better this time, and if things went wrong anyways, then I’d start over and try yet again.

Forcing the sides of my mouth to rise up, I got walking towards my new destination. While I did, I once again found my mind skipping around to different topics, one of them inevitably being Al-Kimiya, that waste of an anime.

Beyond its neat inside-out world, another thing that initially drew me to Al-Kimiya was that it mainly took place in a country called Alf-Laylah wa-Laylah, literally the One Thousand and One Nights. The nation was this futuristic solarpunk society that took inspiration from Arabian culture, as well as from South Western Asia, Central Asia, and Northern Africa as a whole, along with the collection of stories for which the country was named. As an Arab woman myself, I was excited to see an anime that was influenced by my heritage.

And then Al-Kimiya sucked balls.

The female characters only had the barest complexity to them due to whatever tragic backstories the original author saddled them with, and that was if they were lucky enough to get even that. Any development they got only served to feed into whatever waifu archetype they represented, and to give them a reason to want to gob the main character’s knob.

Speaking of that main character, he was so overpowered it was silly. His name was Daud, and he humiliated anyone who faced him barring the occasional minor challenge, which would prompt him to unlock his limiters and display even higher degrees of might that turned those minor challenges into more easy wins. There were no stakes. Daud being this overpowered might have been fun if he fought in memorable ways, which he didn’t, he usually just punched or kicked people really hard, or if he had an interesting personality, but I can’t think of a single character trait he had beyond ‘nice’.

This anime took its unique setting and wasted it on dime a dozen tripe.

I was pretty sure that the only reason Alf-Laylah wa-Laylah was designed the way it had been was to give the author an excuse to fill the story with characters who were nearly all very dark skinned. The author, at least in my opinion, definitely had a fetish for dark skinned girls.

My frustration at Al-Kimiya made me take a strong bite out of the honeycomb chocolate bar in my hand.

It was then that I realized that, while I was ranting to myself in my head, I subconsciously bought myself a snack from a bodega I spotted. I didn’t really want the chocolate bar, an impulse caused me to buy it after I felt a momentary interest in it.

A few minutes ago, my dad told me to use the money he gave me wisely, and I immediately wasted some of it.

My arms dangled and my head leaned to the side.


I was groaning as I stared with squinted eyes at the partly eaten candy. It was too late to return it.

Since there was nothing else I could do with it, I kept eating the chocolate. I was unable to enjoy it due to my guilt.

There was something else I bought. but I didn’t feel bad about this one, because I had a good reason to get it. In my purse were now two starter decks and some booster packs for a Japanese trading card game.

I continued on my way, taking the bus to Harlem and giving some money to a homeless man I saw upon getting off said bus.

Hopefully nobody would notice how sweaty I was at this point.

My destination was a housing complex in East Harlem that sat among several others, all of them crowded together on a single city block. Each tenement was multiple stories tall and made of bricks that varied in their shades of brown. Once again I was hit with nostalgia for a former home.

Sitting between three complexes was a playground. It was the kind where all the different equipment such as the slides, the monkey bars, and the rock climbing wall were all a single structure, with part of it meant to look like a house.

The only kids in the park were two boys in their early teens who were pretend fighting. The boys shouted out the names of super moves like ‘Shout of Heaven’ and ‘Earth Eater’ while posing or hitting each other so lightly that there was no way they’d hurt each other.

One of the boys, who was thirteen, had messy black hair and wore a t-shirt with an anime girl on it. He was a chubby kid, though that didn’t mean he wasn’t athletic given how energetically he played with his friend. The smile he had on his face was big and simple; it made my body’s pain vanish. I could watch that boy be happy all day.

“Hi, Eve.” I didn’t notice when the woman next to me arrived. She might have been there the whole time. So tall and elegant. Her dark hair was in a side ponytail. While she dressed conservatively and had next to no makeup on, she was still goddess-like in her beauty. The way she had her hand on her hip. The way she had that cool expression. Such presence. I missed her.

“Hey, Noel.” I could feel the giant smile on my face. It hurt. “How are things?”

“Things have been good. I actually just got promoted to a senior management position.”

“Really? That’s great! I’m so happy for you!” I bounced a bit on my feet. “You deserve this after working so hard.”

“Thank you.” The beginnings of a smile formed on Noel’s face. She looked up at the tenement she lived in. “We’ll finally be able to move out of this place.”

If they moved out, I’d never have an excuse to come back here again. This would be another place full of memories that I’d lose.

“That’s awesome. So, like, how have things been with Paul.”

“Good, very good. When we move out, we’re gonna buy a house and move in together. This is probably a stupid and insensitive question, but you’re not bothered by that, are you?”

“No, don’t worry! I mean, I’d have to be a big asshole to feel possessive of you! We’re divorced! I’ve got no problem with you and Paul! Honestly, I think it’s great you found someone as nice as Paul! The only problems he has are that he smells weird and he’s a bit of a hoarder! Wait, sorry, I di-”

“I know you didn’t mean it.” Noel’s brow furrowed. “Just another slip of the tongue. Anyway, how have you been?”

“Y’know, same old same old.”

“So no improvement?”

I grunted and looked away. My eyes landed on the messy haired boy, which made me smile again.

“Thank you for letting me see him. You don’t have to, so it means a lot.”

“It’s only once a year, so I don’t know if you should be thanking me.” Noel said.

“That’s still a lot. You could tell me to fuck off and never come back if you wanted.”

“I’d only do that if I thought you were dangerous. You’re just…”

“A fucking moron?”

Noel kept quiet.

“Is there anything special going on with Andrés?” I said.

“His grades have gone up a bit thanks to Paul tutoring him, he’s made new friends, he got in some trouble for pulling a prank in school, but that was a while ago. You should ask him yourself about how he’s been, not me.” Noel gestured toward the messy haired boy.

“I don’t wanna interrupt him while he’s playing with his friend.”

“If you’re waiting for him to notice you or finish playing, then you’ll be standing here all day. Andrés!” Noel’s call made Andrés spin around to face her. He locked eyes with me, freezing like a deer in headlights.

“Hi, mom!” Andrés didn’t smile.

“Hey, bubbala!” I waved at him.

Andrés turned to his friend. His face scrunched up a bit.

“I, uh…”

“It’s cool, we’ll hang out later.” The other boy gave a thumbs up before running off. “See you later!”

“See you later!”

“Sorry for interrupting.” I said.

“It’s fine.” My son walked up to me. He stopped a couple feet away, his body swaying from side to side adorably.

“I’m so happy to see you!” I pulled Andrés into a hug, squeezing him tight enough that he let out a groan. He hugged me back lightly. When I let Andrés go, I reached into my purse and pulled out the cards I bought. “Lookie what I got here!”

“Cool.” My son’s eyes lit up as he took my gifts. So cute. “Thank you.”

“Anything for you, bubbala.”

Andrés took the card boxes and packets. He nearly started opening them before realizing that might not be the best idea while outside and having no comfortable way to carry all the cards once removed from their packaging. You’d think Andrés had bugs in his clothes with the way he was squirming.

“You can open them later.” Noel said as she patted our son on the head, which got him to jerk his head away and blush. “Your other mom is here to visit, so why don’t the three of us go out somewhere?”

That suggestion made Andrés deflate. My son’s eyes were firmly on his gift.

“We could also stay here. He can play with his cards while we spend time together.” I said.

“Let’s do that!” Andrés hopped forward.

“Alright. I’ll make coffee then. Come on.” Noel led the way into her and Andrés’ home.

We got stopped by multiple other residents of the complex who pulled Noel into conversations in Spanish. Almost every single person we encountered had something to say, so it took a while to reach Noel and Andrés’ apartment.

It was almost unrecognizable from how it looked when I lived there. The decorations were different and the furniture was all new. There were multiple crucifixes, autographed movie posters, and Puerto Rican flags. Also there were a lot of flowers, which I never knew Noel liked, and plenty of Andrés’ O gauge model trains that were sitting on shelves or on tracks mounted on the walls.

While Noel made coffee, Andrés and I sat on the couch. Andrés got to work opening his gift, scrutinizing each card.

“Did you get any good ones?” My head tilted to the side.


“Are there any you were hoping you’d get?”


“What are the rules to this game again? I forgot.”

“It’s complicated. I don’t know how to explain it.”

I was hitting a wall, so I decided to stop bothering my son and just be happy that he liked what I gave him.

Noel came over and not only handed me a cup of coffee, but also put a plate of empanadillas on the table in front of me. She placed another next to Andrés’ card piles.

“Aw, you didn’t have to.” I picked up one of the empanadillas and took a bite out of it. My stomach twisted and turned before I could even swallow. There was a war going on between my hunger and my stomach pain. It was so distracting that I couldn’t enjoy or even notice the taste of the empanadillas. Sipping my coffee just made it worse.

It was then that I noticed my leg was bouncing up and down.

I really wanted some heroin.

Watching my son look through his cards wasn’t able to keep my mind clear. It was only once a year that I could see my son, and I was wasting it trying to figure out when was the earliest I could meet with Sam to buy some skag off of him.

Despite trying my best to keep up a poker face, Noel was giving me a look that I couldn’t read beyond how it said, ‘I know what’s wrong with you’.

“Are you okay?” Noel wasn’t really asking a question.

“I’m just a little under the weather and stuff.” I got chills.

“If you’re not feeling alright, then maybe you should go home and rest.”

“No, I’ll be fine! I just got here! It’d be rude of me to just show up, sip some coffee, and then leave! We haven’t talked yet, not really!” I put a hand on my chest.

“It’s not rude. You need to take care of yourself.”

“I’m just getting over a cold.”

“All the more reason you should rest so it goes away sooner. Besides…” Noel’s brow pinched down. “If you’ve got a cold, you don’t want to spread it to anyone else.”

Andrés became prominent in my peripheral vision.

I understood my ex-wife’s message loud and clear.

“You’re right. I’m gonna go home and rest. Sorry, bubbala. I guess we’ll have to just spend extra time together next year.” I pumped a fist.

“Okay.” Andrés said.

“I love you, Andrés.” I hugged Andrés again.

“I love you too.” He barely hugged me back.

“Bye, Noel.” I stood up.


Right when I was about to exit through the front door, I heard Noel say, ‘wait’. I turned to see her standing with four tupperware containers full of food.

“One’s pegao, one’s pollo guisado, this one’s got some jibaritos in it, and I put some of the empanadillas in this one. I figured you might be hard pressed to find a good meal right now, so, y’know, take these.”

Part of me wished to politely decline since I didn’t want to leech off of Noel, but I was also wise enough to know that I really could do with some good food.

“Thank you. You’re so sweet.” I took the containers. “I’ll make sure to return the containers.”

“You can keep them, we’ve got tons.” Noel crossed her arms.

My fingers squeezed the tupperware and my teeth grit.

“I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean to show up all…like this.”

“I won’t say it’s fine, ‘cause it’s not. You gotta take care of yourself, for the sake of the people in your life. There’s a reason I only let you visit once a year.” Noel spoke quietly so Andrés wouldn’t hear.

“I know. I’m working on it, I really am.” Perhaps the fact that I was in such a sorry state despite my efforts made things worse.

“Just keep on working on it. Don’t give up.”

“I won’t. Talk to you later.”

“Talk to you later.”

When I left, I felt like shit, even more so than usual. I fucked up my chance to spend time with my son.

“Such is life,” I told myself as I left the apartment complex and began to walk the streets of New York City.

At least I got to see my son at all. Many parents without custody weren’t so lucky.

Nonetheless, this visit had been a sobering moment. I really needed to get my shit in order, or I’d never be able to live the life I wanted. There were so many things I needed to deal with. I was addicted to heroin, cigarettes, and alcohol. Meanwhile, I wasn’t taking any medications for my ADHD. Somehow I had to get out from under Sam’s thumb, as well as find a job that actually paid well that I could get with my nonexistent credentials. Then there was my reckless spending by going to parties and impulse buying shit to deal with.

If I didn’t do something soon, I’d continue to get pushed away by my family. They were already avoiding relying on me. How long would it be until they cut me out entirely? What about my son? Noel was already hesitant to let me be around him, and today showed she wasn’t tolerating my shit anymore. I could never see my son again if I didn’t figure out how to fix all my problems: the drugs, the losing money, the ADHD, the everything.

It was all so much. Anxiety was choking me. I couldn’t even think of where to begin. My breathing was ragged and irregular. I broke into a run. I needed to find a tight space before my panic attack became too overwhelming.

My eyes darted all around me in search of a good spot before they settled on a bench on the sidewalk. I immediately ran over and got on the ground, crawling under the bench and lying down on my side while embracing the tupperware like a teddy bear.

The tight space made my claustrophilia kick in. Even as people passed me by and gave looks of confusion, I embraced the feeling of being enclosed, of being held, of being loved. The bench was a barrier that protected me from my fears.

I felt my heartbeat slow, my panic settling down, so I was able to form relatively cohesive thoughts. My problem was that I was looking at my issues as one big tangle of threads too complicated to unravel. I needed to focus on one issue at a time. Multitasking wasn’t my thing. Deal with one issue, then move on to the next. That was how I could slowly fix myself.

As for the best place to start, I needed to quit using heroin, and drugs in general. No heroin, no cigarettes, no weed, no cigars, no alcohol, no ecstasy, no coke, no morphine. Doing so would be painful, but once I did, I’d be able to face my other problems with a clearer head.

I had a plan. I could do this. I had a chance to get better.

People continued to give me strange looks as I began grinning while still under the bench.

Upon standing back up, I was filled with ardor. I rushed back home. There would be fewer temptations there. To really show my resolve, I threw the cigarettes in my purse into a trash can.

I’d hole up in my room like a hermit and just relax by watching some anime on my phone. My withdrawals would suck ass, but I’d get through them by remembering my son and how I wouldn’t be able to reconnect with him until I was sober.

The desk I was under served as a fortress to protect me from my self-destructive desires. My phone was plugged into the wall, and I began to scroll through anime websites for a show to watch.

Yet again I remembered Al-Kimiya.

Another reason I was let down by the anime was its art style. It was a throwback to the stereotypical 90s anime aesthetic. Backgrounds were detailed and full of memorable touches that made them feel lived in, even little cracks in walls. There were numerous visual effects, especially in fight scenes. Most of the girls had round faces and big eyes with white circles in them meant to represent reflections of light, but they were so big and centered that it looked like their pupils were white, which made their irises appear as colored rings. Hair was big and shiny, and many characters wore complex 90s outfits. Everything was in vibrant colors, neon even, and the facial expressions in comedic scenes could be super exaggerated, even by anime standards. Girls were super feminine and pretty, while important guys were usually tall and traditionally masculine.

It was the 90s when I got into anime, back when I was a teen, so seeing a new anime really commit to the 90s aesthetic grabbed me by the eyeballs and got me to give this series a chance. Even as the first few episodes were just generic crap about a reincarnated demon king, or Djinn King in this case, I didn’t give up hope. I kept on hoping the show would improve, that it could be what I wanted it to be, even when the first season ended and the second began, and even when the second season ended and the anime original movie was released.

Perhaps that’s the biggest reason I so utterly despised Al-Kimiya, because I tricked myself into being invested in it. The sunk cost fallacy dragged me through everything the anime had to offer. I became so desperate to find a good version of this series that I considered reading the light novels, and it was then that I finally broke.

I had to accept that Al-Kimiya was ass. It was like I had been betrayed, but in truth I had simply deceived myself into believing the idealized version of Al-Kimiya that lived in my head could be real.

My opinion flipped hard, but I wasn't any less engaged with the franchise. Instead of anticipating the show becoming good, I was hate watching it and constantly thinking about its problems, even talking with people online about it.

At this point, I was even more invested in Al-Kimiya than I was when I was trying to like it. Would I still be considered a fan in that case?

I dragged myself out of my internal diatribe and picked a yuri anime to watch.

Since I had never seen the show before, I hoped that I’d be forced to focus more and thus be able to more easily ignore my chills, my aching, and my hunger for heroin. Instead, I couldn’t focus fully on the show and realized I was halfway through the first episode and I had no idea what was happening. I was too preoccupied with my pain.

I swapped to watching a yuri anime I had already seen so I’d already know what was happening, even if I wasn’t paying full attention, but I still couldn’t enjoy it. It felt like someone stabbed their hands into my guts and started twisting them like they were ringing out towels.

The contents of my stomach shot up through my body and into my throat. A fauchet-like sound came from my throat as I threw up into the trash can I had tossed my cigs into. Thankfully, I hadn’t eaten much, so I didn’t have a lot to vomit out, though that didn’t stop me from dry heaving for a good half-hour.

Once I was finished, I hung my head over the can, dizzy and breathing deeply. Everything hurt. I wanted to escape my body.

There was nothing I could use to ground myself. Omnipresent pain left me trapped and desperate to feel better. I waited for the discomfort to fade, for the nausea to give way to a sense of equilibrium and peace, but that didn’t happen.

I imagined the suffering would never end, that this would be my existence until my last breath. It was overdramatic, but I was delirious.

“Heroin.” I swallowed some spit.

My body was shaking.

My brain was searching for a way I could get some heroin. Sam was busy tonight, and I had a rare day off from prostituting myself. I could work the corner anyway, but the chances of me running into someone with heroin was low, and Sam would kill me if he found out I was working freelance.

Then I remembered there was a rave tonight. I knew the organizers, and I knew they had heroin.

“No! Clean! Clean!” I banged my head on the edge of the can.

I couldn’t give in right after resolving to quit all my vices. If I broke that easily, then how could I believe I could get better?

But then I thought, “A last hurrah couldn’t hurt. One last fun time before cutting out all my addictions.”

As soon as that thought wormed its way into my brain, it was too late. It wasn’t a matter of if I’d go through with it, or even if I’d have to wait until I came up with enough excuses to justify going through with the idea.

By the time I thought of it, my impulses already had me getting dressed for the rave.

The last thing I remember was storming out of my apartment.

Everything that followed is only a kaleidoscope of images I can’t parse now. I do know I got my heroin.

My next clear memory was of waking up.

I wasn't at the rave, nor my home. Instead, I was in a room with multiple other people who were covering a body with a white cloth.

This was a traditional Jewish burial rite.

I couldn’t feel anything, and when I looked down, I saw nothing. No torso or legs or arms. While I could move, it wasn’t through the locomotion of a body. Instead, my consciousness drifted through space, detached from anything.

As for what I was drifting towards in that moment, it was the covered body. As the motionless figure was attended to, I took a look at its face before it was concealed.

It was Eve Scharfmann.

It was me.