Posted inEditor's Pick

Father’s Little Helper

Scott Korb | Longreads | June 12, 2019 | 3,467 words
Posted inEssays & Criticism, Feature, Featured, Nonfiction, Story

Father’s Little Helper

While under the influence of Valium, Scott Korb reflects on all the fathers he could have been and the father he has become.
Illustration by Eric Peterson

Scott Korb | Longreads | June 2019 | 14 minutes (3,467 words)

I.

Some of what you’re reading I was writing a few hours after taking half a Valium, prescribed by my doctor, partly for anxiety and partly for general neck and shoulder pain, and also a tingle and numbness that I was then feeling down my left arm into my fingers. It began with a yoga pose. It’s hard to know now what exactly I wrote while under the drug’s influence, such as it was. When I took the Valium I was 39; now I’m 41.

These 40-odd years, if Schopenhauer is right, have given me the text of my life. “The next 30,” he says, will “supply the commentary,” of which this, I hope, is an early part.

The pharmacist, who was younger than me, with slick hair, and whom I’d gotten to know a little over the years since my wife was treated for breast cancer, used the word spasm when referring to the orders faxed over from my doctor’s office. I nodded, yes, muscle spasms, even though that didn’t seem right; maybe I don’t know what spasm means. I said nothing about the low-grade anxiety I’ve felt for much of my life, which has gotten worse since my wife’s treatments finished up. “Low and slow,” he recommended. So I took half a pill. I’d never taken one before, and I’m cautious.

While discussing the pain in my neck and shoulder, the facial tics I’ve had my whole life, I also told the doctor I’m reluctant to take drugs, even Ibuprofen, though my wife has told me Valium can be fun. She recalls a day just before Father’s Day, 2014, wandering through New York City’s West Village, buying me expensive t-shirts in the late-spring heat, a week after major surgery, without a worry in the world.

I decided to take the Valium in advance of an MRI my doctor had prescribed to capture images of my cervical spine, hunting for disease. The pill would help get me through the test.

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