Imitating Dopamine by Matthew McGuirk

The rush of euphoria is something unmatched. It starts with an almost unnoticeable prick in the back of your head and the comfort just washes over you and the world melts away, you are floating in the clouds. Your body is filled with a sense of relaxation and elation, the worries and worldly things take a back seat. Most pair D2 with what we call augmented reality, it’s a little more expensive, but you get what you pay for. All this came to be just a couple years ago.

I was 25 when D2 came out. I had just gotten my job in sales; Maureen and I had just gotten together at that point and I had beers with the guys on Friday and Saturday nights. That was two years ago and I do remember those times pretty distinctly, but I don’t really miss how it was before I got it put in, before D2. Sales was always a buzz; I work mainly on the phone pushing supplies for a computer company. Really, this was how I got into D2; I was pushing it without really knowing it, so I decided to get the chip, it just made sense. That’s also when Maureen started to waitress at my favorite bar. I remember those tight jeans waiting for the tray of drinks to go out, then the plain white t-shirt she had on that night that pushed her tits right out there and the smile she sent my way was something else. Before we knew much about each other we were out to dinner flashing each other our best smiles and then running back to bed. We could hardly leave bed outside of our dates, couldn’t get enough of each other. The outside opportunity for drinks on Fridays and Saturdays really kept things lively though. Andrew, Alex and I hitting O’Malley’s, throwing back the suds and checking out the ladies, look but don’t touch.

I don’t get the appeal of drinking these days. I did at that point, but the appeal seems to have faded. Maureen and I are together all the time, but I’m trying to remember the last time we were together like the old days. I’m thinking back when we started out, we were a little hot and heavy and now we’ve really found a decent stride. We have a nice apartment, two bedrooms on the second floor of a building downtown. The living room has seen better days and has a mix of dishes across the coffee table and end tables, a couple half-finished Long Trails and some socks laying around the base of the coffee table, but we’ve got a plan to clean it up on Saturday. When I look at Maureen on the other side of the couch, I see her finger pressed on her right wrist, tapping away; her body slouched down against the couch with a small stain formed on her white t shirt; her face hanging in a perpetually euphoric state with a slight part in the lips and partially closed eyes. Her face was still beautiful, her breasts and body were still well shaped, but the thrill of enjoying that body had dulled.

I sat a cushion away on the couch with my left pointer and middle finger on my right wrist. When the euphoria lapsed to reality, I’d jar it back to the haze with a tap. I’d begun working from home, they’d moved my department there because of the accessibility of phones. I found time to make some calls, so I wasn’t fired, but even work seemed dull. I went from the top seller and rising the corporate ladder to getting by and cashing a paycheck. Maureen had always thought my energy and ability to sell anything was a real turn on. I once convinced Alex that anthropology was the study of ants, but he was drunk so I’m not sure it really counts. Now, I can’t remember the last time we shared some beers with them. You know, I feel like a lot of the time with all that was wasted though.

I felt the dull woosh of the overhead fan and knew something was amiss. I’d tapped the D2 trigger moments ago and was already losing that fuzzy glow you get when the micro thin wire in your wrist sends the signal to the small chip implanted in your brain that releases the dopamine. I’m always amazed at how much my mind can actually retain, the doctor that did the implant of this system had me read a 25 page waiver and because he knows most don’t read it, he reiterates the key information out loud for the patient to understand the process. The procedure is 12 hours, but it’s already lended itself to more entertainment than you can imagine.

Maureen and I got on D2 around the same time, moved in together shortly after and threw the money at the Augmented Reality. With no income from Maureen now, we decided against keeping our subscription to the AR system. Augmented Reality is like mirroring your surroundings with the feeling of the dopamine. So, you live in a shit apartment, the AR shifts it to a sweet condo. You’re using outside and a bank of rainclouds roll in and you are feeling the sunny and 75 temps you want. The best thing for us was the AR blocked out other nonusers in apartments near us. Think about having the happiest moment in your life and suddenly you hear, “you bitch, you think I like fucking burnt hotdogs.” Augmented Reality would turn that into Mozart or Beethoven just like that.

But Maureen found out you can’t just be tapping your wrist all night at work. She had to make a decision and if I had to choose, I think I would have made the same one. We’re off AR now because we can’t afford it.

Seeing Maureen the way she is now and thinking back on how things were before, I wonder what it’d be like to go back. Sometimes I push myself to avoid tapping the D2, you wait too long though and it’s like a permanent dark cloud is ascending over you. Some people sleep in shifts and have their partner tap them while they’re sleeping. Maureen and I haven’t resorted to that, but find we sleep a lot less than we were before the D2 implant. Times when my mind needs it, I find hours pass and when I wake I feel physical pain, tears almost free flowing from my eyes for no reason, but the fact that I’d slept away my tap time. A night like this hit me last night and this morning I woke up frantic, tear-soaked cheeks and pressed rapidly at my wrist releasing a flurry of pulsing shocks stimulating those neurons.

On mornings like that I wonder if nonusers wake up in the same way; I wonder does sadness feel like a tapless night? I wonder if I’d be wondering about these things if I could just sink into Augmented Reality and not look at the dingy apartment or hear the neighbors fighting next door. At times, I wonder if Maureen is thinking about the same things. In a way though, I think she might be too far gone to have these thoughts.

I remember a conversation with her, they were few and far between at this point, that started with her asking, “you’re good with computer stuff, how do we tap our upstairs neighbors’ AR?” I sat dumbstruck for a moment pulsing numbers through my head trying to figure out a way to get her what she wants, but there just wasn’t enough money to make that happen and I think we both knew that.

“I sell computer stuff.” The simplicity of the statement and my look must have sent her pressing her wrist half a dozen times before she was in that drunken euphoric state.

To plainly state that she sent me here, would be a miscalculation, but her state of apathy heightened my already growing worries around what I’d done to myself. I still felt my left hand pushing on my right wrist as I made my way back to the clinic. I’d pulled the money from my savings, so as not to disturb the financial flow of our checking account. To my knowledge, there hadn’t really been anyone who had a D2 reversal. I remember skimming over that part in the waiver and not thinking much more about it, but now I found myself needing a full set of emotions back; happy all the time just doesn’t cut it.

I sat in a white room, on a sterile bed with white sheets. I remember thinking that after I entered the room, I wouldn’t touch my right wrist. I’d make it through the conversation with the doctor without pressing the D2 activation point and sparking that rush. I thought that and I failed, because I remember the white room dancing with that hyper haze, my mouth picking upward and my eyes running to slits. The period of wait time couldn’t have been more than 15 minutes and when the doctor finally entered, I was rapping on my wrist again.

I’m going to put together a semblance of what I remember of the trip there. It started with him saying something like, “hello Sir, how is that D2 working?” His eyes narrowed to my wrist. He wore a long white coat, a stethoscope, a shaved head and grey goatee.

I realized how ironic it was that I was on one of my biggest D2 highs sitting on a bed about to ask for the chip to be removed. “I need it out,” my words floated out of my mouth in a string almost visible, a bubble in a comic.

“Out? You seem to be enjoying the perks of it at the moment. What seems to be the problem?” He approached and touched me on the shoulder.

It took some effort to turn my head and make eye contact with him. He had that mellow way about him and I could see on his exposed wrist that he had a D2 activator as well. “I just don’t like who I am with this thing.” I pressed my hands on the back of my head, where he would soon make the incision to remove the small chip from my brain.

“In cases like this, we refrain from making split second decisions. We will gladly take the chip out, but you will need to come back tomorrow. Also, our policy is to leave the activator and wire, obviously not hooked up to anything. All of this was detailed in the initial waiver you signed when getting D2 put in.” His hand slid down and opened his palm to me to shake.

The D2 had sent me into such a haze that the next words that escaped probably hit him with a sense of irony, anger spewing from an elated face. “I’m not leaving and you are taking this chip out today! I don’t care about the other shit!”

His eyes ran halfway up his forehead in surprise and furrowed waves on his brow. “Well Sir, no need to get heated. You will need to sign an additional non litigation agreement that states that we suggested not making this decision in the state you are in, but once that’s taken care of you will be ready to go. No problem at all.”

“Great! Bring in the forms.” A rush of relief washed over me and I tapped my right wrist twice more as he exited the room.

The papers came back jammed with their medical and legal diction, but I signed them without really thinking much of it. I listening to the doctor’s obligatory spiel that detailed what they were talking about. He handed me a cup with a small red and white pill, which I dry swallowed. I remember the swooning of the room and then blackness.

I remember coming to in a bed that lacked the softness that I was used to, overhead lights that lacked the subtlety I was used to, and beeping machines monitoring my vitals that lacked the muffled nature they would have exuded before the surgery. The white curtain was pulled fully around the bed, but I could see that it was day by slitting light across the floor. Everything faded away again.

The next time I came about, I saw the young face of a nurse checking my chart and giving me a candid smile with pristine white teeth. Her long blonde hair settled on the shoulders of her white uniform. Her features lent me to believe she must not be more than 25. “How are you doing?” Her voice worked in a rhythmic nature escaping through her lovely lips.

I tried to force a smile, knowing that would help hers appear again. I was able to, but the feeling you get when a smile spreads across your face was somehow buried a little deeper in me. It felt like listening to your favorite song through earmuffs. “I’m doing alright, just tired I guess.”

“That’s expected, you did have surgery.” Her words sent the glance down to my wrist and my left finger in that direction in a habitual nature. “You can tap all you want, but it doesn’t do the same thing. It actually doesn’t do anything anymore.”

I looked along her petit tan arms and noticed no activation point. She smiled noticing what I’d been looking for. “You don’t do D2?” I said, thinking just about everyone did and considering the doctor that worked on me did, I figured she might as well.

“No, I don’t want the edge taken off my world. From what I’ve seen, I think I’d be a lot less competent at my job.” She flashed that brilliant smile again and my heart ticked along, but didn’t pair with that flutter one gets when a pretty girl looks at him. Now, it was like a butterfly with clipped wings dragging itself around in my stomach.

“That’s why I got rid of it.” My eyes beat a little heavily.

“Looks like you are still a little tired. My name’s Beth and if you need anything just push that button on the side of your bed and I’ll be right back over. If you get up and walk around today, as I suspect you will, you’ll be out of here tonight.” She smiled again and moved along to her next patient.

I dozed again and woke to fleeting light in the room. I felt refreshed and pulled myself to a sitting position. Beth returned upon hearing the rustling of bedsheets and saw that I was awake and ready to stand. “Let me just unhook those for you,” she reached over, her hair fell brushing against my arm and her shirt gave way to a glimpse of the smooth tan skin. A smile passed my lips again, but that vacant echo of happiness still felt far away.

I passed her tests, feeling like I was doing a field sobriety check and was sent on my way. Before I left, I made sure to scribble my number across a small scrap of paper, but I knew she wouldn’t call and that buried sense of happiness wouldn’t allow itself to creep up if she did.

The evening air hit me with a refreshing sense of reality. I strode along to the apartment with the realization that the world shone in a sharper sense than it had before. I perceived my new world with the ache most associate with sadness.

Maureen was sitting on the couch as she had been before. Her pants had changed from blue jeans to a short pair of bed shorts that ran above midthigh. Her legs looked white against the dark couch, but a realization of intimacy struck my mind in viewing them. She turned with that half open and vacant smile and slitting eyes and attempted a smile. No words, even though I’d not come home the previous night. I slid next to her, with no cushion between us and rested my hand on her thigh. I ran my hand up and down her leg, but her body gave me no sign of spark, even though I felt we should be intimate. My eyes closed and dulled the room with black. I turned and pushed onward, raising my hand to her breast and feeling it through her shirt. These actions evoked no reaction from her and I lacked the sensation that’d been there before.

I slid one cushion over pressing my hands through my hair and wondering where my sense of self was. I’d gotten back some emotions, but left happiness with the chip in that doctor’s office. The pangs of frustration and enveloping sadness coursed through my body. I burst off the couch and back out the door. My feet carried me with a sense of direction that my mind would only realize moments from now. The neon sign of O’Malley’s presented itself along the street and I entered to the thick drone of varied voices, the stench of cigarette smoke battling cologne and perfume. The lights at the bar brought on nostalgia, but even that seemed vacant and far away, as if my body knew this was the correct emotion, but couldn’t quite summon it. I found an empty seat at the bar and sat.

“What’ll it be?” A large man with a rough bristling brown beard said over the din of the alcoholics.

“Something to make me happy.” I said, realizing how stupid this must have sounded.

He laughed and turned to the bank of liquor bottles along the back wall, “coming up.” He spun with a golden promise of happiness, poured it in a glass and it disappeared as quick as he poured it. Down the hatch with a burn, my lips tried to pull in an upward motion to resemble a smile, but smiling is innate and my body no longer had that ability to perk happiness like coffee on a Sunday morning. “Another?” His eyebrows raised.

“Why not?” I held my hand to the sky and pushed the glass back in his direction. He poured it just as quickly and it disappeared once again. I shook my head as the liquid burned down my throat and into my stomach. “Shit!” I set the glass down, pulled a 20 from my pocket and set it on the bar.

The streets were lined with light and dark windows, bars that had opened and stores that had closed. I made my way to the end of the street and saw what I’d been looking for. It lit a beacon in the night, a white facade against the dark night sky. I moved, an elegant drunk smitten with sadness, toward that door. I knew it was closed, but I could wait. I sat down, put my head in my hands, tucked my knees to my chest to ward off the cool fall air and waited for the clinic to open the next day.

Matt McGuirk teaches and laughs at his puns by day and scribbles stories nightly. He lives with his family in New Hampshire. Stories published or forthcoming in Drunk Monkeys, Friday Nights Forever, Goat’s Milk, Idle Ink, Literally Stories, Sleet, Versification and others. Follow him on Twitter @McguirkMatthew and Instagram @mcguirk_matthew.