Matthew Serback


I didn’t know what Airborne with Vitamin C was, but I ate the expired chewable because I didn’t know how else to stave off the stomach ache that took hold of the butterflies in my chest. In big, bold black letters on the back of the bottle, the proprietor of Airborne with Vitamin C chewable stated I’d only missed the expiration date by three years, a few months, and a couple of lost days.

I didn’t know vitamins could expire.

I still don’t.[1]

My father texts me in broken English to ask if I’m doing okay.

I’m doing okay.[2]

They’re just things to say - for minds to ease.

My father decayed. One of those diseases that don’t sound real[3] but is real that they don’t know how to cure had taken hold of his innards and began liquefying or hardening the important organs in his stomach.

I didn’t know you could share pain.

I still don’t.[4]

And you? I added.

I’m okay. Talk to you later.[5]

And I worried about my upset stomach. The recommended dose of Airborne with Vitamin C tablets was four. However, I assumed it lost its potency and imagined how the vitamin shrank and withered over time, which led me to believe I needed to triple the recommended number of tablets. I counted each one as I took them; I didn’t want to overdose. I acted responsibly.

As I reached twelve, I understood I didn’t know if Vitamin C even helped with upset stomachs - but I liked the idea of it.

[1] This is a lie.

Since thinking those thoughts, I discovered the truth behind vitamins and expiration dates and mortality.

Vitamins will hold the dietary supplement but be slightly less effective (depending on how the vitamin was stored and assuming it was properly taken care of).

My vitamins were stored in a bathroom on a shelf above a rusted tool chest. The thin plastic bottle bubbled out toward the center where the fluorescent lights warped the very essence of the bottle.

According to the internet, Vitamin C is susceptible to going rogue through a process in which the vitamin absorbs humidity and moisture. This causes the vitamin to lose its potency. The vitamins break down.

[2] This is a lie too.

Since thinking those thoughts, I told myself the truth about expiration dates and mortality.

We don’t hold our buoyancy and the floods are coming and the mud is heavy and swimming is slightly less effective against the current when you’re out of breath (depending on how well you can breathe and assuming you’ve properly taken care of the body.

My body hunched and gut-punched and wrenched at all angles were bones meet other bones. The thick layers of skin warped by bubbles that rose from my stomach.

According to the internet, there’s nothing I can say and nothing you can do that will ever make a difference. Might as well give up and break down.

[3] The disease is real.

[4] This is true.

You think you understand pain until you’re trying to figure out if you had to leave a Yelp! review for your dying father, how many stars would you give him?

For the majority of my life, it was a booze in a brown paper bag and trips to the corner store for cigarettes. It was taking a child into a bar and choking the sunlight away because the earlier the first drink, the better it tasted. For some children, there were monsters in the closet or under the bed. For me, it was echoed voices reaching out of the darkness and crying or screaming or sobbing for bloodstained arguments to end. It was a road map leading nowhere. When the drinking stopped in my twenties, things were better and got worse. He’d sobered into coherent conversations about politics and love and how to treat people with respect. It wasn’t too long after he’d stopped drinking that he’d been diagnosed with liver cancer.

Gut-punched. Both of us doubled-over in pain.

The internet doesn’t say anything about that.

[5] I imagine not talking to him later.

In fact, I can’t imagine hugging my father. There he is, dying, and I can’t muster the courage to hug him and say goodbye. He just hangs there like an unclaimed apostrophe. There’s no one to take blame and no one to take ownership.

Mathew Serback is a sleepwalker, but he doesn't know it. Every night, in his sleep, he takes the pillow of its case, twirls to the kitchen case-in-hand, and fills the bag with a large assortment of M&M's. Every morning, he wakes up with neck pain. His pillow remains unchecked, his M&M's, uneaten.

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