Imagine you’re me. I was just doing what you or anyone would do really. I’m just trying to get by and life can get so expensive. That’s why I volunteered for the clinical trial.

You were supposed to be a doctor. If you’re raised by two doctors, you’re supposed to be a doctor because that is their plan. You would graduate high school and attend some prestigious medical school and they would pay for it and everyone would be happy. Well, you didn’t want that. You always wanted to write. Imagine their disappointment when you told them.

They were almost as disappointed as they were when you told them you were gay a few years earlier.

They didn’t say it, but you could tell. They still helped you pay for your schooling, even though you’d heard your father mutter to himself that degrees in English were “goddamn wastes of money” more than once. It’s because of this that you don’t want to ask them for too much.

School is very important to you, and because you take it very seriously, you only work part-time. You work in a restaurant at the host stand. You take the people from the front door to a table, from front to table, front—table. It’s monotonous but it’s easy and though the pay isn’t much, every little bit that you don’t have to ask your resentful father for helps.

Sometimes you don’t have enough to buy groceries so you might sneak something off of a plate in the back while nobody’s looking. You know you’re not supposed to eat off the plates you’ve taken away from a table, but who eats three bites of a perfectly good steak and then throws it out? Don’t they know you’re starving? It’s fine because nobody sees you do this.

Except for Richie, the stupid bus boy. He catches you one day.

He comes over and whispers to you: “Don’t do that. You’re gonna get hepatitis.” You can actually get that, you know. From eating off of somebody’s plate. Hepatitis A is transmitted orally. It’s in the saliva. There’s a lot of other things you can get too. That one’s probably the worst. You tell Richie to leave you alone because you’re fuckin’ starving and he tells you that there’s another way to make some extra money and buy groceries. A way that doesn’t involve you selling your body…well not exactly.

He tells you about a company that he knows about that organizes test groups where the test subjects get paid for their opinions, to participate in studies and sometimes they get paid to participate in clinical trials for new drugs. You can get high and they’ll pay you to do it. He gives you a card out of his wallet.

The next afternoon you’re walking into a small storefront in a strip mall. It doesn’t seem very legitimate, but Richie told you that some of these trials pay thousands of dollars just to take a pill every morning when you wake up or when you go to bed. Sometimes both. It seems worth the risk. You fill out a questionnaire.

The people in the strip-mall storefront scrutinize and prod you. You’re asked to strip naked so they can analyze your body. You answer questions about your medical history and allergens and everything you say and do leads you to think that this seems less and less legitimate. Then they ask you to get dressed again and tell you that you have an appointment to meet with someone at the nearby campus of a giant, well known pharmaceutical company. They hand you a folder with all of the information they’ve collected off you at the strip mall. The folder is magenta. If you decide to accept this clinical trial, you could be paid upwards of five figures for your time and energy. It sounds too good to be true.

You decide to go to this appointment.
Obviously.

On your way to this giant pharmaceutical campus, you look in the folder you’re carrying. Along with all of your information, they’ve included a set of black and white glossy pictures. The pictures are of you–your naked body from multiple angles. You find that incredibly unnerving because you don’t remember seeing anyone with a camera. Did you consent to this? You’re not sure. You signed a lot of things.

Potentially five figures, you remind yourself.

You push this feeling of unease to the back of your mind as you head up the steps to the reception area.

The woman behind the desk smiles widely behind square framed glasses. You ask if it’s true that they pay a lot of money for these trials. She shrugs and tells you she just answers the phones and tells people where to go. She asks you to pass over your folder. Your breath catches in your throat as you decide what to do–you find yourself cautiously handing it over. She’s about your age. She has short black hair. It’s chemically-fried and lusterless; it obviously came out of a $5 box from a drugstore. She smiles at you through small, gapped teeth. The gaps are too wide. She hands you a clipboard that has some paperwork you need to sign and absently waves you off.

“If you could just find a seat somewhere in the lobby and read through and sign wherever it’s been marked with the highlighter,”

Giddily, she thumbs through your folder. She pauses to adjust her glasses and then giggles to herself. You know that this means she has seen the photos.

Feeling uneasy, you continue to quickly glance through the paperwork given you. In among the information is a non-disclosure agreement that you aren’t going to tell anyone about the company or the drug you’ll soon be testing; if you do, you agree that the company is allowed to sue you until you’re dead. When you recount this experience later, you’ll have to remember to do so vaguely.

You bring the clipboard with the papers that relinquish your rights back to the woman with the small, gappy teeth. She places these papers into the magenta folder and hands it back to you. She tells you that everything seems in order. The people with magenta folders go to the third floor, room 314, she tells you. The elevators are at the end of the long hallway to your left.

You ride the elevator up with two young women. You feel uncomfortable and quiet. They also seem uncomfortable and quiet. The one with blonde hair has a faded scar under her right eye. She is petite, carrying in her small hand a magenta folder. She is wearing an oversize men’s shirt over a tank-top. The tall one has sandy brown hair and gauged earlobes. She wears a bohemian style floor-length paisley skirt. Her folder is forest green. Everyone looks down at their sneakers hoping that the floor will open up beneath you and you will all fall down into the elevator shaft until you die at the bottom… Maybe you could melt into the carpet forever. That could work too, you decide.

The receptionist with short dark hair and small teeth has seen everyone in this elevator naked. Nobody talks about it, but everyone can sense the shame looming in the air…

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Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4