Screaming echoed throughout the ward as a visitor was buzzed in.
“Come in. He’s ready,” said the nurse, her demeanor disinterested and unaffected by the chaotic shrieking all around her.
The woman followed the nurse into the dormitory where a young man was sitting on the bed, face buried in his hands. He looked up, recognition lighting up his eyes as he saw the woman. “Hey mom,” he said in a small voice.
“Come on, Darrius, are you ready?” she asked him.
“Yes,” he answered without hesitation.
He followed his mother out to the parking lot and into the car. They drove in silence for a while until his mom asked, “How are you feeling?”
There was no sign that Darrius had heard what his mother asked him. He sat very still for a long time but finally managed, “Ok, I guess.”
“Any problems with the medication?”
“What are you going to do now?”
“I’m going to write.”
His mother made no reply. They continued driving on the streets of Long Island, New York back to his house. “We’re home,” she said after ten minutes or so of silent driving.
Darrius got out of the car and looked around. Everything seemed so colorless and dull to him. He walked into his house, not bothering to wait for his mom, and went straight upstairs to his room and collapsed on his bed. He fell asleep and dreamed that he was back in the mental ward, listening to an old lady screeching nonsensical words to her daughter as if somehow, someway, there was a connection between her screeching and Darrius’ unfortunate bout of manic depression that landed him in the hospital in the first place.
“Darrius!” shouted his mom.
“What?” he said, half-asleep.
“Billy is on the phone.”
At this, Darrius hurriedly got up and went over to the phone. “Hello?” he said after picking it up.
“Hey man what’s up?” he said. “I heard you got out.”
“Yeah man, I literally just got home,” Darrius replied in a dull voice.
“Is everything ok?” Billy asked.
“Yeah man, everything’s fine. What’s good?”
“Nah, I just wanted to see if you wanted to come get lunch with me.”
“Hang on a second. . .Mom! Can I go get lunch with Billy?” His mom shouted an affirmation. “Yeah it’s fine Billy. Okay see you then. Bye.”
Just as he was about to open the door, his mom said, “Darrius, can I talk to you for a second before you leave.”
“Sure mom, what’s up?”
She sighed. “Look Darrius: I know you’ve been through a lot and have a lot of issues, but please don’t let it stop you from enjoying life. People will come and go, but it’s up to you to create your own destiny.”
“Thanks mom. I got it.”
“Have a good time,” she said, looking worried.
Darrius met up with Billy at the local barbecue place. Billy waved to him from the window, and Darrius went inside and sat next to him. “They told me this was the best Philly Cheese Steak I’d ever have,” Billy said, after he finished swallowing. “ I don’t see how you can say that if they don’t put any onions in though.”
“What’s going on Billy?” asked Darrius, ignoring the remark about the cheese steak.
“Not much, man.” He whipped his face with a napkin. “I was really worried about you.”
Darrius didn’t say anything. He looked down at the floor and tried not to think.
“Everyone told me you were dead,” he continued, brushing the crumbs off his hands. “You’re my best friend. I don’t know what I would’ve done if you had bought the farm.”
Darrius said nothing and continued staring at the floor.
“Man, what’s wrong with you?” Billy asked, his eyes wide with concern.
“Nothing,” Darrius answered quickly. “It’s a medication problem.”
“Oh shit, they have you on medication?” Billy didn’t believe in any kind of medication except pot.
“Yeah,” Darrius answered quietly. There was a minute of silence between them when finally Darrius said, “Hey Billy can I ask you something?”
“Do you think that this is as good as life is going to get for me?”
Billy shrugged his shoulders. “Life is what you make of it, my friend. You need to stop being so pessimistic. It’ll drive you into an early grave.”
“I know,” Darrius replied. “Everyone at the hospital was telling me that.”
“Well, they have a point don’t they? Look man, I just broke up with my girlfriend about six months ago. Six months ago, I thought the world was going to end because we broke up. I thought I was in love. But now look at me, dude. I’ve got a better diploma than half of those assholes that we went to high school with, a great job, and next Friday I’m going out with this beautiful girl I met at work. So my point is things will change for the better if you give it time.”
Darrius didn’t think so, but said nothing. Instead, he nodded his head and ate a couple French fries.
Things got progressively worse once Darrius got home. The medication he was taking was making him feel really weird, and when he started up the stairs to go to his room suddenly everything hit him. He fell down on the floor and started punching himself. Then, he got up and shrieked like a 9 month old baby and banged his head against the wall. His mother grabbed him from behind and tried to calm him down. She gave him a sedative and he soon passed out on the couch. He fell asleep with disturbing nightmares floating around in his mind.
A telephone was ringing when Darrius woke up. His mom answered the phone. “Hello? What happened? Oh my God. . .Oh my God! Okay. .. Okay. . .bye.”
His mom woke Darrius up and told him the news. Billy had died in a car accident last night. His best friend was dead. There were no intense bouts of grief or anything of that sort—just an intense feeling of shock and confusion. He sat on his bed for a long while just staring at the floor until his mom asked, “Are you okay?”
“No,” he said quietly.
The days of the wake and funeral seemed like a dream. Darrius felt as if he were sleepwalking in a sort of out-of-body state of mind. He didn’t even cry when they put the casket in the grave. Thoughts were running through his head at a hundred miles an hour such as, “What the hell is going on? Where am I? What am I doing here?”
That was when he noticed a woman in her twenties standing across from him. She had dark brown hair, blue eyes, and piercings all over her face but she also had been crying inconsolably throughout the entire procession. Darrius could understand why though he did not know why he could not bring himself to tears. He figured that this must be the stage of death which involved shock and once he was out of it, he would cry. But he had a hard time keeping his eyes off that woman. She was pretty—yes—but he also recognized that this was not the time or place to be thinking about anything other than his dead friend.
Darrius saw a lot of other people there who he wouldn’t necessarily call friends, but knew at least from high school. He saw them laughing and smiling and didn’t understand why they were having such a good time. But they didn’t know Billy like he knew him, so I guess that was why. All in all it had been a terrible couple of days and once the whole thing was over, he went home thinking about death.
Darrius eventually fell asleep and when he woke up, he found he had tears in his eyes. He knew then that he must have been dreaming about Billy. Perhaps they had exchanged words of comfort before he had passed on to wherever he was going. Either way, he felt slightly better although still at a loss as to why this had to happen now. It was eight o’ clock on a Saturday, and his mom was still asleep. Quietly, he picked himself up out of bed and grabbed his guitar.
Darrius loved walking around his neighborhood, playing his guitar. It was funny because everyone gave him weird looks as if they couldn’t understand why he wanted to do that. What they didn’t know is that he did it half for those strange looks. The other half of it was due simply to him liking to play guitar.
He was strumming and singing a song called, ‘Can the circle be unbroken?’ when a Ford Mustang pulled up next to him and honked. He looked over and there was the girl with the piercings from the funeral yesterday. She smiled at him and said, “Hey Darrius!”
Darrius was awestruck for a moment. He didn’t know how she knew his name or why she had stopped for him. However, instead of risking impoliteness, he waved and said, “Hi.”
“Do you remember me?” she asked.
“I remember you from yesterday,” he answered.
“Oh we’ve known each other before then. I’m Rose.”
A sudden memory came back to him. He remembered her, although she didn’t have piercings at that time, hanging out with Billy and him at an abandoned warehouse, smoking pot.
“Oh wow!” Darrius suddenly exclaimed. “Sorry, I kind of had a memory lapse for a second there. How are you, Rose?”
“I’m as alright as I can be,” she said, then heaved a massive sigh. “I still can’t believe he’s gone.”
“Me neither,” said Darrius. “I had a dream about him last night though.”
“Really?” she said, suddenly excited. “What about?”
“I don’t remember.”
“Oh, then how did you know you were dreaming about Billy?”
“Because I was crying.”
There was a moment of silence afterward until Rose said, “Do you want to come for a ride with me?”
The only logical answer to this was “yes” so he hopped in the car and they sped off onto the highway. Rose pulled out a joint midway through the trip and lit it. “Do you remember hanging out at the factory with me and Billy?” she asked, passing him the joint.
“Yeah, I had just remembered,” he replied, taking it, puffing on it twice, and then coughing. “This is good weed.”
“Yeah, it’s from California,” she said, taking the joint back. “My friend smuggled it back.”
“I want to go to California someday,” Darrius remarked, thinking of the sun and the beach.
“Me too. So what’s your story, what have you been up to?”
“Well,” Darrius started, wondering where to begin. “I was in a mental hospital for about a month for Bipolar Disorder. Then, when I got back, I met up with Billy for lunch. The next day, they told me he was dead. And now, here I am, riding in a Ford Mustang with you. What have you been up to?”
There was an awkward silence, and I realized that I probably said too much.
“I was in a relationship for three years and I just broke up with the guy. He was an abusive asshole,” she said.
Darrius didn’t reply except for nodding his head. He didn’t want to appear too eager to be pleased by this, but he also didn’t want to seem like he didn’t understand. However, Rose said nothing. She tossed the joint out the window after taking one last puff.
“Rose,” Darrius said, feeling stoned enough to ask a personal question. “What do you want out of life?”
“Wow,” she replied. “That’s a tough question. What do I want to do with my life? You’re gonna have to give me a minute to think about that one. What about you?”
“Well, I want to be a writer.”
“That’s a noble occupation. I love reading.”
“Yeah,” he said, feeling slightly discouraged about his goal. “I don’t know if I’ll ever get a book published though.”
“You will someday if you keep trying,” she said. She turned to him and smiled. Her smile was so radiant that in that instant he knew he had fallen in love.
Before he could stop himself, Darrius blurted out, “Would you ever go on a date with me?”
She turned to him with the same smile but also with a mysterious twinkle in her eye. “Yes,” she said. “But not now.”
Rose drove him back to his house and, after agreeing to meet him the next day, she sped off into the sunset, the sound of the Mustang echoing in the distance.
“Hey Darrius,” said his mom. “What happened to you? I thought you were going to be home an hour ago.”
“I met up with one of Billy’s friends, Rose,” he replied.
“Oh, that’s nice,” she said, with a knowing smile lingering on her face. Darrius ignored her though and went up to his room. He laid himself spread-eagled on his bed and thought about nothing except Rose. Then his thoughts fell on Billy and he cried until he fell asleep.
After their first encounter, Darrius and Rose became something like best friends. They were together all the time—nearly every day. Darrius never brought up the idea of going on the date again, because he figured that it would be best to wait until there was a more opportune time. This came when his mom told him they were going to Atlantic City and he could bring Rose. They packed themselves and their things in the rent-a-car and listened to Bob Dylan the whole way there.
Once they got there, Darrius and Rose immediately went to the beach and smoked pot underneath the boardwalk, then went swimming. Rose was irresistible to Darrius in a bikini. He felt as if he was about to explode in a fury of lust at her curves, but he resisted the temptation, reminding himself that all he had to do was wait.
Finally, when the day was almost over, he took Rose aside and said, “I asked you when we first met if you would ever go out on a date with me.”
He paused, waiting for her to interject, and then continued. “I was wondering if you would like to go with me next Friday?”
“Okay,” she replied, slightly more casually than he imagined she would.
Love is a strange thing. To Darrius, it was something that was sacred; the ultimate affirmation of the human spirit’s abilities to do things that made a difference in people’s lives positively. But did Rose think the same way?
Next Friday came and he didn’t hear anything from Rose. He paced across the floor of his room for a half an hour straight until finally he decided he would walk over to her house.
He went up to the house and knocked on the door, but it wasn’t Rose who answered. Instead, a man in his late 40’s with a goatee answered. “What do you want?” he asked.
“I was wondering if I could speak to Rose.”
The man looked away for a second inside the house, shook his head, and then slammed the door in his face.
Even though Darrius didn’t hear from Rose for weeks, he still thought about her nearly every day. It was like a sickness.
“Please,” his mother pleaded with him. “Find something to do other than brood.”
He tried but found it nearly impossible to escape the trauma. He knew that the man with the goatee was probably her lover. The only question was why had she been stringing him along like this?
Then, about a week later, Darrius got a call from Rose. “Hi, Darrius.”
“Hi,” he said. He found he couldn’t get mad or upset at her. He just was glad to hear from her again.
“I’m in rehab,”
“Oh.” Darrius wished he could say something more encouraging.
“And I’m pregnant.”
He opened his mouth, but no words came out. Then he hung up the phone.
That was the last time he ever heard from her.
Darrius did his best to keep the good memories of Billy in his heart and tried to drive away his memories of Rose. He succeeded in both, but it took a very long time. For a while, he could do nothing but hate himself.
But it finally ended when he realized that nothing will get better until he stopped living in the past. One day, he packed up his bags and left the country. He was searching for a life that Billy didn’t but deserved to live, and searching for a love that he could give to someone who would return it.
Perhaps, one day, he will find it.