Flowers for Billy and Rose

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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?”

“No.”

“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?”

“What’s that?”

“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.”

“Oh.”

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.

Excercise in Futility

The random thoughts of days long past never cease to give me insight into the purpose of tomorrow. But that doesn’t mean I do not doubt. That does not mean I do not have sleepless nights where I wonder about my purpose and my being. That does not mean I ever forget. I will never forget.

It may seem strange that a self-professed writer and journalist would have such thoughts. Aren’t we always so cocky? Aren’t we always so sure of ourselves? And yet, I can’t find a single reason why things don’t go as planned. In fact, I don’t even understand the concept of defeat. I cannot be defeated unless I’m six feet under.

This is an exercise in futility; a lost cause; a hopeless endeavor; a meaningless journey. With a pack of Parliament’s on my left and the bottle of Peach Schnapps on my right, I dive head long into the hopelessness of tomorrow with a psychotic optimism of today. That is the truth about me—I’m a psychotic optimistic, pessimistic, passive-aggressive, loner who has no business doing anything but working in a retail store his entire life, and yet is trying to make it as a writer.

With waves of doubt cascading into emotion, my last paragraph makes no sense to me even as I try to read it through the intrusive rip tides that pull me away from the main focus of this exercise of futility. But—then again—there was never a true purpose to this. The only true purpose was living without fear, and that’s all I’m trying to do. But I like fear. I like the smell of it. It makes me want to understand why things are the way they are. I don’t try to correct the problems of the world, but record them.

So I light a cigarette, pausing momentarily from my stream of consciousness to inhale toxic fumes that I am completely aware will probably be the death of me. I think of all the people in this world, and I laugh. Then I cry. Then I hate myself. But then I realize that it all comes back to a single sentence on a blank page. Perhaps mysticism can be taken out of context? Either way, I know that I’m screwed. This is my nature. I love and hate it, like I love and hate myself. Nothing on God’s green earth will change the fact that I was put on this earth to put pen to paper. And that’s what I’m gonna do.

But I know it’s an exercise in futility. Just don’t try to stop me.

The Angels Bowling

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When I was younger, I was afraid of thunder. The rain would pour down and I would cringe when I saw the flash because I knew what was coming next. There would be a slight crackle and then—in the space of a millisecond—there would be a great boom as if a cannon from the civil war had suddenly exploded into my small suburban home. I would scream and cry, but my mother would just smile. I would look into her eyes, see a reassuring twinkle, and I knew I was safe. “Don’t worry,” she would tell me. “Those are just the angels bowling.”

And then—everything would be fine again … until the next time.

I’m older now, but I still remember the image those words brought to my mind: it was a beautiful land made of clouds filled with gorgeous winged creatures who lined up to spin balls down an alley way of sky towards pins made of hydrogen; a magical place where only the good people got to bowl. Everyone else was in hell.

I sat watching news reports the other day of a distant place that could’ve been another planet. It was called Gaza. The woman on the news told me that the UN schools were being bombed and that children were dying. “International condemnation for Israel’s airstrikes reverberated throughout the world today …” the report would go. Then they would show pictures of children; children who were crying and who were covered in blood that may or may not have been theirs. I thought about the bombs and I remembered the thunder and lightning. I saw the children clinging to their mothers and wondered if they were told anything reassuring to comfort them? But most of those pictures didn’t have mothers and fathers who were alive. Instead, they had corpses—and, right beside them, were screaming children.

While the bombings continued, I wanted to reach through the T.V. and tell them, “Don’t worry, it’s just the angels bowling.” But I couldn’t because the TV did not have a device for communication to other parts of the world. It only reflected images of chaos and destruction so that people waking up with their morning coffee could be just horrified enough to have time to be sad for a minute then switch the channel to watch morning talk shows before forgetting the incident entirely.

But I never changed the channel. I knew that the story was depressing but I also knew it wasn’t uncommon. I knew that it was my good luck to be born in a country where things like that very rarely happened. I also knew that if I could do anything—for the sake of those children—it was to not switch off the channel. It was to absorb the misery and etch their faces into my memory. Because I knew that it wasn’t just the angels that were bowling over there—Satan himself was playing, and he was playing for keeps. But were the children old enough to be judged by God?

I hear the crackling of lightning and thunder, and I instinctively jump. My son comes in the room and I hastily switch off the TV. He looks at me with wonder and says, “Dad, why are you crying? It’s just the angels bowling.”

I grab him and hold on tight, wishing I never had to let go.

Picture in a frame

I look at her picture again. She was so beautiful to me back then. She is no longer beautiful to me now. She is just what she is: a picture in a frame. The dark-haired, blue eyed beauty I once loved unrequitedly no longer has that luster. Does that mean she changed? Or did I change somewhere along the way? Either way, I know things will never be the same.

I was in High School at the time. School had just gotten out and I was sitting on the park bench in the high school field, playing my guitar. I was playing Woody Guthrie because I still felt—even after all my troubles—that there was a better world a-coming. I’m still not sure how true that is.

I see her in the mustang. I didn’t know her name at the time. She knew mine though, and shouted it out from the passing convertible. I tried to smile, but couldn’t. I must have looked more like I was grimacing than anything else. Still, I hoped that things would change once I got out of there. I don’t know if it did though.
I walked on the side walk for less than two minutes and I saw that she had pulled over. She asked me if I wanted to go for a ride. I said sure. My heart was palpitating.

She was so beautiful back then. She had curly dark brown hair that went just above her shoulders, and she was wearing a peace symbol on her sweater. A peace symbol! I laughed aloud when I saw it. “What’s so funny?” she said to me.

I shrugged, but didn’t answer still laughing. She insisted I tell her, so I said, “I love the peace symbol. It reminds me of my old friend that passed away.”

She smiled too. “It reminds me of something similar, that’s why I like it.”

We took a ride, and everything was a blur. We talked about our homes, our town, our dreams, and our loves. I remember mentioning how she knew my name. She said she always knew me. Kate. Her name was Kate.

I guess I should’ve seen it coming, but in retrospect it seemed impossible at the time. Cocaine and heroin were something that felt unreal to me. I didn’t know that love could lose its luster with time but now I know. It’s a price—I suppose—we all must pay for it.

I found her one day with another man. An older man—maybe 40—and they were doing heroin. I let time pass, and eventually the feeling kind of dissipated. The older man died eventually. They called it an overdose. She called it a suicide. Truth be told, I knew not which one it was, but I knew that I would steal her away once more. But then she had another man. And another. And another. And finally she stopped talking to me altogether. It was at this point that I finally decided to move on with my life. Try to complete my dream of being a famous writer or novelist or journalist and lead the charge toward self-actualization.

So I thought at that time, but truthfully I never really understood what happened and why she never loved me. But I knew one thing: life wasn’t over just yet. Kate was great, but there would be others. And I hoped they would come as soon as possible.

Lustful dreaming, writing scheming

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The dancing girl swings her hips to the rhythm of modern pop while I watch from afar, unnoticed but intent on communication.

When I begin to walk over, I’m in ecstasy of her walk, her talk, her smile. That smile . . . it’s the kind of smile that any man would like to be shown, even on a bad day. Because when there is no hope, a smile like that, with eyes that laugh and penetrate, could make anyone think there was something better . . . just so long as that smile is for me.

When I said hello, she acknowledged me with a nod and disappeared into the darkness of Lady Gaga’s wailing. I wondered if it may have been different if I had said something besides ‘hello’ but without a contraption that would allow me to travel back to that moment of lustful purpose, I could only wonder.

And so it starts. . .endless beginnings of half-written sentences which swirl in my head like a psychotic washing machine who gave up trying to please the owners of the clothes it was destined forever to clean. The notebook, which I held once, is my last concrete dream I still keep. All the others have vanished.

The cigarette that I light burns a pleasant billow of smoke in my mouth. I exhale as if my life were dependent on the nicotine. I cough a little and spit out some tar wondering, as I always do when brown mucus spills from my mouth, why I do this. The answer lies somewhere back in high school when I was trying to fit in. It never worked, but I did gain some friends—good and bad—and I gained a few more and lost a few so I guess it evened out.

I try to move my pen in a pattern that creates words, but instead I doddle a picture of a man with glasses who stares angrily back at me from the lined paper. He knows who I am; perhaps he is the only one who does. I stare back at him as if in contest, but I lose when I see his image blur into a picture of someone I’ve lost. I close the book and throw it across the room. That’s when I decide that I’ve done enough writing for today.
I throw cold water on my face trying not to sulk, but give up when reality hits me—again. When I gave a shit before, I lost my mind. I decided, at that moment, to give up everything. I tried smoking away my emotions—didn’t work. So, in the end, I had to drink the whiskey. In the end, I had to pop that pill. And when it was all over, I breathed a sigh of relief as I drifted back to where I came from.

(by the way I know the image makes no sense with this, but I was too lazy to find something else.)