Between Worlds

 

I tried.

I really really did.

You know that, don’t you?

He was always the tough kid. The one who climbed up the wall when no one else could, the one who dared to jump down into Old Man Scrooge’s garden to get back the ball that we dropped in. He was the one who stood up to the bullies that we couldn’t face, the one who defended us when we couldn’t fight, the one who picked our battles and ended them all.

What we didn’t see was the war, the war that he was waging – within himself.

When he started being sick we didn’t really pay much heed. Perhaps the news had come at the wrong time, when New Year had just ended and it was time to go back to work, and all of us had fresh burdens on our minds and a whole list of “determined” resolutions to follow through. We noticed something was up but it was like forgetting your car keys – we assumed that in the end it would simply resolve itself.

After all, he was the tough kid! The only one among us who’d gotten into a street fight! The one who punched Madam Delana when she started making snide remarks about Jude’s sexuality!

Snort.

Oh yeah, I remember that one.

She was being all schnasty, wasn’t she? Going on about him not being a real man, and even called him that f-word . . .

I don’t think I can punch anyone now.

Even if I tried.

Really, really tried.

And then when it came upon us fully, the magnitude of his sickness, we realized it was a disease we could not solve. Even though every single one of us was a medical graduate, and Troy had his fancy PhD., but it was not enough to heal him, or even to begin to. His was a sickness of his mind, a sickness of his heart, a sickness of his soul. It was unbelievable really, to think that a tough guy like him would have oppressing self-doubt, to have those nights where you would wake up in bed, all cold sweat, not from a nightmare, but from the sudden realization, that you were not enough, that you would never be enough, and that no matter what you do you could not compare. It was unbelievable really, to think that when we were talking to him, going gaga over his well-kept build, praising his masculinity, and when the girls checked him out from the other side of the street, and we heard the whispers of admiration, that he never believed a single word we said, that he saw them all as lies, and that his heart was never once opened to those sentences, those phrases that we gave away so freely, that we meant, but that he saw as deceptions, as sympathy, a pathetic attempt to make him feel better about his useless and worthless self.

It was unbelievable really, to think that he suffered from depression.

Sometimes, I can’t see in the mornings.

Sometimes, I wake up in the absence of light, the world before my opened eyes the same as those beneath my sealed eyelids.

I try.

I really really do.

You know that, don’t you?

The doctor theorized that the death of his mother caused it. And here was another wrench in the mix, another curve ball in the field, another twist in the plot; who could have possibly known? Who would have seen this no-nonsense, 6 foot 4 buff of a blonde to be someone who was raised by a single mother, who disappeared from work early because his mother wanted him near, who fed his mother meals because she could no longer feed herself, who spent his weekends driving up to Arlington in the wee hours of the morning and coming back, too, in the wee hours of the morning, catching maybe three hours of sleep before clocking in at work?

Who would have known he was a mama’s boy?

To be young is to live.

To be young is to love.

But to be young is not perfect.

For the younger you are

The longer you’ll live

And the more funerals you’ll see.

The first time he took leave was to go to the hospital, after he’d dislocated his shoulder falling down the ramp of the skateboarding park. The second time was when he sprained a muscle working out at the gym. His third time was when we found out that his shoulder was perfectly fine and always has been, while his muscles had never been short of perfect though his wrists were –

Slit.

His fourth time was his last.

I am strong, I tell myself, and my mind answered me.

You are weak.

I am loved, I tell myself, and the mirror answered me.

You are hated.

Should I try, I asked myself, and myself answered me.

Why, when there is no point?

The scars he hid with the sleeves of his white, starched work shirt stood out in rugged, sturdy lines.

A pattern. A maze. A labyrinth.

Criss-cross.

Loop-swirl.

Above and under.

They encircled his wrist like the flower crown encircles the head of a nymph-maiden, encompassing, encapsulating, enfolding.

We stood guard by his bed as he slept, and realized, for the first time, that in his sleep he frowned.

We helped him gather his belongings from his house, and realized, for the first time, that there were no mirrors.

We told him jokes, little anecdotes, and realized, for the first time, his smile did not reach his eyes.

We realized.

We realized that our tough friend was no longer so tough.

We realized.

But we realized a little too late.

I gave it everything I had.

But I couldn’t breathe.

Is this called living?

I tried to pull myself away from the darkness that calls my name.

Is this called living?

I struggle to wake and when I wake I do not see.

Is this called living?

I tried.

I really really did.

You know that, don’t you?

And as I patted his hand, a gentle, loving beat; as I patted his hand and watched his chest slowed; and as I patted his hand and watched the line dipped; as I patted his hand and heard the sound beep, steady, constant, until finally – silence.

I patted his hand, warm to cold.

I tried.

I really really did.

You know that, don’t you?

I patted his hand.

Yeah.

Yeah I do.

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