Home > Madness

Author: Zac Brewer


“It’s a different color for you.”

My mom was speaking with the same overly chipper tone she’d been using since she’d picked me up a few hours ago. She was trying to come off as supportive, but it was really ringing through my ears as fake. It was all fake. My new hair color, our casual conversation, the fact that I’d been released from Kingsdale Hospital with a “not crazy” stamp of approval. And I knew a thing or two about fake. I’d faked my way through six weeks of treatment with all the right words to all the right people. I’d convinced them all that I was in full-on recovery mode after what happened six weeks ago. But it was a lie. I was just trying to get out of that place, away from those white, sterile walls, even though I had no idea what it would be like once I did.

I only knew that I felt like a failure.

Staring out the window as Mom barreled down I-75 in the direction of our home, I thought about how, in a way, my life had ended that night in Black River. This—whatever this was—wasn’t life. It was my afterlife.

“Yeah,” I said. For seventeen years I’d had waves of strawberry-blond hair that hung to my waist. An hour ago, I’d had it dyed pink ombre. Part of me knew that I’d chosen that color to shove and poke at my mom’s overly supportive act. She’d never let me dye my hair before. It had been an ongoing argument between us since I was thirteen. After four years of arguments, what had changed that suddenly made a surprise trip to the salon okay? Did she think that giving in to this one thing would somehow take back the guilt she might have over what happened? Ridiculous. So I’d chosen the most off-kilter color I could think of. I didn’t even like pink. Or pastels.

Mom’s phone buzzed as a text came through. To my annoyance, she picked it up with her right hand and continued steering with her left. I hated when she played with her phone while driving. It was so dangerous. People should never text and drive.

The irony that I was concerned about her endangering my life hit me hard, like a slap across the cheek. What did it matter whether I’d drowned that night or smashed into a semitruck now because my mom refused to put her phone down while operating a vehicle? What made this so different from that?

Because, I told myself, the river was my choice. This was hers. And at least I wouldn’t have taken anyone else down with me when I jumped into that water. It was just me. Just my ending. No one else’s.

Mom said, “It’s Ronald, wanting to know if you’re up for seeing him this evening.”

She and my dad were the only people on the planet who still called my best friend since kindergarten Ronald. Sure, it was his name. But ever since we watched that John Hughes movie Pretty in Pink together in sixth grade, he’d been Duckie to me. After a while he was Duckie to everyone. Just not my parents.

“I don’t want to see anybody.” I slid down in my seat a little. It was embarrassing. I was embarrassed. Not for having attempted to take my life. But for having failed. “I’m not ready.”

She paused, biting her bottom lip, forcing down words that she clearly wanted to say. She started typing on her phone with her thumb before she even spoke again to me. “Okay. I’ll tell him.” Her words were breathy and made me wonder what she was telling him exactly. My phone hadn’t yet been returned to me, or I would have asked him. Of course, if I’d had my phone, Duckie would’ve just texted me directly.

She cleared her throat and said, “I think you should know, I’ve kept Ronald informed about your situation—”

Situation. Right. That’s what it was. Just a situation. Nothing more.

“—so he’s fully aware of your diagnosis and the treatment you’re undergoing. I just . . . I just thought it might be good to have a friend involved.”

Involved? Or an extra pair of eyes on me?

I’d thought about Duckie a lot since the doctors had given me a release date. I wondered what he thought about what I did, if he was mad at me for not telling him I wanted to die, why he hadn’t come to see me on visitors’ day. I was glad he hadn’t come. I didn’t want to have to smile at Duckie the way I smiled at my parents, the way I smiled at the doctors and nurses, the way I smiled all through the last few days of inpatient treatment. The truth was, I’d smiled my way out of the last six weeks at that damn hospital but hadn’t made any real progress. The truth was, I still wanted to die.

But I wasn’t about to share that bit of information with anyone.

I’d learned early on during my stay in Kingsdale that their staff had pretty amazing bullshit detectors. If you tried to make light of things too soon, they only probed deeper, through the veil of your lies, to find the truth. I’d kept my mouth shut for the first week and observed. Then, slowly, I’d begun to act as if I were opening up, then growing hopeful, then regretful that I had thrown myself in the river. Eventually I convinced them that I was ready to face the world and wanted to change. I guess their bullshit detectors were off with me. I just wanted to be alone again so I could finish what I started. I just wanted to be free. Of the hospital. Of the pain. Of my life.

Dark stuff, maybe. But that didn’t make it any less true.

My mom cleared her throat. It was as if she were attempting small talk with a stranger. Maybe she was. “Do you want anything from Starbucks?”

“Can we go home now, please?” I flicked the buckle on my backpack back and forth, not meeting her eyes.

She seemed relieved at my response. Maybe she wanted the tension in the car to evaporate and knew that going home would shorten our time alone together. Maybe I was way off base and she was glad I was engaging in conversation with her—brief as it was. I didn’t feel compelled to ask, and I was tired of analyzing. I just wanted to get the initial steps of my return home over with already.

As we climbed a hill, I could make out Black River in the distance. I couldn’t see the stone bridge, not from here, but it was there.

Instantly, I was transported back in time. I was seven years old. My dad was teaching me how to swim. As my head went under, I gulped in water, flailing my arms. I surfaced again, choking, and my dad pulled me out onto the deck of the pool. He looked so disappointed, so annoyed that I hadn’t done it right the first time. He said, “There’s no reason to panic, Brooke. It’s impossible to drown yourself.”

But Dad had been wrong. With enough Tylenol PM, it was easy enough. In fact, if the old man who’d pulled me from the water hadn’t seen me jump, I wouldn’t be sitting in my mom’s SUV now, still hurting with a pain that I couldn’t explain or ease or wish away. I’d be gone. Somewhere better, maybe. Maybe nowhere at all. Just not here.

I reached inside my backpack and pulled out the prescription bottle with my name on it. The rattling of the pills inside briefly caught my mom’s attention. She bit her bottom lip. I ignored her. The pills were white, with a black stripe and a green stripe wrapped around them. The doctors had called them antidepressants. They’d said that it might take several tries to find the right medication, the right dose. I was pretty sure they were full of shit. But I’d taken the pills at Kingsdale. Mostly because they watched me take them every day. I wondered if my parents would take over watching me from now on.

As I dropped the bottle back inside my bag, I looked at the three pink lines that marked my left arm. I hadn’t been trying to reach my veins, to slash my wrists, to die in such a bloody way. It wasn’t suicide then. Not yet. That was months before the night on the bridge. I’d just wanted to feel . . . something. Anything. Even if that thing was pain.

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