Friday, January 27, 2012

Ducks in a Row

               “This isn’t going to work,” Jamie considered, as he helped me fill my backpack.
                “What do you mean ‘work’? We’re not attempting to cure her,” I retorted, frustrated by his flagging support.
                “You think her parents are going to even let us in? They said she hasn’t gotten out of bed in two weeks.”
                I could tell Jamie was uncomfortable. He’d heard the rumors just like everyone else. He’d probably be relieved if her parents turned us away.
                I clenched my fists around the backpack straps.
                I never should have invited him, he was only a neighbor. A church friend of Sam’s. He couldn’t possibly know how much I was in this too.
                How I needed her to be okay.
                I took a deep breath.
                “I’ll tell her you helped. You don’t have to come. It might be less overwhelming anyway.” Here was his out, on a silver platter.
                To his credit, Jamie looked momentarily confused, perhaps feeling torn. I didn’t know him well enough to really understand his expressions.
                He nodded and quietly said, “Yeah, okay.”
                I have long suspected that Jamie has a crush on Sam, but circumstances what they were, was in over his head. How can you attempt to woo someone so severely depressed?
                It made me think of John Mayer’s song “Not Myself,” which always hit me right in the chest. I had yet to tell Sam or anyone, but the song made me cry, too many questions unanswered: ‘Would you want me when I’m not myself? Wait around while I am someone else?’
                It may be too complicated an endeavor for a high school boy, but they have short attention spans. I was trying to prove that it wasn’t so true for friends. That friends could weather these kinds of storms.
                “Denise?” I thought Jamie was already gone, but instead he looked me straight in the eyes. I tried not to look away.
                “Yeah?” I zipped up the backpack now, and flung it over my shoulders.
                “I hope it helps…you know, both of you.” I saw his gaze trail downwards and briefly fall over my sleeved-covered wrists. My face flushed.
                He didn’t know me, but, he knew. I wondered who else knew.
                He did leave then and for a nanosecond I regretted telling him to go. When you’re depressed, you feel so alone that it can be hard to know how to be around people. It had been hard to ask him to join me, but it was easier to let him go.
                I started on my journey to Sam’s house, only a few blocks on foot. It was nice to walk with a purpose, instead of a sense of disconnectedness.
                I’d been on meds for almost two years, but still felt highs and lows.
                Sam didn’t want to take meds, didn’t want to see doctors. She knew that was the long journey and it didn’t guarantee she would ever stop feeling useless and undeserving.
                That was all I could guess anyways, about why she’d tried it.
                The rumors were much more gruesome, blood and razors. I knew different, thanks to a grim conversation many months before. I missed her birthday party and she was so angry, I came clean about my meds, having just switched over and feeling too nauseous to attend.
                Everything spilled out then. She had thought I was the paragon of normal, albeit a little antisocial. Then she shocked me further by revealing how apathetic she felt sometimes—like so little really mattered.
                As our conversation unfolded, I was both cheered and distressed. We were closer than ever, but more similar than I was used to.
                Then as the months went on some of my clouds started to lift, and I joined the school newspaper, typing copy behind a computer instead of hiding out at home.
                I noticed things were different between Sam and I, but I thought maybe it was because I was beginning to change. I was slow to realize that she was changing too.
                Did I really not see it?
                I had to shake away these thoughts for the time being, as I walked up Sam’s front steps. I knocked on the door and was eventually greeted politely by her mother. Since it happened, her mother had the look of a perpetual deer in the headlights, unsure of how to unfreeze.
                “I think she’s asleep.” I nodded and told her my plan.
                She offered me a weak smile, but let me go upstairs.
                It was dark in Sam’s room, but there was enough light to see everything. I could hear her slow breathing, and was glad the carpet muffled my movements. Slowly, I unzipped my backpack and dumped the contents onto her floor. A quiet squeak escaped from somewhere deep inside the pile.
                One by one, I placed a parade of sunny yellow rubber duckies across her bedroom floor. Most were the traditional sort, in various sizes, but others donned pirate garb or spiky hair. I took some more from off her bookshelf to add to the impressive display.
                It has started as a gag gift, a freebie from our favorite accessories store. They would crop into our Christmas or birthday presents until we felt we’d “matured.”
                I had caught Sam drawing a rubber duckie in her notebook about a month before and then watched her scribble out its smiley face.
                Even then I could see it wasn’t idle doodling, when her pen ripped through the page.
                Why didn’t I ask her about it?
                I was almost done when I heard a sound from the bed. Sam had rolled over, now flat on her stomach, still facing the wall. Her breathing was normal now.
                She was awake.
                I sat cross-legged, staring at the back of her head for a minute or two.
                “Hey,” I said, trying to sound casual.
                “Denise?” Her voice, muffled by the plump pillow, sounds hollow. “What are you doing here?” She asks the wall.
                “Oh, you know, ‘misery loves company’ and all that.” No response. “I thought I was supposed to be the miserable one though.”
                “You know how competitive I am.” I give a small smile to her back.
                “True, it isn’t your worst quality.”
                “Don’t you mean it isn’t my best quality?” Sam finally turned her head and got an eyeful of rubber duckies.
                She let out a short, stunted laugh and said, “So weird.”
                I pretended not to hear that as I struggled to answer her question.
                “No, I meant it isn’t your worst quality.” She was still looking at all the rubber duckies, unaware of what was coming. “Your worst quality is being stubborn and not knowing how to ask for help.”
                Sam glared at me then, like I had betrayed her with the truth.
                “You don’t get it.” She lifted her head to stare at her headboard.
                “You know I more than get it.”
                “Well, then, why didn’t you know?”
                This was it. The blow to the chest, what the voice in my head had been saying all along.
                It hurt to breathe, let alone say the words out loud. They came out so quiet, drowned in my shame,
                “I think…I did know.”
                “Wow,” Sam’s voice was sharp now, edged with ice, “so you’re the worst friend ever.”
                Even though I had said these words to myself a hundred times for the past two weeks, they hurt more coming from Sam.
                There was an uncomfortable, seemingly endless silence.
                “You should go,” she turned her back to me again.
                Feeling like a kicked dog, I started to retrieve the duckies and put them into my backpack. Would it have been different for me if she knew about me back then? A new emotion welled up inside of me as another thought occurred.
                “Did you…” I started, squeezing a duckie and feeling the air escape, “did you just expect me to rescue you? That I would know what to do because I’ve been through it myself?”
                “No! I didn’t expect you to ‘rescue’ me!” she spat back, turning. “I just…” her voice trailed off.
                “You have to ask for help, Sam. You have to want help.”
                I finally realized that it wouldn’t have mattered what I said.
                I walked over to her bed and sat down. She looked at me, trying to keep a blank face, but unable to hide the pain in her eyes.
                “It sucks,” I added.
                “It sucks…a lot.”
                We were quiet for a moment, then I threw a rubber duckie at her head.
                This time, her laughter sounded real.