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State of Mind
2:10. I feel like I’ve been on this bus forever. Its crowded and sticky but I don’t notice that. Immature kids are yelling things at each other, papers and arms are flying around me but somehow I hear none of this, feel none of this. All I can focus on is the hourglass that is quickly filling up in my head; time is running out. I look at my phone after what seems to be an hour, and only a minute has gone by. I need to get home. But what if I’m too late?
After what feels like an eternity, the bus pulls up to the corner of Commerce and McKinley St. As soon as I hit the pavement I’m running. As I pass a freshman she giggles and asks why I am running to her friend. Ignoring this, I begin to sprint. I see my house and my stomach drops, I slow my pace down to a walk and a wave of hesitance rushes over me. Should I go in? Will I be afraid of what I’m about to see? Out of breath, I get my key out, hands shaking. I open the door cautiously, peering in and seeing only my kitchen. No sign of any mess, so I walk in. I listen for signs of life, but there is none, just silence. Dizziness sweeps over me, and I run down the hallway to my brother Paul’s room. When I see him, lying there motionless, I panic. I’m at his side in an instant vigorously shaking him and saying his name. Please God, let him wake up.
“What the h*** are you doing Char?” Paul said sleepily, rubbing his eyes.
“Sorry, I’m just making sure, you know … never mind. Um, I just wanted to say hi and that I’m home from school,” I said trying to force back a smile.
“Really? That’s what you woke me up for? Get out of my room.” Paul retorted.
My big brother was annoyed and I couldn’t be more relieved. Annoyed, in my opinion however, is much better than dead.
I was ten when I found my brother with slit-wrists in the bathroom. He was unconscious and all I remember is the red. Red wrists, red bath-water, his red hair. I could smell it, the blood, like rust, burning my nose. I screamed in horror for my parents and they came running in. Red ambulance lights cut through the dark night, the red fire truck, the bandages that were now wrapped around Paul’s wrists were turning red. Everything incarnadine; I couldn’t escape it. Every time I closed my eyes, I saw the fiery, wretched color and I remember the bile rising in my throat.
My parents hadn’t known Paul was suicidal, or even depressed. They just thought he had just taken a quieter side in high school, a more pensive version of the old Paul. I was too young to understand, but I had noticed a change in my brother. He never left the house, and no one ever came over. He didn’t want to play any more and instead just slept in his room. I called it the Mole Hole and Paul was the Mole Man because he rarely saw the light of day. For two years he put his blinders on and dug deeper and deeper into his hole.
His first attempt really cut our family to the core. My mom took it the hardest, blaming herself for everything that had happened. Everything was her fault: how she hadn’t noticed the signs, that I had found Paul, and that she was the worst mother. My dad looked helpless trying to console her while trying to keep a close eye on Paul and me. Mom ended up quitting her job at a local insurance firm to watch him at all times, caring for him tenderly. Paul had gotten worse, though. We realized that he thought he failed at everything he did in life. School, sports, friends, girls; anything he tried. He didn’t looking at a failed suicide as a chance for a new life, just as another failure to add to the list. He stopped talking to us all together. My parents took him to a therapist once a week and he was prescribed Prozac, but nothing seemed to work. This extra attention mortified my brother, he saw how much it ruined my family, how much it ruined me.
Although it has been five years since Paul tried killing himself, the feeling of shock has never been alleviated. He was diagnosed with manic-depression, better known as bipolar disorder. On good days, it’s as if his condition never existed, you’d never know he was sick at all. For the past couple of days Paul has been having good days. He smiled and laughed, and watched a football game with my dad. He set the table for my mom and actually held a conversation with her.
“Hey Char,” Paul said as he let himself into my room.
“Hey thanks for knocking,” I said.
“No problem,” he said smiling. I’ve missed his smile. “You wanna watch Elf with mom and me?”
“Uh yeah sure, I’ll be out in a minute.”
To any outsider, this would be a typical conversation between two siblings ultimately meaning nothing. But to me, the girl whose brother has always been there physically but ducks in and out emotionally, this tiny moment of contact feels like a miracle, and I want to cherish it as much as possible.
New Year, Old Ways
Surprisingly, Paul’s mood remained the same right up until Christmas. Everything was falling into place, and it felt like for the first time in five years that we were normal. We were doing festive activities instead of tiptoeing on eggshells depending on how Paul was feeling. I truly wanted to believe it, that he was ‘cured’, but somehow I felt uneasy. As if I thought he was getting better, it would ruin everything. My mom was at her happiest and we all wished this would never end.
The last day of winter vacation however Paul didn’t get out of bed until two in the afternoon. I knew this would mark the end of his happiness. On bad days, he sleeps late and barely gets up at all. Today, he sauntered out to the kitchen with a morose expression on his face, looked at time and walked back upstairs to his room. No good morning, no smile, nothing. I pondered whether I should tell my mom of his mood today and decided not to. After all, he could be in better spirits the next day.
Paul didn’t get better though; he continued relapsing. No one could understand it, the Paul that was just so happy a few weeks ago completely reversed into his troubled mind once again. I guess we were too blindly optimistic before; forgetting that he was still sick altogether. I watched my brother and family with a heavy heart, our sunshine was fading again, and I had no idea when it would be back.
It wasn’t until I was looking for Advil in the medicine cabinet when I came across Paul’s Prozac. I looked at the bottle in disbelief; it was filled on December 19, but was completely full. He had stopped taking his meds. I grabbed the bottle and burst into Paul’s room.
“Why did you stop taking this? Your doctor didn’t tell you that, I know he didn’t.”
“How do you know that? Why are you looking through my medication”, Paul said
“I had to move it to get to pain killers and when I picked it up you haven’t even taken one. Paul tell me why. Look at yourself and tell me why.”
“I… I don’t know.”
“Paul, yes you do,” I said prying.
“I just felt so much better. You don’t understand, like it was the happiest I’ve ever been. I thought I was done with all of this cr*p; I’m sick of dealing with it anyways. I am always everyone’s concern; you guys have to worry when to fill my prescriptions, when to book my appointments, and you don’t tell me but I know you worry about me killing myself. I’m the center of attention and that’s the last thing I want to be. I just thought being better would help everybody out. Now, after all that, I’m back to how I was. I can’t tell you how much it sucks Charlotte; I don’t even have the energy to get out of bed, I’m a nothing. You guys are just better off without me, seriously.”
“Paul, don’t say that. I can’t tell you how much you mean to us, especially me. If your pills make you better, then just take them. We won’t love you any less if you’re on them. Besides, who’s going to look after me if you die? You’re my big brother, I look to you for protection and love..,” I stop trying to swallow the lump in my throat.
“Char, I’m not going to kill myself. I saw how much it messed you guys up last time, I’ll never forgive myself for that. You’re not even normal now, and it’s all my fault.”
“We’re fine, and trust me we’re a lot better with you here. I don’t know, just don’t go dying on me,” I say, trying to lighten the mood.
He smiles, “I won’t, okay?”
“You need to start taking your pills again.”
“I don’t know.”
“Paul, please. I won’t tell Mom and Dad you stopped.”
“Thanks. I love you, Paul.”
“Love you too, Char.”
I found out later that this conversation actually saved my brother’s life. Through Paul I’ve learned that sometimes people need to be told their worth for them to understand it.