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“What the h*ll are you doing here?” I asked him. It had been a long time since I had seen him, and I didn’t exactly want to see him then.
“I just wanted to catch up. Been a long time, hasn’t it?” He was sitting on the foot of my bed when I walked into the room. He sounded calm and comfortable being there. His face was a very pale white. In fact, every inch of him looked paler than I remembered.
I couldn’t even remember his name, and I didn’t want to. I just remembered that whenever he was around, I had gotten into trouble. “Get the h*ll out of here! I don’t need you anymore.”
Things have a way of working out, so that the more you allow yourself to remember, the more you are forced to remember. Try to remember the good, and along with it comes the bad, every time.
“I’ll go away, just first tell me my name.” He had me here. If I let his name back into my head, the rest would come with it. I had spent too long trying to expel him from my mind to let him waltz back in that easily.
“No,” I responded. “You do not exist. You are imaginary.”
“Now, Michael, who told you that? Was it your therapist, Betsy? The one you see every week? You know, you don’t need her, right? You’re better off without her.” He was using the tone parents use when they ask questions to which they already know the answer.
“Who told you about her?” I was becoming dizzy. Everything he was saying made me more confused. I sat down in my desk chair for fear of fainting.
“Well if I really am in your head, Michael, then I know everything about you. But for all you know, she’s the one who isn’t real. Maybe it’s I who is real. Think about it. What seems more realistic to you: that you have a part of your mind that convinces you to do bad things and alienate friends, or that you have a best friend, me, and we don’t need anyone else, so we do what makes us happy.”
“Stop it! You aren’t real!” I was shouting at him now. Someone surely would hear me. Someone would come barging in because I was yelling at nothing. But nobody did.
“Is that so, Michael? Then why can’t you tell me my name? I can tell you your name. It’s Michael. So, Michael, what’s my name?” He reached toward me as if to try and comfort me, but I instinctively pulled away.
“Shut up! It’s Ryan! Just shut up!” Right as I said it, I felt the power leave me. It almost seemed to give Ryan a new life - color in his face. He stood up and was looking down at me now.
“See, that wasn’t so hard. Remember all those fun times we had? Remember when we set fire to Mrs. Spiegelman’s hair?”
I remembered now. It was first grade. She took away my recess because I was incessantly poking the boy next to me (I believe his name was Ryan - my Ryan did not like sharing a name). The next day, my Ryan brought a lighter to school. When Mrs. Spiegelman came to my desk to answer a question, Ryan held the lighter up to her hair. I got all of the blame; Ryan did not. That was my first time transferring schools.
“You got me in trouble for that, Ryan!” I was mad at him now.
“She deserved it. You know she did. Besides, did she ever try to take away your recess after that? We taught her a lesson.” He was still calm, which was just making me more frustrated. The more angry or upset I became, the more he stayed exactly the same. That’s how it had always been.
“I switched schools after that! She couldn’t have taken it away!”
“My point still stands, Michael. You gave her what she deserved and she was no longer able to treat you badly.”
The memories were rushing back. The time in third grade when Ryan ripped out all the pages of my books and flushed them down the toilet - the entire first floor flooded. That was my second time switching schools.
And in sixth grade when Ryan brought a knife to school because he thought the boy’s hair in front of me was too long. And seventh grade when Ryan cussed out my teacher and principal because he wasn’t allowed to smoke cigarettes in class. Those were my third and fourth times switching schools.
“I went to nine different schools because of you! I could never keep friends! My own parents were afraid of me!” I shouted.
“Who needs school? Who needs friends? Who needs family? You’ve got me, Michael. I’m all you’ll ever need.” His voice was reassuring, and as he spoke, he put his hand on my shoulder. I felt comforted by the act, but I still wasn’t completely willing to let him back into my life.
“Really? Because how the h*ll can we get what we need? Everything you do gets blamed on me!”
“Michael, Michael, Michael. Don’t you know I’m smarter now? I’m smarter because you are smarter. We can work things out. You know we can.” He revealed to me his plan, and if it would work, we would be set for life.
The plan was simple. Ryan had a gun. I would do the talking. It was all his idea. I told him that if this doesn’t work, he needs to leave me alone forever.
We walked into the bank, me in front of him, straight up to the teller. Ryan pointed the gun at her and I asked for the money.
“Put the gun down!” yelled the security guard, pointing his own gun at us. Ryan turned and shot him twice. Time slowed, almost to a complete halt. I looked at Ryan with fear in my eyes.
“What the h*ll are you doing?” I asked. “The plan wasn’t to kill anyone!”
“He would have killed us, Michael. This is necessary. Now get the money.” Even in the turmoil, his voice was calm and smooth.
I turned to the teller and demanded all of the money she had. We made of with more money than I had ever seen, save for maybe the movies.
We stayed in a motel that night. Just one bed - Ryan likes to sleep on the floor. My face had come up on every news station. They were saying I had killed the guard. “D*mmit! I told you, Ryan! I get blamed for everything you do!”
“Don’t worry about it, Michael. If we get caught, we’ll both get the same punishment, so it really doesn’t matter what the news decides to say. We just can’t get caught.”
That was six years ago. Five years ago, I was arrested. They locked me up, but they never found the money. Ryan has it. He’s gonna get me out of here, too. He told me - maybe not directly, but he’s left signs.
The look of a prison guard who is certainly in on it; the extra few seconds I’m given in the showers; the easier work I’m made to do: all of this is part of Ryan’s plan to let me know he’s coming. The only reason I’m still in here is because he must be waiting for the best possible time.
While I wait, I’ll play along with the fools. I’ll pretend Ryan isn’t real. I won’t cause a fuss. I’ll visit a therapist every other week. Whatever it takes to lull them into a sense of security.
They tell me he’s not real. He was never real, they say. But this time I know not to believe them. Maybe it’s they who aren’t real, just like Ryan said. I just need to play their game while I’m here.
He’s coming for me. They’ll all learn their lesson. Until then, I’ll just keep waiting. I’ll sit still in my cell and wait. For as long as it takes.