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Postcards from Far Away

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“ROSIE. I AM TELLING YOU, IT NEVER WORKS. NOTHING. EVER. WORKS.” Duncan was screaming at Rose Marie, red in the face, his head throbbing. He swung open the white medicine cabinet with such a forceful malice that some of the bottles went cascading to the floor. He ripped off the cap of one of the bottles and shook the last of the pills into the toilet. Then he did the same with the next bottle, and the next. The scars on his arms, just starting to heal, that “they” had told him to make flashed as Duncan’s arms moved around in frenzy. Rose Marie couldn’t move. She didn’t dare go near Duncan, never mind touch him. He poured out the last of the emergency meds he had found into the toilet and slammed the seat down. Pieces of chipped off toilet seat flew off and onto the floor.

Flush.

Not knowing what else to do, Rose Marie flopped on the duct taped couch in the next room, her head in her hands. Trying not to scream in frustration, she took a deep breath and spoke as calmly as she could.

“Won’t you please try, Duncan, for me?”

Duncan stormed into the room.

“FOR YOU? YOU DON’T EVEN CARE ABOUT ME. ANYONE WHO LOVED ME WOULDN’T TAKE ME TO LIVE IN THIS FREAKING…THIS FREAKING DUMP!”

Duncan stomped with anger, up and down, up and down on the sagging hardwood. The bare light bulb above his head shook wildly from the thin wire attaching it to the ceiling, and the pictures on the wall turned sideways. Rose Marie looked at the swaying light bulb and the sideways pictures. They reminded her of her life with Duncan which was often sideways and shaking wildly, like it was right now.

Rose Marie took another deep breath, her whole body shaking.

“If you could just try,” she breathed.

Duncan took a punch at the air. Rose Marie flinched.

“NO! YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND ME! NO ONE EVER UNDERSTANDS! NOT YOU, NOT DR. GROVE, NOT THESE STUPID PILLS!”

Rose Marie didn’t say anything after that.

All she could bring herself to do was to sit with her head in her hands until she heard Duncan’s screaming and banging around stop. Sit and wait until he had tired himself out so that she could make sure he fell asleep—maybe she should hide the knives. He had threatened before.


January 12th
This sounds stupid to say, but I miss you, Duncan. So bad. So bad it hurts—it hurts my brain, my stomach, my heart, my skin, even my fingernails. I wish you could come back from this monster that’s taken you over.
But you can’t.
Tonight was definitely one of your worst. You took all your meds. Flushed them down the toilet. I thought of all the things I’d given up to be able to afford those for you. If only you would try the meds, and try seeing Dr. Grove. I have given so much up so that you can have these things—college, my home, my friends, my life. But you literally flush them down the toilet. I pleaded for you to at least try going on the meds again. But you only said that they don’t work, that nothing ever works. You said that if I loved you, how could I take you to live in this freaking dump. Each of your words ached on my skin like the worst bee stings. If only you knew how hard this was for me. I was shaking, trying to hold back so many emotions flooding my brain at once.
Then you said one last thing: “NO! YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND ME!”
I stopped. I couldn’t say anything more. I had realized then that you were right. I don’t understand you, Duncan. I really don’t, and no matter how hard I try I don’t think I will ever be able to.
Love,
Rose Marie Warwick


The next morning Rose Marie woke up to the sound of the clock radio. She sat up, rubbed her face to wipe away what she and Duncan called “eye crusties.” She smiled, thinking how every time one of them said “eye crusties,” the other would fall on the ground laughing, even though it really wasn’t that funny, as Duncan would point out every time.

She got up out of bed and shuffled into the living room. Noise from the New York streets streamed into the house, enveloping the little apartment in a blanket of smoggy grey city. Rose Marie loved the city, from the honking cars, to the rushing people, to the tall buildings piercing the powder white clouds. She didn’t see why anyone would want to live anywhere else—she remembered the day she moved here, full with excitement and joy and wonder of college, a new life, and a new city. She had no idea that she would fall head over heels for a man who would tear that life apart.

Duncan was still sleeping, his arms hanging off the sides of the duct taped couch, his head skewed off to the side. Rose Marie smiled. He looked cute. Rose Marie stumbled into the kitchen and started a pot of coffee. She must have woken Duncan up, because when she turned around, he was sitting at the kitchen table, staring off into the distance. “How did you sleep?” She asked, hesitantly.

Duncan only shrugged. His eyes, too, had eye crusties nestled in the corners. But Rose Marie didn’t really think Duncan was in the mood to laugh. Duncan’s grey eyes were even greyer than normal as he looked blankly across the room.

“Would you like some coffee?”

“Whatever.”

Rose Marie poured him a cup. She was sitting and drinking when she began to hear quiet murmuring. She looked up at Duncan. He was staring into his mug and whispering to himself.
“No Duncan don’t do it don’t do it its poison she put the poison in it because what you did.”

Rose Marie had heard these types of things before, but they scared her every time. “Duncan?” She asked, her voice quivering.

“What is wrong with you? You’re hopeless, what a loser, loser, loser, loser.”

“Duncan, when was the last time you took your meds?” Rose Marie asked nervously. He had been telling her he was taking them every night, before last night’s episode, anyway.

Duncan didn’t say anything. Just murmurs: “Why are you such a loser? No one likes you, so she poisoned you; she’s going to get the poison.”

“Duncan. Come on now. Please tell me.” Rose Marie’s voice became firmer as she repeated the question. “When was the last time you took your medication?”

Duncan looked down. He sighed.

“I couldn’t take them though.”

“Why?”

“Because they said that the meds were going to kill me, that I was going to die, die, die.”

Rose Marie frowned. Why couldn’t Duncan get that it was the voices telling him that? The not-real voices?

“Duncan, there’s no poison in those pills. Those pills are to help you.”

“But, they said—”

“Forget what ‘they’ said, Duncan. You haven’t taken your pills for how long? A week? Two weeks?”

“I don’t know, okay?” Duncan replied slowly yet angrily. “Two. Maybe,” he added, realizing afterward that it didn’t really help his case to add that tidbit of information. “Idiot.” He whispered to himself.

“Duncan!” Rose Marie was upset that he had lied about taking his meds, but more worried for his health than anything. Duncan’s full out episodes were always unpredictable and severe, like last night’s. “We’re going to have to refill the prescription today, then,”

Duncan stared at her but did not say anything for a few minutes.

“Whatever,” He stated flatly after a few seconds of silence.

“Okay then,” Rose Marie said, “I’ll go for you. But I wish you would come with me.”

“I won’t.”

Rose Marie was a little upset by this. She honestly wanted him to be with her, just for company, but she was also afraid to leave him alone when he hadn’t been taking his meds for over two weeks.

“Alright-y then.” Rose Marie said. She stood up and smiled, trying to hide that she was pretty angry at Duncan at that moment. “Step into my office and let’s play let’s make a deal!” She was thinking an ice cream date, her treat, might be in order.

Silence.

Then, all of a sudden, Duncan started to laugh. But it wasn’t a normal laugh, it was different—spurts of weird noises resembling laughter was more like it. His normally calm grey eyes were now scaring her.

Rose Marie frowned. She knew she probably should not leave Duncan alone today. What was there to do now? Duncan severely needed his meds, but because of that she was afraid to leave him alone to get them. If she dragged him there unwillingly, he would get angrier—and at the same time, it seemed like he was too lost, too faraway to do anything. She decided it would be okay to leave him alone, just for a few minutes.

Duncan slowly rose from his chair and Rose Marie did the same, then left the room to collect her purse and jacket. When she returned, Duncan was half asleep on the couch again, his grey eyes passive, glazed over, staring off into nowhere. “Bye, Duncan,” she whispered as she silently slipped out the door.


January 13th

I am writing this to you while I wait f or the pharmacist to call Dr. Grove and get all your medication. I also told the pharmacist that you lost the meds. Obviously I wasn’t going to tell him the whole entire story—why would I want to do that? And relive…that?
I bought a brand new postcard to write on, too. I picked the one I thought you’d like best—if you ever read these postcards, you’ll see it—it’s a beautiful picture of the New York skyline at night. Of course they ruined it with their funny wording sprawled across the picture, which seems like it was made with some-low tech Microsoft Word Art Program— “GREETINGS FROM NEW YORK,” it says, in bright rainbow lettering. The nice, calm photo against the bold, tacky text—juxtaposition—isn’t that the word?
Anyway. I’ve been thinking a lot about what you did last night. Dr. Grove always says, “remember, it’s not Duncan doing and saying those things—that’s the illness talking.” But where is the line between you and the illness? What are you saying and what is the illness saying? It’s very difficult to find that blurry line between the two. I mean, I love you, Duncan, not schizophrenia. Why can’t you just come back to me?

Your meds are ready.




Love




Rose Marie Warwick


Rose Marie clutched the small paper bag with Duncan’s pills in it close to her stomach, trying to keep warm. Her shoulders and sides shook with her skittish breath as she trudged up the snow-laden concrete steps to the apartment building. Once inside, she ascended another set of stairs to her apartment. She reached the door and removed her keys from her pocket. She fumbled around with the key, unable to grasp much with her fuzzy gloved fingers. Finally she got the key in the lock and turned it.

The door opened with a disturbing creak. A “something’s wrong” creak. As if a door would know, Rose Marie reasoned, trying to reassure herself.

“Duncan?” Rose Marie called out. Even though she was now inside, her stomach was still shaking, no longer with cold, but with nerves.

No answer.

“DUN-KIN!” She called again, louder. It felt like the giant lump in her throat was going to explode into her heart and she couldn’t breathe.

Still,


Silence.

Rose Marie set the bag down on the table. She didn’t want to think about what could have happened to Duncan. She just wanted to find him.

Holding her breath she walked, shivering. Her fingers twitched as she wrapped them around the doorknob to the bedroom. She pushed it open and quickly jumped back, as if an untamed beast were about to pounce on her.

But there, hanging from the rafter, was Duncan.

Rose Marie didn’t have time to think. Tears welled up in every crevice of her eyes and throat. She ran out of the room, dizzy with fear. Her head was spinning as she fumbled about for her phone and dialed 911 as fast as she could.

“911, state your emergency.”

Rose Marie was so afraid and worried and sick and terrified she could barely speak straight, her whole body now shaking. “I-I need an ambulance, please! Hurry!”

“I’m going to need your location, ma’m.”

Rose Marie managed to tell him, stuttering and starting over several times.

“I’ve just dispatched an ambulance, ma’m. Please, calm down and tell me what happened.”

“M-my boyfriend, Duncan…he—he just…” Rose Marie gulped. “Hanged himself.”
Having to say the words was almost worse to Rose Marie than actually seeing Duncan, hanging above the chair like that. At that moment she regretted ever being angry or annoyed with him. Tears dropped onto the duct tape couch she had collapsed onto.

“Thank you, ma’m. The ambulance should arrive in just a few minutes. Stay calm.”

“I can’t, I can’t, I—” Rose Marie was sobbing so hard it felt like she wanted to cough up her lungs. She couldn’t believe what was happening. She threw the phone down and buried her face in the pillow—she didn’t know what else there was she could do.

The ambulance showed up about a minute later, sirens screeching, brakes scratching. The paramedics ran up to her apartment. The door was already open, Rose Marie had forgotten to shut it. They cut Duncan down from the rope on the rafter and put him on a stretcher. They took him outside to the ambulance. Rose Marie wanted to climb into the back, but the paramedics told her she couldn’t, so she ran to sit in the passenger seat, too upset and scared to keep on crying.

Weee-ooo, weee-ooo.

The shrill sirens kept on going. Traffic parted to let the ambulance by. The eight minute trip to the hospital from their apartment would be the longest eight minutes of Rose Marie’s life. She couldn’t believe what was happening, hoping, hoping it wasn’t real.

But it was.


From the back of the ambulance she heard shuffling about, and clanging, but not much else. She wanted to be there, holding his hand, squeezing it tight.
Finally the ambulance reached the hospital. From then on it was rushing, running, yelling. Rose Marie got lost in the frenzy of it all, she was dizzy, confused, heart broken—she could barely think straight. It was as if someone had taken her already upside-down life, then turned it inside-out and stepped on her heart.
She finally found a waiting area, and sat there, for hours, until the hospital was submerged in darkness.


Bellevue Medical Center


555-555-5555




Duncan,

Where did I go wrong?







--R.M.W.






Manhattan, NY







“Um, Rose Marie…Warwick?” A doctor called out into the nearly empty waiting room, his words slapping the glassy-eyed Rose Marie awake. It was nearly five a.m., Saturday morning—or was it? Rose Marie couldn’t be sure. It was still dark out, Duncan was probably gone forever—she knew that, yet she couldn’t quite accept it. But hearing the doctor call her name, she got up as quickly as she could and walked briskly toward the doctor, her boots matting the short shag rug lining the hospital’s waiting room.

“Duncan Handler…he is your friend, correct?” Rose Marie nodded, wiping stale, slept-on tears from her cheeks with her fingers, clearing the way for the new tears, as she knew that the worst was coming.

“He is alive.”

Rose Marie couldn’t believe her ears. So much was floating around in her head but all that came out was, “w-w-what?”

“Yes…for about ten minutes at some point—we think right when he arrived at the hospital—he was in cardiac arrest, and was clinically dead for about five or ten minutes…but we were able to revive him, using advanced cardiac life support methods… he may, of course, have experienced some neurological damage due to the hanging…” The doctor went on but Rose Marie didn’t hear any of it.

Duncan was alive.
Rose Marie was allowed to see him, so she tiptoed into Duncan’s room. He was hooked up to several machines, his face was pale, and he was still out cold. Still, Rose Marie didn’t hesitate to crawl up beside him on his hospital bed. To fit, her leg and arm had to be completely hanging off the side of the bed, but Rose Marie didn’t seem to care. She just wanted to be next to Duncan, to stroke his curly hair, to hold his hand.

Rose Marie looked between the drab hospital curtains and out the window. The sun had just started to break through the dusky grey clouds. But this wasn’t the same sun Rose Marie saw outside her apartment every morning. This sun seemed different, brighter, maybe. Rose Marie smiled and squeezed Duncan’s hand. A new sun, she thought, a new beginning.


“Happy Birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Duncan, happy birthday to you!” The song drifted off of Rose-Marie’s lips with a light, joyful tenderness. She set down a cupcake—his favorite, Duncan Hines cake mix with homemade strawberry icing—in front of him. Duncan, his face illuminated by the light of the candle, smiled at Rose Marie and took her hand.

“Make a wish!” Rose Marie whispered urgently. He squeezed her hand and blew out the single candle that sat atop the cupcake. Without delay, Duncan tore the candle off of the cupcake and sucked off the frosting. Rose Marie poured herself some water.

“Remember,” He said dreamily, “how we used always to lick candles? Every time we had cake, we licked the candles! And there was that time, when I accidentally bit off the wax…”

Rose-Marie wanted to scream, cry and smile all at the same time. She didn’t know why. Her Duncan had come back to her and it was just how she felt. Instead of doing any of those three, though, she looked straight into Duncan’s grey eyes. No longer were they the shallow, misty grey eyes Rose Marie had feared only a month ago, but no longer were they the same mysterious, lovely grey eyes she had fallen in love with almost three years ago. They were deeper now, with little spurts of blue in them. They shone when they hit the light and when he smiled. Now Rose Marie’s eyes began to swell with tears. She thought about a few short weeks ago, when she was angry with Duncan, mad at him because of his illness. She wished he hadn’t had to commit suicide to prove to her that it wasn’t always her who had things bad.

She held her arms wide and wrapped them tightly around Duncan. She squeezed him tight, but not too tight. And Duncan hugged her back.

After staying like this for several minutes, Rose Marie slowly let go. She looked at Duncan. “I almost forgot,” she said, grinning. Out from under the table came an old, torn shoebox, with a pathetic-looking white ribbon tied in a bow around it. “Sorry about the wrap job,” Rose Marie said, handing the box over to Duncan. He laughed. It had been a while since Rose Marie had seen Duncan truly laugh. She smiled as Duncan opened the box.

Inside were postcards.

Postcards with rigid skylines, starry nights, toe dancers, California palm trees, smiling children, majestic mountains, wild sunflowers and “Greetings from,” all meshed together in one old shoebox. Of course, Rose Marie had never really been to all these places, or seen all these things. But she liked the postcards.

“Well, I appreciate the sentiment, but uh…what is it?” Duncan asked. He picked up a postcard in his hand, considering it. Rose Marie was silent for a moment, pondering what she should say, and how she should say it.

“Ever since you…started having episodes,” Rose Marie started, “I’ve been writing you these postcards, postcards about how I felt, things I wanted to tell you, but…but couldn’t.” The mood became slightly tense and more serious as Rose Marie held her plastic cup in her lap. “So instead of telling you, I wrote it down—and pretended like you were going to read it. I think it’s time for you to do just that.”
Rose Marie felt like she was losing a part of her, but she knew she was doing the right thing—she had to do this, she just had to.

Duncan laughed. “I feel almost like a son receiving his grandfather’s watch or something,”

Rose Marie let out a giggle as well. “Well, I suppose, sonny, that you’re ready to take on the responsibility of this fine pocket watch,” Rose Marie bellowed in a fake “Grandfather-y” voice. Together they laughed and Duncan put the shoebox next to him on the table. He picked up the cupcake, which was now clear of frosting, and took a big bite into the side, crumbs escaping everywhere, onto his jeans and the carpet. Rose Marie smiled and started to eat alongside Duncan. Together they ate in silence for a few seconds, sitting so that Rose Marie was smooshed right up against Duncan’s side, sitting half on her chair, half on Duncan’s. She rested her head on his shoulder and looked out the window at the city, with the bright new sun just setting between the splendid grey buildings.

“Only the best moments are spent over cupcakes,” Duncan said, smiling, looking out the window with her. Rose Marie smiled too, and their strawberry icing teeth matched each other’s as they gazed out at the sun melting between the skyscrapers. Rose Marie thought it was the kind of sunset that one might put on a postcard.


February 30th

Hi Rose Marie. I was never really (nor am I now) that good at this writing stuff. But hey, I’m game to try.
So I read those postcards that you wrote me. And I really, really like them. I do. I had no idea you were doing this at all. None. But it felt good and sad at the same time, you know? I wanted to cry tears of joy and sadness. But all those things, that you did, for me—you love me so much. You must. I could never do what you did, never ever.
After reading all those postcards I knew I had to write one back. It took me forever to find the perfect postcard to write you with, but finally I found this one, that has a bunch of different postcards on the front. After seeing this one I didn’t even keep looking. It was the obvious choice.
But I just wanted to write this to say thank you. I know it sounds pathetic and small, I mean, after all you’ve been through. But thank you. Thank you Rose Marie, with all my heart, for standing by me, even when you weren’t sure who I really was, even when you were angry, when you weren’t sure if you could love me. But you didn’t leave. And so I just had to say thank you, and I love you. I really do. Not the corny movie “I love you.” Real live love, love so comfortable that it seems like I would die without you. Once I almost did.
Thank you Rose Marie.
Love

Duncan Handler.





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