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Cheap Concrete and a Goldfish
It’s h*ll, and an unwilling submission to it at that. Liquor gone, weed gone, ledges gone; there’s no way to deal with it except sitting in the bathroom, waiting for any and all food or drink climb back up my throat into a mocking white toilet, waiting for the relentless itch to let up, waiting for sore muscles to stop shaking. It’s h*ll.
“Get out, Robbie!” I shove him away with any strength I have left. I don’t want him, nor do I need him, not now at least. But he stays with me, cleaning my small apartment the few hours I can barely sleep, feeding my goldfish, forcing me to drink gracious amounts of water that never stays down anyways, giving me two Tylenol precisely every 6 hours to keep an unyielding fever and headache at bay. Even now I don’t talk to him, only yell profanity and painful insults that I’m too disgusted to take back.
Robert was the one who dragged me away that night. “I hate you!” I screamed at him viciously, standing on two scrawny, shaking legs. “You are not my friend!” I choked on my words, voice hoarse from shots of whiskey and packs of cigarettes that I’d been taking in like air that venomous evening. I can feel the same roughness in my throat as I lean my sweaty forehead against the cold porcelain.
I’m forcefully dragged into a moment that I can barely remember and can only struggle to forget. I am screaming at him as he shoves me into the dimly lit elevator. I hit the wall, tears streaming down my face. My black eyeliner smudged and smoky around my brown irises. Lipstick half-wiped-off. Makeup flaking. Black glittery dress clinging to my body, hiked up and askew in all of the wrong places. I see Rob standing on the opposite wall, strong hand against his tan forehead, dialing a number on his blackberry, and holding it to his ear. The memory is blurred with tears.
“Sir?” I hear his teeth grind against each other in an attempt to keep an even tone. “No, it’s about your daughter.” I notice the panicked, angered voice that half-raised me on the other end of the call. The metal doors open, and the fresh air greets my tear-streaked face. I peel myself out of Rob’s loose hold and feel a dizziness settle in my skin, my pale skin that meets a cool nights breeze. I can’t control my actions as I stagger towards the edge of the roof, the railing halting that which my mind is so intent on doing.
Look over the edge. I can’t help myself. As I stand on my tiptoes to lean over the ledge, the gust of wind whips my sweaty, sloppy, brunette waves over my head, and the burst of air forces out a shaky breath. I can hear Rob talking to my father. I can feel the wind across my face, calling to me in an inebriated haze to just fall. Just fall. My feet find their way up onto the ledge, toes cold, tears halted, mind set to jump.
“Jesus!” He panics, dropping my heels that I made him carry, dropping the phone-call that was so important a second ago. And before the wind can clear my head of any suicidal ideas, before the darker side of my mind can force my legs to take a step, Robert’s arms are around my waist, hoisting me over his shoulder, setting me gently on the cheap concrete floor, wiping away tears and mascara streaks from my dark, distant eyes. I feel numb, unable to speak or think. “Jesus,” he whispers now, smoothing back my hair, feeling my hot cheeks, my clammy hands, his words now a prayer, not a exclamation.
The scene makes me nauseous again. I lean over the toilet, waiting for something to come out, besides tears and a quiet sob. My quivering hands go to my cover face, hiding the submission of my body to my emotions. I wish I had never been rescued. That’s the worst part, right? To hope that I could have just been dead by now. One less problem child. One less pain in the a**. One less person to fix. One less day of hurt ripping me open from heart to head.
It takes me a week to talk to him again, and three weeks for the shaking to stop. Quitting, he instructs me, is the best thing to do now, however much I loathe him for it. He takes away my brushes and countless canvases until I show him that I can hold a pencil steady enough to sketch again. He snatches from me the only distraction I have from the itch. I hate him for what he does to me. I hate the pain that he forces me to feel in the name of bettering my life. I hate him still for hoping that I’ll be okay.
One day, we’re sitting on the subway, rolling into Union Station, and he brushes my hand with his own. I explode in a fit of rage and desperation, fed up with being babysat, too torn apart to keep fighting this battle. And he was only talking about going to the Pier this Friday, a weekly tradition since we’ve been fourteen that’s been forgotten through my “remission”.
“Robbie, it’s not going to be okay,” I snap, standing on the rattling Metra. “This isn’t just going to stop.” Even if he takes away the drugs and the temptations and the parties. It’s why I went to those sweet deadly tricks. To drown out reality. My brother died. It’s un-fixable. He’s dumbfounded. The train stops. And I can’t do anything but hurl myself into the crowd, gasping for breath, trying to hold back endless tears that I’m forever choking on.
Even as I stop outside the station, being shoved every which way by impatient passer-bys, I can’t hold onto my composure, and I sink to the city’s cheap concrete floor. Before I know it that dark voice in my mind coaxes me to the roof again, to step onto a concrete ledge with bare feet once more, forces me to look down at a fate my brother chose not five months before. I can’t bring myself to get up, although my eyes scan the sidewalk ledge. One more place to jump.
As car headlights intermingled with pedestrians quick legs pass by my vision, I remember my mother and father; how I’m the only thing they have left to leave the world. I see Rob, how hard he’s been fighting to keep me in the world with him. I look back with disgust and envy on the pretend friends that I’ve gotten high with. I let out an ignored yell, hating that d*mned goldfish on my kitchen counter that has somehow managed to stay alive with me this whole time.
And footsteps sound next to me. I know it’s Rob before he sinks down across from me and takes my hand. “Don’t,” I tell him, biting my lip and drawing blood, a nervous tick to distract from the other aches. But he holds my hand tighter.
“You jump, I jump, right?” he says, and despite honking horns and noisy footsteps, I’m lulled into a much simpler time, eight years back when we were both still so young: my fifteenth birthday. The water was so cool that day, the breeze so welcoming, the sun beating down so heavily. We both leaned over the rope containing us on Navy Pier, the smell of cotton candy melting into a moist perfume. “What if I fell in?” I asked him, laughing, clumsily close to slipping into the murky blue below. “Then I’d fall in after you,” he says, like it’s a question more simple than 2 plus 2: so definite and so easy to comprehend. I smile. “Well, what if I jumped?” I ask him curiously, testing more than friendship with shaky feet.
“You jump, I jump,” he repeats as we crouch beneath the eye-line of the city. And from down here, despite the congestion of the sidewalks, I can actually breathe. My eyes linger still on the cars flying past. It would be so easy: just a step to end everything. But then there’s Robbie. That dark voice whispers to me that his life is worth nothing: worth as little as my own. And while my only desire is to stop the pain in my chest, I know Robbie can’t go with me. I cannot be the cause of such a righteous suicide. He pulls me to my feet, holds me tightly, and lets me pretend not to cry into his comforting shoulder while his arms wrap around me.
I am the first one to step away from death.
When we leave the bustling streets and get back to my apartment, the d*mn goldfish is still there. It curiously pauses, twitches its tail, and lazily laps to the other side of his tiny bowl, unaffected by the human condition, by love, by grief. I know it will get harder every time to not give up. In this aspect, life could only seem to be suffering for some unknown cause. Staring at the nameless orange pet swimming continuously around, I can only bite my lip and face my decision. Things will never be the same.
But love is worth the ache that it takes to not jump.