Pills, pills clattering everywhere. All of them scattering, all in different shapes, all in disarray. They reminded Callum Fitzgerald of just how much of a mess he was with every clink against the bathroom floor. He stared at the equally terrible mess he made just by trying to open his bottle of antidepressants. He bent down and gathered them back into the bottle, but left one out for him to take as that was his original intention, then placed it back in the cabinet along with several other bottles of his. He glared dolefully once again at the number of medications sitting quietly in the cupboard. Lovely, Callum thought to himself, looking at the disheveled, tired man in the mirror. Look what you’ve put yourself in. He closed his eyes tight as the image of a speeding truck flashed in his memory again. Today he would visit his therapist once again, and maybe talking about it would soothe his intruding thoughts and memories. He put the pill in his mouth and gulped it down with a glass of water.
“Callum, hello again,” his therapist, Dr. Cowell, said. “How have you been? I haven’t seen you in quite some time. You seemed to be doing fine for quite a while.”
“Well, you see, I can’t stop thinking about it,” he said. “I keep finding myself going back to that day, and it won’t leave me alone.”
It was that fateful day that had haunted him for much of his life. When he was nine, he had always been warned to stay off the road. It was a fairly simple direction, and he kept it to heart. Not once did he break that rule, that is, until that certain day. He was outside playing with his brand-new Spalding basketball that he got for his birthday, shooting hoops in the late July sun. His father was outside watering the lawn contentedly, casting occasional glances at his son as he played. All was fine and well, but then the basketball hit the hoop and bounced into the street. Forgetting everything his parents had told him, Callum had rushed into the road, fearing his basketball would be flattened by a car. By some stroke of luck, his father had heard the oncoming truck honk loudly as it struggled to brake on time. He had dropped the hose and rushed to Callum, gathering the foolhardy child in his arms and shielding him from the impact. Callum clearly remembered that gut-wrenching sensation as what had happened slowly dawned on him. As his vision cleared and the ringing in his ears subsided, he saw the body of his father—lifeless on the asphalt.
Callum was never quite the same “happy” child he once was. Some years passed, his mother continuing to be worried about the state of his mental health. She was right to be concerned, as his declining mental state hit the climax when she caught him attempting to overdose himself on aspirin, having to rush him to the hospital as a result. It wasn’t until they visited a psychologist that it was revealed that Callum had severe clinical depression and anxiety. One could say that trauma of the past had created demons in the present. He was prescribed antidepressants and attended therapy sessions, and his mentality eventually improved. That is, until when he started to support himself on his own.
“I’m afraid of driving,” he told Dr. Cowell. “It’s just…whenever I see the cars rushing towards me—so many cars, all at once—I panic. I lose it.”
“I see,” said Dr. Cowell. “Do you think that the cars have anything to do with a past experience, say—and I apologize for bringing this up to you; I know it’s a difficult subject to talk about—but do you suppose that it started because of how you remember your father’s death?”
“Probably,” Callum said. “I feel like it’s becoming more and more of a problem. I’ve called in sick so many times now, all because I don’t want to drive some days. My boss has not looked upon it kindly; I’m pretty sure he knows that I’m not ‘sick.’”
“Callum,” said Dr. Cowell, “why else do you think you keep remembering the incident?”
“I think it just…shook me up.”
“Is that all?” He asked. “Do you think that part of the reason it bothers you so much is because you feel like you were to blame during the incident?”
“Well yes,” Callum said. “Of course I was. If I didn’t run to the road, then…” his voice trailed off.
“I think maybe one of your troubles is that not only you feel responsible for your father’s death, but that you haven’t forgiven yourself for it yet. You’re letting it define you too much.”
Callum stared at the floor. What was he to say? How could he forgive himself, after all that happened?
“Now, maybe letting go of your guilt will help you get past your fear of driving. Of course, I can also teach you a few coping mechanisms that will help when the intruding thoughts come back or when you’re driving as well.”
It had been two weeks since his visit with Dr. Cowell. Nothing seemed to work. There was no hope left. Callum sat in the bathroom of his apartment, mulling all of this over. He looked at himself in the mirror once again. It’s Callum Fitzgerald, worthless garbage. A pathetic human being who can’t even drive without being plagued by his demons. There was no escape from the hell he made for himself. Coping mechanisms wouldn’t make it go away. Dr. Cowell wouldn’t get them to go away.
But I can, Callum thought to himself. He got up and threw the cabinet door open. He grabbed a bottle and wrenched open the lid. In his frenzy the pills spilled out, scattering across the floor like frantic little ants. He snatched up a handful from the floor and looked at himself one last time. This is it. This is where the nightmare ends. He couldn’t forgive himself. He wouldn’t.
“What else are you but a shell of a man?” He said to himself.
He started filling his glass with water. He placed all of the pills in his mouth and started to lift the glass to his lips, then stopped. What was he doing? He stared at himself in the mirror, realizing what an awful scene it was. The bitter tang of the pills grew in his mouth as they dissolved, making him gag as he spat them out into the sink. Callum washed the rest of the disgusting taste out with water.
“Maybe he’s right,” Callum said, wiping water away from his mouth. He’d been like this for years, a self-blaming wretch. But in the end, wasn’t he becoming what he was thinking himself to be after all these years? He believed he was a worthless man, and wasn’t he becoming worthless by thinking that? Callum picked up the half-dissolved pills in a tissue and threw them away. He made sure to write “new prescription” on his grocery list after that.
A couple of months passed. There were still problems that plagued him, but Callum was slowly healing. He had even performed better at his work and had gotten a raise the past month. The image of speeding cars was less bothersome, despite the fact that he would flinch slightly when one passes by. Soon enough, Callum decided to visit his therapist again to tell him how much better he has been.
“Hello, Callum,” Dr. Cowell said. “How have you been doing?”
“I think the coping mechanisms you taught me are helping,” Callum said. “I’ve had only a few sick days the past two months.”
“Good!” Dr. Cowell said. “I take it you mean that driving is coming to you much easier than before?”
“Yes, I think so,” he said. “I still feel terrible about that day. I’ll never really forget about it; it won’t fix my depression either. But at the same time though, the memory of it has been bothering me less. There’s nothing I can do to change the past, so all I can do is change how I look at it.”
A month later, Callum had visited the local graveyard. Toting a bouquet of flowers, Callum wandered through the graveyard until he finally happened upon the headstone labelled “Edward Fitzgerald.” Callum withdrew an intake of breath. After holding the grave in a remorseful, apologetic stare, he knelt down and laid the bouquet of flowers, fifteen years overdue, against the headstone.