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The Most Painful Kind of Numb
The sound of quarters hitting the metal wall behind my head made me jump.
“Knock it off, Daren!” I shouted.
“Sure...when I’m dead!” I heard his dull voice yell, followed by another loud “PING!” I tried to ignore the irony of his comment.
Four months I had been sitting here in this darn cell. Four mind-numbing, useless months of solitary confinement. And after four months they decided to give me what the therapist called “a special person to spend time with...a cell buddy.” Gag. As if some utterly annoying and overly suicidal male vessel could change the way I perceived life. Nope. In fact, it just made me hate mine even more.
It wasn’t even like Daren was in the same cell as mine. He was in the one next to mine, and he sat on his bed every day and threw quarters at my wall. I never understood how they could have possibly let him have quarters. Maybe he found some elaborate way of hiding them in his sock or mouth or something. And I was fairly certain they knew he had them.
“You know, keep it up, and I’ll have a nice big old collection of quarters, and I think you know where I’ll be throwing them.”
“Whatever. You’re such a bluff,” he snickered. “You’re not a murderer. You’re not even suicidal.”
I rolled my eyes. “You’re not a murderer either,” I pointed out. “If you had really wanted to, you probably could’ve killed me with a quarter any number of times.”
He sighed heavily and I heard the springs of his beaten-up mattress creak.
“No,” he said, “but I am suicidal.”
“Exactly. Why haven’t you used the quarters?”
“Because death by quarter is a ridiculously stupid concept. Besides, I’d prefer to die like a true hero.”
“I wouldn’t really consider Kurt Cobain a true hero.”
“It takes a lot of nerve to shoot yourself, you know.”
“Like you were really gonna do it,” I snorted.
“I was!” he insisted. “Did you not see the gun they pulled from my pocket? Did you not see the giant gunshot wound in my shoulder when they first brought me here? See this bandage? All because my mom walked in, scared the heck out of me, and made me lose my aim.”
“Please,” I said. “You probably accidentally pulled the trigger. You were probably standing there, thinking, ‘I’m not going to do this, so I’ll just set the gun down before I accidentally shoot myself,’ right before your mom walked in.”
“That’s exactly what was going through my mind,” he said, his voice practically dripping with sarcasm. “At least I have the guts to even think about killing myself. You, on the other hand, are some idiot who had so much to live for and then almost killed yourself with drugs. Wow. That, my friend, is what we’d call a failure of epic proportions.”
So that’s what everyone called me: a failure. I was forever more The Idiot Who Nearly Killed Herself with Drugs. If my time in solitary had taught me anything, it was that I was most likely known as The Suicidal Crazy Girl Who Was Placed in Solitary...or at least that's what my therapist seemed to think. Guess that idea was out the window.
“I mean, you had so much going for you, and then you pretty much threw it all away,” Daren continued.
“Shut up,” I snapped. “You don’t know anything about me or my life or what I have to live for, so just shut up.”
“Fine,” he said, and I heard his voice fade out and echo as he made his way back to the opposite end of his cell. “I just thought you might need something to think about while your life wastes away.”
As much as I seemed to despise Daren, he had kept me company for the better part of my four months in solitary. I mean, for two and a half months, I was stuck in a cell by myself. Then somewhere down the road, my therapist decided I needed some company to get my mind back on track. Because, you know, a suicidal preacher would save my soul and cleanse me from my oh-so-brainless ways. Still, Daren provided a company unlike anything I could have hoped for. While he constantly pestered me about how stupid I was, he still had that feel about him...that one thing that let me know I could trust him and that he really was my only company.
I tried to sleep that night, but instead I lay awake, my mind far from repose. Daren’s annoyance-driven words echoed through my head: idiot...failure...something to think about while my life wasted away...
I shook the thoughts from my mind and focused on something else.
“Falling asleep was so much easier with those pills...” I sighed.
“Tell that to the guard outside,” Daren said in a hushed voice. “I’m sure he’d be overjoyed to bring you some. Hey, ask him for a glass of purified water, while you’re at it, eh? I promise you, if I don’t get out of here and shoot myself, I’ll probably end up dying from this disgusting water, anyway.”
“You know, for a suicidal kid, you sure seem like more of an optimist than a pessimist,” I said.
“The glass is half-full,” he said, “and crawling with a million types of bacteria and muck. I’m surprised they’re even allowed to serve this stuff.”
I stared at the bare ceiling above me. “Okay, so you’re not as much of an optimist as I thought, but I guess what I mean is that you don’t really sound like most emo people do.”
“You know, like talking morbid every five seconds...well, I mean you still do that, but you’re like full of sarcasm and you have this upbeat tone, and you don’t sound so dark and...”
“For your information,” he cut in, his tone dead serious, “the word ‘emo’ is used out of context far too often.”
I raised my eyebrows.
“Tell me,” he said, “what is your definition of the word ‘emo?’”
“I don’t know,” I began slowly, “a person who cuts themselves...a person who hurts themselves to feel better? Someone who listens to screaming ear-bleeding music and wears black eyeliner and clothes with chains?”
“I really think you’re confusing that with something else,” he said. “Like, gothic or something of that nature. But no. Emo is a genre of music. Post punk. Sort of like an alt-rock-punk type triangle. It’s all built around emotion. Emo. It’s just a quick way of saying emotion.”
“So, everyone pretty much ruined the genre when they started relating it to people who hurt or cut themselves. The word has no content anymore. No meaning.”
“Can we just go to sleep now?” I asked. My tone came out a bit unwillingly irritated.
“Well, then. I was going to tell you something else, but I guess since you’re not interested...”
“Just tell me,” I groaned. He knew I hated it when he did that. “I want to sleep, and I’ll be up all night wondering.”
However, what Daren told me next didn’t help me sleep. In fact, it kept me up. I gave up all hope of sleep, because when those words came out of Daren’s mouth in that raspy, tired voice, my heart stopped. Did I hear him right? Or maybe it was just a rumor. You know how those go. Daren heard it from the guard, who heard it from some patient, who heard it from someone else, and so on...
“Did you hear me?” Daren repeated. “I said we’re actually getting out of the cells tomorrow.”
I had never actually seen Daren before. I’d heard him, and I had talked to him any number of times, but something had always stopped me from looking through that tiny slit in the wall. Maybe I didn’t want judge him based on appearance. I mean, we kept up a fairly decent relationship (even if it did consist of constant annoyance), but would it have changed if he were a big, scary guy? Or a thin wimp with too much acne?
But that’s just the thing. Daren wasn’t either of those things. When the guard came to get us, I caught my first glimpse of Daren. He stood tall with dark black hair that obviously needed to be cut. His eyes could've melted a heart if they wanted to, and his skin didn’t have one blemish. He was thin, but muscled. I noticed that he might have actually been attractive under all that rehab grime. He didn’t smile at first, and I guess I understood why, but this made me wonder if we would ever see each other after this.
“I must say,” he whispered to me, “you look nothing like you sound.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Well, you give off this annoyed, hard-core vibe, but you’re, like...I don’t know. Actually pretty, I guess.”
I felt warmth in my cheeks and stopped short. Was I blushing? I shook the color from my face and looked Daren up and down. “You never said you were a bad-boy. Then I might have believed you with the whole suicide thing.”
“Hey,” Marcus, our guard, turned around. “You aren’t supposed to be talking.”
“Why not?” Daren asked, brushing his hair over his head. You know a guy’s hair is too long when they can brush it over their head and make it stay there.
“Beats me. They’re probably afraid you’re planning an escape route. With a couple of geniuses like you, I wouldn’t be surprised.”
As far as guards go, Marcus was definitely my favorite. He was cool and nice, and yeah, he was strict, but at least he knew how to keep us alive.
“Marcus,” I said, “why exactly are we out of our cells today?”
Oh, how I always dreaded the thought of group therapy. The very idea of having my therapist tell me how I could fix my life was awful, let alone having her do so in front of about twenty different people.
“Great,” I muttered.
“It’s not that big a deal,” Marcus said. “I hear it’s just going to be you two for the first few months.”
“Months?” Daren and I asked in unison. Our voices didn’t hide the confusion and surprise we were feeling.
“Don’t freak out on me. Tell it to the therapist,” he said. I inwardly groaned at the thought of coming face-to-face with Patricia.
The inside of Patricia’s office was a bright shade of yellow. Daren and I had to shield our eyes from the color at first. I thought it should have been a law that therapists couldn’t be giddy or psycho in any way. It only resulted in eye damage and an increase in depression.
“Good morning, friends,” she said. That’s another thing that got me. How she called us “friends.”
“Hi,” I said quietly.
She clapped her hands, which was her usual sign for “let’s get down to business.”
“So what are we talking about today? Depression? Misuse of drugs? All of the above?” Her beady eyes stared down at us over the spectacles that sat perched on her crooked, beak-like nose.
“Um, I’m pretty sure that when I used to take multiple choice tests in school, there was a ‘none of the above’ choice as well,” Daren said, raising his hand to grab her attention.
“Dana,” she turned to me. “Why don’t we start with you?”
“Oh, lovely,” I wanted to say, but thought it instead. “Great,” I said aloud. “You just love my problems, don’t you? Let’s see. What do I have to tell you...?” I put a hand to my chin and pretended to think for a few seconds. “Oh yes, that’s right,” I said. “How about I’m not suicidal and I took the pills because they made me feel better?”
“Now, Dana,” she said. “We all need to calm down here. Now listen, friend. We know that you had a pretty hard life. All teenagers do. But what we need to learn is why you would consider death as an option.”
“I did not consider death as an option!” I practically jumped out of my chair. “Look, all I wanted was to feel like I was floating in the freaking clouds, okay? I just wanted a chance for my mind to escape. A bunch of my friends did it. They’d take a couple of pills before they came to school or before bed, and then they’d be flying high. They loved it. Said it felt good, so I thought, why not give it a try?”
“But you knew you had asthma.”
“I don’t care!” I shouted. “That didn’t matter. It’s not like I would have any problems or anything.”
“But you did.”
“Yeah, after about a year and a half of doing it! I wasn’t trying to kill myself. I was trying to escape and feel like a person again.”
“Are you saying you didn’t feel like a person?”
This time I really did jump out of my chair. “No. I felt like a stinking monster, okay? My sister was dead, my parents were divorced, and school was just awful!”
As I shouted out my last few words, I noticed Daren staring at me, and my chest cramped up. But I was too worked up to stop.
“I don't need to be here, I don’t need rehab, I don’t need a screwed up life, and I don’t need you!” I shouted, and my chest just gave away. The last thing I remember seeing was Daren’s face as he rushed over to catch me.
The lights are bright. Where am I? Is this a dream? I wonder...Hello...? Anybody home...? Why isn’t anyone answering me?
“What?” I ask. “Who’s that?” My eyes open and squint closed again. “Ah,” I moan. The lights are so, so bright.
“You’re okay sweetheart,” my mom says quietly.
“Everything is going to be alright,” Dad assures me.
“Mom? Dad? What are you two doing together?” I ask.
“What are you talking about?” Mom asks.
“I... I look around. What’s going on? Where’s Daren, and who’s the woman injecting something into my arm?
“Do you remember what happened?” Mom asks.
“I remember my chest hurting. What happened? Why are you all here?”
“I think she doesn’t remember much else,” Dad says, glancing at Mom for a second.
“Why does my throat feel weird? Can someone please explain what happened?”
“They had to put a breathing tube down there earlier. You’re doing better now.” Mom sits on the side of my bed, and I look up at her. “You nearly killed yourself. The pills you take for your chest...you took too many.”
“You mean...?” I ask, the shock hitting home. “Where’s Daren? And Marcus? Is my therapist here?”
“I don’t know who any of those people are,” Mom shakes her head. “But your sister is here. She’s been very worried about you. She thinks it’s her fault.”
“You were having chest pains, and she didn’t know how many to give you.”
As much as I should be shocked at the fact that my sister gave me too many pills, I’m not. I’m more focused on the fact that she’s alive. “Mir is still alive?”
“Yes,” Dad says hesitantly. “Why would you even have to ask such a thing?”
The door opens and Mir runs through to hug me. “Oh, I’m so glad you’re okay. I’m so sorry! I feel terrible. All I wanted to do was help, and I just made everything worse.”
“You should hate me.”
“Mir,” I say again. “It’s fine.”
“No,” she says, throwing her arms around me again, “it’s not, and I’ll never let you go again.”
School has been...difficult. Going back and seeing my friends is strange. I remember them and I remember my teachers and classes, but I don’t remember that night. The thing I find strange is that none of my friends are doing drugs. Even though I never really was in rehab, I still wonder...why did I dream it? And are some things true?
Somebody catches my eye, and I turn. A flash of black hair droops into his face as he sits on the bench. My heart races.
“Daren?” I ask, sitting down beside him.
He looks up at me with sad eyes, pulls the blasting ear bud out of his ear, and speaks. “How do you know my name?” His eyebrows crease together.
“You don’t remember me?” I ask. “From the rehab center?”
“Oh, yeah, very funny,” he says, standing up. “Pick on the outcast. The ‘emo’ kid.”
I stare at him for a moment, dumbfounded and slightly angry. Did he really just say that? So maybe rehab never did happen, and maybe Daren doesn’t know me, but I use his own words against him anyway. “The word ‘emo’ is really used out of context,” I call out as he turns his back.
He stops short. “What did you just say?”
“It’s a music genre. Stands for emotional or something. Post punk, I think. It’s like an alt-rock-punk triangle.”
He raises an eyebrow, and I could swear I see his lips curve the slightest bit. “Really? I never thought anybody knew that. I always thought I was the only one...”
“Well you’re not,” I say, walking over and linking my arm in his. Surprisingly, he lets me, and we soon begin to walk. I suddenly know what I have to do.
“You know,” I say, “I once had a friend who wanted to shoot himself.”
I’m not surprised by his reaction. All sorts of questions bubble to the surface. “Really? Did he go through with it? Is it painful?”
“Let me finish,” I say.
He nods curtly.
“He wanted to die like a true hero.”
“You mean like Kurt Cobain?” he asks.
I laugh. “Yep. But the sad thing is he taught me so much. He told me that I had so much to live for, and that I should never hurt myself, but he never realized that he had a life worth living, too.”
“Did he die?”
“No,” I shake my head. “His mom walked in and he shot himself in the shoulder.”
Daren looks at his feet, then up at me. “I, uh, never would tell this to a stranger, and I know I just met you and all, but I feel like you’re special...I mean, trustworthy enough to tell.” He pauses before continuing. “I’ve been considering suicide for a while.”
I remain calm.
“And I know that premeditated acts of violence are ‘not the answer,’ and I know you’re going to tell me that I have so much to live for, but I just...I don’t see it in my life, you know? I don’t see anything worth living for.”
“How about a friend?” I ask, turning to him and brushing a piece of hair out of his eye.
“Even that doesn’t seem worth suffering over.”
“Yeah, because I know you’ll just leave me...like all the others.”
My talk with Daren left me somewhat pleased for a while. I mean, for months he didn’t commit suicide, and we seemed to become the best of friends. He never really talked about the idea of “losing” me, but he did mention a few times that he wanted to enjoy our time together before it was too late.
I pick up the newspaper and look at the cover story, tears threatening to pour out of my eyes. My throat is dry, my fingers numb, and yet I stand there on my front porch, reading aloud.
“Seventeen-year-old, Daren Hunter, has recently been admitted to a local psychiatric health rehabilitation center for teens and young adults. Early Friday evening, Daren’s mother walked in on what appeared to be his attempt at suicide. In the sudden moment of shock, Daren...” I trail off and swallow the lump in my throat. “Daren accidentally pulled the trigger and shot himself in the shoulder. Medical care was provided, and Daren’s shoulder is now on its way to recovery. In an interview, Daren stated, ‘I wanted to end it before it got too far. I didn’t want to be hurt again. So many teens don’t get it. Do they really think that picking on someone else will help them feel better? I just didn’t see anything worth living for, and I continue to stand by my beliefs. But I just have one thing to say to someone special. Dana, I don’t know how you knew my future, but you did, and I should’ve listened to you. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m sorry I didn’t listen. Because it cost me a lifetime with you.’ Who is this special, mysterious Dana? And why is he apologizing to her? While Daren remains in solitary confinement, the public ponders over his strong words and only hopes that the troubled teen can recover.”
I pause and am surprised when the ink on the page blurs as a teardrop meets the paper. “Oh, Daren,” I whisper. “I tried to help you…I really tried…”