Chapter 2

Neil continued to scream with his eyes closed until he felt the pressure of a hand on his bicep. He gasped and opened his eyes to find everything uncomfortably bright. The environment was sterile. Shrieking medical equipment surrounded him. It took him a second to realize that he had been dreaming again.

Neil had relived the day of the accident for months now. At least they told him it was months. He was sure it felt like years. Time had a way of playing tricks on him now that he was trapped in this hospital and trapped in his own personal hell. Every time he nodded off he got front row tickets to the day everything fell apart. He felt that hand on his bicep again, both shoving and squeezing at the same time. It was jarring enough to bring his mind out of that post-sleep haze. Neil’s chest was sore from the rapid inhalation and exhalation of his lungs. His throat was hoarse from screaming. His heart was beating so loudly he could hear it echo in his skull. He felt cold, drenched in sweat and as he started to stretch out his senses, he realized he was gawking at the hand on his arm. At first fixated, he forced himself to look somewhere else by moving his eyes up the hand to the wrist, then the arm, the shoulder, neck, settling finally on the very worried face of his close friend Tom.

“Welcome back, old friend” was all Tom could manage to say. He smiled at Neil, but Neil could tell it was forced. Tom turned his eyes towards a scowling nurse standing in the doorway. She looked intense. She was holding a syringe. Tom made a kind of hand wave to signal that things were under control. The nurse rolled her eyes, spun on her heels and left the room. Neil wondered if it was really that bad.

Tom continued. “We were pretty worried there, bud. You had a lot of people going. Machines were going nuts. Your heart rate was spiking.” He offered a glass of water to Neil. Neil reached out and took the glass, pressing it to his lips. The water felt so good on his throat. He could also feel his breathing calm down and his head wasn’t pounding in sync with his heart anymore.

“I just need a couple of seconds,” Neil pleaded.

“Take all the time you need. I’ll wait.”

Neil felt guilty. Tom was the perennial slacker in his group of friends. Buddies since college, Tom was the class clown, the man-child of the group. He was as disorganized as he was brilliant. Neil used to describe him as the slob with a computer for a brain. But he had evolved into an adult, into a caregiver. Neil knew that he had become a burden on his dearest friend. He wasn’t jovial anymore. He was balding and going grey. He was always a big man, but he slumped as if he had lost all his pride and posture. More often than not, he was here with Neil in the hospital. The more he thought about his friend, the more he could feel the bile rise in his throat, his core temperature kick up. Neil was furious with himself for becoming such a burden.

“Hey, it’s alright, man.” said Tom. Neil looked down, frustrated by how quickly he had gotten angry and by how much his body language was betraying his thoughts. Would Tom bring up the PTSD again? Neil hoped not. He hated having this discussion. It made him so angry whenever anyone brought it up. He didn’t want to be judged by Tom, or worse - some doctor. There’s nothing to share. Nothing to talk about. Neil contemplated lying to his friend about the dream, about his health, just to avoid this discussion. He decided that Tom would not buy one word of it. He settled in and prepared himself for the inevitable discussion.

Tom started. “So, you know I’ve been reading these books on PTSD”

“Yes, I’m aware.” Neil felt his cheeks get warm.

“Then you know I’m going to tell you how common all of this is.”

“I think that unless you got a medical degree while I was sleeping, that you’re wasting your time.”

“I see how you treat the folks with the medical degrees around here, Neil. I’m not going to school for what – eight years, just so you can ignore me and shout at me.”

Neil felt the adrenaline surge. He knew he was about to overreact to Tom’s joke. He opened his mouth and something odd happened. He smiled. Sure, he hated Tom’s words, but deep down he was glad that his friend could still relate to him that way. Neil realized that some of the rage came from how he was being handled and managed. Neil wasn’t sure where this comment came from – and chalked it up to Tom’s frustration, but nobody dared speak to him like that anymore. It jarred him. Neil enjoyed that he was being treated like he was normal. Neil's smile grew. He was beaming. Tom looked confused.

“I can’t help but smile.” Neil explained. “It’s been a while since you put me in my place.”

“I’m so, so, sorry, Neil. You don’t need me talking down to you like this.”

“Are you kidding Tom? It actually feels great to be treated like a normal human being.”

“So, do you want to talk about the PTSD?”

Neil’s smile faded and his jaw hardened. He felt a tension headache start to twinge behind his eyes and around his temples. He reached up and pinched the bridge of his nose.

“Fuck PTSD, Tom. And sharing and hashing things out. I don’t want to get past this and I don’t want to get over this or move on or whatever they’re calling it. Face it. I screwed up. I killed my family. I don’t want to forget Rebecca.”

Neil realized this was the first time he spoke her name since the accident – well, the first time he had done it consciously. He felt a chill run down his spine. He glanced at Tom. Was that a look of surprise on his face as well? Neil was caught off guard by the revelation and experienced a flood of different emotions.

Tom seized on the moment. “You don’t have to forget her, you don’t even have to talk to strangers. I’m your friend. I was her friend. I can listen. You’re killing yourself in this bed. You say you don’t want to hash things out, but your mind is hashing it out for you, every time you sleep. Is this what she would want?”

Neil actually paused to think about what Rebecca would want. He struggled to picture her and consider what she would tell him to do if she was around. He thought about her red hair. His mind fixated back to the highway, and suddenly he found himself picturing the unpleasant red streak of her hair on the asphalt.

“I can’t tell you about it, Tom.” He snapped, “I don’t WANT to tell you about it. I can’t even talk about the things I see when I think about her. The images that flash in my mind and linger until I feel ill. She was right there. 50 feet away. I couldn’t save her. I didn’t save her”

Neil felt his temperature rise again. His body felt tight, his breathing sped up and it was hard to form sentences without gasping for air. He could feel spit in his mouth. The anger made his vision red. He knew he was angry with himself. He started shouting at Tom, speaking so quickly he had no time to process what he was saying. Some of it was nonsensical. Some of it was extremely hurtful. He just kept ranting like a madman until he heard a warning alarm go off, and he glanced over his shoulder to see a blinking light on the heart rate monitor. Soon that scowling nurse would be back. Tom took a step in and squeezed Neil’s hand.

“You’ve got to calm down,” advised Tom “or they’re going to sedate you.”

“I can’t calm down. I just can’t.”

“Come on man, you need to figure out a way. Just take a breath. Stop being such a dick head.”

Oddly enough, the school yard insult was exactly what Neil needed. Much like the earlier outburst, he found himself cracking a smile. The smile was helping him get a handle on his panic attack. He thought of the breathing exercises they kept telling him to try and finally decided to give it a try. He took to counting each breath in and each breath out. Other than the physiotherapy, this was the first time he did anything the doctor suggested, and it worked. He was really annoyed that it was working too, because it forced him to face the fact that if the doctor was right about this, he might have been right about other things. Maybe he was sick. Maybe he did have PTSD. The breathing was really helping. Out of nowhere, months of fog lifted in an instant. He had sunk as far as he was willing to go. He asked himself if this is what rock bottom feels like. If this is the clarity people get when they have nothing else to lose. He didn’t feel that hot, uncomfortable tight feeling that came with the rage. He was feeling something new in its place. A heaviness in the pit of his stomach. Sadness, depression – maybe despair, but most importantly it felt muted enough that it seemed controllable. He had to make a plan while he had this clarity on his side. Neil had no idea if this feeling of control would last.

“Listen, Tom. Do you really want to help me?”

“What kind of question is that? Of course I want to. You know I do. I've been here every day for months.

“No, that’s right, I do know. I know you’ve done so much to try to help. And I know I’m not making it easy. I can see the toll this is taking on you.”

“Yeah. But that’s what friends do.”

“I think most friends would have bailed by now. Hell, you’re the only one who still visits. The only people I see with are you and my physiotherapist.”

“I hear that’s going very well.”

Neil nodded. He glanced over at his cane, then down at his leg. He was doing really well. He knew that at this point his body had healed as much as it ever would. They had ramped down the physiotherapy. But wait. If his body has healed, why was he still here? He hadn't thought about it yet, but there’s no need to hospitalize someone who just needs physiotherapy once a week. Neil knew he was being a pain in the ass. Why hadn't they sent him home for physiotherapy and counseling? Putting things together, Neil had to wonder - did he wind up being committed? He strained to think past over the last few months. He had never heard the words, but surely his rage, his PTSD made him a risk. He had to know, right then and there. He tried to figure it out tactfully.

“Tom," he asked, "since the physio is so good, I'm sure I'll be getting out soon, right?"

Tom grimaced and looked away. “That’s probably a better question for your doctor.”

The comment made Neil recoil in horror. He thought he was being overly paranoid, but it turns out he was right. His mental state had wound up trapping him in this hospital. His mind reeled while he came to terms with what he had become. Just then, Neil saw Tom tense up and look down at the floor. Neil took this to mean that Tom was preparing for his reaction. Tom’s body language made it clear he was afraid of him. Neil couldn't blame him. For so many months, Neil flew off the handle at every small thing. He had terrorized the hospital staff, he had alienated the rest of his friends and family. Neil thought about the rage. Was it ever justified? He thought that being committed is probably as good a reason as any to fly into a rage, but he felt a kind of emptiness that was almost calming by comparison. He pondered whether this was just a new trick his mind was playing on him. Is this a new type of denial? No, he knew he had been committed. He knew that someone decided that he was a danger to himself and others. He knew that this was just the way they had to react to him. The logic of the decisions had eluded him for so long, but now he understood and the rage was nowhere to be found. Neil kept trying to wrap his head around his new emotional state when he realized that Tom was still bracing himself for a blow up. His mind shifted to reassuring his friend.

“Tom,” he asked quietly “If you want to help me, you’ve got to start treating me like you have since college. I've considered what you've told me and I think I can keep it together as long as you keep treating me like a human being. Like a friend instead of a dependent.”

Neil could sense that his quiet demeanor threw Tom off. He was dumbstruck.

“Did you hear me, Tom?” Asked Neil.

“Yeah, I’m just waiting for the rest of it.”

“There’s no more to say. You’re right. Rebecca wouldn’t want me to be living like this. I’m sad. I’m ashamed. I want to get better.”

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1 comment:

Richard Belzile said...

I never had notes in my old blog, so the older chapters that are being brought over probably won't either.

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I am Sinewave: Spark

Written by Richard Belzile

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I am not a professional author, this is my novice attempt at creating a novel in an episodic fashion. Comments, critiques and compliments accepted.

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