4.) Truth 4: Bradley
It’s Day 2 – week 1 – and you’re in rehab sitting in a Doctor’s office– having forgotten which Doc this is.
“So,” the woman says, shifting through your file. “You had a best friend die, right?”
No, you think. I made it up for shits and giggles.
Yeah, you say. When I was 18.
She looks up at you from the folder, her glasses pushed too far down her nose.
You have been asked this question eight times.
You’re over it.
Yes, he died– you think– Kaboom. Bam. Dead. Gone. Till eternity and beyond.
Was it an accident- or?
Accident, you say. He fell out of a tree.
She gives you the reaction– “That’s awful.”
Yeah, it was hard.
Had he been drinking?
You’re lying– and you know you’re lying.
But after all these years, you’re tired of people asking.
He was playing football and the ball got stuck up in a tree.
She looks at you.
He went up to get the ball or whatever– you pause– and when he came back down the branch snapped.
Terrible, she says.
You don’t know whether to agree or shrug it off.
You never know whether to agree or shrug it off.
So you just say “It was.”
She flips a bit more through your papers.
Do you feel like that’s when your eating disorder worsened?
I don’t know. I mean, I’m sure it’s one of the reasons, you say. I started going to the gym more- threw up more.
Saying this out loud makes you cringe.
But she says nothing- just writes in her notes.
You imagine what she’s writing-
“Threw up.” “Best friend dead” “18 years old” “Gym”
You look around the room – it’s small.
And you’re on the only lounger that could possibly be squeezed in here beside the desk and her Office Max swivel chair.
So what would you do then?
You shrug. I don’t really remember. I lost weight – sat on the elliptical, read on the treadmill, you pause. Binged cereal.
Right, she says, as though she hears this all the time.
And then you realize she does –
So give me a rough history after that.
And you do.
Like you’re pulling a knife out of your throat.
And when was the last time you purged? she asks, writing it down.
You pause – wanting to lie.
The night before I came here.
My boss’ apartment.
Boss’ apartment, she repeats, writing it down. What were you doing there?
She nods, “Okay.”
Your secrets hanging in the air.
Well Lindsey, she says finally. We have different programs available depending on patient’s history.
Would you be open to trying the Trauma Track?
You think about Bradley.
No, you say. It’s been 6 years. I don’t need the trauma track.
You’re lying, wondering if she’ll catch it.
Disappointed when she doesn’t.
And now – it’s 2 ½ weeks later and you’re sitting on your therapists couch the day after New Years.
So you called them? She asks. How was it?
Fine, normal. Good to hear their voices.
You’re close to his family?
They’re like second parents to me.
We haven’t really talked about your friend, she says. He died when you were young?
18, yeah. First month of college.
Can you tell me about what happened?
Sure, you pause. He died on a night I was watching Moulin Rouge in my dorm room.
Why do you think you remember that?
You shrug. Grief makes you remember weird things; insignificant moments.
I’m going to ask you to explain that.
You hate when she says that.
I don’t really know how, you say. I just remember random things about it– I remember I had 76 phone calls and my roommate was blow-drying her hair.
Is any of that significant?
You shake your head. No. It was normal – that’s what I remember. Everything was normal, and then it wasn’t.
She nods. And what was it like after?
In what way?
What changed? she asks.
You’re getting annoyed but don’t know why.
Everything changed, you say, flatly. But it obviously had to.
Do you think your eating disorder got worse?
It was getting worse before, you say. It just made it easier to blame on him later.
Alright, she says. So I’ll ask again – do you feel like your eating disorder worsened after he died?
Obviously, you say. But it was my choice.
What did you get from it? Can you remember?
Peace, you say– And then you feel selfish and try to explain– It was like we got a deadline to grieve–
We got this gifted amount of time and then we were just supposed to be over it – move on. Forget about it, you pause. I never forgot though – how do you ever forget something like that?
Okay, she says. So let’s talk about what that meant for your eating.
I don’t want to talk about my eating, you say. I’m so tired of talking about eating disorders I could scream. That’s all we do here – talk about food. I’m fucking sick of food.
She looks at you.
I’m sorry, you apologize.
Are you angry with me? She asks. I feel like you are.
You didn’t do anything.
I asked about your friend.
But I want you to ask about my friend– I want someone to ask about my friend.
Are you mad that I didn’t ask before?
I didn’t ask you to.
Maybe you thought I was supposed to.
You sigh. I don’t know.
Think about that tonight, she says. Think about how you communicate what you want from people.
You walk out of her room now– meet your friends in the hall.
You trail behind them to the cafeteria- stare at your baked potato and the grilled chicken when you sit down.
The tablespoon of sour cream –
You think about how Bradley used to order packets of sour cream in the Wendy’s line in high school; how you’d always thumb your nose at it and tell him he ate “like a sloth.”
You look over and notice Kenzie taking her cheese and flicking it around the table.
Watch her scrape her butter under her fingernails.
Lilly’s listening to her headphones again – her rap music blaring.
Bradley used to love rap, you think. Used to play it so loudly it hurt my ears.
The counselor barks at you to “eat mindfully.”
You look up at her; make a face.
You hate this counselor.
And you’re annoyed.
Annoyed by what specifically– you don’t know.
But you’re fucking uncomfortable.
A girl at the table over slams her plate on the ground because she got curdled milk.
A scene ensues – you’re tired of this, you think.
Just eat your food and shut up, you’re screaming inside.
Eat your food, you think – watching Kenzie smear butter under the table.
Eat your food and shut the fuck up.
So you do.
Because no one else will.
Shove it down your throat.
So you can hardly swallow.
So you can’t think.
Jesus, Lilly says at some point, pulling a headphone out of her ear; her eyes on your plate.
You ignore her –
Jacy staring at you with those glasses too big for her face.
You don’t know why you do it – but you do.
You eat food and you don’t care if anyone else does.
You’re so tired of everyone.
And you want to eat everything.
To eat everything on everyone’s plate.
Eat everything for everyone.
It’s 6:50 – you say when you’re done.
You point to the clock. Can I go?
The counselor comes by to check your food.
Lift your plate, she says.
Your napkin? She asks
You open it with your hands.
Okay, she says, looking for your tag. You on escorts?
You can go.
So you go.
You walk out and down the hall.
You throw your hoodie up–
You’re so mad – you don’t know why
You don’t know why everyone can’t just eat.
Just EAT, you think.
Eat your food.
You wander outside–
A spiral under your arm.
I miss you, you scratch into it_
With the pen you stole from the community room.
I’m sitting here, and I miss you.
You keep writing.
You don’t look at what you’re doing.
You just write.
My best friend, you scratch–
I’m still so mad at you.
And you etch it into your spiral again and again–
I’m mad that you’re dead.
And you know tonight–
that you’re thinking about it now like you thought about it then.
That you’ve been thinking about it–
Like you thought about it every day of every hour till you were so tired of it that you shelved him.
I’m bored with you, you screamed one night.
I grieved you all out best friend.
And now you just have to be dead–
You’re crying – that feeling like you can’t sit gnawing at your side.
I want to binge, you think. I want to stop it. I can’t do this; I can’t feel this; it hurts.
Stop this, you think. What can you do?
You had 6 years.
And the last time you saw him- the last time you felt his hand in yours- it was 9pm at a house party, and you were standing there in the front yard, backing away from him because you needed to finish your run.
You see his face tonight, remember his eyes. The way they caught yours when you weren’t looking for them. When you couldn’t look up.
“Linds,” he said, reaching out for your shoulder. “Just stay.”
“I’ll be back,” you laughed – your windshorts hitting your leg with the breeze. “I’ll run home and change and I’ll come back.”
You turned to go down the hill then– back to the sidewalk, your tennis shoes reflecting off the street lights.
“You’ll come back when you’re done?” He asked– yelling down the hill with a red cup in his hand– his shorts hanging at his knee.
Maybe, you waved, smiling. I’ll call Riley.
But you were gone before he answered–running.
Running because you’d eaten 3 bowls of Special K Fruit N’ Yogurt.
Running because you were scared–
That no one wanted you.
And when you were done, you didn’t go back.
“Goodnight,” you texted, “Have fun with Riley–”
You met his family in the morning–letter in hand.
Slipped it into his backpack as you hugged him goodbye.
I love you, you whispered– pulling him close.
Love you too, he said– Because he doesn’t know how to be mad.
Call me when you’re settled– Your friend patted him on the back, gave his mother a nod. Thanks for coming, glad ya’ll stopped on your way.
And you agreed–though you can feel his eyes when you said it.
See you soon, you waved as they pulled out of the parking lot– your best friend in the middle seat– his backpack with your letter.
You’ll see him soon–you know–you’ll make it up later.
And then you– my best friend– you carried me to bed when I fell asleep on the couch.
And one month later– my pretty little boy–
You fell from a tree–
And you died.
And now it’s 6 years later and you’re sitting here in the grass– with your knees to your chest–leggings stretched out over your kneecap.
And you, best friend, you are never coming back.
The grass strokes your ankle–
You’re never coming back-
You will always be dead–
And the world continues to move.
Give me some time, you screamed.
Just give me some time–
But it didn’t.
–Need a hand? You hear.
Somehow, you know it’s your counselor, but you don’t look up.
Maybe a Xanax, you mumble.
Can’t help you there, she says- amusement in her voice. But I can sit with you, if that’s okay?
You shake your head.
She sits down.
Lilly told me you were having some problems at dinner.
Kenzie’s hiding her food again, you tell her.
You don’t know why you just told her– but you did.
I know, Hillary says. All the staff knows–
And you don’t stop her?
Can lead a horse to water, she says. Can’t make them drink it.
So tell me what you’re blubbering about, Hall?
I don’t even know, you say, embarrassed and snot-nosed.
She nods. Yeah– you do that here. Everyone does.
My best friend’s dead, you say–
Immediately trying to take it back.
I mean– he died a long time ago. I don’t know why I just said that.
She let’s you sit with it.
So why are you thinking about it?
I don’t know, can’t it just hurt? You ask, snot running down to your mouth now. Can’t it ever just hurt for no reason.
Yeah, she says– in her monotone voice. It’s supposed to sometimes.
She knocks your knee with hers. So what are you gonna do?
I dunno– binge drink water? You joke. But it’s weak, and Hillary shakes her head.
Well– the fridge is locked but you can take a stab at it. I hear there might be some almonds in the couch.
Are you allowed to say that to patients?
No. I’ll probably get fired.
You snort. I don’t know how to do this, Hill.
Is this normal? you wonder. Is this really normal– sitting in the grass crying.
She shrugs. I think it’s pretty normal– people are just scared.
Is it weird that I remember everything about that night? you ask. It feels weird sometimes-
And it feels worse that I don’t think I can remember what was even real and what I’ve made up.
She agrees. Yeah, I did that too when my dad died.
Do you ever want to talk about him then? You ask. Do you ever just want someone to know he existed?
Sometimes, she says.
I feel like I can’t help it– I feel like all I want to do is talk about him, you pause. Why do we have to pretend to forget someone when they die? Why do we have to act like it didn’t happen?
You don’t, she says.
Yeah, you persist. But it’s like you get a one-year benchmark and then you’re fucked up for still talking about it, or like, you’re just needing attention, I don’t know.
You’re not as fucked up as you think you are.
You look at her.
Okay, she smiles. Well you are a littl- But you’re not just ’cause your friend died.
Is it supposed to still hurt like this?
Sometimes, she says. But you’re allowed to feel that.
And if I don’t want to?
She shrugs, Well what were you doing before?
I dunno, you pause. Binge eating sugar cookies from the deli.
You nod. They were some good cookies–
She smiles. Sit with it, Hall. Deal with it. Find something higher than you– that’s my advice.
Oh– the religion talk, you say.
No, she pauses. Spirituality is more than religion.
So they say, you pause. Still figuring that out I guess.
As you should, she says. But you’ve got a big life; I think you should recognize that. You’re gonna get out of here, Hall- you’ll be alright.
I know, she nods. Been doing this a long time- I know when I’ll see someone again.
You might though, you admit. Cause I dunno what the hell I’m gonna do after rehab.
Grow up, she says. Get a job– Write a book.
You roll your eyes. We’ll see.
You’ll figure out how to like yourself- she says. And when you do, you’ll let yourself hurt, and you won’t feel bad.
You gonna friend me on Facebook to check in?
She shakes her head. No, cause then I’ll really get fired.
You thank her for sitting with you.
This grass is poking my ass, you say.
She nods. You got a couple girls worried in there.
Are they playing Bananagrams?
Making friendship bracelets.
You smile. Jesus, this really is summer camp.
In a way.
Summer camp for the unstable–
She asks if you’re okay.
And you say you don’t know– but that you’re sitting with it and you’ll see.
So you walk inside.
You open the door– grass sticking to your black sweatpants.
Brush your butt off, she says– before you go in.
You catch yourself in the door’s reflection.
Catch your thighs when you turn.
I miss you– you think– And I’ll miss you always, best friend.
And what if it is- you wonder- that you can feel many things?
That your heart can ache-
And still be happy?
Is there such a thing? You’re not sure.
The truth is that you don’t know.
And you’re not sure of anything–
But right now- tonight–
You’re walking into the community room– and you’re missing your friend.
Olivia greets you at the door “Hello love,” she says in her fake British accent.
You alright, now? She continues–her eyes following you.
Yeah, you say. Being a baby.
I know– she says. We’re playing bananagrams if you wanna come.
You grin– I thought you were making friendship bracelets.
We were– She pauses– and then Lilly told us you were coming back and we knew you’d rather play Bananagrams.
You agree, I hate doing art.
We know– she says.
So you follow her to the floor–
Where six girls– with their leopard print pajamas and water bottles and collarbones– lie flat on their stomachs, game tiles spread out in front of them.
“Bananagrams,” you say to the group. “Let’s do it bitches.”
And you squat down– your elbows resting on a pillow on the ground.
Jacy smiles at you–
And tonight you think it’s okay to feel happy and hurt.
This is Rehab: Truth 4