Powerful Drugs

Nod Ghosh 2013

I’m not overly enamoured with the bunch of suicidal misfits I’ve ended up with. But this week it’s my turn to speak. The floor is mine for half an hour. One of the others tells me he’s got himself a notebook, and writes down how he feels. He writes about everything that led up to the moment he attempted suicide, says it’s therapeutic. So I’ve tried doing the same. I flick through my red notebook, tweak a word here and there, and make sure I can read my writing. I contemplate whether I can talk to seventeen people about what happened.

“After Steve told me, I’ve found it really difficult to keep everything together…”

I read on. Since my illusion of happiness was shattered, I have found it difficult to keep everything together. I was feeling emotional the day my husband told me he was having an affair. It was a Wednesday. Pink, blue, white and purple flowers, hundreds of them, were floating on the River. Sharon and I went out in our lunch break, stood on the bridge, and dropped several heads of agapanthus into the slow flowing tar coloured water. I made a silent wish, to bless the families of the 185 people who died in the city a year ago. I was struggling with the memory of the chaos and catastrophe caused when the earth had kicked us in the guts, spilling masonry and snuffing out lives. The eerie atmosphere in the hospital, stony-faced countenances, armed soldiers on the streets in tanks, piles of grey silt. A year later, it still haunted me. I wanted a shoulder to cry on when I got home. Instead, Steve asked me to sit down, and told me he was seeing somebody else. No preamble. No warning. The tears I’d been suppressing all day came pouring down my face, and he walked out of the room.

“At first I carried on going to work. I wanted people to think everything was normal. I think if they thought it, I could pretend it was too.”

Over the next few weeks, I went through the motions. I didn’t miss work. I went on quiz nights with Sharon and some of the other girls from the ward. I never told a soul that Steve was fucking someone else. I never said he was disappearing for three or four consecutive nights. I never told them he’d even stopped lying to me about the regular ‘conferences and meetings’ he just told me he was going to see her. I never told them why my eyes were puffy and swollen after I’d screamed at him. I blamed an eye infection. I never revealed the fact that I was sleeping alone in our king size bed, whilst Steve slept in the spare bedroom. He watched television in there, alone. I lied about us sharing meals. I still cooked for two, but he’d go out and grab a takeaway, and I’d graze at my leftovers for the rest of the evening. Soon I stopped cooking. There was no point. And there were always cashew nuts.

“I eat cashew nuts when I’m sad. I eat them when I’m stressed. I eat them when I’m angry”.

I never told any of my friends that he’d asked me to move out. He said he had rights, because his parents had helped with the house deposit. I didn’t tell Sharon why I was asking for the name of a good lawyer. Every day I’d paint on a veneer of foundation and perfect a pseudo-smile for the patients at work.

Inside I was breaking.

Some mornings I found it hard to take the next breath, because the leaden pain of abandonment sat on my chest threatening to suffocate me.

“I tried to see my doctor when I knew I couldn’t make it on my own anymore.”

I made an appointment to see my GP. She was on holiday, and I was offered a locum. He looked to be about seventeen years old.

“I…I’m having trouble breathing.” I tried to control the waver in my voice.

Only after much poking, probing and auscultation, I revealed there was nothing wrong with my respiratory system, more a metaphorical loss of life giving sustenance, because the things I held dear had been torn out of me.

The teenage GP looked at his watch, and then sighed. He clicked on his computer terminal, and selected options from a panel on the left.

“Are you a danger to yourself? I may have to admit you if you are…”

Oh Jesus.

“No, I’m not going to do myself in,” I tried to take the exasperation out of my voice.

“Perhaps we’ll give you some anti-depressants.”

“Well…I need something.”

He started to tell me how the drugs would take two to three weeks to kick in, and I could increase the dose later if necessary. The boy looked into my eyes with an earnest expression he probably kept in a box in the shelf along with his medical texts.

“When we have nervous breakdowns, we sometimes…”

“I’m a nurse.” I hoped the revelation that I was also part of the medical ‘club’, would suppress his patronising manner, but he carried on with his spiel. He finished by handing me a leaflet to help me with my ‘weight problem’. I was glad to get out of there with a prescription in my hand. I forgot to pay for the consultation.

“For weeks I waited for the oval egg coloured ‘happy pills’ to do something.”

All I noticed was a clawing nausea, and I started having trouble concentrating. I stopped taking them. Our house became a battleground.

And then one day, without any explanation, Steve left.

“The day I actually did it was a clear blue skied Thursday. I have it marked in my diary, with two small ovals. Thursday 15th March 2012, two ovals in blue pen.”

I woke up inappropriately early on the Thursday. It was my rostered day off. I normally looked forward to a lie in, but the absolute silence was like a siren keeping me awake. It was still dark. The only thing that had kept me sane since Steve packed his clothes and left the previous Saturday was the routine of work. When I’d got home on Tuesday, there were gaps in our house. All his books had been carefully extracted from our bookshelf. It looked like an old man’s mouth, a few remnant teeth, in a sea of pink gum. There was a pale rectangle on the lounge wall, where the painting of a rooster had hung. Several things were missing from the study. At first I couldn’t tell what they were. I went to turn the desk lamp on, but it wasn’t there. Piles of CDs, re-filed in random order, his favourites picked out, probably sitting in a box wherever he was living. With her.

He’d only taken one photo album, Joel’s baby album. Some may say that was a cruel thing to do. But a man that leaves his wife for her ex-best friend isn’t a man who considers her feelings above his own. I thought about Joel. Perhaps the album belonged with his father. Steve had always been closer to our son than I. Sometimes I thought I was just a peripheral extra in their lives. I regularly e-mailed Joel in London, but it was all bullshit. Happy family home and garden bollocks. I made no mention of the fact that his father was tearing our world apart. I hadn’t contacted him since the weekend. Perhaps I’d wait until he actually replied to one of my messages. I couldn’t remember when he last did. Steve would probably tell him he’d left me anyway.

“I tried to read a stupid magazine for a while…”

I poured out a bowl of cashew nuts, turned the lounge lamp on, and sat on the sofa. I wrapped myself in a throw, and ate nuts whilst flicking through a women’s magazine. I read about the disputed paternity of a celebrity couple’s child. I poured out another bowlful of nuts, and devoured them whilst flicking through photos of aging beauties, wrecked by plastic surgery. They looked like angry cats. A third helping of nuts, and I started to feel sick. But I cleared the bowl. The yellow lamplight made everything look warm, even though my feet felt like slabs of chicken breast, fresh out of the fridge.

“I started asking myself questions. They were really bad questions.”

I felt wretched, and thought about what would happen if I weren’t there anymore. Who’d notice? Who would it affect? Perhaps Steve had done me a favour by taking Joel’s baby album. I’d never really been a good mother to that child. I was nothing to him. Who else loved me? My mother? She’d taken my father away from me when I was little. I wasn’t sure if I loved her. Anyone else? There must have been someone. But at that particular time, I couldn’t think of anyone, who justified the continued pain of my existence.

“I looked for my Celexa in the bathroom. They were the tablets the substitute GP had prescribed. They’d done bugger all for me. I thought perhaps they could help me now. I didn’t deserve to be happy. I owed a debt. I’d owed it for nearly three decades.”

I can’t talk to them about that. It will be easier to tell them how I wilfully tried to kill myself, not another human being. Once again I wondered if I should have killed myself a long time ago. Did I earn the right to lead a happy life all these years after I killed someone? But then that happiness was just a travesty.

I drove towards town. The morning sun picked out sheets of gold against the grey blue of the estuary. I turned up one of the steep roads that took me to the Port Hills. When Joel was a baby, I used to walk up that hill, pushing his wobbly old buggy. Now I’d be hard pushed to walk up it on my own. My Nissan screamed in defiance, as I tried to get it into the correct gear. Pulling up on the side of the road, I waddled to one of my favourite spots, breathless. A troop of joggers bounced past me. One of them looked back, staring at my waistline, no doubt in judgment of how enormous I’d allowed myself to become.

I took out my water bottle, and took three long slugs out of it, making sure I didn’t finish it all. Rose pink shards of light against the velvet blue sky mocked me, almost too beautiful to look at. I sat on the grass, felt the dampness seep through my track pants. The Alps screamed out for attention. A recent Southerly had dusted the tops with snow. A hazy mist separated the mountaintops from their bases, pink peaks of candyfloss floating in the sky.

I pushed several little eggs from a blister pack, and laid them out on my track pant leg. Then I pushed some more out of a second leaflet.

“No one ever tells you how boring suicide can be. If I’d realised it was going to be such a long haul, I’d have brought book. What would you read? Would it be your favourite book? Something depressing? Something funny? Would you be able to concentrate? Perhaps an I-pod would be better. But hey, we’re not supposed to be enjoying ourselves here. Make sure you choose something suitably sombre.” (I imagined my audience tittering at this point).

The multi-coloured sky became a bright cerulean sheet. My legs were quite damp from the dew, and I was cold. Uncomfortable too. It wasn’t often I sat on the ground for prolonged periods. The joggers came hurtling past me again, giving the same critical looks.

I mouthed ‘fuck off’. I wish I’d shouted it. When you’re going to die, you shouldn’t really care should you? But I couldn’t do it.”

My heart was racing, even though I’d been inactive for an hour, my fingertips felt numb and looked blue. I stood up. It wasn’t easy, as my leg had gone to sleep. I walked back to the car and sat inside for a while. I turned the ignition on to warm myself up. Perhaps if I’d had the foresight to bring a length of hosepipe, I could have connected that up to the exhaust. I looked in the glove compartment. I found an old AA magazine, and read a few pages, thinking ‘this might be the last thing I ever read’. The Nissan vomited out ugly brown smoke. It didn’t seem to enjoy standing still. Some walkers gave me a filthy look as they passed me. I didn’t feel the slightest bit drowsy, so I pulled out, turned the car, and headed back down the hill. I parked near the estuary.

“I ended up walking on the beach.”

I walked in the grey sand, shoes in my right hand. The ashen grains, damp and heavy, squelched between my toes. I’d walked for about a hundred metres and was so out of breath I had to sit down. The clean sea air cut through my nostrils like decongestant. I fiddled with a fragment of seashell, and dug little holes in the sand with a stick. Two kids appeared, and threw a ball around. I wondered why they weren’t in school. One was about ten years old, with tangled fair hair. Screeching with delight he stretched up to catch the black and white ball. An older child in his teens, ran to the younger one, picked him up, and turned him upside down until he was squealing with laughter. They sat down and started digging in the sand. I remembered playing with Hazel when she was small, her tinkling giggle insuppressibly infectious. The younger boy stood up and darted in my direction, closely followed by the other. He ran straight past me, towards the cafe that looked out to the ocean. I could almost feel his breath as he passed me.

“It was when the little boy fell over in the sand, that something changed. Something jolted me back to my senses.”

The boy tripped over something I couldn’t see, and skidded in the sand. He must have grazed his knee. He was at that in between sort of age where a child knows he can’t start weeping disconsolately, but sometimes he can’t help it. I watched his face crumple like a six-day-old balloon. The older boy caught up with him, sank to his knees and put his arm around the child’s shoulders.

“‘Hey, it’s OK, you’re strong,’ I heard the big kid say.”

I watched the teenager comfort the youngster.

“Hey, it’s OK, you’re strong,” he told him, rubbing the sand off the child’s bloodied knee. And then I started to see something I hadn’t seen before.

“Hey, it’s OK, you’re strong.” It was Pete. My brother. I could see Pete comforting Zed. I knew it wasn’t really Pete, but at that moment, the older child had become Pete, comforting my nephew, who was crying because he’d lost ‘Hannie’, his favourite aunt.

I’d taught Zed to use watercolours. The picture in my pantry: the seven and a half suns, was Zed’s ‘alternating universe’.

“Don’t you mean alternative universe?” I’d asked when he’d painted it, not long after the September earthquake.

“No. Alternating. Because it keeps changing.” He’d wiped the snot from his nose on his sleeve before I could stop him, and dipped the brush into a golden blob on the palette. “Today there’s one planet and seven and a half suns, tomorrow it’ll be the other way round.”

“But how can you have half a sun? Doesn’t that go against the laws of the universe?”

“No. Different laws in an alternating universe.” An eight-year-old’s simple logic.

“It’s when I started seeing the older boy as my brother (in-law) Pete, and the younger one as my nephew Zedoary, that I got really scared about what I’d done.”

The boys walked away. I got scared. It wasn’t so much the thought of not seeing Zed again. It was the thought of Pete having to explain what I’d done. I couldn’t let that happen. This time, I had even more difficulty getting up. The muscles in my legs were twisting and going into strange spasms. I took my mobile out of my pocket, and rang Sharon.

I put my notebook away. I’m not sure I can read this out to them. It hurts too much. But if I do have a go, it’s got to be better than the speaker we had last week. She told us she feels like she’s living on borrowed time since she took enough paracetamol to kill an elephant. She did it years ago, but she still comes to the support group, because she still has her demon tapping her on the shoulder, nudging her to do it again. She’s just been diagnosed with breast cancer, and she’s going to have surgery. She’s going to go through all that, but you get the feeling there’s little point, because the thing that will probably kill her before the cancer can, is her own dangerous mind.

“I’m living on borrowed time,” she told us, “and if this disease takes me, part of me will be glad.” A gasp had gone through the group. We weren’t supposed to endorse negative views. “I’ll be glad, because although I’ve had a good life, I’ve had a huge amount of sadness too. I look forward to death in some ways, as a final release. Death will be a gift if it comes this way, because it won’t be by my hand. My family won’t have the stigma of knowing I was one of those cowards who couldn’t hack it anymore.”

Yeah, I think I will read it. I reckon I’ll do better than she did.