Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language.
As the sweat drips down his voluminous jowls, I can’t help but to stare in partial disgust as I tap the end of my pencil to my chin. How can he just let it accumulate like that? Has he no shame? The clock ticks, all too loudly, penetrating my brain with every tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick tock goes the clock. Tick. Tock.
“Are you almost done, Oliver?” Dr. Samuels asks, leaning over my desk and dripping his translucent perspiration on the edge of the table. “It’s okay if you need more time.”
“Hm?” I avoid meeting his steel-gray eyes. “Oh, yeah. Almost done.” I stare back at the questionnaire and bite the eraser of my pencil.
I pretend to scribble something on the paper, biting my lip for effect. Dr. Samuels sighs and begins to write something down on the legal pad he always has with him. I eye him with suspicion. “What are you writing?” I ask.
“Are you done with the questions yet?” Dr. Samuels asks instead.
I frown. “No…” I continue scraping the tip of my pencil against my paper lightly. I hate these questionnaires that he gives me. They always say the same thing. “How are you? Are you feeling better? Has anything in your life changed? Are you happy at home?” In the beginning, I would always put the same thing on these papers, so, after about three times, I stopped filling them out. Dr. Samuels hates that, but I don’t really care. If he wanted a different result, he would stop giving me these damn surveys.
I hand Dr. Samuels the sheet of paper and lean back in my seat, brushing my dark hair out of my eyes. I arch my eyebrows at him as he balls up the paper and tosses it in the trashcan. He mops his face with a handkerchief. Finally.
“Do you enjoy wasting my time, Oliver?”
“Do you enjoy wasting my time?” he repeats, his eyebrows knitting together tightly.
“It seems like it. I can’t help you if you don’t cooperate with me. I made the questionnaire so you can communicate with me better.”
What type of bullshit is that? We both know that he doesn’t want to actually talk to me. It’s his job. That’s why he doesn’t make an effort, not that I care. It’s not my fault that he’s a lazy fuck.
“Oliver, do you want to get better?”
I don’t reply.
What does he know about me anyway? Nothing. That’s what. He knows nothing about me.
“Can I leave? I want to go home.”
“No, you still have,” he checks his watch, “thirty-five minutes until our session is over.”
“Well, I think I’m done.” I stand from my chair and head towards the door.
“Your choice. I’m still getting paid either way.”
I walk out the door without a single glance back. My mom is sitting in the waiting room, reading. She looks up as I walk towards her.
“Done already?” she asks, even though she already knows the answer. I leave around this time every week, without fail. I don’t know why she even bothers bringing me anymore.
“Yeah.” She closes her book, tucks it away in her purse, and stands up, hoisting her bag over her shoulder. I follow her out the door, stuffing my hands in my pockets and staring at the aglets of my shoelaces as they flop at my ankles. Once in the car (an old, rusted station wagon with tattered cloth seats and a disintegrating steering wheel), I kick off my shoes and put my feet on the dash.
Mom glances at me, opening her mouth in preparation to protest, but thinks better of it. “Did you and Dr. Samuels have a good talk?” she asks instead, starting the car engine. She winces against the noise.
“The greatest.” I lean against the window and close my eyes. The coolness of the glass soothes my skin. “You know, you don’t have to bring me anymore. I’m fine.”
“No, you aren’t, Ollie. You know that as well as I do.” I put my hands over my ears as she begins the “I’m doing this for you” speech that she drags out of her ass every chance she gets. How she works two jobs to pay for my therapy and medication. How my younger brother Michael can’t play football and soccer because I decided to have a nervous breakdown, and my hospitalization put a strain on her finances. How she’s not going to stop taking me to see Dr. Samuels until I get better.
I watch the pedestrians walking past us when we pause at a stoplight. Mom’s voice still drones on and on, but I ignore her words, having memorized her usual phrases. My eyes settle on a father carrying his son on his shoulders. The child hugs the father’s head, smiling happily as he plants a kiss on his cheek. I look away.
The next day, sitting on my bed at home, I put my hands on my knees, curling the hem of my shorts underneath my fingers. I begin shaking uncontrollably as the flood of images rapidly flashes in my brain. Dad. Dead. Dad. Dead. Dead. Dad. Dead.
I was five when I found him. I wanted to play catch in the backyard, and I was looking for him in the house. When I walked into my parents’ room, there he was, swinging from the closet doorway. His neck was rubbed raw from the rope, his hazel eyes glazed over and lifeless against his pallid skin. I remember walking up to him and shaking his leg, asking if he was ready to go play. When he didn’t respond, I thought he was playing, like he always would. But, when Mom came in from putting my then-toddler-aged brother down for a nap, she screamed, running over to him and pulling him down from his noose. I tottered over to her, still clutching my baseball glove, and asked her what was wrong. What was wrong with my daddy?
She didn’t answer right away. Instead, she sobbed uncontrollably, cradling my father’s head against her chest. She cried and cried. And cried. And cried. The alarm clock resting on Dad’s side of the bed ticked on, marking every second. Tick. Tock. It didn’t fully register with me until I saw that there was no way that my father was waking up again.
Dad was dead.
Dad was never coming back.
Dad was dead.
Mom was angry for a long time Angry at Dad. Angry at my brother and me for not understanding. Angry at my father for killing himself and leaving her with my brother and me, alone. She began to neglect me and Mikey in favor of a bottle of vodka. Then, my grandmother came to help for a long time. I don’t even remember when she came and when she left. Mom cleaned up eventually, for the time being, and there was no need for Nana to stay with us anymore. Years passed, and we moved on. Mom recently started drinking again when the panic attacks started becoming more frequent.
Baseball was the one thing that made me feel close to him. He and I both loved the sport, and he would always tell me that I was going to be the best, that I was going to be the greatest there ever was. Of course, now I know that those words really meant nothing, but, back then, I believed him every time he said it. After he died, I played religiously. I made Nana take me to the batting cages whenever she could, and would hit balls for as long as she would let me. When I could walk by myself, I would stay there for hours on end, returning home when either I would run out of change or when the owners kicked me out.
When I started high school, I was more than excited to join the junior varsity baseball team. I could finally connect with my father, whom I hardly remembered. I was desperate to feel as though I could be close to him, even though I didn’t know him that well. When I began to forget what he was like, Mom—when she was sober—would tell me stories about how kind he was, and how much he loved my brother and me. He would take me to get ice cream every time after going to the batting cages, and he would stay up at night reading and singing to Mikey. I never understood how a man that was supposedly so happy could commit suicide and leave his family behind. Mom was the only one that read his suicide note, and she promptly ripped it up afterwards out of a mixture of anger and sadness. I never asked her why he did it, as much as I wanted to know. I figured I just wasn’t supposed to.
Baseball tryouts went well. I made the team. But, when it came time for the first game, that’s when the flashbacks started. Dad giving me baths. Dad parking in front of the house and not letting me get out of the car. Dad touching me. This is how to be a man, son. Dad telling me not to tell Mom. This’ll be our little secret, alright? Dad swinging from the closet doorway. Dead. Dad. Dead. Dad. Dad. Dead.
I broke down at the first baseball game of the season, collapsing on first base, shaking and holding my head as an influx of memories bounced around my brain like ping pong balls. Apparently, this wasn’t the first time this happened. I would get the visions in dreams when I was eight, but, after they went away for a long time, I forgot about them. No one knows why the memories come and go like this. It was suggested by one psychiatrist that I repressed the memories so I wouldn’t spoil the good image of my father I had built in my mind. I don’t know what the right answer is, and I don’t really care. I just want everything to stop. I want to be normal again.
I don’t want to be the kid whose child-molester father committed suicide. I just want to go to school, graduate, and be normal.
I press my fingers into my temples, gripping the bottoms of my cheeks with shaking thumbs. The constant chattering going on in my head is deafening; I don’t even notice Mikey walk in. Dad. Dead. Touch. Dead. Dad. Rope. Dad. Touch. Dead. Tick. Tock. Dad. Tick. Dead. Tock.
“Ollie?” Mike says quietly. “Oliver?”
I don’t respond, but close my eyes against the noise of my mind.
“Mom!” Mikey shouts above the noise. I see him run out of the room in my peripherals, but I don’t dare move. I don’t dare call after him to come back. To tell him that I’m fine. To tell him that I don’t need the medication. The tranquilizers. I don’t need them. I don’t need them.
“Oliver!” Mom appears, forcefully putting the pills in my mouth followed by water. I fight against it, knocking the cup of water from her hands. I spit the pills from my mouth and roll away. Mikey straddles me on the ground, pinning me by the shoulders (although he’s two years younger, he’s significantly bigger than I am, being about five inches taller and weighing fifty pounds more).
“Calm down, Ollie. It’s okay,” he says. I take deep breaths, my chest heaving with every intake of oxygen. My vision becomes clearer, my mind sharper. Mikey lets me sit up, his hands still on my shoulders, while Mom hands me my medicine. I down the pills and water and succumb to the effects of Valium.
I slip into a sleepy hazeafter a few minutes, reduced into a sloppy heap on the floor while Mikey mops up the water. Mom sits on the floor next to me, her arms curled around her knees as she watches me closely. She’s saying something to Mikey, but I can’t hear her. It sounds like she’s underwater. She and Mikey look strange, all weird and fuzzy. Looking at them makes me even sleepier. I close my eyes, tucking my arms under my head and drifting into an easy slumber.
Ping. Ping. I hit the balls against the net as hard as I can, careful to maintain form. The sound of the baseballs hitting my metal bat is music to my otherwise deaf ears. The ill-fitting baseball helmet squeezes my head so tightly that my vision is blurred, but I don’t care. I needed to come here today.
Mom is in another one of her moods. The ones when she spends her Saturday in the bathtub with a few bottles of wine and a book she won’t read. She gets like this whenever I have an episode, and it usually leads to Mikey refusing to speak to her for a couple of days. He doesn’t understand. I would be the same way if my son was messed up like I am.
Ping. Ping. The balls stop coming, and I drop my bat against the hard concrete. It clatters unceremoniously, and I immediately regret dropping it so harshly. I lean it against the chain-linked fence and drag off my helmet, trembling slightly as the blood rushes to my head. Mikey is standing outside of the entrance/exit, holding the world’s tiniest baseball bat in one hand and his old baseball helmet in the other. When he was younger, before he discovered his love for football and soccer, I would force him to play baseball and come to the batting cages with me. When he became old enough to have opinions, he demanded that I stop making him come.
“What are you doing here? You hate baseball.”
“Thought you would want some company.” He brushes past me into the cage and drops a few quarters in the machine. He swaps his bat for mine and stands on the plate. He puts on his child-sized helmet and hoists his bat up to his shoulder. I pick up his bat, prop it between my legs, and lean against the entryway.
“Still fighting with Mom?” I ask, spinning my helmet in my hands. “You gotta talk to her eventually.”
“I don’t like the way she acts whenever you have an attack. She has no right to do what she does.”
I shrug. “I’d do the same thing if I was her. I can only imagine how hard it is to deal with me.”
“It’s not your fault, though.” Ping.
“Sure it is. I could’ve kept myself from becoming this fucked up.” I touch my head to the fence, staring at the oncoming baseballs as they approach Mikey’s bat. “I wish I could be better for her, you know? She doesn’t need this.”
“It’s not your fault, Ollie. You didn’t do anything wrong.” The balls stop coming, and he turns to look at me, dragging the helmet off his head. “She has no right to drink herself into a stupor because you’re ‘fucked up.’ That’s not what mothers are supposed to do.”
I look down at my shoes and bite my lip. “You don’t know what’s going through her head. This is probably so painful for her, especially since she had almost gotten over losing Dad. I-I bring up bad memories.”
Mikey rolls his eyes at me. “I think that’s just an excuse for her to get drunk.” He puts a couple more quarters into the machine and pulls the helmet back on.
“When did you become so insensitive?” I ask with a sigh.
“Just being real, big brother.” Ping.
I turn my face and look at the father and son in the cage next to us. The father is coaching the boy, who is approximately seven or eight years old, guiding him through the motions of hitting the baseball. Pressing my cheek against the metal of the gate, I feel a stab of envy. That kid will probably get more years of doing this with his father. His dad will show up to his games, tell him the same, tired, cheesy jokes, and buy him his first car. His dad will be there for his graduation. His dad will be there for all of his milestones, and what do I get? A miserable drunk of a mother and an overprotective younger brother.
“C’mon, Oliver. Let’s go get some lunch,” Mikey says. He puts his hand on my shoulder and smiles. I don’t want his sympathy, but I follow him anyway.
“What is wrong with you?!” my mother screams at me, chucking her frying pan straight at my head. It crashes to the ground loudly. “Why can’t you be normal, like Mikey?”
I simply stare back at her in shock, while Mikey rushes to my defense.
“Don’t talk to him like that! Why do you have to be such a heartless bitch?!”
Mom recoils into herself. Her eyes glimmer for a moment, and she takes a step back, the wine bottle in her hand dropping to the floor and spilling its sanguine liquid onto the dark wood. She sways for a moment before leaning against the kitchen counter. She reaches for the bottle of scotch resting next to the stove. She never touches the scotch; it was Dad’s. It was Dad’s favorite scotch. Dad. Dead. Dead. Dad.
I glance up at the clock positioned above the dining table, avoiding the tension flaming in the room. I begin blinking rapidly, nausea rattling my stomach.
“Why are you behaving like this, Mikey? Why are you being so mean to your Mommy?” Mom asks with a pout, unscrewing the top of the scotch bottle.
“Because you’re a drunk.” Mikey snatches the bottle from her hand and screws the top back on tightly. “And, you’re a terrible excuse for a mother.”
“Mike…” I reach out to tug on his sleeve. The clock begins ticking louder and louder, the cartoon chickens dancing in the background seeming to laugh louder with each passing second.
“Not now, Oliver. Let me handle this.”
Nausea becomes replaced by rage. “I don’t want you to handle anything! I can take care of myself!”
“Ha! You can’t do shit,” Mom says, picking up her wine bottle and taking a long draught. She continues laughing, sinking to the ground and taking more swallows of alcohol. “You’re worthless. I should’ve aborted you when I had the chance.” She laughs again, the loudest, cruelest, most boisterous cackle that slaps me right in the face and numbs by entire body.
Mike begins shouting insults at our mother, his face purpling with anger as it splotches on his face. Mom fights back. I kneel down to stare into my dark reflection in the spilled red wine. I don’t like what I see.
What happened to me? I don’t recognize the face in the reflection. The permanent dark rings beneath my eyes. The oily mop of hair plastered against my acne-riddled forehead. The sunken-in cheeks turned sallow from the combination of malnutrition and medication.
I am worthless.
All I ever do is cause her grief. What have I done to help lately? I can’t get a job because of the panic attacks. I lost all of the people I care about because I went off the wall. I lost my friends, most of my family, my girlfriend. And, when Mom’s not drunk, she’s working, working hard to pay for my mistake. She makes Mikey play community sports, because, when he’s not playing, he wants to work to take care of us. I told him not to bother, because I need him to make sure that I’m okay.
Is that selfish of me? I shouldn’t be holding him back. I should be making sure that he goes to practice, that he has his uniforms ready. I should be out in the backyard, practicing with him. I should be talking to him about his girlfriend, who he refuses to bring to the house on account Mom and me being batshit crazy.
While Mom and Mikey continue exchanging insults and banter, I stand up and back out of the kitchen. I trudge up the stairs, my heart pounding in my chest, and I lock myself in my room.
It’s Dad’s fault. It’s all Dad’s fault. Dad’s fault. He did this to me. It’s Dad’s fault.
TICK! TOCK! TICK! TOCK!
Why is it mocking me? The clock I have against my wall? What did I ever do to it?
My bottom lip trembles, but I bite it to keep it still. I miss those distant days when my mother was happy. I miss the days before that first attack, when I was Mikey’s caretaker, shielding him from Mom and the effects of the bottle.
I hate him for turning me into this. I hate him for leaving me. I hate him for leaving my family. For turning my mom into a drunk. For turning Mikey into the older brother, when it should be me. I hate him for molesting me. For damaging me. For driving me insane. For ruining my life. I hate him. It’s all his fault.
Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tickticktickticktickticktick.
Hot tears burn my eyes, and I shut my lids against the pain. The hot liquid seeps between my closed eyelids, running down my face. Make it stop, make it stop. I curl up in a fetal position, my knees tight against my chest. I teeter upwards and begin to rock back and forth. I choke on my sobs as they come, begging for the memories to cease as they flood my brain. I begin to shake. Desperate gasps escape from my lips as I squeeze my eyes shut.
Dead. Dad. Dead. Dad. Dad. Dead. Tick. Tock.
His bulging eyes. The redness around his neck from the stress of the rope. Asphyxiated blue face. Crisp, navy church suit stained with the blood from his wrists and neck.
Someone make them stop.
I sit up, and with a trembling hand, I reach for my anxiety medication. I pour out the rest and stare down at the little blue pills, tears continuing to well in my eyes. I’ll show him. He can’t make me miserable for the rest of my life. I’ll show him.
I scarf down the tablets, every last one, and wait. Wait for death to grip me. Wait to be released from this hell of a life that I’ve been living. Wait to be free.
I slide down onto the floor and wait. The images in my mind slow to a stop, and my eyes begin to droop. I’m so overcome with tiredness that I tip over, my head banging against the floor, although I barely feel the impact. I give a shuddering sigh. Then, I seize. I’m shaking and trembling on the ground as my head rattles against the floor.But, I can’t help but to smile. I’m finally getting the reprieve I want. I’m going to be free from this horror that is my life.
Pain shoots up my spine, a sharp, stabbing pain that rests in the base of my neck and spreads through my skull. I blink, my vision becoming more blurry with each tremble. A calming darkness floods my vision, and the last thing I hear is the door being kicked down as my brother stumbles into the room. I smile at the darkness. I’m ready to go. For the first time, the clock ticking in my head chimes, signaling a new hour.