Part One: Red Flags
Ada walked down the long sterile hallway of the hospital, her dread mounting with each step. She knew why she was there, or rather, she knew as much as they had been willing to tell a friend over the phone. She was no relative, therefore she didn’t benefit from hearing the real story, only that Taylor was in recovery and was resting. And that visiting hours ended precisely at 8pm. Ada hadn’t been able to get herself to turn the key in her ignition for over 20 minutes and had sat in the waiting room unnecessarily for another 30 just trying to get up the guts to go down the hallway to see what had been done. Her watch was showing that it was now 7:30, which didn’t leave her much time. Maybe that was a good thing. What if she didn’t know what to say?
His room number was 114 and was at the very end of the hallway. The door was open partway and she could hear the sounds of the local news emitting softly from within. Taylor hated the news. He always said that it was so depressing that he only watched it when he needed to feel better about himself. She supposed he had a lot of that to do. He was laying on his back looking pale and unwashed. It was then that she realized it had been days since she’d seen him. She’d assumed that he was sick, even though Taylor was never sick. He was looking out the window into the dark, paying no attention to the television or the sounds in the hallway or the IV stuck into the top of his hand.
With great hesitation, Ada stepped into the room and cleared her throat. He jumped as if the noise had been much louder and he looked at her with wide eyes that immediately clouded over with an emotion she’d never seen in him before.
“Hey hun,” she said as she cautiously took another step inside.
“Hi Ada. What are you doing here… I mean, how did you…”
“Your mom called me. They’re on their way.” He nodded and looked back out the window.
“Yeah, I know. I wish they weren’t.” The bitter undertone in his voice showed through and she went to perch on the side of his bed.
“Taylor, they’re coming because they’re worried about you and because they love you.”
“They don’t have to be worried. I’m fine.”
“I’m fine,” he said sternly. His jaw was set and Ada knew to back off.
“If you’re fine, then why? Please help me understand. I had no idea that you were depressed or even upset about anything.”
“I’m not depressed.”
“I don’t know, okay? I. Don’t. Know. I have no idea why…” he started before taking a moment to compose himself, “I have no idea why I… why this happened today. I don’t have an answer for you. I don’t and I just need you to back off.”
“Well that’s just too bad because I’m not going anywhere until I figure out why my best friend of twenty years tried to do this to himself today and I had no idea that he was going through something bad enough to make it happen. I want to know for me, Taylor, not for you,” she said, unable to stop the tears that started flowing. She stood and went over to the window where she tried in vain to choke back the sobs she had been avoiding all afternoon.
“Ada. This is so not your fault or your problem. There was nothing you could have done to help me.”
“Oh that is such bullshit, Tay. I spend more time with you than anyone and if I couldn’t see the red flags then who could?”
“There weren’t any red flags, Ada,” he said and she could tell just from his voice how tired he was, “Please stop crying. Come here.” She went over and sat down beside him on the bed and allowed him to pull her close.
“You can’t ever do this again. Do you hear me? Whatever happens, we’ll get through it together.”
“I promise. I don’t even know why it happened this time. I really don’t, Ada. I’m not lying,” he looked down at her and brushed the hair from her face with his free hand, “I love you.”
“I love you, too,” she said before burying her face in his chest, letting her tears wet the front of his hospital gown. She held onto him tightly, reminding herself that he was still there. They just laid there together while the rest of the hospital whirred in its typical hectic way around them.
When the clock showed 7:58, Ada sat up and looked at Taylor, touching his cheek with her fingertips before getting up.
“What was that for?” he asked, barely cracking a smile.
“Just making sure you’re really here,” she managed, taking his hand in hers and squeezing it tightly.
“I’m not going anywhere.”
“I’ll be back tomorrow morning. I love you.”
“I love you, too, Ada.”
Ada cried the whole way home, unable to tell if it was from relief that he was still alive or from the horror of knowing that her best friend had been drowning in life and she had been none the wiser.
Part Two: Comfort Food
Ada returned the next morning and had tried her hardest to look rested and composed. In reality, she’d spent the better part of the night crying into her pillow. She knew that it was selfish, but she couldn’t help but wonder what her life would have been like if he had been successful. Would she have gotten to help plan the service? Would she have given the eulogy… would she have even been able to do that? The ‘what ifs’ kept mounting as sleep failed to come and it had resulted in some severely puffy eyes and a tiredness so severe it made her ache all over.
Taylor’s parents were in the room when she got there, none of them speaking. No one knew what to say, not even Taylor. Her arms were full and she struggled to bump the door fully open with her hip as she entered.
“Oh Ada, you’re here!” his mom said, bustling over to grab the cardboard holder containing two venti cappuccinos. Ada just gave her a weak smile and headed over to Taylor. No offense to his parents, but he was the person she wanted to see. She placed the plant on the table next to his bed and he raised an eyebrow at her.
“His name is Sam,” she stated before sitting on the chair next to him.
“The… plant’s name is Sam?” he asked.
“No, his name is Sam,” she clarified, pointing to the blue beta fish resting at the bottom of the bowl.
“How nice, Ada,” his mother said, standing there awkwardly and obviously not knowing her place in the situation. Ada had known them for forever, but not even a lifetime of familiarity could make the situation any more comfortable. “Why don’t we go get Taylor some more water?” She knew she couldn’t refuse. They left the room together with the empty ivory colored pitcher in hand and made their way slowly down the hallway.
“How are you doing, Mrs. Hanson?”
“As good as can be expected, I suppose. How is a mother supposed to feel when their child…” It was then that Ada realized that no one could say it out loud. Saying it made it real, and no one was ready to admit that just yet.
“How did he… I mean, I can’t see anything,” Ada attempted, not wanting to say it either.
“He crushed an entire bottle of Valium and mixed it in with peanut butter before putting it on a sandwich. I don’t know how he even got his hands on Valium, but that’s what the doctors said.” Ada couldn’t make her throat work to speak, so she just nodded. What had he been thinking while he mashed up the pills? What could have possibly made him want to do something like that… to end it all? And with his favorite food to boot. Peanut butter had always been a common bond between them. They called it their comfort food and would go through entire jars of super chunky in a single evening while watching TV or talking into the early hours of the morning. Now it would be forever tainted with this usage. It would never be a food Ada sought for comfort again, and somehow she knew that it would never again make its way into her grocery cart. “Did you have any clue at all that he was having a hard time?” Mrs. Hanson’s question startled Ada out of her internal conversation and almost made her drop the now full pitcher.
“I had no clue. He was still just… Taylor. We talked a little last night, he said that he didn’t even know why, and that there was no reason why I should beat myself up over not realizing… but how can I not? I’m his best friend,” Ada choked out against the tears she had thought were done falling. His mom stopped walking and pulled her into a tight hug where they stood in the hallway and cried until Ada didn’t think she could possibly shed another tear.
“He’s right, Ada. It’s not your fault. Maybe we pushed him too hard, I don’t know. He’s just always been so perfect. Perfect grades, perfectly behaved child, perfect everything. We never even thought that anything like this would happen, not to Taylor.”
“It’s not your fault either. I don’t really think the blame can be put anywhere. He just… I guess it just got too hard. What it is, I’m not sure, but…”
“If he tells anyone, it’ll be you, Ada. You’ve always been such a good friend to Taylor,” she said, patting her arm, “We should probably get back now. I think we’re going to go get some lunch.” They headed back to the room and as they entered, Taylor surveyed them with questioning eyes. Ada was perfectly well aware that Taylor knew what they were talking about. She almost felt guilty, but then realized that he would get over it. He always got over everything, or at least she had thought that he did.
“I think your dad and I are going to go get some lunch. We’ll be back in awhile. Do you want anything while we’re out?” his mom asked, stepping up to the side of his bed and folding her hands repeatedly without the knowledge that she was doing so.
“No, I’m not really hungry,” Taylor answered. Ada eyed the still mostly full tray of breakfast beside his bed and felt a twinge of worry, but it was forgotten once the conversation picked up again.
“Anything for you, Ada?” She just shook her head and stood beside Taylor’s bed. She was glad that Taylor’s parents were there even though all three of them were so uncomfortable they could hardly function. His father hadn’t spoken a single word. He had never been a man of many words, but he at least usually said hello and goodbye. Then again, none of them had ever been in this situation before, so none of them knew how to act.
The nurse came in as soon as Taylor’s parents left to check on his IV and she wanted to speak with him in private, leaving Ada to occupy herself in the hallway. She watched the people walking past. Doctors, nurses, patients, family members. Each of them was living their own little scene inside of an identical room. They were all worried, or scared, or sick, or busy. Some all of the above. Ada chewed on her thumbnail, something she hadn’t done since she was eleven. Taylor was the one who had gotten her to stop biting her nails. He had always taken care of her. Now it was her turn to take care of him, because he obviously needed some taking care of.
Part Three: Trapped
The nurse finally vacated Taylor’s room twenty minutes later and left the door open a crack, showing Ada that she could go in when ready. She was nervous, knowing that if they were ever going to talk about what had happened, that it would be then. Taylor didn’t like to dwell on things and talk about them for long periods of time. Ada couldn’t help but wonder if that’s what part of the problem was, that he just let things sit inside and fester instead of dealing with them when they came up. Sunlight was pouring in through the cheap off-white blinds, casting lines across Taylor’s face. It was then that she relized how exhausted he looked, as if he hadn’t gotten a minute of sleep the night before.
“Everything okay?” she asked as she sat down in the chair beside him once again. He nodded blankly and scratched at his leg with his non-IVed hand.
“They sure do ask a lot of questions.”
“I think it’s their job to ask a lot of questions. Did they tell you when you get to go home?”
“Once I start eating as much as they’d like me to. I just… I just don’t feel like eating.” They sat there in silence again and it made Ada so uncomfortable she almost couldn’t stand it. In the entire span of their friendship, they’d never enjoyed sitting in the quiet and would find ways to fill it with innane conversation, pointless TV shows, or blaring music. Now it surrounded them thickly and Ada feared she’d suffocate soon if it wasn’t broken, but she couldn’t do what she wanted to do. She couldn’t ask him why. He had been lying when he’d said that he didn’t know, she knew that much, but the prospect of learning the real answer was truly terrifying. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m okay. I just don’t really know what to say,” she replied honestly and took a sip of her now cold cappucino.
“They sent a minister in to talk to me last night. They said it’s protocal, but it just made me feel really uncomfortable. He kept looking at me like I was broken or something…” His eyes locked on Sam who was moving his fins idly. “He looks cramped in there.”
“I think he’s okay. That’s how they always sell them. He’s a fish after all.”
“That doesn’t mean he wouldn’t like a bigger bowl or something. He has to feel trapped in there under that plant.”
“If it’s upsetting you, I’ll take it with me when I go,” Ada said quickly, not wanting to do anything to upset Taylor.
“God, please don’t do stuff like that. Don’t walk on eggshells with me, Ada,” he demanded, his right hand balling into a fist.
“I’m sorry, Taylor, but I’m doing the best I can right now. For the first time in my life, I don’t know what to say to you and it scares the hell out of me!” she exclaimed, emotion filling her once again. Ada found herself pushing the heels of her hands into her eyes, trying to push back the tears. His hand on her shoulder brought her back to focus and she took a deep breath, “I just have things that I want to talk to you about and I don’t know how.”
“What do you want to know?”
“I think you already know the answer to that question, Taylor, please don’t make me ask.” He shifted carefully in the bed, trying to make himself comfortable on the hard, awkward mattress before starting.
“I’m a fraud,” he stated as if it was the most obvious answer in the world.
“How are you a fraud, Taylor?” Ada asked, desperate to know where that assinine comment had come from.
“I’m a fraud! I’ve accomplished so much in my life with absolutely zero effort. People praise me for being such a hard worker, for putting in the extra time, for going the extra mile, when in reality, I don’t do jack shit! I have never had to try for anything in my life, not to be a good student, not to be a good son, not to be a good employee. There are people out there, Ada, who work so hard every day just to scrape by. They’re the ones who should be getting recognition, not me!” he said, every word punctuated with anger and nearing hysteria.
“And I just sit there, Ada, and I don’t care about anything anymore. I don’t care if I fail. Hell, I wish I’d fail. I stopped studying. I started skipping classes, just hoping that someone would stop kissing my ass for once, and nothing! I got understanding smiles and courtesy As. I just wanted to feel something, Ada. Sick, angry, happy, hurt, anything. I just wanted to feel anything real, anything substantial, and not in shades of gray,” he took a deep breath before saying finishing, “Sometimes I feel nothing at all. And I just wanted it to stop.” Ada took a moment to take it all in before reaching over and taking his hand.
“Did you feel something?” she asked softly, sandwiching his hand in between hers and planting a kiss on his knuckles. His voice hardly came out, so constricted was his throat, fighting against the tears that were surely coming.
“Yes. I was so fucking scared, Ada. I didn’t want to die. I don’t want to die. Why would I do something like this? What the hell is wrong with me?” he pleaded, finally allowing his body to break down in deep, painful sobs.
“I don’t know, hun. But whatever it is we’ll get through it together. I’m not going anywhere.” He pulled her towards the bed and she settled there against his side, letting him officially expel what had happened from his body. She sat there with him while he cried and couldn’t help it when she joined him for a bit, unable to comprehend why he viewed himself the way he did and why he couldn’t see how wonderful he really was.
Part Four: Starting Back
Two days later, Ada drove Taylor back to campus. He still didn’t say much and hadn’t opened up again since his breakthrough, and she knew that he probably wouldn’t again without a lot of coaxing. Whether or not he responded or accepted it, she knew that she had things inside her that still needed to be said. There in the car, where it was truly just the two of them, she knew it was the perfect time to do so.
“Taylor, can I say something. You don’t have to say anything back, I just need to say it.”
“Okay…” he said hesitantly, obviously concerned with the possiblity of what she could say.
“You are not a fraud, Taylor. Just because you’ve been blessed with talent and intelligence and real kindness doesn’t mean that you don’t deserve to be recognized for it. And I know that it’s probably not what you want to hear right now, and I’m not trying to scold you about what happened. I just wanted to say that it makes me sad that you can’t see what everyone else sees.”
“Maybe everyone is mistaken about me.”
“Taylor, I’ve known you since we were in diapers. We’ve been through every good, bad, awkward, or developmental experience together. I think I know who you are by now. And I’m sorry that you’re feeling the way you are, but I hope I can help you realize what we all see.”
“Ada, you don’t have to butter me up, I already know that you care about me,” he said, a faint smile crossing his lips. She smiled triumphiantly and relaxed back into the seat for the first time.
“Well, I got you to smile, so that’s a start,” she said before turning up the volume of the radio, letting Rob Thomas’ voice fill her car. When they reached Taylor’s apartment building and headed for the door, Ada realized that she didn’t know how Taylor had made his way to the hospital. Would there be a mess anywhere? Did Taylor even want to be there afterwards?
“Home sweet home,” he mumbled, unlocking the door and going inside. Ada halted for a moment at the doorway before stepping lightly inside as if she was afraid to disturb something. Taylor noticed her behavior out of the corner of his eye and set the duffel bag his mom had brought him down on the table.
“I called 911,” he told her, answering her unanswered questions, “I sat on the couch until I started to feel sick and then I called.” Ada nodded and tried her hardest not to look as uncomfortable as she really was.
“Oh, I see,” she said, still not stepping away from the doorway, “Are you sure you want to stay here? I mean, you can stay with me for a few days, for forever, I don’t care. You know I don’t care.” He smiled at her and closed the distance between them, grasping her arms right above her elbows.
“Ada, I’m fine here. I’m the one who started it, I’m the one who fixed it, and now I’m the one dealing with it. I need you to do the same thing, okay?”
“I’m sorry, Taylor. I’ll be better, I promise.”
“It’s going to take time. We just have to start back, that’s all.” He picked Sam up from the table and made his way into the living room, placing him on the end table beside his favorite chair. Ada followed him and sat down in the chair next to his.
“Don’t you mean we need to start over?” He shook his head and sat as well.
“No, we don’t need to go all the way back, just a little ways,” he stated, grabbing the remote and turning on the TV.
That afternoon they watched their favorite shows and sat together for hours in a quiet that finally felt comfortable and like them. Ada knew that they would never forget all of this, that it would forever remain a part of their lives. She hoped that Taylor could really move on from it like he said he could, because she wasn’t sure that she would be able to, at least not for awhile. Despite what he said, she knew that she would be walking on eggshells around him and doing everything in her power to make him see once again that he was a good person who deserved what he had earned in his life. He wouldn’t like it, but he was going to have to deal with that as well.
As they watched TV, Ada did a great deal of watching Taylor as well. He was still Taylor. He still laughed like Taylor and concentrated like Taylor, but there was something hiding just beneath the surface of his skin, both obvious and ambiguous at the same time. She wondered if it would ever fade away. But when he looked at her and caught her eye, she felt her heart swell with emotion. He was exactly right. All they needed to do was start back, and she knew that somehow everything would wind up being okay.
“I should probably go. Early class tomorrow,” she said, pushing herself reluctantly from the chair. He stood along with her and pulled her into a tight hug without warning.
“We’re okay, right?” he asked, not releasing or relenquishing his grip on her body.
“Of course we’re okay. We’re always okay,” she answered, breathing easier as he finally let her go. She was almost to her car when she heard him call out to her.
“You could stay!” he yelled across the parking lot. Ada immediately turned around and went back to him. “You know, just for tonight.” Without a word, they went back inside. Yes, they would get back to normal, it would just take some time.