A novel by Denny O’Rourke
Click, click-the sound of a fully cocked gun can mean a lot of things. Right now that sound simply meant a life was about to end. Derek pressed the pistol into his left temple, taking a deep breath. This was it. The time had come. He reached for the car radio and hit the CD player button. The song that came on was Bleeding Out by Imagine Dragons. Derek cranked up the volume and closed his eyes. He couldn’t believe this was what it had come too. Taking another deep breath, thoughts of Catherine came into his mind. He began to cry. “I’m sorry Catherine. I’m sorry for everything,” he said.
Derek placed his left index finger on the trigger of the gun and began to count aloud, “One…Two…
Knock knock, came the loud sound of someone rapping at Derek’s passenger side window. Nearly jumping out of his skin, Derek dropped the gun in a panic. It hit the driver’s side door with a clunk and fell to the floor without managing to go off. He picked up the gun quickly, activated the safety and placed it in the glove box of the car.
“I’m such a fuck up. I even botch my own suicide," he said aloud.
Turning down the radio, Derek let out a saddened sigh and rolled down his window a little. It was one of his friends from group, Lucas Jenkins. He was a good guy for the most part: high school dropout who spent a little time in jail, got into drugs and eventually found God and got his life back on track. All by the time he was 27. Every time Derek would see Lucas he would always think of Seth Rogen as he looked very similar. Derek chuckled in his head for a moment as he thought of Lucas instead of Rogen in the movie The Interview.
“Hey Derek." Lucas said. He leaned down, pulling the hood to his dark blue poncho tightly around his head.
"Hey dude, what's up?" Derek asked very nonchalantly.
"Not much man, would you mind if I get in? It's pouring out here, "Lucas said.
Derek nodded approvingly as Lucas opened the passenger door to the car and stepped inside, rolling up the window. He had been oblivious to the thunderstorm that was currently brewing outside. He leaned down, peering over the steering wheel of the car to get a better view of the storm through his windshield. It was raining cats and dogs.
Lucas pulled the hood from his head and put a hand on Derek's shoulder. "I saw you sitting out here, thought I'd come see if you were alright. I mean, how are you? You look like shit man." he said.
"To be quite frank with you, I've seen better days my friend. I am alive though and I am breathing." Derek said.
"That's what counts though brother. You are here and you are seeking help. I know it sounds cliche, but there is light at the end of your tunnel. I'll do my best to help you get there. That's what friends are for right?" Lucas asked.
"I suppose so man." Derek said.
"Damn right. Now pull yourself together and get your ass inside. Suicide is never the answer," Lucas said most firmly.
Derek tried to protest, "Yo, I wasn't trying to do..."
Lucas replied, "Can it. I'm not stupid. I've known you almost your entire life. The accident has left you in a real mess. I get that. You've got to pick up the pieces though and put the puzzle back together again."
"You're right," Derek said placing his hands on the steering wheel. He looked down at it ashamed.
"Come on Derek, you can do this. Group is about to start in five minutes and we've got this new guy tonight, Mr. Barnes or something I think. Apparently, Mr. Davis is out with the flu. No telling how long he'll be out. Are you going to be okay? If you want to pass on tonight it's cool, I understand," Lucas said.
Derek gave him a fake smile and replied, “I got this. Let me enjoy the rain for another minute, then I'll head in."
Lucas looked at him for a second as if he didn't believe him but then went on to say, “Alrighty. I’ll see you shortly.” He then got out of the car and pulled his hood back over his head. He then walked back across the parking lot from where he came and disappeared into the night.
Leaning all the way back against the seat, Derek ran his fingers through his short brown hair and exhaled deeply. " I hate these stupid meetings." He hit the steering wheel with his right fist a few times, then stepped out of his car. What lied before him was TC Walker Elementary School. (The school had been closed now for a few months and the remaining students were split up into Gloucester County’s last remaining elementary schools. Since the school was vacant now; lots of community groups were coming forward trying to make use of the space). Derek popped the collar up on his black trench coat, he sighed deeply, "Here we go again."
Making the walk toward the school slowly, Derek took his time as he sauntered up the steps until he had nearly reached the front doors. It was as if he were a cowboy taking his twelve paces in a duel. All of a sudden the weirdest feeling came over him. He felt like someone was standing right behind him. Turning his head slightly he peered over his right shoulder, nothing. No one was there. No one was ever there. Not anymore anyway. All you would fine nowadays are the negatives of a once happy life. Derek opened one of the doors and made his way down the halls, still taking his time. He was in no rush. He took his index finger on his right hand and touched the wall as he walked, tracing a line in the wall all the way down until he reached the auditorium at last. It was something he used to do as a kid in school. It was something we all use to do as kids.
As Derek approached the auditorium doors, he recognized a lady from his group who was seated with her back turned to him, chatting away on her cell phone with someone. It was a conversation about the weather from what Derek could overhear. The lady’s name was Sheryl Edwards. She was all in all a sweet lady, well, when she felt like it. To make a long story short, Sheryl was bi-polar and didn’t always like to take her medication. Needless to say we all know how bi-polar people get when they do not take their meds. Not exactly someone we want to be around. Most unfortunately, poor Derek knew this from personal experience. He used to work for Sheryl as a bartender at a bar she once owned/operated in Williamsburg about seven years ago. (Williamsburg was the place of Derek’s birth-where he spent the first 18 years of his life). One night he would come into work and she would act like surrogate mother of the year to him and then turn around to try and bite his head off the very next-for no reason at all. Naturally, as a result of his experiences with Sheryl, Derek was always on guard when he encountered her as he never quite knew what kind of day she would be having. To put Sheryl into a more vivid perspective, she was a living, breathing version of Ms. Ouiser Boudreax from Steel Magnolias but bi-polar.
As avoiding talking to her at this point would be next to impossible, Derek decided to initiate the formalities and get them over with. “Hey Sheryl,” he said.
Sheryl turned in his direction and smiled upon seeing him. She held up one finger to him and she said her goodbyes to the person whom she was speaking with on the phone. “Hey sweetie, I've got to run. Yeah, my support group is about to start here soon. Okay, I will talk to you later. Love you son. Bye,” she said.
She closed her cell phone and stuck it into her purse. “Derek, honey how are you?” she asked. She rose from her chair and pulled him close for a warm embrace.
“I’m as good as can be expected I guess. How about yourself?” Derek replied as he stepped back, pulling away from their embrace.”
“I’m alright I suppose. I can’t complain,” she said almost apathetically.
"Who would listen if you did though? Am I right?" Derek said jokingly. He and Sheryl both laughed.
"Please do me a favor and take that trench coat off before you catch your death. It's soaked," Sheryl said. Derek complied as he knew there was no point in arguing with her. He spotted an empty hook on the wall near the door to the auditorium and threw his coat on top of it.
"So tell me Sheryl, you said you're alright, I mean, how are you holding up?" Derek asked as he focused his attention back on to Sheryl.
“Things just aren't the same without my Charlie around anymore, you know? My house and bed are so empty. Good thing I have my two boys, Ben and Jerry to help me fill the void,” she went on to say.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Derek said, trying to sound as sympathetic as he possibly could.
One thing Sheryl neglected to mention was that she had started to become a major alcoholic. Often times she would chase down her medications with shot after shot of her favorite vodka, Bluegoose. Sheryl never really talked about her loss much. Derek respected that as he never talked about his, period. Truth be told though, Sheryl wasn’t exactly sober before losing her husband Charlie to a massive heartattack. The loss just made things worse, much worse.
“I know you’re sorry, now apologize,” Sheryl said jokingly. Derek offered a chuckle to her. “You have nothing to be sorry for. It’s a part of life. We lose the ones we love. We live, we die, and the wheels on the bus go round and round,” she said.
“We live, we die, and the wheels on the bus go round and round. That’s quite poetic. Did you make up that bit of iambic pentameter all by your lonesome?” Derek asked sarcastically.
Sheryl smacked him on the arm. “Knock it off wise guy and do me a favor and cut the small talk. I want to know how you're dealing with all the grief bottled up inside you," she said. "Don't tell me otherwise, I can see it written all over your face," she continued.
Derek took a deep breath, anger fanning the inferno of his other emotions, “What's there to say, Sheryl? I'm a fucking wreck. The layers of guilt and remorse on my conscience are so thick, you could cut them with a knife. I'll tell you like I told Lucas though a couple of minutes ago outside, I am alive and I am breathing."
Sheryl just stared at Derek flabbergasted. She attempted to mutter a response, "Derek, honey, I know it's hard but..."
“Sheryl, no offense, but save it. You can't tell me anything that I haven't heard already. I'm sorry but I'm heading inside." He stepped around her and opened the door to the auditorium.
Sheryl yelled after him, “Derek, I’m sorry if I upset you.”
The wind caught the door and slammed it shut behind Derek. He missed Sheryl’s apology. Then again, even if he had heard it, more than likely it wouldn't have made a difference. If you've heard one apology re-written a thousand and one times to fit the same situation, it's still the same apology right?
Sheryl shook her head as she grabbed her things and started muttering to herself, “There is so much rage in that young man, just so much rage.”
As Derek entered the auditorium his nostrils were overwhelmed as the all too familiar, Monday night support group ambience conquered his nose and proceeded to invade all of his body’s other exploratory senses. From the bright florescent lights which lit the room to the sounds of the radio that played gently in the background, Derek’s stomach wound itself into a knot as he walked toward the snack table on the left side of the room.
The snack table was adorned with a variety of different donuts, bagels, croissants, etc. Derek felt sort of blase toward the selection, but whatever helped him take his mind off of things, he didn't honestly care. He grabbed a paper plate off of the far right hand corner of the table and tossed a couple of bagels on to it with a napkin. Not too far to the left of the food was a punch bowl, with some Styrofoam cups. Derek set his plate down on the table and made himself a cup. Grabbing his plate in one hand and still holding his fruit punch in the other, he turned and observed the circle of people across the room.
Derek sensed it was going to be a long meeting. Lots of new faces were here and everyone’s face told a different story. They were somehow all the same though. The awful clucking of their everyday lives was enough to make him want to flee the coop and head for the nearest butcher.
He found an empty chair and sat down with his bagels and punch. Lucas sat across the circle, directly in front of him, he offered Derek a nod of the head. Derek nodded back. Looking around the circle, he noticed a couple of other familiar faces from various meetings. Among all the hub-bub, Sheryl strode into the circle sitting down next to Lucas while mumbling.
"Welcome friend," said an unfamiliar voice from across the circle.
Derek looked up to find a very large, older man, walking toward him. His right hand was extended. Derek muttered to himself, "Talk about 6 feet tall by 6 feet wide, damn." He then sat his snack and drink down to give the man a proper handshake. Derek asked, "Mr. Barnes I presume?"
Mr. Barnes nodded and gave Derek a firm handshake. "Yes, I am son. It's a pleasure to meet you. Glad to have you with us tonight." Derek looked him over, he looked like a nice enough guy. He had gray hair, a gray beard, and he wore glasses. He seemed like the kind of guy who would see in a Norman Rockwell painting.
"Oh, it's my pleasure," Derek said sarcastically.
Mr. Barnes replied, "By the way, please call me Rhett. What's your name?"
"Oh, fuck, sorry, I'm Foster. Derek Foster," Derek said.
"Well, Foster. Derek Foster. Have yourself a seat and relax. I know you're typically used to Mr. Davis and the way he runs things, but I'm going to do my best to help you guys feel comfortable
Derek returned to his seat and also returned to his bagels and punch. Mr. Barnes walked back to his chair across the circle and sat down. He pulled out his cell phone and checked the time. His phone read back, 7:00 p.m. Putting the phone back into his pocket, he addressed the group. "Everyone, I think anyone who is coming tonight is already here. Let us begin shall we?"
Mr. Barnes took off his glasses and wiped them off with a cloth that he had in the pocket of the Hawaiian shirt that he was wearing. "For those who haven't met me yet, I'm Mr. Barnes but feel free to call me Rhett. Unlike Mr. Butler in Gone With the Wind though, I do give a damn." He laughed very jollily. Some of the older people in the group let out a few chuckles. "All kidding aside, I am going to be filling in until further notice. Mr. Davis is out with the flu and we aren't quite sure when he will be returning. Does anyone care to catch me up where you left off with him?"
Sheryl, who had been quiet since she entered the room, raised her hand. Mr. Barnes looked over at her and pointed to her.
"Yes, my dear?" Mr. Barnes asked.
"We were talking about the grieving process and the various steps of it," she said.
"Ah, very good," Mr. Barnes replied. "Is it safe to assume that we've all just been sharing stories the past couple of weeks?" he asked. Several people in the group concurred by nodding their heads. "Okay then, Mr. Barnes continued, does anyone care to start us off?"
Sheryl raised her hand once more, wearing a smug look on her face.
"All I can say is alcohol is not the answer to dealing with your grief. It will only make things worse. Trust me, I have been there myself. It doesn't fill the void," Mr. Barnes said. "Am I right folks?" he asked. Sheryl stared down at her purse which was in her lap.
Lucas began to speak up, "You're definitely right, Mr.Barnes." He paused. "I'm sorry, Rhett."
Mr. Barnes replied, "What's your name son?"
"Lucas Jenkins sir," Lucas responded.
"Well, Lucas, I don't like to assume, but it sounds like you might be able to relate to Ms. Sheryl over here. Care to share? You never know how much your story could help someone else. Even the faintest glimmer of hope can act as a lantern for someone on a dark and stormy night," Mr. Barnes said.
"Sure, I don't mind," Lucas said. "It's not an easy story to tell, but like any story, I'll start at the beginning."
"I'm a high school dropout. I got to tenth grade and my father was diagnosed with a brain tumor. It was extremely hard on my mother, who was working a full and part time job. Someone needed to stay at home and take care of him. I began missing days from school to stay at home and take care of my dad. Shortly there after, I was so behind in school that it was getting to that point where I was going to fail if I did not do something. Naturally, I decided to drop out and get my GED. My parents were totally against it at first, but after they realized the sacrifice I had made for the family, they knew it was the best thing to do. That's what I did in the end, dropped out and got my GED. My dad progressively got worse though as time grew on. The chemo wasn't doing anything. One day I woke up to find him sitting at the kitchen table, his entire face was swollen. It was like he had been stung by an entire bee hive. The following week he was dead. He managed to live another year after I dropped out of school though. I was impressed he lasted that long," he concluded.
"I'm sorry for your loss, Lucas." Mr. Barnes said sympathetically.
"Thanks, but it was a year ago. I'm still having a little trouble dealing with my depression, hence why I am here," Lucas said. "I managed to find God though while I was in jail and have been born again, which helps keep me on the path to righteousness."
" Good for you son. We all need some sort of positive constancy in our lives," said Mr. Barnes. " I am curious though as to how you reacted to your father's death? I am sure you're poor mother was devastated."
"Oh yeah, my mom was beyond devastated," Lucas said. "I think it affected me the worst though out of the two of us. I know she was married to him for twenty years, but I spent all that time with him in the end. I was tending to him day and night. That day I walked into the kitchen and found him swollen up like a balloon, I think my heart cracked at it's fault line. My heart was shaken to it's very core. After his death, I fell into a shady crowd. These guys were no good and I knew it, but I just didn't care. I wanted to forget. I wanted to numb the pain. Myself and one of the guys, Thomas, became good friends. We'd hang out a lot, get drunk, smoke a little weed, snort some coke, whatever the poison of the day might have been at that time. I became addicted abnormally fast though. I got lost within myself. For the longest time, I was walking a dirt road to nowhere with alcohol and drugs at every turn. I even let Thomas persuade me to break into someone's house one night which landed me in jail for a year. It was all for a fucking Playstation. I'm talking the original console too, not any of the newer ones. Anyway, that's my story, sorry for rambling."
"Wow, that's quite the story Lucas," Mr. Barnes said.
"A story it is indeed," Lucas replied. "I hope it helps someone here tonight. If there is one thing I have learned and learned the hard way, it is to learn from your mistakes."
Mr. Barnes clapped his hands proudly for Lucas and smiled. "Truer words were never spoken," he said. He looked over at Sheryl who had obviously shed a few tears while Lucas was sharing with the rest of the group. "Sheryl, did you have anything you'd like to say in response to the story that Lucas just shared with us?"
Sheryl shook her head with a resounding "no" and proceeded to wipe her eyes with a crumpled up fast food napkin that she had pulled from her bag. She had nothing more to add tonight. Sharing with the group made her feel good but it still wasn't enough. She reached back into her purse and pulled out a green pack of Salem cigarettes, pulling one out from the pack. She stuck the cigarette into her mouth.
Mr. Barnes interjected, "Sheryl, this is a non-smoking circle. If you'd like to do that, I must insist you step outside into the front entrance."
Sheryl glared back at Mr. Barnes most intently, her inner python ready to strike, and replied "You know, Mr. Davis never gave a shit if I smoked or not."
"While this is primarily Mr. Davis's group, he is currently not here. I am in charge in his absence. No smoking is now one of my rules. If you do not like that or agree with it, I am sorry," Mr. Barnes replied, standing his ground.
Not wishing to add more fuel to the fire, Sheryl snatched up her things and made her way for the doors, mumbling under her breath as she went, "Self-righteous bastard. Telling me I can't smoke. Ha!" She turned and flicked off Mr. Barnes with both hands, exiting the room.
Lots of murmuring was happening among everyone else in the group. They were obviously talking about Sheryl. Mr. Barnes took a deep breath and focused his attention back on the remaining members of his group. It was like the incident that just happened, not even a minute ago, had been wiped from his mind.
Addressing everyone in the group, "Would anyone else care to share something? Lucas was brave enough to bear his soul. Can anyone else follow his example?"
The room was silent. No sound could be heard, not even a cricket.
"Come now, don't be shy. I know I am the new guy but please don't let me be the elephant in the room. I want to help you guys," Mr. Barnes said.
Just then, a middle aged man with olive skin, raised his right hand and said, "I think I'd like to share with the group."
"Terrific," Mr. Barnes said. "Why don't you start by telling us your name? Introduce yourself to those who don't know you. Tell us what you do if you'd like."
The man leaned forward in his chair and adjusted the navy blue Yankees cap on his head. "Well, my name is Richard Papadakis. This is my first time here. I'm a a real estate agent," he said.
The other members of the group gave him a cordial welcoming, "Welcome Richard."
Richard offered everyone a forced smile and continued, "I'm here tonight because my wife was murdered a couple of months ago. I've been having an extremely hard time coping."
Derek, who was just sitting quietly, minding his own business asked, "Did the cops catch the guy who did it?"
Richard looked down at his hands which were now clasped and responded, "They most certainly did. He didn't go very far after killing her. They caught him holed up in a Motel 6 just down the road from our apartment in Williamsburg. He was strung out on drugs."
Mr. Barnes felt sympathetic toward Richard. Losing a loved one to murder was a tough thing to deal with. "Richard, I can't say that I have lost a loved one to murder, but I did serve 30 years as a psycologist on the police force in Newport News. I'm long since retired but trust me when I say that I understand what you are going through. It's an uphill battle but you will find closure in due time."
"I understand that but what am I supposed to do in the meantime? How am I supposed to ignore this black hole within my heart? How do I fill this empty void within my life? Can you tell me that," he asked? "You can feed me all the bullshit text book answers in the world, but the clear cut truth of it all, is you don't have a goddamn clue!" The weird thing was, all throughout what Richard was saying, he remained abnormally calm. It was almost eerie.
Derek looked at the guy next to him who was about his age and said in a dull whisper, "What is it with everyone tonight? Did somebody spike the punch?" The guy shrugged his shoulders and they both chuckled softly, no one around them knowing the wiser.
Mr. Barnes looked at Richard, contemplating his next choice of words carefully. He did not want to step on this man's toes, not one bit. "You're absolutely right. You are. There is no, clear cut way to deal with grief. There isn't. This is why it's lumped into a process. You go through different stages and you figure out things along the way. You are wrong about one thing though, I do have a clue. As a matter of fact, I lost my daughter just a few months back.
Richard opened his mouth to speak, but all he could mutter was, "I'm sorry."
Mr. Barnes offered him a fake smile, but everyone in the group could tell that a nerve had been struck. He replied to Richard's apology, "It's quite alright Richard. While I've accepted the facts and put reality into perspective, I realize there is still much to overcome in terms of grief's hold on me. I will achieve inner peace again though. I have faith."
A meek, slim guy in his 30's rose his hand. He adjusted the black rimmed glasses on his face with the other. He looked like a Google intern who was a certified insomniac. Mr. Barnes looked over and gestured to him.
"Yeah, hi, my name is Ben. I'm just curious, you said you lost your daughter. I know you're overseeing the group but I think we all might like to hear your story. If you're willing to share of course," he said.
Ben looked around the group as various people began to nod their heads in agreement, Derek being one of them. It seemed only fair to Ben.