The Christmas and New Year flashed by and I can only remember snap shots of it, assisted only by the memory on my iPhone which recorded the odd photograph and text over those days. I remember one particular night spent with my cousins where I literally just didn’t speak. I had been trying to get hold of my brother via WhatApp video link and couldn’t. I was worried sick about him. I had escaped the all encompassing bleakness of the situation and location back in the UK and at least had new faces, new surroundings, the beautiful Sunshine and crucially – my cousins amazing and wonderful attention and hospitality to help take my mind from things. My little brother was still back at home suffering from a longer term depression than me.
I have tried to learn about depression as much as I can and I have tried to label mine and my Brothers to fit them somewhere into the huge plethora of different types. My brother has a generally deeper more long term depression which has peaks and troughs of a generally similar wave height. So he will be generally ‘up beat’ for the equivalent time and in cyclical opposition to his ‘down beat’ times. Mine appears to be more short term and ‘situational’, but I can see that the peaks and troughs are of differing wave heights i.e they are non uniform in opposition to each other. They appear to drop steeper and quicker, but last for shorter periods, but they also do not reach peaks of happiness and normality as they are offset from each other. Shorter lasting but further ‘down beat’ and longer lasting but not as high in the ‘up beat’. This is why on December the 14th 2016 just after my first full mental collapse, I had decided that enough was enough. It was a fast, sharp drop of depression that had built up over the previous few days since the 8th December, the day when she finally gave up on me. I did not want to experience that again, I saw no way out of my multi-predicament situation, so I decided that I would go running on the morning of the 15th, and would not be returning back to that little room. I sat up in bed that morning to the first glimmers of sunshine peeking over the horizon and the only thing I could think about was my Brother and how I would be abandoning him. If the sun hadn’t been glinting through the blinds that morning, if it had been heavy rain, wind or sleet, I’m not sure I’d still be here. I thought about the drive up to Yorkshire, and I thought about running over the Yorkshire dales, soaked to the skin but happy, I thought about my Brother and how he would handle, and more importantly if he could handle, his second sibling suicide. Our sister took her own life in 1992.
I don’t remember the journey to Yorkshire, I don’t remember arriving at his house, but I do remember my Brothers dog greeting me when I walked through his front door. I remember going for one run in the dales, I remember having a cup of tea at a cafe, I remember booking the flight to the USA and that is about it. My head was completely shut down, my senses dulled, my lips locked closed and my eyes glazed. This catatonic state lasted basically until I met Becki somewhere in that first week of January 2017.
Sat in Applebees after a day of running and exploring was like transporting myself into another dimension. I don’t like sports bars, certainly not American sport bars, but it felt comfortably out of my comfort zone. I was different and I stood out. I spoke different, dressed different and acted different, my hair style was different, my lack of trendy facial hair and my aftershave were different, I even drank differently. (Pints instead of mixers like ‘Jack n Coke‘ and also much faster and in bigger quantities than the usual clientele). I didn’t eat at the bar like most of the locals, I sat, read, conversed with Becki and drank beer like I was a Young British Soldier again. When she served, I read. When I read, she served. When neither of us did either, we talked.
She led a hard life to start with, growing up in an outer suburb of a City with an Alcoholic, out of work Father and a strict mother who wasn’t an angel by any means. They lived in a shabby house by US standards and even spent some of her years in a trailer park on the edge of the city. She didn’t do great at school and by 16 she was already drinking heavily and abusing weed to a level that was only ever going to lead in one direction.
Over the weeks of January into March, just for a few hours most evenings, we talked of her friends and mine, her family and mine, her ideas and mine and we learned about how each others lives had evolved to where we where now. The chat was sometimes heavy and sometimes light, but it was always respectful and even though she was drop dead gorgeous, neither of us over stepped the mark of just being two complete strangers talking in a bar. I learned that she was actually 32 and not the mid 20’s that I thought she was when I first met her. It didn’t even compute at the time to anything more than her looking good for her age. She always paid interest into what I was reading at the bar and always noticed when a new book had been started. Being in this little sports bar as an oddly dressed stranger with an accent, brought other people to come and sit with me, and it wasn’t long before I recognised the odd person or two again, and they would chat to me. Just as with talking to Becki, it was a godsend to talk to other people about other things that were not to do with the entire reason I was in the USA in the first place. I came up with the ‘cover story’ that I was just visiting family nearby, which I was, but Becki would give me a knowing and ‘I’m proud of you’ smile when she heard me say this, as she knew that I nearly never saw the daylight on the morning of December the 16th 2017.
While recovering from my breakdown in the USA, I was awaiting the result of a legal interview I had attended back in November of 2016. I was facing two separate charges, each carrying a possible prison sentence that my employer had levelled at me without first finding the facts. This can be read about in a previous blog dated 14th July 2017 called My Brothers New Dog. This was obviously weighing heavily on my mind and my entire past, present and future depended upon its outcome. No matter how many Emails I wrote to the investigating body, the decision was dragged and delayed due to a lack of staff, pre booked holidays and crucially for me, the fact that my employer had not given the Police the correct information in the first place, and, had not given the Police certain bits of absolutely vital information, which now meant that the Police had to investigate further the data, documents and proof that I gave them at the interview.
My phone ‘pinged’ in my combat trouser pocket. I stopped, wiped the sweat from my brow, adjusted my rucksack on my shoulders, retrieved it and started reading an Email at the roadside. It was Mid March 2017. I had received an Email stating that no further action was to be taken and both charges were now dropped as my evidence at interview had shown clearly that no company rules, safety rules or crucially, no laws had been infringed or broken. Besides from the stress, strain and being a major contributing factor to a mental breakdown, I was, as they say in Hollywood Cop movies “free to go“. The invisible but real weight lifted off my shoulders and my chest opened up as if someone had just unrolled me from inside a tightly rolled carpet. I stood perfectly still and heaved the remnants of a cup of tea and a blueberry muffin into the bushes to my right. My legs slowly began to give way so before they did, I climbed a fence, navigated a small hill and sat down in silence on the edge of a disused quarry about 10 miles from my cousins home. I cried. The relief was amazing and it made me feel totally light headed. I stayed there on the edge of that quarry for about an hour before i started to shiver and knew I still had a ten miler back to a shower and a Sam Adams. I stood up and took a selfie to remind me of the moment I found out that I was not going to be wrongly prosecuted with two separate counts that could have seen a total of a 20 year sentence. I couldn’t even smile, I didn’t want to.
I came in to Applebees smelling of Chanel after shave and wearing my favourite pale blue shirt on a cold damp March night and I mentioned to Becki that it was about time that I made my way back across the Atlantic Ocean to a wet, windy and depressing UK.
“You know”, she said after my third pint, “When I was 26, I overdosed myself on Heroin because I was so sick of life”. “I did heroin for nearly 6 years, and toward the end, I just didn’t want to go on living”. She took a step closer to the bar, placed both of her elbows right down on the bar in front of me before resting her chin in her hands to continue. “I had nothing to live for, no future, no education, a drug addiction and an abusive family – so I overdosed myself, I thought ‘what the fuck’, right?”
In the three months we had been speaking, I had no idea she was a recovered drug addict, she never mentioned it. She also never mentioned trying to take her own life. Like a huge, diamond white, sparking, long tailed comet streaking across the black night sky, I knew why she had smiled at me when she found out the real reason I was in the USA. I knew now why she talked to me differently than all the rest of the men in here, I knew now why she reserved my seat and let me read, I knew now why she talked when I wanted to talk but left me in silence when my eyes glazed over, I knew now that she had reached the point I did some weeks earlier, but the difference being she actually did it – and survived. I knew that she knew.
“I was in hospital for a month after that”. She stood back upright and with a whispered voice said “I’ve been clean now for over 5 years”, she said “and do you know what Rhys?” she questioned – “what?” I replied with a tear welling in my eye. “I got my letter of acceptance today for my first job as a qualified nurse, 5 years of college classes and working here at night – I start in June”. She smiled with a huge red lipped smile and her eyes lit up like that comet did in your minds eye just a minute ago. Turning around to face away she flicked her long golden locks at me, strode over to a couple on the opposite side of the bar and shouted in her strong Californian drawl – “What’d you decide, honey ribs or street chicken?”
She had already seen it, done it and beaten it and she only told me the night before I left that little town and my seat at the bar.
RIP ‘Yolly’. Never forgotten.