#52weeks52stories: Week 24
Word prompt: anchor
Word count – 4629; Reading Time – 5 mins
New tears threatened to spill from Teddy’s eyes and Barry chose his next words with care.
“You know that’s not possible, right? Your mom isn’t gone because of a wish.”
Teddy dragged his arm across his face wiping away the unshed tears.
“Some of the guys from the basketball team came by my house after practice the day before my mom… the day we argued.
They had all ignored me since I’d quit the team without telling them why. Couldn’t very well tell them I had to babysit my schizophrenic mother, could I? Coach got wind of them giving me the silent treatment and told them I was needed at home and that was all they needed to know. I was shocked to open my door and find them there with pizzas and sodas. We fell back into our old rhythm and it felt good to hang out with the guys again.
Then the singing started.
Mom only did that when she missed taking her meds. I rushed to her bedroom and she wasn’t there. I was on my way to check the other bedrooms when I saw the side door to the sun-porch was open. I bolted out the door and there she was… dancing around like she was at a party…naked.”
The past hit Barry like a punch in the gut. Teresa Cook had never shed her clothes—because she’d been banished to her bedroom before she could—but there had been more hysterical drunken episodes and bouts of hyper-mania than he cared to remember. He’d had Grams and Aunt Gwen to handle things. Teddy had been alone that day.
“I ripped off my shirt and raced toward her.” He flung an arm out to the side. “She thought we were playing some stupid game and ran. When I chased her down, she fought me and said I was ruining the party and I was too young to be so boring. We fought until I got the t-shirt on her. She started to run again, but we were startled by Chris. He’d grabbed a throw from the sofa and bought it outside. He never looked at mom, just held out the throw to me, and said he and the guys were taking off and would check on me later.”
“I’d never been more grateful and embarrassed in my life. I couldn’t speak… I just nodded at him like an idiot.”
The history teacher watched his student short pace around the desks, words tumbling from him faster and faster.
“I turned to grab mom’s hand and get her inside and she smacked it away. That’s when we argued.”
Teddy stopped his pacing and leaned against the window ledge.
“She tore into me about how rude Chris was for not introducing himself and staying for the party… and I just lost it. I screamed there was no party and Chris was trying to help without causing anyone any more embarrassment.”
He chuckled, and Barry didn’t miss the fact it contained no joy.
“Mom told me I was being dramatic and there was no reason for me to be embarrassed. I reminded her of the time she ran into traffic and tried to drag some guy from his car claiming he’d stolen her father’s car… and my grandfather died before I was born. And there was the time she ran into the Toeller Building downtown, took the elevator up to the eleventh floor and turned it off. When maintenance finally got her out, she was hysterical and said the mean girls were after her for dating the captain of the football team.”
Teddy Carver slid down the wall to the floor just as new tears rolled down his cheeks.
“But I wasn’t done… nope. I reminded her how she was banned from all the adult day care programs for always running away, and how none of the home nursing agencies would even take our calls anymore.”
He buried his face in his hands, his body wracked with sobs.
Barry knew the boy’s pain and had worn the same guilt. He needed to get the teen out of the building and find his father.
“Teddy, nothing you’ve said or done is new or wrong. You’re human, and you’re a kid with adult responsibilities.”
Not hearing his teacher, Teddy continued, his voice now flat and void of emotion.
“Mom brushed past me, said she was going inside to speak to my dad about my attitude. She didn’t believe me when I told her he was at work. We’ve had that talk before. She knows he hates working nights, but a night-time shift manager makes almost twice as much as a day-time foreman. The company’s insurance sucks and deductibles for mom’s doctors and medicine are huge. He didn’t have a choice.”
“Sounds like the argument between you and your mom was calming down though.”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought too. But when I took her hand to lead her inside she pulled back again and said she wanted Mrs. Butler to take care of her not me.”
“She lives one street over from us. A retired nurse from one of the adult day care programs mom was in. She took care of mom during the day for months… almost a year. But our luck was balanced on a house of cards. Mom was banned from care programs, dad got a position at night, and Mrs. Butler’s husband was diagnosed with colon cancer… so I had to quit basketball to be with my mom.”
Barry sat on the floor next to his student. “Then what happened?”
“She started singing again… and dancing. She said I was trying to trick her like Mrs. Butler did when she’d hide pills in the pretty pink punch.”
Barry Cook appeared calm, but his mind was reeling at what all this seventeen-year-old kid went through.
“Mom claimed I was trying to make her feel bad because I was jealous of her life. I told her I couldn’t be jealous of her life because it was the only life I had.”
“What did she say to that?”
He leaned his head back against the wall. “She called me Theodore the bore.”
“Teddy, I cannot be -”
“I snapped. I grabbed her arm and dragged her inside all the way to her room. I made her take her pills, put her in bed and told her not to call my name or get up before dad got home. She got really snarky… said maybe she’d go to sleep and just not wake up. That would solve everyone’s problems if she wasn’t there to be such a burden. I turned to leave the room and she screamed, “Say it, Theodore, say it! You wish I was dead, don’t you?”
I didn’t answer. I had to get out of that room and away from her.” He shook his head. “But she wouldn’t let it go. She jumped out of bed and ran into the hall behind me, pushing me, punching me in the back and arms.” He mimicked his late mother’s voice, “C’mon, Theodore. Say it. This is your day of truth to share your feelings so, say it.”
“Had your mom ever acted that way before? Lost control? Hit you?”
Teddy pulled his long legs toward his chest, resting his arms on his knees. “She experienced mania but I can’t remember her ever being so angry and confrontational before.” He stared at his hands but continued, his words weighted with regret. “But I was different too.”
Deanna Carver jumped in front of her son, blocking his path. He was half a foot taller than his mother, but at five-feet-eleven, Deanna could be an imposing figure.
“Stop walking away, Theodore, I want an answer.”
His bottom lip trembled as he searched her face for the mother from his childhood. The woman who took him on field trips after school and made him eat green vegetables. Before everything changed.
“No, momma. I don’t wish you were anywhere but here with dad and me.”
His words didn’t ease the hardness in her face and the anger and defiance in her eyes confused him.
“But things would be better for you… and us if you’d just take your pills when you’re supposed to. We could all -”
She cut him off.
“Take my pills? You want me to take the pills? Fine.”
Deanna whirled around, storming back into her bedroom, with her son on her heels.
“Theodore wants me to take the pills so he can have a happy life.” She grabbed the bottle of Thioridazine from the nightstand.
“Momma, what are you doing? You just took your meds not ten minutes ago.” He reached for the bottle and she swatted his hand away.
“I may be a crazy mother, but not so crazy I don’t want my child to be happy.” Deanna bested the child-proof cap and emptied the bottle into her palm.
He grabbed his mother’s wrist.
Pills fell to the floor, but Deanna clenched the majority in her fist. “This is what you wanted, Theodore.”
Teddy worked to pry her fist open. “Mom stop this or I’m calling dad and your doctor.”
“Go right ahead! Call them both. They want me to take the pills too.”
Teddy cried out in pain and yanked his hand back to see the reddened area where his mother pinched him. Turning his attention back to her, Teddy saw his mother raising the handful of pills to her mouth. He drew back and punched her hand while pushing her onto the bed with his other hand. Teddy fell to his knees. Biting his bottom lip to hold back the sobs, he crawled around the floor scooping up pills and returning them to the bottle.
Deanna sat up on the edge of her bed clutching her right hand to her chest. “You hit me.”
Refusing to look at her, Teddy continued to scramble around the floor in search of loose pills, his resolve weakening. “I did not hit you, Mom. I knocked your hand away to keep you from doing something craz – “He caught himself.
“Crazy? Go ahead and say it, Theodore. We’re being honest, remember?”
“Mom, just lie down, please? We both need to step back and calm down. Dad’s halfway through his shift and if you rest a while and sleep, when you wake up he’ll be home. Okay?”
“And then what? More pills? More goodnight, Deanna? He’ll give me that puppy dog look of his and try to feed me and talk to me… beg me to share my feelings. He’ll kiss my forehead and hug me tight, telling me everything will be okay.”
Teddy’s anger flared. He rose to his knees and pointed an accusing finger. “Stop it, momma! Be mad at me, yell at me, fight me, but do not mock dad!”
“Don’t mock your dad?” She laughed, her tone high-pitched and lyrical as the hysteria returned. “Big Brandon Carver won the girl and made her his wife, but all he got was a dud for life.” Her laughter went even higher, reaching keening levels.
Teddy jumped to his feet, rage causing him to sway. “How can you make fun of him like that? He loves you, momma. You’re everything to him.”
Her laughter stopped. She widened her eyes while tilting her head to the side. “Guess it sucks to be him.” Amused by her own remark, Deanna fell back onto the bed laughing like a school girl.
Standing to his full height, Teddy’s supply of resolve was gone… and so was his mother. He no longer cared about the psychotic woman on the bed who mocked his father and had to get away from her now. Clenching the bottle of recovered pills in a tight fist, Teddy backed toward the door. Her shrill laughter continued, assaulted him with each breath, dulling his reason until all he wanted was to make her hurt and defend his father.
Pausing his steps, Teddy addressed his mother, his deep voice filling the room to get her attention.
“When I said I didn’t want you anywhere but here with dad and me? That was a lie, mom. Every time you had one of your episodes and ran off, dad was frantic, desperate to find you and bring you home… to keep you safe. People would look at him, their eyes filled with pity, but he didn’t care, he just wanted his wife home with him. I did too when I was younger. But after you ran out into traffic and assaulted that poor man, I was done.”
Deanna sat up again on the edge of the bed, no longer laughing.
“I know you’re sick, momma… I get it. But after that day every time you had an episode, I wondered how you lived through it. Why you were still alive.” He backed up two more steps toward the door. “So, yeah, ma’. Sometimes… sometimes I do feel life would be easier if you weren’t here.”
After delivering his cruel words, Teddy turned to leave the room.
He froze in place but didn’t turn around.
“You always are, mom.”
He’d leaned his head back against the wall again. His eyes were closed, but tears streamed down Teddy Carver’s face.
Barry Cook remained silent, knowing the boy had to tell his story.
“I lost track of time… just sat in the family room crying. And they were selfish tears. They weren’t for mom or even dad, they were for me and why I couldn’t have a normal mom and a normal life. I thought about how I would tell dad about what happened when he got home, and then it was his voice, loud and clear in my head.
“If you think we’re tired and frustrated, son, just think about how much worse it is for your mother. She doesn’t want to be this way, but she can never escape it. There is no cure for a damaged mind. Those pills make her appear in control but what they actually do is make her manageable. Inside, the voices and hysteria… her pain and anguish are all still there. They never leave her.”
“I knew that. I knew all of that. But I let my anger and pride get the better of me. I was so ashamed and knew I had to apologize to my mom. I ran to her room, but she was asleep. I was going to sit next to the bed until she woke up when I heard the front door. My dad was home, and now I had to face him.
One look at his son’s face and Brandon Carver knew… Deanna had another episode.
“She didn’t take her meds. I found her in the backyard… naked.” He rushed toward his father. “I’m sorry, dad. I should have watched her closer, made sure she took her medicine. But… some of the guys from the team were here and I was distracted. I’m so sorry.”
Brandon fell into his recliner, raking his hands over his close-cropped, dark curls.
“This isn’t your fault, Teddy. None of it is. I’ve put too much responsibility on you, but I didn’t know what else to do.”
“She’s my mom. Of course, I’m supposed to help with her.”
“Help, yes. Fix her a meal. Watch a movie with her, not stand guard to keep her from running away or hurting herself. Not devote all your non-school time to her because she’s banned from everywhere because of her behavior.”
His exhale was loud and harsh as he leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “We talked about this, Teddy. It’s time.”
“Dad, no -”
“We agreed, Teddy. One more bad episode and we’d find residential care for your mom.”
“We can’t lock her away, dad, we can’t.”
“If we don’t, son, the day’s going to come when the state will.”
“But – “
“I have to work an early shift tomorrow. Mrs. Butler will take care of your mom. I’ll arrange for a few days off and next week we’ll find a place… a nice place close-by where we can visit whenever we want.”
“Dad – “
“Go to bed, son, you have school tomorrow.”
“It was the longest walk of my life. I started down the hallway but turned to try and change his mind one more time. He’d picked up their wedding photo from the end-table and was just staring at it… his face covered in tears.”
Barry reached over, squeezing Teddy’s shoulder. “I can’t imagine what it took… or felt like for your father to make that decision.”
“I didn’t think about that at the time. I was back in good old self-pity land. I tossed and turned the rest of the night, then jumped up and left for school an hour later, not having the guts to face either of my parents.” He turned his head and Barry was gutted by the self-hate he saw in his student’s eyes. His memories of his own self-hate exacerbated the pain.
“By second period, I knew I was the worst son on the planet and couldn’t wait for the day to end. I had to get home to my family… while we were still a family.” Sobs choked his next words. “But I was too late.”
Barry schooled his features to mask his own emotions but nodded once for Teddy to continue.
“Mrs. Butler’s van wasn’t in our driveway when I got home, but I didn’t think anything of it. Sometimes she took mom to the market. I found out later her husband had to be hospitalized and Mrs. Butler never got to our house.”
“I went inside and found all the drapes still closed. The omelet dad made for mom every morning was still on the warmer. I knew something was wrong.”
“The family room was empty, and mom’s bed was unmade. She never left her bed unmade. I was going to call Mrs. Butler but decided going over to her house was better. I headed to my room to leave my backpack and change… and saw the door to the sun porch was open.” He shook his head. “I didn’t believe mom would leave the house open and unsecured, but I knew Mrs. Butler wouldn’t. I ran out the door praying I didn’t find my mom dancing around naked again. Our yard was empty. Mom was nowhere in sight.
I heard this… this creaking sound behind me. I turned toward the sound and there was my mother… hanging from a rope thrown over a beam. I screamed and ran to her, trying to hold her up… to get her down, but I couldn’t do both. I couldn’t do anything… so I let go. Her body sagged against the rope and I fell down in horror… as though I was killing her myself. I stared up at her. Her beautiful face… all bloated and purple. Her eyes. Her eyes were open. Seeing nothing but yet staring at me…”
Teddy Carver slumped over, his body heavy with guilt and wracked with sobs.
Barry grabbed the boy and held on, not knowing where Teddy’s tears ended and his began.
The teen pulled away, clutching at his chest. “She’s dead because of me. Because of what I said.”
“Teddy, stop it and listen to me. I’m not a doctor but I know a bit about suicide and not just because my mom killed herself.”
The youth wiped his nose on his sleeve and tried to focus on his teacher.
“Everybody has a theory about suicide. It’s selfish, it’s revenge, it’s a coward’s way out. Suicide may be all of those things or none of them. Even the experts can’t agree on them. But what I can tell you is most people who commit suicide thought about it before and more than once. And, most people have a plan and those plans do not center around anyone but themselves.” He leaned closer to Teddy, hoping he was hearing his words… and praying they were true. “You argued with your mom and said things you regret. But, Teddy, your mother did not kill herself to make you happy or solve your dad’s problems. No matter what either of you said or did, her pain… her torment was inside her and she brought an end to it the only way she could.”
Looking more like a seven-year-old than a young man about to turn eighteen, Teddy rested his head on Barry’s shoulder. “I want her back. I want my mom.”
“I know you do, son. I know you do.”
He stood and pulled Teddy up from the floor. “Where’s your dad?”
“Home. He hasn’t been able to go back to work since… the funeral. He’s shut down. He won’t talk to me… or listen.”
Barry took his student’s arm leading him to the door. “I’m taking you home. He’s going to listen today, but even if he won’t, it doesn’t mean we can’t find you some help. You cannot ruin your life over misplaced guilt. It can’t happen. I won’t allow it.”
Teddy’s brow knitted in confusion as Barry looked out into the hallway.
“Just a few stragglers left. Go across the hall to the men’s room and wash up. I’ll let my wife know I’m going to be late.”
Still confused, Teddy did as he was told, holding on to the hope his dad would, at last, listen to him today.
Barry Cook closed the classroom door and pulled out his cell phone as he walked to his desk. He typed out the short text to his wife, letting her know he talked to the student he’d told her about and would explain it all later.
After pressing Send, his cell dropped to his desk, followed by a stream of tears.
Barry knew Teddy Carver’s pain… all of it.
He didn’t know Teresa Cook or Deanna Carver’s pain. No one ever would.
But Barry Cook had a better understanding of suicide than most people. He didn’t approve of it. He hated it. But, he understood.
He knew firsthand the feelings of endless despair. Of being afraid you’ll never be happy again. He knew of the malicious voices inside teasing and taunting.
Barry was the boy no one wanted. Not worthy enough for his father to stay, not worthy enough for his mother to live.
Grams died right before Barry’s fourteenth birthday and he never felt more alone. Aunt Gwen and Uncle Dean took him in and even wanted to adopt him. But to Barry, it was out of obligation not love. Who could love him? Why would they want to? His own parents didn’t even stick around.
The next year saw Barry isolating himself, slipping farther into the darkness. He saw his uncle cleaning his gun one day and tried to seem uninterested while watching his every move. When Dean returned the gun to the case and left the room with it, Barry wanted to run after him to find out where he kept it. But he stayed in front of the television, pretending to watch… while coming up with a plan.
Months passed, and life grew worse for Barry. Gwen and Dean found counseling for him, but the therapist seemed more concerned with how often Barry masturbated and he grew annoyed with her and begged to stop seeing her.
Waking up each day became more unbearable and nothing his family tried helped. He just wanted them to stop trying to help. He wasn’t worth the effort.
The holidays were approaching, and Aunt Gwen rushed into the house one day with bags of wrapped gifts. She took out one large box wrapped in blue foil paper for his uncle and asked him to hide it in the hall closet next to the attic door. Barry obeyed, entering the closet, pushing hung garments aside to get to the farthest corner.
And he saw the gun case.
A calm washed over Barry as he stroked his hand over the polished walnut case.
Everything was going to be okay.
Two days later when his family, excited about caroling with their neighbors, dressed for the cold snowy evening, Barry begged off saying his throat was sore and he thought he was coming down with something. Promising not to be gone long, they left the fifteen-year-old with a mug of hot soup. He ran to the window and watched them enter their neighbor’s home across the street, then Barry headed for the closet. He grabbed the case and scooted up the attic stairs, grateful the end was within his reach.
Barry sat down in a corner and opened the case. The Browning called to him. Barry wasn’t afraid or anxious. He was relieved. His useless existence was over. No one had to pity the boy unworthy of love ever again.
He took a deep breath and raised the gun to his mouth. Closing his eyes, Barry squeezed the trigger.
And nothing happened.
He squeezed the trigger again only to get another empty click. His mania rose. He checked the chamber and magazine, not understanding why the gun didn’t fire. A shadow fell across him and he looked up to see Dean standing at the top of the stairs.
“I’d hope I was wrong, but I wasn’t taking any chances.”
His uncle held out his hand and Barry saw the Browning’s firing pin.
Defeated, Barry dropped the gun. His mournful wails filled the attic.
Dean grabbed the boy and held him tight, rocking, much the way Barry had held Teddy.
His uncle made promises to Barry that day that he kept. Promises Barry would be forever grateful for.
It didn’t happen overnight, and it wasn’t easy, but Barry did get the help he needed. By the time he walked across the stage to receive his high school diploma, the young man was more in control of his emotions and didn’t believe in his own worthlessness.
At his college graduation, Barry Cook was a vibrant young man proud of his accomplishments and grateful for life. He was also grateful for the graying gentleman standing next to his aunt with tears in his eyes.
Dean took the journey to wellness with Barry, never leaving his side. Barry considered Dean more watchdog than parent until the day Gordon Cook showed up looking for a way to capitalize on Barry’s academic success.
“Your parental rights died with Teresa, not that you were ever any kind of father. Barry is my son and a terrific young man with a great future. He went through some bad times because of you and I will take you to hell myself before I allow you to hurt him again.”
Gordon Cook didn’t need to be told twice and disappeared. However, his absence didn’t affect Barry this time. Dean had been the anchor that kept him from drowning in darkness.
Barry stood, wiping his face. He grabbed his cell and laptop case and left his classroom in search of Teddy.
The kid had a father, a good man dealing with his own grief. But Barry knew he couldn’t give up. He’d find help for both of them. He didn’t want Teddy to ever sink to the depths he’d known, and unchecked, Barry knew that’s where he was headed.
There was still too much stigma attached to mental illness, but much ground had been gained and new therapies discovered in the thirty years since Barry first sought counseling. He’d work with Teddy and his dad until they found one that fit. Teddy deserved that much. He was on the cusp of adulthood and should embrace life fully, not waste away in the shadows, devoured by the guilt and regret of those left behind.
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