by Dave Early
As soon as I put the key in the lock, I knew the day had come. The flat was plunged into darkness. A post-storm electricity prickled the air. I called his name. Nothing… As I had expected. The emptiness of the front room was unnerving and I crept warily to his room. He lay on his bed, fully clothed, his breathing faint, almost inaudible. Strewn across the floor were countless empty foil packets and medicine bottles. An empty water bottle slept soundly in the corner of the room.
A typical day for James? There was nothing typical about the boy. Strictly speaking the term ‘man’ is more accurate, he had just turned thirty. But he was a boy to me. A lost boy. A victim of his own keen mind and intense emotions.
The tenure of our friendship had spanned a decade, over which time I had watched his mental health deteriorate. Perhaps I had expected a more stereotypical transition – hearing voices, delirium, bizarrely radical acts. Yet his intellect appeared untouched. And he remained lucid for the most part.
Now and then he would throw a tantrum over some trivial cause. But given time he would see the ridiculousness of it all and we would laugh it off. However, as it transpired, it was the ridiculousness that burdened him. It manifested into futility. And I would return to our flat to find him sitting still, virtually catatonic, but even that certainty escaped him. I would try to comfort him. I would. But sometimes there is simply nothing to be done. And he was a proud lad; confident of his diffidence. If he could not sort out his own mind, he would say, then what chance did somebody on the outside have?
The deeper he plummeted into the abyss, the greater the guilt he felt for dragging me with him. Such a cyclical process is increasingly difficult to escape. And the periods of immobility lengthened over the last few years.
He began to talk openly about death. It was not the topic that discomforted me but more the enthusiasm he developed for it. There was something disturbingly healthy about it too. Unable to reintegrate himself back into basic social situations, this interest at least afforded him a time-consuming hobby. He would research various methods of suicide, study the biological workings of the human body, even compose detailed theses on the subject. But despondency still chipped away at his efforts.
He returned to his near catatonic state. I could see the pain in his eyes and the ubiquitous bedlam playing behind them – wars raging beyond verbal explanation, freezing him to the spot, incapable of narrowing his thoughts and channelling them into decisive action.
We discovered a dying mouse in the hall one day. The neighbouring cat was ever eager to earn its keep. James was transfixed by the helpless animal. I knew he was battling out a course of action though his countenance gave nothing away. Without warning he raised the heel of his right boot and brought it swiftly down on the rodent’s head. He looked at me and asked me to promise I would do the same for him.
And here I sit… perched on the end of his bed. Undecided. Inert. Feeling for the first time in my life a rich empathy for the boy I knew.
Dave Early cannot be summed up in one sentence; one word perhaps, but not one sentence.