This Great Society - Nonfiction



Illustration: Joel Bentley

Linette Schut: Believing
Illustration: Joel Bentley

It’s 2:00 a.m. and she is crying again. Do I pretend to be sleeping? Do I just pray silently, pleading God to make it stop? There is nothing I can do to help, and I know this.
            This time I decide to let her know I’m awake. I get up and find her a roll of toilet paper – it’s not worth buying Kleenex when you cry as much as she does. I climb into the top bunk and hold her. I’m glad it’s dark so I don’t have to see the terror in her eyes. I rub her back and pray and pray and pray. Praying is all I can do even though praying doesn’t seem to help.
            Eventually, the sobs subside. I hug her and tell her it’s all going to be ok, even though I don’t know if it’s going to be. She thanks me and tells me to go back to sleep.
            I lay awake for another hour, listening to her deep sleep breathing. I don’t know what’s happening to my friend. I don’t know, and that scares me. I like to know.

We’ve only been at school for two months. Just a few weeks ago, we were carefree high school graduates, lying on trampolines counting the stars and dreaming of new adventures. Then we packed our bags, said good-bye to home, and moved across the country, squeezing all our possessions into a cramped dorm room.
            Now we’re trying to adjust to university life. We’re making friends, going to classes, puddle-jumping with other girls in our dorm. But we have a secret – she’s having panic attacks. And we don’t know why.

I’ve started to become overprotective. She isn’t home, and I don’t know where she is. I’m usually much better at knowing her schedule, but I guess I forgot to ask this morning. I’ve concluded the worst. She’s having yet another panic attack, and this time I’m not there to be with her. This time she couldn’t handle it. This time she ran away.
            Half an hour later, she’s back.
            “Where were you?” I ask, trying to sound nonchalant. “Are you ok?”
            “I had a Bible study tonight,” she replies. “I was just down the hall.”
            I didn’t know. I hate not knowing.

Church seems to bring them on. Every Sunday, like good Christian girls, we go to church, but I always dread it. I don’t understand what it is about church. Shouldn’t there be less demons there? Shouldn’t God be more present in these earthly houses of His? Shouldn’t He take care of His children when they are so faithful in coming to worship Him?
            This does not seem to be the case. Numerous church services are interrupted as she gets up and hurries to the bathroom. I sit in the pew, uncomfortably waiting for her to return, telling myself she only had to pee. If she takes too long, I go and find her. Too often I talk to her through a locked stall, telling her everything is going to be ok. But I don’t believe myself anymore, and I don’t think she believes me either.

Somehow, we make it through the year. We go back home. Instead of being roommates, we now live a 35-minute drive apart. I can’t take care of her like I could before. I’m busy with a new job and catching up with my friends at home. But that doesn’t mean I worry any less.
            We had high hopes that being home would make things better. So far they have only been worse. Her boyfriend couldn’t handle the stress anymore, and he decided it would be better if they were no longer together. She is devastated.

            I just go to work everyday. I’m working at a nursing home. I love my job, for the most part. I am getting to know all of the residents, and I’ve chosen favourites. Dora tells me not to worry about finding a man – the right Western cowboy will find me soon. Edna and I watch The O.C. together, bonding over our shared love of Ryan and Seth. Bill is forever cracking jokes, trying to make me smile, and calling me pretty when I do. It’s a difficult and demanding job, though, and a lot of responsibility for an 18-year-old. Not only am I taking care of my friend, I’m now taking care of 132 old people.

She keeps talking about a crash. “I haven’t hit rock bottom yet,” she says, “but it’s coming. I can feel it.”
            “What will this crash look like?” I ask.
            “I don’t know,” she replies. “I’ll know when it happens. But don’t worry, Linette, I’ll be ok.”
            Neither of us believe it anymore.

It’s my 19th birthday; she throws me a surprise party. I hate surprises, and she knows it, but she wants me to feel loved. She wants me to know that she cares, that she can take care of me too. All of my friends are there and it’s fun to celebrate.
            I’m too responsible to get drunk. I have to take care of her, after all.
            I spend the night at her house, and the next day we go to church, like we always do on Sundays. Then we go on a long walk around her town, and I think that things just might be ok. She is making plans to go to a new school; she is making good decisions; she is good at hiding her pain.
            She brings me home in the afternoon, and I go to church with my family.
            When I get home from church, the answering machine is blinking and I have five missed calls. I listen to the first message: it’s from her house, but it’s our friend Joe. “Call me as soon you get this,” he says. He sounds panicked.
            I panic. I slide to the floor of the kitchen. I dial her number. Joe is still there, and he tells me what happened.
            “We were supposed to hang out, but she didn’t show up, so I went to her house. Her brothers were home, but they didn’t know where she was. They thought she was having a nap. I knocked on her door, but there was no answer. I opened the door, and she was passed out on the floor. There was vomit everywhere. I called the ambulance. Now she’s at the hospital.”
            I am surprisingly calm: now, more than ever, I must take care of my friends. I take care of Joe, who is not doing well. I talk to our friend Brent, who thinks it’s all his fault because he was the last one to talk to her; I assure him that it’s not, that she will be ok. Eventually, I talk to her mom. I calm her down, and through her tears, she assures me everything will be ok. She’s still alive, and that’s all the matters.
            I have to work the next day, but after work, I go to the hospital. She’s in the ICU, still hooked up to monitors. This is when I hear what really happened.
            She was having an argument with Brent online, not a big one, but for some reason she couldn’t handle it. She found a bottle of rum. Brent called, because she was starting to be irrational, but she hung up on him. Then she found a bottle of antidepressants and swallowed them with the rum. Joe found her just in time.
            She’s ok now. She knows what she did and she knows how lucky she is to be alive. No, not lucky: she knows it’s God’s grace, and she makes sure I know that too.

I stay strong for her through all of this. That has been my role for the last year, and that will continue to be my role now – I don’t feel like I have any other choice. I don’t cry; I let others cry on me. I rationalize with people who can’t make sense of it, and I spend hours talking it through with those who think that they are to blame.

She spends a couple of weeks in the psychiatric ward, and I visit her every chance I can get. She gets an evening leave from the hospital, and we spend it down by the river, walking the path that we’ve walked many times before. She tells me about everything that she’s learning. She tells me that she’s going to get better. She tells me that this was the crash she was waiting for, that now she can start to work up from the bottom. And this time, I believe her.


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