I just didn’t feel like going to school that day. I went to the park instead. I sat down on a wooden bench and took my phone out of my blue backpack. I sighed as my phone was already dead. I looked around the park and looming directly in front of me was a statue. I wondered why they would build a statue in the middle of the park. That too a statue of a Snake? It was so weird, not to mention extremely creepy.
I noticed something behind the snake statue. The figure moved and stood before me. And I saw him, a boy my age. He was staring at me which really made me uncomfortable. But I couldn’t stop looking at him. I didn’t know why. Maybe I was just curious. Oh God! Why was he walking towards me? My heart started beating so fast and adrenaline rushed me. I was not sure whether it was from nervousness or excitement. I read somewhere that same chemical combination was responsible for both.
“Hey mind if I sit here?” He asked me.
“Sure” I breathed.
“What’s your name?” He asked me.
“I am Ajay.” He told me.
I think I had a weird expression on my face. “What?” he asked me.
“Nothing.” I shook my head.
“So Rithi, you came here alone?” He asked me. I nodded.
“You always come alone?” Why did he care?
“Why?” He asked me with concern etching on his face.
I didn’t expect that. I knew that he was a stranger, but something about him looked familiar. So, I told him the truth. “When I want to clear my mind or to get away for a while, I come here” He smiled at me. It was genuine. There was an understanding behind that smile which made me smile back.
I was sleeping that night when I heard the noise again. My parents, of course. It had started a while ago and it kept on increasing. They never fought in front of me. Didn’t want to upset me I suppose. But I could hear them arguing at nights. Were they unhappy? What were they hiding from me? That made me difficult to sleep. Some nights I didn’t sleep at all.
I was just looking at the ceiling and trying to get some sleep but then a wave of overwhelming loneliness passed over me. Next entered the ugly tears. Before I could get hold of what was happening, my throat constricted, and I was having a sob fest. I didn’t even know why I was feeling that way. I would give anything to take that feeling away. I just wanted it to go away.
I pulled the blanket up and bite it to stifle the sobs. I closed my eyes and tried to concentrate on my breathing. “I can do this” I told myself repeatedly like a mantra. Fortunately, it seemed to work. In a few minutes, I was able to control it and my breathing came back to normal. And by the time I fell asleep, there were no tears.
I kept coming to the park hoping to see Ajay. Most of the time, I would run into him and we would talk for a while. He was my escape. I felt connected to him in some way. After all, he was the only friend I had at that time.
“Did I tell you? I had a friend named Ajay when I was nine. We went to school together.” I told him one day.
“I had a crush on him,” I smiled without knowing.
“Oh really? So, you always have a thing for guys named Ajay ah…” He chuckled.
I shoved him. “Shut up” But I couldn’t stop the blush creeping on my cheeks.
We were silent for a while. Then, Ajay caught me frowning. “Are you okay?” He asked me.
“I am not able to concentrate at school. My grades are going down” I took a deep breath. “12th grade is kinda big deal. I am gonna fail Ajay”
“Ree, you won’t. You are smart” He assured.
“I was smart. I don’t know what happened.” I frowned again.
He sighed. “Then let’s get you back on track alright. We will study together”
“What would I do without you?” I smiled at him.
Ajay helped me a lot with my studies. I was getting hold of myself. He had his own charms to keep me in a good mood. He was my best friend. I even told him about my parents. He looked concerned and asked me to talk to them about it. I was not ready though. Days passed; I cleared my final exams with a decent score. My parents were disappointed with my percentage obviously. But I was okay with it since I didn’t fail.
“Honey, how about RA university?” My dad asked me.
“Not sure dad. It’s far away” I said.
“I don’t know why you don’t show any interest. This is your future” He mumbled.
I was asking the same thing myself. Why was I not interested in anything anymore? Ajay said that it was just a phase that many teenagers go through.
I hadn’t seen him in a while. He was not showing up at the park. That worry was high in my mind. I wanted to tell him many things. I wanted to thank him first and discuss college. I also wanted to tell him that I liked him so much.
Another week passed, still no Ajay. I was getting depressed and extremely lonely. But then one night he came to my room.
“Ajay! How did you get here?” He pointed at my open window.
“What are you doing here? Why didn’t you come to see me?” I shouted at him.
“I am sorry,” Ajay told me. I was mad, but I felt relieved. He was my own source of joy.
“I am still mad. But I forgive you. Promise you won’t leave me again” I told him with much seriousness I can muster.
“Ree. I can’t” He said. What?
“What! Why Ajay? What is the reason?” I cried.
“This doesn’t feel right. You are becoming so clingy. It’s like you can’t function without me. It’s bad” For just a moment time stopped for me, my heart just skipped a beat. I couldn’t believe that it was happening.
“You don’t want to be my friend anymore?” I asked him. I was praying that he didn’t mean that.
“No. I didn’t say that” He argued.
“What are you saying then?” I demanded.
“I am saying, let’s take a break. Let’s not see each other for a while”
“But Ajay” My voice broke again.
“It’s for the best, believe me. I just came here to tell you this”
“Ajay don’t do this. I need you please…” I was desperate. I needed him. “Please, Ajay… please don’t leave me” I begged him.
“Goodbye, Ree. Take care” He told me and left.
“NO…” I screamed but it was too late. He left me.
I heard a weird noise in my room which echoed through the walls. Then, I realized that it was coming from my mouth and suddenly I couldn’t breathe. I tried to suck in air, but my throat closed, and I broke down on my bed.
I feel safe here. I have an amazingly comfortable bed and the nurses are taking pretty good care of me. I have been here for almost two weeks and no-one treats me differently. My doctor is very kind. Every day, he visits twice to check up on me.
“Rithi! How are you doing kid?” He asked me.
“Better… I guess”. I told him. He asked me a few other questions and I answered politely.
“You know Rithi, you are my favorite” He smiled at me.
“Doc, I bet you say that to all your patients,” I rolled my eyes at him.
He chuckled. “Maybe, I do. But I really mean it with you, kid. You are taking control. I have to appreciate it” He patted my shoulder.
“Thanks, Doc. It means so much” I smiled at him. Of course, he knows how to cheer someone up. To be honest, I really needed someone like him right now. After all the things that have happened so far, I needed to hear something good about myself. I must take control because I don’t have any other choice. It is the only way to survive.
I still think about him too much. I can’t let him go yet. But I am trying. That’s all matters.
One good thing that came out of everything is my parents. Yeah, I didn’t imagine the noises I heard all those nights. They are trying to fix their problems. They promised me that I was their priority and they would do anything for me. My situation brought them together I should say.
“When are they going to discharge me?” I asked my mom.
“In a few days I suppose. After that, we need to visit once in a month” She removed the curls from my face.
“I’m glad you are okay” She hugged me. “Everything is going to be alright”
Everything seems to be alright but still, there is one unfinished business. Ajay. Think of the devil! Ajay is standing beside the door watching me with concern.
“Rithi what?” My mom asked me. I pointed my finger at him. “Ajay” I told her. My mom looks at the door and turns back with a worried expression.
“I will talk to him mom”
“Baby, I don’t think that’s a good idea” She frowned.
“Mom please, I won’t let him hurt me. I promise. Just let me talk to him” I pleaded.
“Okay,” She left.
“Hey,” He said walking towards me.
“How are you?”
He sat in the chair near my bed. “I am so sorry Ree. The way I left things between us; I feel so bad” He shook his head. “Are you… are you depressed?”
I shrugged. I don’t know what to say.
“Is it because of me?” He asked with a feeble voice. There is something about him that always makes me pour my heart out.
“No Ajay. It’s not because of you. It’s not because of me either. Its no-one’s fault alright. My doctor says it’s because of the chemical imbalances in the brain you know. That’s all” Doc has explained all about the neurotransmitters of the brain and how their imbalances affect one’s thoughts, emotions, and even actions.
“Besides, my symptoms started before even I met you” I told him.
Ajay shook his head. “I know. But that doesn’t make me feel better Ree. You don’t know how much you mean to me. I like you so much”
“Especially now! you are so strong and brave Ree. You will get through this” He assured me.
“Why did you talk to me on that day at the park?” I asked him out of the blue. He looked at me bewildered.
“Honestly, you looked so lonely” He told me after a moment of silence.
I nodded. “So, you thought that you could somehow fix and save me?”
I took a deep breath. I must do this now. “Ajay, thank you for everything you have done. I don’t know what I would have become without you. When I needed someone, you were there for me. You helped me a lot. Thank you so much”
“Ree, you don’t have to do this. I hurt you, I know”
“You saved me”
“Why are you telling me all this now?” He asked me with confusion.
“Because I am saying goodbye Ajay. I want you to leave now and never come back again”
“Ree, what’s happening?” He panicked. “I am not going to leave you. You need me”
“I can take care of myself. I don’t need you. Maybe I needed you before but not anymore. Please just leave.” I sniffed to hold back my tears.
“Why are you doing this? I would never leave you again. Forgive me. Please, Ree” He pleaded. My heart is literally breaking right now. Why do I have to face this? It’s not fair. I don’t deserve this.
“If you want me to get better, you have to go. I should let you go. I don’t have a choice.” Big tears are streaming down my cheeks and I don’t even bother to wipe them off.
“Why Ree? why? Just tell me why?” He demanded.
“Because you are not real Ajay. You are just my imagination. I am making you up and it has to stop” I squealed. I can’t take this anymore. It hurts so much. I closed my eyes and hid my face with my hands.
Yes. I am schizophrenic, and depression is just a side-effect of it. Schizophrenia runs in our family. My grandma had it too. Ajay is my imagination. So is the snake statue at the park. I am still not sure what else is there. My mind plays with me. I have to take medications every day. I have to carry a camera with me all the time to get a hold of reality.
I can’t control it, but I can take control of how I react to it. That’s what I have decided. All this time, I have been thinking Ajay saved me. He hasn’t really. It has been me all along. Or as Doc says, my brain has created a personality to help me deal with my issues.
It’s often so easy to get caught up in all the delusions I make in my head and forget reality. It really is. Who wants to face the real world? But it will get back to me eventually. And of course, it’s not the right thing to do. Because the right thing will never be easy. My reality might suck, but I would never take it for granted.
I opened my eyes slowly and I am all alone in my bed. Yes. I am alone, and it doesn’t scare me. I am still mourning for my best friend and it still hurts so much, but for the first time in my life, this loneliness feels like a victory. A small voice whispered inside me “You did it, Ree!” And then a slow smile, a real one spread across my face. “Yes, I did it. I did it” I shouted out loud over and over again.
[Authors Note]: This story is dedicated to all the mental illness warriors out there. You are so strong and brave. Never believe otherwise.