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An Unwanted Friend

by Jamie Claypool Dement

Dan sat at the kitchen table—head in his hands, wondering how he had managed to get to where he was today. He had no job. His kids had grown and moved on. His wife left him with the bare essentials. His friends never understood, or never wanted to. He was alone.

“I can’t.”

“My head hurts too much.”

“And too many no’s.”

“Yeah, I’d stop trying, too.”

He sat there wallowing in his misery. Sorry for pushing family and friends away. Sorry for being such a burden. Sorry for the way things turned out. Sorry for ever being born.

Fuck my life! I hate it! What did I do to deserve this?!

He had his dream career, a lovely wife, two glorious children, three cats and a home. And after thirty years, his wife finally called it quits. She said she couldn’t take his constant mood swings, his reckless drug dependency, his constant self-loathing. She said he wasn’t the same man she fell in love with and had no idea how far buried that man was, if he was even still there.

After the kids had grown, she packed up the cats and started a new life. She just left him to deal with his problems, alone. He was a shell of a man inside a shell of a home.

Stupid BITCH! So much for ‘in sickness and in health!’

Fifteen years ago an accident at work left Dan with a couple of fractured vertebrae in his neck. It was the vertebrae up under the base of the skull. It didn’t start out as much of anything. He had a few headaches here and there, a couple of days on and off with pain in his neck. But he never really thought much of it. He was young. He could suck it up and charge on. That’s what his sergeants told him. And he sure wasn’t going to give up a weekend for each hour of physical therapy he went to. So he dealt.

But when the headaches and searing pain came closer together and lasted longer, he needed to go to sick call more often. The more often he went, the more physician’s assistants began to wonder. Then one day one made the comment that he might be a drug addict looking for his fix. Word eventually made its rounds through his chain of command, his subordinates, his peers. No one looked at Dan the same way again.

Dan went through countless doctors over the years. And finally, about seven years ago, one finally diagnosed him with chronic migraines. But by that time it was too late. The stigma remained.

I’m not a drug addict you stupid mother fuckers!

For his neck, though, nothing was ever done. Nothing could be done to fix it. Many doctors refused to touch it. The doctors that did consider surgery had given him a 50/50 chance that they could either fix him or make things worse with surgery. But Dan figured there was a hundred percent chance he’d remain the same without surgery.

Bouncing from one doctor to another, retelling the same story, giving the same information, doing the same exams and procedures, each one told him they couldn’t help. It was getting old. Hopelessness overcame him. Even though they couldn’t fix him, he settled on two specialists who understood his situation. One was there to keep the pain levels from skyrocketing and the other kept his moods from plummeting.

Talk about being bi-polar!

Staring at the forest of orange pill bottles sitting in front of him, Dan dismissed them as he always did. There were six different painkillers sitting next to his migraine pills. The pharmacy never gave him enough medicine to get him through the month. Six to be exact. Six tiny little pills to get him through thirty days.

How am I supposed to make six pills last an entire month? I get migraines every other day! Six pills my ass!

At least he had his muscle relaxers, anti-inflammatories, and narcotics. Taken in a multitude of combinations or all at once, Dan called them his “cocktail.” Like its alcoholic partner, his cocktail was taken at least twice a day with the hopes of some relaxation, only to be left hung-over when its effects were complete. Dan’s cocktail, though, never really took the pain away. At best, it dulled the pain to a low thudding at the base of his skull. At worst, he was so high he could not think straight or function properly. He usually just sat in his chair and stared, drooled, and slept like some catatonic patient — all the while, the ice pick dug through the base of his skull.

Dan scoffed, High?! I got enough pain killers here to kill an elephant ten times over. But high is where I want to be! No thinking. No worry. No cares! But that damn pain keeps my feet on the ground.

There was also a series of pills Dan took every day that had little to do with his pain levels. The pills for his mood disorder and nightmares doubled as an “off-label” migraine preventative. There were two bottles for depression and one for anxiety. Valium was another double agent. It was supposed to relax him and help to alleviate the cyclic tension causing the migraines. He wasn’t sure it was working since he got three or four migraines a week regardless if he took these meds or not.

What the hell, what’s one more pill?! Or two, or three?! Hell, give me the whole damn pharmacy! It will either kill the pain or kill me! I don’t care anymore.

Taking so many medications for as long as he had, Dan now had ulcers and GERD on top of everything else. So, his doctor prescribed the maximum dose allowed for his stomach medicine. One pill, three times a day, and he still suffered. He had long given up on the bland diet his doctor wanted him on. What was the sense? It didn’t matter what he ate. He always had trouble swallowing. The food he ate burned hours after. And he still woke in a panic in the middle of the night, choking on his own vomit.

Might as well enjoy the food, gonna suffer anyway.

There were even a couple of pills to help him sleep. Dan chuckled a little. How ironic. Pills to help him sleep. You’d think with all the medications he takes and the constant pain he’s in, he’d do nothing but sleep. His schedule had been so messed up over the years that he just slept whenever and wherever he could. But right now, when any normal being was supposed to be asleep, here he sat, wide awake. Just like every other night for the past seven years.

A pill! To sleep? What a joke!

The bottles on the table were only a small sampling of what lay in the cabinets of his past. There were so many more prescriptions Dan kept on the top shelf in his kitchen cabinets. Pills his doctors prescribed him over the years that he had tried. They either didn’t work or they caused too many side effects. They lay collecting dust. He couldn’t flush them. He had read an article awhile back about how toxic the city water had become because everyone was so used to dumping their old medications down the toilet.

That’d be great! Little Johnny drinking his Kool-Aid and keels over and dies from an overdose! And it’d be my fault! Just my luck!

Better living through chemistry, Dan always said. But it really wasn’t better. Never was. Always worse. Never ending. The constant pain at the base of his skull would trigger a migraine. He’d take his medicine to help him catch it at the pass. But he never seemed to take it in time. The migraine would cause his muscles in his shoulders to tense, causing a tension headache. He’d take more pain medicine. The tension would trigger more pain from his neck and another migraine. And still more medicine. Pain. Medicine. Pain. Medicine. It was always cyclic.

Ring around the rosy! Pocket full of posy!

It was time. Dan had sat there long enough. Waiting. Prolonging the inevitable. Trying to will it all away. Dan hated having to take the pills. He hated the dependency. He hated the need. The want. Every dose he would sit for as long as he could possibly take it. Wishing it would end, but not really. Hoping it would just go away. Hope was lost. He hadn’t been able to find Hope in a very long time. Hope had deserted him, just like his wife.

God! Why!? Why’d she have to leave? She gave me hope!

“I HATE YOU!” Dan screamed, directing it at no one, at everything. He swept his arms across the table, scattering all the bottles in every direction. His voice reverberated against the walls as the sound of plastic drummed on the floor. The silence settled. His raging thoughts kept him focused. Dan drew a heavy sigh and began picking up the mess.

Once the bottles were back in place on the table, Dan fell into his chair. It screeched back at him as if returning his sentiment. He slumped over and placed his forehead on the table. He hoped the cold steel would quench the burning in his temples. It didn’t. But it was cool and calming for the time being. It gave him pause. Dan stared at those little orange bottles from under his brow.

I know, I know. What must be done must be done.

Dan opened the bottles, one at a time, then set them back in place. Down the line he went, emptying out the bottles in neat little piles. Each varied in size and color. Fourteen piles in all.

He knew there was enough to make it easy. Put him to sleep. A very long sleep. He wouldn’t feel a thing. Who would be there to stop him? Pain? Pain was driving him. Pain led him down this path. Pain guided him to the answer. Pain was patient and loyal, never letting him down. Pain comforted and soothed. It caressed. Pain was there when nothing else was left. And there was nothing left.

Nothing except Pain.

With comforting finality, Dan scooped up as many pills as he could in each hand, cocked his head back and began throwing them into his mouth—one handful after another, following each with a long swig from his glass. They slid easily down his throat. Like a snake in the grass, they knew where they needed to go.

There. Done. It was over. No more would Dan be battered, broken, miserable, and forgotten. Pain, the only friend he had left, would finally be gone.

Fuck it all to hell!