He was a friend but he really put a strain on it and today was the day that you would tell him about the real world. The closer you get the more you want to turn around and go away. Just leave. But you know you can’t. Being a friend is not always easy.
You climb the two flights of stairs and go down the hallway. You don’t need to look at the number, third on the right. You wait for a moment, take a deep breath and you know it could mean his life. You press the button to ring the bell. You’ve never heard it ring so loud, never smelled all the smells before: the pet smells, the cooking smells, the stale air smells, the living smells, the smells that say there is still life here. It’s too late anyway. You can’t run now.
“Come in,” he says in his falsetto voice. You finally understand how the strain could produce such a voice from a body like his. You open the green wooden door with the peeling, dull red paint and the peep hole and enter the apartment. You are greeted by a small entryway, drab blue walls, floors of linoleum off-white squares speckled with black and grey patterns, a wooden table a little bigger than a card table and with metal chairs, a fridge and stove in matching used-to-be white, magnetic things stuck to the fridge.
“Brett, my man,” came the thin voice from the next room, “You been gone long enough, did you get the stuff?”
“No, Law, I did not.” Lawson Carswell is my best friend and has been from the time we met in grade ten. Hopefully that will continue. “Time has come to set this right.”
“What do you mean? I’m hungry.”
You step from the kitchen into the next room, a room at least three times as big with the same flooring, a big picture window in the the wall to the left. Ten feet to the right a dark coloured coffee table, variously stained and marked, stands in front of a tan colored couch, still serviceable but having obviously seen better days and crowds against a wall covered with paint that is now a faded light green. At the far end of this room, about twelve feet away sits Lawson.
Sits is not exactly the term for it, finding an exact term might be difficult for someone like Lawson. He has problems. Being addicted to food and finding addicts to get it for him are two of the worst. People addicted enough to being his friend and being convinced they are doing the best for him. Keeping him happy. Unknowingly contributing to his death. Lawson had never been small but now, thanks to many helpers, like workers caring for and feeding a queen bee, he weighed over six hundred pounds.
“You can’t possibly be hungry. You’ve got enough stored on you to last you a couple of months.”
“You kidding me?” He tried to look sad but you know him and how he’s manipulated you and others for over two years now and you resolve that it won’t happen again, not with you at least. “I’m going to get weak. I can feel it starting,” he goes on.
You can see it starting, too. The old pattern of behavior that got him into the space he is in now, and lots of space. And up to now you were a part of it. But now you realize the reason for your continued participation.
“I have news for you, buddy. I am, from now on, going to be a real friend. Remember the thing you see on television ads for not drinking and driving? ‘Friends don’t let friends drive drunk.’ Well, as of now, I’m not going to let you drive food drunk. I’m curing my addiction, and as a result I will be able to help you cure yourself of yours.”
“You’re nuts!” he says. “I’m not addicted to nothing. I don’t do drugs except for the occasional weed and no, or almost no, alcohol. There! Inventory complete! Done! Now will you stop this nonsense and,” voice rising, “get me some food.”
You look at him and shake your head. There he is, lying on a special-made recliner contraption, the only thing that will support his weight and demanding more food that is not food. More to feed his addiction and playing on your addiction to feed his. But you have it figured now and the cycle ends. Now. At least for you; the others will do what they do even though you will tell them.
“Okay,” you say, using his own tactic, “I’ll make you a deal. Actually two deals in one. I’ll get you some real food if you do two things; not really difficult things. One, you start to move. Your arms, your legs, anything that you can get moving. Two, you eat the food that I and the others bring. Not the calorie-laden junk that you have been getting. I realize that a couple fast food outlets may have to lay off some staff but that’s the way it’s going to have to be. That’s life.
“As a matter of fact, it is life. Yours. If you continue like you have been with everyone feeding your addiction to food and us feeding our addiction trying to help you, and not realizing that we are helping you into an early grave, that’s what will happen. Your systems right now are overloaded, especially your heart.
“What’ll happen is that your systems will start shutting down; liver, kidneys, breathing, circulation and finally the heart. I saw it happen once due to disease and I won’t watch it again. Especially, I won’t be a part of the disease that causes it. You don’t start to change and I’m gone. I won’t watch it again, the process. I won’t watch you kill yourself. I might come to the funeral, and you will be having one before too long if things continue as they are, but I might not. Your call.”
You stop and look for a place to sit. You feel all kinds of things. Relief that it’s out. Elation that it’s no longer a burden. Distress at the possible loss of a good, long-time friend. Lots of things but mainly you are wondering how he will react. You’ve said your piece and now it’s up to him.
For a long time, maybe a couple of years, nothing moves. You see a fly land on the table and her army boots start thundering along as she stamps along the surface making a terrible pounding that hurts inside your head. You start to wonder how long you can hold your breath.
Finally Law starts to breathe, he’s been thunderstruck. “Hooolllleeeee.” he says, “Where did that come from? Where’s the mild, go-along kind of buddy I met years ago? Where is he?” He starts almost random, uncontrolled movements of arms and looks around seemingly for some kind of help, or to find someone who has gone missing.
“He’s still here, Law. Hopefully for a long time. He just grew up. Means he had to make choices. Some easy, some not. This was definitely a ‘not.’”
“Woosh!” he said as the breath whooshed out of him. “That was something large. That’s been boiling up inside for quite a while, I’d say. Wow. Lemmee think about this for a while, a few minutes at least.”
You nod and look to see what the fly is doing now that she’s removed her army boots. At least Law didn’t start on one of his rants, for now anyway. You don’t want to think of anything but the fly but you start thinking about Jen. A couple of lifetimes ago, it seems like.
Finally, Law comes to the rescue.
You hear him calling, “Hey! Wake up. Where are you?”
“What do you mean? I’m right here,” you say.
“Finally. Whatever. Anyway, I was thinking over what you said. About addiction and dying and all. And if you’re so sure that it’s causing so much trouble I’ll try to help myself but I don’t know where to look. I’m thinking you might. We been friends a long time and that’s something I’d kind of like to continue.”