LAST CHAPTER."Bandit’s kept me going ever since. I know I’d just give up if something happened to her. She’s the only thing I have."
I open my mouth to dispute Frank, but Bandit comes back with a bucket for him to sick in and cuts me off. Her pretty face is stained with tears and eyeliner, her worry making her movements forced and jumpy.
“I can’t believe you’ve done this Frank.”
He winces at the tone in her voice.
“Babe, I can explain,” He protest weakly.
“Don’t ‘babe’ me! You fucking idiot! You absolute moron! You could have gotten yourself killed, what an earth were you thinking?!”
“I didn’t WANT to think! That’s why I do it, I’m sick of thinking!”
I laugh, and they both turn to look at me.
“This is my fault, isn’t it?”
My voice is a hoarse whisper. Frank looks confused.
“It’s your fault I’m a drug addict?”
“No. Well, probably! No matter how hard I try, I still make everyone around me suffer!”
Ignoring their shocked looks, I sink my face into my hands, despairing.
“I became a teacher to get away from heroin, but no. I can’t. It follows me like a plague! I’ve made one of my students an addict, and my daughter will probably be soon to follow. I can’t take it!”
Frank smiles tiredly at me.
“I always knew you used. You’ve got that whole real-life-is-dull-and-drugs-are-the- only-things-that-excite-me vibe going on. I can spot a brother from a mile away.”
Bandit looks fit to spit venom.
“Shut the fuck up Frank! He isn’t one of your junkie friends! You don’t know what he’s been through! His life makes yours look like a fucking fairytale.”
Frank’s smile dissipates, and a flicker of guilt plagues his features. His voice drops to a soft, questioning murmur.
“What has he been through?”
I lift my head up, looking at him with bleary eyes.
“You don’t want to know. I’m more interested about why you just overdosed.”
When he stays silent, B sighs and turns to me.
“Frank, his mother and father, his big brother Bert and their pet dogs used to be like the Brady Bunch, freakishly close to perfect. Then one day momma Iero is cleaning Bert’s room and finds a little baggie of coke. All shit breaks loose. Mommy and daddy scream and scream for hours, then kick Bert out of the house. Bert rents a flat in the next town and gets heavily into crack. Mum and dad are lovely to Frank, he’s the new favourite son. Frank starts to resent them for it. They regularly fight over Bert. Mother is cleaning Frank’s room one day and finds a bottle of pills that Bert hid in there. Her and her husband are furious. They kick Frank out of home, Frank goes to live with Bert. He enrols at our school.”
She hesitates, looking at him, and he nods his head silently.
“F….Frank goes to a party with Bert and tries heroin for the first time as a drunken dare. All of his worries just…. go. It stops the babbling in his head, and he likes it. He becomes infatuated with it over the next year. He adores it, but soon it’s not enough. He has to take it all the time, just to feel normal. It’s not an escape anymore. It’s a prison. Friends die because of their addictions, go blind, lose legs. Frank can’t feel anything anymore, so he starts hurting himself. His parents call and say
They don’t care what he and Bert get up to, as long as they come home. Frank ignores them. His mother gets tearful. Bert gets a bad batch, and is killed by it. His mother commits suicide. Father dies of an aneurysm a month later. Suddenly life is a living nightmare. Frank plans on ending it by overdosing.”
Her voice wavers.
“I talk him out of it. Or at least, I THINK I do, until the fucking idiot thinks it’s smart to go do it anyway. Hence why he’s lying on our coffee table.”
He looks into space remaining silent.
“…..s…fuck,” I say, not knowing how to react. Thankfully the awkward tension is broken by Frank hunching over the bucket and vomiting his guts up into it. Bandit sighs, rubbing her temple.
“Jesus fucking Christ, I can’t handle anymore stress. Frank, you got any cigs?”
“B-back p-pocketttt,” He moans. I stare at her, speechless, as she grabs a metal tin from his pocket.
“Bandit! What the hell are you doing? You’re fifteen!”
She rolls her eyes at me.
“Didn’t stop you, did it?”
I open my mouth to protest, but she’s already out of the door. What could I possibly say to her? She was, as usual, right. Every word I say is practically meaningless. I couldn’t risk losing her by pissing her off. She’s the only family I have, apart from Mikey. Who doesn’t count because he’s a fucking prick. Some parent I am.
I drag a still vomiting Frank to his feet, and guide him upstairs to the bathroom where he collapses onto the tiled floor in a heap. He sluggishly crawls over to the toilet and leans his head on the seat. The sloshing sound of puke hitting water fills the room and Frank’s whole body convulses.
My heart despairs at the sight of such a bright life being thrown away.
“You need to get clean,” I say softly.
“Whuu…?” He’s cut off as a new torrent of liquid forces it’s way through his lips.
“Please. Don’t make the same mistakes I did. You’ll regret it for the rest of your life, which won’t be very long if you keep this up.”
He shakes his head, spitting into the toilet. I notice that his eyes are streaming with tears.
“T…too laatee for m-mee,” He stutters.
“No! It’s never too late. You need help and you need it now. Whether that’s detoxing at a centre, or at home I don’t know, but it’s definitely needed.”
“I c-can’tt. C-cold t-turkey iss ttoo haaarrd to endure. I won’tt make itt.”
I kneel by his side, tilting his head towards me so he’s forced to look at me.
“Come on, Listen to me. You’re right Frank. It’s fucking horrible. But you know what? I made it, and I was addicted for ten more years than you have been.”
“Yyou’ree strrrong. I’mmm notttt.”
I laugh bitterly.
“Strong? I’m probably the weakest person I know.”
There’s another silence in which he vomits and I rub his back reassuringly. He’s sobbing now, and I’m feeling shit yet again because there’s nothing I can do to help.
“I ccann’tt liivee like t-thiss anymore. Thhis llifee isn’tt working ffor me. I need tooo changeee.”
“You’ll do good Frank. I believe in you.”
He looks up at me with an expression so utterly lost and broken that it shatters my heart.
“Willl y-youu sstayy with me? I ddon’t wwant tto be aalonee. I dunn a’ve a dad anymore, so caana you pretend you aree. Just for tonigh?”
“Prommisse. Prommise you won’t leave mee. Pleease. I neeed yoou.”
“I promise. We’ll make it through this together. We have to. I’ll be right here by your side.”
He clings onto my shoulder for dear life.
“Telll meee whaat ahppenned to you.Please.”
I hesitate, but one look at his broken form tells me that he needs a distraction from real life.
“Okay. I guess I got into drugs around the same age you did. It wasn’t so much the narcotics I was addicted to, it was the self destruction. I hated myself from the age of ten up, which is why I loved self destruction. It started with smoking, then went on to drinking. I was an alcoholic at thirteen. Drinking has always been a big thing for me. Then when mom and dad took me to get help for my depression, I was prescribed pills. Which I abused. And I self harmed. A lot. By some fluke of my own intelligence I managed to get through school and uni, then started a band with my friends. By that point I was completely fucked in the head. But then again, we all were. I used to smash bottles on stage and dig them into my arm until I’d pass out from loss of blood. Burn cigs into my skin. Fuck countless women every night. Shoot up whatever I could get my hands on. I was a bit…. Extreme.”
“Then one day I met someone just as crazy as I was. Obviously, I fell head over heels for her. I’ll never forget the first time I saw her. On stage with her band, hair flying around her, every movement full of lightening. She played that bass like she was screwing it. She stopped halfway through to make out with Jimmy, the singer, then set the stage on fire with her lighter and some body spray. She laughed manically as the place burned, the madness and the flames reflecting in her eyes. She was beautiful. Afterwards I went to a party her band was throwing and we trashed it together. We punched each other over and over, just to feel something. Did a lot of coke and cut each other with knives, then fucked. We were a match made in Hell. A few months later we went to Vegas and got a drive through wedding.”
“Do you still want me to go on, or-”
“Well the thing is, LynZ did all sorts of crazy things, but never heroin. That was her only rule. I pressured her into it and eventually she caved. She became addicted very quickly, as did I. Even becoming pregnant and giving birth to Bandit didn’t stop her. This went on for years. It took our money, our friends, even our house. We lived in our car for three months, but I didn’t care. I had my drugs and I had my beautiful wife.”
Tears cloud my vision now. After all these years, the memory of her still makes me cry.
“Until one horrible day my world ended and she overdosed. She died in minutes. I was left with no house, no money, no drugs and no love. It was only a sweet four year old girl that kept me going, but barely. I only managed to kick the addictions when she was eight, it wasn’t a nice life for her. Bandit’s kept me going ever since. I know I’d just give up if something happened to her. She’s the only thing I have.”
Frank wipes his mouth and crawls over to me, clinging on for dear life. I hold him, just a lost and hopeless boy. A boy whose life had been destroyed in much the same fashion that mine had. My shaking fingers stroke his hair, telling him that It will all be over soon. That everything would work out in the end.
Is it really him I’m telling? Or am I trying to promise myself?
As the minutes pass into hours, I look down at Frank’s sleeping form in my arms and think. I have to help this kid. It’s not just a matter of community service, I have to save him from becoming me. From living every day of his life in bitterness and regret. There was no one around to help me when I started to go off the rails, no bond of trust to count upon. No one who understood why I needed the drugs so much. Maybe things will be different for Frank. Maybe if someone had intervened, things would have been different for myself.
But no one did. No one cared enough to protect me from myself. Sighing, I leave Frank in the bathroom and walk downstairs, opening the front door to join Bandit who is sitting on the doorstep smoking again. I sit next to her, staring blankly at the cold winter night.
“What time is it?” She murmurs.
“Shit.” She takes a long drag, then exhales slowly. I watch with unease.
“You’re in a relationship with him?” I ask hesitantly. She nods, closing her eyes.
“He’s in our band. Plays guitar. I also play guitar, and sing.”
She opens her eyes again and stares at me, extending a fresh cigarette in her hand. I take it sullenly, headlighting with her to ignite it.
“You’re only 15, this is really bad. Smoking will kill you,” I say quietly.
“We all die eventually. I’ll quit when you quit.”
“You know I’ll never quit.”
“My point exactly.”
Unable to fight her from fear of losing her, I drop it. Instead, an even more disturbing thought enters my mind.
“Bandit… I need to ask you two things and you need to promise not to freak out, okay?”
“Have you… do you take drugs? I’m guessing that dating Iero gives you lots of contacts to lots of bad people. I won’t be mad, I promise.”
She looks away, suddenly very interested in the shrubbery. Despair enters my heart once again.
“Oh god no! Not you too… why? Why did I let this happen? You’re just a kid, you shouldn’t have to deal with this fucked up existence.”
“This is all my fault, I’ve ruined you.”
“Don’t blame yourself, it’s on me. It all is, and I’m s-
“Dad, shh. I’m sorry! I used to, okay? I’m not exactly proud of it. About a year ago, but it was more the alcohol than the drugs. It only lasted four months and I never went any worse than cocaine. I promise. I was just going through a stage of depression but I got through it. I got clean.”
A brief flitter of relief moves within my heart.
“I’m a fool. How didn’t I notice? I’m such a bad parent, but I’m glad you managed to quit before things got too serious. I need to ask you something else, too. You probably won’t like this.”
“Just hit me with it.”
“H…have you and Frank had sex?”
Her eyes widen.
“Please don’t make me answer that question.”
“Bandit, do you really think I’d ask unless I needed to? I don’t want to know about all the nasty things you’re doing with him, believe me. I’m cringing just thinking about it now, I want to maintain the innocent image I have of you.”
“I…..for fucks sake! Yeah, we’ve had sex. Multiple times. Happy?”
“What do you think?! Protection?”
“I’m on the pill.”
I recoil in horror.
“Bandit…oh my god. We need to get you tested right away.”
“HIV. He’s a heroin addict, god knows who he’s been sharing needles with. If he has it then so will you.”
For the first time in years I see fear cloud her vision.
“I don’t know. I really don’t know.”
She wails, dropping her cigarette and putting her face in her hands.
“I’m so stupid! I didn’t even THINK about that, I just mindlessly fucked him.”
“Don’t really want to hear that. I can handle talking about drugs, not your underage sex.”
She doesn’t reply and I slide over, wrapping an arm around her. She leans her head on my shoulder, crying.
“I’m s-sorry d-dad. I’ve r-ruined everything.”
I shake my head at her, sighing.
“No, you haven’t. It’s all my fault. I spent most of your childhood depressed and on drugs. I’m surprised you came out of that as well as you have.”
She trembles under my arm.
“What do you remember from that time? When I was younger, I mean. After mum died and before you got clean.”
My eyes become weary and jaded.
“Nothing, really. Darkness. Pain. A few odd memories here and there. Just this massive misery that engulfed me for four years, a depression worse than anything I’d had before. Never-ending torture. I remember the overdoses, most of all. When you had to do to me what we did to Frank earlier. The only thing I had to live for was you, and when Mikey took you away from me because he thought I was putting you in danger… I lost it. Everything became black. And my life became a living nightmare. I think I tried suicide numerous times.”
“You did,” She adds softly.
I stare at her.
“One time I wanted to visit you, get away from Mikey and his perfect life. So I broke the lock on the back door and let myself in.”
She pauses, and her voice breaks.
“The…..there was blood everywhere. So much blood. You were lying in the centre of it, so pale I thought you were dead. Massive cuts on your arms from your armpit down to your wrist. And in that spit second I thought you were dead, I was already bending down to take the razorblade from your hand and join you in death. I didn’t want to live without you. I wanted to kill myself. And I was seven years old.”
“Fucking hell,” I exclaim, tears in my eyes, as I hug her properly and we both cry together. I look past the dead trees, the cold snow and the dark clouds. In the smallest corner of the night sky, a glimmer of morning’s light shines out.
One final glimmer of hope to do things right.
1 Year (and a bit) Later
The sun is shining. Summer has come, eroded the harsh reality of the cold winter nights and allowed me to live in a dream. Allowed all three of us, in fact.
“Gerard! Over here!”
Frank’s shouting over to me, waving and laughing like a mad man. I wave back, swinging the car around and pulling in next to him so he can hop in. He does so with a grin on his face. I can’t help but laugh at his attitude.
“Well someone’s in good spirits today.”
“Understatement of the fuckin’ century man! Guess what my NA (Authors Note: that’s Narcotics Anonymous to you non-drug addicts.) group just reminded me about?”
“How much of a douche you are?”
Frank rolls his eyes.
“No, you bitch. I’ve been clean for a whole year!”
“Shit! Frank, that’s amazing! I’m so proud of you!”
“I’m proud of myself. I was just thinking about it actually, and I realised I never thanked you.”
I frown, turning in at the car park around the other side of the building.
His smile fades, eyes turning serious for once.
“For everything. Getting me clean. Letting me live with you guys. Letting me become part of your family. You saved my life man, more than once. You’re just… awesome.”
I smile at him, trying not to get too emotional this early in the morning.
“Thanks Frank. I appreciate it. But you should know that you never need to thank me, okay? It’s all about you and your journey to recovery, I’m just here to prod you along the way.”
“Either way, the prodding is appreciated Gerard.”
“Wait, dad, why are you prodding my boyfriend?”
Bandit is leaning through the car window, giggling. I roll my eyes at her.
“Come on. Enough chitchat. In the car.”
She obliges, sitting in the back with Frank, and soon the realisation of where we’re actually going hits us. A solemn silence fills the hot summer air, which I hastily try to break. Three manic depressives all being moody at once isn’t a good combination.
“How was your Nar-Anon (Authors Note: For people affected by having friends and family who are/were addicted) meeting B?”
“Okay I guess. But I talked about mum a lot. About how much I miss her.”
I try to give her a reassuring smile, though I’m sure it looks more like a grimace.
“Hey, that’s fine. I miss her too. A lot. But that’s normal, and I bet she misses us too.”
Frank hugs her.
“It’ll be okay babe. You’ll see. Come here.”
In the mirror I can just catch a glimpse of them kissing, and I frown at where Frank is choosing to place his hands.
“Alright alright that’s enough of that, stop defiling my daughter. Do you want to give me a heart attack?”
They break apart, and Bandit pulls some sunflowers from her bag.
“Did everyone bring flowers?”
Both Frank and I reply with a monotone ‘yes’.
The mood is returned to a mournful ache as I pull into the cemetery car park, exiting the car quickly. It’s been a long time, far too long. I pick up my pace, tripping over clumps of grass as I go. Bandit calls for me to slow down, but I tune her out. I can’t deal with anyone else’s baggage today. I pause, scanning the graves around me.
And then I’m on my knees, sobbing, because I’ve finally found what I’ve been looking for.
My trembling fingers reach up to stroke the golden letters of her name, engraved in the dark stone. It’s rough and cold against my touch. Just like she was, the day she died. I choke up, resting my head against the granite and shaking against it.
I can feel her. She’s with me I know, but out of reach. Always out of reach. No matter how hard I try. How much pain I endure. How many lies I live. She’s still six feet under. It’s killing me. My lips press softly on the summer grass above her.
I smile through the tears, though I know B can’t see it.
“It’s okay Bandit. We’ll make it through this. We have to.”
I can tell she’s crying, but I don’t want to meet my daughter’s eyes.
They’re too close to a love I’ve already lost.
[*Ahh, finally finished. Give me your thoughts in the reviews, whist I continue to sit here crying like a retard at The Light Behind Your Eyes. Love you all!