In a crowded, noisy coffee shop, two people can sit together and still be surrounded by their own silence. They sit and drink together, the rest of the world far away from them, nothing intruding on them, nothing disturbing their quietude. Until one of them speaks.
“Elizabeth took pills last night.” Pip says, a scratch in his voice.
“What?” Tasha exclaims. The calm around them shatters and falls to the ground like broken glass. “What the hell?”
“Yeah,” Pip says with a brief nod. “Exactly.”
“How much?” Tasha asks. She gives a short, sharp shake of her head. “I mean, how many? How many pills did she take?”
Pip shrugs. His eyes are slightly red, slightly watery. He wasn’t sure he should tell Tasha this news. He wasn’t sure either of them were ready to face it. But it’s too late to back out now. “More than a handful, less than two handfuls. Enough to do a number on her, but not enough to do the whole job.”
Tasha pushes a stray lock of her curly brown hair behind an ear. Her hands begin to tremble ever so slightly. “Jesus!”
“Yeah. Exactly,” Pip says again.
“So, she’s okay, than?” Tasha says. Her voice is tight. A guitar strung too taut.
“She’s alive,” Pip says. “I don’t know if she counts as ‘okay.’ She’s in the hospital, still unconscious. But she’ll live.” He looks at Tasha’s hands, wrung tight together, holding on to each other like she’ll fall off the edge of the world if they come apart. “Are you okay?” he asks.
“Me? Yeah,” she says, nodding her head slowly, mechanically. The up-and-down nodding suddenly shifts into a side-to-side shaking. “I mean, no. I’m not. This is…” Her voice cracks.
Pip reaches across the table and lightly touches her hands with his fingertips. “I figured,” he says. “It’s pushing buttons, yeah?”
She grabs his hand with both of hers and holds on tight. “It’s ringing like a bell inside of me,” she says. “I know the feelings that pushed her to do that. Ten years ago, that could’ve been me. Hell, ten years ago, that was me. Pills and everything.” Pip just nods. He’s heard the story before, but he doesn’t mind hearing it again. “I didn’t feel heavy, like I was carrying the weight of the world. I felt…light. Like sticks and straw. Too light to bear the weight of the world. Too weak, too stupid, too unable to deal with…with life. Everyone I knew, everyone around me seemed to know how to handle things, everything. Except me.”
“I know,” Pip says. “Funny, I’ve felt that way, too.”
“Everybody feels that way,” Tasha says. “After I woke up, spending a couple of weeks in the psych ward, in one-on-one and group therapy, I heard so many people say they felt that way. Even the psychiatrist felt that way. But even still…”
“You felt alone,” Pip says.
“I felt alone.” Tasha wipes a tear from the corner of her eye, then reaches back for Pip’s hand. “I still feel all alone sometimes. Not all the time, not even most of the time. But sometimes. And in therapy, one-on-one and in groups, I kept hearing ‘it will get better.’ Everyone says it will get better. And it does. It really does. They wanted me to know that, and I want to tell Elizabeth that. I want to give her a big hug and tell her it gets better.” Pip nods and gives her a sad smile. “But after it gets better, it gets worse again. And then it gets better, and then it gets worse, and then it gets better again. You’ll feel weak again. You’ll want to try to get out again. You might even try to get out again.”
Pip gives her hands a slight squeeze. “You’re not alone. Elizabeth isn’t alone. Never.”
“I know,” Tasha says. “But there are still times when you feel all alone. When everything looks dark. When all you can see is darkness. And the thing is…even when everything seems so dark and bleak and overwhelming to me, I can still see light. I can make jokes, I can laugh, I can dance to my favorite songs. But the darkness is still so overpowering. I can see light, but I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. You know?” Pip gives her another nod. “And people will try to show me the light at the end of the tunnel. You’re really good at that.” Pip smiles, a little less sad this time. “I just hope Elizabeth will see the light at the end of the tunnel, even if that light is other people. Standing at the end of the tunnel with lanterns, waving her on.”
“You can be that person for her,” Pip says.
Tasha looks at him and finally cracks a smile. She closes her eyes, shuts out the world around her, focuses on the darkness. The buzzing of the coffee shop again fades away. She sends her thoughts and feelings out, like ivy growing out of her heart. She thinks about Elizabeth, asleep in her hospital bed, feeling alone, tired, drained, weak. She reaches out to Elizabeth, wraps her heart around Elizabeth’s heart, scratches a match against the dark and sets it all a’light.
Tasha knows this won’t be enough. It will never be enough. But it’s something.