I’ve known Lucille since the second grade. We used to go to each other’s houses a lot, but mostly I would go to hers, because she had those woods behind her house, where we could pretend to be explorers. I remember that I would always feel a little awkward when she and her mother fought in front of me, usually over something silly, like doing the laundry.
One day, in tenth grade English, we were asked to hand in our papers. We had three weeks to do them, and of course, I procrastinated and did it two days prior. Lucille didn’t do hers at all. When the teacher came over to scold her, she broke down crying. It was more tears than I thought were necessary for a paper, especially since the teacher gave her another three days with only ten points off.
Another day, in eleventh grade, Lucille and I, along with a few other friends were getting lunch, and she started crying again. We asked her what was wrong, but she just wouldn’t say anything. She simply sat on the floor, and cried loudly, not caring who saw, and not saying a word. We tried to hug her, and she would shrug us off. Finally, a lunch monitor came and said, “Let’s go to guidance.”
And she left.
“What the crap?” said my best friend, Hannah. “We offered to bring her to guidance how many times? Maybe she’s mad at us?”
“Weird way to show it.” I stepped back into the lunch line. “We’ll catch up with her later. But let’s get some food -- they’re going to close the line soon.”
These types of events became more frequent, and I went to Lucille’s house less and less. Soon, I only went there for a party, and we rarely hung out outside of school.
Our senior trip took us to Washington D.C., and we were all excited. Five days in the nation’s capital, and best of all: no school work, and no parents. We would be on our own, except for the teachers who came to chaperone us. Before leaving for the trip, we had to have our luggage sniffed by police dogs.
“You can pet them after they’re done working,” said one officer. He had short brown hair and a face made stern by years of working in the force. “If you touch them before they are done, they can get confused and think that work time is over. So again, please do not touch the dogs until we say you can.”
Hannah, Lucille, and I were at the end of the line on the girl’s side, and when the dog came over and finished sniffing our bags, Hannah crawled over and started petting him.
“Hannah!” I leaned forward and whispered, so I didn’t attract attention. “He’s not done working! Leave him alone!”
“But he’s finished sniffing our bags, and he’s really soft!”
“Hannah, they sniff twice.”
The trip down was long, and we stopped fairly often to stretch our legs and grab snacks. I slept through most of it. I remember the teachers telling us that we had to sit with the same person the whole trip so they could make head count easier. I had wanted to sit with Hannah, but her so-called boyfriend, Paul (really, just a boy who followed her around wherever she went and tried to impress her) took the seat before I did, so I sat with Lucille. I glared at Paul’s huge, bald head. I liked him enough, but that was my best friend he was sitting with/stalking.
For most of the trip, Lucille refused to talk to me. I thought it was because she had lost her favourite pair of earrings on the first day when we went to an amusement park, and somehow blamed it on me (I had ridden in the same car on the ride she lost them on, but I haven’t mastered theft at sixty or so miles an hour).
As it turns out, this resulted in me spending the entire trip alone. Hannah spent a lot of time with Paul (I’m not really sure why, but I could see in her face that she didn’t like him much), and Lucille ignored me most of the time. Thus, I walked through the Botanical Gardens, the museums, and nearly everywhere else by myself.
When I moved away to college, I was relieved to get away from our country town and cows and try the city. As it turns out, I don’t like the city more than the country, but I can deal with that. There’s nothing left for me back home.
It was December of sophomore year when I first learned that Lucille had popped a bottle of pills and had to be rushed to the hospital. Her boyfriend Brett, a longtime friend of all of ours, and the boy she had been after for years, told me that she had called him after taking them, and he had called her mother. She had found Lucille on the floor of her bedroom, her glazed eyes staring at the ceiling she had painted a year prior. Her phone was in one hand, and the bottle in the other. I never found out what pills they were.
When she was stable, Brett called me. He and I used discussed her a lot -- we were the people closest to her, even when I had moved away. It felt weird sometimes, because she sure didn’t make an effort to show that I meant anything to her, even though I often invited her events and called her fairly regularly.
“She’ll be okay. They’ve also run some tests on her in the psych ward. She’s bipolar.”
I tried to picture Brett: a messy mop of brown hair and green eyes. Stocky and tall. I tried to think of him as if he were tired, those eyes turned into the colour of beach glass. I tried to process the word “bipolar” in my head.
“Bipolar, huh? That would explain all the random crying in high school.”
A long pause. How were we going to handle this as a group? As individuals?
“Thanks for letting me know, Brett. I’ll talk to you later.”
During a short break from school, I went home and visited Lucille. After an hour of video games and catching up, her mother came home. She asked me about school, and when I told her about what I was studying and about my two jobs and everything else, she beamed at me.
“I’m so proud of you, Janice, it sounds like you’re doing so well.”
I cringed. Lucille didn’t finish the fall semester because she was in the hospital, and from what I heard, she would not be going back in the spring. I glanced at Lucille, who just stared straight at me, and I couldn’t help but wonder what she felt then. Did she think that her mother was more proud of me than of her? Did she think her mother hated her for developing the condition?
When I left for school again, just a few days later, I heard that Lucille had another crying episode, and I couldn’t help but wonder if her mother’s comments about me triggered it.
Lucille popped pills two times after that before Brett broke up with her. He had warned her, too. He had said, “Please just take your medicine, and don’t overdose again. I can’t take it anymore.”
When she ignored him and took pills for the fourth time, he left. I don’t blame him, honestly. It would be hard on anyone to deal with someone who tried to kill herself every time she felt unhappy. One day, as we sat down to coffee in our favourite hometown café, I told Hannah that Lucille wasn’t really trying to kill herself at all.
“What the crap do you mean?” I could see she was getting upset with me. She, like me, didn’t want to believe that there was method to the apparent madness in Lucille’s actions.
“Think about it. Every time Lucille takes a bunch of pills, what does she do? She calls Brett. She tells someone. If she wanted to die, she wouldn’t say anything. Or she would do something else.” I sipped from my coffee and looked around at the decor. Everything in the place was at least twice as old as me. “She’s trying to get attention. She wants people to feel sorry for her, and then give her everything she wants.”
“It’s bullcrap,” I agreed. But that was what I had read just a couple of weeks prior -- people with bipolar disorder crave attention.
The last straw for me was in November of 2009. I went to see a play my younger brother was the lead for: King Lear. I had travelled the four or so hours back home specifically to see it. As I was coordinating with Hannah, who was also going to see the show, about seating and parking, I got an unexpected call from Lucille.
“Hi!” She sounded really happy. Like, before-bipolar happy.
“Hey, Lucille, what’s up?”
“I want to see Lear tonight, but I don’t have a ride. Would you mind picking me up?”
“Sure. You’re right on the way, anyway.”
So I drove out and picked up Lucille and headed to the school to see the play.
The play itself was excellent. The directors had done a very good job with the kids, and they were great actors. My brother, who had acted only once before, played a stunning Lear (though I might be biased), and many people were moved to tears, myself included.
When the play was over, I stayed behind and talked to the actors. I had to bring my brother home, and he had to help with cleanup, so I had some free time. A lot of them were old friends, and we chatted about how things were going in different parts of the state.
Finally, everything was cleaned up and we were ready to go home, but when I called out to Lucille, she just said, “No.”
“No, I’m not going.” Something had triggered her, and she was having an episode. I tried to think of a way to at least abate it so that she would agree to go home.
“Lucille, we can’t stay. They have to lock up the building, okay?”
“Why don’t you want to leave?”
“Because I don’t like being at home. No one likes me there.”
“If they didn’t like you, they’d kick you out. Can we at least just go outside so they can lock up the building?” I could feel Mrs. Woods’ stares on me. She was the teacher who worked with the directors, who were from another state. Getting everyone off the campus was her responsibility. I desperately wanted to avoid the “wrath of the Woods” as the kids called it.
When we were outside, Lucille planted herself on a bench and refused to move. As it happened, it was a cold, rainy November night. I was worried that we would all end up sick. My brother moved to my car, and Hannah and I sat on the bench. We were quiet for a while, thinking of a way to start the conversation without making things worse.
“Lucille, it’s going to rain again, and we’re all going to get sick. So let’s get in the car, okay?”
“You plan to stay here all night?” Hannah asked. She was using what I called her, “I’m really kind of annoyed but also worried and I’m trying to be as nice as possible,” voice. She’s the kind of person who is outspoken with her friends, but awkward as soon as things start to look anything but good.
“Yes.” Lucille had hunched herself up and folded her hands across her chest, to make herself as inaccessible as possible.
With a look at each other, Hannah and I nodded, and we grabbed one of Lucille’s arms and managed to pull her up. She tried to throw us off, and I remember staring into her eyes, holding on as hard as I could. She looked like she hated me, then. We finally let go and watched her sit back onto the bench.
“You guys need to leave right now,” Mrs. Woods said, stamping over in her grandma-style high heels. “You can’t stay here.”
“We know,” I said, turning. I indicated Lucille. “We’re trying to leave, but she’s refusing right now.”
Mrs. Woods stamped away again and walked to the monstrous van of Mrs. Grinaldo, or as I like to call her, Mrs. Spawn-all-the-children-in-the-world-and-attend-every-event-ever. I knew she was complaining about us. But that was not my focus right now, and her infamous wrath would just have to wait.
“Lucille, really, let’s go.” Hannah said quietly. To me, she sounded like she was ready to cry, because she could think of nothing else to do. I wanted to do the same.
Mrs. Woods walked over to us again, the force of her heels hitting the ground told us how upset she was.
“Okay, you guys need to leave right now.” She held a purse to her tightly, like she was going to fling it at us at any moment.
“Mrs. Woods, we’re really trying,” I said.
“Janice, your brother is waiting by your car. I’m sure he’s very tired. You need to leave and take him home.”
“Ma’am, I just told you that we’re trying.”
“Then you can leave, and she can stay,” Mrs. Woods said, indicating Lucille.
“First of all, that’s ridiculous and unreasonable.” She glared at me. I could tell that she wanted to demand respect from me, but I continued talking. “I’m not going to leave her. It’s cold, and I brought her out here. I’m not going home and telling her mother I didn’t bring her back because you asked me to.”
I stood as firm as I could, but my legs were shaking.
“If you don’t leave, I will have to call the police and report you for trespassing.” Her last-ditch effort. I took a step closer to her.
“Then, I’m sorry, Ma’am, but you will have to call them, because I will not leave my friend here.”
With this, she stormed away. I turned around and looked back at Lucille.
“See? Now she’s going to call the police. Really, let’s not bring them into this. Let’s go home, okay?”
“Jesus Christ, what the fuck do you want from me?” I put my hands on her shoulders, and my face up to hers. She said nothing. I felt everyone staring at me. I moved away after a long staring contest. “It’s me, right? It’s fucking me that’s your problem. Fine, you know what? If you don’t want to ride in my car, ride in Hannah’s.”
That’s when Lucille moved. She pushed past me and toward Hannah’s car, with Hannah following. I moved behind, keeping my distance. I felt drained. As we passed Mrs. Woods and Mrs. Grinaldo, they turned and glared at me. Mrs. Woods pulled me aside.
“You guys are too old to pull this kind of nonsense,” she said with quiet anger. “What do you think you were doing over there? I have an hour-long drive back home. And if I might add, with that display, you’re not being much of a role model for your brother.”
“As far as being a good role model, I’m sure my brother thinks that friends are more important than doing everything you’re told. Also, you should try reasoning with a woman suffering from bipolar disorder, Ma’am. Maybe you could tell her that she’s too old for this, and that whatever she’s feeling right now isn’t real,” I spat back. I turned and walked to my car.
When my brother and I had piled into my car, I turned on the engine and slammed the steering wheel with my hands.
I drove away as quickly as I could.
Three days later, I sat in a Chinese restaurant with Hannah. I ate soup, to warm myself up from the November rains, to cut off the cold I felt coming, and to shake the shivers the encounter with Lucille had left me with. We talked about our friend.
“I can’t take it anymore,” I said between spoonfuls. “It’s like I’m pulling her to me with all my might, and she just keeps pushing me away. I just can’t keep pulling -- I’m going to break my arm.”
“Well, you can’t just abandon her,” Hannah said.
Abandon. The word made my stomach turn.
“I’m not going to. But I’m going to pull back. I don’t really plan on contacting her very much, but if she calls me or something, I’ll talk to her. It’s just a lot to try to deal with, with school and everything.”
“And you know,” I said. I paused to order another bowl of soup. “The worst thing is that she doesn’t care. She’s flipped out on us how many times? And the next day, she just comes back to school or calls us or whatever and act like nothing’s happened. It’s never, ‘Sorry I got upset last night guys,’ or even some kind of acknowledgement. Either she doesn’t realize how her illness affects us, or she doesn’t care, and whether or not that’s her fault, it really bothers me.”
“It is kind of hard. And awkward,” Hannah agreed. “We can’t really bring it up, either. We don’t know if that will trigger another episode, or if she’ll get offended.”
We sat in silence for a few minutes before I spoke again.
“What happened when you guys left? Did she keep being really upset?”
“No, actually. You know, it was pretty weird. We drove away and after a while, she just perked right back up. We drove around town and laughed and everything.” She sipped her tea, and frowned.
“I thought so,” I muttered.
“What do you mean?”
“Bipolars tend to have pretty drastic mood swings.” Actually, it’s because she was away from her trigger, I reminded myself. I felt like Hannah knew what I really thought without having to say it.
I haven’t spoken to Lucille much since that night. When she chose to ride home in Hannah’s car instead of mine, I realized that I felt like I have always been the trigger for her. Almost like her disorder was my fault. I expressed this idea to Hannah once, and she told me I was an idiot. I agreed.
One day, when I was thinking about her, Lucille called me. I asked her things were going.
“I’m worthless,” she said over the phone. “And I don’t want to be alive.”
“Yes you do, or you wouldn’t tell me this.” I was not in the mood to play games with her.
“No, I don’t.”
In the background, I heard her mother walk in, and some yelling ensued.
“Goodbye, Lucille,” I whispered into the telephone. Then I hung up.