And At The End Of the Day..

Things never end the way you want, do they, Neil?" Chris mused. "I don't mean to be negative, but.."It's okay, replied Neil."We're all allowed to do some reflecting. As long as it doesn't devolve into a "Pity Party."

They both laughed. "Who would have thought that we could actually build a career in the music business," Neil reflected.

The two were then interrupted by an unusually loud phone ring. "You answer it, Neil. You're closer."

"Okay. But don't make this an every day habit."

Neil grabbed the receiver. "Hello?" There was silence at the other end. "Hello," he repeated, getting a bit annoyed. "Is there someone there?"

Suddenly, he heard someone crying in the background--almost a wailing weeping that was disturbing, to say the least. "What's going on?" Neil was growing alarmed.

Just then, a weak, wavering voice got on the other end of the phone. "Is this Neil Tennant?"

"Yes it is," Neil responded. But I'm having a hard time hearing you. Could you speak up a bit?"

"This is Brian. You and I met at that day camp we both hated. Called White Bear Ranch. Do you remember?"

Neil suddenly knew exactly who he was talking to. Brian Harrison. "Yes, of course I remember. You and I got into a lot of trouble, didn't we?"

"You bet. Can you believe that was twenty-three years ago! And now it's 1982 already. Time has a way of sneaking up on you."

"If you don't mind me asking, Brian, "Who is that poor soul crying his or her head off?"

Brian hesitated and then told Neil that his sister had had a miscarriage and then was told that she couldn't have another baby. "I don't know how to comfort her, Neil. I don't have a clue."

"How long has she been here?" Neil asked. "Since she got that awful news. Or does she live with you?"

Just then he heard the sound of glass breaking noisily. "Debbie, what the hell are you doing?" Then Brian dropped the phone and didn't get back on.

Neil turned to Chris. "I've got to get over there. It sounds horrible.''

"I'll go with you," he responded. "We can take the Tube," Neil said, putting his coat on."

"It'll get us there faster if we take my car. Don't you agree?"

"I'll agree because if the emergency is as dire as it sounds, we can't afford to waste any time."

The two of them got into Chris's car and sped off. "Hey, Neil, do you know where we're going? Have you been at his flat before? I sure hope so."

Of course. Bri has been living in the same flat since we graduated high school. The place is a dump, but my friend has had a very difficult life and has more demons than most."

"How so," asked Chris.

"Well, he got into the drug scene at 13, starting with glue sniffing, then progressing to pot, graduating to LSD and then mainlining heroin. It wouldn't surprise me if he's currently using Chrystal Meth. I have never seen him straight. He can only function while high as a kite, I guess. Quite depressing, actually."

They found Brian's flat: A shoddy, unsavoury dump. "I wonder if they even have electricity or heat?" Chris felt badly for Neil's buddy.

"I doubt it." Neil sighed, "He never could hang onto money. And those drugs aren't cheap."

Suddenly, they heard a woman screaming and sounding as if she was trashing the place. "

"Deb! Stop this! You have to get hold of yourself."

Neil and Chris entered the rundown flat that smelled of stale tobacco and Deb immediately grabbed Neil and dug her fingernails into his neck. "Neil. Please! Get me out of here!!  Brian pulled her off and planted her emaciated bottom back on the couch. "See what I've been living with?" Brian looked as if he hadn't had a good night's sleep or a meal in days. Heavy bags under his eyes and an almost scull-like face had aged him. He and Neil were the same age, but Brian looked as if he could be his friend's father. Neil was dismayed at what Brian and Debbie's had sunk to--what had become of an outgoing kid with a penchant for getting in trouble, always happy and when he got home from school as a kid, he was in his bedroom doing complicated crossword puzzles, making a volcano out of paper mashe and paste and had so much potential that his parents put money away so that their brilliant son could go to university. Everyone thought he'd rule the world someday.

Where was that child with all the dreams? Why did he go from popular student to a bedraggled glue sniffer?  When and why did he destroy the God-given future and end up in a dump? Nobody knows.

Neil and Chris stared at the broken sliding glass window. "What happened here?" Chris asked, not sure if he wanted to know.

"Debbie stood up again and pointed her finger to her chest. "I broke the damned thing! Didn't you hear it when you were on the phone, Neil?"

"Yes, he replied, growing more and more despondent that Brian had chosen such a self-destructive and angry woman to marry. She was pretty enough, with blonde hair, albeit in a tousled mat, large green eyes, full lips and petite build. Neil could see that he would Brian had seen in her, never knowing that she would take him down into the bowels of hell, not many years later.

Neil asked the pair if they wanted to go out to a restaurant and have dinner. "You need to get out of here for awhile, guys. Just clean up a bit, brush your hair and put something else on."

Brian looked hesitant. I don't know, Neil. "I haven't been in a restaurant for two years now. Deb and I got kicked out on several different occasions and then nobody would let us come in."

"What do the two of you eat?" Chris asked, looking around for the kitchen. Don't you have a stove or fridge? This is so depressing."

"We had to sell everything to get drug money. Oh, we do have a toilet and sink. We aren't that far gone."
"Why did you want us to come over here? You sounded frantic on the phone. And the two of you act as if having a glass door smashed to bits and nothing to cook with is no big deal. Is it money that you need?" Neil should have suspected that much earlier, He figured that if he and Chris came over and saw the pitiful squalor his former friend's was living in, then getting them over was a ploy Brian used to keep at least a smidgen of dignity. Or that's what Neil was thinking--even though it was rather cruel and insensitive thing to feel about a school boy who was reaching out for a life preserver in a choppy, angry ocean of self-hatred and hopelessness.

Chris was fidgeting, eager to get going anywhere instead of standing around awkwardly, trying not to stare at Brian and skeletal Debbie. "Hey, Neil, we'd better get going. He glanced at his watch. "It's six thirty. We've been here over an hour now. If they want to come with us, it's fine. But I'm not going to spend the night here."

Brian told Chris and Neil that they might as well leave, as they seemed to be ashamed of how they appeared to other strangers in restaurants and bars. "Okay then." Neil reached into his pocket and gave his wayward friend all the bills and change he had. He handed it to Debbie, as Brian had disappeared. "Thanks, Neil," said Deb. "We appreciate any kindness."

Neil had to ask: "Why won't you two try to get clean, once and for all. It's not too late--we're still young and strong----or somewhat strong. I will support you. You don't have to do this alone. Yes, you have your wife, but she needs the same healing as you do."

Debbie smiled weakly, tears in her eyes, "It's too late, Neil. "It's been too late for years now. The two of us have been hanging on by our bootstraps and the rope is starting to fray."

"But you're smart. I know that the two friends I've known for a very long time. You can get clean and realise your dreams for writing a novel. You were attracted to each other because you wanted the same things: To be happy and contribute something significant to give to the world. Think of this as a bump in the road, girl."

Debbie slowly shook her head. No. It's far too late. Brian and I have been doing drugs steadily for a very long time now. Our brains are pretty much fried. Look around you. Do you and Chris think we are deliberately existing this way? That makes no sense at all. It has just been too, too long. How many times do I have to tell you this? Face it, we made our opium beds and now we have to sink into them. There's a little part of my heart that longs to overcome this wretched existence, but I don't know how. Neither does Brian. Please, will you and Chris just leave us now. Please."

Chris tugged on Neil's jacket. "I think this is our cue to get out of here. There's nothing more we can possibly do. If they don't want to do the incredibly hard work it will take them to get clean, then there is no recourse. You tried, Neil. Let's go. Perhaps they will come around. You know, that as long as there's light, there's hope."

"I don't think it goes like that,Chris."

Both of them stopped into a pub and had a few pints, doing their best to put that long and dismal visit behind them. But no matter how much they drank, the two of them could not think back to their school days and that Brian was touted "The most likely to succeed."

"Sometimes I think that title can be a curse of sorts" Chris mused.

"How so?"

"Well, it always felt as though anyone branded with it, ended up being the least likely."

"That's deep." Neil managed a smile.


They went home after a few hours had passed, taking a taxi, as neither one of them was up to driving.

The next morning, as Neil was getting ready for work at Smash Hits, Chris came banging at the door in a state of panic and horror.

"What's the matter? You're white as a sheet."

Instead of answering, a shaking Chris handed the newspaper to his friend. The headline screamed at them. There was a picture of a fire engulfing a house where they had gone to visit Brian and Debbie. Neil felt his heart falling into his shoes. Who or why would they do this? Had they gotten really stoned and the blaze was accidental? Or was it deliberate? And how could anyone determine that.

Neil turned and looked out the window. Shoving his hands into the pockets of  his trousers, he found a wadded up piece of paper. Unfolding it, he could see that Debbie had written a note and slipped it into his pocket when Neil was looking the other way. Chris said, "Open that piece of paper up, Neil."
Reluctantly, he carefully unfolded the paper and saw that there was something written on it. Gathering all the mental strength he could summon, Neil read it with numbed lips. "By the time you read this, Brian and I will be dead. I covered the flat with petrol, then lit a match. We hugged each other as the flames wrapped around our depleted bodies. We just wanted to see you and Chris one last time. Of course, we couldn't say anything to you or you'd make sure we stayed safe. Go forward and do something wonderful with your lives. You deserve it. Love, Deb."

There were no words from either of them, just a gnawing pain, spiked with sadness and anger. Chris put his arm around his friend. "Come on, mate. Let's go home.

                 Some Haikus                        

      Death Row

The table was set
Right after the final meal                             
Needles for dessert.                                                             

Nobody says it
Just what are they afraid of?
Words can move mountains.

Friendship's can falter                                             Disembodied hearts
Even if you rescue them                                           Only bleed for those who care
Their blood will still flow                                                              The rest die of thirst

I'm not one to laugh
It hurts my stomach muscles
I have an excuse.


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