I’m Brendan Armstrong — 17, junkie misfit with absentee parents currently in rehab trying to get clean, and this story is about the people that are the reason I’m still alive. I didn’t like company, didn’t like giving people a chance. Well, before, sure I was bouncing off the walls but recently it’s been a different story. I can’t remember the last time I felt happy and upbeat (well, except for the drug highs).
Bruises and cuts are a trademark of mine courtesy of dear old dad. I guess it isn’t all his fault though. After mom died, I turned to heroin and he turned to alcohol. The kids at school tried to help, but everything passed and people just felt sorry for me and did nothing else. I didn’t let anyone in. Shot up as often as I could with as much money as I could manage. I didn’t have a very long life expectancy and I was fine with it. But two people changed that — Jess and Percy.
I was at my school locker one day, getting my books for the next class, when I felt everything go dark. My eyes rolled back in my head. Yeah, not a pretty sight, I know. Apparently, I was having horrible convulsions.
I woke up to the sight of a heartbeat monitor, an IV stuck in my arm, and a big burly guy hovering over me. “Move, you dolt, you’re gonna scare him back into unconsciousness with all your testosterone.” I actually laughed out loud, but my internal organs hurt, so that was not a pleasurable experience.
Standing with her arms crossed, purple highlights in her dark hair staring defiantly at Mr Yeti, the girl introduced herself as Jess.The boys said his name was Percy. The follow-up question was a bit weird though: Percy asked, “So is it true you went all Kurt Cobain in the hall?”
Jess slapped his arm as a very subtle sign to shut up. At first, I decided I wasn’t going to answer, but a voice in my head said, “You’re going to die anyway, might as well do it with a light chest,” and I said, “ Yeah actually. Happened a couple times before, too. Thanks for bringing me here, by the way. Probably saved my life. But I’d rather be alone now.”
They said their goodbyes and gave me the usual “get well soon” lines.
A few days later, I was sitting in the cafeteria, eating lunch, and I still barely had taste in my mouth. The slop tasted worse than usual, which I didn’t think was possible. Two trays plopped down on either side of me and I looked up to see — the abominable snowman! No, it was just the big, burly dude from the other day. Jess sat across from me and started eating.
“Hey Kurt, how’s it going?”
“Funnily enough, I’m not actually Kurt Cobain,” but I laughed anyway.
Jess said “Been okay since that day?”
“Yeah,” I lied. In actuality I got horrible muscle twitches and blacked out frequently, but they didn’t need to know that.
“What are you on, Brendan?” I don’t think I told her my name, but I went along with it.
“You don’t want to know,” I said.
“Humour me,” she replied.
I chuckled and immediately said, “Angel Dust and Heroin. That’s what I’m on.”
“ That’s…” She didn’t finish, and just up and left.
About a week later, I collapsed while giving a presentation and woke up in the hospital again. This time, there was no one in the room. Just the doctor and nurse. They said, “Son, this is the second time in 15 days, if you keep this up you’re not going to live to see graduation”
For some reason, I felt angry. “Haven’t got much to live for, have I?”
“Tell that to your friends who have to carry you here every time. They even left a note. I suggest you get your act together, son.”
I noticed the hand written note on my bedside.
Get well soon, Kurt. And if you want to quit this, meet me in the cafeteria when you’re discharged.
For such a big dude, he had impeccable handwriting. Sitting on my hospital bed gave me way too much time to think. When was the last time I was happy? Hell, when was the last time I was 100% aware? When was the last time anyone cared? None of the answers were positive, so I thought I’d be going 6 feet under real fast, real soon. If not for me, I’d do it for the only people in the world who actually seemed to care.
When I finally got out, Jess and Percy were waiting in the cafeteria. I put down my tray next to them and we started talking. Little did I know that we kind of had a lot in common. We loved reading books and it turned out that Percy had a thing for romance novels (who’d have thought). We spoke and laughed, and for the first time in what seemed like ages, I felt happy. Not high or in a trance, happy. After that, we became fast friends, then graduates, and now we’re roommates. I got a job and haven’t taken a dime from my deadbeat dad since.
Percy took me to his brother who, conveniently enough, was a psychologist. And Jess got me to register at a rehab centre. It was hard. Sure, there were times I felt like my body was killing me from the inside, but I kept fighting. Now I had people who’d be devastated if I bit the dust. So, I kept fighting, and they were the light at the end of the tunnel that I chased after, a light that was snuffed out when my mom passed, a light that was reignited by love and friendship.
Six months ago, if anyone had told me I would be genuinely happy and would want to survive, I would’ve made some sarcastic retort because I absolutely believed that I didn’t deserve better. Jess and Percy showed me how wrong I was. And that’s just friendship isn’t it? It helps sustain us.
That’s how the first humans survived, leaning on each other for support, and that’s how we’ll be till the end. In the direst of times, when you’re at your lowest, they’ll always be there. “Friends” — seven letters, two vowels, and one absolute saving grace for a misfit like myself. Here’s to friends, without whom this poor schmuck wouldn’t be telling you his story.