The brakes on the CTA bus screeched as Maggie's stop came up, just as they did every day, year after year. The late spring day had turned dark and cold as brisk winds whipped through the trees sending a chill down her back. Maggie grabbed her coat and tightened its collar around her neck as she walked the four blocks to her home. It was Friday; the start of the weekend, but Maggie had no plans. This weekend would come and go as they always do, and she would be all alone. Her face was expressionless as she dragged her way back home. Each step she took seemed like her last.
Maggie looked pale, worn out and beaten. Her once long and wavy cinnamon-red colored hair that used to tumble down her shoulders and onto her chest, was now tied up in a loose knot upon her head. The once vibrant twenty-five-year old required all she had to make it through another day at work. Wearing no makeup and dressed in a long, drab-colored skirt and sandals, she could almost be mistaken as a bag lady picking up cans along the curb.
When she reached her home, the old wooden porch gave out a slight creak as she stepped up onto it. A quick fumble with her keys and she entered her home.
"Hello Winston. How was your day today?"
A large tabby cat greeted her at the front door, rubbing his face along her ankles.
Inside her home the blinds were pulled down halfway, giving the house a semi-dark Goth like appearance; a cross between twilight and dusk. A stack of Cosmopolitan magazines was spewed out across the coffee table, pushing several empty Chinese take out boxes to one side. A lone fish swam endless circles in an aquarium next to an end table. The clock on the VCR forever flashed twelve-pm as a few skirts were hanging on various doorknobs, while some shirts hung from the door jambs. A stack of dirty dishes over ran the kitchen counter. Between the overflowing laundry baskets and Winston's litter box, the house had an odor, a combination somewhere between a men's locker room and a bottle of ammonia.
"What a day Winston, I'm really glad to be home."
Winston arched his back and rolled over trying to nudge a belly scratch from Maggie.
Maggie fell back into the couch exhausted and stroked Winston's belly, except for a ticking clock on the wall, the sound of his purrs filled the otherwise, silent home. Maggie was alone with nothing but her thoughts and her fears.
As she sat down on her couch her mind began to race, generating thoughts of things that happened and things that were yet to be. Suddenly, Maggie dropped her head into her lap and started to softly cry.
"Oh kitty, why did he have to die? Why? Please tell me why he had to leave me?"
The more her mind raced; the depression she had been battling with these last few months took on a new strength beating her up using her own thoughts. As she sat in silence, alone in the fog of her mind, the internal dialogue she had been fighting to keep under control all this time begun to spew out.
"I'm so very alone! No one wants me. No one loves me. I wish I was dead. I wish I had never been born."
More and more of her internal thinking came to life adding more fuel to her depressed mood. Perhaps it was the weather, the gray skies and all, but her mood was growing darker as the minutes of the day melted into the infinite realm of time.
"Oh Winston, I'm so lonely."
Soon her crying intensified, sending rivers of tears down her cheeks and onto the couch. Grabbing a pillow, she hugged it with all her strength, as she pulled her knees up against her chest. She began to cry uncontrollably as she rocked back and forth. Maggie slowly started to lose her grip with reality, her mind a cocktail of negativity.
"Oh God, I'm losing it!" she cried out with such intensity that, Winston jumped down and hid under a chair.
Maggie started to cry hysterically. The very fabric of her being was being pulled apart till the threads that held her conscience to the logical world began to unravel. As her mind started to disconnect from reality, she began to fall into the abyss of deep depression.
She reached out for the phone lying on the coffee table, but her hands shook so violently, she couldn't pick it up. She made a second, then a third attempt, at last holding the phone in both hands. She tried to focus on the phone's display, but her eyes were having trouble focusing through her tears. Finally, she entered a number in the speed dial. The phone began to ring.
"Maggie is that you?"
"Joyce, I don't feel so good," she said trying to keep the phone to her ear.
"What's wrong honey?"
"I'm tired of being alone. I… I don't want to live anymore… Oh Christ, I miss him. I just want to die. Please make the hurt go away…"
"Maggie! You still there? Maggie, listen to me Maggie. Answer me Maggie!"
"Joyce, you've been a good friend."
Joyce could hear Maggie crying in the background and tried again to get her to talk.
"Maggie, listen to me. Did you take you meds today?"
"Maggie, I'll be over as fast as I can. Now you have got to promise me you won't hurt yourself. Do you promise me?"
Joyce heard no reply.
"Maggie, I'll be there as soon as I can. You just lay on the couch with Winston to keep him warm till I get there, okay? Maggie, if you don't promise me, I'll have to call the police, you don't want them to upset Winston do you? Promise me Maggie. I'll be right over."
"I promise…" Her voice grew softer.
Now Dale Earnhardt would have been proud as hell of Joyce as she made her way down Chicago's busy streets and over to Maggie's house. Pushing and at times exceeding the speed limit, running though yellow lights, time seemed to slow to a crawl as Joyce fought traffic. Her mind was racing. Did she make a mistake by not calling the police or EMS? Would she find Maggie in a bathtub of crimson-red water? Perhaps she would just tire and just fall asleep.
As Joyce pulled into Maggie's driveway, she could smell the heat from the brakes and hotness of the car's engine. Not stopping to shut the car's door, Joyce ran to the front of the house and she pushed the door open.
"Maggie! It's Joyce! Are you okay?"
She heard nothing but the tick-tock of the wall clock. She called out again, "Maggie!"
Then she saw her, lying on the couch, one hand outstretched on the carpet; several empty pill bottles were within reach.
"Oh no! Sweet Jesus no!"
Joyce checked and found a pulse, her breaths were slow and shallow, but she was still alive.
"The phone! God, where's the phone!" Joyce shouted in desperation, franticly scanning the area with her eyes searching for the telephone Maggie had used to call her.
"911 Operator. What's your emergency?"
"My friend! She's taken an overdose of pills! Oh God, please hurry!"
"Do you know what kind and how many?"
"They're ah, mostly antidepressants, some others, I don't know!"
"Are the bottles near by? Can you read them to me?"
"Molipaxin, Yentreve, and Alprazolam. They're all empty! Oh my God, you got to hurry!"
"The system has your address up, and I have dispatched both an EMS and EMT squad to that location. They're in route and should be there within a few minutes. Do you want me to stay on the line with you?"
"Just tell them to hurry. I'll be here."
With that, Joyce hung up the phone. She placed Maggie's head into her lap and stroked her long hair with her fingers. "It will be fine. It will be just fine. You will see. It's going to work out just fine. Oh Maggie, suicide is not the answer Maggie. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem."
Joyce looked out at the oak tree in Maggie's front yard, the tree was in bud, and she wondered if Maggie would get to see the oak bloom again next spring. In the silence of the room, Joyce could at last begin to hear sirens in the background, growing ever louder as each second ticked into history.
At last, the squads arrived and they began taking vitals on Maggie. "She still with us," one of the medics called out, "Dispatch, we have a twenty-five-year old white female, approximately one hundred twenty pounds, with a possible drug overdose."
Joyce heard cracking over the radio, "Start Ringers, D5W, transport as soon as possible."
"May I come with her?" she asked one of the paramedics.
"Okay, you can ride with us to Mount Sinai Medical Center."
As the squad rumbled though Chicago's streets, Maggie was still clinging to life drifting in and out of consciousness. Tubes, wires, and other medical equipment were attached to monitors. They beeped and chirped together amid the drone of the ambulance's sirens. And while none of this made any sense to Joyce, when the EMT tending to her called out, "Step on it Paul, Step on it! Faster buddy, gotta go!" Joyce instantly knew Maggie's was teetering on the knife-edge of life.
From the perspective of where Joyce was seated, she by chance looked up into the rear view mirror and for a second locked eyes with the driver. He could tell in her eyes the desperation and fear she felt. He pushed the accelerator to the floor, and the mighty Allison diesel responded in kind with the roar of a thousand caged tigers. The ambulance lurched forward with enough force Joyce had to grab the hand strap. The boost turbines fired up with an angry wail, jamming volumes of air and fuel into the engine. They screamed so loud that for several seconds, they drowned out the sound of the sirens.
"We need to get there in one piece, Paul!" the EMT called out from Maggie's side.
They had cut her shirt off and were attaching more wires and patches to her chest, connecting even more electronics to her. As both EMT worked on her, one reached over and pulled a red box from the side floor and opened it up.
"Charge to 500 joules."
The machine in the box let out a high-pitched 'ta-weeeeee,' and Joyce could see a display counting up. Several seconds ticked by, and a small red light blinked ready.
"Is she having a heart attack?" Joyce asked trying to be heard above the noise within the ambulance.
"No, but I like to be ready just in case."
As Joyce looked around within the ambulance time appeared to slow down. The voices from the radio and even the EMTs working on Maggie seemed to be talking as though they were a record being played at the wrong speed. Every movement appeared to be in slow motion.
Suddenly, the brakes started to squeal, and the ambulance slowed as it pulled into the hospital. Time appeared to catch up with Joyce, and the turmoil inside the ambulance returned. Arriving at the hospital, the ER staff started working on her even before she was completely out of the ambulance. Joyce reached out and grabbed onto a doctor's arm.
"Here! I picked up the empty bottles she had on the floor."
The doctor smiled back and said, "Great thinking. You might have just saved your friend's life!"
Maggie was whisked back to the ICU room. It just seemed that every doctor and nurse in the hospital descended into that tiny ICU room. It was touch and go for a while, but Maggie survived her brush with death that day. She was moved up several floors of the hospital and into the mental health ward. Forty-eight hours later, Joyce was allowed to see Maggie. She was half-asleep in her bed when Joyce walked into her room.
"Maggie, it's me, Joyce. How you doing?"
Joyce brushed Maggie's hair from her eyes and held her hand.
"Maggie, it's Joyce."
Maggie perked up a bit and opened her eyes, trying to lock focus on the face leaning over her.
"Joyce I'm so sorry. I just wanted to stop the pain. That's all, just stop the pain."
"It's okay. Hush now. What happened is what has happened. You can't change what is in the past, only what is in the now. You can't even control the future as that has yet to happen. You can only do the now, and right now, you need to get better.
"Here, I brought you some clothes and some other items you'll need. The hospital staff told me you will be here for a week or so. I talked to your doctor, and he told me he would try some different meds. He needs time to see how you react to them. He's got counseling set up, and Maggie, it really is important you go."
"I'll go." Maggie replied in very soft voice.
"That's the way to think! You need to talk to a professional and the counselor will help you deal with the feelings and the pain with issues you had in your past."
Maggie remained in the hospital for ten days, she attended the classes, and she took her medications. She improved quickly and the doctors released her from their care.
While Maggie was in the hospital, her friends came over, cleaned the house, opened the blinds and put out flowers to brighten the home. Joyce brought her home early on a Saturday morning.
"Now you and I have got to make a deal. If you're having a bad time, a bad day, you need to call me." Joyce said with authority.
"I will. I really will. I'll be fine."
"Well just in case, you're not so fine, here, take this. It's my phone number along with the national suicide hot line, 1-800-273-8255." Joyce stuffed the paper into Maggie's shirt.
Maggie hugged Joyce and opened the door to her home. It was brighter than she remembered it. Winston came running, purring as he came into the room.
"Hello handsome! Did you miss me?"
Winston turned his motor up more and just purred and purred away. His purring smoothed over the rough edges Maggie was feeling; the feeling of being alone again.
The old oak tree came into leaf and summer quickly sped by. Maggie did have a few nights that were bad, but true to her word, she called her support group and they rallied around her, helping to keep her footing on the ground.
As summer gave way for autumn, the leaves of the oak tree turned auburn red mixed with brilliant yellows, then slowly, one by one they fell to the ground. In what seemed like a blink of an eye, snow began falling as winter again took control of the windy city and blanketed the area with ice and snow. The holidays came and went, and Maggie did manage to go to a few Christmas parties; she even had a date or two. Although nothing clicked with the guys she dated, it felt good to her to be out and about.
The dark long cold days of winter beat her up a bit, but her good days were starting to outnumber the bad days. Slowly the days grew longer, and again the oak tree in her front yard was in bud.
Maggie used to run and had participated in several marathons. While never coming in the top five, she always managed to finish each race and with good numbers. The running kept her figure toned and lean. Maggie's long legs gave her an advantage over most of the other runners. She just needed to work on her time.
So it was on a late spring day that Maggie had stopped along a running and bike trail to catch her breath. She had been pushing herself to the point she needed to stop, resting her hands on her knees. With her hair tied into a ponytail and wearing sweat soaked pants and shirt, she was quite a sight. Suddenly, she heard gravel flying and the screech of bike brakes.
"Hi!" Maggie said, never looking up.
"I'm Drew. You know if you took up bicycling, you won't get as winded. Easier on your knees, too."
"My knees are fine."
"What's your name?" Drew asked as he moved toward her a bit, still straddling his bike.
"Margaret, but my friends call me Maggie," she said as she finally looked up at the voice coming from the bike.
"Well Margaret, you should consider giving bicycling a try," Drew replied as he pushed on the bikes pedals and sped down the trail.
Then perhaps a hundred yards or so down the path he stopped. He started to think things over then pointed his bike back toward Maggie and peddled back. Again, he pulled alongside her, gravel flying as he skidded to a stop. He took his bike helmet off and placed it under his arm. He had sandy blond hair and bright brilliant blue eyes with a smile that went ear to ear. Unlike the muscle bound guys that pump iron in the park, Drew was tone, and sleek with an athletic body just geared toward bicycle racing. Wearing a bright yellow shirt, and brown shorts, he could have been at home running along a beach in California. Maggie looked up at him this time and returned his smile.
"Margaret would you like to go for some pizza and a drink or two at Smiley's this evening?"
"Why would I want to do that with you?"
"It might be the best offer you get today for a free dinner. You're cute! What do ya say?"
"I don't know. I mean I don't know you. You could be a serial killer or something."
"Well I'm not a serial killer."
"That's what Ted Bundy said."
"You know, I bet you watch too many Forensic Files shows on the Discover Channel don't you? I'll tell you what, I'll meet you at Smiley's then. How would that be?"
"No! I don't want to do that. You can pick me up at my house. I don't live too far from Smiley's and we can walk there. Don't try to pull anything as I have some very large and mean ex boyfriends. I'll tell them where I'll be going and if you hurt me, they'll pull you through a knot hole, feet first!"
"Damn that would leave a mark! So, how about seven-pm then, Margaret? Yeah almost forgot, what's your address?"
"It's Maggie. My friends call me Maggie," she repeated before handing him a slip of paper to Drew with her address on it.
"See ya at seven then!" Drew said as he peddled down the trail.
As Maggie headed down the running path, she couldn't figure out why she agreed to a date with a stranger that fast. He seemed nice, good looking too. But, it was his demeanor that seemed to say he was the real thing.
She waited outside her house and at the appointed time Drew arrived as he had promised. Maggie was wearing blue jeans and a sweater, her hair was tied up in a ponytail and she looked fresh and upbeat.
"Well you look very nice. I have to say, you clean up rather nicely."
As they walked toward their destination, they chatted about nothing of importance. Finally, they made it to the restaurant.
"Well what do you want on your pizza?"
"I really don't care," Maggie said, "I'm easy."
"Guess you can't go wrong with the basics. How about pepperoni and cheese?"
As they waited for the pie to bake, Drew looked over to her and said, "You have the prettiest greenest eyes I've ever seen!"
Blushing Maggie just smiled back.
"Well I guess I should be the one to start. Let's see."
"My name is Drew Carter. I'm twenty-five. Never been married, never fell deeply in love. I've had several girlfriends but cupid's been a piss poor shot when he tried shooting at me. I dropped out of college because I kept changing my major. I wanted to be a doctor, but found I enjoyed coding computer software more. At twenty my buddy and I started our own company dealing with SQL databases, and we now have about fifty or so employees. I was born and raised here in Chicago. Oh yeah, I like to cuddle on the couch with the one I love watching TV along with long barefoot walks along a beach with the girl I love while under a moonlit sky."
Maggie loosened up and began to laugh. "Isn't that what all those single ads say?"
"Well you can't go wrong with the basics. Maggie you have a beautiful smile."
"Thank you. Well let me see, I'm also twenty-five. My name is Margaret Herrington, and I work for a company in downtown Chicago. I also was born and raised in Chicago. Both my parents are dead. I have no siblings. My best friend is Joyce whom I've known since high school. I had four years of college majoring in business accounting. I've been in love but never married. I've…"
Maggie grew silent and looked down at the floor.
"Hey, that's a good start and look just in time as our food is coming out."