An Ounce of Hope
The first time Max O’Hare thought about taking his life was the day of his father’s funeral. It was a bleak mid-October morning, the kind where wind whips at your face, and rain doesn’t fall, but pours in torrents and makes even the most happy-go-lucky of assholes consider what the hell they were cheerful about in the first place.
Max had watched them lower his father’s casket into the ground, right next to Hazel O’Hare’s, Max’s mother. The beautiful headstone above her plot, which showed in stunning gold lettering how she was only twenty-six when she was killed in a head-on collision on her way to her son’s second birthday party, now had a neighbor. After a courageous eighteen-month battle with pancreatic cancer, Connor O’Hare had finally succumbed to the cruel disease at the age of forty-five, leaving Max an orphan.
An orphan who couldn’t help but wonder just what the fuck he was meant to do with his life.
Sure, there was the family business, a specialist auto body shop where Max had learned his father’s trade as a mechanic with an enthusiastic eye and a hero-worshipping ear, but that shit became superfluous when Connor was no longer able to work. The fuck hot muscle cars and the roaring engines; none of it mattered. All that mattered was when the next round of chemo was, and what ridiculous figure the medical bills were amounting to.
Not that Max’s father ever complained or worried about that. He’d smile when Max started to stress about appointments and money, and tell him life was too damned short to sweat the small stuff. But that was the way Connor O’Hare was. Maybe that’s why he never lost his shit when, as a teenager, Max was brought home numerous times in a police cruiser, or when he was arrested for dope possession and car boosting. You’ll find your way, his father would say with a disappointed shrug that made Max’s teeth grind in guilt; these are just bumps in the road, son.
Max wasn’t so sure, but similarly, he didn’t know why he got into the shit he did. Boredom maybe? Hell, he couldn’t even use having a shitty home life as an excuse. His father was a good man who did his best raising his son alone. No. Max was a law unto himself, his own worst enemy. He wished to be strong like his dad, noble and dedicated, but he failed every damned time.
True to form, Max’s father’s battle against his illness was valiant, and he stayed brave to the very end, but his death wasn’t that of a warrior. It wasn’t romantic. There were no whispered words of love or declarations of life lessons and regret, what with him being unable to speak—the cancer had affected his lungs and throat by then. Max simply watched his father become more and more ravaged by an illness, which stole away the tough vibrancy he’d known and respected. All that was left was an aged shell of a man who slipped away in his sleep while Max held his hand from his permanent vigil at the side of the hospital bed.
Such was the grief that gripped Max, that he didn’t even cry. His eyes stayed resolutely dry, as though sorrow blocked every part of him, every tear duct, vein, and artery. Yeah, that shit was grim.
He had friends around him, of course. Friends—who were more like family—and were prepared to bend over backward for him. Anything we can do. I’m here if you want to talk. Jesus, he could barely get out of bed in the morning and they were expecting him to talk. He appreciated it, sure, but their words were breaths on a breeze that, as time passed, continued to guide Max into a dark depression. That darkness culminated in his downing a bottle of vodka and snorting a dozen lines of coke, while staring passively at a bottle of pills he’d found among his father’s things.
It’d be so easy, he’d thought.
So fucking easy.
That’s what he wanted above all other things: a pain-free existence.
But he hadn’t gone through with it. Cowardice was not something Max was proud of, but, like his best friend, Carter, had explained: he was twenty years old and had his whole life to live. And live it he did. He got shitfaced, fucked women, dealt in shit he had no business getting involved in, became a regular dealer, got shot at, got arrested, got bailed . . . rinse and repeat.
Not a life so much as an extended hangover, punctuated with pockets of deliriousness. He kept the body shop afloat with the money he made from dealing, paid his employees, and partied from sunset to sunrise. And as the months passed, the pain Max had felt the day of the funeral slowly ebbed, leaving a numbness in which he freely basked. He didn’t feel pain. Christ, he didn’t feel anything. And that was just fine.
He doubted he’d ever feel again. He wasn’t sure he even wanted to.
Until she tumbled into his life . . .
Max lifted his eyes from the sumptuous cream carpet under his feet, settling them on the man sitting opposite him. Elliot waited patiently for Max to say something else, but Max knew he was done. He’d said more than he’d wanted to already. He hadn’t spoken about his father for a long time and scratching at that particular scab was as agonizing as it had been on the day of the funeral eight years before.
He reached for the glass of water on the small wooden table at the side of his chair and took a long sip. The silence was suffocating in its expectancy, causing Max to fidget and shift in his seat.
“From your quiet, I assume we’re done for the day.” Elliot smiled and wrote quickly on the legal pad resting, as it always did, on his knee. Max didn’t answer, but took a deep breath, knowing he’d been let off the hook. Max had learned quickly that Dr. Elliot Watts was a persistent bastard. Yeah, he was a therapist and that shit was his job, but he’d been relentless from the get-go. Nevertheless, Max had to admit he liked him, no matter what dark paths of the past the doc asked him to travel.
“You made some good progress here today, Max,” Elliot continued with a small nod. “I know talking about your father isn’t easy.”
Yeah, no shit.
Scribble, scribble. “So, you’re fifteen days in. How are you finding the medication?”
Max shrugged. He was on a plethora of funky-looking pills, which he had to take each morning: antidepressants, Ritalin, amantadine. Each one had a very specific purpose in helping with the aching despair, sleepless nights, and the cravings. And they did. For the most part. Hell, drugs were drugs.
They weren’t the drugs he wanted, the drugs he knew would kick his anxiety’s ass, the drugs that would stop his dick from being a flaccid waste of time, the drugs that would supress the monstrous appetite that was adding to his waistline, the drugs that beckoned like a fucking siren’s call every time he tried to close his eyes at night.
But drugs were drugs.
With every half-assed beat of his heart, his blood moved sluggishly around his body. It was desperate for the fire of a line, the life, the euphoric detachment. Jesus, he needed a hit. Just one fucking hit.
Elliot sat up a little straighter, as if sensing the hunger that practically crippled Max from the inside out. “How are the night terrors?”
Dread seized Max’s bones. He swallowed and rubbed his hands together. His discomfort spoke volumes. The night terrors were just that: terrifying. Nightmares so vivid and distressing the mere thought of sleep left Max cold. They’d started just days off the powder, just days after he’d been admitted, and, despite Elliot’s prescribed medication, they weren’t abating. The bags under his eyes could attest to that shit.
“We can increase the dose if you need it, Max,” Elliot said softly. “You need your rest.”
Max sighed and gave an imperceptible dip of his chin, his pride unable to outweigh the fear of what waited for him when he slept.
“Okay. I’ll get that changed for you.”
“Thank you.” Max’s voice was quiet, but his gratitude was immeasurable.
“Do you want to talk about the terrors?”
“No.” Max rubbed at his temples, where the grotesque images that accosted him at night threatened to claw out.
Elliot’s silence made Max lift his head. “That bad.”
Max pulled the hood of his sweatshirt farther around his face, burying himself in an attempt to hide. He wore his hood up for both his individual and the group sessions, and weirdly, Elliot didn’t seem to mind. Max wasn’t entirely sure why he did it, but it helped take the edge off the stress he felt at the thought of talking to strangers about shit that had happened years ago. It was a cocoon, a wall that made his stay in rehab a little bit easier.
“Maybe you could write about the terrors in the notebook I gave you last week. I know it’s still empty.” Elliot smiled wryly at the derisive look Max shot him.
Writing in a fucking notebook? No, thanks.
“Fine, look,” Elliot said, sitting forward, “you know where I am if you want to talk more. We’re all here to help you through this. You’re not alone, okay?”
Max scoffed inwardly, holding his eye roll. Sure, he was surrounded by people who had his “very best interests at heart,” people who wanted to “help him get clean,” wanted to “talk it all out together,” wanted to make sure that he was “comfortable,” “at ease,” and not frantic with the need to bust out of the fucking place and find the nearest junkie stash.
Yeah, he was well and truly surrounded by well-meaning folk.
And he’d never felt more alone.