Monday, 19 January 2009 - 11:02 am


Yesterday was harder than I thought it was going to be.  The doctor’s den was as wretched as I remember, and quieter.  Some of the people there hadn’t moved since the first time we were up there – literally in a couple of cases; they had an awful kind of stiffness about them.  I feel like we should do something about it – something more – but I don’t know what.


It took us a while to find Sally.  It was getting dark and we only had one flashlight with us.  I found the cubicle where Dillon saw the doctor; the girl was still there, looking like she was sleeping except for the grey tone to her skin.  If she wasn’t dead the first time I saw her, she is now.

We found our lost one in another cubicle, scooted down between a cupboard and the wall, folded up inside the circle of her own arms.  There were tears on her cheeks, but her eyes were disconnected.  I looked at Ben and he shrugged, motioning me forward, as if I would be better for this.

I don’t know why.  I’ve never been on drugs – not like this – and I don’t know her that well.  The group doesn’t speak about the time before this; no-one wants to dig it up, and that means that we don’t really know each other.  Not well enough to know where on earth to begin a conversation like this.

I sat down next to her and propped my braced arm on my knees awkwardly.  I had to try a couple of times to get her attention; a touch to her arm was what made her finally blink at me, wide pupils attempting to fit the whole of me inside.  It took her a moment to smile and say my name, and it was a relief; she was still in there, still floating somewhere within the world’s reach.

“We missed you downstairs,” I told her.  I didn’t know where else to start.

“Had to come,” she said.  “Promised me I could fly again.”  That made her smile dreamily; I was losing her again.

“You can’t fly forever, Sally.”

Her face crumpled then, her head bowing so that the dregs of her hair fell over her face.  I felt like I’d just popped a child’s balloon.  “I know,” she said.  “But I’m not strong like you.”  She was scraping at her arm again, her nails raising red marks in their wake, the need crawling under her skin.

“Me?  Strong?”  I shook my head; I’m a lot of things, but I don’t think I’m strong.  I’m frightened and I complain, I try and I fail, I scrabble and I don’t know what I’m doing.  “I’m not that strong.”

“Then how do you do it?  How do you keep going?  How do you stand this?  You don’t understand.  None of you understand.”

She was curling up on herself, withdrawing, trying to hide inside that inner buzz.  From the marks she was making on her arm, it was fading now.  I hoped that meant that she could still hear me.  I’m not experienced with this kind of thing and I don’t know the things that you’re supposed to say.  I looked over at Ben, but he shrugged again and seemed as clueless as I felt.  She had asked me questions, so I decided to start there.

“I keep going because I have to.  If we stop… well, we’ll die, just like all those other people.  And I don’t want that.  I’m not ready to give up yet, even though… even though sometimes I want to.  Even though it all seems too much, even though it seems pointless.  We’ve come so far, all of us.  And we’re still alive.  That has to mean something.  We have to make it mean something.”

“Make it mean what?  There’s nothin’ left.”

“I… I don’t have all the answers, Sally.  We’ve just gotta keep pushing.  Even though it’s hard, even though none of this is what we want. I’d love to forget about everything, but that’s just not possible.  I wish there was something to take all of this away, too, but this isn’t the answer.”

“Yeah, t’is.”

“Only if you want to die, Sally.  Did you look around up here?”  I could feel myself getting angry, could feel it rising towards my throat so it could spill over her bowed head and defeated shoulders.  But I didn’t want to do that.  I tried to press it back.  “Sally, they’re all dying.  There’s no food or water up here.”

“I don’t care.”

“It’s true what they say about addicts: they are all fucking selfish.”  I was losing my temper again and closed my mouth before anything else snapped out.  It was frustration and I knew it.  It was anger at the way she looked like she did the first time I saw her, rather than the girl with the clear grey eyes I had been used to seeing over the past couple of weeks.  I should have paid attention; I should have tried to talk to her before this.

I swallowed and tried to latch onto something else; anything else.  “There are people downstairs who miss you, Sally.  We don’t want to lose you.  We’ll help you.  Just… just don’t forget that.  Don’t forget about us.”

She tucked her face down into the circle of her arms, her shoulders hunching up defensively.  There was a spurt of anger again, furious that she could dismiss us so easily.  Doesn’t it make a difference that we cared enough to come up here?  Doesn’t any of this make a difference to her?

I stood up then; there wasn’t much left to say.  She knew what she was doing enough to make a choice and I didn’t know how to change it.  I think I was clumsy; my hands feel too big and heavy for this kind of thing.  I felt like the things I really should have said slipped through my fingers and were trodden underfoot as I stepped away from her.

“I’m not strong enough.”  It was very quiet, but I heard her say it.

“All you gotta do is walk downstairs, Sally.  That’s all.”  I knew it wasn’t that simple, but in a lot of ways it was.  Walk away from this, go down to where people were ready and willing to accept her again.  “We’ll help you with the rest.”

She curled up into her shell again, huddling tightly, and I knew the conversation was over. 


So Ben and I left.  I made it out into the stairwell before I burst into tears and he had to put an arm around me until I calmed down.  I wanted this to be easy; I wanted something here to be easy.  Talk to her, convince her that she should come down and join us again, that she didn’t really want to kill herself.  It seemed so simple when I was arguing with Thorpe, but what reasons did I have to give her to stay alive?  What hope was there that this would get better? 

I didn’t have any of those things myself.  All I had was the knowledge that I have to carry on, that I’m too stubborn to give up just yet.  All I knew was to keep on keeping on, one foot in front of the other.  All I had was a blind belief that there has to be something more out there, somewhere in the melting darkness.

Ben said I did the right thing.  He said that I had tried and that was enough, but if it had been enough, it would have worked.  Instead, I had failed again.

This is Sally’s strong one, reduced to tears in a stairwell and wondering if stubbornness is enough to carry us past all of our dead hopes.