Linus' suicide attempt was unsessful. And he was devastated because of it. He sighed as his mother blocked his way and snatched the house keys from him. Her eyes were bloodshot, her hair resembled a bird's nest. She had been crying again.
"I'm just going for a walk, Mom."
She frowned and closed the front door.
"I thought going for a walk would help,” he said as if he asked a question. “You want me to feel better, don't you?" His shoulder bounced against the doorframe. Waiting, he eyed her and when she turned, shaking her head, he grabbed her as gently as he could and forced her into a hug. She gave him warmth in the cold of his body, which seemed long dead inside. Climbing out the window. Not a minute longer could he stand it in this prison. Only recently had he been allowed to return home from the hospital and since then he had been locked up here. With a put-upon puppy dog look, he asked her again and got the same answer. First, she wants to put me in the psych ward and now this, he thought. Carefully she pressed him against her, but it was obvious that she wanted to press him against her as if they were on a tightrope and had to cling to each other. She sobbed.
"Can you promise me you'll come back if I let you go?"
"I promise." Gently, he disengaged.
A tugging in his chest, as violent as he had felt only once in his life - the result of the overdose a few days prior. The thought of that night brought his attention to his aching throat, which he owed to the breathing tube.
"Do you want me to come with you?" She stared into his soul.
"I need to clear my head." He averted his gaze and felt stupid doing so.
His mother stood there, watching him leave. Until the phone rang. She hurried to pick it up.
He stepped out and put his foot between door and hinge.
"Well, considering the circumstances … What is that sound? Where are you?"
Who’s asking about me? He shook off the question as more scraps of words found their way into his ears. "He didn't say anything about you … I was surprised he even …"
Almost tonelessly, the door clicked in the lock. Actually, I don't care either. He snorted with a grin and trotted along the pavement. Actually. Deeply inhaling the scent of freshly mown grass, he stretched his arms in the air, ignoring the urge to continue eavesdropping on the phone call.
The house key was no longer in his possession anyway.
Did she tell Grandma? he wondered, stepping over the puddle that had appeared in the same place after every rain for as long as he could remember. With a guilty conscience, he stepped out onto the sidewalk. I wonder how Ruben is doing right now. His ex-boyfriend – Just a week ago, he had broken up with his first love because he couldn't take it anymore. The compulsion to have to be normal - to have to be straight. For a moment he looked around, took a deep breath, and sucked in the life around him. Across the street, the neighbor’s boy was playing with his dog. Their yelling and barking let everyone know. Branches swayed in the wind; leaves shimmered in the light of the sun. Snails left slimy trails. He followed one and found the creature at the base of a bush.
Life doesn't suck that much if you value the little things, he thought. But if you can't be yourself, it doesn't get you anywhere. His thoughts drifted to Ruben. He's been through so much shit and yet he always stays positive. How does he manage to do that?
Leisurely, he lit a cigarette - the only constant in his life. Everyone forces me to live. Yet I'm the egoist? He had had his cell phone on airplane mode for days. Thousands of messages reached him, some from people he hardly knew. Except from Ruben, whose number he had blocked along with all associated social media channels. I shouldn't have told him the shooting stars were flying – that’s how Ruben found out something was up and was able to save Linus‘ life.
He buried a hand in his pocket. All I wanted was for him to think of me while I was dying. Bitterly, he laughed.
You fucking sadist, Riot, the demonic voice in his head, said, to which Linus rolled his eyes with a grin - he'd been thinking the same thing.
I should throw myself in front of the next train. With a beer in hand, his inner companion agreed. Less aimlessly than a few minutes earlier, Linus set off for the station. Kilometer after kilometer he put behind him in record time. With each step, his heartbeat quickened. Anticipation mixed with nervousness. His fingernails succumbed to his uncontrollable teeth.
His weakened body begged for a rest, which he denied. His skull retaliated with dizziness that left him staggering briefly. A glance at his cell phone told him that a train was coming through in three minutes. Walking turned into trotting and then into sprinting, but he didn't last long. Back to trotting. He dug headphones out of his back pocket, stuffed them in his ears, and soon had Ruben's singing in his ears. I want to die with his voice in my head.
"I love you," he said aloud - an attempt to maintain control over his last words.
I promised Mom. For a moment he slowed his pace. But I can't take it anymore. In the distance, the express train announced itself, while the cattle on the meadow next to the station eked out their lives, unaware of what would await them sooner or later.
Just across the road, past the pasture, across the parking lot, and then…
Ruben? He staggered, his field of vision blurring. The next best tree gave him a foothold. Here he had peed next to his friends, a few meters to his left he had almost kissed Ruben for the first time – that was months ago. At the exact spot, a thin figure stood like a statue, paralyzed. Too far away to make out any details.
That must be him. His heart slipped into his pants. A hand slapped against his pocket. A crackle confirmed that he still had the note Ruben had left him at the hospital. The video played on continuous loop, ending with a soft laugh, and restarting not a second later with, "Okay. Don't laugh at me." Along with the roaring in his ears, that was the only thing he heard. Until he didn't. Loud cackling broke him out of his paralysis.
Opportunity missed. As quickly as it had come, the train was gone. He shook off the frustration and stared back at the pasture. Between his fingers, he twirled the paper. I was sure he would visit me in the hospital one more time. He cursed. So damn sure. Ruben had not, because Linus had told him that it’s over. That he never wanted to see him ever again. His first love that was supposed to be his last.
His feet carried him to the figure. He stumbled over one of the small rocks that jutted out everywhere. Just like that one time, he thought, referring to the time they had almost kissed. They had been drunk at night and stumbled and laughed and kissed – almost.
This time he had no hand to pull him up before he fell to the ground. He caught himself and hurried on.
If I'm going to live, I'm not going to live without him. He squinted his eyelids, wiped his face.
It's wrong, disgusting, sick. His heart hammered against his chest.
But I need him. Disgusted with his feelings, driven by self-hatred. A stone won and brought him down. This time he couldn't catch himself. This time no one pulled him up. This time he kissed the ground. Had he imagined the cracking sound? Pain stretched up from his foot to his knee.
I need help, it flashed through his mind like thunder. Never had he dared to even think this thought. Always had he believed that he couldn’t been helped – Riot made him. He struggled to his feet. Ruben. I need you, he screamed internally. His lips remained sealed. Feverishly, he limped on - breathing heavily, his vision blurred.
"Ruben ..." He didn't want to give up. His throat begged for water, his lungs for oxygen, his heart for a time-out. His head helped the heart win.
Because suddenly, everything went black.
His head shot toward the willow as he opened his eyes. The lanky figure was still standing there as before. How long had I been unconscious? Thirty seconds? Two minutes? The pain came back and spread to his temple. Panic gripped him and jerked him to the ground as the figure moved. He ducked his head. What the hell?Desperately, he ruffled his hair. I've done enough to him already.
He limped to the train station. Just leave him alone. He's better off without you. Riot agreed with him, smiling like the damn devil that he was.
The next train came 30 minutes later. Without thinking about it, he got on and examined his reflection in the window. Scratches stretched across his cheek - proof that his body had indeed failed him. His sweatpants were full of grass stains. Why can't I just accept that I'm gay?
NEXT STOP: MUNICH, read the screen in the middle of the train. Shit. He jumped up and immediately fell back as a twinge ran through his foot all the way up to his knee. Nonstop? Sighing, he sank deeper into the seat and accepted his fate.
After a while, he dozed off. He didn't know how long he'd been lounging here, nor how much longer he'd have to do it, when a sentence sent him into a panic.
The inspector was still several rows away.
He jumped up, scurried - without seeming rushed - to the restroom and locked himself in. It took a long time for his pulse to normalize and boredom to get him folding toilet paper. When even that became too monotonous, his hand found the lock, but fear gripped him again, so he lowered it and plopped back down on the toilet. He imagined passengers getting outraged because he was laying siege to the toilet. That made him laugh. This is the first time I've laughed since that night, he realized. Feels kind of good. Maybe I should… In a flash, he pulled out his phone and called his mother. Along the way, he read her anxious messages and counted the missed calls – 12 – and called back. Her voice rang out. Before she could even finish her sentence, the connection broke. Nimbly, he wrote her a message:
Linus: I'm fine. I went for a walk, got on a train, and then fell asleep. I'll go back as soon as I can get off. I'm sorry. Didn't want you to worry.
It wasn't until minutes later that the message was sent. Again, he tapped away on the display, but hesitated to send the second message.
Linus: Maybe I should go to that psych ward after all.
Am I really doing this? Is there even anyone who can help me get rid of Riot?
Excuse me? Riot stared at him with wide eyes – at least that’s what he imagined. He pulled out Ruben's note and read the countless names on the list of therapists.
One of them must be able to help me… On the other hand, it will break Mom's heart if I fail again.
He read the message on his phone repeatedly, and finally deleted it without ever sending it. If I send this, there's no going back. That would be my death sentence. Or rather the opposite? He chuckled. His cell phone rang. Without hesitation, he picked up.
"Where and when does the train arrive? I'll pick you up."
In Munich, he had to wait for some time. When the sun said goodbye, they found each other on platform 7. A long hug, explanation, and rebuke later, they ended up in a small restaurant.
"You were going to try to commit suicide again, weren't you?"
"What else did you want at the station?" Her eyes lit up glassily.
Silently he lowered his gaze, guilty conscience eating at him, self-loathing breaking his neck. If I live for them anyway, I can do what they want. He swallowed the frog in his throat.
You give up too easily, Riot said indignantly.
I'm winning. He smiled. No matter what, I'll do it. The main goal is to get rid of you. He grabbed his mother's hands.
"I should go to that psych ward you were talking about." He quickly rummaged for the note Ruben had given him and spread it out on the table. He imagined seeing hope flash in her eyes.
"Ruben gave me a list of therapists in the area and…" The sentence went unfinished as his mother waved the same list through the air.
"Not just you."
"Do you think they can really help me there?" Sighing, he clutched the coffee cup and stirred it around, lost in thought, playing a song with the clink of spoon against ceramic.
"To be truly happy, you have to learn to be happy with yourself the way you are. I do think that trained professionals can manage to help you with your trauma surrounding your sexuality."
He nodded. I don't want to hate myself anymore. “I want to live, not just be alive."
With the next sigh of relief, time went on. He looked around. He liked the dark wallpaper on the wall and was glad to have seen it.
"If you only want to see the negative, don't be surprised if that's all you find," he heard Ruben's voice in his head and smiled. “I get it,” he wanted to shout out to the world - or at least he wanted to let Ruben know. Instead, he remained silent and continued to look for little things that sparked joy in him.
If I find enough sparks, will they ignite into a fire of joy?
A fat rat in form of a dog sat under the table in the corner. He chuckled, nudged his mother, and subtly pointed. Just a week ago, he would have stared at his phone to block out any feelings. A few feet away, a toddler fell, and he cracked up laughing, squinting at his mother. He earned a reprimanding look, but she couldn't help laughing either. Sighing, he slid deeper into the seat and spooned the foam off his coffee. Maybe I should tell her I'm bi and live a straight life? Or stay with Ruben and be happy while I spend my life fighting Riot?
And finally, he understood what Ruben meant while they were together, felt it, made it his life motto.
It all depends on how you look at it.
Hastily he dug a sharpie out of his pocket and traced the drawing that had almost disappeared. He had never let the drawing of his sunshine, Ruben, disappear and had no intention of ever letting it get that far. Ruben had drawn it weeks before they even had their first kiss. He had drawn it even before they had known that they liked each other.
I may never get rid of Riot, but maybe I can live with him someday? I must at least try. I owe that to Ruben. Even if he never wants to see me again.
Smiling, he examined the smiley face on his wrist. His Devastation was still lingering in the air, but not as bad. Because in the end you can be happy and unhappy, as Ruben had always told him.
Maybe even at the same time.
In that sense, he was happily devastated.