Contest #67 winner 🏆

387 comments

American Drama

Trigger warning: depression and suicidal ideation

 

“We saw your poor Rick,” they say in the grocery store aisle. I smile, unconvincingly, and compare jars of spaghetti sauce that I don’t even want. 

“We heard about your poor Rick,” they say, half turned on the pew in front of me at church. I sit alone and nod at their thoughtful concern, which is, in truth, neither thoughtful nor concern.

“How is your poor Rick,” they say to me on the sidewalk, where I’m gardening and minding my own business. It isn’t a question. 

It's schadenfreude. Who else but the Germans could have coined a term for the self-satisfaction of witnessing the troubles of others? Like laughing at someone who walks into a plate glass window, spilling their overpriced coffee. Like seeing a girl with her head down, tapping on an iPhone, almost walking into traffic. Like watching me, a mother with a son like Rick attempting to get through the day. 

Your poor Rick.

Enraged, I pull off my gardening gloves. I gather up the shears and trowel and other gardening implements. I wonder briefly if I can use them on my thoughtful and concerned neighbors, the ones who always look at my son like a criminal instead of a desperate addict who needs help. 

I shove everything into the wheelbarrow and roll it all into the garage. The yard can brown, rot, and die for all I care.

I slam the garage door and walk into the kitchen. I fill up a glass of water. I pour it out. I put my head in my hands. I am ashamed of my embarrassment. Rick is my son.

“Honey?” my husband calls out. But he is useless in this and all things.

“Yes, dear,” I reply as neutrally as possible. 

“Rick called. He’s coming by tonight,” my husband says, dismissively. He takes no part in Rick and Rick-related activities. You wanted the children, he once famously said. I once wanted a husband, too, I had replied in my heart of hearts. 

Rick had been a handful from the very start. Ghastly morning sickness. Problematic pregnancy. Emergency C-section. The moment he had been born, everything seemed to overstimulate his senses. He had been colicky, wailing at all hours of the night for comfort which never came. I had tried. I had held and rocked and sang to him. In preschool, he had been the kid who bites. In kindergarten, he had taken an inordinately long time to learn his colors, none of us realizing until later that he was colorblind. It took him even longer to learn how to read, as dyslexia spun the letters around, making his words indecipherable. 

In elementary school, parent teacher conferences had taken up the majority of my schedule. Rick needs to be frequently redirected. Rick did not collaborate with his peers in a prosocial manner. Rick needs additional socio-emotional support. Rick has failed his color wheel project. Rick is suspended for pulling the fire alarm during an assembly on following the rules. 

In sports, he is too awkward and clumsy, as throwing, catching, hitting, and dribbling various sized balls only underscores his lack of basic hand-eye coordination. In friendships, he is too needy, at once standoffish, then suddenly demanding. His peers summarily ignore him. 

Watching him solitarily walk to the bus stop, passing by the throngs of other children who easily laugh, breaks my heart. He is enveloped in loneliness, making his adolescent disaffection flare up into episodic rages. As middle school progresses, his room accumulates more and more fist-sized holes in the drywall. I can only wring my hands and hand towels in the kitchen, making him macaroni and cheese from the blue box, the only kind he will eat. 

In high school, Rick’s 11th grade drama teacher sees something in Rick that none of us do. Rick loves the stage. Rick loves disappearing into a character and working out the character’s emotions in full view of an audience. With puberty long behind him, his voice has developed a rich depth and timbre that resonates throughout the drab high school theater. On stage, Rick transforms into another person: confident, well spoken, powerful. 

With tears streaming down my face, I watch his magnificent portrayal of Prince Hamlet.

“Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio. A fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy,” Rick says, holding a fake human skull aloft. The audience is rapt, as Rick entirely captivates them with his intensity. 

When I help Rick learn his lines, he tells me what Hamlet experiences during his favorite scene—Hamlet in the graveyard. 

Death, mom. Death is just a philosophical concept until it happens to you. Mr. Schaffer says Hamlet constantly mulls over the idea of why anyone chooses to stay alive. To be or not to be. But Hamlet isn’t suicidal, not really. He just wonders why people put up with life’s endless shit.”

Endless shit, indeed

“And not how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it. Here hung those lips that I have kiss’d I know not how oft,” Rick recites, looking desperately at the skull. Hamlet’s view of death is hypothetical, but he now holds a skull of the court jester whom he’d much loved as a child. It’s one thing to hold a human skull. It’s a completely other thing to have known and loved the person whose skull you hold in the palm of your hand. 

But that night on stage had been years ago. 

Before all of Rick’s troubles truly start. 

 

My cell phone rings. Rick.

“Hi dear,” I purposefully brighten my voice. “Dad said you were coming over?”

I can just barely hear him breathing, panting low.

“Son?” I say, more loudly. “Rick. Rick, you need to speak to me—”

“I’m—I’m sorry, Mom.” He sounds inebriated. 

A cold sickness starts in the pit of my stomach and radiates outward, chilling me whole. I know this tone in his voice. We have been here before. 

“Rick,” I try again. “Where are you, son? Let me come and get you,” I plead. 

“I love you, Mom.” 

“Rick.” I am angry now. “I’m going to call the police. Are you taking your medication? I can be there in twenty minutes—”

“Don’t call anyone, Mom. I’m all right,” he says firmly. 

I don’t believe him. 

“Rick—”

“Promise me, Mom.”

“Fine, Rick. I promise.”

I’m all right,” he says and lightly laughs. “It’s just been a really bad day. I’m fine. Promise me you won’t call anyone.”

“Rick—”

“Promise me, Mom. It’s not like last time,” he lies.

“I love you, too, Rick. Come over tomorrow for dinner.”

“Mac and cheese?” he strangely giggles.

“Sure, I can make that. The kind in the blue box,” I say, not knowing tears are streaming down my face.  

“Then, good night sweet princess. And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.” 

The connection is lost. I look at the phone.

Alas, poor Yorick.

Alas, your poor Rick. 

I start to dial the familiar numbers.

 

November 12, 2020 02:35

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387 comments

Greta Faignant
20:40 Nov 20, 2020

This was very interesting! I normally despise Shakespeare, but this was well done.

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Deidra Lovegren
23:07 Nov 20, 2020

Then I blame all your horrible English teachers. Shakespeare invented the human (which was spawned by Chaucer.) Skip Milton -- he's exhausting.

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Anyta Freeman
20:25 Nov 20, 2020

Congratulations Deidra. A very powerful story. It brought tears to my eyes.

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Deidra Lovegren
23:08 Nov 20, 2020

Cathartic purges always useful. Lots of pain in families. We need to be more gentle with each other.

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Shlomo Ben Zvi
19:23 Nov 20, 2020

Beautiful story in many ways. I felt the emotion. Nice smooth writing, flow, made me want to read more. Good going!

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Deidra Lovegren
23:08 Nov 20, 2020

Thanks, Shlomo :)

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Nora K.
19:16 Nov 20, 2020

Marvelous, Deidra!! I’m left speechless and moved by this fantastic story!! Wonderfully well deserved and congratulations to your second win!! :)

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Deidra Lovegren
23:08 Nov 20, 2020

HUZZAH. Thanks, Nora :)

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Nora K.
00:14 Nov 21, 2020

Of course! Always a pleasure to help out another Hamlet fan!! :)

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Deidra Lovegren
00:21 Nov 21, 2020

There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so...

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Vanessa Kilmer
18:04 Nov 20, 2020

Congratulations on your win. Your story pulls all the heart strings.

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Deidra Lovegren
19:33 Nov 20, 2020

At my age, there aren't too many heart strings left :) Thanks for your good wishes.

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Violet James
16:56 Nov 20, 2020

Ohhhhhhhhhhh Deidra, I am a puddle of emotion. Your story was riveting on every level. The mundane day to day of a marriage with unsaid disappointments. How we hold things in to protect those we love. You are a master story teller. Thank you for moving me to tears. I'm so glad you won!!! Violet

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Deidra Lovegren
23:13 Nov 20, 2020

Violet James <-- What a great name! Yep, the secret of life is low expectations, and finding happiness where you can find it. The small happy moments (like blue box mac and cheese) to make all the other moments bearable.

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Deserved win! Good job.

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Deidra Lovegren
23:16 Nov 20, 2020

Fortuna spun the wheel and I got lucky :)

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Leland Day
16:07 Nov 20, 2020

Wow, your story gave me all the feels. The last few lines had me gasping and going "I should have seen it coming". It was a delight reading your story, especially since I acted in Hamlet this past spring. Keep on writing! I'll keep on reading ;)

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Deidra Lovegren
23:17 Nov 20, 2020

OMG -- WHAT PART DID YOU PLAY?? I've taught Hamlet to over 50 classes of 12th graders. PLEASE tell me what part you played... I'm fangirling...

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Leland Day
22:51 Nov 29, 2020

I played Osric. It was a small but extremely fun part to act! That's awesome. That's so cool that you taught it :D

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Deidra Lovegren
23:17 Nov 29, 2020

Robin Williams played that part in Kenneth Branaugh's movie. "A hit! A palpable hit!"

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Leland Day
00:13 Nov 30, 2020

Yeah! I saw that movie and really like how he played the character. Haha, yes! My tongue kept slipping on that line. I can't tell you how many time I flubbed it fantastically in practice!

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Howard H
16:04 Nov 20, 2020

Well done, you. Great work. ;)

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Deidra Lovegren
23:18 Nov 20, 2020

Who, me? Just another hack :)

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Howard H
23:29 Nov 20, 2020

Surely not? Actually you had me at “fist-sized holes in the drywall...” But seriously, sometimes things do work out for the best, at least for a little while... :)

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Deidra Lovegren
23:30 Nov 20, 2020

It's what we tell ourselves. The whole fate vs. free will debate. It really just comes down to expectations, you know?

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Howard H
23:47 Nov 20, 2020

Indeed I do... Is this the point when someone cues the bear to make his brief appearance?

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Deidra Lovegren
00:01 Nov 21, 2020

Exit, pursued by a bear 🐻

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David Gottfried
15:25 Nov 20, 2020

Heart wrenching. Thank you for this.

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Deidra Lovegren
19:18 Nov 20, 2020

Always happy to wrench a heart or two. :)

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David Gottfried
13:21 Nov 21, 2020

It took me a few hours before I realized the parallel between "your Rick," and "Yorick." I must be really daft. Superbly done, and congratulations!

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Deidra Lovegren
14:06 Nov 21, 2020

An homage to the Bard who loved his bad puns...

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Writer Maniac
15:18 Nov 20, 2020

Woah! That was beautifully written! I felt her pain and love shine through every line! A well-deserved win!

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Deidra Lovegren
19:15 Nov 20, 2020

Pain + Love = Mom It's an old formula...

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Rachel Macmorran
23:18 Nov 13, 2020

oof. No further explanation needed. This happened. Then this. Then this. All the endless shit. What can even a Mother's love do in the face of it? “Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

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Deidra Lovegren
00:53 Nov 14, 2020

Rachel with the Macbeth quote for the win!

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Rachel Macmorran
01:14 Nov 14, 2020

☺️ If you’re ready for something *completely* different, head on over to my page. I’d love your critique of my latest story. Thanks!

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Deidra Lovegren
19:16 Nov 20, 2020

You got it ;)

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Amany Sayed
15:10 Nov 12, 2020

Okay, I'm literally going to CRY, this was so emotional and well written. I do not know what to say.

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Deidra Lovegren
15:12 Nov 12, 2020

You've said a great deal. We all cry for those sweet spirits who don't quite fit into this world. And the mothers cry the most.

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Amany Sayed
15:33 Nov 12, 2020

😪😪😪

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Deidra Lovegren
16:38 Nov 12, 2020

All. day. long.

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Amany Sayed
16:00 Nov 20, 2020

OH MY GOD! It won it won it WONNNN! Congratssss

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Deidra Lovegren
19:17 Nov 20, 2020

So weird. Hamlet is magic.

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03:58 Nov 12, 2020

Dark and beautiful. Maybe trying to grab a repeat Hamlet win, eh? 😂 Nah, just kidding—loved the dark intensity and plot line, accentuated with Shakespeare passages The only thing I could say is that you did already use Hamlet as the basis for an earlier story. But otherwise, lovely work. I know I’ve said this before, but this is one of my Reedsy favs!

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Deidra Lovegren
04:40 Nov 12, 2020

O the irony of “I’ve said this before...”

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12:57 Nov 12, 2020

Lol.

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Deidra Lovegren
15:03 Nov 12, 2020

Et tu, Brute?

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15:36 Nov 12, 2020

Yes, Ms. Hatefrown. 😂

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15:25 Nov 20, 2020

I cannot believe it! the judges must really love Hamlet! Congratulations!

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Deidra Lovegren
19:20 Nov 20, 2020

Lucky me. "The readiness is all..."

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17:38 Oct 14, 2021

Well done! As a sister to a brother who kept my parents on edge all the time it rang true. The father who was distant and unhelpful. It's so sad that we don't have enough answers for people like 'your Rick' (great line by the way, love that it was tied to Yorick). Excellent job, congrats on the win.

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Deidra Lovegren
17:50 Oct 14, 2021

My heart breaks for the mother. The comments on this story were heartrending...lots of pain out there :(

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18:06 Oct 14, 2021

My brother did eventually die of cancer but saw his own way out with the help of lots of whiskey. The only positive if you could call it that is that my mom passed a few months before him so never had to witness the final battle.

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Deidra Lovegren
18:15 Oct 14, 2021

After teaching lots of high school students, I find a lot of "Rick's" are usually the kindest, most generous of souls. Living in this mortal world almost seems to hurt their spirits. :)

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Jeanette Harris
03:09 Sep 30, 2021

I like how in some way this story relateable kids making fun someone with problimes great story.

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Deidra Lovegren
15:07 Sep 30, 2021

I'm glad you enjoyed it. Hard issues to cope with!

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Zoha !
15:43 Jul 21, 2021

i- woah-

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Deidra Lovegren
17:21 Jul 21, 2021

Mood.

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Andrea Magee
15:26 Jul 19, 2021

Touching, sad, real.....beautifully written.

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Deidra Lovegren
16:26 Jul 19, 2021

Thank you so much. I think this story resonates, since no one likes to talk about their difficult child. Reading some of the comments broke my heart. We mothers need to talk more and not pretend all is well. A child hurts himself once, but a mother feels it twice (or eight million times, as the case may be.) :)

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Andrea Magee
16:42 Jul 19, 2021

Yesssss......the 'all is well'....is a mother self-medicating. Instead dialogue, patience, courage, love, kindness and support is how coping/healing should be done.

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A.J. Lopez
01:08 Jul 03, 2021

Hello! I know this was last year, but I just read it now. This is beautifully written. I feel so much for the mother and I also feel the chaos of the son! Story is short, but you’ve made it so real for me. I haven’t read Hamlet, but now I wanted to just to know more about how you used them in this story. Your stories are very inspiring to me, as I try to be better at the craft.

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Deidra Lovegren
01:35 Jul 03, 2021

Thanks, AJ :) I'm a hack trying to get better myself. Good luck on your journey - YAY

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Robert Juarez
16:25 May 18, 2021

Overall I am fascinated with how good this prompt is.to be sharing such emotion from the very beginning shows how well the story was going to be. My favorite part of this story was when you gave the quote, "Death is just a philosophical concept until it happens to you." I guess I've just never seen like that, so it was the most interesting. If I could change anything about the text written it would probably only be the introduction. The intro was great but I feel as if you could've given more, as to what is occurring. Maybe give a little bit...

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Deidra Lovegren
16:32 May 18, 2021

I think this is really the mother's story. It's EMBARASSING to have a problematic child, whether he or she is in preschool or an unemployed 40 year old on the couch. It's also soul crushing, as parents (unfairly) pin their fondest hopes and dreams on their kids. We can't help it. We love them too, too much. Thanks for commenting. I appreciate it so much :)

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