Thursday, May 16, 2019

Bad Memory and Guilt

13 years ago, I woke up on a Sunday morning to find my telephone answering machine completely full. The night before, friends were over to watch an Alabama game on TV. At the time, landline telephones were common, and my house had one. Telemarketers would ring the phone constantly, at times. So, to be able to enjoy the game, I turned the ringer off, leaving the answering machine on. When I got up the next morning, I realized that I'd forgotten to turn the ringer back on when the game was over.

The first message on the machine was from a friend asking what I was doing that night. The second message was also from him. As were all the messages. They began to get more and more disjointed and incoherent. Knowing that he was schizophrenic, I began to get concerned. Stopping the machine, I called him. No answer.

I was to take my girlfriend out for lunch, that day, so I let her know we needed to stop by and see a friend before we ate. Although we'd been dating for weeks, we'd only recently been getting more serious with the relationship. The previous week, my buddy and I were supposed to have gone to Daytona Bike Week, but I'd cancelled to spend more time with her.

The day before, she and I had a picnic at Old Cahaba. On the way home, I'd mentioned taking her by to meet him, as I was feeling a little guilty for backing out on him. Instead, really wanting to spend more time with her alone, I said we'd go back another day. There wouldn't be another day.

Arriving at his house on that sunny, cool Sunday morning, a really bad feeling began to rise up in my stomach. There was no sound coming from inside. I banged on the door. I tried to look in the windows. His dog would occasionally bark, but no sound of movement or anything responding to my calls.

I called another friend who also rode motorcycles with us. He was a volunteer firefighter and got on his radio to get someone to force entry to the house. Waiting for help, we continued to try to get our friend to the door.

When we got entry forced, my friend was sitting on a couch that I had given him with his full-grown chow sitting on his lap. I knew he was dead. I tried to walk away, but the police were going to kill his dog if I didn't get her off of him. She was protecting him, even though he was dead.

I saw his brains on the wall, the pistol in his lap, still clasped by his fingers.

I hate the thought of this. I blocked the memory of that image from my mind. Other than the pistol in his hand, my mind won't form any images of that scene, anymore.

Looking back, I guess I really saw a lot of symptoms of his mental instability. I think I can recognize schizophrenia in other people, now. When they say, "Yeah," after sitting in silence for a while... responding to a voice I can't hear, when they knowingly make observations that no one else sees... I overlooked those things from him because I didn't want to make him uncomfortable. Being a loner, I wanted to keep the friends I could make, and didn't want to offend him.

I had a few nightmares, but it really didn't bother me as much as I thought it should have. After a few months, I rarely thought about it. That makes me sad.

I probably should have taken longer to write this. I just heard a story on the radio this morning about a schizophrenic astronomer who was living and coping with the disease and all this came back to mind. Sorry for venting.