One dismal night, many years ago and far from home, bested by loss of hope, loneliness and depression, I started taking pills.
A lot of pills, and didn’t stop until every capsule and tablet in my locker was gone.
“I’m in pain,” I kept repeating to myself, over and over, like a mantra. “These are pain killers. They will kill the pain. I am in pain. These are pain killers…”
I ingested every pain killer I had been prescribed, five or six to a handful, and then moved on to a small bottle of Tylenol. By the time I was finished I had swallowed nearly 60 pills, and went to bed, never expecting to wake up.
For years I tried to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, and chased several dreams, every venture ending in failure. I went to college right out of high school, but was utterly miserable and dropped out after one year. After wandering for a few months, I took the advice of my fiancé, Laura, and made the 7-hour trek from Missouri to Indianapolis to stay with her older sister, Nancy, and try to find a job with her employer, Blue Cross/Blue Shield.
Unbeknownst to me, I had developed a Dependent Personality Disorder (long story for another day) over the period of a few years. Thus, I enjoyed my time in Indy, for the most part, but was lonely and would cry myself to sleep most nights, missing my family and Laura terribly.
Thus, after a few weeks, I returned to Missouri, happy to be back, but full of self-loathing for not allowing myself enough time to find a decent job.
I drifted from one employer to another for a couple of years before finally settling on the ARMY. At least there I would have a career and a little money, and could get out in five years with a debt-free college degree and a marketable skill.
But in basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, my body started giving out on me when we would go on runs or long marches. I began to fall back, and our Drill Sargent would mock me to no end. He was a bitter, spiteful old man, at the end of his career, and made the most of every opportunity to make our lives miserable. I know many say this is a Drill Sargent’s job, but I watched the other Drill Sargents, and ours was different. He was enraged, almost vengeful, spitting fury when he spoke to us, or rather, at us, laughing himself silly every time we failed.
“C’mon, you little punk,” he’d snarl at me when I began to fall back on a run. “I got buddies who are being forced into early retirement who can run circles around you, and here you are, can’t even keep up on a two-mile run! WHAT’S YOUR PROBLEM?!”
I wanted to keep up. OH, how I wanted to keep up, but just couldn’t. Arthritis was already settling into my spine, hips and legs, causing pain which ran from the middle of my back to my feet. Additionally, severe scoliosis and degenerative disc disease had also begun their evil work, and I kept having to go on sick leave in an attempt to find out why I was in so much pain, why my legs were numb.
“It’s muscular,” the doctors would say. “You’re outta shape. Get back at it and this will pass.”
But it never did.
“Sir, no offense,” I told them on multiple occasions, “but I’m in the best shape of my life. I lost 50 pounds just to get in here, and was running four miles a day.”
Finally, the day came when the Drill Sargent came to my bunk and said, “Weddle, you’re gonna be re-started at the end of this cycle if you can’t pass the run and the push-ups.” He walked back toward his office, and then turned and snarled, “I’m gonna have you for another cycle.” He grinned mischievously and returned to his desk.
Restarted! This meant, as lonely and depressed as I was, I would have to finish out the next three weeks with my new friends and watch them graduate. Afterward, I would be forced to hang around the barracks for a week, waiting for a new group of recruits to arrive, and then would spend another nine weeks training with them. All of this, with me knowing my running time would never improve.
And thus, I collapsed, mentally. Reality and reason yielded to madness, and I was barely aware of my name for a couple days. Next thing I knew, I was in the Drill Sargent’s office, telling him I had swallowed two bottles of pills.
He looked at me for a long time before finally calling the ambulance, mumbling, “Just kill yourself, ya good-fer-nothin’ punk. I don’t even care.”
I was taken to the base hospital, where they pumped my stomach. If you’ve never had the pleasure, I wouldn’t recommend it. No fun at all.
Seemed I was there for hours before a doctor came storming in and started yelling at me.
“What kind’a game’r you playin’, son?! Why’re you lyin’ to us?!”
I was stunned. “Uh….I mean….”
“Uh oh eee ah,” he mocked. “Spit it out!”
“I’m sorry, sir, I have no clue what you’re talkin’ about.”
He got right in my face. “Ah, you think I’m stupid,” he spat out. “You know good and well what I’m talking about.”
(to be continued next time)