Tired, alone, sullen, yet oddly hopeful. Briles Rembrandt couldn’t make sense of his feelings, let alone of life. There was the gun on the table but as much as he looked at it he knew he would never use it. Hell, BR (as his friends called him) knew it was even loaded.
Looking across the long table towards the mirror on the wall he watched himself shrug. He also saw that there was a mustard stain on his corduroy jacket. Nothing seemed to be as it should be in BR’s world. Beatrice had left him, ostensibly because of his prolonged bouts of melancholia. But BR suspected that she had met someone else. BR was no great lover and he was no longer glib or charming. His wit remained, he thought, but as likely as not it was used as a dagger to inflict little bits of pain.
No that wouldn't due at all, BR thought. You don’t use a dagger for little bits of pain. He’d have to work on that bit. Before he could think it through the telephone rang. It was within arm’s reach but BR thought it impolite to answer quickly, plus it could smack of desperation. He gave it three rings.
“You all right?” asked a voice.
“No, he barked. Then, “who is this?”
“For god’s sake Briles you don’t recognize my goddamned voice? We only broke up four days ago.” It was Beatrice, she never called him BR.
“We didn’t break up. That implies that it was mutual. You dumped me. Pfft. Over. Your idea. Strictly yours. Not mine.”
“Okay have it your way. So anyway, how are you?”
BR’s head swam. He looked to his left at the calendar. November 1978. Was that right? Seemed like it should be earlier, or later. Suddenly BR wasn’t sure if this was November and if it was 1978. He recited his social security number in his head. That always worked to prove his sanity to himself.
“Briles, you’re not answering. I know you’re still there.”
“Today is the 16th.”
“Yeah but what month and year.”
“Okay Briles, now you’re scaring me.”
“Just tell me.”
“November. 1978. The goddamned 16th of the month. What do you want it to be? Have you been drinking? You know you shouldn’t drink.”
“Ahh lay off it for once, willya? No I haven’t been drinking.” That was a lie. BR had been drinking, though not all that much and only to try to offset his melancholia.
“Should I come over?” Beatrice’s voice exuded concern for her ex boyfriend. To BR it sounded like he could fashion a reconciliation out of her visit.
“Yeah, that would be great if you could.”
“Hmmm, all right. I’ll be there in ten minutes. And I better not see that stupid goddamned gun or any booze in the house.” She hung up.
BR finally got out of the stiff wooden chair. His body ached. He hid the gun in the fridge in a salad crisper, under a head of romaine. Then he brushed his teeth and combed his hair. He dabbed some cold water on the mustard stain.
Beatrice pulled up in the gravely driveway. She came in. “Do you have to keep this house so goddamned cold?” she demanded. BR never got used to how much Beatrice cussed, especially saying ‘goddamned’ all the time. “Hiya Bee,” he said.
“So what’s the matter with you, Briles?” Beatrice frowned as she asked the question, then she sat heavily on his lumpy sofa.
“Ya know how I get, only it’s been worse recently. To be honest some of it I’m sure has to do with you and you’re breaking up with me and I don’t say that to make you feel guilty.” BR paused and looked carefully at his ex. She was staring intently at him, frowning. He continued. “I haven't been drinking. Oh I had a beer when we got the newspaper yesterday but that was all, I swear. I’m just. I’m just struggling is all. I got my story in the last issue and it hardly needed any editing and I’m damn near finished with next week’s piece already. I’m fine in a lot of respects. I just get real sad and kind of mixed up sometimes. Like I had trouble believing the, you know that this is the year and month it is. My mind kind of fuzzes out. I guess, no I know, it happens more, or only when I’m in a mental funk. So that’s kind of that, I guess.”
Beatrice just sat regarding BR for a few seconds, letting silence fill the room. There was a shout from outside and from another direction a car horn honked. Then the silence was back. BR finally sat back down in the wooden chair. He looked at his lap.
“Ya know Briles, I don’t feel guilty. I do think maybe, and I emphasize the word maybe, I was hasty about breaking things off with you. It’s just that we were going nowhere as a couple. And this wasn’t all on you. Sometimes people change. I dunno, maybe I wasn’t patient. Maybe I could….Now see you got my thinking all muddled too.”
There was more silence. BR couldn’t think of what the right thing to say was so he winced, he looked up, he looked back at his lap, he sighed.
“Briles, I don’t want to have to mother you. I can’t be in a position of looking after you, I’ve got my own needs. If I could be sure you’d be mostly okay and you could give me some attention then I’d be happy to get right back together. But the way you are now, I just don’t know. I loved you. I guess I still do in a way and always will. Can you understand all this?”
BR wasn’t understanding much of anything but his instincts took over and he was soon saying the right things. Soothing words that would give Beatrice Chapman some confidence that he would be all right. BR promised to get some counseling, stay off the booze and be sure to always check in on her needs. A promise.
Beatrice believed him. Mostly because she wanted to. For all his faults (and Beatrice more than anyone knew that they were legion) BR was a gentle, sweet guy with a world of talent. He was intelligent and could be fun. All he needed was a little TLC and Beatrice was more than capable of doling it out without turning into a raging codependent like her mother had been for that poor excuse of a husband and father that they had lived with until….Beatrice shook that thought away and got up. She put her hands under BR’s head and lifting that sweet old face up she kissed him long and hard on the lips. A tear fell from BR’s right eye.
Briles Rembrandt was 24 years old and a full time newspaper reporter for a college town’s alternative weekly. Beatrice Chapman was the same age and was the assistant manager of a locally owned bookstore. The two had met two years before and fell in love within a few weeks of their first date. They never moved in together and never discussed marriage but were mostly inseparable during mutual off hours, that is until BR seemed to mentally and emotionally fade away from Beatrice. This happened as he suffered more and longer bouts of wistfulness, what he, perhaps incorrectly, called melancholia. Worse he tried to self medicate with liquor or weed. Beatrice had not, as BR suspected, met anyone else nor was she particularly interested in doing so. She was still emotionally attached to Briles and if they’d stayed apart it would have been weeks if not months before she dated again.
That November night in 1978 Beatrice did not sleep with BR. She wanted to. It always felt safe and comfortable sleeping beside him, despite, or maybe in part because of, his snoring. But they’d only just broken up and quickly gotten back together. She wanted to take things slowly for a bit and make sure that neither was acting impulsively, especially Briles who was emotionally vulnerable. For his part Briles understood completely. He hadn’t gotten a good night’s sleep in awhile and with him and Beatrice seemingly back together he believed that tonight sleep would come. And it did. Briles slept soundly for nine hours. Nonetheless Briles woke up the next morning in a deep state of depression. He thought about Beatrice, he thought about his work, he thought about his health, he thought about all the things he had to be happy about. Briles thought of all the blessings life had given him and he thought about how bright his future was. But he was depressed all the same. Life seemed awful and meaningless and it felt like there was no chance he would feel good again. Ever.
It occurred to Briles that if he felt this bad when everything was fine, life would be utterly unbearable if there was something to actually be depressed about. This made him feel even worse. Briles had never known such depression. He’d had blue moods, or, as he called them, bouts of melancholia, but nothing like this in which happiness, contentment, satisfaction seemed utterly unknowable. Now he could not eat, he was not interested in showering or shaving, he had not the energy nor will to go to work, he couldn’t even bring himself to call Beatrice or a family member or a friend. Instead he thought about the gun in the salad crisper under the head of romaine lettuce. But there were no bullets, never had been. His father had given him the gun as a going way “gift” before college. The first thing Briles had one with it was take out all the bullets and throw them away. He’d kept the gun as a conversation piece and also to wave at an intruder should one ever appear. He’d never told a sole that it wasn’t loaded. He liked the illusion of having a loaded gun, if not the fact of one.
But his thinking about the gun gave Briles pause. Surely he had to do something. After all he was on the verge of contemplating suicide, which was the first step in actually doing it. Action had to be taken. Briles literally shook his head, then picked up the phone. He held it for awhile before being able to muster the energy and the will to dial.
“Oh hi Briles, you sleep well?”
“I’m feeling kind of…”
“My god Briles you sound awful. What’s the matter?
“I’m so depressed. Worse than ever before, like the inside of my head is black, like…”
“Okay listen Briles, you’ve got to call someone, a professional. I’m not due at the store for another two hours. I’ll come by and help you contact someone. You’ll get through this, I promise. Just hang tight. I’ll be there in a jiffy.”
Fifteen minutes later Beatrice arrived. When she walked in the house BR started sobbing uncontrollably. It was a mixture of the depression and a great relief, relief at seeing another human face. Beatrice pulled BR to the sofa and held him until he finished crying. It was then that she realized he loved him, loved him in a deeper more profound way than she’d ever realized. Briles could feel that love too, it didn't relieve his depression but a sense of hope broke through the pain.
When Briles stopped sobbing he felt better, still depressed, but without the sharp edge. It was as if an excruciating pain had been replaced by a dull ache.
Later that day Briles met with a psychiatrist who prescribed him medication and scheduled him for regular visits. Briles knew that he would get better. So did Beatrice. As it turned out they were right although he still had struggles and dark moods he was learning to cope and finally making an effort to be a true partner to Beatrice.
One month later Briles came across the gun in the salad crisper under a badly decayed head of romaine lettuce. He threw the gun and the lettuce away. Then for good measure tossed the crisper. New beginnings.