The pain was not intense. Intense pain is kinder, in that it is usually brief. In addition, intense pain has the blessing of being accompanied by the body’s shock response which disengages you from the trauma. The intense pain for me had come and gone several days ago. Now, I was left with the throbbing, uncomfortable pain that did not fade, only flared from time to time, to make sure I was always paying attention to it. This pain kept me awake at night, it tensed my back muscles until I got neck cramps and headaches. This pain was becoming intolerable.
The doctors had known that I would feel this way. They gave me an orange bottle filled with blue pills. Those blue pills were like a synthetic version of the shock response. It didn’t make the pain go away, it just helped me not care about it. And this distance from the pain was a welcome break.
This particular afternoon, I was on my way back from Sociology 101. My bandaged finger was throbbing, my eyeballs felt like sandpaper and my shoulders were all knots. All I could think about were the blue pills in the orange bottle, waiting for me on my desk in the dorm room. Opening the bottle was a agonizing experience as it required the use of both hands, but I grimaced through it. Tearing the top off, I turned the bottle upside down, waiting for the comforting weight of one of those pills to fall into my palm. Nothing came out. I shook the bottle. Nothing. I looked inside. Nothing.
Where the hell were my pills? I was supposed to have 15 left. Who would steal pain killers from someone who had their finger slammed off in a door? What depraved, selfish jerk would do something like that?
My roommate Tim was assigned as my roommate freshman year because he and I were the only two people in the entire college who requested someone who did not drink alcohol for a roommate. I didn’t want someone who drank because I didn’t drink and I didn’t want to deal with drunken idiocy in my room. Tim had requested someone who didn’t drink because he was that drunken idiot, or at least he had been. Now he was a recovering alcoholic. We had nothing in common. He smoked cigarettes (something I couldn’t stand), listened to the Grateful Dead (who I thought sounded like cats underwater) and was messy. Despite our differences we had started to get along fairly well. His enthusiasm and disregard for manners, was rubbing off on me and I enjoyed loosening up a little bit.
Tim was, however, a self-admitted addict. Had that orange bottle on my desk been calling to him in a siren song for the last two days? Had he finally given in and taken them? It seemed possible. Perhaps his guilt combined with his addictive personality had pushed him over the edge. He certainly should feel guilty. He was the one to blame for me losing my finger. He’s the one that kicked the door shut as I came through. He knew I was there. He kicked it shut. Bam. He hasn’t even apologized. He said it was an accident. He said I pushed the door open and he kicked it back shut. He fails to see that I didn’t know anyone was on the other side of the door when I pushed it. He knew there was someone on the other side when he kicked it shut. There is a huge difference. Plus he still has 10 fully functional fingers. I have nine. The thieving, alcoholic selfish bastard took my finger and now he’s taken my pills. Pathetic.
I could even feel some pity for him, through the righteous anger. In fact the pity helped fuel the righteous anger. I was sure I could find them if I looked through all his stuff, because he couldn’t have taken them all. That would have killed him, the thieving bastard. No, I would not stoop to his level. I would not go through his things.
I picked up his walking stick, the one he’d carved and whittled away at for hours. In my pain and anger and futility I beat his walking stick against his bed. The blanket started to tear. I hit the mattress harder. His pillow burst open and cotton stuffing spewed out. I hit the mattress harder. Finally the stick split in half and with a primal yell I stabbed the jagged edge of the broken stick into his mattress. My bandaged finger and my head throbbed. I left the room. Tim was due back from his class in a few minutes.
That evening in the cafeteria, Tim came storming over to the table I was sitting at. “Did you destroy my bed?” Technically it was a question, but it didn’t sound like one.
“I should have done a lot more. You stole my pain pills, so don’t cry to me about your stupid bed.”
“What are you talking about?” Tim looked genuinely confused. Maybe he was just a practiced liar.
“You know what I’m talking about. You need to leave, ‘cause if you don’t I’m going kick your ass.”
“What is your…? I’m not scared of you, but I’m not fighting you… What the hell?”
“Just leave!” I yelled. Everyone in the cafeteria was staring at us. My hippy college wasn’t accustomed to fighting and shouting in the cafeteria. No one knew what to make of it.
Tim slept in someone else’s room that night. It was Saturday. I couldn’t sleep. The 3 Advil I had taken were not working. I could feel every heartbeat in my finger stump and my head felt like it was full of blaring discordant brass instruments. I made plans. On Monday morning I was going to the Housing Office and telling them they had to find Tim another room and maybe some treatment for drug addiction. There was no way I could keep living with the guy that slammed my finger off in a door then stole my pain meds. Maybe Tim would get expelled. I would request it. What was the college thinking, putting an alcoholic on campus with all these drunken idiots? Clearly, it was too much to ask for him to remain sober and honest. The bastard hadn’t even apologized for the finger.
On Sunday morning my suitemate, Tunde, came into my room. “Dude, you know that friend that was visiting me this weekend? He just left. Last night, we went to this off campus party. He was handing out these blue pills to everyone, telling them to take ‘em with the beer. They knocked everyone out. I just found out from Dave that someone stole your pills. It was my friend, man. I’m sorry. The guy’s a total jerk.”
That bastard. A new wave of anger filled me, but it was almost immediately followed by one of guilt. Tim’s bed still had the broken walking stick jutting out of it at an awkward angle. It wasn’t the alcoholic roommate. Was that how I thought of him? Was that the first adjective that came to mind?
When Tim came back to the room, Tunde and I were both there. Without looking up Tunde said, “Are you going to apologize?”
Tim and I looked at each other and waited.