Rich + Radical

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Chapter 10

As Jude had said to me, I left Parkview Behavioral Health Hospital the next day.

I actually had a hard time leaving. Mostly because I was leaving Ronnie behind. And Jude too. I grew to like him and enjoy talking to him. To me, he was very much like a father to me. He helped me so much more than anyone ever had before in my life.

When I left, it was celebrated like a party. We were given extra snacks, which was a bonus to even the kids who didn't like me. They, we all lined together to say our goodbyes.

Like usual, Edna and Megan had nothing much to say, but gave me waves goodbye.

Libby and Trisha actually said goodbye and Libby even gave me a hug; which due to the hate I thought she held for me, was completely unexpected.

Lory squeezed me in a tighter, more predicable hug.

"I'm gonna miss you, Blue. And did I tell you that you have a future as a composer?"

"No. You hang in there, okay?"

"Yeah… I will... Thank you."

Crazy Cat Brown was not there; she was the only no show. But I had much more to learn about her even outside those doors, I was sure of it.

Vlad hugged me as well as Lory and Libby. He told me he was wrong not to trust me because I told nobody, not even Ronnie, his secret.

I told Jude everything. In the end, really, I knew it would only benefit Vlad. He wouldn't see when he was to find out, but once time would pass and his wounds were stitched, I knew he would thank me.

A new patient, John, thanked me for his extra bag of popcorn. We weren't going to know each other. Not at all. But at least I was able to give him his food and make him happy for the few hours I did acknowledge him.

"You're welcome."

I shook his hand and eagerly moved on to the final patient and my hardest goodbye. Ronnie.

We embraced almost instantly and she was beginning to cry.

"I’m going to miss you.." She whispered. "Really."

"I'm going to write you. I promise... When you get out of here, I'll be right at that door waiting for you."

She pulled herself away from me a little to give me a smile.

"I know you will."

She knew other people were watching. Karen, Jo, and another new nurse, Abigail, were watching. But at that moment, she didn't seem to care. Because right then, she kissed my lips.

I heard Vlad and his group shout in victory. They were right, they were right that whole time. The nurses began to calm them down from their fit of excitement.

"I love you." She says again. "I don't know what I'm going to do in this place without you."

"You just write your books and talk to Jude for me. I'll send over any book you need with my letters. I promise."

"Okay... Goodbye, Johnson. I love you."

She kissed my cheek, being more careful around Vlad LeBron and the nurses.

"Goodbye.." I told her. "I'll miss you too."

I gave her one last lingering hug and reveled in every last second.

Then, I backed away and took my scribbled paper bag and walked down the hallway to the doors leading to the real world.

For good.

I took my time once I left the adolescent unit. I let my eyes wander and my feet do the opposite. The white walls were suddenly bright, the linoleum and the laminate shined right on with them. I stopped completely to glance out one of the few the windows on the path out of the terrain I was in, the hospital.

I could see the neighborhood nearby covered by the backs of evergreen trees. I saw a cloudless, yellow-blue sky and flickers of the sun.

There was hope for me. A future for me. And it was waiting.

Then, I pressed on. Behind the big wood doors, my mother stood with a crying smile and open arms.

She took my paper bag and immediately began speaking to me.

"Are you ready to go home?"

"I'm not sure. I didn't really miss it all that much... I..."

"You're not going back there! You're going home with me!"

I stopped. "I'm not going back with my father?"

"Not unless you want to."

"Then, I don't."

From there, then on things changed.

I met my stepfather that night and became close to him. Like my mother told me, he was a very profound lawyer. Yet, he was almost like a normal dad. He would watch TV with me when he came home from work and try to play football with me. Well, he did for a while, anyway. I told him I wasn't into sports, but I liked music. So I played my violin for him instead. Shockingly, he still liked that. And that made me proud.

At my new house, everything was much smaller. Every room, including my own, was smaller by at least four times. I like to say it's cozy, not confining. I started a new book collection and a new record collection with my mother's oldies.

The week after my departure, my mother set me up appointments with Jude and a new psychiatrist, who still kept me on Zoloft. Zoloft worked for me, so I had no reason to ditch it. Jude helped me organize my life. He helped me make my life manageable during the summer. Because for just about the rest of it, I was alone.

I met with Zwigy the evening after my departure from Parkview. And really, it didn't go well. I told her about everything. About my mother and Ronnie, mostly. She told me I was crazy. When I left for the hospital, I hated Ronnie and my mother. I didn't even have a mother. She got angry with me for changing my mind and falling in love with Ronnie.

"Are you even my friend anymore? What did they do to you?"

The one response to that statement was pretty brutal. I admit it. Honestly.

"I'm not a jerk anymore."

To summarize it, Zwigy and I stopped speaking. I didn't get a call of apology back from her. I just asked for the name of my hair dye, so I could touch it up later.

I wanted to keep my hair blue. At least she gave me that.

It was another few weeks before the hospital even considered releasing Ronnie. I waited anxiously to hear anything from her letters. Due to the nature of our relationship, it was the only way we could speak to each other. I was told by her mother, by phone, that going to see her would falter her progress and make her stay even longer. I wasn't willing to risk that, and Ronnie understood.

"I'm just so lonely.., Even Lory left now.. Vlad's still here. We're the only two from before. But he never talks to me. He's already got new girls to speak with."

Ronnie read all three Oedipus plays, two of which were provided by me, The Lord of the Flies, and Of Mice and Men while she was still there. They had given her less and less reading time and more therapy with her parents and more medicine. Which she told me made her very tired. Almost too much to read or write anymore.

She made amends with her mother and her mother made amends with me also. Maybe that's because her daughter was pretty much guaranteed to have a prom date, but still, she liked me enough. She had me over for dinner one evening to get to know me. And we spoke about orchestra. And my hair, and of course, Ronnie.

Her mother told me that she owned quite a few pet cats. So I offered to take care of them while her family went on vacation. For no cost at all. The plans were already halted two times due to the discharge issue. And it frightened me. I wanted to spend at least one, small second with Ronnie before she was going to Monroeville. Well, actually, the Gulf Shores. But you should get the point.

Her mother was already laughing about her wanting to go to the Salinas Valley the following summer, along with her trip to Paris, which she had been planning since her freshman year.

"At least there's a beach there, right?"

The day of Ronnie's discharge was long awaited. It finally came in late June, with more than enough time to spare for the family vacation. I went with her mother to greet her at the doorway. Along with me, I brought a bouquet flowers and a box of chocolates.

How stereotypical.

Seeing her walk into the real world with me was one of the most shocking sights of my life.

Unlike anyone else in the unit, that day she was allowed her makeup and shaving razor back, both of which she used to her advantage. In other words, she dressed up nice. Beautifully. Her hair was up in a bun and she was wearing a red velveteen dress.

Just like in my dream. When she first caught my eye, my mouth was wide open.

So was hers, because she saw me standing there. I really meant it when I said I was going to come. Obviously, even after I told her the truth about myself, she didn't believe me.

First, she went to hug her mother and handed her the bag of her things, which was much more voluminous than my own. Next, she turned to me.

"I thought you were joking!"

"No, no!" I held out the flowers for her

Still startled, she took the flowers.

"Thank you. I missed you!" She then hugged me. "It's been so long! I've missed you so much! Thank you!"

I held her as close as I could, even with the box of candies still in my hand.

"I think you're holding something else... Possibly?"

I chuckled. "Yeah. I got you chocolates too."

I exposed the candies in their full glory. "It's not quite Valentine's Day, but still..."

"If you take me out on a date, I think it might be the icing on the cake." She grins. "Thank you, Johnson. I'm grateful for this... Really. Thank you for the letters and the books and everythin.. You really didn't need to go this far. I-"

I decided then and there to shut her up with a kiss. And it seemed to work; because until the ordeal was over, she said no more.

Afterwards, she was in shock once again.

"I was almost done talking!"

"No, you weren't. I know that. When you talk, you talk!"

She gave me another smile. "I love you."

"I love you too."

Her mother drove us to Olive Garden to celebrate our reunion. I didn't know of these plans, and as I decided to on every day for the rest of our lives, I paid for dinner.

We even had a Lady and the Tramp moment. It was more of a subject of hysterical laughter than a reminiscence of romance.

Later in the summer, Ronnie and I did a multitude of things together. We watched To Kill a Mockingbird at least three times. For both of us, it never got old. We bought copies of Go Set a Watchman on the day of it's release and read them together. After she arrived back from Monroeville, we looked through her scrapbook, which was full of stunning Polaroids of the courthouse and other town landmarks. We sat in her backyard and listened to both Beethoven (who I am still very much into) and The Beatles together. We went to Zesto and the pool on the sweltering hot days. It got so hot, that one day, we even baked cookies on the dashboard of her old, beat up Chevy.

I was and still am falling for her deeper every day. Being with her never got old, and I spoke to her constantly that summer. She didn't mind. She said that she loved me, that having a friend was wonderful. Having me around when school started was something she was looking forward to, after spending two years in high school alone.

I felt likewise. High school wasn't much good for me. And a day ago, the first day of my senior year, led me down a road of wonderful opportunities.

I finally got into the much sought after French program. I chose to take a creative writing class with Ronnie. I ditched all business prospects, math classes, and the much dreaded language of Spanish.

I took my father's somewhat caring, yet extremely constricting shackles and sent them flying off to elsewhere.

I. Was. Done.

I remember getting up extremely early to go to school on that first day with my mother. Luckily, she helped me get back on my schedule. Slowly, but surely. It wasn't that alarming to me anymore, unlike how it was in July.

Ronnie was one of the only people there at same time. She wore a beautiful mint colored dress, which she sewed herself during her off time over break. She was proud of it. Her hair was up the same as her discharge day, and she was rereading Go Set a Watchman. I remember specifically that she was carrying that novel with her.

She was waiting by mother's classroom for the door to be unlocked. Seeing me there was a pleasant surprise for her.

"Good morning!" She was cheerful and confident that morning, much different from the Ronnie I used to see at school. In that sense and that sense only.

"Good morning to you too!" I instinctively put my arm over her shoulders. It was an action that formerly made me feel disgust. Most likely because I wasn't the one doing it.

"How was your weekend? Any good?"

"It was all right. I bought some hair dye and school supplies. Nothing much."

My mother interrupted us to point out I was wearing a new backpack. One we bought the day before in a last minute supply craze.

"That backpack's brand new, and pretty nice if you ask me! It has a laptop compartment, because I knew you'd need those this year."

Ronnie cracked up at my mother's comment. "Mrs. Bontrager, I noticed that! He looks pretty suave today.. And I think I'll have to thank you for that."

"Dear, the pleasure's all mine. And I've already warned Mr. Davis about you and your intellect. Don't worry, he'll love you!"'

Ronnie blushed. "Hopefully. Having a school tablet better not ruin my dreams of being his teacher's pet, will they?"

If you didn't catch the hint from my mother's last few words, this year, we were given tablets for all of our classes. A system the other school districts in town already utilized a long while prior.

"No! You'll be fine! And hopefully the new sophomores will be fine also. I don't expect any ardent students this year. Not with the tablets!"

She then started using her own tablet. "These things are quite confusing. I'll tell you both that much! I think I might need some time to myself to figure this thing out!"

Even if she spent evening before using it, I knew she still didn't have her tablet scoped out.

Sadly, I has a gut feeling that it would be useless to her for a long while.

Ronnie and I left the room and took a stroll around the hallways. More students, mostly confused freshman, arrived. They frantically searched the school for their lockers and classes.

Like I had four years before, they were making sure very thing was precise and perfect. They could not screw up their first day. It was the worst time to do anything wrong. I knew that from my own experience.

"Are you excited for French today?' She questioned me.

"Yeah. And everything… I'm actually pretty nervous."

"Why?"

"I'm a senior. And I'm just starting French! I don't know how those kids will get along with me."

"You'll be fine. I didn't start until sophomore year! And I'm the intern this year. I'll be right there the whole time. I promise."

The warning bell rang and we walked to French. The class was full of those confused freshmen. Along with us was a seemingly happy teacher and one other senior.

It was Zwigy. I had no recollection of hearing about her signing up for French. I then concluded that must have happened after our falling out.

Our teacher, Madame Harris, went over basic greetings and assigned me to be partnered with Zwigy, otherwise known as Solange, for the rest of the year.

All she said to me was this: "Je ne te aime pas toujours!" And that was via Google Translate. Like me, she still knew zero French.

I asked Ronnie to translate what she told me.

"It's not important." She answered, while hanging up a new poster adorning a crêpe.

In the end, similarly to many other things she told me, she was right.

During the last five minutes of class, we were permitted to speak English again.

The rest of the morning was spent without Ronnie. I was just handed syllabuses and cheesy, not normally too enthusiastic smiles. I had the jock, not the studious one, but the nuisance, in every one of those classes. Including AP Level English. The fact that he, out of all people was somehow in that class made everyone sit back and think about themselves. Deep down, I knew he wasn't unintelligent. He was just powerful, as Vlad LeBron was.

At lunch, Ronnie and I went into the line together. We got ham sandwiches and sat in a corner of the cafeteria. Not at a table, but on the floor next to each other.

The lunchroom was overcrowded and teeming with other desperate students who sat along the same wall.

"Are they dating?" People were already talking, and it hadn't even been a full day yet.

I didn't care and just kept eating.

"Are they talking about us?" Ronnie, however, was much more fazed.

"I think so. Don't listen to them."

Ronnie leaned her head on my shoulder and stared at the lights on the ceiling.

"I told you not to listen to Zwigy.. But I can't bear hearing that I can't listen to them."

"Well, I'll tell you what you told me. It's not important. What people like them say never is. They don't say these things to our faces because they fear what we'll say back. Deep down somewhere, they really care about it."

Ronnie finished the last of her sandwich and folded up her paper bag to toss.

"You're right." She sat her backpack along with mine and clung closer to me. "You're absolutely right."

The bell rang for the second half of the day. Ronnie and I tossed our paper bags away and walked to her locker together.

"I don't know why I ever doubted you." She explains. "I don't know.."

She retrieves her backpack and textbook for our creative writing class.

"Its not a problem. I have self-esteem issues too. I still don't like myself all that much."

She chuckled. "I do. I love you!"

I lifted her book from her hands. It was a kind gesture; the book wasn't exactly voluminous. "I love you too, probably more than myself."

"You should love yourself more than anyone, and I wish I could do that."

We began the long trek to my mother's classroom.

"We have that in common, don't we?"

"Uh huh."

I sighed and kept silent for almost the rest of the walk. We finally ended up back to where we started, my mother's classroom.

"What's the matter, Johnson? You're being quiet."

I paused and put the book down on the ground in front of my feet.

"I love you, and I can't stand seeing you like this."

"Like what?"

"Hating yourself."

"I hate the way you think of yourself sometimes too. And we have those days. Just coming back here gives me bad memories. I'm sorry."

A tear was rolling down her cheek. The warning bell for class rang and more people rushed around us. I put a consoling hand on her shoulder.

"We'll work on it together. That's what we're doing already."

I wiped the tear from her face and kissed her cheek.

"Let's go to class. My mother wouldn't be happy if we turned up late."

Ronnie smiled and grabbed her book. "Ditto. Before she kills us."

That afternoon went by swiftly, and simply. Orchestra especially.

Riding home from school in my mother's van, I remembered my time at Parkview, when I was just glimpsing into the new life I was just beginning to have.

My time in Parkview didn't really help me much in terms of actually combatting the source of my depression. I thought it would, and in that aspect, I was disappointed. In spite of that, it gave me the truth about Ronnie. It whispered the name of my mother in my ear like it was a real person. I met Jude and I saw the true struggles of others.

But most of all, I learned the following (again):

And I got better. It was something I needed to do to go on, truly. I realized that if I didn't drive my car down that road and parked it next to that old, beat up Chevy, I wouldn't have even close to who I am now. My whole life would be different in every aspect. It would be completely the same as it was after my failed business final.

My name is Johnson Hawkins. I am seventeen years old. And I realized that life didn't have to be a nightmare.

-

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