In the morning, I got out of bed while Oliver was still sleeping and went into the bathroom. I took a long shower before returning to my room to dress. Oliver was still in the same position. Or had he moved a little?
Very quietly I asked, “Are you awake?”
His head moved a little.
“Are you going to get up?”
He shook his head.
Slowly, he turned towards me. He didn’t look very good to me. He had trouble keeping his eyes open, and when they were, they were red and filled with tears. I had no idea how you could tell with an African American, but he seemed pale to me.
“I just want to lie here and sink into nothingness,” he replied. “I don’t care if I’m ever conscious again.” He rolled back towards the wall.
“Well, I care.” I grabbed his arm and tried to pull him out of bed. He didn’t resist, so eventually I had him sitting on the bed beside me.
“It’s really bad, isn’t it?” I asked.
“When you were with the police did you ever talk with a doctor or therapist?”
He shook his head.
“Maybe you should.”
“I just don’t care,” he shrugged. “My life is over.”
“Not while I’m here,” I replied. “I won’t let that happen.”
“Just leave me alone. You need to find somebody else.”
“No I don’t. I need you.” He didn’t answer. “You seem changed from last night,” I continued. “Did something happen?”
“I woke up in the night and got to thinking and I just decided my life isn’t worth living anymore.”
I panicked. He sounded suicidal to me. “You should have woken me up,” I said. “It’s not good for you to be lying in bed thinking these things.”
“I didn’t want to bother you. It’s not your problem.”
“That’s where you’re wrong. When you were in danger, I had to help you. I feel the same way now. If you’re this depressed, I need to help you deal with it.”
“Just don’t bother with it. Let me be.”
I shrugged and said, “I’m going downstairs. When you get up, you can find some of my clothes to wear. We’ll take care of clothing for you later.”
With that, I hugged him gently and went down to see if Dad was still home. I had forgotten that it was Sunday, so of course he’d be home.
He was sitting in the living room, making his way through the Sunday paper. Dad is old-fashioned in some ways. He’d rather read a newspaper than watch the news on TV or get it from an app. He’d rather read a book that he could hold in his hands than read one on a screen.
“Dad,” I said. I waited until he looked up from the paper. “I’m really worried about Oliver. He won’t get out of bed and he seems very depressed. I’m afraid he might be suicidal, and I don’t know how to help him.”
“Other than just being with him, there’s not much you can do,” Dad replied. “It sounds like he needs professional help.” He took out his phone ̶ at least he had gotten that modern ̶ and called Mrs. Hatcher. He told her briefly what I’d said then listened for a moment before saying, “Okay, I’ll tell him that, then we can give it a try.”
Closing his phone, he said, “Mrs. Hatcher thinks he needs to go to the hospital for an evaluation.”
“He won’t get out of bed,” I reminded him.
“I’ll tell him he’s going to see his father.” Dad stood and went up to my bedroom. I heard him talking and then I heard Oliver say something. The next thing I heard was the shower running. In a few minutes, Dad and Oliver came downstairs. Dad tried to get him to eat something but he refused, so the two of them, Wally, and I got in Dad’s SUV and rode into Knoxville.
Wally, Dad, and I talked some, just inconsequential stuff, until we pulled into the hospital parking lot. Oliver said nothing, even when I spoke to him.
We went up to Mr. Talbott’s room and walked in. I hadn’t seen him since he’d been shot, and it was a shock. Wally took one look and said he’d wait in the solarium at the end of the hall.
Mr. Talbott hadn’t been shaved and he looked really, really sick.
Oliver went over to him, took his hand, and said, “Hi.”
His father didn’t respond except I could see that he squeezed his son’s hand, so I knew he heard Oliver. I wondered if his father knew what had happened to his wife and daughter but of course I couldn’t ask.
A few minutes later, as we were standing there, a doctor came in and asked which of us was Oliver. Then he said he needed to speak to him for a few minutes and took him out of the room. Dad and I decided we’d join Wally in the solarium.
As we sat there, I asked Dad, “Do you think Mr. Talbott knows what’s happened to the rest of his family?”
“I don’t know. He understood that Oliver needed to come to us for a while, so maybe he does. Or maybe he’s just not able to think things through that far.”
We waited quite a while before the doctor who had taken Oliver found us in the solarium. “Are you Trevor?” he asked me. When I said I was, he pulled a chair over to the rest of us and we all sat down again.
“I’m Doctor Weston. I understand you told your father you thought Oliver was very depressed and possibly suicidal.” I nodded. “Well, I’m sorry to say that you’re probably right. After we talked for a while I told him that I wanted him to stay here with us. At first he resisted but when I told him I could get a court order to keep him here he agreed. He asked if he could keep his phone so he could talk to you and I told him he could, although we don’t usually let patients in the psychiatric ward have phones. So he’s there now, settling in. I think it would be better if you didn’t see him anymore today, but after that, you can visit him for a short time.”
“What are you going to do for him?” I asked.
“We’ve started medications that work pretty well with depression. He will see me a couple of times a day for therapy, although I don’t know yet if he knows that’s what I’m doing. If he doesn’t, I’m sure he’ll figure it out soon. If he calls you, it’s fine to talk with him, but please don’t call him for another day or two.”
As we left the hospital, Dad said he was a little puzzled, because usually someone like a parent or guardian needed to commit a child to the hospital, especially if the child was unwilling to be there.
“Could Mrs. Hatcher have done that?” I asked.
“Maybe. I don’t really know the legalities of it, but she seems to be pretty adept at skirting regulations and getting things done.”
We rode back home. Wally seemed a little sad, so I sat in the back seat behind Dad and held his hand.
After lunch, both Wally and I biked over to Pete’s house, where all my friends and Roger were in the water. I told them about Oliver and then got in the pool myself. As I jumped in, I realized that I seemed to have become less tentative, less hesitant to commit myself physically. I supposed that maybe the camping trip had helped me with that.
At supper time, as we left the pool, Wally asked Pete if he and Roger could come and swim even if I wasn’t there because I’d be visiting Oliver. Pete assured him that he was welcome anytime.
That night, I lay awake for quite a while just thinking, wondering if Oliver would get better or if he’d be in a mental hospital for a long time.
In the morning, I was awakened by my phone ringing. I answered it and heard Oliver say, “You rat.”
I couldn’t tell by his tone of voice whether he was mad or not. “Why?” I asked innocently.
“You got me locked up in this hospital. Do you know there are even locks on the doors leaving this section?”
“Oliver, I didn’t get you locked up there. I just told Dad that I was really worried about you. He called Mrs. Hatcher, and the rest just seemed to happen. Okay, maybe I shouldn’t have told Dad, but I WAS worried about you. I still am. And I miss my old friend, the one who used to be cheerful and upbeat and loving.”
He was silent for a bit before saying, “I know; I know. Someday maybe I’ll know that you were right to be worried. But right now I’m just mad at the situation. Maybe I can get over that eventually. I guess we’ll have to wait and see. Just like you, nobody here will let me lie in bed and feel down.”
“I still love you, you know.”
“And I love you, too. I guess I’m not really mad at you so much as I am about everything that’s happened.”
“How’s your father doing?” I asked.
“A little better. Next time we talk I need to tell you about him and me.”
I realized that I had never really met his father and that Oliver never talked about him.
“I gotta go in a minute,” Oliver said. “I have an appointment with the doctor, but could you bring me some books? It’s really boring here, and TV doesn’t help.”
“Sure,” I said before we both hung up.
School was due to open for the fall in the next week, so I took opportunities to visit Oliver when Dad was free to drive me to the hospital. I gave him some books, for which he thanked me.
I asked Oliver about his father, but he said he wasn’t ready to talk about him yet. He did tell me that his father was able to talk now and he knew about the family.
On the Sunday afternoon before school opened, I visited him again. I reminded him that he had told me he was going to talk about his father but that he’d been putting it off.
He was hesitant, but he said, “I’ve never told you this, but my father and I are not close. I was close to Mom and Callie, but it seemed like my father didn’t like me very much. Besides working long hours and not speaking much at home, I think he knew or thought he knew what I was ̶ a queer Black boy.”
Oliver stopped talking for a minute and wiped his eyes before going on.
“I’ve always known he was homophobic but until recently I hadn’t figured myself out, so I didn’t know why he was so remote. Even though he loved sports, he never came to any of my games.”
Again he paused for a moment before saying, “But that’s not the worst.”
Uh oh, I thought, how could things get worse?
“My father doesn’t want to ever go back to that house again. I understand that. I don’t want to either. But he wants to move to Maryland, where he can work for the same company. The trouble is, I don’t want to go with him.”
“Have you told him you don’t want to leave?” I asked.
“Yeah, but I think I may be stuck. I may not have any choice.”
“Have you told your doctor about this?”
“No, but I’m planning to when I see him tomorrow. What can I do, Trevor? I want to stay with you, not go with my father, but that seems disloyal and perhaps not even possible.”
“Well, see what your doctor says. Maybe he can help you see a way forward.”
I talked by phone with Oliver on Monday. On Tuesday, I called him after school, telling him that all the kids were asking about him. He said he’d talked with the doctor about living with his father or with Dad, me, and Wally, but the doctor had said that Oliver had to discuss that with his own father. He said that maybe by the end of the week his father would be up to such a discussion, and that the doctor wanted to be there when it happened.
I agreed to visit on Saturday and give him moral support when he talked with his father.
I told Dad and Wally about the situation. I told them, too, about the relationship between Oliver and his father. Dad said that we couldn’t legally go against what Mr. Talbott wanted. We concluded that we had to wait until Saturday to find out how Oliver’s talk with his father went.
Even though I was now involved in school and with friends, the week seemed never-ending.