Long fingers dug under the flap of a stick-on bandage, one of the large square ones used to cover more serious wounds.
Chuuya had seen a lot of things he hadn’t wanted to see since he arrived, and most of them involved his now-roommate.
Dazai leaned against the wall of his bed, facing Chuuya as he played with his bandage. It was one of many littering both arms. Neither was as concerning as the livid bruise that wound its way around Dazai’s neck.
Chuuya tried to think of something to write in the blank notebook the nurses had given him. His pen scratched against the page, making a single line. With a sticky sound, Dazai yanked the bandage off.
“Can you quit it?” Chuuya snapped. “What the hell’s the matter with you?”
Dazai blinked at him. “Depression.”
Chuuya lowered his eyes to the page again.
“But don’t worry, there’s nothing underneath!” Dazai waved his arm, forcing Chuuya to look up. It wasn’t exactly the truth. A thin scar marked the skin that had been covered, but Dazai was right in saying that the bandage wasn’t hiding a current wound.
“Then why are you wearing it?”
“People don’t like looking at scars.” Dazai shrugged. “Neither do I, actually. I had an amazing set-up with those roll-up bandages. Wound them all the way up my arms. But, you know, you can’t have anything in here that you can use to strangle yourself. The nurses were kind enough to provide me with this.”
“I don’t think anyone in here gives a shit,” Chuuya muttered. He wrote that down.
“Don’t you?” Dazai asked. He leaned forward. “You didn’t want to see it.”
“I thought it was gonna be stitches or something,” Chuuya said. “Not that it seems to matter to you either way.”
“No, I guess it doesn’t. Nothing matters.” With a dramatic sigh, Dazai flopped onto his back.
Chuuya hoped that would put an end to the conversation, but a few seconds later Dazai said, “Do you think you could actually hang yourself with bandages?”
“What the fuck?” Chuuya slammed his notebook shut. “Do you ever shut up?”
“Well quit talking.” Chuuya wanted to walk. He’d taken to pacing around the wing in a circuit. But for an hour each day, they were all meant to sit in their rooms and reflect. Which meant that for an hour each day, as long as either of them were in here, Chuuya would be trapped with Dazai.
A familiar but unpleasant feeling crawled up his throat at the idea of not having a choice. Trapped. His fingers twitched.
“The last time I was here I went through two roommates,” Dazai commented.
Chuuya gritted his teeth and didn’t say anything. He didn’t even have a watch. Had an hour gone by yet?
“I think it’ll be shorter this time around,” Dazai added. “I called the police first, if that says anything.”
Chuuya could barely focus on the words. You have a problem, Chuuya-kun. Chuuya swallowed. He wanted a drink. His head throbbed. Dazai started talking again, and Chuuya tried not to let whatever was crawling up his throat escape.
The door opened. Chuuya jumped, catching sight of the nurse as she poked her head around the door, telling them that their hour was up.
“Hey, Chuuya-” Dazai started, Chuuya rushed out the door.
The food tasted bland, but Chuuya had no idea if that was because it was bad or if it was a product of his state of mind. He had strong craving for real coffee. He couldn’t have real coffee.
The only thing he was allowed to do was smoke.
The nurses would let them out onto a closed off grassy area. Chuuya took full advantage of this despite the frigid weather. It felt good to focus on breathing the smoke into his lungs, even if it wasn’t healthy.
It was also the only place he didn’t have to see his new roommate.
Or he thought. Dazai appeared one day with an unlit cigarette in hand, and he made his way over to Chuuya with a cheerful smile.
“You don’t smoke,” Chuuya said.
“I wanted some fresh air.” Dazai took a deep breath, as if to demonstrate his appreciation for the outdoors. They were in the middle of the city, so the air wasn’t exactly fresh.
“How’s treatment going?” Dazai asked.
“You’re a bit nosy, aren’t you?” Chuuya asked.
“What else is there to talk about, really?” Dazai said. He bounced on the balls of his feet.
Chuuya frowned. In this place, it really did feel like the only thing to talk about. Chuuya knew there was more. A few people had mentioned their outside lives. It was always the goal to get back on track. But perhaps they’d become so wrapped up in their problems that by the time they got here, it felt like nothing else mattered.
Dazai looked better. When Chuuya first arrived, there was an emptiness in Dazai’s eyes that had unsettled him just as much as the bruise around his neck. Chuuya had wondered whether he looked the same. There were no mirrors in this place, so he couldn’t tell. Alcohol had a way of blurring everything, so he couldn’t even remember what he’d looked like the last time he’d looked in a mirror.
Today, there was a spark in Dazai’s eyes. The emptiness still lingered, but it wasn’t the only thing. Dazai chattered about new medications and how he longed to get back to his favorite brand of bandages once things were stabilized and Chuuya wondered what, exactly, had been the breaking point in the first place. He wondered what had been the breaking point twice.
“You’ve been here twice,” Chuuya blurted out.
Dazai stopped talking. His eyes swept over Chuuya’s face. “Well, yeah. What’s your point?”
“What’s the point of getting out if you’re just gonna end up back here?” Chuuya asked. “What happened?”
Dazai’s lip curled. “It’s naive to think that problems can be fixed so easily. You never answered my question.”
That same feeling from before started to choke him, and a heaviness made his chest ache. It wasn’t from the smoke.
“Why you’re here,” Dazai said. “Though I can guess.”
“Don’t.” Chuuya gritted his teeth. “I don’t have anything.”
“Hmm? So you’re in denial?”
“They haven’t said a thing,” Chuuya snapped. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” He stalked over to the nearest ashtray and ground his cigarette into the dust.
Dazai didn’t follow him back inside.
People could be obsessed with categories and labels, but things weren’t so simple.
Chuuya had hoped, when he made the decision to come, that this could be a way out. He could find out what, exactly, was wrong with him. He could understand why he never felt good enough for his job, why he felt overwhelmed by the bits and pieces that made up his life and lashed out at himself, and why he felt like he had to numb the intensity of it all with alcohol.
He wanted to know why he’d felt so trapped by a commission of his poetry, of all things, that he’d tried to give himself alcohol poisoning (and succeeded) just to escape.
He hadn’t lied to Dazai. No one had given him any answers. If there was a diagnosis for his problems, no one was telling. And even if there was, according to Dazai, it ultimately didn’t matter. The illness would still exist. He’d still end up back here, or dead.
His therapist pointed out that his urge to drink wasn’t really an urge to drink alcohol. It was an urge to escape.
Chuuya thought he had escaped. But he’d just entrenched himself deeper in the problem.
They prescribed him something for sleep. It calmed his thoughts enough that he could get through the night without waking up. But when he did wake up, his skin crawled and he wanted to tear it off.
The days went on.
Chuuya paced around the wing for almost two hours before lunch. He wasn’t hungry.
He wondered how hard it would be to sneak out.
The noodles tasted especially bland today.
Dazai slid into the seat across from him and began tucking into his food. “I think I know what’s wrong with you,” he said between bites.
“You’re not a psychiatrist,” Chuuya muttered. The noodles looked slimey. He poked them and his stomach lurched.
“You’re an alcoholic,” Dazai said.
Chuuya’s head shot up. “What the fuck did you just say?”
“You’re addicted to alcohol,” Dazai said. “You mentioned drinking too much during group therapy.”
“That’s not the problem,” Chuuya said. He dropped his utensils. He really wanted to run, or rip his skin off, or do anything else. Dazai didn’t look away from his face.
“You may not have scars, Chuuya, but you’re the same as me.”
Chuuya’s ears started ringing. He felt lightheaded as he pushed himself up. Dazai’s voice called for him as he stumbled into the hallway and ran towards his room.
Their room. Nothing was his, not here. He closed the door behind him and spun around, needing to hide. The bathroom didn’t have a lock. His bed only had thin blankets. His knees shook, and his vision blurred.
The bed would have to do. He sank onto the mattress, pulling his knees up to his chest and curling into himself, hiding his head in his arms. He felt like a damn child again. He wanted to be so far from who he’d been. He’d thought that whatever happened, no matter how shit his life was, that he was strong enough to just breeze through it.
He had failed himself.
His fingers dug into the skin of his arms. His breaths came in harsh gasps. Distantly, he heard people talking.
“Can I touch you?” a voice asked softly. He flinched and shook his head. A weight settled onto the bed.
Chuuya bit into his lip, hating that his roommate was seeing him like this. Dazai, who had been here before. Dazai, who already knew that it was all for nothing. No one gave a shit. Chuuya wished Dazai would leave.
“Chuuya,” Dazai murmured. “I’m an ass sometimes.” Chuuya stilled, not sure where this was going and not sure he wanted to know. But Dazai continued, “What I meant is that we’re all pretty much in the same shit here. We all have different problems, but we all ended up here, right? Rock bottom, you could say.”
Chuuya squeezed his eyes shut. Hot tears traced their way down his cheeks. He just wanted to be alone, but Dazai was here, and Chuuya didn’t know how long it would be until he left.
“Anyway, I was also an ass the other day. I didn’t mean that your problems can’t be fixed by coming here. I just meant...ah, I don’t know.” He sighed, long and tired. “It’s hard. There’s no miracle cure or anything. I’m not surprised I ended up back. But it wasn’t as bad as the last time? I’m probably not saying anything that makes sense, am I?”
Chuuya’s breathing slowed as he took in what Dazai was saying.
“I didn’t feel much of anything,” Dazai said quietly, “but I felt scared when I had to tell someone that. I felt inhuman, and I didn’t want to admit it. But I did feel human again.”
Chuuya took a shuddering breath and lifted his head. Dazai gave him a strange smile. Chuuya imagined him wrapped from head to toe in bandages. Like an injured man, or a dead one.
“Why are you here?” Chuuya croaked.
Dazai coughed into his hand. “I’m bad with feelings? Honestly, you’re one of the most intense people I’ve ever met. You radiate emotion.”
Dazai inclined his head. “I didn’t understand you, so I poked you a bit. What I’m trying to say is that I came to the conclusion that you’re the first person I’ve really felt anything about besides myself. Most people I just see as people. I don’t really care. I can barely care about myself. But after you came, I decided I wanted to take another stab at getting better. And also, I wanted you to get better.”
Chuuya stared at him, mouth open. “You really are shit at feelings.”
“It’s one of my charms?” Dazai smiled, this time genuine. It both seemed strange on his face and comforting to watch, like Chuuya was seeing who Dazai could be. It faded too quickly. “I understand if you never want to talk to me again after this.”
“I shouldn’t,” Chuuya agreed. He wiped at his face. Dazai picked at one of his bandages. “But I will. It’s not like I’m any better, right?”
“Right.” Dazai made to stand, but Chuuya caught him by the wrist.
“I want to get better,” he said.
Dazai nodded, his eyes cloudy with something Chuuya couldn’t name, but he felt it as an ache in his bones. Something like fear and longing all mixed into one.
“Sometimes I don’t believe it,” Dazai said. He took Chuuya’s hand and squeezed it. “But I do, too.”
No one in here gives a shit.
Dazai gave a shit, somehow.
He didn’t care that Chuuya fucked up. He didn’t know about Chuuya’s life and what Chuuya had risked when he tried to throw it away.
Maybe that’s what it meant.
Chuuya started writing, slow and halting. But he was writing.
The smoke from the end of his cigarette drifted past Dazai’s face and disappeared.
Dazai still didn’t smoke. “You’re trading one vice for another, you know,” he said.
Chuuya shrugged. One thing at a time, his therapist had said. That way he wouldn’t feel like the whole world was ready to crush him.
“What happened?” Dazai asked. “I’ll trade you. A story for a story.”
“It’s not a long story.” Chuuya fiddled with his cigarette. “I finally got what I wanted. Someone was going to pay me for my poetry. But I felt like I’d been such a failure at everything else that I thought I’d fuck this up, too.”
“Huh.” Dazai glanced down at the cigarette pinched between his pointer finger and thumb. “My friend died.”
“Shit.” Chuuya swallowed. “I feel stupid now.”
“You shouldn’t,” Dazai said. “He told me to live. I tried to die. I’m an ass that way.”
“I can’t disagree that you’re an ass, but still,” Chuuya muttered.
Dazai crushed the cigarette in his hand. Chuuya thought he might have wasted at least half a pack on Dazai and his non-habit.
“I think when I get out I’ll give it a fair shot this time. Start over. What are you going to do, Chuuya?” he asked, lifting his head to look Chuuya in the face.
The big question. Chuuya had plans set out by his therapist, by his psychiatrist, and by the people who cared about him in his life. They all focused on making sure he didn’t fall back into the same hole he’d crawled out of. Safety plans. Treatment plans. They were his plans, but at the same time they weren’t.
He knew they were necessary. He also knew that having his own plan was also necessary. Otherwise what was the point? Dazai wanted to give life a fair shot. He wanted to start over. That felt too big for Chuuya, and it didn’t feel right. He’d never been one to throw everything away and come back with a clean slate. He was the sort of person who built on what he’d been given, for better or worse.
“I’m gonna finish that poetry commission,” he said after a moment. “And then I guess I’ll write some more.”