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Algebra and Rob: Both Totally Confusing

by Becca Puglisi

When Rob hinted at a drug overdose, I freaked out.

A wadded-up candy wrapper bounced off my forehead—nearly putting out my eye—and landed beside me. I looked up from my math book to find Rob grinning at me again.

“What?” I demanded.

He shrugged, his typical response tonight. I wanted to tell him to cut me just a small break. As a senior studying algebra II, it was obvious to everyone except my look-on-the-bright-side parents that I was a dunce at math, and if I didn’t pass tomorrow’s test, the ugly truth would inevitably dawn on them, too.

I returned to studying. I was working my way through #23: If 3x-2=2y and y=3z+5, what is x?

Rob again.

“It’s hard enough for me to understand this stuff without you bothering me. Not all of us are math geniuses,” I waved an accusing hand at his trig book. “Don’t you have to study?”

He shrugged again, avoiding my eyes. Very un-Roblike.

I stuck my pencil in my book and slapped it shut. “All right, out with it. You’ve been acting weird all night. What’s going on?”

“Nothing,” he said, in that leave-me-alone voice he used with his mom.

I leaned against the bedstead. I knew that tone. It was his unspoken plea to poke around inside his head and unearth what was bothering him. He’d used it when his previous girlfriend had broken up with him, and the time he’d called me from the 7-11 when he’d run away from home.

So I was surprised when he broke down more quickly than usual. He put his feet up and slouched in his chair. His smile stayed in place, but it looked stuck, like it was being held there against its will. “You promise you won’t tell?”

I gave him the “duh” look.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a prescription bottle.

“Are you sick?”

He shook his head, the stuck-on smile still in place, now made disturbing by the tears welling up in his eyes. “No, but I took them anyway.”

My heart started doing the Riverdance in my chest as I took the little orange container from him, noting that the label, which read “Percocet,” had his mother’s name on it. The fact that the bottle was empty didn’t hit me till a split second later. “How many did you take?” I whispered.

He lifted a shoulder and dropped his gaze to his hands, which were playing with the bottle in his lap. “I don’t know. A handful. Probably not enough to do anything.” He flipped a page in his trig book. “I guess we just have to wait and see.”

I stared at him. How much was a handful, and was it enough to hurt him? I wondered.

Then he did something even weirder. He asked me to leave his house.

“Are you crazy?” I asked.
“No, I’m serious. We’ve got school tomorrow.”
“Get over yourself. I’m not leaving until I know you’re OK.”
He sighed. “All right. I didn’t really take the pills.”

My brain felt like a jigsaw puzzle being taken apart. Had he, or hadn’t he? He kept going on about how he was fine, that talking to me had really helped, and he was feeling better. Well, I was happy for him, but what about me?

Before I could figure it out, I found myself on the porch, keys in hand, backpack dragging on the concrete.

In a daze, I started the car. The questions in my head screamed louder than the engine. Why had he shoved me out? Was he trying to get rid of me before the medication kicked in? Or was he just embarrassed that he’d told such a heinous lie?

By the time I got home, I could barely hold it together. I maneuvered past my parents without them noticing—quite the award-winning performance—and escaped to my room, where I flopped onto my bed. God, what do I do?

I thought about how Rob may or may not have swallowed enough pills to make him go silently to sleep and never wake up. And he’d made me promise not to tell anyone. But was this a promise I should keep? It was a no-win situation. I mean, if I told anybody, he’d hate me. And if I didn’t tell, and something happened to him—

At that point the tears started coming, and the ones I’d swallowed turned to rocks in my stomach and started rumbling around. I knew what I had to do, and I was terrifed.

I picked up the phone and dialed Rob’s number. Thank God he answered, because all I could do was sob into the phone.

“Listen,” I gasped. “There’s no way for me to know if you took those pills.” I paused, grabbing my stomach. I took a deep, ragged breath. “But either way, you need help. You need to talk to your mom.”

Silence. Then, a sigh. “I know. I will.”
“You don’t understand. I want you to talk to her right now.”

“Now? Becky, it’s late.” Another pause. “I’ll talk to her tomorrow.”

I inhaled, my breath quivering like I was the one who’d swallowed a handful of pills. “No. You need to talk to her tonight and tell her everything you told me. And when you’re finished, tell her to call me. If I don’t hear from her in 20 minutes, I’m calling and talking to her myself.”

“You’re overreacting,” he said, his voice rising. “There’s nothing—”

“Twenty minutes,” I repeated.
“But . . . that isn’t long enough.”

I was surprised to hear the anger in my voice. “If it takes any longer, I’ll have to assume that either you didn’t talk to your mom, or you’re dead.”

I hung up and ran to the bathroom, where I tried to convince myself not to throw up. My stomach had just about won the argument when the ringing of the phone saved me.

It was Rob’s mom. She told me what my idiot friend had confessed to her: that he’d thought about taking the pills, then flushed them down the toilet.

I sank to the floor, relief quelling my nausea as she went on about what a good friend I was to Rob. I doubted he’d see it that way.

Rob’s reaction

I wandered through the next day in a haze. My teachers asked me questions in class, but I was a complete waste. I somehow survived the algebra test. The only thought that really registered was the one that kept reminding me how I could’ve lost my best friend. And though he was still alive, I might’ve lost him anyway.

After three days of drifting, I found myself standing in the school parking lot, staring at something bright: a folded piece of white paper stuck under my windshield wiper.

I stared at it, recognizing my name scrawled in Rob’s serial-killer penmanship.

What would it say? I forgive you? Thanks? Thanks for nothing?

I unfolded the masculine rectangle and read two sentences:

“I’m sorry I put you in such an awful situation. I don’t deserve you as a friend. –Rob”

The fog faded a bit as I realized I hadn’t lost him.

Rob continued to give me fits, but thanks to therapy and God’s never-ending supply of grace, Rob’s problems became less life-threatening and more mundane. I couldn’t know it at the time, but he was going to be just fine, though I’d never really understand him. I mean, let’s face it. Compared to Rob, algebra was a breeze.

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