The days slowly passed by. Hicks wasn’t keeping track of them. He was focused on this burst of energy, this newfound motivation to make things better than they were before. If it meant berating someone in front of everyone else, so be it, especially if it was someone who berated him in the past. He created wholly unrealistic schedules, certain that such routines would make his Marines strive to be better. The late nights and early, early mornings were nightmares. It became common to hear people crying in the bathroom.
A week later, it stopped entirely.
The Marines all nervously came out of their rooms at 0400, expecting to see Hicks down at the end of the hallway. Some had gotten used to this awful routine. Others were praying it would stop, and today, they got their wish. They saw no one waiting for them. Instead, they heard sobbing. One man bravely marched down to Hicks’s quarters, and found the door was locked. The sobbing was coming from Hicks himself.
Hours went by, and he didn’t emerge, though everyone left in the unit was afraid he would emerge in an extremely foul mood.
At one point during the night, something within Hicks decided to crash. The energy was gone in less than a heartbeat. When he tried to think about it, all he found was a nasty blur where that spot in his memories was supposed to be. He wasn’t sure what had happened, or how it happened, but something had happened. Something really bad had happened.
The heavy emotions that had plagued him since Paulson’s death had come back, punishing him for what he had done when his energy levels were high. He knew in his heart he had done something terrible, but what? All he knew was that it was so bad that he couldn’t go out there and face his men. He continued to search the blur, finding nothing substantial. Somehow, he knew there was nothing pleasant in it. It was a very fuzzy gap between now and the day he returned to his unit, and he wondered if it was best that gap stay a blur.
All I’ve done is further proved that I am untrustworthy. I killed Paulson. I killed the two Marines. I bet others have killed themselves in the last few days. Hicks glanced up at the ceiling, and then around his room. He noticed how neat and perfect everything was. Gradually, that blur began to steadily clear. It was still a blur, but he could still see the hideous shape of what he’d become.
Naturally, Hicks’s thoughts turned to Paulson. What would he think of all this? He’d be disappointed, no doubt. Embarrassed, maybe. Definitely hurt. Shocked.
Picturing Paulson disappointed sent a cold spear through Hicks’s heart. What have I done? he thought. I’m a monster. Tears continued to roll down his cheeks. He felt horribly nauseated. He felt like he had shattered his own life. He ruined himself, and was an undeniable failure.
There was no going back. He couldn’t change anything. How was he going to live with this?
It didn’t take very long for newly-promoted Brigadier General Russell to find out what was going on, and say enough was enough. His intervening came after hearing from three Marines leaving the unit that Hicks had lost his mind, and was becoming a lunatic. Part of Russell wondered if this was just some form of bitterness from having been in such a dysfunctional unit, but he decided it was best to have a look at the skeletal remains of the squad.
Almost as soon as Russell entered the base, he knew things were definitely going bad. The normal process for getting this unit disbanded was going too slow. He stepped into Travin’s office without knocking, saying, “I want to see Hicks. Right now.”
“General, sir-” Travin stood up, nearly knocking his chair over backward, and saluted, “Hicks is likely in his quarters, sir.”
“Go get him.” Russell watched as Travin stumbled clumsily out of the room, and jogged down the hall to Hicks’s quarters. A second later, Russell followed, and saw just how badly grief had ravaged the corporal.
Hicks was unshaven and skinny. When his depression struck, he no longer cared about the appearance of himself or his living space, a stark contrast to what occurred when he felt maniacal. He looked like he hadn’t gotten a lot of sleep. Hell, he looked like someone had sucked the vitality right out of him.
Russell glared at Travin. “Alright, what’s going on?”
Travin looked in the room. “Sir, he’s been… having very severe mood swings the last month or so-“
“‘Month.’ This has been going on for a month. And you said nothing?” It took a lot of strength for Russell to not physically boot Travin from the Marines right then and there. This was beyond unacceptable.
“No. You are the most incompetent Marine I’ve ever had the fucking pleasure of staring at in the eye. Hell, I don’t even want to look you in the eye anymore. I don’t even want to waste the Goddamn money to send you back in training. Why didn’t you say anything?”
“He was an absolute mess at times, sir. He controlled everything. Th-There was nothing-“
“There’s a lot you could’ve done, and you didn’t do a damn thing. I refuse to call Marines cowards, but you have proven time and time again that you are one. Who was your drill instructor in boot camp? I’m gonna kick their ass for letting you graduate. Next, I’m kicking your recruiter’s ass for signing your papers.” Russell’s face was as red as his hair. He pointed at Travin. “I want you to open that fucking phonebook in your office, and call Doctor Ranelli. Right now. Move it!“
Hicks glanced toward the doorway. He slowly sat up in bed, running his fingers through his unkempt hair. “Am I in trouble?” he rasped. He sounded like he hadn’t used his voice in a long time.
Russell leaned against the doorway, deep in thought. “No. You’re not in trouble. You’ve suffered enough.”
“I’ve been a terrible Marine, sir.” Hicks looked down at his lap, face reddening and tears choking him. “I have such a blurry memory of what happened but I know I was… I’ve hurt people.”
“Well, like I said, you’re not in trouble. You’re gonna get some help before this gets even worse. Paulson wouldn’t want to see this go on.” Russell folded his arms over his chest. “This is partly my fault. I should’ve told you to just stay home until someone confirmed that they want you in their unit. Now look; you went nuts, son. Anyone would. Doesn’t help that someone really close to you died and you’re not done grieving. It’s my fault, really.”
“Sir, why do I feel like it’s my fault Paulson’s gone?”
“Could be that no one’s ever really found out why he did it. Not having answers leads your mind to assume the worst. I’m not convinced it was anything you did. I think Paulson may’ve had his own personal problems that he was really ashamed to tell you or his wife or son about. Personally, I think it might have something to do with what happened after the first couple failures with the prisoner program, but maybe he didn’t want any of you finding out and figured it was best you never knew.”
“Carlisle suggested the same thing.”
There was silence before Russell found a good response. “You got close to her, didn’t you?”
“Hey, you’re both outta boot camp, and you’re mature adults. Anyway, was she helpful at all to you?”
“Sometimes. Most of the time, I pushed her away, and just didn’t want anyone’s help. At the same time, I knew I had feelings for her, and yet, I don’t… I just-“
“Look, keep all that in the back of your mind, and save it for the therapist, okay? I’ve got a lot of asses to kick, and I’ve got some good news. I got a call from a Sergeant Apone earlier this morning about taking you into his Reconnaissance In Force unit, and I think you’ll be a good fit for that. Apone’s highly competent, and I think you’ll get along great and work well together. And with a unit as small as a RIFT, you’ll get that personal interaction with others that I know you’ve been wanting. In a couple of days, you’re gonna be sent to a transfer barracks to wait for your plane tickets, which shouldn’t take more than three days. You’ll probably start talking with the doc by then, and he’ll be traveling with you to your new unit to help you out. Sound good?”
Hicks nodded, but the good feelings weren’t hitting him at all.
“The important thing is that you’re getting out of here. I’m sure Paulson would be proud to see you off and improving your career.”
It was shortly after 1000 the next day when Hicks got to meet Dr. Ranelli for the first time. He sat upright in a chair in a small, somewhat cramped office near sick bay, waiting for the doctor to arrive. Hicks was expecting a Marine officer, and stood up when the door opened. He frowned when he saw it was a short, older civilian man in a blue cardigan, carrying a briefcase and an empty coffee mug. “Are you Doctor Ranelli?”
“Yes, I am. Please, sit.” Ranelli got behind the desk, and turned in his chair to a large cupboard. He opened it to reveal a small coffeemaker. “You must be-” He opened his briefcase, taking out a file, “Corporal Hicks.”
“Good. Give me one minute while I prepare this. I trust you’ve had some breakfast?”
“I haven’t been very hungry the last few days. Didn’t… have anything today.”
“Still. You should be eating a little something three times a day. Things like that are crucial in keeping your mind healthy.” Ranelli continued preparing some coffee and filling a small kettle with water for instant oatmeal. He set out a box of biscuits as well. It looked more like he was getting ready for a friendly talk rather than a therapy session. “Please, have something to eat,” he said, gently.
Hicks looked down at the file, seeing his name and information stamped across a sheet. There were a series of checkboxes with disorders listed by them. A blue X had been made next to “Bipolar II Disorder.” He looked at Ranelli, a little stunned. “Is this an official diagnosis?”
“When I send it out, yes, but as long as you are being treated, you will not be discharged from service, unless I think that would be more beneficial to your mental health. Your sergeant described your symptoms to me over the phone. To be completely honest with you, I really haven’t dealt that much with either variation of bipolar disorder, but from my knowledge, you are, thankfully, suffering from the less severe form. It will be a learning experience for both of us. I’m more experienced with handling post-traumatic stress disorder.” Ranelli faced Hicks. “However, from what I’ve gathered on you, it didn’t take a lot for me to draw the lines between your illness and the death of a very dear friend. Getting to the root of your problem was easy, though the cause of any and all depressive disorders is still unclear. In this case, it makes sense that the combination of grief and your terrible work environment led to this… this snapping within your mind.”
Hicks nodded, suddenly feeling as though he might cry.
“I definitely want to talk to you quite a bit before we start delving into the right treatment plan for you. The question I’d like to start the day off is ‘how are you feeling right now?’ Physically. Emotionally. Anything.”
“Well, I… I… I feel hopeless. I feel sick. I’m sad and angry and, well, for the last month, I constantly have this feeling that someone’s put ropes around my ribcage and my stomach and they pull really tightly whenever I feel upset. I feel guilty. I feel like I’m the reason Paulson died.”
“Believe it or not, that’s a normal thing to feel when you grieve. Typically, it’s called ‘survivor’s guilt.’ It’s definitely not easy to pull yourself out of, and it takes more than just someone telling you it wasn’t your fault. You need to go back, dig within your memories, and re-analyze the event. Put all the little puzzle pieces together, and show yourself that there really wasn’t anything you could’ve done to prevent it. Not to mention, I can understand why you’re not ready to go back to that day in your mind.”
Hicks nodded a little. “That’s the problem. No one knows why Paulson killed himself. There’s no… no sound reasoning. He didn’t leave any hints to anyone.”
“Most of the time, there are hints. They might not be very clear, but they’re there. It will require a lot of digging into his personal records, and I’m of the belief that it’s too soon after his death to start finding those answers.”
“If you’re right, then I’m too stupid to have seen them.”
Ranelli shook his head, turning to pour coffee into two mugs, and sliding one in front of Hicks. “People who are dead-set on taking their own lives go to great lengths to make sure no one is aware of it. Not to mention, I’m sure there are plenty of things you didn’t see, simply because you weren’t with Paulson at the time. Like I said, this is something that we will deal with over time. When it comes to improving your mental health, that is not something you deal with overnight. It is a long and sometimes difficult process that shouldn’t be rushed. It requires patience, and learning quite a bit about yourself, who you are and what you need to change.”
Hicks sighed. “I already know a lot about what I need to change. I just don’t know how to go through with it.”
“You’ll learn, you’ll learn. Don’t panic. Most people don’t entirely know what they need to change, and it takes awhile for them to see it. Out of curiosity, what is it that you know you need to change?”
“I… suppress my emotions. When I feel like I need to be in control of a situation, I force everything I’m feeling down my throat, and I try to ignore it. Even when I’m just talking to people, normally, I… I refuse to show them what I’m actually feeling.”
“If I could ask, based on some of your documents, are you planning on staying with the Marines for an extended period of time?”
“Yeah. I plan on being a lifer. Even have the word stenciled on the back of my armor.”
“That explains quite a bit. Could be… you’re a bit of a workaholic, and your bearing has bled into your personal life. When you’re being inspected or interacting with your superiors, you generally do not show any form of emotion whatsoever. Now, I know plenty of Marines who have a good balance with their work life and civilian life, which begs the question of ‘what is life like for you when you go home?'”
“Very quiet… and a little lonely. I don’t live with anyone else.”
“So, when you are in a private environment, you continue to keep your emotions tucked away in your subconscious.”
“Do you feel like you know how to express your emotions in a healthy way?”
“No. At times, I feel like people won’t really understand, like they won’t get the message that I’m sad or angry or frustrated or tired. Sometimes, I feel like I have to burst into tears to get my feelings across, but I don’t want to just start bawling in public, so I just hold it all in.”
“Is it common for people to misinterpret how you feel, or do you truly believe you don’t know how to express yourself?”
“I don’t know how to express myself. I-I really don’t.” Hicks gave up, and put his head in his hands. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry. This is all part of getting better. Plus-” Ranelli slid a tissue box toward Hicks, “don’t be ashamed of crying in here. It’s perfectly acceptable.”
“I should be more in control-“
“No. Relax. That kind of thinking just digs you deeper and deeper into this little hole you’ve gotten yourself into. Your emotions are like wild horses. You can’t force them to do what you want. It takes time and patience. Once you learn and accept how they affect you, then you can attempt to tame them, and balance them out in life.”
Part of Hicks felt like he had backed himself into a corner. Accepting this man’s help was the only way to get out of that corner. What all did he have to lose? My career, my health, a girlfriend. I could lose all of that if I don’t get help. He didn’t want to go home a failure. A mentally ill, broken failure.