Continued from She's Always There, Pt. 1
In limbo time moves at an odd pace, its current constantly
The TV is no longer on in the admissions waiting room. The clock reads 12:52am. For the nurses and orderlies who work this shift – a standard 7:00 to 7:00 rotation from what I’ve gleaned – it’s just lunchtime. They go about their business, from what I can see this amounts to watching youtube videos on their phones, all clustered together at the nurse’s station, and chatting about their lives. It feels odd to me that these caregivers should have a life outside this place, a life where night is day and day is night, and they aren’t constantly tasked with the wellbeing and care of others. How selfless a job. I don’t imagine it pays much.
The world outside is whittled and condensed into this little
bubble. A bubble I share with a scraggly wino, a terrified young girl, and a
faceless woman locked away for both her safety and that of the rest of us. How
sadly small our existence has become.
I fall back to sleep.
I awaken several times on the morning of day two, unable to
will myself out of bed. Things are no better. I’m still haunted by the specter
of my drunken self. I try to melt into my pillow and drift off, but after 15
hours in this bed there is no sleep to be found. No solace in dreams or even
I have to get out of here. I have to make a change, to take
back control of my life and never return to this place. Looing at my half-read
book, resting on the table with its spine cracked, I consider absconding into
the common room and reading.
No. It’s time to take charge. Day one is a freebie, now it’s
time to get to work on me.
The clock in my room reads 8:30. I’ve missed breakfast,
which is not good considering how closely they observe such things in places
like this. Meals, meds, group attendance… all things that are meticulously
I need to get with the program. Now.
I leave my room. Outside in the hallway are faces I recall
from yesterday. People tend to do a lot of pacing here, mostly to escape
boredom, though being locked up and unable to leave until your caregivers say
so tends to unearth vast depths of cabin fever. There are a number of “types”
to be found here. I’ve already taken stock of a few that I’ve seen before: the
mumbling woman who seems to have recently suffered a stroke, the quiet
contemplative man who makes eye contact only fleetingly, and my personal
favorite, the cocky dude who’s been here the longest and who thinks he’s all
better. As if something so elusive as a clean bill of mental health can be found
after a week in the hospital. This last type, he’s unable to stop himself from
sharing his sagely advice with those of us still coming to grips with sobriety.
Whether we want him to or not.
I’ve been this guy, sad to say. Twice. In fact, I’m asked on
the regular why I’m even there in the first place. I suppose I seem better
composed than most others. If only they knew the truth. If only I could acknowledge the truth.
Always hiding in plain sight. That’s me. I just can’t bring myself to show any vulnerability, plus I’m terrified of letting others down. Oddly enough, the only person I never think twice about disappointing is me. It is this revelation that makes my hospitalization this time around more important, or at least that’s what I tell myself as I wander past the nurse’s station with no decided destination, lost in thought. Unlike the woman in the isolation room a couple nights ago, I am lucid enough to be keyed into my own issues. I’m also willing to make changes.
It’s with this revelation that I meander through the hallway, stepping around people from all walks of life. I guess I know what I have to do once I’m allowed to leave, one thing I’ve never allowed myself the luxury of before, more or less because my pride wouldn’t allow it.
I would have to place myself in someone else’s care. Not
Kay. Not my mother. The only other person I can think of is my grandmother.
“LET. ME. THE. FUCK.
She’s back at it again, her screeching voice muffled only
slightly by the locked door. She’s resumed informing us (maniacally) that she
has rights as a free woman and that she really, really wants out.
This has been going on for 45 minutes now. The faceless
woman in isolation is relentless, a machine. What comes next is no surprise to
me, but rather a bit late for what I’d expected.
The skinny girl with the straight hair has reached her terror threshold. It isn’t until she’s on her feet and moving toward the nurse’s station that I notice she’s no longer asleep, assuming she ever truly was. Gazing in her direction, I watch as the wino stirs in his easy chair, gets a good look at the her ass, then turns to me with a double thumbs up and a wink. His tongue pokes out from between chapped lips, pushing through the space where his teeth had been arranged once upon a time. I can’t help rolling my eyes as I sit up in my recliner and turn to watch the girl. I feel almost as helpless as she, too new in this environment to console her though I want to.
I’ve been in her shoes before after all.
What is she here for, I begin to wonder. Is she voluntarily
or involuntarily? Either way, my heart aches for her, mostly because I can see
myself two years younger in her shoes. I want to tell her that it isn’t going
to be like this inside, but the fog of alcohol is still there for me, and an
odd voice in my head that sounds almost like Kay reminds me that I’d made it
through my first night just fine.
It’s a right of
passage, Kay whispers.
My gaze moves back to the isolation room as fists begin
pounding on the door again, the faceless woman inside continuing her verbal
salvo, laced with more of that home-baked American freedom bullshit. There
ain’t no freedom in here.
I look back to the nurse’s station where the skinny girl immediately buries here face in her hands, shoulders heaving up and down as she cries. The nurses’ attention is divided between detached concern for the girl and straight-up indignation for the faceless woman. Between sobs and staggered breaths, the girl pleads with the nurses to let her out, her voice watery and deep and desperate.
She doesn’t belong here, she moans.
Neither do I, I think. And neither, apparently, does the
faceless woman in the isolation room.
You never feel farther from home than when you’re locked
away, regardless of the actual physical distance. Everything here is
structured, regimented, much like prison, only with a smidge more free will and
100% less gang rape.
With my grandmother on my mind, I decide to exercise my right to a phone call. We’re permitted as many calls as we like, and can even receive calls back, though this privilege is confined to the hours of 6am and 11pm. I have to dig up my grandmother’s phone number from memory, which isn’t so daunting since it’s been the same since I was a kid. In the digital age, where we don’t bother to memorize numbers because we have little computers with contact lists to do it for us, the only numbers I know by heart are the ones I repeatedly dialed into a rotary phone in my childhood.
Walking out of the common room where I’d hidden myself away
for the last hour, I’m stopped on my way to the phone bank by an exotic female
voice from behind me.
I turn to find that I’ve been pursued for god knows how long
by a woman who looks more out of place here than the rest of us. Stopping along
with me, she favors me with a smile, her caramel-colored face framed by an
orange and red head scarf, paired oddly with green scrubs.
I’m not sure if it’s just the novelty of being treated by a woman I presume to be Muslim or the borderline racist and uncultured idea in my head that it was incredible someone like her had become a registered nurse, but I return the smile just the same. It’s the first smile I think I’ve worn since arriving here. Possibly the first since the days leading up to my last bender.
“It’s time for your meds,” she says, still smiling. Her
words almost feel like they carry the expression.
Ah yes, I think, time to start a new chapter in my
ever-evolving, ever-expanding world of biochemical modification. “Let’s do it,”
I say and follow her to the med window, which is nothing more than a small
hobbit hole next to the nurse’s station, only this hobbit hole is under
She lets herself inside with an RFID badge on a lanyard and
starts typing away at a computer positioned with its monitor facing away from
the window. After a few keystrokes and mouse clicks, an automated drawer like
so many I’ve seen before in places like this slowly trundles out, revealing a
number of electronically locked compartments. The plastic covers on two of
them, set at opposite sides of the grid, snap open, and the nurse extracts a
single-serving plastic sleeve from each. These are one-shot doses of whatever
meds I’ve been prescribed. I can’t for the life of me remember their names.
“Okay,” she says, going to work tearing open the sleeves and
dropping each pill into a tiny paper cup. Turning to the counter beside her,
she snatches up one of a dozen pre-filled cups of water before handing it to me
with the meds. “In ten percent of people this can cause a burning rash. We’ll
have to watch you for a day or so.”
“Wonderful,” I exhale.
The straight-haired girl is asleep again, the faceless woman
silent. It’s 1:37am. I feel like a zombie, in and out of a nightmarish waking
dream where my fourteen-year-old son and I are on vacation together with my
ex-wife, but the entire thing turns out to be a staged intervention. When the
coughing of the wino wrests me from my slumber I’m grateful, despite the
reminder of exactly where I am.
A door opens at the far end of the room, farthest, in fact,
from the entry door. I’ve only once seen it open since checking myself in, when
a mumbling janitor passed through it with a felt push-broom. Into the room this
time comes an odd duo, one a nurse, the other an orderly by my estimation. The
man, who I assume to be the orderly is thin with a snowy goatee and heavy blue
bags under his eyes. The woman wears short hair with a playful curl at the
edges, white as her partner’s facial hair. She pushes a wheel chair.
Is it time for me to get out of here and up to the BHU? Nope.
My hopes, brief as they are, are dashed as they wheel the chair past me and
over to the wino. There the orderly taps the man gently on his shoulder and
whispers, “Paul?” When at first the wino doesn’t stir, the orderly shakes him
harder, drawing him out of sleep. “Welcome back, my friend. Are you ready to go
Paul the Wino smacks his lips and rubs at his face before
smoothing down his beard in a futile effort that leaves it looking more unkempt
and unruly than before.
“I guesso,” Paul says, heaving himself up with what appears
to be great effort. I assume decades of poisoning his body have rendered it
older than the years he’s counted. I hope to God that I don’t ever end up like that.
The orderly braces Paul as he moves unsteadily to his feet,
bobbing forward. After he is righted, Paul is eased down into the chair, still
held in place by the nurse. I watch Paul the Wino as he is wheeled out of the
room and through the magic doorway to Rehabilitation Land. Good luck, Paul.
And then there were three.
“Aaron, she’s not going to take you back this time. A part
of me thinks she’s glad that you’re in there. Now she can shed you like she’s
wanted and nobody will think the lesser of her. But you need to get out and get
well, buddy. This isn’t therapy. You’re hiding.”
My older brother Richmond, visiting my grandmother and no doubt discussing my life choices, is right as always, but I challenge anyone to try to see another’s logic while locked away and evaluating new meds. His voice carries a clarity that we no longer experience over cellular phone networks. It’s as if he is right here beside me.
“You aren’t getting better in there. You need family and AA.
We’ve already got you lined up to stay with Gram. Just… just get out of there,
“You stole the thoughts right out of my head, Rich. I’m here
voluntarily. I can get out any time I want… well—” I think of my new meds and
the threat of some burning rash “—it may be another day or so.”
“New meds. Apparently there’s a chance my skin might burn
“There’s a risk of burning rash. I’ve been on every
anti-depressant on the market, Rich. They’re trying to think outside the box
here, using something intended for – I don’t’ know, insomnia or something – to get me out of my head. I guess it works
for depression in a small percentage of patients.”
“What is it called?”
“I can’t remember. Something with a lot of vowels.”
“Always the jokester. That’s why a lot of people find it
confusing that you’re in there.”
I sigh, sinking into the chair by the phone. I fight off the urge to hang up on him, but only barely, reminding myself that not everyone understands these things. I look up as an elderly woman I’ve only glimpsed in passing shuffles slowly along past me, face drawn and vacuous, one hand on a walker, the other clutching a pillow to her chest. It’s a couch pillow from one of the common rooms. Have I mentioned we see all types of mental fuckery in here?
“You still there?” Rich asks, snatching back my attention.
“Yeah,” I answer, “and you’re right. This place has become
my safety net and it’s time for me to get over it.”
“There’s a time for sympathy and a time for tough love,” he
says. I make a mental note to offer him plenty of tough love in lieu of
sympathy should our roles ever reverse. I can’t help feeling an overwhelming
resentment, but at my core I know that he’s right.
“Get yourself out,” he says, the cadence of his voice telling me that he’s been done with this call for some time. “Come here and live with Gram for a while and come visit me and Jen. The kids miss you.”
“Tomorrow,” I assure him.
“Tomorrow then,” he agrees.
“I love you, Rich.”
“I love you, too, man.”