As you know, this blog is about people and events that have had an impact on my life. Have played a role in shaping who I am today. We do not live in a vacuum. I am the result of many conditions: my ancestors past and present, my genes, the people I interact with in my day to day life, my experiences as I ferret my way through this wonderful roller coaster ride I call my life, my spirituality, meditation practice, and all of the beauty and wonder of our world that I get to experience in nature. Okay, I simply have to share this with you: Just this morning before dawn I gazed out of the picture window facing our backyard to be greeted by something very special, an opossum scooting across the yard. What a wonderful start to my day!
I have had lots of situations in my life that have effected me deeply. I suspect that for some of us, there may be one event in our lives that we perceive as having had the biggest impact of all. For me, that holds true. The following, which took place in the early 1980’s, and is written in memoir form, describes what I consider to have had the biggest impact in my life:
I throw a stone at a sharp angle across the water and watch as it shatters the glass-like surface of the pond, first in one place, and then again and again until it finally comes to rest beneath the water. The circles ripple out from each place the stone touched, getting bigger and bigger until the different circles touch each other. One of these circles touched me and changed my life forever.
“I don’t want to live anymore.” There. I said it. I had to say it. I am afraid that he won’t let me in if I don’t. I find it hard to believe that I’m even here. That I want to be here. I watch his impassive face as he first looks at me and then down at his clipboard to write something. I feel naked.
Everything is just so strange. Me telling this complete stranger such personal information. The alien grabbing the butcher knife. She wants to hurt me. The battle between the alien and me. The alien seems so much bigger than me. Me throwing the butcher knife across the kitchen and getting out of there as fast as I can. The alien looking for the pills. Me not finding them. Me curling up in a ball on the couch. I’m hiding from the alien. The walls are closing in on me.
“I’m going to call a nurse to take you up to the tenth floor,” says the resident. “I think you should be admitted.”
Well, now I’ve done it. With the nurse gone, I disrobe, change into a nightgown and my housecoat, and walk over to the lockers beside the door. I glance out of the door at the nurse’s station just across from my room. I open the first locker. There is a blue flowered dress hanging there. On the shelf above it is a clear plastic bag filled with pale pink curlers. The kind with the little spikes that catch your hair and dig into your skull. Torture devices. The kind that I stopped using when still a child. Beauty at any cost. Beneath the dress sits a pair of mules. I hate mule slippers. They make me think of drudgery. I quickly shut the locker door. I don’t want its owner to see me and think I’m snooping. I hardly have time to deposit my clothes in the other locker and get back to my bed before a middle-aged man in a white hospital jacket enters the room and heads towards me.
“Hello. I’m Doctor Hollander,” he says, offering me his hand. “I’m going to be your doctor while you’re here.”
I shake his hand, noting its firmness. I tell my story for a second time.
He is quiet for a moment, observing me through intense, almost coal coloured eyes.
“It’s a good thing that you came here when you did,” he says finally, still looking at me intently. “If you had even waited a week, you would have had a complete nervous breakdown.”
The alien might have gotten me first, I think as I watch him watch me. Of Mediterranean complexion, he has thick black hair that threatens to ruin the close-cropped sharp lines framing his face. I decide that I like him. There is something about him. A sureness, an honesty. And strength. Especially strength. After he leaves, and the fear begins to creep in, I will find solace in his image.
I don’t want her here. I watch as the owner of the torture devices shuffles into the room.
“Hello. I’m Maureen,” I hear myself say.
“I Lucy,” she says. The words come out thick like cotton.
“I’ll be sharing this room with you.” I make myself smile. I have little energy to put on my mask. “I should really be in a ward but they’re all full,” I say, making an excuse for my presence. “The nurse says I’ll get moved when a space frees up.” Only briefly does Lucy acknowledge me through dark lifeless eyes. She does not return my smile, but instead turns her short, slightly thickened body, goes into the bathroom, and shuts the door behind her.
Pacing quickly around the ward again and again through the long days and even longer nights, I try to cope with the caterpillars crawling under my skin. I sit in the lounge and study my university French text for hours on end day after day until my vision becomes so blurred that I can no longer see the words before me. The drug is taking from me what little I have; soon I will have nothing left to cling to. They finally listen. My doctor takes me off the drug. The caterpillars leave and I get my vision back. I have little time for Lucy.
Settling in to life on the ward, I am surprised to discover that I actually like it here. I meet many people: Jan, a warm, sensitive, caring individual who is always trying to cut herself. She says the pain from the cuts is the only way to stop the pain inside. When she first arrived five months ago she was near death, beaten senseless by her husband; Jenny, a whisper of a woman, soft-spoken, gentle, gang raped by a group of bikers; Joanne, whose cancer has spread to the other breast. Dying is hard for some people.
There is a piano on the ward. For the first time in thirteen years I play. I have forgotten how music can touch the centre of what I am. My meals are cooked for me and after a few days I am allowed to leave the hospital to go to a movie, or for a coffee if I feel like it.
Late one Monday afternoon, as I sit alone in a cafe a few blocks from the hospital sipping an espresso, I suddenly realize why I really like living on a psychiatric ward. For the first time in a long while I feel safe. He can’t get to me here. Later I will listen to him as he tells me that they had no right to not let him talk to me, even on the phone. I am his wife. I guess he thinks he owns me.
“She is so sullen, Jan,” I say, a few days later as the two of us head back to our rooms after a group counselling session. “I wish they’d hurry up and find me a space in a ward room.” I look at her as she walks along beside me in her white pajamas with their thin red stripes. She is not allowed to wear street clothes until she stops cutting herself.
“Lucy feels the same way,” she says as she peers out at me through pale blue eyes set in a not quite chubby, milk-white, freckled face.
Jan remains silent for a moment. She looks uncertain. “Lucy went to her nurse and told her that she wanted you out of her room.”
“Her room?” As I look at her I can feel my cheeks getting hot. I have been here for two weeks and my relationship with Lucy has not progressed much beyond mere tolerance. I gave up the forced show of friendliness after the first week. I know that I have wished that she was not my roommate, but I didn’t even once consider that the feeling was mutual. Somehow I don’t like this. It tells me something about Lucy that I do not want to know. It also forces me to run from something in myself that I do not want to see.
“What did the nurse say to her?” I ask, watching as Jan avoids my gaze.
“She told Lucy that they are keeping you in her room,” she says, finally looking at me.
I am disappointed and satisfied by this.
The alien is back. We are sitting on a chair in the room. The alien hides when I am not in the room. The room is my torture device. Four grey walls, two short, two long. Two doors. Soundproof I suspect. But not alien proof. As I sit there with my arms pressed tightly against my ribs and one hand grasping the other in my lap, I feel as though my soul has been ripped from me. I am nothing. He told me so. I hear the sound coming from somewhere deep inside of me. Crying. Why can’t I just rip this pain from my chest? I look at the figure in front of me. Annie. Quiet, intelligent, compassionate, Annie. I watch as she is replaced by a foot. Kicking. Kicking me. It’s raining kicks. Do you take Maureen to be your lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold, until death do you part? How many kicks does it take to kill a human being? Will it ever stop? Only the alien can save me. She can help me to go somewhere where there is peace and I can finally rest. No pain. There is no pain in this place where she will send me. She tried to send me there once before, but I couldn’t find the pills. I am so very tired. The foot is replaced by a face. I cringe, garbage on the floor. Where can I hide? I will go crazy if I can’t escape. His blue eyes are consumed with hatred. I can feel it piercing right through me. The hatred hurts more than the kicks. They can only destroy my body. What did I ever do to deserve this hatred?
“Maureen.” A gentle voice. I look once again at the small figure of the nurse in front of me.
“It’s not you, Maureen. It’s him. No one deserves what he did to you.”
I want to believe Annie. Why is trusting so hard? After awhile I have no more tears left. I feel completely drained. A shell. I don’t think I have ever felt this empty.
A couple of days after my conversation with Jan, I lay on my side on top of my made bed reading a book, or at least pretending to. What I am really doing is Lucy watching. At the moment she is hunched over her side table rooting through the top drawer.
“If you’re looking for your brush, I think the cleaning woman moved it,” I say, my voice friendly. I smile at her. Lucy looks at me and says nothing. For a second I could swear that I see a flicker of something in her eyes besides deadness. “She was in here a little while ago cleaning the bathroom. I saw her pick up a blue brush off the counter and put it into the medicine cabinet.” I watch as Lucy looks at me for what seems a long time, and then turns abruptly, and heads towards the bathroom.
What a strange little woman, I think as she enters the bathroom and immediately opens the medicine cabinet. By now I have learned that I am not the only one that Lucy does not talk to. She seems to have little to do with anyone. I often see her shuffling around the corridors of the ward, or sitting in one of the lounge areas, always subdued, always keeping to herself. As I observe her brushing her washed-out brown, shoulder length, slightly frizzy hair, I wonder if she doesn’t talk to people because she can’t speak English very well. From what little I have heard her say, I have figured out that she is Italian. As Lucy turns off the bathroom light I quickly look down at my book, pretending to read. I hear her come out of the bathroom and go back to her night table.
I lift my eyes from the pages of my book.
“No problem,” I say, surprised at this acknowledgement, but not showing it. Again I look into her eyes. I am searching for something. Anything. They remain as expressionless and washed-out looking as her face. “I’d miss my brush if I couldn’t find it,” I say. We look at each other for a moment longer before I go back to my book and she goes back to her night table.
Still I don’t read. For the first time I wonder what her story is. I glance up from my book as I hear her shut the night table drawer. Still unaware of her audience, she picks up the small oval image with its plastic gold-painted frame from its place beside her phone. She polishes the Virgin Mary. Why is she so withdrawn? She seems so different than anyone else on the ward. Everyone here has a different story, many sad, some horrible, but everyone else here is at least friendly towards other people. As I look once again down at the pages of my book, I make a mental note to myself to ask Jan about it.
The next day, on my way to Jan’s room, I run into Liam, another patient on the ward.
“Hi. I’m glad I bumped into you,” he says, smiling broadly at me. “I’m in a mood for playing Go again. Interested?”
“I’d love to Liam, I really would, but I’m on my way to Jan’s room. I’ve got to talk to her about something.” Liam has been teaching me how to play the oriental game of strategy for the last week. “Maybe later.”
“I don’t think they’ll let you see her. She’s under guard in her room,” he says, the smile suddenly disappearing.
“I was just talking to her friend Alice. She told me that last night Jan got hold of a drinking glass from the kitchen and managed to break it without anyone hearing. Alice said Jan cut her arm up pretty badly. I imagine it’s going to be awhile before they let her out of her room again or have any visitors. She has a nurse posted in her room twenty-four hours a day.”
“Oh, Liam.” I feel terrible for Jan. Until now she has managed to go an entire month without cutting herself.
After I leave Liam I wonder if Jan will ever be better. She has been here for half a year and still she cuts herself. Will I be here that long? The alien is showing up less and less these days, but I am still not rid of her. I wonder what is worse: cutting yourself like Jan does to escape the pain, or ceasing to exist to be free of the pain? I decide that I could never cut myself. Not like Jan does, again and again.
“Fifteen two, fifteen four, and two for the pair of queens for a total of six,” I say, looking first at Diane and then at the audience that we seem to have gathered. “Is that right?”
“You forgot the queen, four, and ace,” she says, looking at me with a grin.
“Damn! I keep forgetting that you can use more than two cards to get fifteen,” I say, the exasperation showing on my face.
“Don’t worry about it,” she says, still grinning at me. “You’re catching on pretty quickly for someone who’s never played before. It takes awhile to get the hang of it.”
It has been two days since Jan cut herself. Diane and I are sprawled out on the carpet in the small lounge. We have been playing cribbage for an hour or so. I often come here to relax, play a game with one of the other patients, or to chat. Today there are six of us. Two of the patients are watching Diane and me. Directly across the room, a couple of others are huddled together, deep in conversation. One of them, Suzanne, starts to giggle. Diane and I smile at each other as we look up from our game. Jim is telling another one of his jokes. I look at the two of them and leave.
I know all about jokes. Day after day I cower, pressed against the wall, bowing to raised hand. Night after night I dream. I am on a bus. A man gets on. He shoots me. I am on a raft, fleeing from warriors. They impale me on their spears. I am in a dark alley. A man in a black leather jacket finds me and beats me with a crow bar. Death has many faces. Day after day he lowers his hand.
“I was only joking,” he says.
Yes, I know all about jokes.
Suzanne’s laughter pulls me back. Jim has finished telling his joke. I look around me, my eyes finally coming to rest beside a picture hanging on the wall just inside the entrance to the lounge. I am astonished by what I see. I look away. The others haven’t noticed. When I turn to look again the smile is gone. Unsure, I look up. Our eyes meet for only the briefest of moments, but that is enough. She knows that I have seen.
Later, as I lie on my side in bed, looking at the roundness that is her silhouetted against the night, I can’t stop the thoughts from coming. I guess I must have seen her in the lounge. I mean, she was there. She is so quiet though, and mousy looking; it’s easy not to notice her.
I close my eyes. I can hear the two night nurses talking. I wish they’d be quiet. How can I sleep with them talking and the lights glaring in the doorway from the nurses’ station? I roll over onto my back and look into the darkness above. I remember reading once how even if you can’t fall asleep right away your body will still get what it needs. It must be true; even though my eyes are open and I can’t stop thinking, my body is resting. Maybe if I concentrate on my breathing I can make my mind stop. I shut my eyes again. I focus on the air rushing in through my nostrils. I feel it go past my sinuses, my throat, and into the dark space surrounded by my lungs. I feel my chest expand as my ribs give way to the gentle but persistent force behind them.
Lucy understood the joke. I can’t get over it. She understands everything. Everything. It’s all been deliberate. An act. Nothing but an act. Her thick accent and hard to understand words have served her well.
Damn, now I’m thirsty. At this rate it’ll be dawn before I fall asleep. So much for the breathing exercise. I get out of bed and pad over to the bathroom to get a glass of water. Quietly I shut the bathroom door so as not to disturb Lucy; the sound of running water might wake her. My eyes shrink against the harsh glare of the fluorescent light illuminating the sink. I look down at the grey-pebbled pattern of the linoleum flooring until my eyes adjust, then turn on the tap.
How could I not have seen? Just because she says little does not mean that she can’t understand what’s going on around her. I run the water for a minute and then fill my glass with the now cold water. She fooled everyone, including me.
My thirst gone, I return my glass to its spot beside the sink, turn off the bathroom light, open the door, and walk back towards my bed. As I tiptoe by Lucy’s bed, I stop to look at her bunched up shape. She has the bedclothes pulled up tightly under her chin. I stand quietly for a few moments, not moving, wondering. What are you hiding from? What is so terrible that you shun all human contact? I watch the silent rhythm of her breathing, barely discernable under the smooth line of the covers. Her face, visible in the harsh light cast from the doorway, looks so peaceful. Without the deadness that are her eyes, she looks completely normal. As I look at her, I think of my son. He’s what I call a boy’s boy. Never still. Forty-five pounds of mischief. But when I pop my head into his bedroom doorway to check on him just before going to bed, I look through the nighttime shadows into the face of an angel.
Over the next few days I find myself thinking about Lucy a lot. For the first time I confront some things about myself that I am not very happy with. I’m ashamed for having dismissed her so readily. I finally admit that I used the excuse of being so immersed in my own pain that I couldn’t deal with hers. That was true when I first arrived here, but not now.
After breakfast a few days after the card game, I go to my locker to get my shampoo and some other toiletries for my shower. I look up at Lucy as she enters the room.
“Good morning Lucy. How’d you sleep?” I ask. I smile at her.
“Sleep okay,” she says without expression.
“I envy you,” I say, meaning it. “I had an awful time getting to sleep thanks to the nurses yakking too loudly. I wish their station wasn’t so close to our room.”
Lucy looks at me for a moment; she remains silent. “I go bathroom now. Be long,” she says abruptly. “You need things?”
“No. No… I’m okay,” I say, caught off guard by her response. “I’m off to the shower. Everything I need is in my locker.”
Lucy says nothing. She turns towards the bathroom.
She turns back to face me.
“Thanks for asking.” We both stand there for a moment doing nothing. She raises her eyes to meet mine. Smiling shyly, she looks at me briefly, then turns and enters the bathroom. I just stand there looking at the closed door.
“How could I have been so blind and so prejudiced?” I say softly to the figure behind the door. “You didn’t stand a chance.”
I linger for a moment longer and then walk over to my nightstand. I dump my toiletries on my bed and then open the night table drawer, reaching towards the back of it. I have always prided myself on looking at people as equal and not stereotyping anyone. So what did I do with Lucy? I turned her into a caricature. I decided that just because she was frumpish-looking, middle-aged, and Italian, she was probably not very interesting and therefore not worth my time. I feel the familiar softness, grab the corner of my leather make-up case, and withdraw my hand. Just before I shut the drawer I decide to grab the shopping bag wedged in beside my book against the inside of the drawer. I shut the drawer and throw the case, along with my deodorant and other toiletries, into the bag. I saw only what I wanted to see. It was easier to hide behind my disapproval than to deal with her. I turn and head towards the door of our room. Stopping in the doorway, I look back one more time in the direction of the bathroom.
“Lucy, forgive me. I had no right to shut out your pain,” I say softly to the still closed bathroom door before heading briskly into the hallway towards the showers.
As the week wears on the hallways become my nightly companion. My doctor prescribes sleeping pills. Still I haunt the corridors.
Friday after lunch, as I’m heading back to my room, I run into Stuart, one of the nurses on the ward.
“Hi Maureen. I’m glad that I bumped into you. I need to talk to you about something.”
“Sure. No problem,” I say, as I look past rectangular steel frames into soft hazel eyes.
“It’s nothing much really. It’s just that a space has come up in a wardroom. Technically you’re supposed to be in a ward since you don’t have insurance coverage for a semiprivate room, but I wanted to know if you’d mind staying in the double that you’re in now? It won’t cost you anything.”
“I don’t have a problem with that. But why?”
“Lucy has never expressed an interest in sharing her room with anyone else until now. She always wants to be alone. Anyway, she noticed the empty bed in one of the wards and I guess she was afraid that we might move you, so she came to us and asked us not to. She wants you to stay with her. So, if you don’t mind, we’d like to keep you in with her, at least for the time being. We think that it will be good for her.”
“Stuart, I really don’t mind staying put. I actually kind of like Lucy. She’s okay.”
“Alright then, it’s settled,” he says, sounding pleased.
I smile to myself as I walk down the hall after leaving Stuart. So now she wants me. Well, Lucy, I guess the feeling’s mutual. I want you too.
Many hours later I find myself pacing up and down the halls, again and again. So much for sleeping pills. I look at the clock as I pass by the nurse’s station. Great. 3 a.m. This is ridiculous. I’ve been walking the halls for over an hour. Now what am I supposed to do if even drugs can’t make me sleep? I walk around the ward one more time before going back to my room. I tiptoe quietly by Lucy’s bed so as not to wake her. Climbing onto my bed I just lay there, staring at the ceiling. Why am I so tense?
“Lucy, I’m so sorry. Now I’ve gone and woken you up,” I say, turning to look at her.
“No. I awake for me. What the matter, Mareen?”
“I’m having trouble sleeping. I took a sleeping pill ages ago, but it’s not working.”
“Maybe something bother you?”
“I’ve been tense lately,” I say softly. “I talked to Stuart about it, but it doesn’t seem to have helped. Every day it just seems to get worse and worse.”
“I go close door. The light no good for sleep.”
“But what about the night nurse?” I ask. “If she sees the door shut she won’t like it. It’s supposed to be open so she can keep an eye on us.”
“She not one trying to sleep.” Lucy says matter-of-factly.
Surprised by this response, and amused by her logic, I remain quiet as Lucy gets out of bed, walks over to the door, and shuts it.
“I hope so Lucy, I really do. Goodnight and thank you,” I say gently, before rolling over and shutting my eyes.
“You look awful.”
“Thanks, and hello to you to,” I say, looking up from my book. I manage a smile. “It’s nice to see you up and about.” I notice the dark circles under her eyes, smudges next to lily-white skin. Chancing a quick glance at the edge of her sleeve, I see the thick bandages encircling her wrist.
“I’m feeling better. Mind if I join you?”.
“Sure. I’m not having much luck reading this book anyway. This is my third attempt with this chapter. I just can’t seem to keep my mind on it,” I say. I close the book, place it on the lounge coffee table, and watch as Jan sinks into the green brocaded armchair to my right. We are alone.
“Besides insomnia and feeling like an explosion waiting to happen, not a whole lot.” I have to smile at the quizzical look she gives me. “It’s nothing that I’m sure won’t eventually get sorted out,” I say, serious now. I know she cares and I don’t want to offend her. “Thanks for asking.”
Jan looks at me silently for a long moment.
“I hear Lucy has decided she likes you.”
“Lucy?” Well, that was certainly out of the blue. Now it’s my turn to look quizzical.
“How on earth did you find that out?”
Jan grins at me. “She told me.”
“She told you?” Jan just looks at me with a warm smile and slightly curious expression on her face.
“Maureen, I think it’s great she wants to stay with you. Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve seen her show an interest in anything? She’s been here three months this time round and it’s the first time I’ve seen her come out of her shell.”
Now it’s my turn to look quizzical. “She’s been here before?” I ask.
“Yes, this is her third time. Last time she was only gone a month before she was readmitted.”
“Oh, there you are.” Jan and I both look up at Margaret, one of the nurses. “Your doctor’s here to see you Maureen.”
“Okay, I’ll be right down.”
I get up, grab my book from the table, and turn to look at Jan. “We’ll chat later,” I say, before turning to follow Margaret down the hall.
I am tense all the time now. My doctor wants me to leave the hospital for entire weekends, a test run he calls it. What about the alien? I keep trying to will her away but she is stronger than I am. It’s like she owns me. My counselling sessions with the nurses have become a nightmare. I dread them. I come out of them feeling worse than when I went in. I know what a caged animal feels like. Pacing around and around and around for hours and hours. Going in circles. Every day the same thing. Around and around. There is no way out. It makes you crazy. At least things are better with Lucy.
“Hi Lucy,” I say as I throw my coat and weekend case down on my bed and head over towards her. She is lying down on top of the covers of her made bed, but her eyes are open. She sits up.
“You have good weekend Mareen?”
“Yes, I did,” I lie. I pause for a moment. “I brought you something.” I thrust a brown paper bag at her and watch as she opens it.
“Mareen, you shouldn’t buy for me.”
“Of course I should,” I say, grinning now. “It’s just a little something to have with your coffee.” She sees the chocolate dipped biscotti. For the briefest of moments I am watching a child at a birthday party who’s just unwrapped her prize for winning “Pin the Tail on the Donkey.” Someone had told me that biscotti were Italian. I guess they were right.
Later that night as I lie awake in bed I smile as I think of Lucy and the biscotti. For once I don’t even care that it’s 4 a.m. and I’m still not asleep. I wonder why no one visits her, why no one brings her things to brighten her day. It’s funny that I didn’t notice her lack of visitors before. Why would anyone not want to visit her?
I survive my second weekend away. As I throw my coat and overnight bag onto my bed I look down at the plain white bedspread through unseeing eyes. The sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach is all there is. Fear eats you up. It ruins weekends away. Next I’ll be gone. Maybe for good. Doesn’t he know that I’m not ready? I walk over to the closed bathroom door to knock on it, but notice that there is no light shining out from under it. I look at my watch. Dinnertime. I haven’t eaten; I’m not hungry. I go back to the bed to grab my case and coat. After depositing them in my locker, I turn and pause for a moment as I gaze at the room. I look past Lucy’s bed to her night table. The Virgin Mary is gone. I notice her made bed and the too smooth pillowslip on the too perfectly fluffed-up pillow. Tuesday is laundry day. My stomach becomes a knot. I turn back to the lockers and open the first one. Empty. The knot grows. Moments later I stare at the empty space beside my toiletries in the medicine cabinet. I’ve got to find Jan.
“Jan,” I say, catching up to her at the end of the hall near the visitor’s lounge. “Thank goodness I found you.”
“Lucy’s gone. I just got back from the weekend and all her stuff is gone.”
“It’s okay Maureen,” she says, her tone gentle. “I had hoped that I’d meet up with you sooner at dinner to let you know that she’d been discharged. She left right after lunch today.”
I stand there trying to absorb her words. I did not expect this. I guess somehow I expected Lucy to be here forever.
“I’m going to miss her too,” Jan says quietly as she gazes at me.
“I wish that I’d had a chance to say goodbye,” I say. I feel hollow.
“I don’t think even Lucy knew that she was going to be discharged on the weekend.”
We stand there gazing at each other for what feels like a long time. I glance down for a moment, and then look back up into her eyes. “What happened, Jan? How did Lucy end up here?
Lucy reaches past the pickle jar, grabs the cheese, and closes the fridge door. After putting it on the counter beside a basket filled with panini rolls, she turns towards a large pot on the stove beside the counter. She stirs the soup, lifts the spoon to her lips, blows on it for a moment, and tastes. Basil. She walks across the kitchen and down the hallway to the basement door. After making her way down the steep steps she heads to the cellar storage area. Seeing what she’s looking for, she walks over to a line strung with various dried herbs, pinches off a sprig of basil, and heads for the doorway to Sal’s workshop.
Seeing that he’s not at his workbench, she walks over to his empty stool, turns off the overhead light, and heads to the rec room. He’s fallen asleep again. She sighs. He’s tired all the time now. She reaches the doorway to the rec room and goes in.
“She found him hanging, Maureen,” Jan says quietly. “He had tied a rope to an overhead beam and hung himself.”
“He had a heart condition and had been told by the doctor that he only had a short time to live. There was nothing that they could do for him. So that was the route he chose.”
I place my suitcase down for a moment and turn to look at what has been my home for the last five weeks. My eyes find the night table. Once again I look at the empty space where the Virgin Mary had been. “Thank you Lucy,” I whisper, as I pick up my suitcase and head out the door.
I throw another stone at a sharp angle across the water and watch as it, like the first, shatters the glass-like surface of the water, first in one place and then again and again until it finally comes to rest beneath the water. Again the circles ripple out from each place the stone touched, only this time, a maple key, buffeted by a light breeze, gently spins its way down to the surface of the water, finally coming to rest on one of the circles. I watch as a new circle begins and the first circle disappears under the ripples extending out in new directions from where the key hit the water.
Over the decades since this event happened, I often found my mind wandering to Lucy. Even after all these years, as I write this, I feel the tears filling my eyes as I remember her beautiful, gentle, broken self. She will never know that getting to know and care for and love her gave me back the will to live. Perhaps it is better that way.
Lucy, I sincerely hope that you found happiness. I hope that you found peace. You will forever be a part of me, dear one.
Note: The section near the end that is in italics comes from my imagination.
Note: With the exception of the analogy of the ripples at the beginning and conclusion of this memoir, every event in this memoir happened. The names of the people have been changed.
Thank you: I will be forever grateful to my incredible, wise, and compassionate psychologist and family doctor for being there for me to phone and say “Help, this is what’s happening”. I trusted them completely so took their advice to go to the hospital to get admitted.
This is so beautiful and heart breaking at the same time. You are so courageous! thank you for sharing it.
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Thank you for your kind words. To be honest, I think that there is a part of me that, for a very long time, has needed to share it. Doing so felt scary, and I’m still not sure how I feel around it all, but in a way that I don’t quite understand, I feel validated.
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I think you are very brave and it is a beautiful post – there are many who will find solace and comfort in knowing they are not alone. The one part that really got to me was the part where you talk about jokes. In my husband’s family they can say very cruel things, which is always followed up with, “i was only joking”. so I could really identify with that and with many other aspects as well. It’s been said, “our secrets keep us sick”. So, yay for you and all the healing you’ve experienced! And thank you again for sharing!
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You know Carol, I guess I never really thought about other people have similar circumstances as some of the events that I speak of in “Ripples”. I’m afraid that I never thought that anyone would ever relate to the part about jokes in terms of their own lives. I’m sad that you have been exposed to, and had to deal with, the members of your husband’s family with their cruelty. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Nobody deserves that. Thank you for your wisdom and your kindness.
Maureen (Samten?), it is very unusual for me to read a post as long as this one, but the fact that it held my attention says a lot about your story, and you as a storyteller.
I had a similar experience with a roommate many years ago, too long a story to tell here, but your story reminded me of her and made me wonder where and how she is now. Your chastising yourself for your prejudice made me laugh and think of a recent post of mine, “Who’s Prejudiced Now?” (posted October 12)
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Thank you for you kind words. I’ll say a prayer for your roommate that she is okay and at peace. I just went to your site and read “Who’s Prejudiced Now?”. I really enjoyed it.
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