No one understands
No one knows my plan
I must be silent, must contain my secret smile
I want to tell you
Excerpt from “No One Knows My Plan” by TMBG
I hate the smell of car exhaust. It’s even worse when it’s my own exhaust. My car’s windows are cloudy with it, along with the film that was left over from chain smoking for twenty years.
I quit. Finally. And then took up eating as a hobby.
I pull up to the drive-thru window and pay in small bills and change to the bored teenager on the other side. I’ve carefully counted out the change, and this moron drops it all in the drawer without paying attention, and then turns to me and asks if it was the right change, or if he owes me anything.
I nod that it was the right change.
“Cool,” he says.
He hands me a half-gallon of coke, a sausage biscuit and some deep-fried potatoes. I never can remember what they’re called. When I was growing up, my grandma called them hash browns, but we kids called them tater-tots. And every fast food chain has its own name.
I just can’t keep up.
All I know is I need to get in early, because Eileen called in sick and she’s always the first in to do prep.
And it’s still dark outside. Too early.
I rub my eyes, and then remember that patient who rubbed his eyes the other day. That young one with the old man hairstyle.
I fish my breakfast from the greasy paper bag, trying to eat while driving a stick shift. The traffic’s not too bad on the bridge, so I think I’ll get there even earlier than I planned.
I hope they remember that next month, so I can ask for a raise.
I swipe my ID at both security doors, and head straight for the locker room. I toss my garbage in the trashcan on the way, and stow the rest of my soda in the refrigerator for lunch.
I stand outside the nurses’ station in the hall, so I can direct patients as they pick up their morning meds.
My feet aren’t hurting today, but my knees are killing me. I’ve been avoiding surgery for two years. I think I’m about at my limit. I lean to the left and put more of my weight on the one that’s hurting less.
Most patients are easy, especially after they’ve been here for twenty-four hours—long enough to get good and drugged up.
I’m pretty sure we could line them up for an anal gang-bang and they’d not bat an eyelash after being pumped full of Vitamin X.
Not that I ever touch the stuff, but there’s plenty in my apartment building that’d be willing to hand me five hundred bucks to make a bottle or two disappear from the shelves, so they can make a bundle at raves or whatever.
As if it were that easy.
And then I see him.
The beard on his face sort of suits him. But I don’t think he’s really into that whole grunge look. I think he’d really rather be clean-shaven, only he doesn’t want to be watched.
Then again, who does want to be watched as they shave?
I’m supposed to help the nurses keep an eye out for patients that tongue their meds.
Usually, if there’s suspicion, we have to keep a really close watch, and the red headed weirdo I’m watching is the one on their radar today.
He waits before swallowing. I’m tempted to tell him how to get away with it, so I can sell his junk back home.
But I’m not gonna do that. I’m not actually a bad person, but everyone thinks about doing stuff they’d never actually do. Fantasizing.
He mumbles a lot. He looks at me like he’s about to ask a question and then mumbles and looks away.
He swallows his meds, and I ask him to open his mouth. He does, but only after looking around at…I don’t know what. He lifts his tongue, and then shuffles to the dining room, where the bacon I’ve added to his order will go untouched.
Second breakfast for me.
OK. I know that’s not right either, but really; it’s a victimless crime.
I watch him from across the room. He used to sag his shoulders more, but today he looks more sure of himself.
The dark smudges under his dull eyes tell a different story, though.
I really don’t know what that story is, but I’m sure it’s full of heartbreak, lost sleep, sadness and probably a daddy with a stiff punch or something.
I sit near Harold, the guy on suicide watch, during therapy. His bandage will have to be changed out, and I know I’m going to be the one that has to do it. He cries every time, and I want to cry with him, but that’s not helpful. I go over the routine in my head, hoping that if I can focus on the work, I won’t have to get pulled in by the face.
The redhead sits there and hardly speaks. He used to talk more. Now, he hardly even answers questions.
He’s even stopped talking about her.
He smiles but I can tell it’s a lie.
The first night he was here, I had night duty. So, I walked the halls, sticking my head in the door of each patient room, just to make sure no one had tried to hang themselves.
Don’t laugh. It happens.
Before I even got to his door, I heard him moaning.
He was crying in his sleep, and saying “Bella, Bella, Bella!”
He moaned “Bella” all night.
On the one hand I kind of felt sorry for the guy, but by two a.m. I was over it. I begged the RNs to give him a shot or something.
They said they didn’t have orders for that.
Figures. They weren’t the ones who had to listen to him until six a.m.
Then, the next day, I heard he sat at the piano for two straight hours at rec.
Gianna, the head nurse, told him that he couldn’t play it, like, ten times and he never responded, she said.
So, every day at rec, he just sits there and stares at it.
I mean, I don’t know if he can play or not, but maybe the guy really wants to play. Don’t they think it could be therapeutic?
I asked Gianna, and she told me to go pull charts for group therapy while the patients were doing art.
I shouldn’t be staring at him, but he’s the cutest crazy we’ve gotten in here for a long time.
And he kind of looks like….
Well there was this guy, when I was in high school. He was redheaded and cute, and he really only wanted to get in my pants, but I was certain that I was in love with him, so it was OK.
And that’s what it’s all about.
The skinny weirdo wanders the halls and waits patiently for his turn with the phone.
He calls her every day.
I’m too old for the guy, but I can’t help but wonder what she’s like; if she’s like me, at all.
Not that it would make a difference, but if I’m like her…maybe it means something, you know?
I heard he had some visitors last week, and today is a visitation day, so maybe I’ll get to see her.
I relieve Bill, who’s been keeping an eye on the patients waiting for the phone, when it’s the cutie’s turn.
Their conversation is brief.
He doesn’t tell her he loves her.
Hm. Must not be that serious, then. I mean, what’s the point if no one falls in love, huh?
Then, you get pregnant at fifteen, get an abortion, and everyone calls you a slut.
But if you find a guy that loves you, then when you get pregnant again at seventeen, you get to quit school while he joins the army, dies in Desert Storm and you get benefits. Not enough to pay the bills, but love’s good for something, right?
At least, that’s my take.
I mean, I have my kid to prove it.
I wonder if the redhead’d knock up his daily phone call?
Maybe he already has. Heh. Maybe that’s why he’s in here: had a nervous breakdown after he discovered he procreated.
When it’s time for visitors, I go out to greet them and take them back. I want to see if I can figure out who she is—if she even comes to visit.
There are no preggers out there. As a matter of fact, there are only five people total. A couple of yuppies with a slight, long-haired woman who looks freaked out. Her eyes are bulging out of her tiny head, and she looks like she lives on rabbit food.
If she were my kid, I’d force feed her bacon and eggs every morning.
Hm. She might actually be an incoming patient.
The other two are a couple of dudes. Married by the look of the rings.
Hm. I guess the lady didn’t show, but perhaps I should see about this nervous wreck.
See if she’s waiting on her shrink to sign her in.
“Can I help you?” I ask the three.
The tall blond answers, “We’re here to see Edward Masen. He’s a patient.”
Is she…? Well, she’s pretty, but she looks like she’s here with the tall dark-headed guy.
He’s even got his arm around her.
“Yeah. Visitation starts in,” I look at my watch, “two minutes.”
The other woman has disappeared. I give directions to everyone about what is OK and not OK while visiting. Then, I lead them into the unit, and wait to see what happens.
I don’t know why I’m so interested in this particular patient, but I think it’s because I don’t understand what’s wrong with him.
I mean, he’s not suicidal; he’s not threatening anyone. He’s quiet and funny about his food, but….
Of course, I didn’t see him when he came in. Most people are pretty screwed up by the time they get here; that’s why they get so doped up. Then, they can pull the meds back and the person emerges again…but for a day or two, or a little longer, they’re usually no more than zombies.
I know that’s not “PC.” But if you had to stare into their vacant faces day in and day out, you’d make that connection, too.
I see the trio from the waiting room enter the visitor section of the ward. They wait on the couch. The gays stand near the window. I already know they’re here to see the Failed Attempt.
Oh, here he comes—well, shuffles—and they all stand around and stare at each other.
The mousy brunette looks at him with longing and then hides in her hair.
I can’t see his face, so I decide the books on the shelf need to be reorganized, so I head over to do that.
It’s not my job, but I can see his face from over here. No one will fault me for organizing some books while keeping an eye on the patients.
He’s watching her. Staring.
And there it is.
The thing I never see in patients while they’re that medicated.
Then he reaches out and touches her. They kiss.
I wonder if he does love her.
I hear him say, “I’m getting better. I really am. See?” he shows her by walking over to the shelf where I’m organizing. I hand him the sudoku book he finished last week.
He brushes my hand when he takes it and I shiver a little.
He thanks me.
I knew which book he wanted because it’s the only book he’s touched. I mean, most patients like to read the novels, but he’s not interested in them.
He holds it out to the visitors like it’s show-and-tell.
I’m not sure why. They don’t tell us much about the patients. Sometimes they do when we need to know so we can avoid the ones that are homicidal or keep an eye on the suicidal ones or whatever, but usually, they don’t tell us shit. Something about HIPAA and “need to know.”
All four of them look at the sudoku book like it’s a map to pirate treasure.
The small woman reaches up and hugs his neck tightly and whispers in his ear. He holds her back. Then, he squeezes, his nose moving to her hair.
I hear him moan softly, like he does in his sleep.
When she pulls away, he stares at her like a hungry man, and pulls out a latex glove.
Now how did he get that? I wonder.
I don’t say anything because, what can he do with a glove?
Hm. I suppose he could purposefully choke on it.
Don’t laugh. It happens. Suicidal people will do anything when they’re desperate. There was a man once that ate the potting soil out of a houseplant. Now there are no real plants allowed inside the ward.
He’s talking to the other two. He hugs them. They are crying.
Now it’s just him and her.
They sit on the couch.
He touches her face. I find my hand on my own face, and I look around the room to see if anyone noticed.
Then, I hear him say, “Dr. Cullen says they’re going to start decreasing some of my meds tomorrow. I’m going to get out soon. And I promise that things are going to be better, Bella.”
It is her. She’s the one.
His eyes crinkle when he smiles.
She whispers something else, sticking the glove he gave her in her pocket.
He laughs loudly.
Everyone in the room stares at him.
Patients rarely laugh out loud.
He holds her for a moment, and I can see his nose in her hair again. His eyes are closed, and he looks…content.
In the books I read, that’s how it’s supposed to end. He loves her, she accepts him, they get married and have a boy who’s the soccer star in college and a girl who marries a nice young doctor.
Will that happen with them?
She looks rich. I mean, her clothes look new, and her hair is shiny and her teeth are straight. If he got her pregnant, they wouldn’t even have to discuss abortion. It would be OK.
I can see her in a white gown.
Oooh, he would look so nice in a tux.
She seems so quiet.
He seems so strong and sensitive.
I can see them with babies. Cute little red headed babies.
He even looks good with a beard, and I don’t normally like those.
Suddenly, I’m her in my fantasy. I’m thinner, like I was before I had the kid.
I’m cute, and perky, but passive, because he would like me passive, I think. I would never argue.
And he holds me tenderly.
And makes love like a tiger.
She leaves and I’m interrupted from my daydream by him standing next to me, putting the book back on the shelf.
I look at him with longing.
He stares right through me. The contentment is gone.
He walks over to the piano and sits on the bench and stares at the cover.
Gianna gave me the keys to open up the atrium. The patients get an hour out there in the afternoon, if it’s not raining or snowing.
Today, it’s warm, so everyone goes outside.
He’s still sitting at the piano.
Gianna stopped telling him he couldn’t play over a week ago. She said she supposed that just sitting there wasn’t a big deal.
I look at the keys in my hand.
Gianna just took her lunch break, and the nurse left in charge is Beth. She’s always trying to help patients out. She’s the only nurse I like. I don’t think she’d say anything if I just did it. See what happens. What could it hurt?
I find the key to the piano. I know which one it is, because it’s the only one I’ve never used.
I say, “Excuse me.”
He looks up at me. He smiles a little.
I reach between him and the piano. I can feel his body heat.
I think I hear our hearts racing.
I turn the key.