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Tales from the Tollbooth

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1.
“Thank you ma’am, and please come again,” I droned sarcastically as I plopped thirty cents in change into the soccer mom’s hand. She smiled as if I were actually serious and replied,
“Thank you young man, I sure will,” before driving off. That garish green minivan had been the last in the long line of lunch-hour traffic. I fell back onto my small wooden chair and sighed heavily. It must have been a hundred degrees in that little booth in the middle of the highway.
I glanced at the brown analog watch on my wrist and sighed again.
“Well, no one else is coming, I might as well take my lunch break early,” I spoke aloud and shrugged. After snatching my brown bag lunch off of the desk, and locking up my booth I headed for the ugly tan building on the left side of the road.
Of course I looked both ways before crossing the street. Not really to check for crazy drivers who can’t stop for five seconds, but also to make sure my boss wasn’t peering out of his own little booth with those squinty eyes to see I was taking my break early. (To the younger readers, you better check both ways for traffic! Not for dumpy old Italian guys).
A rush of cool air met me as I entered the building. Would it really be that hard to install air conditioners in those little booths? I asked myself. Those little buildings at the end of the row of tollbooths are some kind of secret forces where we tollbooth workers go conspire to make you pay more money to visit your grandmother. You may be surprised to learn that they are filled with a few little cubicles, and what is considered to be an “employee lounge”.
The employee lounge is where we tollbooth workers eat our meals. There are several plastic tables and chairs, and a vending machine, which is the source of meals for some people.
As I entered the employee lounge, I was hoping for some time alone, but sadly, my wishes were not fulfilled. As usual, several highway cops milled about, trading stories about some guy they busted this morning.
“Don’t you have a job to do?” I muttered. Thankfully, my comment was hidden beneath the ridiculously loud sound of a fellow tollbooth worker eating.
Her name is Jodi, and she is enormous. She always has so much food that it wouldn’t be a shocker if she were still there from yesterday’s lunch break. Okay, perhaps I am exaggerating. However, it honestly could not hurt her to lose a few pounds.
However, I choose to keep this thought to myself and sit at the across from her. Hey, don’t give me that look! It was either her or the cops. Besides, she might want to trade her cupcakes for my chips.
“Hi,” I mutter, keeping my eyes down. Of course, her mouth was so stuffed with food, responding would be worth Olympic gold. Instead, she waves a pudgy hand at me.
While I’m eating, let me introduce myself.
I’m Dave.
I’m 26 years old. I graduated from school last year. I like to draw, so I got an MFA, but that wasn’t really going anywhere. I shrugged it off and decided to do this.
I used to be cool, I guess. In high school, I had some friends. One of them used a paperclip to give me a tattoo on my ankle. My favorite band used to be Iggy and the Stooges. I imagine I thought it was pretty punk rock. Once I was at the supermarket, and some jaded old man told me that punk died a long time ago. I was quite simply too much of a wimp to argue. So now, my leather jacket sits in the back of my closet collecting dust on its metal studs.

I give a small nod to Jodi as I stand up and leave the employee lounge. She waves goodbye with one hand and puts a Dorito in her mouth with the other.

Back in my booth, I resume my work dutifully. It’s a Thursday and not many people are choosing to spend it on the highway, so I spend most of my time sitting on a hard wooden stool, listening to something not worth paying attention to on the radio.

Before I know it, it’s time to leave. I drive home in a daze, passing through several stop signs. I don’t mean to, I swear it. But driving is the most boring time of my day. And I think I know what boring is.
2.

I live in a three-room apartment: one kitchen, one bedroom, one bathroom. Even though it’s three rooms, the overall area can’t be any larger than a college dorm room. It’s fine for me, though. Even if it does smell like old people.

“I’m home!” I say as toss my keys aside and flick on the lights. I don’t expect anyone to answer, but I guess it helps me stay sane, sort of.

I have microwave macaroni and cheese for dinner. Then I watch cop shows. Then I go to bed. Then it starts all over again.

I drive to work before the sun is up. Apparently, there are a good number of drivers who choose to go to Ohio at seven in the morning.

I park my car and walk my ol’ faithful booth. I knock on the glass to let the guy know his shift is over. He nods and exits without a word.

The working day has begun.

At about ten in the morning, a blue car pulls up to my booth. He hands me his ticket. As I reach to take it, I notice something…he looks like someone I know. I remove my eyes from his face to glance at the ticket.

“That will be a dollar-fifty,” I respond hazily. He digs through his wallet for the money and gets the last penny from under his seat cushion (only after unearthing a packet of ketchup, as well).

That face…who is he? Why can’t I think of it? My brain starts shuffling though everyone I’ve ever met to try to match his.

But soon the car is gone. I shrug, and decide it doesn’t matter. It was probably the guy who working at the video store is what I convince myself.

Then it’s lunch time. I begin making my trip across the highway to that brown building.

It’s kind of like the color of old vanilla ice cream…I wonder what that would—DAD!

I stop suddenly.

Could it really be? Was that guy in the sporty car my father? Only after I am greeting with an enormous deal of honking do I snap back and rush over to the employee lounge.

As usual, Jodi beat me there. But that’s not really important. Once again, I sit across from her, but I don’t look up. As I obsessive compulsively peel the crust off of my sandwich, I think about what I just realized.

Seeing your dad may not be such a revelation for most of you. But it’s a big deal for me. I haven’t seen my dad in almost ten years. And I was quite content not seeing him, thank you very much.

Living with my dad was like having your own personal dictator. And yes, before you ask, it was one of those star-older sibling issues. My older sister was better at everything than me. She played practically every sport known to man; she was the head of the student council, and probably the most popular person ever born. Even though I was always smarter than she was, I just wasn’t good enough.

Originally, my dad pressured me to be a star kid. He put me in every kind of brainy competition in the city. I won most of them, but I just didn’t care. I wanted to be at home drawing pictures of cartoons. I stopped winning, so my dad stopped caring.

Rather than pressuring me, he gave me the silent treatment; pretty permanently, too.

Oh, I had a mom, too. She wasn’t there much.

My sister is a waitress now, I think. So I guess she can’t say she’s doing a lot better than I am.

And from some evidence I gathered today, my dad is a bitter old man who drives a car for a man one third of his age.

“Well, it’s no wonder he didn’t acknowledge me,” I muttered.

Now that I had sorted seeing my dad there, I was in a bit of a muddle with what to do next. Obviously he wasn’t coming back for some type of heartfelt chat, so was I supposed to forget about it or what?

I sighed dramatically and tossed the rest of my lunch into the trash bin. Please pardon the starving children of the world.

For the rest of the day I was on edge. I was subconsciously expecting my dad to return and say something along the lines of “Hey sonny! I haven’t seen you in a while. Look, sorry about making you hate yourself and all, but that’s how it goes, eh?”

Of course he didn’t come back.

I went home and had microwave soup, just to switch things up. I didn’t pay much attention to the cop shows. I was too busy staring at the tattoo on my ankle. I hadn’t looked at it in a long time. When I first got it, I thought it was the most amazing thing in the entire universe. But now, it looks like two blobs with a couple squiggles. It was supposed to be a snowman.

Frank gave me that, didn’t he? Why did I let him do it, anyway? He couldn’t draw to save his life. Wasn’t that the same night I saw the Dead Kennedys? Gosh, it must have been like, two in the morning. Frank was probably drunk, too.

Now I was standing in the kitchen, staring at the phone. My hand gravitated toward it. Instinctively, I pressed the buttons, and the distant ring hummed in my ears.

“Hello?” someone answered. They sounded tired.

“Uh, hi. Is Frank there?” I asked nervously.

“Yeah, this is Frank. Who’s callin’?” he asked.

“Oh, hi Frank. It’s Dave,” I squeaked slightly enthusiastically.

“Dave? Hm…Dave…Dave…,” his voice trailed off for a second. “Dave!” he shouted. “It’s been ages, man! How are you doing?” he asked casually.

“Fine, I guess. How about you?” I asked. I suddenly felt very uncomfortable. It was like talking to a relative you don’t know very well just because your parents tell you to.

“Great, great! Life’s been good to me. I married Deena outta school and we opened up a tattoo place together!” I almost snorted at this notion. “How about you? I’m sure you’re an artist now, right? Doing freelance stuff or whatever?” he asked. It took me a minute to answer. The picture of him habitually biting his nails was all too clear in my mind.

“No, not exactly…” my voice was practically a whisper.

“So then what have you been up to all of these years?” Frank was curious.

“I uh…I uh…,” Lying bad. “I workinatollbooth,” I jumbled the words together, hoping Frank would hear something else. He laughed uncontrollably.

“You’re kidding me, right man? C’mon what are you really doing?” he asked.

“I’m not kidding. It’s my job. The artist thing didn’t work out,” my voice was even quieter.

“Wow,” Frank’s laughter had subsided. “You’ve really changed man. I thought maybe you were just nervous on the phone or something, but you’re different,” his voice was tense. “Geez, is there anyone that doesn’t sell out these days?” he added as an afterthought.

“It just didn’t work out,” I repeated.

“You keep telling yourself that,” Frank sighed.

“I’m not lying. It’s just—” Frank cut me off.

“Look, I’ve gotta go. It was nice talking to you and all.” Then he hung up.

What a waste...I can’t believe it…what was he…what was I…I don’t…my brain refused to complete any thoughts.

I stared down at the phone in my hand. All I wanted was to smash it against the wall. Perhaps it would make me feel at least slightly victorious in this situation. I raised my arm to throw it, but dutifully replaced it back on the stand. I didn’t have the money to fix a hole in the wall.

3.

The next day went very slowly. I replayed my conversation with Frank about three hundred times. I knew I had been lying to him the whole time. I’ve even been lying to you, whoever you are. Why are you reading this?
I kept telling him things didn’t work out. But the truth is that I didn’t even try. I was certainly no Little Engine that Could.
I wanted to be an artist, but some part of me still wanted to prove to my father that I could have a real career.

I knew I was smart enough to have a real office job, but I couldn’t get hired anywhere without having references. I got this tollbooth job as a stepping stone. But it ended up being more of a boulder.

Enough with the rock metaphors.

Simply: I wasn’t going anywhere. And I knew it, too. I guess I’d always known it. But I didn’t want to do anything about it. It was easier that way. It was easier to let your dreams fade away from you than face rejection. Even if it was more rewarding, as every Disney movie had taught me, it wasn’t worth the time I wasn’t willing to make.

I couldn’t handle anymore rejection than I already had. My parents hated me, so now it was my turn to hate myself. I could get away with blaming it on them. That’s what television therapists say is always wrong. It’s the parents fault. But that’s not true. It’s my fault.

I had a choice whether or not to succeed. It was my idea to stay away from anything that would be a potential risk. And now where had it taken me?

Nowhere. I answer myself. I’m a waste of space, aren’t I? I’m probably the most pathetic human being that ever lived. People scrape scum like me off of their shoe, don’t they? The world would be a better place without me, in fact.

I snapped back into focus at that thought. It was awfully hot in that little booth.

I had never had so many demeaning thoughts before. But reflecting on them at that moment, I believed them all to be true. I knew the world would be a better place without me.

And by this time tomorrow, I promise it will be.

I walked into the employee lounge with a renewed sense of hope. I was thankful that my pre-teen angst session with myself had ended.
I sat across from Jodi, trying to appreciate that it would be my last time doing so.

Vigorously, I ate my lunch. Jodi eyed my warily, but said nothing. Normally, this space would have been filled with some witty thought about how she probably couldn’t produce words anyway, considering her mouth was full of granola bar, but not today. I decided she wasn’t that fat, anyway.
I finished up quickly. Before leaving, I waved a friendly goodbye to Jodi.
I wonder if she realizes…
For the rest of the day, I couldn’t help but smile.
I went home contentedly. It’s hard to chew microwave chicken and smile at the same time.
I left my dirty plate in the sink. I figured it wouldn’t matter anyway.
I picked up the phone with enthusiasm. I called Frank.
“Hello?” he sounded tired. I could hear him yawn.
“Hi, Frank,” I piped in a friendly tone.
“Oh, Dave, hi! I’m glad you called. Look I just wanted to say I was sorry about the other day. I didn’t mean what I said; I guess I just—”
“Goodbye Frank,” I gurgled tranquilly and slammed the phone down. I felt even better yet.
That night as I lay in my bed, I stared up at the drab stucco ceiling as if it were a million stars. I asked myself,
“Have you ever seen anything so beautiful?”





















4.
I was at work an hour early for my shift. I sat on the hood of my car and watched the sun rise until I was time for me to go to work.
That morning went as fast…something slow. I was clearly running out of metaphors, as well. I hated everyone who seemed to appreciate the fact that I made change for them.
“I am sure you really mean that!” I yakked sarcastically to an old woman who told me to have a nice day. I guess it was too bad she hadn’t been there for an hour.
As the morning wore on, I began to wait for that lunch break like someone waits for the last seconds of the school year. In those movies they always show kids jumping up and throwing papers everywhere. Does that actually happen anywhere?
My incessant blabbering comforted me for seven hours until it was that time. I left the lunch I had packed out of routine sitting in the corner. As I locked up my booth, I wistfully stared through the window.
Sure is good to be leaving. I saw myself grin in the reflection of the dusty window. I pocketed my keys and enjoyed their jangling sound as I walked.
I walked toward the oatmeal colored building, but then I kept walking. I walked for a while up the highway.
And then I was there.
My feet were inches away from the edge of the overpass.
I wanted to step forward and into nothing, but my brain wouldn’t stop asking the stupidest questions.
Aren’t I supposed to plan this? Should I have left a note? I hope Julia gets my dishes since I never bought her a wedding gift. How come I never watched more Marlon Brando movies? I didn’t even finish the third Godfather! I never finished that documentary, either. Why don’t I finish anything? I did finish that story in third grade once. God, my teacher was such a hag. I think I saw her smoking a cigarette with the gym teacher during recess once. I think I should have worn nicer clothes. I wish I’d have laid out that tuxedo so they will know what I’d want to be buried in. Do you think they’ll have a funeral? I didn’t have insurance or anything. But that’s because insurance agents scare me. That one lady at the mall with the clipboard was ready to kidnap me so I’d sign up for health insurance that one time. She was wearing too much makeup. I’ve always hated the smell of hairspray. Why didn’t I ever tell people this stuff? Why isn’t this more dramatic?
I watched the cars zoom beneath me. I almost felt guilty that I wouldn’t be there to take their change.
“But it’s for the best,” I nodded. I lifted my foot and shut my eyes. I was really ready to do this.
I could really go for a grilled cheese right now. My eyes popped back open and I stomped my foot back down. What kind of last thought is that?! I screamed at myself. I breathed in deeply to calm down. The air smelled like exhaust and French fry grease from the nearby McDonalds. Why are there so many Holiday Inn’s on the highway?
I lifted my foot again shrugged my shoulders. I love you, mom! There that’s more like it.
“Okay. I’m going to count!” I told to nobody in particular. “One, two, thr—”
“STOP IT!” someone screamed. I fell backwards, surprised that someone actually was trying to stop me. I turned in the direction of the voice.
Jodi?
“Dave, you need to stop. If you stand up again, I will be forced to use my sheer…um…muscle to restrain you!” her voice was dripping with importance, but her face showed that she was truly horrified.
I began laughing uncontrollably, as if this whole thing was a big joke I had just done for my own entertainment and someone had decided to join the fun.
“What so funny?” she asked. I noticed her looking down to make sure there weren’t any crumbs on her blouse.
There were, but that wasn’t particularly funny.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever heard you say anything!” I laughed even harder.
“You are in an unstable medical condition, and I think you need help,” she affirmed. She must have been having a great time playing doctor.
“You know what, Jodi?” I sighed. She was right. “I think I am,” I sighed again.
“I—I am right!” she inched closer. “I don’t want you to make any sudden movements. Just, just take my hand, okay?” she insisted nervously. She was probably more scared of me jumping than I was. “I don’t want you to jump, I want to help you.”
“Jodi, I don’t think you understand,” I shook my head. “I need to do this,” I protested earnestly.
“Why?” she asked, even more earnestly than I had.
“I—just need to, okay?” I rolled my eyes. I had just realized how pathetic I sounded.
Jodi had managed to inch her way to about two feet away from me. She reached out her arm for me to grab on to. Reluctantly, I accepted. I couldn’t betray her now.
We walked back to her car. We didn’t say a word on the ride there. But we both knew where we were going. A song by The Smiths hummed on the radio.









5.

I hadn’t been to a hospital in a very long time. Everyone there always looked so sad.

Jodi dragged me across the parking lot and into the Emergency Room. The inside of the hospital was coated with blinding white light. The only ounce of color seemed to be the askew hairpiece of a passing doctor.

A receptionist with a chipmunk voice greeted us as if we had just entered an Eat N’ Park.

“Hello! How are you today? I’m Amber, how may I help you?” she asked, cocking her head to the left. I laughed uncontrollably once more as I thought about her greeting someone who had just cut off their arms in that same voice. She had to have been a robot.

“Wow, I really am delirious,” I muttered.

“We have a serious case on our hands. This man here was attempting suicide!” Jodi informed hurriedly. She was talking to the receptionist, but she kept her eyes on me at all times to make sure I didn’t try to hang myself with my shoelaces or something like that.

“Oh dear!” the receptionist sounded extremely shocked for someone who worked in the E.R. She MUST have been a robot. “Well then we have to take care of him right away!” she picked up the phone on her desk and talked about something along the lines of ‘code green’ with ‘Fran’.

Two middle aged women in Hello Kitty scrubs came running down the hallway with a stretcher between them. I must have looked like the only suicidal one in the room because they ran right up to me and forced me onto the stretcher.

“Is this really necessary? Hey—where are you taking me?” I demanded as they strapped me in. They once again zoomed me down the hallway from which they had appeared. Jodi wobbled along behind.

I soon learned that my questions were futile and stared at the seemingly endless row of fluorescent lights above me.

The doctors pushed through two swinging doors. One asked Jodi to remain outside. This new room was filled with lots of doctors and lots of equipment.

I was wheeled into a corner, and the doctors surrounded me.
“Is this my initiation?” I asked jokingly and forced a smile.
None of them got it. Why do doctors all look so tired?
“Phil, we’re going to need to pump him just to make sure,” one woman affirmed. A man across from her nodded.
“Pumping? What are you talking about? Do you think I took something? I didn’t take anything! I’m too poor to even afford Pepto-Bismol!” I shook furiously, trying to free myself. I’m sure that didn’t help their current impressions of me as a suicidal maniac, but I really didn’t care. I just wanted to get out of there.
Two doctors firmly held me down and Phil approached me with a long, clear tube. I knew what it was for, but I didn’t really want to.
“Hey, cut it out! Please! I didn’t do anything! Let me go! Let m—”










6.

“Hey, Dave, are you awake?” a voice asked. The fog in front of my eyes faded slowly, and I realized Jodi was standing above me. “Dave?” she asked again.

“What?” I replied groggily. “Where am I?”

“You’re still in the hospital.”

“God, how many days have I been here?” I tried to prop myself up but it was difficult when there was such a variety of I.V.s tugging me in every direction. “And where are my clothes?” I screeched upon noticing my jeans and collared official turnpike personnel shirt had been replaced by a dashing teal gown. I didn’t even have my own socks on.

“I guess they took them when they were pumping your stomach. God, you’re pretty brave for going through that…” she trailed off. “Anyway, you’ve only been in here for about three hours. So…”

“Huh.”

The silence between us thickened.

It was extremely awkward to be in such a personal situation with someone I hardly knew.

We sat in stillness for five minutes until Jodi asked the one thing I didn’t really want to hear.

“Why did you do it, Dave?” she looked as if she were about to cry.

I sighed. I couldn’t answer her. I couldn’t even answer myself.

She must have known I wasn’t going to answer. She got up and left.

“Bye, Dave,” she mumbled. It felt like that was the last time I was ever going to see her again.

“Jodi, wait, please!” I quavered meekly. But it didn’t matter, she was leaving.
I felt terrible. I had always looked down on her, just because I felt needed some reassurance that I was worth more than someone, somewhere.
Look at yourself now. You’re worth even less than you had managed to convince yourself you are.
I was preparing to give myself a good talking to when a nurse and a tall woman in a grey suit walked into the room. The nurse walked over to my bed.
“Sir, for the next week, this is going to be your therapist. Her name is Dr. Garcia, and I’m sure she will work wonders for you!” the nurse spoke of the doctor as if she were a miracle drug, not someone who was supposed to make me not want to kill myself anymore.
The nurse gave a small wave and exited the room. Dr. Garcia made herself comfortable on one of the green chairs on one side of the room.
“I’m sure you want to get out of that bed, Dave. Why don’t you come sit across from me?” she patted the chair opposite her.
I nodded, swinging my legs to the side of my bed. Carefully, I wheeled my I.V. over to where she was sitting. I sat stiffly and let my eyes glaze over.
“Dave, I understand you are very troubled. I just want to let you know that I am your friend and I never want you to feel that I am trying to cause you mental anguish in any way,” she placed her hand on top of mine as if I should immediately confess that I was a loony who needed her more than air. “Despite that,” she continued. “I just think you should know that this process of getting you back to normal may—”
“Normal?” I seethed. “I don’t think you really understand!” My eyes turned into slits.
“If you’re not comfortable with that term, I’ll use a different one,” Dr. Garcia shrugged indifferently. “Now, as I was saying. This process of making you once more a functioning member of society,” I flinched “may require us to dig up some memories that you aren’t comfortable sharing. But I promise you we can work through them together.” Dr. Garcia laid a hand over her heart.
Wow, what a saint. I rolled my mental eyes.
The rest of the 45-minute session consisted of her asking me about my childhood. “What lead you to become a worker in a tollbooth? Do you think your sister’s level of competition left you with lacking self-esteem?”
She answered her own questions.
I sat stoic.
As she blabbed on, I focused on a picture of a sailboat above her left shoulder.
Soon, she left, assuring me that we had had a very productive session and that she will see me again tomorrow.
When she left, I didn’t feel like moving. I remained in the green chair until a nurse came waltzing down the hallway, ringing a little bell.
“Dinner time!” he called. “All aboard the dinner express! Toot toot!” a trail of mental patients followed him. The bell ringing man turned into my room. “We have a new passenger today!” he chirped animatedly. “Hello, David!” he waved. “I’m Ted, and I’m the conductor of the dinner express! Hop in!” he turned and started walking down the hallway.
I grinned at his enthusiastic call.
I stood and placed myself at the end of the line. Er—excuse me, I hopped on the Dinner Express.
The conductor led us into a large cafeteria. It was full of other patients from all over the hospital.
I hopped on a line to get my food. It was served to us by nurses in hairnets. They plopped some of this and some of that onto our plastic trays. I would be more specific about the food, but I had some difficulty deducting what it was.
I walked over to a table where a few people sat. I stared down at my food.
It looks awfully sad.
I felt just like I was in third grade again. But something was missing…
Someone must have noticed my bewilderment, for a blue-haired man spoke,
“You’ll be administered your utensils, don’t worry. It’s just that they have to take extra caution with us psych ward patients. You never know what we can do with a plastic spoon!” he giggled and winked.
I’m sure the look on my face was priceless.
“Oh, Jim, leave him alone!” an old woman whacked him with a raisin-like hand. “That’s all a new fellow needs is someone like you pestering him!” spittle flew from her mouth.
“Agatha, you know you love him!” another woman interjected. They all laughed. The woman who spoke second turned to me.
“I’m Lizzy, and these other people are Agatha, Jim, Daren, and Kyle,” Lizzy pointed to each person at the table.
Lizzy and Agatha both looked like normal grandma-type women. I guess they have problems, too.
Jim had a tuft of bright blue hair, and lots and lots of body glitter. In the sun he must have been quite a spectacle, but the fluorescent lights weren’t doing much for him.
Daren looked a little bit older than me. Her hair was stringy and she looked very tired. I kept waiting for her to fall asleep and smash her face into the green mush on her plate. Sadly my dream did not become reality.
Kyle sat at the end of the table. I couldn’t make out a lot of his features because they were covered with a copious amount of tattoos. Despite that, he looked like a pretty happy guy. He smiled quite a bit, and his grin was very Jack Nicholson as the Joker-esque.
“Hi everyone, I’m…Dave,” I waved.
Luckily, out utensils were soon passed out, so my mouth would be too busy chewing paste-like goodness to make awkward conversation with anyone.

After our dinner, we were escorted into a small room that looked a bit like a playroom, except everything was sepia. There was a table with some paper and pencils on it. A television sat in the corner. In another corner, a dusty bookshelf sat full of cheap paper-back novels probably purchased at Goodwill.
“Okay, everyone!” A nurse clapped her hands. “It’s recreation time! So everyone have fun and play nice!” she demanded seriously before exiting the room.
As soon as the nurse left, everyone began milling about. Clearly, they had done this before. Lizzy and Agatha went and sat before the television. I had assumed that they would be watching some stereotypical soap operas, yet the television screen was consumed with car chases, and every so often one of the ladies would screech something along the lines of, “Faster, faster!” or “That’s right Jimmy, the popo won’t get you!”
Daren was sitting in the corner, devouring the paper-back novels. I think it was Babysitters Club…those aren’t as bad as most people say, come to think of it. “Sally and the Snobby Sisters” was a particular gem.
Kyle was the only one sitting at the table. He was doodling away intensively. I could only picture a little tattooed boy coming home shouting, “Mommy, mommy! I drawed a new piece for my forearm!”
In another corner, Jim danced to some faint salsa music on a dusty radio. It was rather excruciating to watch, so I would prefer not to go into detail.
I decided my best bet was to join Kyle at the table. The chair whined as I pulled it out from under the table. As I sat down, Kyle gave me a faint nod, and continued his work. I noticed it was actually a drawing of a sporty car, not a new tattoo. Just so you know.
I selected a fine piece of copy paper and a stubby pencil. It had been such a long time since I had drawn anything. The last thing I drew was a logo for my imaginary new wave band, which I had carved into the woodwork of my booth when I had first started working there. I think it was some kind of lightning bolt striking a synthesizer. “Our instruments were blessed by the heavens,” might have been a good slogan. But I probably drew it because I thought, to put it in my choice of words at the time, “wicked rad”.
My hand felt strange gripped around the wood. I pressed the lead to the paper as if it were glass. After the first several strokes, I was amazed how naturally it was coming to me.
How did I forget this feeling? I asked myself. I was so shocked because I didn’t remember what exhilaration felt like. This just made my drawing more intense. I saw a bead of sweat drip onto the page, but I didn’t care, I needed to keep working!
A few lines here…yeah, and some shading here…and how about a bit of –
“Pardon me sir, but recreation time is over!” a hand had clapped onto my shoulder.
“Oh,” I was flustered. “Sorry, I…I guess I lost track of time,” I remarked nervously. I guess I wasn’t prepared for contact with human life after floating out in orbit for so long.
“That’s quite all right, young man, just tidy up now, it’s almost bed time, you know.” We cleared off the table and I was escorted back to my room.
The nurse tucked me in, and wished goodnight in a sing-song voice.
It was ridiculous, but it made me happier than you could imagine.










7.

It was the morning, I guess. I didn’t really know because I hadn’t looked out a window in quite some time. For a while, I sat up in my bed, recalling all that had happened the previous day. It felt like a dream, it was so hazy, but I could still remember every detail. I snapped out of my vision when I saw what I assumed to be the Breakfast Express hobbling down the corridor. I slithered out of bed and joined the line.

I wouldn’t have cared much if breakfast was a gourmet meal or a bucket of gruel. I was still in awe that I was actually in the psych ward. I don’t understand much as to why I didn’t take note of that in one of the past twenty hours that I had been there.

After breakfast, we were ushered into a lobby-esque room. Except there were no publications from ten years ago, and also there weren’t any windows.

“This is what they call the ‘socialization room’,” Kyle informed me. “Basically we just sit around for two hours, and anyone who isn’t scared of you enough yet can come visit you.” I nodded lightly in response.

I could understand why people would wish to come visit their physically unhealthy relatives. But who wants to bring flowers to the mentally ill? I’m sure there are Hallmark cards with little poems in them that go:
Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
We’re sorry you hate yourself
And Fluffy misses you.

That warms my heart.

Those thoughts were squandered, though, when a wave of people came into the room, all of them making a beeline for a certain person.

Daren was visited by an equally somber looking male. I imagined he was her boyfriend. They had the same taste in hair, apparently, for his was long, stringy, and clearly unwashed as well.
Lizzy’s visitor was a man of the same age. He looked extremely tired and kept fixing his comb-over every five seconds.

Jim was visited by a guy who looked exactly like him, except his hair was bright pink. I heard him telling Jim how much everyone at some café missed him.

Agatha’s visitor was a middle-aged woman, who was obviously on edge the whole time. She bumped into me once, and I thought her eyes were going to remove themselves from her skull. She began apologizing profusely. I almost expected her to kiss my feet and beg for forgiveness. Luckily, Agatha requested for her to put a sock in it and tell her how the grandchildren were.

I didn’t really notice who Kyle was visited by. I imagined he didn’t have many friends, considering how much he kept to himself. I felt exactly the same, until Jodi creaked open the door and waddled over to me.

“Hi, Dave,” she greeted casually. “Geez, could you ask them to put a map in this place? I’ve been walking around for almost an hour trying to find the loony section.”

Clearly, Jodi was oblivious to the fact that someone visiting me was an event of monumental proportions. No pun intended, thank you very much.

“Dave…hello? You’re staring at me like I am an angel. Snap out of it,” Jodi waved her hand in front of my face.

“Oh. Yeah. I’m, uh, just surprised that you visited me.” I muttered.

“Why? It didn’t seem like anyone else would,” she shrugged.

“Yeah…well…okay.” I murmured indefinitely.

“So, what’s it like in this place?” she asked, sitting in the chair adjacent to my own.

“Actually, it hasn’t been so bad,” I answered honestly. “When you take away the little bit of creepiness everyone here has, then they all become decidedly interesting.” Jodi scoffed.

“You’re one of them, too. I’d say you’re probably the creepiest one here, just because you seem the most normal.”

“You’re probably right,” I sighed.

We didn’t talk for a long time. It was probably due to the realization that we are complete strangers, and yet we have been thrown into this completely personal situation.
At least that’s what I was thinking.
Jodi checked her watch.
“I should probably go,” she declared uneasily.
“…Uh, yeah,” I scratched my head nervously.
“I’ll visit you again in a couple days, okay?” she assured with a small smile.
“Yeah, that’s fine,” I replied, diverting my eyes to the floor.













8.

I let the rest of the day slip away. I was in zombie mode until it was after dinner. All I recall was another violent outburst at that obscene therapist. If I recall correctly, I believe I hissed at her. Whatever it was, she remained oblivious to my anger, as customary for her.

After dinner, I resumed my post in the recreation room at the drawing table. As I drew, all of my awkward art school memories resurfaced. Despite, that, I couldn’t help the fact that I loved to draw.

I asked Agatha if she would pose for a portrait while she was watching cop shows. She gladly obliged.

I sat on a chair next to the television so I could look straight at her face. First, I sketched out her round face; then added some of her zany marshmallow-white hair. I tried to take as much care in each wrinkle and line as possible.
Some people may get a rush by going on a roller coaster, but drawing old ladies sure gets me.

When I was finished, I brushed off some eraser shavings and held it up for her to see without saying anything.

“Oh, well would you look at that?” she squealed. “It looks just like me!” she marveled, stroking her hand down the paper. “But do I really look that old?” she asked no one in particular. “Oh well,” she shrugged. Agatha turned to me, “this is wonderful, David. Would you mind if I kept this?” she asked.

I shook my head. I had hoped she would want to take it. If I kept it, it would have eventually ended up in small pieces due to constant frustration that I lack the ability to produce anything worth a positive response.

“Thank you so much, David,” she grinned a grandmotherly grin at me and proceeded to show everyone else in the room the drawing.

I honestly wished I appreciated myself as much as she did.

I didn’t think about it for too long, though. It was time for bed.
9.

I was filled with some renewed sense of purpose because I had made an elderly suicidal woman a drawing, and a person I hardly even knew had visited me. Things sure were looking up!

I chewed my breakfast like it was sunshine and managed to make pleasant chatter with Jim between bites of smush. I could practically see a little blue bird perched in the corner humming a happy little ditty.

It must have been the medication.

Nonetheless, I was very excited for “visiting time”. The previous night, I had planned a grand speech to give to Jodi to help make things less…weird between us. I think I was just really thrilled about the prospect of making a friend.
Astutely, I sat in the vinyl covered chairs, awaiting Jodi’s sweet return. The usual fare drifted in, each heading for their respective patient. I continued to wait patiently, though.
Jodi’s just late, I am sure. I’ll bet there’s traffic. Yup, it’s traffic all right.
I swung my legs back and forth nervously as the minutes ticked by. Soon, there was only fifteen minutes of visiting time left, and I had to come to terms with the simple fact that Jodi wouldn’t be coming.
I sat on my hands and bit my lip.
I thought we were kind of friends, right? I asked myself uncertainly. God, are you needy! The other half of my brain shouted at me.
My internal arguing was interrupted, though, when a tall figure walked into the room. Their hair was a dark purple color, and carefully arranged to look as haphazard as possible. They had on a plain black t-shirt and what I will assume was a pair of jeans that looked like the victim of a shark attack.
This person surprised me even more when they walked straight in my direction. They plopped down in the chair next to me and stretched out their extremely long legs.
“David, man, are you okay?” they asked urgently.
“Frank?” I crinkled my nose up.
“Yeah, it’s me…FRANK,” he stretched out his name like a rubber band. “Geez, I got kind of nervous about you the other day after that weird phone call, but I didn’t know you would have tried to…well, you know…” he trailed off.
“Well, um, yeah,” I wavered, trying to avoid the subject. “I just would really like to know how you knew I was in here,” I questioned, still not exactly sure what was happening.
“Oh, right. Well last night I was working on this amazing tattoo last night. It was some kinda bat thing with a sword and I don’t know. I think it was a Dungeons and Dragons theme. Anyway, I got a call from some person named Joanna or Jill or—”
“Jodi?” I interjected.
“Yeah, that’s the one. Anyway, she told me what happened with…you…and stuff…and that she found my number by your phone or something and she thought I might have been your dad or whatever. But yeah, so, geez man…” Frank finished indefinitely.
“Huh,” I muttered.
“I guess I just wanted to make sure you are okay and that I didn’t make you do…things,” Frank shrugged.
“Yeah, well, you shouldn’t worry about it. But thanks for visiting me, anyway,” I weakly smiled.
“Right, well you know, when you get out, maybe you could come work at the shop. We could always use some help, and you were always great at drawing, right? So, just think about it,” Frank nodded.
I heaved a sigh as he left the room, unnoticed.



10.

After lunch, a nurse rang a little bell.

“Attention everyone, but I think a little celebration is in order! Today we have two patients leaving the hospital here. Jim, Lizzy,” she motioned to each of them. “Would you please step forward?” she asked.

The two stepped to the front of the room. Lizzy had a look of extreme relief on her face, and Jim gave a little wave as if this were Oscar night.

“Do you two have anything you want to say to your friends before you go back into the real world?” the nurse inquired intently. Jim took a step forward and put his hands on his heart.

“I would just like to thank each and every one of you for making this experience so memorable,” little tears glittered in the corners of his already very glittered eyes.

I knew this was not going to be something I would enjoy. Quietly, I backed out of the room.

“I wish I would have gotten to know all of you better…” the voice trailed off and suddenly I was met with extreme quiet. The hallway ahead of me looked like the heaven that people always imagine. Everything was completely white and gleaming.

I tucked my hands into my pockets and began walking down the seemingly endless hallway. I walked with my head facing the ground, hoping no nurses would recognize me and have a panic attack that I wasn’t where I was designated to be.

“CODE PURPLE!” a bearded nurse would scream. “SUICIDAL ON THE LOOSE!” he would proceed to fling his papers everywhere and smash his fist on the red button that had been there the whole time. Suddenly, a stampede of doctors would come down the hallway. Restraining all my movements, they would throw me into solitary confinement and all I could eat for the rest of my life would be applesauce…

I shook my head and snapped back to what was happening. During my vision, I had managed to cover some ground. I looked around me and saw I was now in intensive care. I shivered as I looked into a room and saw an old woman hooked up to so many tubes, it looked as though she was in a spider’s web.

There are people who love life so much more than I do and they won’t ever even leave this place.

I turned to face the stark white wall. I felt a tear dribble town my face and watched it drip onto the floor, creating a small pool.

That water just wants to escape, to be part of a sea, and ocean, anywhere but here. But it will never leave. Then what am I doing? What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I bring myself to love or to want anything as much as I should?

Two more tears dripped down to join their comrades.
My eyes exploded into waterfalls. I began bawling frenziedly.
I couldn’t stop.
It was if for the past 26 years, I had built up a dam, and it just cracked. Every emotion I had ever felt flooded out of me.
I pressed my head against the wall. Not only to hide my shame from a passerby, but also to feel the cold tile of the wall, reminding myself that I actually exist.
Don’t I?
I’m not sure how long I was there. But the next thing I remember was waking up to the sound of the Breakfast Express.








11.

I had managed to procure some paper and I was furiously sketching away as I waited for my non-existent visitors to arrive.

I wasn’t expecting anyone to show up today. I figured two visitors was simply me getting very lucky that people recalled my existence. I decided to forget about it and use this valuable time drawing rather than sulking.

In my drawing, and old woman sat on a bench with her hat tilted over her eyes as if she were asleep. The ever present pigeons that surround the elderly were scattered around her.

“That looks pretty good. But why is there a dead lady on that bench?” someone asked.

“She’s not dead, she’s as—” I turned to face the direction of the voice. “Jodi!” I leapt up from my chair, my papers flying to the floor, and hugged the life out of Jodi.

“Wow, someone sure is happy to see me!” she chided sarcastically.

“Jodi! I didn’t think you were coming back!” I beamed. She giggled.

“I was only gone for a day. I didn’t know you have separation anxiety issues, too,” she snickered and sat down on the chair next to me. “So how bad was it that you missed me so much?” she asked. I shrugged.

“I don’t know. I guess I just feel deprived of human contact.”

“I don’t think giving out change qualifies as human contact. And I tried to find a friend of yours to come visit you while I was working, but all I found was some guy who told me that he hadn’t seen you since college,” Jodi shot snappily.

“Fine. I guess I just missed you, okay? Are you happy now?” I crossed my arms like a bratty schoolgirl.

“Oh.” Jodi looked taken aback. “Oh…” she grumbled again.
I was getting used to having so much tension in the air, so the moments following weren’t too uncomfortable.
“So…” she started, trying to pick up the conversation. I scrunched up my nose.
“Jodi, can I draw you?” I asked, tilting my head to one side.
“Can you what?” she looked confused.
“Can I draw you? You know…pencil goes on paper to make pretty picture?” I waved around my drawing materials.
“I know what you mean, you…you…mental patient. What I mean is, why would you want to draw a picture of me?” she still looked very perplexed.
“Why not?” was my reply.
“Because I am ugly beyond compare.” Jodi stated this as if it were the most obvious thing imaginable.
“You are not ugly,” I retorted. “In fact, you’re very pretty when you aren’t frowning at me all of the time.” I crossed my legs and faced her, poising my pencil. “Now hold still so I don’t mess up.”
I looked up to analyze the lines of her face and saw that she was extremely embarrassed. Her usually pale skin was flushed a bright red shade.
We both sat quietly, save for the scratching of my pencil on the white sheet. For once, it was not an awkward silence. As I intensely sketched, Jodi intensely tried not to say something derogatory about herself.
As I drew, I regretted every saying anything foul about Jodi, because looking at her, I realized she really was a beautiful person. And it showed all over her face. True, her teeth stuck out more than they should, her nose flipped up at the end, and her hair often went astray, but her eyes were solid pools of grey rain, and her small mouth was always flipped up on the side, perpetually grinning.
Why would I have wanted to give up moments like these?
I flicked my pencil, making one final stroke. I turned the paper to face Jodi.
“Done,” I stated.
“Oh, oh wow,” Jodi stammered, reaching out to brush her fingers on the paper.
“You can have it,” I told her, placing the sheet in her hands.
“Really? Shouldn’t this, like, be in a museum?” she asked sincerely.
I don’t think I’ve laughed more than that in my life.



















12.

My visit from Jodi had elated me so, that I did not even seem to mind that time of day when the psychotherapist came to analyze me.

Dr. Garcia took her usual seat in my room. She appeared more obnoxious than usual. Before she began speaking, she took out her folder that I am sure contained all kinds of notes about what a swell patient I was.

“So, David, how have things been going since we last met?” she inquired.

“Why just peachy, doc!” I squeaked in my best Alfalfa voice. Do people still know who Alfalfa is?

“I’m glad to hear that!” apparently she had taken my sarcastic response for a true chipper mood on behalf of her wonderful work. “The nurses tell me that you have been doing some interesting artwork.” I nodded. “May I see some?”

I didn’t respond, instead I walked to the small table next to my bed and took a folder of sketches and doodles out of the drawer. I shoved it in her direction. She didn’t seem to notice my resistance.

The room was silent as she flipped through my drawings. Occasionally, Dr. Garcia would give a small, “hm,” or “how interesting”. When she was finished, she replaced all of the drawings into the folder and looked up at me.

“David, have you considered what you plan on doing when you are released from this…facility?” she asked, looking around the room as if it were the monkey house. I shook my head.

Really, I had actually thought about my future, but those thoughts short-circuited when I managed to convince myself that I really didn’t have much of a future. I had planned on just going back to work at the tollbooth. I imagine those are the kinds of things that you are supposed to tell a therapist, but I clearly wasn’t aware of patient etiquette.

“I am asking you this, David, because you seem to have such a passion for art, which I am suggesting it is something you should pursue. The monotony of your previous job seems to be one of the factors in your downfall.” I snickered at her describing me as if I were a Roman emperor. “Would you be willing to consider it? I am sure I know someone who could get you a show at a gallery somewhere,” she concluded.

“I guess. I mean, I do like to draw…” I looked down at the tiled floor. It didn’t appear very clean.

“David, I know you don’t like me,” Dr. Garcia jeered flatly. I snapped my head up to face her. “And let’s face it, you’re not exactly the most exciting guy, yourself.” I’m sure in an alternate universe I would have found that offensive, but right then I could not have agreed more.

“But I am a therapist,” she continued. “It’s my job. And you’re the patient. It’s your job, even if you don’t get paid for it. And even if you don’t care about me, I am still trying to care about you. So could you please, please, please at least try to act like you care?” she folded her hands together pleadingly.

What am I supposed to say to that? Why is it that every time I have a bad thought about someone it seems that they turn out to care about me immensely more than I care about them? How unfortunate.

“Yes,” I concurred. “I am willing to comply on several conditions. First, please, stop calling me David. I don’t know why everyone does it. They must think they are being polite or something of that nature, but they’re not. It says Dave on my birth certificate, so just call me Dave.

“Second, could you make an attempt to refer to me as if I were an actual person, which I am, and not a specimen in a Petri dish? It’s very unsettling, and I don’t think I am ready for another ‘downfall’.

“Finally, can you please buy a different color nail polish? It is equally distracting as it is disturbing. It looks like you painted them with the blood of dead babies,” I noted poignantly. “That’s all,” I finished seriously.

Dr. Garcia adjusted herself in her seat.

“Well then. I will be happy to comply with those rules, Dave,” she retorted and hid her fingernails behind her folder.

“I’m glad,” I resumed my sarcastic tone.

Dr. Garcia checked her watch.

“Well, it looks like our time for today is up. I believe we have had another very productive session. After our discussion today I am looking forward to speaking with you tomorrow,” she nodded farewell and the sound of her heels clicking on the tile soon disappeared.

Do all therapists talk like phone operators?
















13.

When I woke up, I stared at the ceiling for a very long time. It had just dawned on me that I had not worn my own clothes in five days. I habitually sighed.


At breakfast, I tried to be sociable. I looked down the table for my first victim. Everything seemed to be in order except…

“Hey Kyle, do you know where Agatha is?” I inquired. Kyle nodded his tattoo covered noggin, and after swallowing a mouthful of whatever food object the cafeteria was serving up that day, replied.

“Yeah. Apparently last night she had a stroke or something. I guess she’s in the I.C.U. now or whatever. I hope she’s okay…” he trailed off. “Anyway,” he concluded before resuming his breakfast.

Someone is feeling sensitive today! I thought. But then the words he spoke sunk in and I was completely at a loss for how to respond to that.

I returned to my room and sat on my bed. I laid down. I needed to take a nap. I folded my hands behind my head and tried to think.

Should I be afraid that I was actually starting to like it here? Does it really take a mental facility to make me feel accepted? God, these hospital socks are so itchy. Do they make them out of human hair? That’s probably what they do with all the hair they shave off of people when they go into the army is make hospital socks. Why do you have to be bald to be in the army, anyway? It’s a very unflattering look. I’m pretty sure my head would look like a lumpy potato.

That’s just a sampling of the thoughts I forced into my head to try and lead my mind astray of Agatha. All of my attempts were futile.

I stood up and walked down the hallway to the bathroom. I stared at myself in the mirror. The fluorescent lights made me look like a ghost. I grabbed a handful of my greasy hair and stared at myself.

I probably shouldn’t even be thinking these thoughts right now. I shouldn’t be alive. I could have been road kill. I should have been. Did I really think I was that worthless? And now just look, other people are dying around you and all you can think about is how much you hate yourself. That’s what’s really wrong with you.

I shook my head, shaking away the thoughts.





















14.
Jodi visited me, but I wasn’t exactly in the mood for elating conversation.

“Hey, Dave,” she smiled.

“Hi,” I muttered.

“Dave, you look down, you’re not having suicidal relapse, are you?” I couldn’t decipher if that was true concern or true sarcasm. I didn’t try very hard to pinpoint which one it was, though, because my mind was so focused on Agatha.

It’s not fair that this happened to her. I told myself. She’s a better person than you and you’re still sitting here.

“Jodi,” I looked up at her. “Will you come with me?” I asked.

“I would like to note that that was the vaguest question I’ve ever been asked,” she paused. “But yes, I will follow you to the ends of this hospital, Dave.”

That one was definitely sarcasm.

Despite that, Jodi and I walked out of the visitor’s room, unnoticed. Jodi led the way to the Intensive Care Unit, knowing where it was located from the many times she failed in finding the location of the mental patients.

“Excuse me,” I tapped a doctor on the shoulder. “Could you please show me to the room of a woman named Agatha?” I requested.

“Of course,” the doctor replied sleepily. He led us around a corner into an identical hallway. He stopped halfway down the hall at one of the many doors. “She’s right in here,” he told us. “But she is recovering, so please be gentle. You have fifteen minutes,” he finished, checking his watch. He opened the door and motioned for us to enter.

“Why are we here?” Jodi asked, looking around the room as if it were a mysterious cave.

“Just…just because,” I replied indefinitely.

In one corner of the room lay Agatha. The sight of her ripped my heart out of my chest and stomped on it until it was mush.

She lay in a hospital bed that was low to the ground. Around her were all kinds of machines and I.V.’s. Her eyes were closed, and she looked serene beyond compare. Her masses of white hair, usually tied back, were scattered around her face like snowflakes. The only sound in the room was a faint beeping sound of the heart rate monitor.

“Uh…Dave,” Jodi muttered. “I think I am going to have to wait in the hallway.” I turned and saw Jodi’s eyes were blurry with emerging tears.

“Sure,” I whispered with a small smile.

When Jodi had left, I slowly sat down on the chair next to Agatha’s bed.

What am I supposed to do now? It’s not like she can hear me…Sitting here for fifteen minutes isn’t exactly the best use of the time that I have left before someone realizes I left the visiting room. Okay. So this is in movies all of the time, right? Shouldn’t I just talk to her and then have an epiphany about my own life? That’s how it usually works, right? Okay.

I opened my mouth in an attempt to produce words, but someone else beat me to it.

“James, is that you?” came Agatha’s voice. But it wasn’t her voice. It was like a whistling wind.

“No, Agatha. It’s me, Dave,” I assured.

“Oh! David!” Agatha reached out a hand, blotchy and full of protruding veins. “You’re the boy who drew me the pretty picture,” she mentioned, patting my knee.

“Yes, that’s me. Someone told me that you were sick, so I wanted to come make sure you were okay,” I soothed, taking her hand in mine.

“That’s very nice, Dennis,” she grinned at me. “Yes, it’s true what they say; I just haven’t been feeling like myself at all. And it’s not helping that they won’t let me watch my cop shows. It’s probably because they can’t find a spare plug in this room what with all the machines they have me hooked up to in here. I feel like a robot!” Agatha fumed.

“Well, don’t worry. You’ll be back to normal and out of here in no time. Then you can come back and watch all of the cop shows you want. How does that sound?” I asked.

“Derek, that sounds wonderful. It really does. But the truth is,” Agatha retracted her hand and sighed heavily. “The truth is that I don’t think I’m going to cheat death on this one, honey. I’m just counting the days now…” she smiled contentedly but still looked sad beyond compare.

“No! That can’t happen, I won’t let it!” I protested. “You are going to get better, okay?” I commanded. Agatha laughed heartily, which lead to a fit of coughing.

“Oh Dan, you mustn’t be so naïve. Fate works in mysterious ways. A month ago, I was shoving pills down my throat, trying to escape this life, and look at me now! If I could have anymore time, I’d do anything for it. But that’s not going to happen, honey,”

I sniffled.

“I’m not going to believe you. You’ll make it.” It was all too apparent that even I didn’t concur with the words coming out of my mouth.

“I’ll try, okay?” Agatha promised. “I’ll try for you.”

I laid my head down on her stomach and sighed.

“It’s just not fair, Agatha.” I let my tears soak her blanket.

“I know, honey, I know,” she whispered, stroking my hair.

“You’re truly the most pathetic creature I have encountered in all my days,” I imagined Agatha thinking.

“I couldn’t agree more,” I replied telepathically.

Though her voice was barely a hum, she still managed to sing me a lullaby.

15.

It was hard to converse with Dr. Garcia. This was quite a pity considering I was actually planning on making an effort as a result of our pact. Though, I did notice that her nails were painted a pleasant shade of eggplant as opposed to their previous fire truck hue.

One again, I found myself in the mire of her discussing what lead to my ever-so-pleasantly phrased “self-destruction”.

“Dave, I think a major problem with your life is your lack of friends.” She tapped her pen on the folder as if she were trying to hypnotize me. “In all the days we have talked, Dave, I don’t recall you mentioning anyone that you weren’t related to,” she concluded.

“I do have friends…” I mulled. “At least I think I do.”

“What do you mean by that, Dave?” I had noticed that she had taken up the habit of using my name as much as possible. This was probably a technique they taught in medical school to make them seem more trustworthy.

“I mean, I have a friend,” I shrugged. That was probably one of the first times I had formed that sentence in my entire life.

“Would you be so kind as to describe this friend? What’s their name?” Dr. Garcia tilted her head to the side inquisitively.

“Her name is…” This is so peculiar. “Her name’s Jodi,” I affirmed. “She worked with me at the tollbooth…thing. I’ve known her for while, but it was recently that we became friends. I think she’s really about the only one, though,” I shrugged.

“Hm. How interesting,” Dr. Garcia noted nonchalantly as she scribbled down this data on her notepad. “What is it about Jodi that you think caused you two to become friends?”

I don’t exactly think we had a choice to be friends or not. I just kind of happened, didn’t it? Did you want it to happen? You’ve wanted companionship desperately, and you’ve got it now. But didn’t you used to find her an excellent source of amusement?

“But she saved my life,” I stated both as a thought and a reply. “If it wasn’t for Jodi, I wouldn’t be here.”

“Ah, I see. So she was the negotiator? Why did you listen to her if you didn’t even know her? If you didn’t find the time to care about her all the time you had known her, why would you listen to her then?”

“I’m not sure…because I felt like it?” I asked, hoping it would be the correct answer. Because, as I was figuring out, even though these things come off as being one enormous blab session it was more of an excruciating verbal exam.

“No,” Dr. Garcia responded harshly. She went on to explain a complex theory regarding the fact that I thought myself to be “worthy” all along and that Jodi was just the extra push that flung me back onto the ledge of sanity.

“I am glad you feel that way, doctor. But I am pretty sure Jodi saved my life, so may I please stick with that theory? It probably has boosted her self-esteem greatly, and I would really hate to revoke that honor of being a life-saver,” I droned.

“Fine,” Dr. Garcia was oblivious to my sarcasm. “But as long as you know the truth in your own mind,” she pointed to my forehead. I cringed in fear of the pointy fingernails. She must keep them sharp so if she ever gets mugged she can just jab the guy and leave him to writhe. I always thought that was why women wore high-heels, anyway.

“I’m pretty sure I do,” I replied. “And it’s not what you’re telling me,” I finished mentally.

“On a different note, Dave,” she crossed her legs and adjusted her very distasteful orange skirt. It must be a new trend called “inmate chic”. If that was the case, I must be very fashionable. “Dave, as you may or may not know, this is our final session together. Tomorrow is your last day in this facility. As a level two patient, you are only required a six day stay here. Not to mention your lack of insurance should probably have booted you out





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