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Into The Alley
Three years in an asylum and still no escape from the torturous nightmares that haunt my every thought. I should think it would have gotten better by now, what with the blank looks on the caretakers' faces, the bland white walls, and the "therapy" sessions that filled my long tiresome nights to cure me of my "problem". What's my problem? I don't really know. It's kinda sorta maybe funny that my doctors know more about me than I do myself. Then again, they are doctors.
I don't necessarily wish that I knew what my problem was because I think I'd hate myself even more afterwards. That's not to say that my curiosity isn't keeping me from wondering anyway; it was sort of like an overpowering desire to know how the hell I ended up here, strapped to a flat hospital bed each night and wondering if I should chew my way through the leather straps. I became so sullenly depressed that I was unapproachable. Three years here and I still don't know what about me caused the rest of the world to mark me as insane. It couldn't be just because I had such a pall attitude all day; they had pills to fix that; happy pills as the doctors called them; stupid pills as I liked to call them. Even the caretakers who were supposed to be "understandable", would come in and say my name with a familiar edge to their voice, as did the rest of them when my name had to be spoken. For some unfathomable reason, they feared me, just as everyone in the whole asylum did. It was sorta like having everyone else understand the punch line of a joke while you're left wondering why everyone is laughing. The only difference was, this wasn't a joke. It was reality; I wanted it to be a joke, or some bad dream that I could easily wake up from.
Sometimes I didn't want to dream. It brought back the memories of things I certainly had no intentions of ever remembering again. Yet, I did, time and time again. Every time I closed my eyes I would see things that would send a cold shiver up my spine, and would make me thrash against the restraining straps, struggling to escape the past as it struggled to catch up with me. Every night before I went to sleep, I would force the caretaker to turn on a night light near the bed post, and if they didn't respond or carry out my orders, I would beg and complain until they finally renounced their stubbornness against mine, and turned it on. I was afraid of the dark. Darkness is where the bad things always happened, where they happened to me, scarring me forever and imprisoning me in a nuthouse. When I went out for my daily walks and saw a dark path ahead of me, blocking the sun in any way, I would walk around it and continue still trembling from a new memory brought back to life. I never went out at night any more. The last time I ever encountered the dark personally, was three years ago and even then, I was wary of the dark and unsure of my safety.
Forward After Beginning
The sun's piercing light pried its way through the ragged blinds, filling my room with its warmth. I flexed my hands, testing the strength of the buckled straps and smiling when, to my satisfaction, the buckles came loose, freeing myself from its once stubborn grasp. I was a little surprised and confused. Usually the caretaker tightened them each night before bed. I shrugged it off, glad anyway for the free access. I slid the straps off and stretched feeling the routine stiffness in my arms, having had them above my head all night. Several cracks rang through my ear drums in my hands as I proceeded to continue my morning activities. I strolled over to my desk table and clicked the help button. Immediately I heard a soft knock, the click of the knob and the silent creaking of the door as someone entered my room. As I turned to face whoever I was about to encounter with all the unfriendliness I could manage, I stopped. Maria, a lady, who was no older than twenty, stood in front of me smiling. The sudden coldness that had ran in my heart had evaporated as I gazed at the only person in this repulsive hospital that I truly cared for. When she looked over at the unbuckled straps, her smile widened, showing to two sets of perfect white teeth. I grinned, knowing she must have come in during the night and loosened my restraints for me as she sometimes did.
Her eyes twinkled with mischief. "I thought you might have wanted to actually move during the night."
I chuckled softly. "Yes, it was nice. I don't even remember the bad dreams. Thank you."
Her smiled disappeared and her mouth formed a slight frown. She was the only one here who knew about my bad dreams. No one, not even the doctors or therapists, knew about my constant nightmares that tormented me every night. Well, almost every night thanks to Maria.
"Johnny..." She began.
"Don't worry about me. You know I can take care of myself. Really, the dreams were not as bad as they usually are." I interrupted, trying to lessen her concern. I didn't want her to think she was going through all the trouble for nothing.
She looked at me with deep eyes. "So you do remember them?"
I sighed, realizing my slip. "Yes", I admitted. "However, I was able to forget them almost completely this time. Plus, they weren't about death." I said while trying to force a smile on my face. Though I trusted her with my dreams, I didn't feel comfortable trusting her with my pain, yet. She seemed to me to be convinced as she smiled slightly and sighed with relief.
"Okay. At least I know I'm doing something right around here."
I rolled my eyes at her. "You always do the right thing. Why do you think all the patients here corporate with you and not the doctors. Everybody likes you here, including me."
Maria laughed softly. "Well I guess that's a good thing. Otherwise, I'd have a hard time staying here."
Curiosity coated my tome. "Seriously, why do you stay here when you could be better of somewhere else? Not that I want you to leave." I added quickly.
She chuckled once, then was suddenly serious. "I don't really know. Sometimes I think I stay here because of you."
"Me? What's so special about me?" I asked angrily. I was instantly frustrated at myself with causing her imprisonment here. What about me could possibly hold her interest here; where the insane roam. I smiled wryly to myself remembering that I too was labeled insane.
Her answer broke my train of thought. "You're different than the rest of them. I don't think you're really insane. I think something bad happened in your past that effected you dramatically. Besides, you are the only patient here who has real feelings and real thoughts. If you were really insane you wouldn't be able to think for yourself, or stand here calmly discussing this with me."
I considered that for a moment. Apparently I was wrong in my assumption that everybody thought of me as mentally crazed. This complete and total stranger standing in front of me was risking her happiness for my mental care. Perhaps that was what had made me trust her so easily. She had been so accepting and so eager to help me. And again, she was dead on about her theory about my past. I sighed. Was there anything that she didn't notice about me. She was much more observant than a professional physiologist who had years of training against Maria's short three months. Whenever I had to meet with the doctors, Maria would pull me aside first and remind me to stay calm, control my anger, and think about what to say before I said it. For some reason, I listened to her more than the doctors. Perhaps it was because no one else understood why I liked to watch the sun rise, or why I was so terrified of the dark, or even why I endured the persistent nightmares that invaded my head every night. Yet Maria, a simple caretaker who actually took her job seriously here, went out of her way to keep me company and keep me from losing it completely. The "caretakers" didn't really "care" for me at all. In fact, probably more than half these caretakers didn't care about any of their patients. I never understood why people who had a bright future ahead of them, like Maria, wasted their life on some miserable job.
"Well why can't anyone else see the same thing you do?" I finally asked.
"Because they don't take the time to get to know you. You know what though, sometimes I think you secretly don't want them to know anything about you." Maria replied.
I walked over to my skinny bed and sat down. "Maybe I don't."
"But why? Don't you want to fix your problem?"
"What exactly is my problem? That's what makes me so mad. Everyone seems to have this wild idea that I have a specific problem and yet, they never share with me what they think it is." I retorted, suddenly feeling myself getting angry. "If it's that obvious, then why can't I figure it out?"
Maria bit her lip. She paced the room for a few short moments then sat in the chair next to my desk. She took a deep breath before answering. "I don't know Johnny. Maybe...maybe you don't really have a problem. Maybe this is just the way you are."
I stared at the floor while my anger slowly faded away. "No it's not. Three years ago I was happier, much happier. I didn't have a problem. There was nothing wrong with me then. I wasn't afraid to share my feelings and I wasn't afraid of the dark." I said sourly. I suddenly realized I had made another slip. I was too focused on my past, that I didn't think about what I was saying. I basically admitted that there was something in my past that scarred me permanently. I looked back up at her, waiting for her response. She simply looked at me with curious eyes that seemed concerned at the same time. Then she asked the question that I knew was coming; that I didn't want to hear.
"Then what changed?" she asked softly. "What happened to make you like this?"
I looked away from her, ashamed. I couldn't tell her. Not even if I wanted to, and I didn't want to. I knew that if I told her then she would never see me as the same person, and she would finally leave this place, having no more reason to stay. Though I liked Maria and respected her, I couldn't tell her the truth.
“You don’t want to know.” I said bleakly.
“You just don't. So please just forget what I said.”
“Oh C’mon! You say something like that and expect me to ‘just forget’” she said imitating my voice with a hint of annoyance in her tone.
“It would be more prudent for you if you didn't think about it.” I warned.
“Well, I will think about it. Now that you've confirmed my theory, I'll probably think about it everyday. Sorry, I’m not at clueless as the other morons on the working staff.” she snapped, suddenly angry.
I bit my lip while I stared at the tile pattern. Why did she have to be so stubborn?
“If you knew what was good for you....” I began.
I looked at her. She was not happy. In fact, she looked rather angry for some reason. The twinkle in her eye had vanished; a dark hue took its place and enveloped her irises. Her jaw was clenched and her hands balled up into tight fists.
“You really need to get your act together. Sometimes I think you have really lost it.” She help up a finger as I began to abject. “I’m not calling you insane, but whatever happened to you has effected you more than you’re letting it show. Why can’t you see that I want to help you? You think I like seeing you mope around all day, or hearing you scream and thrash about at night?”
I stared at her with my mouth slightly gaped. I guess the therapists had lied when they said that the rooms where sound proof. I was suddenly so overcome with shame, that I hung my head in my hands.
“Wait, I didn’t mean to upset you." she said, her tone suddenly gentle. "Please don’t be mad at yourself. “I’m sorry. I only wanted to help.” her voice broke as she drew in a sharp breath.
My head snapped up when I heard her ragged breathing and strange noises escaping her throat. Maria's eyes became red, with tears threatening on the corner of her puffy eyes. My heart felt black and cold as ice. She never cried. She never ever cried. It took a whole lot to make her break down. When Manny, a six foot autistic man, called her a name so horrible, the whole asylum went quiet, Maria simply shrugged her shoulders and walked away. She was tougher than anyone I knew and yet, I had reached her breaking point with only a few words of rejection. I never realized until now how much she had truly cared for me. She had only wanted to help me overcome whatever was tormenting me. I should be grateful enough that she said my name without grimacing or looking at me like I was crazy. Instead, I paid her back with tears and cruel words. I struggled to contain myself as I suddenly made a very important decision. I owed Maria more than I knew, and the only way that I could think of to pay her back was to tell her the truth. It's amazing that it only took the tears of an asylum caretaker to release the truth from me.
"Don't do that. No, don't cry. Please don’t cry. I’ll tell you anything you want to know. Anything." I pleaded. I knew I was making a huge risk by telling her, but I didn't care anymore.
"No, no you don’t have to do that for me.” she sobbed.
I took her wet hands and looked her in the eye. “I will do that for you. All you’ve done is help me. You’ve made living here, worth it. If I hadn’t met you, I probably would have gone insane and I would be in a straight jacket right now.” I shuddered slightly at the thought.
Maria finally stopped crying, bringing a warmth of relief to my heart.
“Are you sure?” she asked quietly after some time.
I gazed into her eyes. “Yes, I’m absolutely sure,” I smiled slightly. As I said the words, I willed them to be true.
Maria still sensed some discomfort. "You don't have to Johnny. I won't force you to do anything, especially if it will cause you pain."
"Please Maria, let me do this. I'm not really worried about the pain as I am about what you will think about me afterwards." I paused for second then continued. "Anyways, I think tonight should be an okay time to tell you." I said. Since I was going through with this, I needed some time to gather my thoughts.
Maria didn't say anything. Instead she nodded once, rose to her feet, and walked to the door. Before she walked out, Maria looked at me one more time.
"I'll be ready to listen."
I didn't say anything, but watched as she walked out the door. When the door closed, I flopped back on my bed letting out a deep sigh. Today would be over before I was even close to being ready. I closed my eyes, letting the darkness engulf me for some time.
I was wrong to think that this day would go by too quickly. Against my favor, it went by too quickly, much too quickly. I was amazed at how fast the time flew since this was probably the most boring day of my life. Sometimes I felt like only my body was on Earth while I floated mindlessly somewhere else. Time seemed to disappear in a hazy fog. Before I knew it, it was dark outside and the sounds of nighttime activities stirred about the asylum. I had just finished reading another chapter in my book, “How My Dad Killed My Mom”, when I heard a knock on the door. I suddenly felt nervous and felt my hands get real clammy right then. I set the book down and got up to answer the door. Though I already knew who it was, I was still surprised to see her. When I opened the door I heard myself gasp. Maria was not dressed in her everyday caretaker uniform. Instead she looked like an average young adult with faded jeans, a tank top with a cardigan, flip-flops, and her hair in an untidy bun. It took me a moment to recollect myself before I could welcome her in. She walked over to the desk chair and sat down immediately with an unreadable expression. I shut the door, took a deep breath, and pulled out another chair for me to sit down. Once I was seated she looked at me with a familiar sparkle in her eyes that seemed to make my heart beat faster.
“I didn’t want this to be a business conversation, so I decided to go a little casual.” She looked down at her outfit, then back at me, this time with a smile forming on her mouth as she read my expression. “What, to casual?”
I cleared my throat. “No it’s not that, it’s just I’m not used to seeing you like this. It’s different, but I like it.”
“Thanks. You know this day seemed to go by very slowly for me. I almost felt like I would scream if it went any slower.” She laughed.
I laughed with her, realizing the bittersweet irony. “On the contrary,” I told her, “This day seemed to go by too fast, for me anyway.”
“I guess that’s because you were hoping the time would go slower, and I was hoping it would go faster.”
“Perhaps”, I said slowly, still speculating over her outfit. “But I don’t understand why you would want to have this particular talk with me.” I admitted
“I guess I’m just curious. You know what they say: ‘Curiosity killed the cat’” she laughed again.
I didn’t laugh with her knowing the reality behind those words. Curiosity can get you into trouble. I had found that out myself; the hard way. Maria was about to find out for herself what happens when a person gets to curious.
"Does anyone know you're here with me?" I asked cautiously.
Maria looked at the door. "Yes. They think I'm having a private therapy session with you, which is kinda true." She looked back at me slowly.
"I wish it wasn't true," I mumbled.
Maria's brows furrowed in confusion. Yes, she would be confused about a lot of things tonight.
"What do you mean by that?" she asked.
"What do I mean? What I mean is that I wish you weren't curious about every little thing that came out of my mouth!" I replied with more force than I had intended.
Maria shrank back in her chair, suddenly wary again.
"I'm sorry. I can't help myself. You fascinate me."
"Fascinate you?" The room went silent for one second, and then I suddenly burst out laughing. Was she even human? She sure didn't act like it. Why did only the abnormal things fascinate her?
"What? What's so funny?" Maria demanded.
"Who's the insane one now?" I teased.
"What are you talking about?"
"Maria don't you see? You're so calm about everything. It's too unnatural, the way you react to things that aren't normal. The idea of working at an asylum doesn't seem to bother you. If someone told you they ate nails for breakfast, you'd probably congratulate them or something. I just don't understand your way of thinking." I explained.
Maria cocked an eyebrow at me. "I don't see anything wrong with the way I think. Besides, you should be glad that I act this way. Otherwise, you wouldn't have anyone in this entire asylum who cared about you."
I scowled at her. She had me there.
"Hmph," I said while folding my arms over my chest. "You think that bothers me? For two and a half years no one here cared about me. If you left, I'd only have to go back right to the way things were before you came along."
"You want me to leave?" Maria asked, skeptical.
"No, of course not!" I answered quickly. "I'm just saying that if you want to leave, I won't stand in your way."
Maria laughed. "You think I can just pick up my things and go? There are people here, besides you, that still need me. But that's besides the point. The fact is, I would still worry about you. I'd worry that someone would say the wrong thing and then you'd explode without any warning. You can't make me go, or convince me anyway."
"I didn't say I would make you go. I'm too selfish for that." I paused for a moment. Maria seemed to be stalling the bigger aspect of this conversation. "But that's not the problem right now." I reminded her.
Confusion swept over Maria's face as she shifted in her chair. "Then what is?"
"Well, if we don't want any interruptions from the other caretakers, then we better get to the main point of tonight.
Maria understood what I meant. "Oh," she said softly. "I guess you're right. Go ahead," she encouraged.
I sighed. Maria looked at me with careful eyes. She seemed to understand that this would be difficult for me. She waited patiently for me to begin. I took advantage of her patience to come up with a place to start. I never realized how hard talking about my past would be until now. For three long and painful years I had shut myself out from the rest of the world; and for a good reason too. I experienced things that no one should ever have to go through. I knew Maria was bluffing when she told me she wouldn't be bothered with my past: her constant fidgeting now was giving her nervousness away. She knew had something big to tell her. She also knew from my constant warnings that whatever I had to tell her wasn't pretty. I had a sudden urge to dash out my bedroom door, out the front doors of the asylum, and away from all eyes that dared to look upon me. I didn't mind being lonely, but I did mind constant questions that attempted to pry the secrets out of me. No, I thought. You have to do this. Maria was right, it might help you. I forced myself to listen to that small voice in the back of my head and tried to concentrate. Maria was still watching me.
"Maybe I shouldn't..." Maria began.
I held up a finger to stop her. I rearrange my features to a more calm expression. "It's fine. I can handle it." Maria pouted at me. So I added, "Just give me a moment".
Maria nodded with a blank look on her face. It was hard to keep calm when my head was suddenly flooded with unwanted memories. This was going to be the hardest part. Reliving everything that happened. It was almost as if I was having a terrible nightmare. There was only one thing different though about this time. I was awake. All the memories that I had struggled to contain, were flowing freely in my mind now, overwhelming every other thought. I realized grimly that because of my sudden recollection of my past, I would once again have to face another round of soundless nights while I tried to fight off the unnerving and somewhat endless dreams. It was like I was starting all over again. Too bad, the tiny voice said. Just deal with it. I wrestled with my negligible conscious and my instincts to protect myself, for what seemed like a long time. In the end, my conscious proved victor as I shoved aside all doubts, closed my eyes, and slowly began my agonizing journey; three years in the past.
Thicker Plot: Main Action
"Three years ago, I was considered and thought of as a popular and very normal teenager." It was a weird way to begin, but I could think of nothing else. I looked at Maria, watching her eyes widen slightly. I smirked at her and continued.
"I had an overflow of friends, the teachers loved me, and I was accepted by the highest standard of society. People looked up to me, and expected me to be as successful as my father. They also expected me to follow in my dad's footsteps. However, I wasn't interested in working for my dad's car company, and I certainly wasn't going to start a business of my own."
"Why not?" Maria asked suddenly.
"I guess I just didn't want the responsibility of running a big company. I wanted a job that I could enjoy and never be bored; one that I'd never get tired of."
Maria chuckled. "What job did you have in mind exactly? There aren't a lot of those."
I pursed my lips in concentration. I never really had decided on a permanent career, but I did have a few in mind. I remember my dad scolding me often saying, "Well son, which job is it going to be?". I usually didn't have an answer right away, making him even more frustrated. My mom was much more patient. "I don't know," I answered. "I was thinking along the lines of a lawyer, a surgeon, or maybe even a real estate agent. I was pretty vague then on my future job."
"I'll say. They're all completely different from one another."
"And?" I questioned.
Maria seemed to be fighting a smile. "I'm just saying Johnny, that those aren't really in the same field as one another. So if you changed your mind, then you would have to change your field.
"I'm sorry I don't have the perfect job picked out. I didn't exactly know I'd be playing twenty questions," I retorted, slightly annoyed without meaning to be.
"Yeah, but you could have at least been a little more realistic," Maria mumbled.
"It doesn't matter anyway," I snapped. "I'll never be able to decide." The reminder of having my life stolen away from me so suddenly made me even more resentful.
"You think someone would hire a person who's been in an asylum for almost three years?" I replied, laughing bitterly.
Maria was quiet. After a minute or two, she answered, "Well, I don't know. It...it doesn't matter. Just continue on with your story.
I sighed and rolled my eyes at her, but continued anyway. "So thanks to my dad, we were able to live a considerable lifestyle. My parents weren't millionaires, but they were not far from it. We had enough money to keep us going, plus a little extra for 'recreation' as I liked to call it. As an only child, my parents spoiled me often. Yet, because my mother was raised in a working family, I was taught well in the way of life and learned a considerable amount from her that kept me from being completely spoiled. My parents expected me to do my fair share of work, which meant I had chores to do, I had to find a part time job to help pay for things, and I had to complete all my school work before I did anything else. When I finally did finish my work, I was free to do anything I wanted. I mostly spent my free time hanging out with friends, working out, or traveling."
"What's your favorite thing to do during your free time?" Maria asked quietly.
I smiled at her. Unlike most of her questions, this one wasn't hard for me to answer. "Well, sometimes when I wanted to be by myself, I used to go down to my dock that sat on the farthest end of the river. Sometimes I would bring a book with me, and read for hours and hours on end until my father would call me back in. But what I really liked about the dock was that, it was perfectly aligned with the sun when it set. I was given a great privilege to be able to watch the most beautiful sunsets, right in my own backyard. I can't imagine anything more wonderful than watching the spectacular array of yellows, oranges, and reds, dance across the sky." I sighed dreamily.
Maria beamed at me, excitement sparkling in her eyes. She was leaning forward and seemed completely absorbed in our conversation.
"I wish I could've been there," Maria said.
"Me too," I agreed. "It was simply the most amazing experience in my life." I paused as I remembered the tragic ending of my favorite dock. "Unfortunately, my days of watching sunsets were coming to a sudden close. I had to watch painfully as my father tore down the dock to build a river house. I was devastated for weeks. My father didn't understand and couldn't see my appeal. I never forgave him for it." My mouth mashed into a hard line on my face. Talking about him and his treacherous betrayal layered my thoughts with acid. I literally hated him for it.
"It's okay Johnny. I'm sorry I brought it up. Just forget about it and continue on," Maria said hastily. She must have noticed my hostile expression.
I exhaled. "Yeah, you're right. Back to the story." Back to the nightmare I thought dryly.
"So anyways, after that, things kinda went downhill from there. I took it as sign that something bad was to come, since nothing terrible had happened up to the desruction of my dock. I guess I was just being paranoid, but sometimes I believed it."
"Hmm," Maria said thoughtfully.
She looked up at me startled. "What? Oh, nothing. I was just thinking."
I flashed a suspicious look at her, but Maria only glanced at me innocently.
"Thinking about what?" I pressed.
Maria shrugged. "Nothing in particular. Just thinking about me really. Continue."
I cocked an eyebrow at her, but let it pass. It wasn't my job to know what she was thinking, and I probably didn't want to know either.
"Okay. Where was I? Oh yeah. So after the dock incident, I didn't spend as much time with my father as I used to. However, my relationship with my mother had grown stronger than ever. I expected her to love me more than my father and show me the right way of things, and to understand me whenever I tried to talk to her about something difficult. I was completely dependent on her to always take my side on things, whenever I argued with my dad, which was often. Soon though, she became a little agitated with me. She told me one night before bed, that I needed to forgive my dad and just let what happen go. She said that she couldn't keep taking sides because it wasn't fair for her to choose between her husband and her son. I understood what she was saying and apoligized, but I still never forgave my dad. And so, my relationship with my mother deteriorated and soon, things were not right in the Fitzgerald household. "As time went on, I began to see the damage I was doing to my parent's relationship and decided it was time for me to move out."
"Wh....wait....a second," Maria stammered. "You mean you just dropped out of high school to make your parents happy? That doesn't sound right."
"No, no, no. Sorry, I forgot to mention that I didn't drop out; I was already finished. In fact, I was already in college," I explained quickly.
Maria breathed a sigh of relief. "Oh, well that's good. What college did you attend?"
Well she would get a kick out of this, I thought. I spoke slowly, watching, and waiting for her reaction. "I was accepted into Harvard, Dartmouth, and Yale. I chose Yale."
Her reaction was just as I had anticipated. Her eyes widen to extremes as she gaped at me. It took her a moment to speak. "Wow. Ummm, that's incredible. I definitly was not expecting that. Yale, dang." she said with pure awe.
I couldn't help but laugh at her response. She truly though of me as a demented person. She probably never envisioned me as a normal, or even somewhat normal person. For all I knew, she probably thought I lived in a padded room strapped in a straightjacket.
Maria grinned sheepishly at me. "What?"
I finally managed to stop laughing. "Didn't see that coming did you? Couldn't iamagine someone like me going to Yale could you?"
"Well........I.......actually.......no," Maria admitted shamefully.
I chuckled. "It's okay. Now that I think about it, it sounds pretty unbelievable."
Unbelievable was an understatement. My acceptance to the three highest colleges, put a smile on my dad's face, and a frown on mine. I didn't want to go to any of them, but my dad wanted the best for me and forced me to choose between those three. I reluctantly decided to go to Yale, just for the heck of it. I realized then that I had no more freedom, and the only way to gain that freedom was to find a way to leave my parents. I wished desperately for a way to get rid of them, to be free of them. I wanted to be able to break free from their grasps to experience for myself, a life without my parents. Little did I know, that I would get my wish, and when I did, I didn't want it.
Be careful what you wish for; seriously.