The Easy Way Out
Willie's next roommate was a diaper-wearing zombie in a wheelchair who, in lieu of conversation, drooled. The young man wasn't sure if this guy knew what planet he was on but, just in case, Willie would occasionally talk to him or wheel him through the Common Room and park his chair in front of the TV.
Eventually there was an opening in C Ward and his companion was transferred there to be with his own kind leaving Willie, once again, on his own.
The next admission to the ward was a sweet-faced lady in her 50s named Wendy. She wore flouncy dresses all the time and danced with an invisible partner, listening to a delightful waltz in her head. If you spoke to the woman, she would pause, curtsey, and return to her dance.
Maybe it was his imagination, but Dr. Gordon seemed to be watching him a lot. If Willie caught him, the doctor would just smile and return to his routine. The attendants and nurses were more than usually polite in their requests and even Dr. Ned backed off his quest to humiliate his antagonistic patient at every opportunity. As a result, Willie actually seemed to behave better, but something about it made him uneasy. He thought of telling Bug Eyes there might be a conspiracy so he could include it in his book.
In the recreation yard, Willie sat alone on top of the picnic table, with a cigarette gifted by Vinnie. The leaves were beginning to change color. They whipped about on their branches or flew off into the rising wind to greet the migrating birds overhead.
Fly away home. Willie wanted to go home too, although that was not very likely. First of all, he wasn't sure if he even had one. Maggie wasn't his wife anymore, his friends had all disappeared and Barnabas probably got himself a new chew toy. Even Stanley had moved on without his buddy.
Psycho Zombie wondered if he would spend the rest of his miserable life in a mental institution just because he had nowhere else to go.
Maybe his mother would take him in. Willie could live with Lydia and her family, if they promised to be responsible for him and see to it that he didn't shoot anyone or do anything crazy. His mom would understand; she said depression was hereditary, or was it insanity she said came from her side? On the other hand, maybe they wouldn't trust an unpredictable mental patient around their spoiled little darlings or that dog with the nervous bladder.
But it was worth a try.
Willie got in line to use the telephone, where he dialed Long Distance Information to get the number of Richard Harrison in Schenectady, New York.
His stepfather accepted the call.
"Bill," he said with a despondent tone that hung heavily in the momentary silence that followed. Richard cleared his throat before continuing. "I'm glad you called. I take it you got my message about Lydia."
"I don't remember."
"I telephoned last week but your doctor said you wouldn't be able to handle the news and he would tell you himself."
"Yeah, uh, it's okay now…what happened?"
"Your mother…" His voice cracked. "She sat on that bench at the playground and put a gun to her—"
"This call is being terminated. Please try again at another time." The monitor disconnected the line.
Willie replaced the receiver and stood in a daze.
"Your turn's up; get a move on." The next loony in line pushed Willie into the hallway, and a few seconds later, Leroi and Mitch were at his side.
"How you doing, pal?" Leroi took the smaller man's arm. "Let's go see Doc Gordon. He's waiting for us."
Nurse Jessica was also in the administrator's office with a hypodermic in her hand. The two attendants remained in the background, in case they were needed.
"Your stepfather, Mr. Harrison, called a few days ago," Dr. Gordon began. "We were waiting for the right time to tell you. I certainly didn't want you to find out like this." Everyone in the room looked so apprehensive, regarding Willie like he was a ticking time bomb.
"So, what? Is she dead?"
"Yes, I'm sorry."
"Whatever," The young man shrugged his shoulders. "I'm surprised she didn't do it sooner."
"You don't have to put on a brave face. It's okay to grieve and cry if you need to; it's not a sign of weakness. And I'm here any time you want to talk."
"I don't know what you want me to talk about." Willie played with the paperweight on the doctor's desk.
"Look, you guys, it's all right. I appreciate all this concern and stuff, but to tell the truth, my mom and me weren't that close. I haven't lived with her since I was ten, and that was no picnic, 'cause she was depressed and drunk all the time. Never took me to the movies or a ball game or nothin'. So, I'm sorry, but I ain't gonna get all weepy about it. Can I go now?"
"Alright, Willie," Gordon checked his daily roster. "But I'm making you an appointment to see Dr. Lynne at 4 pm. She is a grief therapist who will just ask you a few questions."
"Can I go after dinner? That way I miss Music Therapy. If it gets me outta that sing-along, I'll tell the lady anythin' she wants to hear."
"You may be excused from your schedule for the rest of the day," the doctor replied. "And Mitch is going to hang out with you for a while."
"Why do I need a monitor? I didn't do nothin' wrong."
"As a favor to me."
The patient smirked. "Could you make it Nurse Jessie instead?"
Willie and his attendant settled into the TV Room where the young man stared silently at the tube, unaware of what program they were watching.
"Are you really into these soap operas?" Mitch asked, a little bored with the lineup.
"No, they're stupid." Willie flipped the channel to Sesame Street. I like Oscar the Grouch. When I check outta here, I'm gonna live in a garbage can and yell at people as they walk by."
"Sounds like a good plan."
Dr. Lynne had a short, boyish bob and pretty brown eyes which reminded Willie of his ex-wife. He thought about flirting with the therapist, but resolved to remain faithful to Nurse Jessie. Lynne began by expressing her condolences and assured Willie that she would listen to anything he wanted to say, maintain complete confidentiality and not pass judgment.
"I don't know what you people want from me."
"Tell me how you feel. Just talk."
"I dunno. I feel like you're all makin' a big fuss when none a' you even knew her. People blow their brains out every day, don't they? Now, that's what I shoulda done. I guess I feel kinda jealous that she did it right on the first try and I'm stuck here with carved-up arms answerin' lame ass questions."
"Do you feel a little angry?"
"Angry? Yeah, 'cause I was hopin' she'd sign me outta here, that's why I called. You don't think Big Dick is gonna let me live with them now, do ya? No, she royally fucked up that plan." Willie regarded the silent woman on the sofa next to him. "I guess nice people don't talk about their mothers like that."
"Actually, they do. People in various stages of grief express themselves in many different ways. Sometimes they cry, or laugh, feel disbelief, shock, relief, numbness. They may withdraw from family and friends, lose their appetite or have trouble sleeping."
"Well, I don't have any family or friends, 'cause they're all dead, which is no excuse for not visitin' me anymore; so I don't care about them either. That's another thing to put on your list there. It's a dictionary word: apathy. It means you don't give a shit."
"No, it ain't fair. Doc Gordon said you were just gonna ask a couple a' questions."
"It's actually a list of statements, which you rate on a scale of 1 to 5: 1 is Strongly Agree; 3 is No Opinion and 5 is Strongly Disagree. But we can do that next week if you prefer."
"I already told ya everything; why do I haveta come back?"
"Your feelings about this will most likely change over the next few weeks or even months. It can get quite overwhelming, but it's important that you accept your reactions and not avoid them. What you're going to feel is common and natural and you're not alone."
"Because I have this complete stranger who's being paid to listen to me whine."
"You're also welcome to join our grief support group."
"Christ, no. If that happens, I'll just kill myself."
The new client was given a pamphlet to read and a notebook in which to write down his feelings during the week.
Willie was released from his monitor just before dinner because they were short staffed ever since Steve was transferred to C Ward. As a result, in the future there would be an extra charge on his monthly bill if the patient required one-on-one attention and Mr. Collins, his benefactor, had denied permission for that expenditure.
At 9 pm, Willie took his meds—like a good boy—and retired early. He tossed the pamphlet and notebook in the wastebasket and rummaged through Stanley's top bureau drawer. There, among the stale snack cakes, was an envelope addressed to him. It was dated two months ago, from an exercise Dr. Ned assigned for the participants to write a letter to someone close to them.
I don't like when people call you Psycho. You like to act tough, but I know you don't mean a lot of the things you say. You're really a nice person and always look out for me. It's alright when we get in trouble because, before meeting you, I never had adventures. My mother thinks you're a bad influence, but she doesn't understand. You're my best friend and I will always share my cigarettes with you. When we leave here, come visit me in Portland and I'll do your teeth for free. Well, if I ever go back to work, that is.
Your friend forever, Stanley Mendelssohn.
Willie investigated the other contents. There was one very wrinkled apple, Twinkies, a package of oatmeal cookies, Diet Coke—and box of writing paper, which he pulled out. Underneath the first layer of cardboard was that for which he had been searching: a hoard of medication. He popped open the warm soda and took all his meds—like a good boy. Not really sure why he ingested the overdose, why he had planned all day to do so. Willie didn't feel particularly anxious or aggrieved, but somewhere deep inside, he wanted to be a zombie again. They just sit in front of the TV and drool and don't think about anything.
A short while later Vinnie came by for potty time and found the patient on his hands and knees. He heaved, sucking in mouthfuls of air, his eyes wide and unfocused. Then another episode of vomit spewed out, adding to what was already on the floor. The orderly quickly called a Code Blue into the shoulder walkie and transported his charge to the infirmary where, for the second time in his life, Willie had his stomach pumped.