SLOWLY, DONNA GOT USED TO THE ROUTINE OF HER EXISTENCE IN HOSPITAL. But she hated the intrusion into her privacy, as she felt it was a case of big brother gone mad, watching her every move. All right, she deserved to be on suicide watch, but resented constantly being monitored, and was frustrated she couldn’t do anything to stop it. Maybe if she tried to act normally, they would relax their restrictions on her, but so far there was no sign of that.
Doctor Reynolds seemed pleased with her progress, as following her first concession, Donna ate well, and acted like a model patient. As her hair grew back, they encouraged her to take more pride in her appearance. She had her hair cut fashionably when it got long enough, and wore make up and clothes that were modern.
Donna guessed the doctor had kept her parents informed about the improvement she was supposedly making during their weekly confabs – but what would they say if they knew what was really going on inside her head? They’d be so shocked. Well, she’d never let them find out.
Gradually, more progress brought more freedom. They allowed her to walk through the hospital grounds and was given the run of the hospital itself as long as a member of staff accompanied her. She ate with other patients and staff, and was even visited by her parents on occasions, an ordeal she got through but could have done without. All Doctor Reynolds insisted on was confinement to her room every evening. However, they told her, should her recovery continue, that too may be relaxed.
In truth, Donna didn’t feel any better. Her mood dipped lower than ever - she suffered from palpitations at night and yearned for the chance to either break free or find some other release.
As the weeks passed, they allowed her time in the garden alone for longer and longer periods – and she knew it wouldn’t be long before an opportunity would come.
On a particularly beautiful hot summer’s day in the middle of June, the sky was clear, but a brisk breeze cooled the temperatures.
She sat on a bench immediately outside the main building. Her pose was stiff, her expression bland and lacking emotion The weather had caused her to reminisce of times long gone, spent with Blake and friends, when her life had been simple and carefree; a time when harming herself never entered her head.
She’d got permission to stay alone in the garden for an hour and knew they wouldn’t fetch her yet a while. So after a short time, with no exact plan in mind, she went back inside – and then she just went where her feet took her.
On entering the building, she walked through the reception area amongst patients and staff, some of whom openly acknowledged her with smiles and words, never giving her a thought as they were used to seeing her around.
That first bit had been easy, it gave her greater confidence. She smiled to herself, breathing in deeply as she continued on her way.
Adrenaline pumped through her veins; her hands shook slightly, and she felt hot and clammy. Could she go through with this? With her desire so great, she guessed she could. And the release from life would be so wonderful and pure – the best feeling in the world.
She walked down a corridor past various rooms until she came to the lift. Pressed the button to call for it and within seconds the door pinged open. To her relief, when two nurses got out, the lift remained empty. Once inside, as the doors shut, she selected button four for the top floor and waited for the lift to reach its destination.
The lift clicked at the fourth floor, and opened. Donna got out immediately and after about twenty paces noticed a doorway to the left marked Staff Only. Trying the handle she was surprised to find it opened at once. This led to a dimly lit hallway, at the end of which was a flight of stairs. Her heart thumped in her chest as she hastily climbed to the top to find another door. As she tentatively opened it she was confronted with what must be the air conditioning area. Huge fans hummed away, and large silver coloured metal ducts stuck out, their purpose she couldn’t fathom. A final door stood directly in front of her, which she guessed had to lead outside. Walking towards it, she felt relieved no one was about or had tried to stop her.
The door creaked as she turned the handle, but to her amazement, it opened. As the bright sunshine hit her full in the face she screwed up her eyes. She bowed her head, and stepped out onto the flat roof, where going round its perimeter was a metal rail about four feet high.
Walking over to the railings she took in the views from this high up. The grey buildings of Dexford stood in front, and in the distance took in an impressive view of green hilly countryside which also skirted the town. Everything looked so different from up here, she’d never realised there were so many trees or how beautiful the landscape was.
As she touched the rail, she was surprised to find how hot the sun had made it. She pulled her hand away and laughed, feeling dizzy and light-headed as if she hadn’t a care in the world.
Down below, she saw the figures below going about their daily business, unaware of her intentions. She wondered what sort of lives they led. Nothing like the life she’d been made to suffer and was destined to endure forever - unless she did something about it?
She peered down at the rail, spat on part of it to make sure it wasn’t too hot, then wiped it with her sleeve. Then raised herself up and over to sit on it, her feet dangling, and hands gripping tightly.
Could anyone down there see her, she wondered? Maybe she should try to attract their attention, and raising her hand shouted loudly, ‘Hey, you lot down there!’
Within a few seconds, several figures lifted their heads to look up. Donna could just see the shocked frightened looks on their faces as they gathered in small groups. It reminded her of the audiences she used to hate facing during her modelling days. Well, maybe this time she wanted them all to watch her most dramatic performance.
Then hearing people shout up to her, she took a deep breath, and hanging on to the rail, stood up unsure of what she wanted to do. In that spit-second she heard her name being called. ‘Donna.’ Said the whisper of a voice.
She turned her head to see a young man with short jet-black hair, and the blue shadow of a beard on his face. He wore a white top and pants, which made her realise at once that he was a member of staff.
‘Piss off - and leave me alone,’ she screamed at him, flecks of spit coming out of her mouth in her passion.
‘Donna, I want to help you. I can see what you’re thinking about doing, but believe me you couldn’t be more wrong. For a girl like you, it would be tragic. And for what? Nobody’s worth dying for, babe.’
‘How do you know my name?’ she shouted.
‘I’ve seen you about. People have mentioned you.’
‘I don’t want to live. You don’t understand.’
‘Look, everybody feels like that at some time in their lives. But that doesn’t mean we have to do something about it. We get help and somehow get through it. This won’t solve anything, except to cause grief and pain to the loved ones you’d leave behind. Is that what you really want?’
‘No one cares about me.’
‘How can you say that? There’s no way that’s true.’
‘It is,’ she insisted, her eyes widening with anger.
‘Well, I care about you for a start. Think I’d be up here talking to you if I didn’t? How’s it going to make me feel if you jump and splatter yourself all over the pavement like a bag of squashed tomatoes? I’d have nightmares about it for years to come, and so would everyone down there watching you. You want to do that to strangers who’ve never done you any harm?’
‘You have no idea about what’s happened to me.’
‘You’re right I don’t. But you’re not on your own, you know. Other people go through hell; yet somehow they come out the other side. There are millions of folks worse off than you - you haven’t got the faintest idea. Tell you what I’ll do, since you’re that keen to jump, why not let me do it instead? See how you like it.’ And with that, quick as a flash, he whisked himself over the rail to sit on it a few feet away from her, the same as she had.
Donna was horrified, her heart jumped, her eyes wild and threatening.
’Don’t you dare come any closer, or I swear I’ll...’she said raising up her hand to stop him.
‘Don’t worry; I’m not coming any closer. But I might just jump off myself. Then you can look at what’s left of me down there dead. Fancy that, would you?’ He breathed in and out deeply, sweat dripped off the end of his nose.
Donna suddenly couldn’t think straight. He was bluffing – wasn’t he?
‘I mean it, babe.’ He let go, balanced himself with his arms outstretched, then stood up, leaning back against the rail. As the breeze stiffened, he wavered slightly.
‘Please no. Don’t do it!’ She stared at him in disbelief.
‘Well, get back over there then, before I fall.’
‘All right, all right,’ she scowled, climbing quickly over to the other side of the rail. But then once she was safe, he stumbled. She gasped with shock unable to move, transfixed by the situation as now the tables had turned. His one hand had grabbed the rail just in time. As she looked on, his teeth were clenched; it took all his strength to move his other hand back onto the rail and pull himself back up onto the ledge. Then having rested for a few seconds, he climbed over to where Donna stood.
His breathing became deep and rapid, and he was visibly shaking, eyes fixed on Donna, clearly thinking about their dice with death. As she came to her senses the shame of it tormented her, and if he’d fallen, oh my God that would have been on her conscience forever. How would she have lived with that?
‘I’m so sorry,’ she said simply, unable to look him straight in the eye.
‘It’s all right. My own fault. I’ve always been too clumsy for my own good. The main thing is that I stopped you from jumping - thank goodness.’
‘You were very brave,’ she said as the colour came back to her cheeks.
‘Stupid, more like.’
‘You saved my life.’
‘Maybe, maybe not. You didn’t want to jump anyway; or you would have already done it whether I’d been there or not. Like most people who find life hard to cope with, this was just a cry for help.’
‘Oh really?’ She took in a deep breath as her anger rose again.
‘So you’re an expert on these sort of matters, are you?’
‘Let’s just say, you’re not the first suicide attempt I’ve come across in this place. I’ve seen the successful attempts and the unsuccessful attempts, and I’m telling you; you don’t want to hear about the unsuccessful attempts; and how it left them. They all wished they hadn’t done it. Thank God I got you to pull out at the last minute.’
All of a sudden, she became uncomfortable.
‘Come on, let’s get you inside. You’re soaked with sweat, and you need a change of clothing.’ He guided her towards the door, his left arm draped around her shoulder. They went into the room containing the air conditioning apparatus.
Donna walked with the young man, who appeared to be limping slightly, and wondered if he’d just hurt himself, but didn’t like to ask in case she’d been the cause of it, amongst other things.
‘I’m Evan by the way,’ he said introducing himself, giving her a warm smile. His light-blue eyes, reminiscent of Paul Newman, the actor, lit up. She quivered a little.
‘Are you Welsh, Evan?’
‘I couldn’t tell you, maybe there was a link a long time ago. It was my dad’s name. These days my family are all Dexford born and bred.’
‘And what else do you do here besides saving potential suicides?’
‘I’m a male nurse, and I’m so glad I was in the right place at the right time.’
‘That’s not very butch.’ She grimaced as he pressed the button for the lift.
‘Maybe not, but it’s a satisfying job, even if it is a bit hair-raising at times.’
The lift opened. They got in.
‘Feel a bit better now?’
‘You mean will I pull another stunt like that again? No idea. All I can tell you is that now I’ll be on suicide watch again. Back to square one.’
When the lift reached the ground floor and opened, Doctor Reynolds and two nurses stood waiting to take her patient off Evan’s hands. Donna glanced at Evan. He seemed nice she thought, but what did that matter, since all she had to look forward to now was withdrawn privileges and more supervision. He guided her out of the lift towards the psychiatrist who looked so relieved to see her back safely. Donna knew if she had jumped to her death, the blame would have been put squarely on the doctor’s shoulders for allowing her too much freedom before she was ready.
Evan waved as he left to carry on with his own duties, which she’d so rudely interrupted.
‘Donna – why on earth did you do this? After all your treatment has been going so well,’ Doctor Reynolds asked, taking hold of her arm.
‘I don’t know, do I?’
They walked in silence down the corridor until they reached Donna’s room. Once inside the doctor sat on a chair beside her bed.
‘I can’t understand why you did it? Your progress has been really good, and I was so optimistic about discharging you into your parents care for a short while very soon. But now you’ve thrown away all the good work by this stupid stunt. Words fail me.’ She stared straight at Donna waiting for a reply.
‘Don’t know why I did it. I didn’t feel well and when I was on the roof, I felt as free as a bird, and thought no one could hurt me. I realise I’ve had a lot of help from you and your staff, but I don’t seem to be able to get on with my life, and I find it hard to know where to start.’
‘Well, you won’t do it by carrying on like this. Don’t you understand we had to bring you here for your own safety? You were a danger to yourself, and it seems to me, you still are. If you really want a lengthy stay here, you’re going the right way about it. Why if young Evan hadn’t been there to stop you, you might not be alive now.’
‘I know that. I didn’t expect him to do what he did. And I didn’t want him to be hurt on account of me.’
‘He was very brave. I saw what he did up there. Saved you without any regard to himself. You should be grateful. My heart was in my mouth when he slipped and nearly fell off.’
Donna’s shoulders sagged and as she imagined what might have happened to Evan, her stomach turned over.
‘He made me see I was wrong, that to die that way or be seriously injured would have been horrendous.’
‘I agree. I’ve seen the end products of quite a number of these suicide attempts and believe me you never forget the horror of it. I’d have hated you to end up like that. And imagine how your parents would have felt, and everyone else here at the hospital.’
Donna shut her eyes, frowning deeply at her own stupidity. Now it would be forever before they allowed her out on her own again. She almost wished she’d gone through with her suicide attempt until she thought back to what Evan had said.
‘I’m all right now doctor, no need to worry over me. I’ve learnt my lesson, I’ll never do anything like it again – I promise.’ She turned to face the doctor, pleading with her, hoping not to be treated as she was when she’d first come into the hospital.
‘No, I’m sorry but we can’t trust you at the moment. But you can earn that trust back, make a real effort to get well again, and then anything might be possible.’ The doctor squeezed her arm reassuringly as if to make her aware she wasn’t completely shutting the door in her face.
‘It’s incredibly hard. I feel so sad and lonely most of the time – and I’m not sure I can get myself out of it.’
‘Nobody ever said it was going to be easy. There are so few people of your own age here, which makes it all the more difficult. But maybe you should try to get involved more, join in with some of the activities even if the people are a bit older than you.’
‘Don’t know about that. I’m not very good company these days. They’d soon get bored with me.’
‘Well, maybe they will, maybe they won’t. But unless you try, you’ll never find out –will you?’
Donna conceded Doctor Reynolds had a point. But really, she had no interest in any of the other head cases residing here. Even though she was probably one of them herself. Only one person came to mind. And that was Evan. She’d noticed he was quite good looking in a rough sort of way. Yet she feared him too, as she did all the other members of the male population. But surely, he couldn’t be all bad, not after what he’d just done to save her life. He wouldn’t harm her – it wouldn’t make sense.
Much later that night lying awake in bed she thought about Evan, remembering what he’d done for her. There was something different about him that made him a cut above all the other people she’d met recently. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt if she allowed him to get to know her a little better, so she had someone to talk to. They seemed on the same wave length, about the same age and he might understand some of what she’d gone through.
He had a nice boyish smile that was kind of cheeky. And his light blue eyes looked genuinely caring. She felt strangely drawn to him and that concerned her. Part of her hoped he’d stay away, but the other part wanted to see him again. Surely, it couldn’t be just gratitude that made her like him.
She found it strange that he was a male nurse – to look at him he didn’t seem the type. Yet to allow herself to trust a man again, would be an achievement in itself.