The walk back from lunch brought me deep thought.
I wanted to know who Ronnie was referring to. Even though she was only talking about a few other people.
She spoke about Zwigy, her favorite teacher, Vlad, and me.
I was stopped at the door in front of the unit when we arrived. A new nurse, an old woman with cropped white hair like mine and a pair of glasses with a chain that dangled down her neck was the perpetrator.
"Your mother's coming. She'll be here in a few minutes, so for now, stay out here. She'll be expecting you at the door."
I stood confused again.
"Okay. Thank you, miss."
She smiled. "Thank you for cooperating. And having such good manners! I'll stand here with you. You shouldn't be alone. Ask me a question if you want."
"Why do you wear your glasses like that?"
"I like them like this. I never lose them."
I chuckled. "You've got a point."
"What about your hair? Why's it so blue? Kids these days dye their hair such crazy colors! I've seen more girls dye it purple than blonde around here!"
"Oh... It's kind of the reason I came here. It used to be blonde. Like yours almost."
"Well, it's flattering on you. You know what it reminds me of?"
If she says Beethoven, I'm going to go LeBron crazy. I swear...
"The sky. And Beethoven."
"Please, tell me why. I don't get it. What's up with Beethoven?"
The nurse looked up to the ceiling.
"My grandson says something about Beethoven and blue hair. I don't get it either, Hawkins. I really don't. But I do think if he had a choice, he'd go blue. If those things existed centuries ago, he would've done it. I'm serious."
The phone rang from behind the desk; another woman, a much younger technician, picked it up.
"Hello! This is the adolescent unit at Parkview Behavioral Health! How may we help you today?"
She listened eagerly to the voice on the other end. Like always, she said, "Uh huh." Every nurse did that. It was a tendency of theirs just like how high school boys had the tendency to pick their noses in public. (I'm not included in that group.)
"All right. Thank you. We'll see you in a few! Goodbye." The nurse put down the phone and made a loud announcement.
"Johnson's mother just arrived! She said she has a toothbrush, bath soap, toothpaste..."
She looked down at the table and her dark hair covered her face. She then continued her speech.
"Clothes and underwear, deodorant, some books, and a notebook for him. She said if he needs anything else she'll come back tomorrow. You got it, Karen?" The technician looked over at my older nurse companion, who I now knew as Karen.
"Thank you, Amy. I got it, as always!"
"You're welcome!" Amy went right back to work on something else and took another call.
"You want to call LeBron Wilson? What's his code?"
I heard screams on the other end of the phone.
"You can't speak with him unless you're on the list and you have the code.... No, ma'am, I don't make up the rules. Please, please, give me the code or I'll have to hang up. Great! Thank you! Just a minute! I'll send him over!"
Amy then called Vlad LeBron Wilson over to the front counter where I was still standing with Karen.
He gave me a glare before picking up the phone.
"Hey, mom. How are you?" His voice was hushed and much more quiet than it was around me. He was becoming a whimpering child from what I saw. I knew something was up with him and his mother. I could tell. And maybe, I could forward that information to Ronnie later after my mother would go back home.
Right as he spoke, I heard the most familiar heels click against the linoleum tile.
Ones that would make me walk in the opposite direction; ones that made me late to my other classes.
Those heels were the heels of Mrs. Melanie Bontrager. The sophomore Honors English teacher. The woman who read me To Kill a Mockingbird and A Separate Peace officially, as of the day before, two school years before.
Her hair was pale blonde, just like mine was. Green eyes, just like me. A buttoned nose, just like mine. What was not like me was the red lipstick she wore every day at school.
In her hands was a paper bag with sharpie scribbled on the front where the logo for Kroger's Grocery Store was once displayed loudly and proudly.
"Johnson, your mother's here!" Karen smiled.
"Where?" I didn't see anyone who fit the description of my mother anywhere. The vision of my mother I had want to see for twelve years was nowhere to be found.
"Right there, don't you see her?" Karen said, making me start to think again.
"Johnson, dear, I'm right here!"
Mrs. Bontrager spoke the last sentence, in a tone of voice I'd never been addressed with before. By her or anyone at all.
I gave her a puzzled look.
"There's no way you're my mother! No way at all! You would've told me and I would've remembered!"
She gave me a look of concern. "Of course... I know.. It's a long story. I'll tell you if you'd like."
I frowned at her. "No, just give me the bag and go back home."
Mrs. Bontrager, the woman who I just learned was my mother, looked hurt.
"I want to say I'm sorry! You're making me cry, Johnson. I wanted to tell you years ago. I wanted to...." She stopped. And for the first time in my life, I saw her run out of words.
I felt pierced again. It was the feeling I felt many times a day. The one that made me want to kill myself. It was an anchor and it was holding me down. And it was pulling my mother down with me.
"Okay. You can stay. I'm the one who should be sorry. I'm the one who's hated you for so long. And if I knew you were my own mother, I wouldn't have."
"I can't tell you how thankful I am that I get to see you again..." She squeezed the paper bag in her arms.
Karen only watched and let herself break the silence.
"I'll let you go in his room and talk to him. For today, I'll let you do that as long as you need." Karen opened the door and my mother and I slowly passed by LeBron, who was intently listening to his very own mother on the phone.
Karen followed in and went back to her desk and picked up the phone and made a call, as Amy had earlier.
I sat down on my bed as my mother moved my paper bag to my dresser.
"Do you want the longer story or the shorter one?"
"I don't care. Not at all."
She cleared her throat.
"Your father and I really had no troubles until after you were born. I just finished studying for my master's before you were born and was set on going back to teaching again... I taught in Indianapolis before meeting him until after we married. He told me that it was my job to do housework and you know how big that house is? You still live there, don't you?"
"Yeah. And there's four of us now. My second stepmom, my little brother, and my dad. And it's big for the whole group. I think."
"Yes, you understand. It was way too much work for me. So in secrecy, I hired a maid to just clean for me. The bigger work. I maintained the small things like cooking and washing the dishes while looking for a teaching job. When you were two, I stumbled upon an opening at Northrop and began teaching there. For a while, I worked and cared for you simultaneously. I actually wanted to have another child then, I wanted you to have a brother or sister. But your father never agreed with me. He just went on with the business and never discussed it with me again. We ended up fighting more when he found out about my job at Northrop and tried to get me to quit. I contradicted him and kept going to work. He was so angry that it got to the point where he had to sell my car so I couldn't drive to work anymore. I just took a taxi every day and eventually carpooled with one of my coworkers... She retired before you started going there. She was a sweetheart..."
"He sold your car?"
"Yes, he did. It was pretty awful, living with him. I couldn't stand it anymore. To top it all off, when I started my second year at Northrop, he publicly announced to me, with no intent to keep it a secret at all, that he was having an affair with my best friend at the time. A woman who was in the upper-class community along with us... It's a horror story, isn't it?"
I nodded my head.
"I filed for divorce the next day and bought an apartment. I took you, my four-year-old son, along with me. I tried so hard in court to get custody of you. You were much better off with me, and seeing you here, it only justifies my opinion... My lawyer was so hardworking. Just like Atticus Finch." She laughed. Of course she mentioned Atticus. Who else was there, really?
"He gave the best speeches to the judge and told me to keep my head up and to keep my fists down. He was determined to win the case. In the end, your father pretty much bought custody of you with at least a million dollars. I was devastated beyond belief. And my lawyer cheered me up. He said we could try again, he knew it. We talked constantly about the case until I realized I was in love with him, not just his work... I ended up marrying him, but we could never get custody of you. No matter how hard we tried The Allen County Court wouldn't budge. Now, since you're as old as you are, we didn't try again."
I started to see the story as if it was a book. I couldn't see my mother in front of me, but a film in my mind and I just wanted it to keep playing.
"One of your father's conditions was not only couldn't I visit you, but I couldn't even see you. He never figured out I was your teacher, and I treated you as I did only because I didn't want him to find out... I relished in your presence secretly. Only one of my students knows the truth...."
Ronnie! It's Ronnie, isn't it?
"I missed you so much and I wanted to see you, even if it was only with my eyes. When you stopped being my student, my hope stopped. I never had another child, so it was hard to not be with you... And when the hospital called me this afternoon, I was so excited. Brian, my husband, was too. He can't wait to meet you, Johnson. And you can't until you get out of here. He's not one of your parents, so they can't let him in..."
"That's fine. I can wait.. I've waited a while to meet you. Thank you for bringing my things, by the way."
I felt the remains of tears on my face. It was something I never noticed before.
"You're welcome. And you're one of the dearest people, if not the dearest of all, in my life. I used to love you discreetly. But now, I know I can open myself up to you. And I've never felt happier in all my life. The pain was worth it, because I got to see you again. "
Then, she wrapped mer in her arms and held me much tighter than that brown grocery bag. I heard her cry. And then, I just let her hold me. I was beginning to cry too. Like a blubbering baby.
I felt an intense feeling of love. Something new. And it was love for my mother. It was love a mother felt when they saw their child for the very first time, but it was flipped one hundred and eighty degrees.
It's the feeling of love a child feels when he first sees his mother again.
Through the revelation, I could hear Ronnie reading Mockingbird out loud once again.
"He turned out the light and went into Jem's room. He would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning."
As Atticus felt for his son in his time of need, my mother felt for me. She had for the seventeen years I have lived, but I never saw her.
She was behind a curtain the whole time. Waiting to be exposed to the sunlight once again.
And now, there she was. My mother. In flesh and blood, she was crying in my arms, right before me.
And never, ever, and I felt so many emotions in my whole entire lifetime.
And toward one person more, would I feel them again.
My mother broke away from me slowly, yet abruptly.
"I need to get going. All of your things are from your house. Your father gave them to me. And he wrote an expletive word on the bag to address it to me. For your sake, I crossed it out. I'll see you as soon as I can. Hopefully tomorrow. I love you and have a good evening."
She gave me a hug goodbye.
"Bye, mom. I love you." I couldn't believe I was uttering those words to her. Just days before, she was the English teacher I despised with all my heart and soul and everything in between.
I then finally heard the now comforting, clicking heels walk out the door, receive a hug and a hello from Ronnie and then head to the hallway back to the real world again.
I thought I needed rest, so I laid on my bed. I could only think of my mother and how I met her after so long. And her story. And how she put up with my father for as long as she had. She was a miracle woman to me, she really was. And it took me such a long time to see it for myself.
I walked out into the room again to see everyone going on in their normal activities. Vlad and his group were now playing cards, at his table. The recluses were working on different puzzle over. Ronnie was on the couch reading the first chapter of A Separate Peace.
"Ronnie?" I called her name, hoping she would hear me.
"Yeah?" Her response was quicker than lightning. "I knew you'd come back soon. You see what I meant at lunch now, don't you?"
"I do, I really do. I can't believe out of all people..."
She folded her page and sat up straight. Then, she folded her legs Indian style.
"It's a small world. You don't have to look far, do you?"
I laughed. She was not only whimsical but wise.
I not only did I find my mother, but I found a real friend.
"You really don't. Next thing I know. I'm going to find out that I'm related to the king of England!"
Ronnie laughed even louder than I did. "You never know. You really never know. Maybe I'm a distant cousin thrice removed to Gahndi. Or John Lennon! Which would be funny, because The Beatles are my very favorite. But my Beatle crush is George. Your mom says Ringo is her favorite. What about you?"
"I don't know. I listen to classical music. Beethoven is my favorite of all of them. Mozart is alright. I like Bach too. And others. I think John is my favorite Beatle."
"You look like Beethoven, I can say that much. We should listen to the Beatles. Right now! They have Sgt. Pepper on vinyl! I'll ask if they can play it."
Before I could protest, Amy was asked the question. After that, she took the 'honor' of starting the record player.
"It was twenty years ago today, Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play! They've been going in and out of style but they're guaranteed to raise a smile!"
She took my hands and she spun me in a hundred circles.
"So may I introduce to you, the act you've known for all these years! Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band!"
Seeing us have fun, Amy and Karen started dancing too. Even the nurse that led me to my room; the one who seemed so bored and angry before sang right along with John and Paul.
When the trumpets sounded, each of the women and a man who just walked in the door clapped their hands with the beat. It seemed like anyone who was anyone knew this song. And I was a bit out of the loop, because before then, I didn't.
"We're Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band, we hope you will enjoy the show!"
Seeing Ronnie's laugh and real genuine happiness made me happy with her. I felt happy because she was as we spun around in those small circles together.
The people I saw before were gone; the nurses, the technicians, the man, and the other patients. It was just Ronnie and I and The Beatles.
"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, sit back and let the evening go! Sgt. Pepper's Lonely, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band!"
The name of the band was on repeat, all while we kept spinning round and round. (In reference to a later Beatles song.)
"It's wonderful to be here, it's certainly a thrill. You're such a lovely audience. We'd love to take you home with us! We'd love to take you home!"
The nurses and technicians sang this part together, and then, despite not seeing them, I could hear them loud and clear. They were members of the band too. Amy, Karen, Jo, and the man in the background, Doctor Floyd.
"I don't really want to stop the show, but I thought that you might like to know that the signers gonna sing and song, and the he wants you all to sing along! So let me introduce to you, the one and only Billy Shears of Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band!"
Right as the band echoed the name of Billy Shears, Ronnie and I collapsed and landed softly on the floor.
"What would you think if I sang out a tune? Would you stand up and walk out on me? Lend me your ears and I'll sing you a song and I'll try not to sing out of key."
The world came back then. Doctor Floyd clapped his hands.
"Turn down the music! I'd like to have it on while I talk with you. There's a new patient here today, so, please, lend me your ears!"
The recluses just drug up chairs to the other end of the room, by the couch and the television. Afterward, Vlad LeBron and his group sat on the couch, moving Ronnie's book to the end table.
Two other chairs were left over and closer by the recluses for Ronnie and I. So, we sat down adjacent to the windows and the door to the playground, hearing the quietest tone of Ringo Starr's voice.
"Hello once again, everyone! Most of you may know me as Doctor Jude Floyd. But please, while you're here, please, call me Jude."
He took a deep breath and held out his hand.
"Another thing most of you already know, I'm blind as a bat. I can't see any of you. So, I said this only make this easier for the new kid. Because they might think I'm acting..... Strange. So, as I've said twice already, we have the much anticipated new patient with us. I can't say it's rare that people come and go because it's part of my job. I can say, however, that we haven't had a new patient since Ronnie came along yesterday. Every time someone comes,we always wait for someone else. No matter the circumstances. And with this new patient here, all of you others have to re-introduce yourselves. Including you two over there. As I've told you two different times so far... Let's begin with.... You!"
Doctor Floyd pointed at nothingness. He didn't know this because nothingness was all he saw. His still vivid eyes were open and wrinkled around the edges but slightly drooped. It gave me the impression that he saw things as I had a long, long, time ago. At least thirty years, since he seemed to be in his fifties.
"Doctor..." I peeped. "You're pointing at the window."
The window was right behind me and his arm was angled towards the left. He barely made it to me, just barely
"Drat! Not again! Tell me when I'm actually pointing at someone. Okay?"
He was perplexed because he didn't recognize my voice yet but moved his hand nearer to the other side of the room, where Trisha sat on the left side of Vlad on the couch. On his other side was Libby, respectively.
"Again!" Trisha frowned. "How will it go this time, Jude?"
"Name, age, reason for admittance, and your favorite.... Book. It'll be a bit easier on you that way. Instead of a person, a book. It's less biased and more about you, it really is. Curse Patel for coming up with those instructions! He's the worst psychiatrist since Freud himself.... If Freud's even a psychiatrist in the first place."
Ronnie grinned at the mention of a book, but the simmered down to her depressed self again. When I looked over at her at that moment, I noticed something.
Her sleeves were rolled up. Probably so it was easier for her to move during our Sgt. Pepper dance recital. And there were slashes on both of her arms. They extended all the way to her elbows. Most of them were recent. I could see brown and even almost flesh colored scars underneath and below them.
In my head, I concluded she had a relapse. She was better, but then she got worse again. And this was seen by only a two-second glance.
"Thanks, Jude!" Trisha made sure everyone, except Doctor Jude, has their eyes on her. She thought she was some queen bee. Most likely because she was with Vlad LeBron. And trust me, being a queen bee in a psych unit means nothing outside. Just like in high school; at Northrop.
"My name is Trisha. I'm sixteen years old, seventeen in July. I'm in here because I'm a pyromaniac. And finally, my favorite book is.... Is... The Hunger Games."
No wonder she's the girl on fire. Ha!
Next, she gets up abruptly from her seat and takes a copy of the book from one of the shelves. She reaches down into her shoe and pulls out a match. She lights the match with the sole of her shoe, like Bender from The Breakfast Club. Then, she sets the book ablaze.
"See? Catching Fire!" She laughs to herself before she takes her seat. The nurses, the technicians, and even Dr. Doctor Floyd do nothing about it. They just let her sit down.
"What about Fahrenheit 451?" Libby asked her as she adjusted her position in her seat.
"I like that too. Really." Then, she let the book burn on the floor. And once it was too much, she stomped out the ashes.
We all gave her a small applause, scared out our wits. One which Ronnie gave in a sarcastic manner.
"You're supposed to clap every time, Johnson. Just letting you know for next time." She whispered.
Her whisper was right against my ear. Even afterward, I could feel her warm breath on the edge of my face.
And maybe, I wanted her to whisper to me again.
"Wonderful. Thank you, Trisha! When you answer the admittance question, keep it as vague as possible, please. And Trisha did just that, so I thanked her. To hear your answer for the book, was not surprising, considering your reason of being here... Which you also showed us physically.." Jude was also frightened. It was apparent right then and there.
"You're welcome, Jude!" Trisha swiftly ignored his last comment. It was offensive, but it was, after all, a joke. And she deserved it anyway.
"Who's next?" He tried to act like things were normal. Like nothing even happened. Touché.
Vlad LeBron gave me a glare before speaking up.
"I am, Doctor Jude!"
"All right, Vlad. Proceed!"
Jude knew better than to call LeBron, LeBron. He must have had a lash out before and hurt Jude. And if Jude knew this and was blind, he could conquer any crazy patient in the world.
"My name is Vlad. I'm fourteen and I'm here because of paternal relations.... Umm..."
He looked me in the eye. I knew if he said what actually happened, he'd probably be ashamed. Like it was an embarrassment. But what happened to me was an embarrassment too. I was just a spoiled rich kid who drove to Anderson and back. It wasn't that much of a tragedy, really, like his problem might have been, from what I knew at the time.
"My favorite book is... Vampire Diaries. Actually, I don't know. It's got something to do with vampires. Whatever."
"Okay! Thank you, Vlad!" The applause was repeated.
"Me!" Libby announced. "My name is Libby, I'm fifteen and I'm here because of anger issues. My favorite book is The Fault in our Stars."
More applause was given. Then, it was time for one of the recluses to introduce themselves.
I admit it, I was very excited. None of them had even spoken loud enough for me to hear since I arrived.
"Is it Edna or Megan?"
I noticed that since I was closer to them than I ever had been in those hours, I noticed one was taller than the other. That one also had paler skin than the other. Her cohort had a darkish tone within her paleness. They both had straggly black hair and split ends at different lengths; the one who had to introduce themselves, the taller one, had longer hair.
"It's Edna." Ronnie told him. "Edna's next."
"Thank you, Ronnie. Edna, please, speak up. I think we have three people next and we can't wait forever." Doctor Floyd was insistent on hearing Edna speak.
Edna crossed her arms, the first movement I've seen her make other than standing, grabbing, and slouching.
"My name is Edna." Her voice was lower than a normal girl's. She sounded almost primitive.
"I'm seventeen years old. I am here because.... I guess there's something wrong with me and my cigarettes. And my pills And my favorite book is The Catcher in The Rye."
I knew deep down that these... Creatures could talk. That they could read and that they could hear. I just didn't know how odd it was to see them do it. And only doctors could promote it and make it happen. It was as if they were magic.
Once again, more applause.
"Megan, it's you turn! Go on!"
"My name is Megan." The other one, the smaller, blacker one with shorter hair and more terrible posture said. "I am eighteen years old. I guess it's the same as Edna. And my favorite book is.... I forget the name. It's about some kids in a train carriage."
"The Boxcar Children?" Jude questioned.
Unlike Edna, Megan's brain was completely fried. I could tell. They were both thrown into a deep pan full of fat and oil, and then they were yanked out of it. As a result, their minds were as crisp and crunchy as the fries at McDonald's. I knew their problem exactly.
They were drug addicts of some sort. And they must have gone far and wide to receive those said drugs. Never, in my life, did I think I'd see them in real life. Ones who are so dependent and mute and yet somewhat knowledgeable at the same time.
The summary is that Megan was something like burnt toast and Edna was more of a golden brown because of what happened to them. And they might have actually been brought to the hospital together, to spend the rest of their years as zombies.
After Megan spoke, there was applause. As I've explained more than thrice.
"Now.. Who do we have now."
"Me." Ronnie was quiet and her voice was almost barely audible.
"Okay... You can talk if you'd like. Nobody's going to judge you this time. I promise you."
She nodded her head.
"My name is Ronnie. I'm sixteen years old. My reason of admittance is a suicide attempt..."
She grazed her right hand over her left arm and shivered. Right then and there, I felt a pit in my stomach.
The pity I felt for her when I first drove into the parking lot was now much more severe. To the point that if I thought of her story and reason any longer, I'd get sick.
"My favorite book is... Well, I can't decide. Jude, can I pick two?"
Jude gave Ronnie a wide smile. "If you want, you can pick three. I haven't met such an avid reader since I was in high school. If I had time, I could listen all day to you talk about Lee and Steinbeck. Heck, throw in Knowles or Capote too and I'll call it a deal!"
A smile crossed her face. "A few favorite books of mine are To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, A Separate Peace, and Breakfast at Tiffany's." She paused and then grinned again.
"And I almost forgot The Catcher in The Rye. I'm glad Edna mentioned it."
"You mentioned all of them. Every single one. And you even said something about Salinger. I'll be damned! You're a smart kid. A really smart one too."
A large applause from Jude, a more silent one from myself, and pretend ones from the others concluded Ronnie's introduction.
I was impressed because she read all of those novels the year before, three were required reading, but she read two of them twice already. And I had no clue that Breakfast at Tiffany's
was a book. Nor did I know Truman Capote came up with the idea either. The story itself sounded so unlike Capote it made me ponder and forget it was my turn to go introduce myself.
"This must mean our newbie is last. Correct?"
"Yeah! I'm sorry." I flinched when I heard Jude's voice.
"To make it easier on you, I'll go also. Please, forgive me for startling you."
"It's okay, Doctor."
"Jude. Call me Jude."
"Okay, Jude. My name is Johnson. I'm seventeen years old. My reason for admittance is severe depression. My favorite book is... To Kill a Mockingbird. Like Ronnie."
Jude applauded me first, then Ronnie, and then, nobody else.
Ronnie smiled so much when I said that I could see her teeth and even a rosy red blush on her cheeks.
"Thank you, Johnson. Welcome to Parkview Behavioral Health. No matter how long you stay here, whether it be a day or a month, we hope our services will be helpful and beneficial to you. And now, for the fun part. Our daily discussion!"'
"Great." I thought. "Now, the real fun begins."