“He hasn’t slept for two weeks.” Dr. Anderson spoke through his thin lips like he was afraid of telling a secret. We stood against the wall, three feet from the door where he’s being held. I had to lean forward in order to hear the doctor’s words.
“You mean days? There must be a mistake; no one could ever go without sleep for that long.” My voice was shaky and high in pitch from hearing the truth.
“No, Ms. Jacobs. I mean weeks.” Dr. Anderson was a man who carried himself with a sharp confidence -- shoulders back, chin up, and a steady walk -- and in a way it has always helped settle my nerves. But today, his shoulders were slumped, his mouth, which held a mustache, was turned down, and his brown eyes had softened. It made me worried. Today was the first day they have permitted me to walk in and interact with my brother. Had he gotten worse? Are they desperate to heal my brother’s broken mind? All the clinic’s nurse told me on the phone was that they needed my help to heal him.
I looked away, down the white hallway trying not to show the emotion that wanted to swallow me. I bit my lip as it threatened to tremble. I have to stay strong. In order to keep my emotions in check, I studied the hallway. Every wall, every ceiling and floor in this building looked hygienic. The hallways we were in were no different. There was no way of telling which floor you were on except for the number above each stair well and elevator. My hands were flat against the wall like they wanted to help hold my body up in case I fell. The wall was smooth and cool to the touch.
“Ms. Jacobs, you don’t have to do this. We can find another way.” His voice brought me back to the situation, and I remembered what I was here for.
“No, I have to help.” As an after thought I mumbled, “Please call me Claire. I’m not old enough yet to be Ms. Jacobs.” And with that I pushed the door handle down, and as it clicked open I remembered that it was locked from the inside – Sean couldn’t get out...ever.
My heart cracked when our eyes connected and Sean’s were blood shot.
“Sean dear, I don’t feel like chasing you across the yard.” My mind was hearing her voice again. I was creating visions that never really happened, but still had some truth to them. I was a young boy in this one, and even though I was a man on a white bed, I enjoyed staying in my head.
“You are my sunshine my only sunshine, you make me happy when-” I was a little older at this point, when I interrupted my mother trying to sing me to sleep with slurred speech.
“That’s not true.” I spoke aloud as I heard the door click open.
I could hear the pause in my mother’s voice as I stared at the tan chair that was really there. “Yes, you do make me happy Sean.”
“No, I don’t.”
Claire was standing there in the doorway, and she paused as if she needed to take in what I have become. I could see her throat moving like she wanted to say something, and as her fingers twitched she finally took a step deeper into my domain.
“Sean,” was her simple recognition that I was the only other body in the room. Mother was never really hear...I don’t think.
“They told me you were...coming. I didn’t believe...them. I still...don’t.” My speech was slow, pausing before every last word. It was like my mind wanted to make sure I said the thoughts in my head correctly and was moving at a sluggish pace.
Claire glanced around the room and her braided hair flopped over her shoulder. Her hand moved it back on its own accord. She seemed to be looking for something as she did a quick sweep of my white-on-white bedroom. It could make a person go crazy with so little variety of color. The only color in the room was the light tan recliner that sat in the corner opposite my bed. There was a small window on the far wall, as if the builders were told after the fact to put one in. I could never see much. There were pictures of nature, but those never helped to make the room feel homie. Finally, after watching my sister for long drawn-out seconds survey the room, she walked over to a tan chair that always remained empty.
The chair had been vacant for years and now she sat in the four-legged-seat like it meant nothing. Irritation crawled across my neck and stood every hair on end. It frustrated me that she never asked before sitting in the empty chair. What is she even doing here in the first place? Was she even here? The doctors could be giving me a drug that causes illusions. I was sure I was just seeing her in my minds eye.
I could feel my eyebrows pull down even as I tried to hide my growing anxiety about someone sitting in the chair. It was always empty to others but constantly filled by our mother.
Claire finally realized something was wrong when she looked into my always-burning eyes. “What’s wrong? What did I do?” Her speech was quick.
“Nothing.” I could barely say the word. Instead I wanted to scream at my sister to get out of our mother’s old and withered recliner. White sound roared in my ears.
“What is it Sean?” Claire sat forward in the recliner, worried. She should be. Why did she have to ask so many questions when she should already understand what the issue was?
“You’re sitting in our mother’s chair.” My fingers tightened, causing my short nails to cut sharp crescent moons into my palm.
Claire’s eye’s widened quickly as she stood quickly out of the recliner like she just sat on hot coals. “I’m sorry, I forgot-”
“You forgot our mother was dead?”
There was a hard edge to Sean’s voice as I watched my brother determine how he should react to my slip of words. I never forgot about the chair – our mother loved this recliner – but I forgot that the clinic was using it to make Sean feel more at ease in his mentally unstable mind.
As I watched Sean war with his emotions, I saw the dark circles that were more prominent now because his skin was so pale. I could see his ribs protruded out from under his shirt, and it looked like it was an incredibly difficult task to hold his own head up without slumping his shoulders forward. I wasn’t sure what the doctors wanted me to do, or how to talk to Sean.
“Claire, why are you here?” Sean was trying not to glare at me, but his turned down lips and his dark eyes told me he didn’t want me to be here.
“They finally let me come visit you after a year.” I tried to choose my words carefully, but that was my mistake.
“You’re lying.” Sean’s fingers started to twitch, and he shifted on the bed. “Claire you’re lying. Tell me why they brought you in.”
I glanced away at one of the white walls, waiting to see if the answer would be written on one of them. When I looked back into his sore eyes, I told him the truth. “I’m here because they needed me to get through to you. You do realize you haven’t slept in fourteen days? They wanted me to talk to you about mother. I think you need someone who understands to talk with, Sean.”
“I know you don’t... understand. You were always close... to Mother. You can’t help me...you would never...understand.”
Claire would never understand that mother died because I was too hard to handle. Her children were too much for a woman who tried to hide her drunken addictions. But one night she told her seven-year-old boy that her children were going to kill her some day.
For some reason at the age of seven I could still understand that, in her drunken stupor, she was completely serious.
In her last hour she died with a beer in her one hand and pills in the other. None of us were there to save her. Claire was at school studying with a group of friends, and I was there practicing with the baseball team. Dad was out – all of us were.
“But Sean-” He had wondered off into the past for a minute or so, and I could tell by the way his eyes glazed over and looked up to the window that only a tall person could look out of.
“No, Claire. I don’t need your help. You weren’t even supposed to see me this way.” Sean’s body swayed from sitting up to long, and his hands found the bed sheets to hold on to.
I opened my mouth to say more, something I seemed to always do, but instead I watched his mannerisms one last time. His body language, which was as stiff as a board, and his eyes, which no longer opened to his heart like they used to made it feel like I could never reach him. Sean was closed off and I needed to leave. I needed to leave before my emotions took hold. I couldn’t help him. I’m not sure who could.
Next thing I knew my cheek was stinging from the hard impact against the wall and the feeling of a hand pressed to the middle of my back. A tear escaped my lid and tracked its way down to the edge of my face. My breath rushed out, and if it were twenty degrees colder you would have seen the cloud of forced air coming from my lungs.
“Sean...Sean. What are you doing?” My voice shook on his name, partially because I couldn’t see him. I couldn’t read what my brother was going to do next.
Both of his hands moved to tighten around my biceps. I winced at the new pain. “Don’t you ever come in here and talk about Mother like that ever again.”
There was a pause, and we could both hear the security guards trying to get through the locked door, and at the same time the doctor’s voice was yelling at the guards to leave us alone.
Then my attention was brought back to Sean’s seething voice. “Mother can still hear you.”
Chills rushed across my neck, in contrast with Sean’s warm breath, and all the way down to my tailbone.
Everything else was a blur when the guards slipped through the door, after we were pushed back. Sean’s arms were restrained and he was struggling with all the energy he could muster – it wasn’t much considering. I could hear him yelling, “I can hear her Claire. She’s still here, in this room, in her chair!” but I couldn’t see him because Dr. Anderson was standing in front of me like a shield, and his semi-warm hands wrapped around my jaw.
“Claire, look at me. Don’t listen to him. Sean’s just trying to get a reaction out of you.” Then he turned ninety degrees, still trying to be my shield, and snapped at the two guards, “Sedate him, now!”
“What! No, that’s my brother!” But it was too late, the monster of a guard on the right plunged the needle into Sean’s neck, Sean flinching from the pinch of the needle, and within a minute he went slack in their arms. Soon enough it was quiet again, and the doctor took me out into the hall reassuring me the whole time – like I was a child about to cry. “You were doing great.... he’s been our hardest patient to heal...it’s not your fault. On and on and on he went.
The only thought that was on a merry-go-round in my head was: Sean’s finally asleep. He’s finally asleep.
This story started and ended a short four years ago, and now I live with my two daughters and loving husband. I think about the way Sean was never able to get back to who he used to be. I always think if he would have just asked for the help and accepted it everything would be better. Not okay, but better. But because he could never let go of our mother’s spirit, his body was shutting down quicker and quicker.
While I sit here and write this I can see the chair that once lived in Sean’s white room resting in a corner behind me. It seems to have a presence of it’s own. I’ve thought about getting rid of the thing. But it used to be Mother’s, and then Sean had it... and now I have the chair.
What am I going to do?