A Pocketful Of Broken Mirrors
I have decided to keep a journal for myself after the events of the last few days. I don't know how I know, but I could tell when I picked up my journal this morning that someone else had read it. It might be one of the other residents here, but it also might be one of the doctors or nurses, and I really don't want them to know the kind of things I am going to be writing down.
They want me to keep track of any memories that I have so that I can look them over later and see if they open a floodgate, as it were, to free all the trapped memories I have somewhere in my brain. But, I'm finding that writing my thoughts makes them seem real. Permanent. Something that my mind can't lose. If they are here, in ink, unable to be erased, that makes them more real that what is in my mind.
My name is Janus Trelane. At least that's what my file says. I myself have no attachment to that name, no more than I do names like Mary Richards or Maxwell Smart. When I look over my file, I stare at it dispassionately, as if reading over the life of a stranger. Janus/I owns a bookstore/magic shop in the city of St. Paul, Minnesota, and has been written up in the National Midnight Star tabloid as some sort of magical superman who fights demons, vampires, ghosts and mindreaders.
My doctor, Jake Wasson, tells me that it's all a publicity stunt, and the only evidence is that I helped find lost children. I helped find a lost little girl a few months ago, or so my file says. To me, it's much the same as reading a novel.
My memory is gone. I can't remember anything about my own life, although I have excellent recall for news events, history, and other things like that. But all the things that make up a person are gone. My own past, my favorite color, the kind of clothes I like to wear, my favorite movies, books, TV shows, anything that is personal, is gone.
So now, here I am, in a mental institution in California, committed to the care of the fine staff here and their ministrations. I know that I shouldn't complain overmuch, they do keep me safe and they are trying their best, but still, I'm trapped. Trapped in that I am not allowed to leave the quad, and trapped in that I am trapped inside my own head. All the things that make up what I am and who I am are gone.
I've been here about two weeks, and I don't remember how I got here. I guess there was a brief hearing, during which I was nearly comatose, unable to respond to the judge, so he sent me here. It's a nice place, with paintings on the walls, and I have my own room with my own bathroom (shower and bath). There are five other rooms, since they use a model of treatment where groups are kept small and intense. But I'll get to that in a bit.
There is also a common room where they have a TV, ping pong table, pool table (I find that I am very good at pool, so good that none of the other residents will play against me anymore) and a bunch of bored games. (I know that it's board games, but I would have to be so bored that nothing is worth doing to play them)
My day goes relatively calmly, they have a schedule here that we keep to on a rigid basis. Wake up is at 7:00 with breakfast served for the next hour. After that we have a craft thing we have to do, usually it's building something, but I have been given permission to write. Then comes lunch, followed by afternoon group, which can last anywhere from 1 to 4 hours, depending on how hard we're working and what Dr.. Wasson wants to get accomplished.
Evenings are the hardest for me, since that is considered free time. Most people have visitors, like family or friends, up until 9 at night. I usually read during those times, no one here wants to watch anything interesting on TV, and I guess I'm not the kind of person who fights over what to watch. Then, we have a quick night check-in group where if there are any unresolved issues from the day, they are brought up and gone over until we feel they are sufficiently resolved. That group ends up being a joke most of the time, but I tend to keep to myself unless someone has an issue with me.
Usually they don't, unless Lynn wants to rag on me for isolating. I play the game, tell them all that I will try to be more social and they usually buy it if I do my reading in the common room. But after a few days, I find that I can't read while there are people all around me, talking with friends, watching TV and arguing about worthless little trivialities. So, I end up back in my room.
The other residents here are all in much better shape than I am, but then again, they know who the hell they are, and are trying to change it.
I don't know what I might have to change.
Lynn is about my age, with long brown hair and eyes like cinnamon. Her husband had an affair. He ended it by telling her that he was going to leave with the woman he had an affair with and take their daughter. She locked herself in her bedroom and didn't come out for a week before she was here. They say that she spent the whole time in there reading over old love letters and crying. She looks like someone who life has taken out behind the shed and beat the crap out of once too many times.
Carl is an older man, maybe in his mid to late 50's, with salt and pepper hair and an easy smile. He says that he suffers from dreams from back when he was in the military, and sometimes wakes up screaming. He's here because one day at his job, he just "took a time out" he said, and spent the day wiping the computer for the company he worked for.
Terry is in his mid-30's and is easily the person here I would like to as little to do with as possible. He's here because he "had a bad childhood" as won't give anymore details. He's been involved with drugs, selling and using. He's also been involved with people, buying and selling of a sort. He won't talk about it, or anything else for that matter. Just how horrible his father was to him. When he talks about his inner child, I get a cold chill. I think that when he was a child, he was probably just as scary, and his inner child is probably pulling the wings off of flies and drowning puppies. He was sent here by the court to be evaluated to see if he should go to a real
Wendy is about Terry's age and says that she is Schizoid, which means that her reality isn't much like the rest of ours. At times she tells us that she is able to change the outcomes of TV shows and movies by concentrating hard enough. In group, she tries to be some kind of lawyer, defending us against the questions Dr. Wasson asks.
Curt is in his early 20's and is here for beating the crap out of his wife, not just once, but he's been arrested for it 3 times. If you ask me, it's the wife that stays with the violent asshole who needs treatment, he just needs to be locked up. Or worse. He's a good-looking, charming kind of guy, who's been through treatment before and uses all the terminology like a doctor.
And me, I try to blend into the background. It's really hard to have anything decent to contribute in group, when I can't remember much of anything before I got here.
The reason I started to keep my own journal has a lot to do with things that happened today. I began to keep a journal at the insistence of Dr. Wasson when I started here. I don't know if I ever kept a journal before, but it came fairly easy to me. He told me I should write down any sort of memory flash or odd dream. Then, as I looked over the writing, I might be able to piece together something that would bring it all back.
So, I did. I wrote down dreams, mostly, and observations I have made around the quad. This morning, however, I woke up to write down my dream from last night (it's gone now, if I don't get the dream written down quickly, it fades into a haze) and I knew that someone had been going through my journal.
I don't know how I knew, and I know that if I bring it up with the doctor, he'll give me one of those looks. But I could tell as soon as I picked up the notebook that someone else had been going through it. It didn't feel right. Almost as if there was some sort of resonance from the person who'd looked through it in the middle of the night when I was sleeping.
At first, I wanted to go to the shift nurse and demand to find out who had been going through my things. Then I thought about it some more and decided that it would be a waste of my time and energy. I would just write things in that journal that they would want to read, and in this one, I'll keep the stuff that's really going on in my head.
Lynn said that it's the first sane thing she's heard from anyone in here.
Group was a waste of time, once again, as Terry treated us to another installment of how he's been screwed over by the world. The Doc wanted to start off group by talking about the relationships he was seeing form within the group. How we seem to be dividing into two camps, those who are buying into the group and those who aren't. Terry then decided to use that to bring
up how his parents would turn the kids against the other parent in his family.
He went on for quite some time, telling the doctor the same kind of stuff he'd probably heard from hundreds of other residents. I could tell that he was just going through the motions on this one because his answers to Terry seemed very pat and well rehearsed.
Not that it mattered to Terry. He was center stage and was taking the group off of the subject that it was supposed to be on. Normally, I wouldn't mind, but I could tell just by looking at him, that Terry was feeding us all a line of crap. Why couldn't anyone else tell that he was lying through his teeth?
His every move, every word and how he inflected those words screamed of lying. I had to sit tight, because the last time I accused Terry of lying, the Doc wanted me to explain how I knew, but I couldn't. It would be the same as trying to explain how you breathe, or how you sleep. Sure, there's a way it's done, but who can explain how to fall asleep?
Worse, after the group, Terry told me that if I ever accuse him of lying again, he would take me down. Terry's a pretty big guy, but I know that he's being watched for that sort of thing. I know that the nurses and other people on the ward would take care of it if he tried something, but I don't want to make waves.
Was I that kind of person before? A big bully, relying on intimidation to get the things I wanted? To get the security that people need to have?
I hope not. One of the problems with not knowing who you were is seeing traits in other people that you don't want to have. If I was like that, maybe it's a good thing that I don't remember.
Later tonight was when things got bad for me. Most everyone has a few visitors a week, but tonight, everyone had one. I, of course, didn't have any. According to my file, everyone I would know would have to be in Minnesota. So, I tried my best to hide out in my room and read. I'm almost done with a book by John Irving, "The World According To Garp."
It's an incredible book, about a man whose life is filled with weirdness and all he wants to do is lead a normal life. Have a loving wife and raise his kids, but the strangeness keep intruding, shattering his life over and over. I like how each time, he forces himself to go on, hoping that the previous outbreak of oddness is the last.
Carl had one of his kids visit, and they sat in the TV room, watching a cop show and talking during the commercials. Terry's wife and son showed and they spent the whole time in his room, he yelled at her and ignored his kid. I had my radio on to shut out the noise, but finally it got so bad that one of the nurses made them go to the quiet room so as not to disturb the rest of us.
Wendy had a friend she'd made in one of her other forays into treatment show up. I didn't get to see her, but Lynn said that they acted like sisters the whole time they were together, and didn't even talk like Wendy was locked up here. It was like they were in some odd kind of coffee shop with a very unusual decor.
Curt had a girlfriend show up, and they shot pool most of the night, flirting like a couple of high school kids in lust. Whenever they thought no one was looking, they would make out until one of the nurses came in the room.
Lynn's husband showed up for about a half hour, he brought her a few things, and they exchanged a few words, but other than that, it was more a drop off than a visit. After he left, she came by my room and wanted to talk. I couldn't think of a polite way to get rid of her, and deep in my heart, I knew that she needed someone.
Who knows. She keep telling me it's because I don't make any judgments of her. I think it's more because she knows that I am holding my own secrets here and wouldn't have any trouble holding hers as well. Not much to base a friendship on, but it's not like I have a whole lot in common with anyone. Lynn said after our first long talk that we were cut from the same cloth.
She was wearing a loose buttoned black blouse and a pair of loose fitting cotton pants. I could tell that she had made herself up for his visit, there was rouge on her cheeks and blue eye shadow on her eyelids. It looked odd, because most of the time on the quad, she wore a T-shirt and jeans and we were lucky if she felt it appropriate to put her hair into the odd configuration she kept it in before lunch.
She sat on the chair next to my desk, and I sat on the bed, book at my side and a Cherry Coke within my reach.
"I'm so angry!" she said, keeping her voice down so that no one could hear her. "That son-of-a-bitch won't even bring my little girl here to see me! He dropped her off at the baby-sitter's before coming over. 'Jean shouldn't see her mother like this,' he says. Damn him! Jean's probably not even at the baby sitters. She's probably over at that witch's house. That witch who stole my life."
She leaned back in he chair and closed her eyes. I could feel the anger flowing out of her and it hurt to be near her. As if the anger were small daggers flying out of her body and imbedding themselves in mine. "Maybe he'll bring her next time," I said, hoping to try and soothe her a little bit. Not for her sake, but for mine.
"Fat Fucking Chance" she said, each word dripping with venom, "He's already said that he's going to file for full custody. He's going to take my little girl from me and leave me all alone. He's the one who made me move here. Away from everyone I know, away from my family, my friends, and my future.
"I don't know why I did it. I was fresh out of school and we had had so many wonderful times together. He said that he would be able to help me get set up, he even knew where I could get a job. Then, a few months later, I got pregnant. At first he was scared, and wondered if we should have the baby, but we decided that, since we were planning on getting married anyway, we
might as well go ahead and do it then.
"It wasn't too long after that that everything turned to crap.
"The pregnancy wasn't very easy, and I had to quit my job. After we were married, he paid less and less attention to me. He had his friends from work, and I tried to meet people, but it just never......I was never very good at that sort of thing. It became his friends and the people I used to work with.
"I would do whatever I could to keep myself busy, get hooked on old TV shows on cable, read, write, go to museums, but he wasn't all that interested in what I did anymore.
"Then, when Jean was born, things got worse between us, but better for me. I had something to do, someone to care for. I never much cared for children before she was born, but found that I was a natural mother. I loved all the things that went with it.
"Some of my best memories are from when he would go on business trips that would take an entire weekend, and we only had one car, so I would be home, with Rachael and about 5 movies to watch. Just my little girl, movies and me. It was heaven."
She wrapped her arms around her waist and hugged herself, something I'd seen her do in group when the talk got too intense for her. I could feel just how sad she was, and that sadness started to affect me. I wanted to cry, but I knew that I had nothing to cry about. I was just feeling bad for/with her.
"I wish time could have stood still for a while there. We were able to be in the same house, and once in a while, he would show me that he cared, just a little gesture, like a phone call from work. I grew so hungry for affection that I accepted anything and pinned all my hopes to it. Rachael was small enough that I didn't have to worry about her finding out how bad things were getting, and I could fool myself into thinking that it was just because of the baby so soon after we got together."
"But it wasn't. It just kept getting worse and worse and worse. Finally, I found out that he had been having an affair when he went on those business trips. I should have known, but I didn't. Maybe I didn't want to know until it was shoved in my face. I was unpacking his suitcase to wash the clothes one night and there they were.
"Pictures. Pictures of him and some old girlfriend. I remember that finding them hurt so much that I almost passed out. I didn't want to go on living this lie anymore. I didn't want to be a divorced woman at 25. I didn't want to live alone for the rest of my life. I didn't want to really go on living anymore.
"I waited for him. He didn't get done with work until after 9:00 that night and when he got home, I confronted him. He denied it at first, but then he said that he was having an affair and he wanted to leave me and take our little girl with him.
"It was horrible. I said things that were so mean and destructive, I'm surprised he didn't take a swing at me. I told him there was no way he was going to take my child from me, since I was the one who had been there for her since day one while he kept time with someone else. I told him I was going to take Jean and go back to Illinois and start over, maybe try and go back to the
life I'd left to be here with him.
"He said that he wouldn't let me. That I wouldn't take his daughter, that if I went back, I would go back alone, the same way I'd came. We fought for hours. Then, a little before sunrise, he finally said that he would try to make it work. That we would get some help and we would try to make our marriage work.
"And I was such a fucking moron, I believed him.
"The next few weeks were a blur, I just woke up, took care of Jean and did what I had to. All my old friends from Illinois were calling me to try and help me, but I didn't have to energy to deal with them. I gave them my typical happy talk. Meanwhile, he would keep blowing off getting a marriage counselor, finally telling me he didn't want to see no fucking shrink, that his head was just fine, I was the one who needed to face the real world.
"But, while that was going on, I did all I could to make the marriage work. I finally went back to work, thinking that if we weren't worried about money so much, he could spend more time at home. I left love notes around the house where he could find them. I did all the busywork with the house and Jean, so that when he got home, all he had to do was eat the supper I had made and spend his time with me. And he spent the time at home watching TV, or complaining about work.
"I thought his affair was over, but it wasn't. He kept seeing her. Then, two days from Thanksgiving, he called me and said to drop by where he worked before I went home or picked Jean up at the sitter's, he had something for me there.
"It was a letter. It told me that while I was here getting the letter, he was moving all of his things out of the house and picking up Jean, and he would tell me later where and when I could see her.
"I got in my car and drove. He worked about an hour from home, and after dropping Jean off, I had taken care of a few errands, so he had had time to clean out and trash the place.
"I don't remember a whole lot after that. When I got home, there was garbage everywhere. Most of the furniture was gone, and there were just horrible things done to the house. The cat's litter box had been dumped out all over the bathroom. The diaper pail had been opened and the dirty diapers were strewn all though the bedroom. The electricity was going to be shut off the next morning, my checking account had been closed, and the phone was gone. I borrowed a neighbor's phone to call my parents and try to figure out what to do next."
I kept waiting for her to cry. I was crying, feeling the pain flowing out of her. The wounds were not only fresh, but deep. I probably would have been crying even if I wasn't so "tuned in". But, she never started to tear up. She just kept talking. Maybe all the tears were gone, I don't know. What I do know is that the fact that she wasn't crying stuck with me.
"I did all the things I was supposed to, went to the utilities and got the power back on, I got a lawyer, I called work and told them I wouldn't be able to come in for a few days. When they asked why, I blurted out, 'Because my bastard husband has kidnapped my little girl, and I really don't think I can deal with anything other than that.'
"I spent all of Thanksgiving in a movie theater, and my Thanksgiving dinner was popcorn with Junior Mints sprinkled on it. I never did go back to work. I just stayed home or went to the movies. Finally, my friend Cyndi came over, since I wasn't returning phone calls anymore, and brought me here.
"Where I am now.
"And that bastard still won't let me see my little girl. I've only talked to her on the phone three times since I got in here right before Christmas. All the groups and all the drugs and all the therapy in the world won't change that."
I reached out my hand for hers and she didn't take it. She didn't even look at me. She just stared out the window, watching the light as is passed through the branches of one of the trees outside my window. Her hands were still rubbing her sides as she hugged herself. Maybe because she didn't think anyone else would.
I wanted to say something. Just a word of comfort, a bit of encouragement, but what? Maybe I'd talked to someone in a similar situation and said something so profound that it snapped them out of it and they were able to look at the world with new eyes. Maybe I'd blundered and said something that plunged them deeper into the pain and despair. Most likely, what I'd said made no difference.
It's all just words, the feeling is what's important. She sat there, silent, exhausted after telling her story. I knew that seeing her husband had brought it all back in clarity and detail. "Lynn," I started, "I don't know if I've known anyone who's gone through something like this, but I know something about you. You deserve better.
"You deserve whatever can make your life happy. Maybe they'll do something here that will help you fight and win. He can't take your child away forever...and even if he does for a time, you will always be his mother. No one can take that from you. Not the courts, not your husband, no one."
"I don't know if I have it in me to fight, Janus. Every time I fight, I lose. I fought to keep my marriage together, and it blew up in my face," she said, with her pain and fear receding.
Why? Why was feeling like a failure more comfortable than feeling sad?
I didn't know then, and I don't know now as I write this all down. She turned the conversation to other topics, movies, which she seemed to know a lot about. Every so often, she would say, "Do you remember...?" when starting to talk about a movie, and then suddenly stop and say, "Oh, God... I'm sorry...."
I'd just grin and tell her that, for some reason, I remembered about movies, but didn't have any memory of seeing them myself. I could tell her the plot of "The Wizard of Oz," but I don't remember seeing it.
Actually......for some reason, writing about that movie, have some sort of image with it. I remember lying on the floor somewhere, with a coffee cup full of Alpha-Bits in it. It's almost there, as if I read about it once, a long, long time ago. Is it a memory?
Writing the last few paragraphs has brought on a horrible headache. My vision is getting a bit obscured with some kind of blurring. Almost like there are little red haloes floating around in my field of vision. They showed up just as I started writing about movies and "The Wizard of Oz." I should stop writing and ask the duty nurse for something before this headache becomes a full-blown migraine.
It's about an hour after I wrote the last paragraph and the codeine is starting to take effect. I feel like I'm drifting off to sleep, but I want to get down this thought before I completely go to sleep. Why is it that I start to get headaches when I come close to remembering something?
Lynn came by after check-in group and thanked me for listening. I told her that she was welcome. She gave one of those sad little smiles of hers that never seemed to reach her eyes and said, "Whoever you used to be, I hope you were as good hearted as you are now."
"Me too," I said, without any ego at all. I hope that I was a good person. I don't think I could live with myself now if I hadn't been.