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Let Go (The Last Chapter)

December 13, 2014

I walk through the sliding doors of Eloise Psychiatric hospital. The lobby is nearly empty save for the same three people that come every visiting hour. They look at me and nod, trying to show something other than sadness. They fail. For those that walk through these doors as visitors, there is no such thing as joy. Not here. Not in this place. This is the place for those who have strayed from the path and spend their days staring blankly at walls, seeing things we could never see or understand. I check in with the security guard at the front desk. Tonight’s shift is being carried out by Bill. Bill is a large man but kind. There is empathy in his gaze but he could never understand what it’s like. He has a wife and two kids that he goes home to after every shift. His bed is never cold and his house is never dark. He smiles at me and hands me my pass. As has become our nightly custom, I nod thanks and he looks away.

I make a right past the security desk and walk through two sets of sliding doors. With the opening of each one my stomach knots more and more. This is the time I start to steel my mind; to prepare myself for the hour that is about to take place. My wife has been here for three years, you’d think it would get easier over time, but in reality it only gets worse. We had a nice house in the suburbs until some asshole decided we had stuff that he wanted. Jill was the only one home that day, and for that she was beaten in the head with a bat until whatever humanity lived inside her disappeared. She was in the hospital for six months and had multiple surgeries on her face and skull. Unfortunately, the damage had been done. She was nothing more than a vegetable after that. The doctors tried everything they could, but her mental capacity was gone. Every once in a great while she would scare the shit out of a nurse by jumping up and screaming at the top of her lungs. The episodes only lasted a few seconds before she’d drop back down into her vegetative state. After she was physically cleared, they sent her here to Eloise. The Psychiatrist on staff put her on meds to stop the occasional screaming episode, but that was all he could do.

As I pass through the second door, I see the bank of elevators on my left. This hallway is white, completely and utterly white. The walls, the floor, the ceiling, even the elevator doors are white. It’s a sterility that I have never been comfortable in. I make my way to the elevators and push the UP button. A surge of sadness blows through me like an icy wind. I’ve stood in front of these doors every night for three years, and yet, this time is different. The door opens and a nurse named Shelly beckons me inside. She knows my face and name, and yet still makes me recite the floor number and patient name. Tears threaten to fall as the doors close and we make our way to the fifth floor. I close my eyes briefly and swallow them.

The doors open up at the fifth floor and I get out. Jill’s doctor is there waiting to greet me. He asks if I brought Jill’s insurance papers, the ones he called about earlier. With a confused look on my face I tell him that I didn’t talk to him today and don’t know what he’s going on about. A moment later, clarity, suddenly I remember. I tell him I forgot but that I would bring them tomorrow. He waves it off and says that I’ve been under a lot of stress, that I was bound to forget things here and there, but he doesn’t know what I know.

I make my way down to what they call the Day Room. I see my wife sitting at her usual table by the window. She’s staring out the window, seeing nothing, seeing everything. I make my way to the table and give her a hug. She does not hug back. I pull out a bag of her favorite cookies from my jacket pocket. She does not eat them. I take her hand in mine and tell her all the things that have taken place in the world the last 24 hours. She does not hear them. Eventually I do what I always end up doing; holding her hand and looking out the window. Before I know it, our hour is up. I kiss her goodbye. She does not kiss back. I tell her I will see her tomorrow. She does not respond. I get up and leave the room with the other three visitors. We walk down towards the elevators silently, each one lost inside his own struggle. We ride the elevator with our eyes cast down. Though we share the same shame, we cannot allow others to see it. They think we are in the same boat together, but they don’t know what I know.

I exit the elevator last, watching my silent companions make the long walk back to the security desk. I eventually hand my visitor pass back to Bill who wishes me a good night. I nod and smile slightly. Then, almost as an afterthought, Bill tells me to hang in there because life gets better. Bill doesn’t know what I know. I simply smile in response and walk back through the front doors into the brisk fall night. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving so visiting hours have been extended. I can’t remember what they are, but I’m sure it will come to me. I reach my car and get in. I look at the stack of Jill’s insurance papers on the seat next to me. I’m reminded of my doctor’s appointment from earlier in the day. The diagnosis was early onset of Alzheimer’s Disease. I close my eyes as the tears roll down my face. I start my car, take a deep breath, and turn out of the parking lot with the knowledge that one day soon, I am going to forget that this place exists.

-Christopher Williamson 12/13/14

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