“Pagan.” Doctor Janice walked into the Great Room where I sat playing Monopoly with Gee, who cheats, and Roberta, who keeps glaring at Gee for cheating.
“Yes, Ma’am?” I asked. She smiled at the girls with me and held up a clipboard in her hands.
“It’s time for your assessment. Please come with me.” I stood up from my Indian- style position on the floor.
“Ah, shit, I was so enjoying you, Peggy Ann, and here you’re gonna be told you’re not mental and sent home.” Gee flicked her pierced tongue at me and winked. She’d taken to calling me Peggy Ann the last few days. It was slightly annoying but it wasn’t worth making it an issue. I forced a smile and followed the doctor. I wasn’t ready to leave yet.
Dank came to me at night and I feared once I was home he would leave me again. My chest ached, reminding me it was still empty. Doctor Janice opened the door to her office and held it for me to enter.
“You will have to ignore the mess on my desk. I’ve been going through charts this week and it always gets a little out of hand in here.” She smiled at me apologetically and walked around to stand behind her desk. “Please have a seat,” she said, motioning to the overstuffed black leather chairs beside me. I sank down onto one as Doctor Janice took the clipboard in her hands. She slipped the pair of glasses hanging from her neck on a pearl chain onto the bridge of her large nose.
“It appears, Pagan, that you’re the most mentally healthy patient we’ve had in a very long time. You’re compassionate and make friends with even some of our harder cases, which only strengthens the diagnosis that you are not mentally ill.
Befriending someone like Georgia Vain isn’t easy, and Jess is her only friend because she happens to suffer from fear of Georgia and self-preservation. The evaluations from the nurses all say you’re kind and understanding. You react the way one does who understands you’re surrounded by those with mental sicknesses and you’re patient with them. That not only makes you a very pleasant patient but also a very stable person.” Doctor Janice sat the clipboard down on her desk and slipped the glasses off and carefully dropped them back on her chest. “The basic fact is: you don’t belong here.” I nodded, knowing there was no point in arguing with the doctor that I was a mental case and needed to stay. Doctor Janice glanced back down at the chart in front of her. “I carefully looked over the recommendation sent when you were prescribed a stay here to help you learn to deal with the trauma you suffered. I don’t normally disagree so strongly with other doctors’ observations but this time you were grossly misdiagnosed. Now, the question that fascinates me is why, Pagan Moore, did you get so withdrawn in yourself that your mother sought medical attention for you?” I swallowed the fear building inside of me at the thought that I would be sent home today and tonight I wouldn’t have Dank. I needed a reason to stay. I stared back at Doctor Janice and wondered if I could be honest with her and if the truth would keep me here. If I told her I saw dead people, would she change her mind? I started to speak and an image of my mom’s tear-filled eyes when she’d come to visit yesterday came back to me. She missed me and was worried about me. I was hurting her, or rather the sickness she thought I had was hurting her. If I admitted to seeing souls they would indeed label me crazy. I would be diagnosed with a whole new problem and my mother would be consumed with worry. I would just try to get one more night. One more chance to hear Dank and this time I’d fight the heavy sleep that always kept me from seeing him. I would find a way to speak to him.
“The car accident bothered me and I did withdraw into myself because I didn’t like thinking about what I’d witnessed. I agreed to come here to make my mom feel better. I was scaring her with the way I’d become reclusive.
My stay here has been eye opening and I will always cherish it. The girls here are just like me but they have mental sicknesses that make living a normal life difficult. They’re still people. They still have feelings and want to be accepted.
I’ve enjoyed getting to know all of them. You’re right, I don’t have the mental sicknesses the other patients do, but being around them has helped me learn to accept what I witnessed.”
Doctor Janice smiled. “Well, that continues to confirm my diagnosis. You’re completely mentally sane and very mature for your age. Would you like to call your mother and tell her you’re free to go home?” This was my moment to ask for one more night. I needed to say goodbye. I needed to open my eyes tonight and see him. I couldn’t leave until I’d seen him.
“Doctor Janice, would it be a problem if I stayed tonight and left first thing in the morning? I would like to have dinner with my new friends and properly say farewell to everyone.”
Doctor Janice gave me a slow, pleased smiled and nodded. “I think that would be perfect.” I glanced at the phone on her desk. “Can I go ahead and call my mom, then, and let her know I’ll be free to go in the morning?” I thought of how the news I could come home in the morning was going to bring back a smile to her face.
Knowing she would be relieved eased the ache some, but not enough.
* * * *
I carried my tray of food over to sit across from Gee and Jess. Gee tilted her head from side to side like she so often did when she was thinking about something, and flicked her tongue ring against her teeth several times. “You’re leaving, aren’t you, Peggy Ann?” I smiled at her and nodded. She sighed dramatically. “Figures they’d send you home since you have no mental cracks. I mean, you don’t even scream at night. Then, of course, he sings to you. Kind of impresses me really. He’d scare the shit out of me if he came in my room. You may not be a screw ball but the fact you’re not scared of him makes you someone I don’t want to piss off.”
I froze, listening to her words. She knew Dank came to me at night and sang to me. How did she know? Did she see him? Did she see souls? Was that my problem? Was I Schizo? She cackled her mad laughter and winked at me.
“You’re thinking you might just be whack after all, aren’t you, Peggy Ann? You wish you were this fucked up. No dice though, girlie. No fuckin’ dice,” she whispered leaning toward me so the nurses wouldn’t hear her cursing and take away anymore of her privileges.
“What’re you carrying on about? Did you take your meds today, Gee, ‘cause you’re talking off your head worse than normal,” Jess said, frowning before shoveling black eyed peas into her mouth. Gee didn’t take her eyes off me. She almost had a glimmer in her eyes as she watched me, enjoying the confusion I knew was clear on my face.
“Only the ones he has come for can see him, Peggy Ann.
You know that right? Only the ones whose time is near. I know why he’s here.” She tilted her head side to side and stared at me closely. “But he doesn’t sing to me. No, he doesn’t sing to me.”
Jess sighed loudly and glared at Gee. “If you don’t shut up talking like a psychopath I’m calling Nurse Karen over here to drug your ass,” she grumbled.
“Who is he?” I asked Gee quietly, afraid she truly didn’t know.
A sad smile touched her red lips and she shook her head.
“Ah, so he isn’t coming for you then. So very odd. You see him and he is with you so much yet he hasn’t come for you.
He is the only one who can tell you.” Gee stood up, leaving her tray untouched on the table, and walked away.
Jess stared at me and shook her head sadly. “She’s hiding her meds under her tongue again and spitting them out in the toilet. I’m going to have to tell someone before she gets any crazier. I’m guessing if she goes too long without her meds she could do something fatal.” Jess took a bite of meatloaf, stood up, and went over to Nurse Ashley.
Tonight I was resolved to ask him again but the fear that it would drive him away scared me more than the words from my psychotic friend.
* * * *
I packed the last pair of jeans into my suitcase and zipped it up. The drawers were empty and the closet no longer held any of my things. I walked over to the small, round table and took the cards Leif and Miranda had sent me. Reading them each morning had given me a reason to smile. I slipped them into the pocket of my overnight bag and sat down on my bed.
I had been given permission to come to my room as early as I wanted. The rules of seclusion no longer applied to me and I’d needed to pack. The small room wasn’t much bigger than my mom’s walk-in closet but it was going to be hard to walk away from in the morning. Just like at home, this bedroom had held Dank. It would hold the memories of him.
Nurse Ashley was walking the halls, ringing her bell for the lights out announcement. I stood up and pulled back the covers on my bed and slipped inside before reaching over and turning out the lamp. Tonight he would come and I would talk to him. I wouldn’t have to worry he would leave me and not return because I was leaving in the morning. I wanted to know why Gee knew who he was or if she thought he was someone else. Was he the same ‘he’ the little red-headed girl at the hospital had spoken of? The ‘he’ she had said was coming to take her soon.
Dank had been the one to take the couple from the car fire at their death. Is that what he did? Was he the soul who went and retrieved other souls when they died? I closed my eyes and waited. I thought of the different things I’d seen and what Gee and the little girl had said. It all pointed to Dank being a guardian of some kind. Maybe an angel. I turned back and forth, waiting for the music. Waiting for Dank to come and sing to me.
He never came.
The morning sun cast a glow across the pale yellow room as I stood with my bags, glancing around to see if I’d missed anything. I was leaving without answers. My thoughts went back to Gee. I slipped my overnight bag up higher on my shoulder and headed downstairs to find her. I wanted to talk to her one last time before I left. To tell her goodbye and to ask her once more if she could explain to me who it was she thought she heard in my room. The Great Room was empty and the sounds of chatter drifted from the dining hall, where everyone was eating breakfast. Gee would be there. I sat my bags down beside the door and went to say my final goodbyes.
The moment I walked into the busy dining room I glanced over to the far table. Jess sat alone at the end, staring down at her plate as she shoveled food into her mouth. I glanced back at the serving line and the nurses had finished serving the patients. Everyone was sitting down at their tables to eat. Nurse Karen peered up and nodded toward me with a sad smile on her face. I walked over to Jess and sat down across from her.
“She’s gone,” Jess said as she shoveled another bite of cheese grits into her mouth.
“Gee’s gone? What do you mean?” I asked, confused. I had just seen her before I’d gone up to bed last night, sitting with a group of other girls playing a card game.
Jess lifted her gaze up at me and frowned. “She went whack on them this morning about four. Started screaming and cursing and they had to sedate her. She’s getting worse and Doctor Janice won’t keep the ones that get so disturbed they become dangerous to themselves. She transfers them to the hospital where they can be kept on the looney floor under lock and key.” Jess shook her head and took a big gulp of chocolate milk. “I knew she’d be shipped off soon enough.
The Schizos always are.”
I felt a sick knot in my stomach. “Do you know what hospital she was sent to?”
Jess shrugged. “No, ‘cause I ain’t crazy enough to get shipped there.”
I stood up. “Well, okay. Um, it was really nice to get to know you, Jess.” Telling her I would see her later sounded strange because we both knew it wasn’t true. So I simply smiled and said, “Goodbye.” She nodded, stuffed her mouth with a piece of bacon, and gazed past me toward the windows overlooking the Gulf. I turned and headed toward the door. Nurse Karen walked toward me.
“I’ll need your mom to sign some release papers,” she said, following me toward the door.
I turned to her. “Gee was sent to the hospital?” I wanted to hear it from a nurse.
“I’m afraid so. She isn’t safe here. She needs a tighter leash than what we can offer in this setting.” I swallowed the sudden lump in my throat and walked beside her down the hall. My mom was waiting to greet me. She stood in the Great Room watching us as we approached. I peered over my shoulder at Nurse Karen before we were close enough for my mother to hear.
“What hospital is she at?” I wanted to see her.
Nurse Karen smiled at me. “Mercy Medical.” The hospital where I had signed on to volunteer. However, now that I had a record of mental issues they wouldn’t let me work at the hospital anymore. I was pretty sure I could still visit.
“Pagan, you look as if you have lost ten pounds,” Mom said as soon as I was close enough to hear her. She walked toward me and wrapped her arms around me, holding on tightly. “I’m so happy you’re coming home. We’ll put some weight back on you in no time.”
I smiled and enjoyed the comfort of her arms. “I’m sure the pizza and Chinese will be limitless,” I teased, and she laughed, pulling back from me.
“Never said I would cook the food that puts the weight back on you.” Her eyes were watery but I knew it wasn’t sad tears this time.