In my seventeen years of existence, never had I experienced stillness before. My life had constantly been a frenzy of activities. From a sports class to an art class and another as a child, and from one club to another as an early teen. It was only when I realised that all of this activity was in vain that I announced it to my parents that I wanted none of it. From thereon, the tumult shifted inwards. I was restless at all times. My mind paced repeatedly, from one activity to another, centred primarily on the big screen in my room where I’d play online games for hours.
The fan overhead kept whirring at a painfully slow speed reflecting the pace at which my time was passing presently. My attention drifted to the other equipment in my room. So that I could breathe well, there in one corner was an air purifier placed tactfully next to a green plant. I smirked at the irony. The AC was silent, its air vent kept opening and closing as if spewing out screams on my behalf. I looked at the barren, flawless, white walls around me. My bed placed in the corner of the room was designed to sustain comfort for long hours. Appositely, since I was required to spend most of my day lounging on it. Looking around, I could not fault a thing that was not perfect in this room- enough comfort, enough air, enough light, and enough safety. But very little hope.
Involuntarily, I reached out to my iPod, placed my SkullCandy* over my ears and walked up to the window. The bright light streaming in from the lace curtains cast an intricate design on the facing wall. I stood and blocked it, looking outside at the scenario that never seemed to change. The well manicured trees, bushes and plants were always picture perfect. The staff constantly kept shuttling between the buildings, wearing a constant expression of woe and holding files close to their chest. Looking at them, I always wondered if I would ever make it alive from here.
Ah well, the question really was- did I even wish to?
Suddenly, the door of my room opened and in walked my nurse, Mae. Her name sounded like summer but she was, perhaps, colder than the glaciers north of the planet. She gave me a cursory glance and headed to the bedside table, took out three white pills and a red one in a cup and brought it along with a glass of water.
As soon as I placed the blue pill at the tip of my tongue, I let go. My hands dropped by my side, my neck tilted a bit and my head slumped to a lateral. I opened my eyes and the dark den of the pub lightened up into neon hues. My friends’ screams sounded like distant calls amidst animated laughter. The music played inside the pits of my head. We danced the night away. I was spent completely, more from the pill than from the sex afterwards. The next morning, I simply discovered myself lying flat on my bed.
Dinnertime, that evening was as usual. Except that my father asked me, “are you going out tomorrow night, again?”
“No.” I responded.
“Are your friends coming over?”
“No.” Monosyllables were widely acceptable as valid responses at my home, since conversations were far less and often short.
“We have a party to attend tomorrow evening. Join us.” It was not a question. It was not a request. It was a statement. My response was clear.
“What is wrong with a bit of socializing anyway?” she asked.
“I don’t wanna.”
“… it’s for charity,” she continued.
Without looking up from my plate I retorted, “I don’t care about your charity.”
I quickly excused myself from the table and left, much to the displeasure of my parents. But this was not something new that could be addressed here and now. This fissure was created as a result of my fractured relationship with them over the years. For them I was a smug teen and for me they were the oblivious parents and we had resorted to that fact.
I Face-timed my friend, Sof, who had moved to Paris to study fashion that summer. She did not respond, so I got back to Call of Duty*. By the time I was tired smoking the joint and my mind was sloshed, I took to bed. This might have been a normal for many days. Because, soon I found myself in rehab, two in succession.
My reverie was broken as Nurse Mae closed the door behind her. I looked at the dreaded clock on the counter. It never seemed to move at an earthly pace.
Intuitively, I looked at the calendar placed next to it. 113 days in rehab, I noted.
Just then another staff walked in with my lunch. “I shall return for the tray at 2,” he announced as he closed the door behind him. Another three hours were spent reading, pacing, looking out of the window, and staring at the wall- the regular. At 5, I walked to the community hall for a support group meeting, that I was required to attend three times a week.
“Good evening,” the cheerful leader, Dr. Gribbs began. He was a fragile looking, 38-year-old balding man, who seemed to have gathered quite some experience being associated with this center for the last ten years. His eyes twinkled as he looked around at the eight of us in the room, seated in a circle on the rug.
I looked around at the similar grim faces around me. Nothing peculiar. All of us looked just the same. Only varying degrees of hopelessness. Like always, everyone spoke about their feelings.
“Not much, but I have started journaling my thoughts for the day,” one of them said.
“Wonderful, August.” Mr. Gribbs commended the strong man who, oddly enough, always kept looking at his knees. He never looked up even when the others would speak.
Over the next few weeks, August had found a few more words. He was beginning to open up but strangely enough he would never look up, at any of us when we took turns to speak. That night I tried writing my thoughts too. But I got tired soon enough, gave up and went to bed.
“I’ve just started journaling my thoughts too, but it isn’t helpful,” I told Dr. Gribbs in the next meeting.
“Never mind, it’ll work for you too. Don’t stop. Okay?” he flashed his warmest smile and then turned to the next person. I looked at August who continued to sit there unaffected by whatever I had shared. Or anyone else ever did.
I would seldom interact with the others after the session, before retiring to my room. But August would never stay back even for a casual chat. And today I thought maybe I could initiate. I followed him to his room and called out his name. He stopped in his tracks but did not turn.
“You always say that journaling your day has helped you. How has it helped you?” I stepped in front of him. A nurse passed us, signaling us to leave the corridors. Before I could even react, August moved past me and inside his room.
That night, I recorded this event in my journal and slept with a couple of questions on my mind. Not really answers, but the next morning I had spent a few more minutes than usual writing my thoughts. And I read them out to myself. Everything. About the people here, about the fan, the window, air purifier and the AC. Somehow, everything had started to form a cohesive balance in my life. Possibly because I had recorded it all, the coming weeks stayed in my mind as fresh as if it would’ve happened today.
One evening, I kept looking at the clock for it to strike 5. I checked the calendar. 322 days till date. I stepped out of my room and headed towards August’s room. Mae called out from behind, “Are you going somewhere?”
“Yeah. Support group.” I responded as chirpily as I could sound.
“You don’t have a session today,” her stiff lip got stiffer.
“Really?” I instantly thought of an excuse to keep me out of my room. “I wanna go to the library, then.”
She paused briefly and then nodded. I sneaked.
On my way, I peeped into his room. He was sitting facing the window, looking out. His lengthy hair cascading down his shoulders. Obviously I could not see his expression, but I could sense the melancholia from the closed door itself. Before I could compose myself enough to push that door open, I heard someone approaching. I quickly paced in the opposite direction and entered the library down the corridor.
Fortunately, next day was my session and I was yet again, constantly checking the clock for it to strike 5:00.
These past few days I really did not know what was it that drew me towards August. He was sad, so was I. He was depressed, so was I. He was in therapy, so was I. I was here because my life choices lead me here, and all I really wanted to know was what made him reach here. Well, there were others too, but somehow I did not care about all of that. I cared about him. And I needed to know why.
At 5:00 I reached the community hall and stationed myself next to the spot that I thought August would take. Surprisingly, he took a spot next to Dr. Gribbs. I observed him intently. His disheveled hair was knotted in an unkempt bun and his pistachio coloured trainer cargos were marked with a strange patch on the left thigh. He wore a round neck black Tee over which dangled a chained dog tag. My gaze moved from his appearance to his lithe body. Outwardly strong and stiff but his hunched back did nothing to make him look as slick. He had a scar on his nose as well. His left arm had a deep gash stitched together to fix. His hands were blemished possibly due to injury marks. I was further intrigued.
The session began and everyone had something to share, except August. At the end of the session when he was just about to leave the hall I stopped him again.
“You didn’t have anything to share today?”
I paused for him to respond. He paused waiting for me to continue. When neither of us spoke, he began walking. I walked by his side.
“What are these scars that you have?” He stopped and slowly looked up towards me. I held my breath. His eyes. His eyes were remorseful, I could have guessed. But now there was a mix of emotions from fright to angst to agony. I stepped back. Someone from the back called my name and I looked towards them. Instantly, August scurried to his room and slammed the door shut.
There was a reason we were not required to speak to any of the other patients without any supervision. But I was never one to follow the rules, so what good was this anyway. I was quickly escorted to my room and suggested never to talk to August or any other patient without prior permission. I shrugged my shoulders and slumped on my bed.
There are some mysteries in life that one doesn’t even care about solving let alone finding out about. But I somehow wanted to know what was behind those aggrieved eyes. He seemed not just sad but broken. Like a part of his heart was missing. And I was curious to find out just that. I twisted and turned in my bed that night. Unsure of what was haunting me I drifted in and out of my consciousness. And before I knew it, it was morning.
Looking out of the window I noticed an unusual chaos in the garden. More than a couple of nurses and helpers were shuttling from one building to another. An ambulance was stationed outside the main building and in the corner was a police car. I tried to piece it all together but failed. After a shower I peeped out of my door and tiptoed out of my room but Mae was quick to notice that. Why is she always hovering around, I thought. I knew the answer, anyway.
“Where are you off to?” she stepped out of her bay.
“Err…. emmm… there is some unusual activity going on…so I was wondering… ,” before I could even complete, she interrupted.
“It doesn’t concern you. Please get back to your room. Your parents are going to be here for lunch.” Her eyes followed me to my room. I again slid the curtains to look out of the window. By this time, another police car had joined in. The officers were moving about, making notes on their little pads, talking over their walkie-talkies. Something major must have happened, I reckoned.
My parents visited me that afternoon for lunch. We ate at a neighborhood eatery. My mother ordered clams, which the eatery never prepares and the little seats of the place bothered my father much. I was more concerned about how time was not speeding.
“We spoke to Dr. Clement and he suggested that you can return home next week.” My mother displayed excitement.
“Isn’t that wonderful, dear?” my father eagerly inquired, observing no change in my expression at the news.
I was relieved that after 524 days I was free to go back to my space, my clock, my friends and my life. I packed all my belongings and was seated in the lobby while my father and his assistant were busy engaging with the doctors, filling out the documents and clearing the dues. Dr. Gribbs had already bid farewell during the last session but Nurse Mae accompanied me to the reception.
“Why was August not there in any of the sessions with Dr. Gribbs this week?” I turned towards Mae and asked her. I knew that she won’t divulge much but she surprised me.
“August was moved to the white rooms,” Mae responded.
“White rooms?” I was shocked to hear this. He was the most harmless person I had known here. So why would they have moved him to seclusion?
“Yeah, he tried to escape.”
Why would Mae give out information in bits? I kept waiting for her to explain further but was interrupted by my father.
“Come on, dear. It’s time for us to head back home.”
I looked at Mae and realized she was not allowed to give out any information about another patient but at that moment I suddenly had great respect for her. She had realized that I was intrigued by August and was concerned about his condition. Her empathy, carefully layered under the stiff expressions, shone through in that one brief moment.
I returned to my life, as I had known. My relationship with my parents did not improve, but I managed to return to school and friends who supported me in every which way they could, keeping me away from useless company and drugs. My trip from rehab for drugs to rehab for depression was a lengthy one. I spent almost a year trying to figure out my life. Of course, I laid out no bright revelation for myself, but I was well on my road to recovery. And up until then I had no idea what was the reason for this change.
Until I got a call from Dr. Gribbs, which was a surprise, since the staff was never allowed to correspond directly once the patient leaves the premises. I picked up instantly.
“Hiya, Dr. Gribbs. Wuzzup?”
“I am alright. How are you keeping up?”
“Oh, I’m alright too. What made you call me today?”
“Actually, Dr. Clement asked me to call you. We’re having a small memorial service for Mr. August Meying this Sunday and you must try to make it.”
My heart plunged immediately. I found a bench to sit. “What happened to him?”
“He passed on in his sleep, yesterday.”
After the call got disconnected, I looked around to orient myself to my surroundings. I was here, in my school. I knew this place, its corridors, its doors, and its people and yet I felt completely lost.
At the memorial service, the following Sunday, Dr. Gribbs gave a moving speech about how August spoke more than his words and August’s nurse Jenna was almost in tears. I had no idea August had left a lasting impression on so many people. As I was about to leave, Dr. Gribbs handed me a black notebook. It was August’s journal. A stub of a blue sticky marked the page he indicated that I must read. It said-
“What a ninny this young girl is. Keeps following me like a wounded dog. I hate her. The next time she comes asking me what these scars are, I am going to give her some for keeps too.
But isn’t she wounded already? Mine are visible; her scars aren’t. Mine, I can touch and feel and know that these are the ones I need to cure. She simply has no idea what she is battling. Only if I could tell her that she can. She did not have to go to war miles away and witness death from close quarters. She did not watch a comrade die protecting an innocent civilian. She did not have to watch kids her age shoot their enemy’s brains and cheer while the blood sprayed their faces. She did not have to smell the blood-soaked stench in the air. She did not have to take a bullet to her knee and be crippled for life. She did not have to look at vacant eyes longing to scout for hope in unexpected places. She did not have to leave her family, her only child to the perils of PTSD*. She is in a better place; I wish I could tell her that.
And I wish she never comes close to me anymore. I wish my doom doesn’t engulf her, or even touch her aura. I hope she is healed soon. I think I will heal too when she does.”
Tears ran down my cheeks by the time I closed the notebook. My questions were answered indeed but while I wasn’t there to hold his hand and tell him it’s all going to be okay, he held my heart and healed me. And thus August was healed too.
* SkullCandy-earphone brand
* Call of Duty- online game
* PTSD- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
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