By Alicia Demetropolis

It’s something I did but shouldn’t have and now I regret it. Opening a safe deposit box, maybe? Opening something. Looking in something. Someone had asked me to do it and I knew I’d eventually be found out and I’d regret it but I did it anyway.

So this is a memory, or a something, or a dream maybe. It happens and then I struggle to remember what it is and then I remember that I’ve been here, struggling to remember and then remembering again. There are these flashes that I can’t slow down and puzzle pieces I can’t put together and I’m pretty convinced some of the pieces belong to someone else’s puzzle. Sometimes I feel like my brain is shorting out. I lose a little of myself with every spark and light poof of smoke.

It’s normal, at least that’s what Dr. Anna says. She must know what she’s talking about. I don’t know. I don’t know anything anymore. Nothing is like it was before.

Before. Yeah, before my brain broke.

~~ * ~~

Larry is trying to get me to get out of bed. He keeps singing, “Camille, wake up Camille!” and I keep ignoring him. He only works mornings if he’s covering a shift for someone, and he’s unusually perky in the mornings, it turns out. Finally he shakes my shoulder and says that he’ll report it Deanna if I don’t get myself up and moving soon. So I throw the covers off my face and growl at him. “Fine. I’m getting up.” He smiles down at me.

It’s easy to threaten anyone here with Deanna. She’s a happy hippie chick with her crazy, salt and paper, curly hair, but when she needs to, well, that happy hippie chick gets tough on your sorry butt. Not that Larry can’t hold his own with us. Former Army guy, buzz cut. Big hands. But he’s got too much to do in the mornings, so he doesn’t mess around with us, just threatens to tell the boss lady when she gets in.

So I get up and I get dressed. I’m overdue on my laundry which means it’s sweatshorts and a gray, long-sleeved t-shirt under a blue, short-sleeved t-shirt. No one here cares how you look. It’s not the Ritz. I wiggle my fingers in my ‘fro, turn on the faucet to let the water warm up, press the edges of my hands into the cold ridge of the white porcelain sink and take a deep breath, hunch forward, stare into the mirror I cracked in a fit of rage a couple of months ago. The staff won’t replace things I break in my room.

How many times have stood in this same spot and tried to exhale myself to the way it all used to be, shake my head and make it all fall back into place?

I grab my washcloth from the rack above the toilet and drop it under the running water, reach for my scrub from inside the medicine cabinet and as I close the mirror the flash is there again: A man, standing behind me, wrapping his arms around my waist. I lean back against him – is it Drake? Not Current Drake but maybe Former Drake? No, I don’t think it is Drake. I stop again, for the hundredth time, maybe, try to grasp at something I know was there but isn’t anymore. It was an entire story. Beginning, middle, end. Complete with emotions – joy, love, promise, comfort. And it’s gone as quickly as it skipped across my synapses.

I eventually make my way down to the dining room. Soothing colors, high ceilings, big windows, nice view. Can’t open a single window. At least not the ones we can reach. I guess it’s not safe for us. Ugly carpeting, that office style stuff, and boring tables and chairs. The chairs have rollers on them. Can’t let the crazy folk open a window but when they want to play racecars in the dining room chairs, well, that’s not so dangerous, huh?

None of this matters anyway because I don’t eat in the dining room. I don’t think the others like me. They avoid eye contact with me. I tried to eat by myself when I first got there but thought, “Screw this noise,” and walked back to my room without finishing. So now I eat in the library or in my room or I’ll take the food back to my room and then go eat it in the dining room later at night when there’s no one else there. I don’t feel like I belong here. I mean, I belong here, obviously, but I don’t fit in with the others.

Antione starts calling to me from the other side of the dining room, in between mouthfuls of oatmeal. Everyone else keeps their head down, at least until I leave with my breakfast tray. Antione always says, “C’mere, Camille! C’mere, Camille!” but he never wants me to go over there.

When I first met him, I thought he was a jerk and I called him that. “What, jerk?” I’d ask, and he’d say it again, “C’mere, Camille!” and I’d go a little closer to him and I’d be, like, “What, jerk?” but he’d just smile and say it again. He was standing down the hallway and I wanted to go right up in his face but he’s big and looks like he could be scary but he isn’t. He’s a teddy bear. Everyone in here calls him “Rastaman”, ‘cuz he looks like a big Rastafarian. Even the staff say, “Hey, Rastaman!” and “How’s the Rastaman today?” They all think Rasta men are big, cuddly and harmless. Antione may be big, cuddly and harmless, but I doubt he ever put a curse on anyone like real Rasta men do.

So I’ve got this big guy in a doorway calling, “C’mere, Camille!” one day and I was getting pissed and this went on and on until Larry finally told me that Antoine has never said anyone’s name. He said Antione has nicknames for everyone, even the staff. He calls Larry “Preacher”, and Deanna is “Boss Lady”, and the shrink is – well, he doesn’t ever talk to her so I don’t think he calls her anything. Kathy, our big, loving Samoan aide, is “Lovie” because she calls him “Love”, and Yosuke is “Yousie.”

And I heard this and I thought, okay maybe this guy’s just got issues. Maybe he’s not so bad, yeah? Yeah. But Antoine never actually wants me to go over to him. He just says that stuff. It just comes out of his mouth. I don’t think he knows he’s saying it. His brain is broken, too.

All our brains are broken in here.

~~ * ~~

“I understand you were a little agitated when Drake visited you again this week.”

I’m reclining on the couch. I don’t feel like sitting up today. I took my shoes off so I could throw both feet up onto the back cushions. I shrug, but Dr. Anna doesn’t want a shrug, she wants an answer. Dr. Anna Esther has two first names. She’s originally from Mexico City and she’s the prettiest woman I’ve ever seen. And incredibly nice. She’s the shrink in here. It’s time for my session and I don’t feel like being here.

“Camille?” she asks and I know I have to answer, so I say, “Yeah.” I don’t know what else to say. It’s not a big leather couch like you’d see in the movies. It’s a really comfy fabric couch, kind of blue and green. You could sleep on it for days on end and never want to leave. Her whole office is like that. Comfy. Like you never want to leave, but sometimes you just don’t want to be here. If that makes sense.

“You do know you don’t have to let him visit you anymore,” she says. “You get to control who comes to see you.”

I rub my face. “Yeah,” I say again.

“Is there any reason in particular you still let him come to visit?” she asks and I don’t have any answers for her but I do have answers I just can’t find them in my brain. It’s like there’s something I need to do, something I need to finish, but I don’t know what it is because I can’t rewind the images to see it. I can’t reach that part of my brain so I don’t know.

Drake just irritated me yesterday. He always kind of irritates me. Maybe he always did, I don’t know. We were sitting in the front room because that’s where I decided to sit and he wanted to know why we weren’t sitting in the living room and I said, “Because I don’t want to and you can fucking deal with it.” I mean, it was a simple question but it irritated me. Then he told me not to swear and I told him to fuck off and then I asked him if he wanted pie. We had apple pie left over from lunch and I thought maybe he might want some. That all seemed to confuse him, which irritated me even more.

Dr. Anna needs an answer. I rub my head then press my hands to each side, thinking maybe I can squeeze the answers out. I tell her, “I can’t find it in my brain,” and I know she’s nodding even though I can’t see her. My eyes are squeezed shut against the soft colors of the comfy room, but I still know she’s nodding.

“If they are important things, Camille, you’ll find them again.” She says stuff like this all the time. She must know what she’s talking about. She’s the shrink.

~~ * ~~

Jonah is here. He’s like the all-American pound mutt success story. More specifically, he’s a 15 pound, shaggy haired, all-American pound mutt success story. The staff calls him the wonder mutt. Too old, too ugly, and got picked on by the other dogs in the pound. Dramatic scene: Set for euthanasia, saved in his last hours. Happy ending: Becomes a therapy dog, huge success, all that jazz. What’s not to love, yeah? Turns ‘fraidy cats into true believers. Knows who needs him the most. Does what he does and he does it well. Yeah, that’s Jonah.

Phillip claps his hands when he sees Jonah and says, “Puppy! Puppy!” but never touches him and never goes into the therapy room when Jonah is here. When Jonah is making his rounds, he’ll go sit near Philip and look up at him. One quick, happy bark and a little wag of the tail sends Philip skipping down the hallway, squealing with joy.

Antoine is usually first in on Jonah’s days because he loves Jonah. Persephone gets there early, too. She’s almost as tall as Antoine. She is older and has long brown and gray hair she keeps braided. Persephone is always smiling and looks like she loves you. I think she does. I think she loves everyone. She doesn’t talk. She whispers things sometimes into people’s ears and they never repeat what she says ’cuz they’re secrets. Persephone walks with crutches but she gets around real well. Jonah loves getting on her lap and she’ll whisper something in his ear and he’ll lick her face, then he moves on to the next person. They have their secrets. Everyone has secrets.

Annie loves Jonah, too. Annie loves to remind everyone to breathe. She never talks to me but she always tells everyone else to “reach up and out” and says “breathe and feel the light.” She never really makes sense, but none of us do. She this little yoga-type person and never touches anyone and doesn’t like anyone touching her, but she’ll love on Jonah. She always gets on the floor with him and rolls and stretches with him. He licks her face and rolls with her. Then he finds his next person.

I stand outside the therapy room. I never go to see Jonah, even though I like dogs. “Camille,” says Cheryl, “do you want to join us today?” She’s nice. She’s Jonah’s owner. But I shake my head as usual and go to the reading room where I don’t read but stare at a book. Moby Dick. It always sounds obscene. I never get past the second page. For some stupid reason, I keep thinking I should be able to read Moby Dick. I mean, I should at least get it, yeah?

I sit and stare at page 86 in Moby Dick and try to like it, and that’s where Yosuke finally finds me. I figured maybe if I started trying to read another page I might get interested. It didn’t work.

Yosuke works the night shift. He always starts early on Thursdays because someone else leaves early. I’ve never bothered to figure out everyone’s schedule here. I’m still staring at page 86 of Moby Dick. I’m going to change the name of the book to Big Fish Stick. Or maybe Stupid Fish Dick. Or Stupid Man, Stupider Fish. I’m sitting on the couch with my feet on the edge of the coffee table.

Yosuke asks if I want dinner. He’s very soft-spoken. Very polite. Very Japanese. He can get you to do what you don’t want to do just by asking. I shut the book and toss it on the table, slouch further into the couch. “I don’t understand it,” I say. Yosuke laughs. “Nobody understands Moby Dick,” he says. “Everyone thinks they do, but no one really does.”

“For example?” I ask.

He reaches for the book, picks it up. He looks at me and waggles it a little. “This book has been read by millions, and most people think it’s just about a man and a whale. Others think it’s about a man and the sea, while some people think it’s about a man and his demons. And still others think the whale represents something.”

“So what do you think it’s about?” I ask.

Yosuke shakes his head. “I don’t know,” he says. “I have never read it. I never had an interest.”

I stare at the book. “Look,” I say, “it doesn’t make sense to me. I keep trying to read it because I think it’s supposed to make sense to me and I’m supposed to enjoy it but – ” and here I just stop talking because I feel like there’s nothing more to say. I fold my arms across my chest. It’s getting chilly and I’m hungry.

“Oh, Camille,” he says. “Perhaps you’re not supposed to like anything, or understand anything, or be anything – you are only supposed to be yourself and be who you are here and now.” He rubs his hands together, looks at them, then says, “Wouldn’t it be nice not to put pressure on yourself to make anything work the way you think it’s supposed to?” He looks at me sideways the way he sometimes does and raises one thick black eyebrow up. Yosuke is not a big talker, but when he does I think he could be the shrink here. Dr. Anna is good, but so is he.

I sit and nod and hold my sides. Then he rubs his hands together again and says, “So, should we get you some dinner to quiet that stomach?”

~~ * ~~

The summer house. The summer house. No, not the summer house, just summer house. Did I have one? That sounds so stuffy. Like, “Oh! We can’t attend your dinner party. We’re going to our summer house for the weekend.” Maybe, “Oh, you two really must come up to our summer house next weekend.” Emphasis on the “end” of weekend. They are two words. “Summer” and “house.” They keep buzzing around inside my head and I keep trying to swat them away like make-believe gnats. Maybe I have never owned a summer house or never even been to one. Maybe none of this matters. Yeah. Maybe it did matter but it doesn’t matter anymore so I just shouldn’t worry about it or try to make it work in my head. Maybe I should just let it go. Yeah, maybe I should just let it go.

~~ * ~~

Persephone is playing the piano and Diane is singing.

For nobody else, gave me a thrill

With all your faults, I love you still

It had to be you, wonderful you, It had to be you

Kathy told me they all knew Persephone used to play the piano before she arrived and so they had it tuned up after she got to the facility, but she didn’t go near it. Diane got there and started singing randomly and so now Persephone just plays and Diane sings. Diane doesn’t talk very much because she’s self-conscious. She doesn’t have any short term memory. She writes everything down but throws her notes away eventually because she can’t remember why she wrote everything down. She can let go like that.

Apparently, Persephone heard Diane singing and then walked down the hall to the piano and launched into her own version of background music and then Diane heard her playing and went down the hall and sang some more. Persephone only had to hear Diane sing a song once and then she would know what to play. Diane knows probably a hundred songs, I think.

It’s like being in a bar. The staff turns down the lights a little and put battery-operated candles on the tables. They make it really nice. There’s no smoking allowed and every other Sunday night when Antoine breaks out a cigar at the Diane and Persephone concert, the staff warns him that he’s not allowed to smoke and that there will be consequences if he lights up. But on those nights they walk away and Antoine lights up and puffs away, leaning his head back and watching the gauzy circles lazy up into the light, examines the orange at the end of his cigar. He’ll close his eyes, nod, go to a really peaceful place. The first time I heard the story and heard Diane sing and Persephone play, I just cried into my pillow because I decided their brains aren’t broken. Not like mine.

Tonight is different. Tonight, I think that we’re all broken differently. Tonight, I watch all this from the doorway for a while. Then I go back to my room and lie on my bed and focus on just being. Flickers pop and fizzle out and I don’t chase them. If I don’t chase them, maybe they won’t run away. I just focus on watching them happen. Diane and Persephone are far away, their differences echoing off empty walls, bouncing into my room to keep me company.

~~ * ~~

“How are you today?” Dr. Anna opens with the same question, every session. She wants to know how I am. After I answer that, she’ll ask if there’s anything I want to talk about “today.” It’s always “today.” She never leaves the question empty-handed, it’s always full of today. The routine is good, I think, maybe good for all of us. Surprises aren’t so good for us in here. We’ve had enough surprises in our life. Surprises mean you can’t control it, can’t control your life and that doesn’t feel good sometimes.

Today is Friday and today it’s sunny. It is that time of year when the sun is strong and the winds are stronger and our troubles may or may not be sent drifting away. Today I’m lounging on the couch, relaxed back, right leg crossed over left leg. I piled two pillows on top of each other and rested my left elbow on them and now I’m lounging. I feel comfortable. This is my skin and I like it. Today I like it. Today there is no before.

“Good,” I reply. Then, as if I need to repeat it for my own benefit or for her benefit, I say it again, “Good,” but this time I add the emphasis. I’m nodding now and sort of smiling, too. “Yeah,” I say. Dr. Anna is quiet like she always is. She always leaves space. Always leaves open space for me instead of crowding me with her words and I never feel like I have to fill the space but this time I want to, so I tell her I’ve been practicing what Yosuke taught me last week. She smiles. I look at her and I smile and she smiles and I say I’m not trying to be what I was before and that I’m just trying to be what I am and I’m trying to be nothing more.

“You’ve seemed different. I’m glad Yosuke could help you,” she says. We are not in our routine and it’s okay. It’s not a surprise. She looks over her glasses. Dr. Anna wears stylish brown reading glasses, but they’re flecked and not completely brown. They look stylish but they’re really simple. Stylish but simple, that’s Dr. Anna. I told her once she’s too young for reading glasses. She said, “That’s very kind of you,” and it was nice for someone to think I was being kind. That was early, when I first arrived and I didn’t feel nice or kind. Just angry and frustrated and broken.

“What else would you like to tell me about your talk with Yosuke?” she asks after leaving space.

I look down, push back the cuticle on my right thumb. I think about this. What else would I like to tell her about my talk with Yosuke? I think about it some more. My brain starts to get jumbled so I close my eyes and breathe and think about not worrying about it. I think about just being here right now.

What else would I like to tell her about my talk with Yosuke? I feel my insides churning. The muscles in my legs stiffen. I put my left hand up to my face.

“I want it to last,” I say as the swirling in my skull starts again. I breathe. Breathe again. Once more. “I want it to last.”

Space again. Lots of space.

I press my fingers and my thumb to my forehead, crossing a turbulent ocean. Seasick.

Dr. Anna’s voice is soft and she speaks in that careful tone she uses sometimes as she asks how I’ll feel if it doesn’t last and she is very far away on the other side of the waves rushing in my ears.

I can’t make it last and I know that and I work on being okay with that. The blips and scratches that are my brain are always there but I remind myself it’s okay. I remind myself I can deal with it if I just breathe. And if I can just breathe then I can handle anything, right? I am determined to handle anything and to hold onto that determination like a life ring as soon as I start getting tossed around by this splintered ocean that’s going to drown me one day if I let it.

~~ * ~~

Larry has found me in the laundry room. I’m sitting on the floor, my clothes clean and folded in my basket on the dryer, and I’m sitting back against it, reading a book by a man who was a physician and then found out he had cancer. It’s all about his life and his memories and his being a doctor and being a cancer patient. He dies in the end. We all die in the end. This book I can relate to. It makes sense to me. I’ve read it before, lots of times. I like reading it and every time I realize how much I like it I get worried that it’s too morbid to like something like this. But I go on reading anyway. He’s honest. I like that about this book.

“Ready for dinner?” Larry asks from the doorway.

I drop my arms between my bent knees and look up at him over my reading glasses. I had asked him once if they ran around getting everyone for every meal and he’d said no, that I was the only one they had to track down every day. When I asked him why I got the special treatment, he’d asked, “Would you ever eat if we didn’t come drag you down?”

So there I am. Sitting on the floor in the laundry room and right then it was my little space and I didn’t want to leave. I’m still staring at him over my glasses and he’s still staring back, having assumed the position: Feet wide, firm stance, arms folded across his barrel chest. Army captain all the way. And he suddenly asks, “You maybe going to try eating with the others tonight?”

I take my glasses off and start to push up off the floor. I remind him that I’ve tried that before. “The others don’t like me much.”

“Sure they do,” he says, smiling.

“No, they don’t,” I grunt, trying to straighten my legs. “They stop talking whenever I sit with them.”

“They’re just waiting,” he says. I see him shrug as he says it, like it’s nothing big.

I lean against the dryer, and carefully, slowly fold down the corner of the page I’m on, then look at him. “Waiting for what?”

“For you.”

“That doesn’t make sense. What are they waiting for me about? Am I supposed to say grace or something?”

He laughs a little. “Eh, they’re just waiting.”

This is ridiculous. Now I really don’t want to go to dinner. Now I really don’t want to do anything. “Man,” I mutter as I set the book down in my laundry basket, “and I thought I was crazy.”

Larry chuckles a bit, and I laugh a little with him. “Maybe you can sit with Rastaman?” he asks.

I assume my own position: Throw my left hip out, rest my hand on it, lean against the dryer to my right, and lay my right arm across the basket. “Antoine’s appearance,” I say authoritatively, “has nothing to do with being a Rasta man.”

Larry looks at me, cocks his head and listens. He leaves space. I sigh somewhat dramatically.

“Rasta men put curses on their enemies just like other voodoo cults do. Rasta men aren’t big cuddly teddy bears, okay? Just because he’s got long dreadlocks and looks Jamaican doesn’t make him a Rasta man. Got it?”

And in that instant more flickers pop – I’m somewhere else, maybe Jamaica, maybe somewhere other than Jamaica, laughing with someone – I see these memories and I hear them and I start to reach for them but try to focus on letting them go, but it’s hard because somewhere in the fractures of my brain are the answers to how I know this stuff.

Larry notices. More space.

Then he says, gently, “Breathe, Camille. The information is there. Some of the details will come back; some answers will be filled in in other ways; the least important of the details will be discarded.”

I look at him and for once – it seems, maybe for the first time – I’m not angry over my brokenness. I just look at him and nod.

“Come down to dinner, okay?” he says finally, still – still – gently smiling, and walks out.

I drop the book and laundry in my room, and head for the dining room and the soothing colors.

I walk in and see Melissa and before I even know where to sit I ask her for a grilled cheese and she knows to have Chef add grilled onions for me. I decide to sit at a table with Diane and Annie and a man named Harold. Antione is calling to me from another table, “C’mere, Camille! C’mere, Camille!” I wave at him. “Hey, Rastaman!” I call back. He smiles his gap-toothed smile. Next to him, Nellie is knitting while she’s eating – the staff let her do anything to keep her hands constantly moving and her fidgeting at bay, even during meals.

So I sit and Annie and Diane go quiet and stare at their food and eat. It’s Friday and Fridays are always casual dinners. I look at Harold and he hasn’t touched his chicken. I see Diane’s fingers on her right hand move as if she’s orchestrating a song in her head and Annie leans in and whispers something about seeing the energy and Diane whispers something back about new songs.

“I’m looking forward to this Sunday, Diane,” I say. It feels awkward coming out of my mouth. She looks at me and it’s almost like she’s afraid of me. I can’t tell. It doesn’t matter. I smile but panic is starting at the back of my head. I take a deep breath, focus on pushing the oncoming waves away from the sheltered shore of my sanity.

“I mean it, Diane. I really like listening to you guys perform. I’m jealous about how you can remember all these songs and I −” Diane puts her free right hand in her lap, and digs her fork into a potato, takes a bite, staring hard at her plate. Yeah. She can remember all those songs and I can’t remember anything. But I can remember what I had for dinner last night: Veggie lasagna with a side salad.

I take a deep breath. When Annie glances up at me, I smile at her and she quickly looks back down at her food, shovels small pieces of cut-up grilled cheese sandwich into her mouth with her fork, trying to further avoid my gaze at all cost.

“How’s it going, Annie?” I ask but I know she won’t answer. She pauses and then continues to eat carefully, still avoiding me. I knew she wouldn’t answer. I just wanted to be a jerk about it, I realize.

Every muscle is tightening. My jaw is tightening. My head is starting to swim again and I’m still pushing back against the panic when Melissa arrives with my grilled cheese. I fight the urge to take my plate and go back to my room. I want to pick it up and throw it at the wall. I want to slam my hands down on the table and make Annie or Diane look at me. I want to scream but screaming won’t help. Nothing will help.

I close my eyes.

Just be here.

Just breathe.

I open my eyes and Harold is looking at me. I smile. He stares.


I cut my sandwich in half and ask, “Should we dig in, Harold?” I figure he probably didn’t get the memo that he’s supposed to avoid me or be afraid of me, so it’s worth a shot to talk to him.

His eyes go wide in a face scarred by years of acne when he was young, and his brain, scarred by years of war on a battlefront somewhere far away, seems to work overtime before he says, “I ate already.” Harold has gray hair that’s overdue for a good trim hanging around his ears and the back of his neck. He’s bald otherwise, and the little hair he has looks as if it hasn’t been washed in a couple of weeks.

I doubt he’s eaten already. I point at his chicken and potatoes. “Well, how about having seconds? Keep me company while I eat?”

He looks down at his food, then back at me. “But I ate already.”

“Ah. I see. Was it good?” I lift up half my sandwich and the cheese oozes out a little and the sandwich sags. I see Harold staring and his mouth is open a little. “Grilled cheese with grilled onions, Harold,” I say and dig my teeth in and an onion slides out with my bite. Harold still stares and swallows hard before his mouth drops open again.

“Y-yes,” he hesitates. “I ate…” He watches the sandwich rest on my fingertips, swallows hard again.

Why isn’t someone sitting with him, making sure he eats? Why aren’t they fixing him his favorite food? I don’t know the rules around here, I tell myself, but I feel like I know what the rules should be. I feel like somewhere in the back of my damaged, broken brain I kind of know what they should be doing with someone like Harold.

Whatever. I slide my plate over to him. “Here, just take a taste. Cut off a piece or something. It’s good,” I tell him. I block out Annie and Diane and it’s just me and Harold in the world.

I watch Harold hesitate a moment, then reach for the half sandwich on my plate from off the side of the table as if he’s sneaking it from me. He brings his mouth down to meet it, barely lifting it off the plate. Takes a bite and inhales, then devours the rest, forcing it into his mouth with small, furtive glances up at me. I hand him the rest of my sandwich and he grabs it, devours that, too, before I know what’s happening.


His chicken looks dry but I guess it will work.

“Hey, pal, you gonna eat this?” I ask as I slide his plate over to me.

“I ate already,” he says, wiping his mouth.

Melissa arrives by my side, puts a hand on my shoulder before I can dig into his chicken. “I’ve asked Chef to make you another sandwich. Sound good?”

I smile. “Yeah, thanks.” Then I nod towards Harold. “Maybe he wants seconds?” Melissa is already nodding, says they’re on it. I look over at Annie and she and Diane are still heads-down trying to avoid my gaze. I notice they look at each other from time to time, maybe communicating telepathically. Maybe they just know what the other person is thinking because they’re close like that. I will never be close to them like that.

~~ * ~~

Dinner is over and I survived. I survived and Harold ate and I ate and then I went back to my room and closed my door.

Then Drake arrived. Hazel, our littlest aide, knocked on my door, asked if I want to see him. I could have said no, and she’d have sent him away. But I didn’t say no. I told her sure, I’ll see him. I don’t know why.

So now we are sitting in the living room and I don’t have to worry about anything or prove anything. I survived dinner and didn’t break apart into a million pieces. I’m good.

We call it the living room but Drake called it the game room the first couple of times he was here. He kept saying that there were lots of games here like Scrabble and checkers and Uno and he was really surprised that we have Monopoly. Like crazy people don’t play games. Or like crazy people can’t be trusted not to swallow the shoe from Monopoly when we get a bad turn.

Drake never visits on a Friday. And Friday night is poker night. Wouldn’t he just soil himself if he saw Phillip dealing cards like a shark with no outbursts and all the focus and then see Diane making notes every time someone makes a move so she can remember while Antoine sucks on a carrot stick because the staff won’t let him light up on Friday nights the way they do on every other Sunday night. Nellie never fidgets during poker and sits still with unreal focus, and sometimes Carver plays, too. Yeah, it would be funny if Drake could see all this, see what the other side of life is like here, but I don’t want him to.

He asks how I’ve been and I shrug. Dr. Anna asked me why I keep letting him come back. I don’t know. I do know, I’m pretty sure, but I can’t remember. He looks like he always looks, and he looks uncomfortable. But more uncomfortable than normal. His graying hair seems to be receding faster every time I see him. Even his hair is running away from him. Did I run away from him? I think I’m smiling. I might be because he looks at me a little funny and then looks like he’s trying to ignore what he sees.

“So,” he says. I ask how his sister is and he nods and says, “She’s good. She says hi.”

“No she doesn’t,” I say and he looks startled. I’m startled but I don’t show it. The words just slipped out. I want him to hurry and leave. I glance at Nellie and Philip, trying to tell them telepathically not to set up for poker night until he leaves.

“So,” Drake says again and leans forward. Then he kind of opens his hands for me to see something and says, “Look,” and so I look and there’s nothing there.

“Yeah,” I say, looking for what I’m supposed to be looking for and all he says again is, “Look,” and I say, “Yeah, what?” He rubs his hands together and then folds all his fingers together and I think he’s trying to do a trick or something. “See,” he says and I say, “I don’t see shit, Drake. There’s nothing.”

He looks confused and I’m confused, too, but I don’t care that I don’t get it. “Did we have a summer house?” I ask. Drake looks even more confused now, maybe like he’s bothered or irritated. “Did we know someone who had one?” I ask.

“No – no,” he says, then he says, “Why would you ask that?”

I shrug again. I don’t have to answer him and it feels good. Dr. Anna always wants answers but I don’t have to answer Drake. “It must be someone else’s puzzle,” I say and out of the corner of my eye I can see his brows wrinkle and maybe his upper lip curls a little and I know he’s really uncomfortable now which, if I cared to notice, makes me kind of happy.

“Look, Camille,” he says again and so I say, “I am looking. What do you want me to see?”

But he gets that look on his face and shakes his head and says, “No, there’s nothing to see, I’m just trying to tell you something.”

“Then fucking spit it out, why don’t you?” If he wants to tell me something he should just say it instead of saying, “Look,” because he doesn’t have anything for me to look at, right?

“Fucking!” Phillip shouts from the other side of the room and then cups his hands over his mouth. He looks excited, I know but I don’t have to look at him to know. I know Phillip. He giggles. Drake looks bothered again, wipes his hands on his legs.

“Friday just isn’t a really good night for you to visit, okay? That’s all I’m saying,” I tell him and he looks surprised, sits up, looks around, gestures like he’s trying to say I’ve got nothing better to do, but I do have better things to do. It’s just none of his business. “Just get to your point already,” I say.

“Fine,” Drake says. “I’m not coming back for a while.” Then he looks kind of startled, like he can’t believe he just spit it out. That’s it? Really? That’s all? I just sit there and he is holding his breath and then he breathes a little and says, “I – I ‘m sorry, but I – I just can’t do this, Camille,” and I still just sit there because I just want him to finish and leave and then he says, “I just can’t. And – and Lisa is getting really uncomfortable about –“

Lisa?!” I shriek. It comes from nowhere. Drake looks like he’s frozen and I scream, “That cunt?!” and I can’t control it, I can’t control my mouth or my brain. My brain has snapped. I can feel it. Something came unglued.

Larry is running down the hall already I can see him out of the corner of my eye through the windows and Kathy is behind him and I’m screaming again, screaming like I’ve never heard anyone scream. “Fuck you, Drake! Fuck you! She’s uncomfortable so you’re never coming back? You asshole!”

Drake is standing, trying to get out of my way as I’m standing and going after his eyes with my fingers and I scream, “Get the fuck out, you prick! You goddamn prick!” Phillip shouts “Prick!” and laughs and Larry is taking Drake by the arm to get him out of the room and Kathy is holding her hands out to calm me and Drake yanks his arm from Larry and says, “Get your stupid hands off me.” Annie rushes up to Drake and gestures with her hands up and out, up and out, telling him to breathe, just breathe in the light. “Jesus Christ Almighty!” Drake yells. “I can’t take this shit!” and he’s stumbling backwards and trying to keep Larry’s hands off him and get away from Annie.

And that’s when I really lose it like I hadn’t lost it before but now it’s on. “Don’t you talk to my friends that way, Drake! Don’t you ever talk to my friends that way!” It’s coming from somewhere deep in my soul and Kathy has one arm around my waist to hold me back but I’m fighting against her and it’s taking everything she’s got to hold me back.

Phillip shouts, “Jesus!” and laughs again, clapping his hands. Deanna is there now and she has Drake by one arm and Larry has Drake’s other arm and he can’t wrestle away from either of them as they drag him towards the door because he’s too stupid to just leave on his own and Annie is calling after Drake to breathe.

Kathy still has me tight but I’m still not done and I yell, “You’re a fucking coward, Drake, you know that? A fucking coward! Own your mistakes, you prick,just for once! Own your mistakes!

~~ * ~~

I’ve been lying here for a long time. I’m not sure how long, but a long time. Kathy brought me in and helped me onto the couch and Dr. Anna came in a long time after that and she’s been waiting. I’m sure they called her and she came in because of me. On a Friday night, of all nights.

I’m crying a little and staring at the back of the couch and Dr. Anna is waiting for me to say something. She hasn’t said I’m supposed to say something but I know how it works. She’s quiet. She’s not writing anything or sighing or getting impatient. So I ask her, “What do you think about while you’re waiting for me to talk?”

She leaves a small space. “I think about you,” she finally says. “I think about what this all might be like for you.”

This must be the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me. Anyone. Ever. I push myself up and roll myself around until I’m sitting up. I lean forward and look at my hands.

I shake my head. I say, “I don’t understand.”

“What don’t you understand, Camille?”

I shake my head again. I don’t understand a lot of things. I don’t know where to start. I don’t know where it begins. I can’t get my brain to focus when I want it to focus so I can’t see where it begins. So I say, “I don’t understand things. I don’t understand my brain.” I’m shaking my head again and then I press on both sides again thinking I can get it to sit still maybe I can get everything to sit still up there and get it to where it was quiet and maybe I can make it last. I look at her but I know she doesn’t have the answer. She just keeps looking at me kind of gently, then she leans forward and says, “Camille, I’ve told Drake not to come back unless you tell me you want him to visit. I had to make the decision. It’s not about what he wants or doesn’t want to do. It is my responsibility to protect you and the others. I can’t have anyone coming here and upsetting my residents. I’m concerned about you. I’m very concerned about what happened this evening, to you and to the others.”

I sink my head down, touch my forehead to my knees. I wonder if my brain was always broken, but no I know it wasn’t. I know there was a time before. I hear a knock at Dr. Anna’s door and it opens a little and I know something is said or maybe someone makes a gesture but I don’t look up.

“Camille?” Dr. Anna’s voice is very soft now. “Camille, I’ve arranged for a surprise for you,” she says.

I walk into the hallway and it’s like it’s buzzing. It’s just buzzing. Larry is outside the door and he smiles at me and he looks like he wants to hug me. He leads me around the corner to go toward the therapy room and everyone is there and Annie turns to see me and rushes up and sweeps her arms up and out between us, “Just breathe, just breathe in the light, just breathe in the light,” she says and she is smiling and then I feel prickles of electricity as she runs her hands up my arms to my shoulders and squeezes just a little and her smile is cracking her face. I hear Phillip shout, “Puppy!” and giggle and I know his hands are clamped over his mouth wherever he is.

Antoine is waiting for me near the therapy room saying in a softer voice than usual, “C’mere, Camille! C’mere, Camille!” This time he’s breathless with excitement. This time I see him gesture. He wants me to really come here so I walk towards him and he is beaming and he turns and Persephone is there inside the door with her crutches. She reaches out and then her crutches hang from her arms as she places her hands on my face and they are warm and she is smiling and her smile is warm and full of love. She leans over to touch me cheek to cheek and whispers, “You are not broken. You are perfect as you are.” And when she pulls her head back to look at me my tears start all over again. Then Persephone steps aside and Cheryl is sitting in a chair and Jonah is there, waiting for me.

But it’s not Jonah. It is this wise old man sitting on the floor in a big ball of love and light and he is waiting for me, just waiting. I get down on my hands and knees and I crawl to him and I am crying and he walks gently towards me. He lets me scoop him up into my arms and I sit back and bury my face in his soft fur and I hold him and breathe in, I breathe in the light and he smells good. He smells like happiness and sunshine and love and the way things were before.

But it’s not Jonah. It is this wise old man sitting on the floor in a big ball of love and light and he is waiting for me, just waiting. I get down on my hands and knees and I crawl to him and I am crying and he walks gently towards me. He lets me scoop him up into my arms and I sit back and bury my face in his soft fur and I hold him and breathe in, I breathe in the light and he smells good. He smells like happiness and sunshine and love and the way things were before.


One thought on “Before

  1. This is one of the best stories I have read in my lifetime, no kidding! I totally relate to the “broken brain” and the inability to remember. Although I don’t have dementia or Alzheimer’s (yet), I’ve experienced TBI. The conversational tone totally conveys how we think. The descriptions are so vivid that it is easy to learn the characters. I hope you have more stories like this, as I am hooked. Looking forward to your collection publication! Awesome story.

    Liked by 1 person

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