At Night We Howl

October 13, 2013

I haven’t been in the commons for ten minutes before he approaches me.

I am swathed in two heavy blankets, limbs trembling. It’s colder than a witch’s tit in here, and it pisses me off. This is a healing place, right? Healing places should be warm.

I have my legs tucked under me like a hen, huddled so deep in the chair that I’m almost a part of it and I have a large hardback book open in my lap–two signs that clearly declare: Do Not Disturb.

Apparently, this dude doesn’t heed signs.

He plops into the chair next to me. I keep my eyes on my book. Do Not Disturb.

The words are blurry and I blink hard, seeking focus, hands shaking as I turn the page.

“They sure keep it cold in here, huh?” the man says. I haven’t looked at him yet but from the rattle and rasp of his voice, I know he’s older than me–has seen a lot of mileage–and is a longtime smoker. It makes me wonder if my voice tells my secrets, too.

I consider not answering. There are plenty of people in the commons who aren’t speaking to anybody. Heck, some lady has even turned her chair so it faces the wall, which is actually a pretty good idea, in my opinion.

But damn you, Mama, and your insistence that I always be gracious. Why does your voice reverberate in my head, even now that I’m grown?

Sigh.

I look up from my book into two blue eyes–the left one startlingly bloodshot–and attempt a smile.

“Yeah.”  I look back down at my book, hopeful.

“I’m Clive*,” he says and holds out his hand. His nails need trimming and are stained with nicotine. I reluctantly shake back.

“Dana.”

“This your first day? I haven’t seen you around.”

Resigned, I close the book. “No. I just haven’t felt like leaving my room.”

He grins widely, and it’s not pretty in there, but he’s somehow disarming, with his red pirate-eye and slouchy way of sitting. His dark hair is greased back, like Elvis. “Ah.” He nods in recognition. “You one of the nervous ones, right? Anxiety?”  He points at my shaking hands.

I narrow my eyes. “Gee, ya think?”

But he just laughs, and then erupts into a hacking cough. “I’ve been here a while. I know things.”

“Mmm.” I begin to open my book.

“No, really,” Clive says, crossing his legs and shifting in his chair. “Pick one person in this commons and I’ll tell you what they’re in here for.”

“Isn’t that kind of… invasive?” I raise an eyebrow.

“Aw, Hell,” he scoffs, waving me off. “We’re all stuck in this shithouse. Might as well have a little fun.”

To my shame, I’m tempted.

“C’mon. Pick one. I’ll get you some tea,” he says, and rises from his chair, shambling towards the sideboard with the teabags and coffee and that fake creamer that clumps, no matter how hard you stir.

He shoves a steaming styrofoam cup at me. “Chamomile. Calming. Thought you could use it.”

I glare, but it just makes him laugh.

“Hey, I could have given you the Sleepytime. Be grateful.” He settles back into his chair.

I take the book out of my lap and set it on the side table.

“Okay. The guy in scrubs by the t.v.  The one with all of the tattoos.”

“Ah, Marius. Romanian. All those tats are in Romanian or something and don’t ask what they mean ’cause it pisses him off. He has anger problems. Nice kid, really, when he’s not mad. When I first got here, he told me it was gonna be okay. It was nice of him.”

Almost as if he knows what we’re up to, Marius looks over at us. He has enormous eyes that are almost black. Soulful eyes that tell me he’s sad and doesn’t like to get angry; it just happens. He’s beautiful, in an angular way. His eyes meet mine for a moment and then flick away, disinterested.

“So yeah. Depression and anger management,” Clive says. “Next?”

I feel a little dirty doing this, but somehow I can’t stop.

“The black woman in the purple sweater.”

“Danica. Sweetheart. PCP and pot. Boyfriend beat the hell outta her and now she has seizures. They’re trying to figure out her brain.”

“PCP? Like ‘Angel Dust’?” I shake my head in disbelief. “People still do that?”

“Yeah. They put the nervous ones and the addicts and the people on probation all on this floor. And the loonies. They’re on the west end.”

He looks at me with his pirate eye. “You heard ’em yet?”

I sip my tea and grimace. It’s barely warm and tastes like grass. “Yeah.  At night.”

“I know, right?” Clive says, scraping nicotine from under his fingernails. “It’s spooky as Hell. During the day they’re all out of it and stuff, drugged to the gills, and you don’t hear one damn thing but then when the sun goes down, they start hollerin’ like animals.”

Animals.

That’s just it. Animals.

It sounds ugly, to compare humans to animals, but sometimes it’s true.

I was jolted awake the first night by a fierce bellowing that ricocheted down the hall. “Out! Outta here! Getmeout! Getmeoutgetmeout! Getmeoutofhereyouassholes! I’m gonna break down this fuckin’ wall if you don’t get me out now and AGH! Don’ttouchmedon’ttouchme! Don’t come near me. You touch me, I’ll kill you I swear.”

And like the howl of a lone wolf, it was a sentinel, calling for its brethren.

“I didn’t get my cigarette this afternoon,” another voice chimes in, furious. “You are liars and cheats and you promisedmemycigaretteGoddamit and I didn’t get it and you lie. You lie, you always lie, and I want my cigarette.” The anger turns to a whiny sob. “You promised. You promised me. You broke your promise.” Like a child.

“Who stole my fuckin’ pillow? This is not my pillow. This pillow is harder than my pillow and which one of you bastards took it? WHICH BASTARD?”

The women are worse, because they shriek. They shriek and you can’t get the cacophony out of your head. They shriek for their babies and their sisters and keen for their own mothers, begging in the dark.  Voices that reek of loss and longing and as hard as I press my pillow to my ears, it seeps into to my own dark corners.

“You smoke?” Clive asks.

I shake my head.

“Good for you.” He glances at the clock on the wall. “Five minutes until cigarette break. You can always tell it’s almost time because the two Matt’s start pacing by the door.” He gestures to two clean-shaven, muscular boys that look nothing like boys. They walk back and forth, faces an empty slate.

“Iraq. PTSD,” he says.

I have to take my eyes off them then.

“Hey, you met ‘Fuck You Linda’ yet?” Clive says.

“Um. No?” I kind of laugh.

“Heh.” Clive grins and claps his hands down on his knees several times. “Well, I ain’t gonna tell you about her. You gotta meet her yourself. Believe me, you’ll know her when you see her.”

“That’s asshole of you!” I protest. “How can you not tell me? Is she dangerous?”

“Heh.” Clive rises from his seat, ready to claim his lone cigarette for the next four hours. “Not tellin.’ A guy’s gotta have a little fun in here, after all.”

He starts walking to the cigarette station and then stops. He turns around and looks at me. “You wanna go outside? Get some fresh air?”

I smile at the idea of sitting in the small courtyard, sardined in between scads of puffing patients and considering it “fresh air.”

“I’m ok. Thanks.”

He nods. “Look. Ummm, you need anything, Dana, just let me know, ok?”

I look into his blue and red eyes and see that he means it, that he’s an extended hand, and the back of my ears get hot. There’s too much in my throat to speak so I just nod.

A blond nurse doles out cigarettes to dozens of agitated people and they herd outside. I pick up my book but I don’t read the words.

Someone has my back.

The unlikeliest person in the world is my lucky ticket.

But night is coming. I can feel the air begin to bear down, even though I’m indoors.

Even encased in walls, night seeps in.

And at night, the wolves howl.

 

**to be continued**

 

*for the sake of privacy, the names in this piece have been changed.

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Jamie October 13, 2013 at 2:01 pm

I gobbled this up like a hungry baby bird. I want part two (and three and four and five?) now please. Your writing, Kitch! Unbelievable!

I thought you were writing about a time long past, but then I read the Iraq PTSD part and wasn’t so sure. *Raised eyebrow* Hugs and looking forward to more.

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Shannon October 13, 2013 at 2:02 pm

I’m speechless. Your words have knocked the words right out of me. Love to you, my friend.

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Debbie October 13, 2013 at 2:16 pm

Dana, Wow. This is amazing writing. You put us right there with you. Did I say Wow? I don’t want to think of you in there for long, yet I can’t wait to read more of the story…

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Abby October 13, 2013 at 2:22 pm

I echo the sentiments of those who are praising this incredible writing. There have been times I’ve thought about writing about the time I spent in the “loony bin” a decade ago, but part of me doesn’t want to go back. But at the time, the people I met just…changed me. It all did. Some of the people in the hospital who were looked at as freaks on the outside were some of the most centered, compassionate people I’ve met.

Then there were those who were functioning at an animal level, of course. Human nature. Predictably unpredictable. This post? Incredible.

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SuziCate October 13, 2013 at 5:02 pm

I’m absorbed. I’m picturing this and sobbing thinking of my sister. She just left the hospital, and described much of what you are saying here. In fact, I witnessed much during the daytime visiting hours, so I can only imagine the night time ones…this isn’t something I’ve had the strength to write about, but all occurred while my father was dying…I can’t go there yet either. Just know I feel this emotion and am glued to your every word.

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TKW October 14, 2013 at 7:39 am

SuziCate,

Is your sister okay?
xo

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SuziCate October 14, 2013 at 2:54 pm

She is home, but hanging by a thread. Picks and chooses which meds and how much she will take so she’s 150 miles a minute to shuffling….so no, she’s not better. It breaks my heart, but she’s doesn’t want the kind of help she needs.

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S in A October 13, 2013 at 5:30 pm

Where in Hades do you find the strength to be so brave?

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TKW October 14, 2013 at 7:40 am

S in A,

I guess because I don’t care?

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Velva October 13, 2013 at 5:55 pm

You rock my friend! Wow. This was brutal and honest. This is what makes you a great writer.

Love you.

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Katrina Kenison October 13, 2013 at 6:24 pm

Luminous writing, humor intact, storytelling skills as finely honed as ever. I read this holding my breath, and then watched you just knock the ball out of the park. . Love it, and ache for you, too.

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TKW October 14, 2013 at 7:41 am

Thank you,

Katrina. It was hard to write but I think it lifted something, too.

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elizabeth October 13, 2013 at 6:50 pm

I am…speechless.

And I hope things are better.

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jacquie October 13, 2013 at 7:47 pm

speechless as Shannon said. your words left me speechless. and also wanting – more needing – to know more about the people and their stories. also a good reminder that one never knows where help and hope might come from so keeping an open mind and heart can be an asset. Though it can also be a source of great pain and hurt. I hate to say it but sometimes Mama’s can be spot on w/ their advice. Marvelous post and writing as usual.

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Naptimewriting October 13, 2013 at 10:25 pm

I’m with everyone else here…THIS is all-consuming. This is different. This is raw and honest. And I want more.

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Alison October 14, 2013 at 3:35 am

More. I want more. And I want it now.
I’m intrigued. I always learn something new about you when I come here. I like that.
Also, you’re an amazing wordsmith.

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Sherri October 14, 2013 at 6:34 am

As always, I feel it and am in awe. Hurts to read, but I do want more.

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Barbara October 14, 2013 at 6:51 am

Wow. What’s going on here? This is NOT a happy place, but it sounds like you’ll need your sense of humor to get through.

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TKW October 14, 2013 at 7:43 am

Barbara,

You’re right. It’s not a happy place. But I did find some unexpected gifts there.

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Erica October 14, 2013 at 7:29 am

No words at the moment.. felling a little overwhelmed.
Lots of love to you. xoxo

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Contemporary Troubadour October 14, 2013 at 9:31 am

Raw and real and brave. I know too well how ineffective pillows are as earplugs and how long the sounds that come through all that useless stuffing echo even after you’ve left the bed. I hope the honor your writing gives those howls helps them settle so they don’t go trespassing elsewhere.

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Biz October 14, 2013 at 11:41 am

Just. Brilliant!

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Kel October 14, 2013 at 4:12 pm

The writing was raw, compelling, and so genuine.

My heart goes out to you for going through this, but sometimes what we need most is to remove ourselves from our own realities to get perspective on someone else’s.

You and I don’t “know” each other, but know that you have love and support coming from a little corner of NC.

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Tiffany October 16, 2013 at 4:30 pm

I’m worried. But even when things are rough, your writing is amazing. Xoxo

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Pamela October 17, 2013 at 2:36 am

I’m pretty sure that we are all Matt and Clive and Marius. We have all howled at night. And I know the hornet buzz of anxiety well. This broke my heart wide open. Your compassion is an immense gift as is your talent with words.

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Jennifer October 17, 2013 at 11:41 am

Wow. Wow. Wow. I did not see this coming. I kept thinking, “this is fiction, right.” And then, nope it wasn’t. And it all makes me love you even more.

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Caitlin October 23, 2013 at 7:07 pm

TKW – You are such an amazing writer! I am dumbstruck every time I read one of your pieces. I can’t wait to catch up and read the other one. So glad I found you in the blogosphere (and in person haha)! :)

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Rudri Bhatt Patel @ Being Rudri October 28, 2013 at 10:52 am

Dana,

When is that book coming out?

The imagery, the sounds, the tension, and the emotion – this is perfect storytelling. xoxo

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