Sally - Part II
Note: All characters have been fictionalized to protect their identities.
September 13, 2022
Writings from the Nuthouse, Redux
I made it a point to ignore Sally. I didn’t even make eye contact with her. I stayed the fuck out of that woman’s way. She had a good 100 pounds on me, and I am a big girl. She fucking terrified me. I figured she’d easily be able to lay on top of me and smother me with a pillow and I wouldn’t have the ability to make a sound. Ya, sure, I wanted a ticket out. But that was definitely not how I wanted to die.
I spent most of my time sitting at the table in the common room. She sat on a couch under the window. She stared at me a lot of the time. She was always mumbling, talking to the cacophony of voices who tormented her.
After a couple days, I got the sense she was jealous of the easy rapport I’d developed with the others. I got the sense if I’d looked at her and asked, “Sally, why don’t you come on over here and color with us?” she’d have jumped at the invitation. But I didn’t do that. I was so angry with her.
Not acknowledging her was incredibly cruel on my part. I knew my gut was telling the truth. Sally just wanted to be invited in. She just wanted to be part of the group. I was so selfish to hang onto the lie she was dangerous and then to hang on even longer to my resentment. She was powerless. She, more than any of the other patients, deserved my empathy and attention. I lost some good days not connecting with her. My loss, not hers. My loss.
I was slowly able to read her face. She wasn’t frozen at all, I simply hadn’t been able to see her as she truly was. My breakthrough was on that third day, when I had a heart-to-heart with Laura, the night nurse. I explained how horrified I’d been by Sally’s behavior, and how frightened I was she’d hurt me.
“Scream STAFF as loud as you can and just see how quickly we’ll come running to help you!” Laura said. “Sally wouldn’t be able to overpower you. She has no desire to overpower you. She is no threat.”
Sally was a long-term patient, very ill, very likely to live out her days in the hospital. As the black cloud of anger I’d been so reluctant to let go slowly dissipated, I saw our common humanity. I foolishly believed I needed to stay angry to stay safe. After just a few days, I understood I did not. The hospital was safe. The unit was safe. I had always been safe.
On my fourth day, the unit went into lockdown because one of the patients was on a rampage. I was on the phone with my youngest niece, trying to walk her through changing mom’s glucose sensor. It’s complicated. I heard the commotion but paid no attention. It wasn’t unusual, I’d quickly become desensitized. I knew this patient acted out verbally, never physically. I wasn’t at all frightened.
Patty, the "counselor", said, “Coco, you need to get off the phone. You need to go to your room for a while.”
Patty was horrid. I hated her. Yep. Hate. Strong word. Don’t like to use it. But she was horrid. I looked at her disdainfully, rolled my eyes, and stomped off to my room.
I sat on my bed facing Sally who was sitting on her bed. We were close together, perhaps a foot and a half measured between our noses. Sally’s face was soft, but she wasn't smiling. She rarely smiled.
“Can we just be friends?” I asked.
“Yes. We can be friends,” Sally responded, her small meek smile suddenly apparent. She reached out her hand and I took it. We held together for a long while, simply holding hands and smiling.
“I love you, Sally,” I said.
“I love you, too,” she responded.
After a time, I broke away and walked across her side of the room to the window. Sally came and stood beside me. I tried again to figure out where we were. I asked Sally to point out some landmarks. I knew what city I was in, but I could not for the life of me figure out where the hospital was. For some reason that was important.