Sally - The Final Chapter
Note: All characters have been fictionalized to protect their identities.
September 15, 2022 Writings from the Nuthouse, Redux
The next few days Sally sat with me often at the big table in the common room. At times, her face was luminous, lit from within as an angel’s. She’d cup her hands on the table in front of her, palms ups. She’d lift one hand just above eye level and look at it, turning her wrist so she could view it from every angle. Her movements were as fluid as those of a ballet dancer. It was hypnotic.
“What do you see, Sally?”
“Hannah told me she’s found me a husband,” she said, still focused on her hand, still slowly turning her wrist and furling and unfurling her fingers.
“Who is Hannah?”
“She’s the woman that took over heaven after Sara,” she responded patiently, still with her hand in the air, dropping her head slowly and looking at me with her dark eyes, smiling her barely noticeable small smile.
“Who is your husband?”
“I don’t know yet, but he’s here.”
“Here in the hospital?”
“Have you seen him?”
“No, not yet. But we talk all the time.”
“What does he say?”
“He says you are funny to ask about him!”
I laughed out loud, but Sally just smiled her small smile. I never heard her laugh. Her range of expressions was very small yet unforgettable.
It was time to line up for dinner in the cafeteria. Walking down the long hall, I suppressed the urge to take her hand as I would have my niece’s when she was very young. I wanted to shield Sally, I wanted to protect her from the harsh realities of life in the hospital. But patients were not to touch other patients. I’d broken that rule only occasionally, always fearful I might be called out for it. I never was. There were no secrets, though. There were cameras everywhere.
Later that evening, I was at the big table and Sally was sitting on the couch staring down at her cupped hands resting on her thighs. Her lips moved rapidly as she engaged in frantic conversation with an unseen entity.
“Who is talking to you, Sally?”
“I can’t tell you,” she said, not lifting her eyes from her hands. “I can’t talk about it.”
I wanted to see her radiant like she’d been that morning. I wanted to see her meek small smile, undetectable to anyone that hadn’t spent a bit of time with her. I so wanted to sit with her, take her hands in mine, make her look at me, tell her, “No bad voices, no bad people, Sally! Tell them Coco said to get the fuck away from here!” A specter was torturing her, and I could do nothing. Nothing.
The next day, sitting at the big table, I asked her if she liked being at the hospital.
“I love it here,” she said, her face going soft and aglow.
“Because I have everything I need here.”
That, I could not wrap my mind around. Her needs were met, but she was a captive. I don’t think she knew that. The hospital was a very safe place. I could almost imagine how one might be lulled into complacency in that place. If the hospital was the only world you knew that world might be big, or at least big enough. But the hospital was not a home. And she was a captive.
Midday the day before my discharge, Sally was sitting on her bed when I walked into the room. I sat down across from her, just as the day we’d made friends.
“You’re leaving,” she said. “You won’t be here with me anymore.”
“True, Sally, but I love you. I will think of you often. I will never forget you. Will you remember me?”
“Yes. I will remember you,” she said, the very ends of her lips curling up nearly imperceptibly.
“Sally, when you hear the bad voices, I want you to say ‘Get the fuck off me! Go away!’ Can you do that Sally?”
“Yes, I will.”
“Sally, I want you to talk to your husband. He makes you happy. Invite him to talk. Not the other people. Not the bad people. Just your husband. You can plan your wedding. Tell me about your dress!”
“It will be blue. It will have a V neck and a tie at the back.”
“Oh, it sounds beautiful. Tell me more!”
She described her dress in detail. It was long and had rhinestones at the waist. She wasn’t sure if she’d wear heels.
“You can wear flats. You can do anything you want! It’s your wedding! And I will be there, Sally, if you want me to.”
“Yes. I want you to be there.”
We looked into one another’s eyes and smiled, connecting so deep I thought I might lose my breath. For a single fleeting moment, we were the only two beings in existence.