Her dad came home at lunch and found her. It was intuition that brought him back to the house. Usually he grabbed a sandwich from the man with the cart on the corner, but today he had a feeling he couldn’t shake and left the office. He found her sprawled and drooling across the bed.
Her skin was pale and he had the thought of Janice Joplin when her hair was all knotted and tangled. She is his daughter. Stepdaughter actually but he’s been around since she was two so they don’t make the distinction. He called 911 and tried to wake her up in a replay of all the television drama he had ever seen when the pitiful main character takes too many pills of an unknown origin. The brown barrel pill bottles were on their sides next to the bed.
Dreamlike, the way it felt, like some set designer created this. He dialed 911 and heard himself use his business voice. When the paramedics got there they scooped up the bottles and Josie and told him to follow in his own car. He called his wife and heard her cheerful voice announce that she cannot take the call. He hung up knowing that a missed call is better than hearing a recording of his voice telling of Josie’s latest drama. He made a second call to his assistant. Amanda always answers when he calls. What’s up?she says and he tells her what is going on. Keep trying Karen and tell her to meet me in the hospital… tell her to call me when she is parking. His voice is his tool and though it sounds calm, Amanda can tell he is scared. Amanda is used to being pulled into Josie’s issues. Last year, when Josie ran away to the city, she was gone for four days. She had helped Bob locate a therapist for her after that.
Amanda has a lot of thoughts about Josie and also about her cousin who overdosed last year but she holds these off to the side and puts Karen’s number on speed dial.
The white noise of the ICU was immediate, as the automatic double doors swung wide. The frequency of beeps and electronic sounds blend together creating a collective pulse for everyone there. Nurses, desensitized to the dramatic entrance of startled faces of visitors, don’t even look up when Bob enters. One of them a blond in purple scrubs, is talking about a cruise she is planning on the river. It’s a blues cruise, she says and briefly makes eye contact with Bob. Can I help you? She shifts her voice professionally without embarrassment then hearing Josie’s name flips through a pink plastic file and directs him down the hall.
Room 221 B. The room is like a large garage with sliding glass doors. Josie is pale and small. Her eyes are closed and she looks like a little beached-whale-doll crouched over the surf of the sheets that tangle around her. She has a ventilator breathing in and out that also sounds like the waves breaking. Bob notices a little clip on her finger with a small red light that makes her finger glow red. He can see white wires crawling in and out of the bedding and her blue gown. A bag of fluids hangs and drips hypnotically into her arm. Nurses come in and out with purposefully averted eyes checking the red digital numbers on the machines. They have learned not to make eye contact with family because it starts a round of questions that it is too soon to answer.
There are no chairs and family is allowed in for ten minutes every hour. The doctor explains to Bob that she is in a pseudo coma while they monitor her response to the medicine that they have given her. It might be too late for the pills when they pumped her stomach so they have to administer a chemical antidote to the toxic effects of Tylenol and whatever else she took. The danger is in the liver. Liver, Bob hears the word and thinks Josie does not want to be a Liver.
Karen arrives and Bob asks the nurse to parrot everything that the doctor has said. Karen’s eyes glaze over with tears but she blinks them back and they don’t drop on to her face.
Her temperature seems to be an issue because they check it a lot. The whole scene is mesmerizing, so that Bob and Karen often stop mid-sentence, and find that they have both lapsed into trance like stares. Then as if the spell is broken there eyes refocus and they join each other back in the thought they were talking about, finishing their words or letting it drift off unfinished. No one has said the word suicide or any other acknowledgement that this black-headed pale eighteen-year-old girl wants to die.
Karen looks at Josie and tells Bob that she wants to go home and pack her a little bag for when she wakes up. She’ll want to put her own clothes on and I’m going to bring her floppy bunny to cheer her up. She speaks softly in a small voice as if she is talking about a much younger child. Bob knows that Karen needs a mission and that if she is without a task too long she. becomes frozen with her own fear and sense of failure. He gives her the keys and tells her to expect a mess. They pretty much tore up her bedroom getting her out of there, leave it for me and I’ll deal with it later… just close the door.
Bob is alone in the ICU lounge. A priest has just entered and speaks with the other family here about their son. Bob looks away but also strains to hear the low emotion soaked voices. Words bubble up from the hum. This family had made some initial conversation with Bob when they arrived. Almost like prisoners asking each other. What are you in for? A drunk driver had hit our son. My daughter overdosed. he says and then realizes that they shrink from him as he described Josie’s self inflicted arrival into the ICU. Judgement is a wedge that stops all future conversation. I am innocent, he wants to say. Like all prisoners he feels instantly misunderstood. He sinks into the soft armchair and watches the ribbon of news and gossip that streams endlessly on the bottom of the TV screen. The details of starlets and multi-million dollar business deals passively enters his eyes but not his thoughts. He feels the vibration of his phone in his pocket and he reads a text message from Amanda letting him know that she has wrapped up a contract and cleared his afternoon and also tomorrow morning. Hope everything is ok, she says, let me know, and then she adds one of those punctuation combinations that means something to people Amanda’s age. Josie had been educating him in nonverbal text messages last year at the beach. Bob thought randomly, of Josie last summer full of her little girl games and jokes and how some switch had flipped this past winter as she became darker and heavier with moods that didn’t make sense.
Bob and Karen wondered about drugs and eating disorders and boy troubles and had brought her to a counselor. The counselor, Susan, had called after Bob left her a message explaining what happened. She said that she planned to come by tomorrow and had her phone on in case Bob or Karen needed to talk. Bob looked at the clock and realized that the whole day was almost gone. He should be hungry but he wasn’t able to figure out how to take care of this issue so he started to wander hoping he would find a coffee shop. The hospital had been recently renovated and nothing was where it used to be. Karen found him sitting by large flowerpots at the parking entrance.
She was carrying pink canvas bag that said JUICY on it and the brown floppy bunny that Josie had had since they took a trip to Yellowstone. Karen sat beside him and told him that she found a note. He could see it sticking out of her purse. He pulled it out and opened it. Double-spaced and typed on the computer it said, Dear Mom and Dad, I don’t want to live anymore. J. The blankness of this scared Bob more than anything else that day. It was so impersonal. Josie used to leave him notes in his brief case. Dear Daddy, I am glad that you will be home on time tonight, or dear daddy when you cross the street in the city- Be Careful.
The doctor came in and said that Josie was out of the woods but that this was a fairly serious attempt given the time frame and the potential that no one would have discovered her before six or seven at night. He said that he had already talked to her counselor and suggested that they transfer her to a hospital that dealt with emotional issues. He could make some recommendations if they needed some names. Bob nodded in the right spots but felt lost. The doctor kept his conversation moving. Bob caught on slowly that he was talking about a mental hospitalization in the city… some place that dealt with these things… serious suicide attempt. Karen started sorting through her purse at this moment and the suicide note kept spilling out with her Chap Stick and checkbook. Bob agreed to call Josie’s therapist and talk about their options. Karen only joined the conversation when the doctor said that Josie was moving to a regular room sometime tonight and they could go wait on the fourth floor lounge until she was moved.
Josie was awake and smoothing her sheets. She was not pale as she had been in the ICU but her face was dull and her eyes were unfocused. She looked like she had a hangover, Bob thought, all puffy and grey. For one second Bob felt full of fury when he saw her but he snapped into his salesman voice as if he were trying to sell them both on ocean front property. Automatic cheerful was his default position. There’s my girl, its tone so divorced from reality that even his wife looked at him twice. Josie’s face moved from nothing to a heavy scowl and then again to a round eyed innocence: What am I doing here? You had an accident, Karen started. You took too many pills, Bob finished. Oh I don’t remember , she sank into the covers and patted the tape over her IV line and said again: I don’t remember it was a mistake. You left a note, Bob said quietly… that’s a little different than a mistake.
Karen began unpacking all the pajamas and toiletries that she had brought from the pink bag and asked Josie what she might want to eat when she was off liquids. The moment, if it had even been there, was gone. Bob realized that they had surrendered again to some kind of fakeness; on the spectrum of politeness to conflict avoidance that trumped their ability to talk honestly to Josie about her decline in the last several months. Josie began telling her mother what she wanted to eat and Bob felt his exhausted fade into faux suede chair. Josie said again in her little girl voice: I can’t decide if I want coconut, German chocolate or carrot. I want some kind of cake… I don’t know I wish I could have all of them Red velvet too from Lawson’s they make the best. Bob felt helpless to bring up the subject of Josie’s suicide attempt even though he formed all the sentences in his mind while he listen to Karen and Josie relive the cakes that they had had from Lawson’s. The chocolate icing has a lightness, he heard Karen say, but the cake is dense and cooked golden. Karen had moved over to the bed and was snuggling with Josie as if her touch could erase this all the darkness that Josie contained. Everyone pretended that she had her appendix out for another hour until it was time to leave. They would meet with the doctor in the morning.
Bob got there early and saw that Susan was already there with Josie alone. The doctor met them outside and told them both that Josie was lucky and this could have gone another way. He stared a Bob man to man for a moment and then left them to wait for Susan. Karen left saying she would be back and Bob assummed she was going to the bathroom. Bob waited in the hall for Susan. When she came out, she closed the door and guided him to family sun room at the end of the hall. Bob wondered about the first family that they had met who were planning a funeral. Susan talked quietly. I’m glad to get a few minutes alone with you.It had been decided. Josie would be move to the adolescent unit, Lumpkin Hall in the Riverwood facility. The doctor and Susan agreed that this was the next step. Susan was questioning whether Bob and Karen should drive her versus having the sheriff of a private security escort transport her. Bob stood motionless thinking of course we will drive her, we are her parents. Susan said that she was not surprised that Josie had made an attempt although she had often promised her not to. She is not safe at home right now, she told Bob and he was horrified and relieved at the same time. We agree that she should be taken to Riverwood because it had an overall good mental health program for young adults. She won’t want to go, she told Bob. I talked to her on the phone last night and she wants to come home and look for a job, Bob said hopeful. Susan interrrupted: She has low insight about what made her do it. Says she doesn’t remember but then also says it just came on her real fast like a good idea at the time. At other times she has told me she has thought about it a lot, Her voice firm she stood up to leave.
They walked down the hall and stood in an atrium near the elevators. Every few minutes the doors opened adding and subtracting people from the space. Susan was worried that Josie might bolt from the car. Bob thought Susan was being a little too dramatic when the elevator opened and Karen stepped out with a huge box marked Lawson’s. Josie couldn’t decide which cake she wanted so I got her pieces of all the cakes they had at the bakery, Karen beamed with her box. Susan looked startled and looked at Bob. Bob took it all in: Karen and her big bakery box, the sunlight on his shoes and the therapist. We will hire a security escort, he said almost inaudibly, just let me know when and who to call. Karen started to say something but stopped abruptly as Bob took the box and in his smoothest salesman voice said. Come on lets go give Josie her cake.