Photo credit: Greg McCain

Seclusion Room

I feel drowsy. Drowsy is not the right word, nor is feeling. This is an incomparable experience. I am in the hospital. The Ambien, which Dr. Aloof prescribed and the nurse administered, attempts to coerce my body to surrender to sleep or at least attempts to coerce my mind to surrender the notion that consciousness is under my control. The nurse tells me to lie in bed, let the medication do its job. I resist, passively. I am too sluggish to resist otherwise.

I try to muster enough energy to stave off anything resembling a dream state. I prefer the visions of my waking life to those of my dream world. They do not demand as much honesty. I can falsify any resemblance to a true identity while awake, but being shackled with slumber always trips me up, causes me to reveal too much. I sleep restlessly for three hours under the domination of the prescribed sedative. My authoritarian thoughts successfully counteract the tranquilizer, and startle me off the brink of entering a dream.

I am alone, in seclusion. The door is locked and I am awake. It is a white door set into a white doorframe contrasted with the white walls only by a slight off cast shadow of the frame. The door is closed, but I see beyond it. No magical powers, simply a window. There are two sets of locks in the door. One locks it to the doorframe, the other locks a smaller door set inside the bigger door. When the smaller door is open, a four-foot plexiglass window looks into the room or, from my perspective, out to what the nursing staff refers to as the milieu.

Inside, the room is dark or rather the light is subdued in an attempt to infuse an occupant with the same affect. The light on the other side of the door, in the milieu, is fluorescent, artificial. Draw your own conclusions as to the affectation desired of the milieu occupants. Inside, opposite the door, above the head of the bed, there is a half moon shaped window. Natural light slices through thin slats of a venetian blind which, along with its cord, is confined in the trapped air of the safety glass leaving no way to change the position of the slats. The view outside can only be seen up close to the window. The room never brightens with natural light despite its easterly view. A building taller than this one and only a short distance away prevents direct sunlight. The half arc of diffused natural light spreads across three-fourths of the room, reaching just beyond the foot of the bed spilling onto the tiles to reveal their different tones of grey. The outer edge of the arc pours down the walls on either side of the room. Don’t get the impression that this occurs because the window is wide enough to spill light a far. It is simply that the walls close in close to the bed. At night, three bulbs, recessed into the ceiling and secured behind a plastic cover bolted to the ceiling, supply light. Prolonged heat has discolored the once clear cover turning it a yellowish brown and has bubbled its surface. The dimmer switch that controls the light is located on the other side of the locked door. Long elliptical light spills from these recessed holes down the side of one wall. On the opposite wall, a door opens to the bathroom. In its whiteness, it resembles the door leading to the milieu, but it is not as wide and does not have the window. When open, it makes less than a ninety-degree angle with the wall before it hits the foot of the bed. It is kept locked to any occupant of the room who is deemed a danger. Permission must be granted from the nursing staff to use the facilities. If permission is not granted then a plastic bedpan or urinal is supplied.

The Seclusion Room is not furnished other than the bed. This is a simple, but solid rectangular wooden box bolted meaningfully to the floor. The mattress is little more than a polyurethane foam rectangle zipped inside a plastic cover that crinkles under the restless weight of whomever it bears. It is so thin that when fresh linen is first put over it the corners curl up from the pull of the elastic at the sheet’s corners. Under the mattress there are twelve D-shaped metal rods bolted equidistance apart to the bed frame near the edge, two at the head, two at the feet, and four on each side. These are used to fasten restraint belts to the bed and thus to its occupant. Due to the lack of furniture, belongings are placed on the floor: clothing, drinking cups, paper, writing supplies.

You miss, oddly, the furniture back at the Viceroy. It’s odd because it doesn’t belong to you. It is typical worn out transient hotel furniture smelling of old cigarettes and water damage. And there is no guarantee of even getting the same room, and hence the same furniture, once this hospitalization is over. There could be a whole set of different furniture and thus different problems depending on what room you end up in. But at least there you can stack writing paper on the nightstand alongside the old jewelry box you fill with writing instruments. You and I at the age of ten found the old ornate box fifteen years ago amongst Mom’s belongings set out on the curb. Dad either had no use for them or couldn’t bear to live with her personal items a single day longer. You and I picked through the discarded brown tinged mums and white lilies brought to the house the day before by mourners along with the crusted over casseroles and remnants of banana and zucchini breads which also sat at curbside.

I only guess at the fifteen-year time frame. I can only pretend that Mom’s funeral was fifteen years ago. Being Ten years of age is fixed in my memory, but I have lost track of the intervening years. I could be Twenty-five, though I neither feel it nor look it. By the looks of things I probably far exceed my Thirties. My eyesight is poor. I have more than a few missing teeth. My hairline has crept far back enough to expose my cranial ridge. This gives my head an elliptical quality when I look straight ahead at myself in a mirror. Additionally, I have a pronounced pelvic bulge which causes discomfort. Added together, this lets me in on the chance that I am much older than Twenty-five or else I am merely the casualty of unsatisfactory genes. Still and all I stick to the fifteen-year time frame, starting from age ten, because that is when things began to fall in on me.

The memory of the thrown away flowers always invokes the memory of finding my plastic green army men in the garbage; two singular events happening a year apart linked by the actions of my dad. But more than by these actions, they are linked by the hubris behind his decision to discard these items without the consent or counsel of anyone. They remain linked in my brain till my last breath, and now in perpetuity by these words or at least till these pages are destroyed. I set these memories down in words hoping to invoke the proper emotion to convey the ideas festering in my thoughts. The desire is that these words outlive me. I hereby give up control as to by how much.

My ability to set these words down is frustrated by my access to writing supplies. I settle for whatever I can get my hands on from the nursing staff. Often it is unlined printer paper, usually only a sheet or two at a time, and dried-up light colored markers. Their plastic shafts bear the teeth marks of, perhaps one, perhaps numerous bi-polar patients on the apex of their upswing. On occasion I sneak a pen into my hospital gown when I am in the milieu and a distracted nurse sets her clipboard down to redirect a Psychotic from entering the Nurse’s station. The staff confiscated the last pen I was able to pilfer on one of the last occasions that they put me into restraints.

You find it soothing to bang your head on a solid object: bedframe, doorjamb, table edge, chair back. This is preceded by rocking back and forth, another soothing devise, and accompanied by your saying, “back forth back forth back forth back forth.” For the most part you can control it when being watched, but it has on more than one occasion ensured the achievement of a seat all to yourself on public transit even on the most crowded crosstown bus. It also lands you into restraints when attempting to self-sooth in this manner while under the watchful eyes of the nursing staff.

Twenty minutes after being released from the restraints you are hit with the urge to write. Curiously, this urge never occurs while in the restraints. Perhaps because having each wrist and ankle tied with belts and pulled tight to the bed frame leaves little hope for an independent expression of desire. Like getting an erection on a deserted island and both hands are calloused and blistered, acting upon the urge would only lead to further frustration and an undying sense of inadequacy. Any outside force that undercuts a compulsion takes all the virtue out of having the obsession in the first place. This is the overall purpose and merit of any restraint, physical, chemical or moral in the first place. Of course, as with all attempts at outside control, they are subject to the law of diminishing returns.

Your hands are free, but like phantom limbs your wrists still feel the tingling from the straps. You instinctively reach for the jewelry box. Of course it is not in the hospital, but back on the night stand at the Viceroy. You find instead a black marker with a thick felt tip, but no paper. The urge has built to the point that you cannot disrupt the stream of thoughts. You pull the pillowcase off the pillow, spread it out on the mattress and begin to write, smoothing as you go the waves of linen that threaten to disrupt your flow.

Dear Dr. Aloof,

Back forth back forth back forth back forth the terror I have countless times divulged to you is coming to an end though sadly not through your interventions back forth back forth back forth back forth and with me I take the cramp of those which have found hopeless asylum in me back forth back forth back forth back forth

You stop writing; the thoughts come too fast to bother with the medication-induced shakiness of your hands. You lie flat as a board, hold the pillowcase and pen close to your chest, stare at the ceiling, and resort to the most primitive form of expression. I hear it echoing in my ears.

“Back forth back forth back forth back forth, I only possess myself in flashes and when I do I only incorporate myself intermittently back forth back forth back forth back forth! I have ceased eating. Believe me, I have no appetite for death either. I have only the unimpaired craving to devour myself back forth back forth back forth back forth. I posed two questions to you, Dr. Aloof, upon my admit to this institution. At that time I had arrived at a place of envy regarding your outside horizon and highly analytical speculation back forth back forth back forth back forth, but this same outside perspective and exorbitantly cerebral thinking has provoked you to not grasp my affliction more seriously, and to discount the possibility of it being as I determine it to be back forth back forth back forth back forth. However, I do not hold you in contempt in this regard. I fully realize that your prescription is only a reverberation of the limits of your cerebral dexterity and the failings and shortcomings of the psychiatric corporation back forth back forth back forth back forth. It is not within your orbit to accept visions as anything but delusions of a queasy wit back forth back forth back forth back forth.”

You cover yourself completely in the blanket and sit cross-legged on the bed, rocking back and forth.

“Back forth back forth back forth back forth until a profit can be made from these visions in the configuration of pharmaceuticals back forth back forth back forth back forth my condition will be predetermined as ‘Psychosis Not Otherwise Specified’ back forth back forth back forth back forth.

You stand on the bed with the blanket over your head and you dance off the bed and around the room.

“Back forth back forth back forth back forth you do not know what it is like to be haunted. Or do you? Back forth back forth! Perhaps the specter of accountability to your hallowed profession has deadened you as much as my specters and your pills have blunted me back forth back forth back forth back forth back forth back forth back forth back forth!

The blanket falls off. You are writing back forth repeatedly on your arm. You stop writing, pick up the pillowcase, sit on the bed and drop your head in an apparent release of tension.

I lift my head and smile. I smooth out the pillowcase and write with calm determination.

I am left quenched with meaningless words which milk me of any desire to advance this pathetic marrow. As for the two questions that I posed to you? The first: To be or to hallucinate what I want to be? This is not a proposition over ethics. It is an enigma that illustrates the present ineptitude, both yours and mine, and only serves to underscore my inability to be what I could have possibly become. And to this end, your drugs only riddle me with different questions. Which brings me to my second question: When in the throes of “do no harm” you do harm, what then? Although the harm done may fall within the realm of “Best Practices,” and be considered lesser than the harm arrived at by doing nothing, it does not abrogate the fact that harm was done. And now that I have fallen under the bus of the best possible results medical science and the pharmaceutical industrial complex has to offer, I take it upon myself to end this madness, both yours and mine.

I reach under the mattress and find the jagged piece of metal that I had ripped sometime ago from a milieu ventilation grate. I pull the pillowcase over my head, lie back on the pillow, and raise my left hand in the air while holding the sharp object in my right. Just as I slice my left wrist, Bagget lunges for me and subdues my right hand. “Relax. Relax,” I hear as a whisper and can only assume that Bagget is trying, once again, to taunt me.

The room quickly fills with the nursing staff. They lift me off of the bed and place me on the floor with swift precision, one each holding my arms and legs. Bagget sits on my chest. It is he I feel wrap gauze on my wrist. The staff secures the restraints to the bed frame under the mattress. They lift me onto the bed and place my hands and ankles into the restraints. One of them produces a syringe. They turn me on my side, expose my buttocks, administer the injection, pull the pillowcase off my head and exit the room closing the door behind them.

I am once again alone, in restraints. The door is locked and I am awake, but the chemicals injected inter-muscularly act quickly to sedate me. I sluggishly resist.

You stand at the head of the bed looking down at me. Out of the corner of my eye I see Bagget slowly backing out of the room. You sit and I feel as though my head rests on your lap, your fingers run through my hair. I hear your voice fill the room.

“Remember how Daddy liked his back rubs?” you said. “I liked doing it too. I felt very special like the whole world was watching me. Daddy’s little angel. I was so little. My fingers were barely able to press into his tight muscles. He would be there, on the edge of his easy chair, me on the seat cushion pushing my back into the chair’s, trying to put all my force into his skin. My outstretched arms barely able to reach around him. Daddy’s little angel.”

“Do you remember,” I interrupted, “what we were eating that morning? I was making pancakes. I wasn’t going to eat cold cereal again. I couldn’t see over the top of the stove, let alone inside the skillet, but I wasn’t gong to eat cold mushy cereal, not ever again! I woke up knowing things were going to change. I thought it was going to be hot meals from then on. I still have the scars from that morning.”

“He watched the evening news,” you interjected. “I could barely see over him. Mostly I gazed at his shoulders, their wiry black hair, and at his love handles pushing out the elastic of his boxer shorts. Or sometimes at the scars on his chest that had long ago turned into little colorless snakes. We’d be in that chair for what seemed like forever.”

I interrupt you again, “We ended up eating cereal anyway. I wonder if the landlord ever replaced the linoleum. He probably just laid cheap stuff over it. I remember shooting marbles in the melted skillet shape. Sometimes I used it as a trench with my little plastic green army men. I remember when Dad threw them away, a year to the day when both Mom and I went to the hospital.

“I was so little,” you repeated, “I felt very special, like the whole world was watching me. My little fingers were barely able to press into his tight muscles.”

“Do you remember,” I said, “that morning at breakfast? She already knew. Mom knew that she wouldn’t panic at that last minute and call her doctor. And this time there would be no note.”

“I was so little,” “We’d be in that chair for what seemed like forever.”

“Do you remember that morning? Mom already knew.”

“I want to sing now.” You said and my memory, my ears, the room fills with your silly, sweet innocent’s voice.

Way down south were bananas grow

A flea stepped on an elephants toe

The elephant cried, with tears in his eyes

Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?

Boom, boom, ain’t it great to be crazy

Boom, boom, ain’t it great to be crazy?

Giddy and foolish the whole day through

Boom, boom ain’t it great to be crazy

Called myself on the telephone

Just to hear that golden tone

Your singing becomes teasingly sexual. I feel as if your hand has slid down from my hair, down my face and onto my chest. I feel aroused and terrified.

Asked myself out for a date

Said be ready ’bout half-past eight!

Boom, boom ain’t it great to be crazy?

Boom, boom, ain’t it great to be crazy?

Giddy and foolish the whole day through

Boom, boom ain’t it great to be crazy?

You give me a lap dance. I feel as though our pelvic bones rub together. The erratic rhythm of your small frame sends waves of burning guilt and desire through my nerve endings. My brain is blunted by the medication, but my emotions are blistering.

Took myself to the picture show

Sat myself in the very last row

Wrapped my arms around my waist

Got so fresh I slapped my face!

I fill with remorse as I struggle to see your face, but the effects of the medication clouds my minds eye. I want to look you in the eye and say I had no idea that anything was wrong. I fight the muscle relaxant only half successfully while the antipsychotic clamps down on my neurotransmitters. Your voice, your face, your skin, become a distant tinge.

Boom, boom ain’t it great to be crazy?

Boom, boom ain’t it great to be crazy?

Giddy and foolish the whole day through

Boom, boom ain’t it great to be crazy?

As your voice trails off, the sounds of locks turning fill the room. The smaller door inside the bigger door opens. Bagget looks in. He looks around alertly, surveying the entire room. The small door closes, again the sounds of locks turning and the bigger door opens. Bagget walks rapidly into the room wearing gloves and carrying a plastic pail. He walks to the side of the bed, stoops, sets the pail on the floor.

“Morning,” Bagget said.

I stare at the ceiling. He lifts up my hospital gown, exposing my genitals, removes a plastic urinal full of piss, pours the piss into the pail, places the urinal back around my penis, picks up the bucket, walks to the door, exits, and closes and locks the door. I continue to stare at the ceiling.

The sound of locks turning fills the room. The small door opens, Bagget looks through the window alertly, surveys the room, closes the smaller door, locks it, unlocks the bigger door, walks in rapidly pushing a hospital bed tray with a plastic pitcher of water and a paper cup on it. He rolls up to the side of the bed, pours water into the cup, and holds it to my mouth. I continue to stare at the ceiling, but don’t open my mouth. He puts the cup on the tray, rolls it to the door, exits, and closes and locks the door. I continue to stare at the ceiling.

The room fills with the sounds of locks turning. The big door opens. Bagget steps in then quickly darts out closing the big door swiftly and locks it. He unlocks the small door, looks around the room alertly, closes the small door, locks it, unlocks big door, opens it, enters and walks to the side of the bed. He is holding a clipboard and making check marks on the paper attached to it. He does not look at me, but keeps his eyes focused on the clipboard. He blurts out, “Where are you what day is it what is your name?” He continues to make check marks on the board. Again he blurts, “Where are you what day is it what is your name?” He stops making checks marks. “Un…co…op…er…a…tive.” He said as he writes on the clipboard. He walks to the door darts out then darts back in with a chair that he rolls up to the side of the bed. He sits and looks dead in my face.

“I have to inform you,” he said, “to this point they seem to think you’re faking. I don’t! Those bastards, sitting in their stone houses flinging their glass at the rest of us. I’ve given them full reports, not told everything, I left some things to be desired, but it’s safe to say that there is nothing safe to say. It’s easier for them to reduce you to a single stastastic… stistastic… sta- sta- sta- tis- ti- cally speaking you shouldn’t be… I just want to say this, I’m not afraid of you. They are though. You wouldn’t believe how much fear they have of you. Not me though. I don’t mind telling you what I am afraid of. I have a fear of God.” Bagget’s loud booming laugh fills the room. “That’s bullshit!,” he roars. “I didn’t realize how stupid that sounds until I said it.” He moves closer to my face. His expression changes to one of terror. “What I really fear,” he said, deadly serious, “is that there is a god and that this is all there is. I mean, it’s more miraculous if all this just happened, randomness, chaos, natural selection, just evolution, but if this is the result of some divine… Look at the Bible; it says… no wait, that’s not in the Bible. There’s a famous quote… Oh fuck, I forgot now what it was.” He laughs and says, “I don’t even know how afraid I really am of all that now that I am talking to you about it. It was good to get that off my chest.” He moves even closer to my face and again has an expression of sheer terror. “You know what really scares me?” he asks. “Those electronic chips they’re sticking in dogs’ heads. You can take you dog or cat or ferret, whatever, to the animal shelter and they stick a chip in their damn head, your boa constrictor or gerbil or monkey, gold fish even! They say it’s so you can track them if they get lost, but it’s all experimental. It’s only a matter of time before they are sticking them in school kids’ heads and talking the same shit about finding them if they get lost, then in every newborn, just like circumcision. Look at the sta… sta… sta..tistics on that. Fear of God? How about a fear of having my dick cut off? What depth of distress is left over after that? I know what you’re thinking. You think I’m one of those conspiracy nuts. But you’re wrong. It’s not a conspiracy. Reality is too disorganized for that. No this is systemic. Institutionalized conditioning. It began innocently enough, radio in every home, sss… statistically speaking, and then a TV. Then, portable radios, earphones that fit in a pocket, beepers, cell phones, palm size computers, microwave transmission towers everywhere, global tracking devices that can unlock or lock your car from thousands of miles away, retinal scanners, face recognition technology, microchips in the head! Do you see where I’m going with this? It happens imperceptibly, over time, becoming so commonplace we don’t question the ethical lapses. Each new generation just accepts it as the way things should be. As common as breathing or sex or statistics.” He smiles, pleased at his accomplishment of not stuttering on statistics. “I know what you’re thinking,” he continues. “This all sounds like paranoid delusions, but put it in cultural context and it’s safe to say that nothing is safe to say.” Bagget gets up out of the chair and rolls it to the door. He turns and looks at me. “Well buddy,” he said, “they are going to try one more therapy and then it’s good bye and good luck.” Bagget is gone. The sounds of locks turning fill the room. I continue staring at the ceiling.

The sound of locks turning. The big door opens. Bagget enters pushing in carts with various monitors and diagnostic equipment.

“Morning,” Bagget said.

He goes to work applying electrodes to my body. He places a band around my forehead and hooks it up with leads to one of the machines on the cart. He puts a mouth guard into my mouth and then gives me an injection. He turns a switch on the machine. I twitch and convulse for a several seconds and then lie still. Bagget checks the monitors and then turns the switch again. I twitch and convulse for several seconds and then lie still. I forget why I am here. I forget where I am. I cannot remember the last time I saw you. Pulsating light like a spiraling rainbow encircles the periphery of my vision. The taste of the plastic mouth guard mixes with my saliva and becomes a metallic taste. Drool trickles passed my lips, dries up, and tightens the pores of my chin. My heartbeat quickens, blood pounds through my veins. The back of my neck stiffens and the top of my head clamps down on my brain as the blood vessels expand to accommodate the surge. The pulsating light grows more intense and then goes to black. I look for your face in the darkness. I want this to end. The switch is turned again. I twitch and convulse for several seconds and then lie still.

The darkness slowly separates. I see myself sitting with her in my arms. Her head cradled under my chin, the softness of her jet-black hair mingling with the coarseness of my beard. We lounged on her couch on the last day that we would ever see each other, the inevitable end. Both of us are too afraid to move, not wanting to stir the air toward what we were incapable of avoiding. It is not that the feelings had ended, they still have not, but us having a life together was not possible. Neither she nor I could change the life that had been chiseled out of us. You want me to be clearer? Perhaps that is what did us in, a lack of clarity to our lives or maybe a lack of simplification. The complications that existed could not accommodate the two of us having a life together. It was simpler to accept separation. And so we sat, in each other’s arms, trying to prolong the longing for a solution. You still want more details? Why can’t you see that it was the details that did us in? Why are you dwelling on the details? I’ve already given you too much by mentioning her jet-black hair. This forces the memory of the complete serenity I felt as I ran my fingers through it, and then to the wistfulness of her eyes. The way she was able to look inside me and the way she let me in, completely, through her eyes. I saw, in her eyes, the essence of who she is, not the material details, but the weight and warmth and wonder of who she truly is. I saw humanities every tear drop fallen out of sadness and happiness, every act of selflessness. In her eyes I saw the spirit of true compassion, and I saw the last breath that I would ever take. Can you understand now why I don’t want to dwell on the details? I don’t want to consider whether I would be here now in this —

The switch is turned again. I twitch and convulse for several seconds and then lie still.

The metallic taste returns to my mouth. Bagget removes all the electrodes and the mouth guard and pushes the cart out of the room. I sit staring at the ceiling. The throbbing of my head makes the light from the window pulsate as the ocular migraine inspired spiral rainbow at the periphery of my vision slowly dissipates. I cannot remember anything from the last few weeks, days or hours, but I have the overwhelming feeling of wanting to see her again.

Bagget enters with the clipboard. “Morning,” he said. “I need to ask you a few questions. They need to know if they’re, well, helping you. Do you feel, how do I say this, that they are giving you the right treatment for your… illness? Is this the right sort of thing that they should be doing to you? What sort of discomfort do you have from what they have done? How could they possibly think what they are doing could be of any benefit to you? By what stretch of the imagination could any of what they have perpetrated against you be considered compassionate care? For God’s sake, shouldn’t somebody be investigating the extremes that they have gone to in the name of restoring what they consider to be sanity?”

Bagget begins to unlock the restraints. “Look, I am on your side,” he said. “You can confide in me. Nothing you say to me will leave this room. I can see to it that your chart reflects whatever you think is in your best interests. We’re on the same side in this thing, you and I. We’re essentially the ones being dictated to by them. We’re after the same things, you and I. I can see that you’re a considerate person. By that I mean you take into consideration the things that can happen to someone who decides to… well, let’s just say that life dishes out some pretty extreme penalties. It can be very unforgiving, don’t you think? Life that is, it can be… uncompromising. Life is a stubborn… uh… I don’t know… uh…, it’s a stubborn, uh… thing, uh… unwieldy…un, un… unbending… uncompromising. Life can be this… thing that doesn’t give, uh… much… leeway for… change. I can see that you have considered that. That’s why I called you a considerate person. I don’t want you to confuse what I’m saying here. I just want you to considerate it because you strike me as the kind of person who would do that. Consider it, I mean. I recognize that about you. I detect those sorts of things. You’re not the type who can be accused of being caught down a blind alley, at least not as a result of being inconsiderate. I mean you may end up down a blind ally, I’m not suggesting that it isn’t a possibility. It goes back to what I was saying about life dishing things out, part of its un… unbendyness. Part of its… thing. I think you can see what I’m getting at. I mean you and I, if you look at it, you and I are in the same boat. You and I are both victims. Well not victims… that’s not what… You and I are more like… casualties. I mean you and I are caught up in this… conflict between… two opposing… things… the old us- against-them thing. You and I are us and they are them and they’re winning, so you and I are casualties of this conflict. The, uh… collat… collateral damage of this conflict between us and them. Them being the ones who, uh… have… more, uh… more… MORE! They have more, that’s why they are winning. They have more than you and I so they hoard it over us and run rough shod over us and you and I becomes casualties of it.”

Bagget has unlocked the last restraint. He continues, “That’s why you and I need to work together here. Help each other out. You scratch my back; I’ll scratch yours. Figuratively speaking of course. I mean there are boundaries, professional boundaries. You and I are both expected to play our roles. You and I can’t cross those boundaries, I mean at least for appearances. They will start to suspect something if you and I start crossing professional boundaries. They will suspect that you and I have established an alliance. I mean if they discovered you really scratching my back, well, it’s over. You and I can just give into their demands, even more than we already have. They could fling all kinds of accusations at us. We wouldn’t stand a chance. Now, I could scratch your back. I could find a therapeutic reason for the need to have your back scratched. I would have to use a glove, again for keeping up appearances. There are universal precautions that need to be maintained, but you and I could blur that boundary if need be.”

I turn my gaze away from the ceiling and look Bagget straight in the eye. “Please,” I said, “leave me alone.”

Bagget looks stunned. “I see,” he said. “Fine. Fine. If that is the way you want it, fine. Fine.” He looks at his clipboard and begins to write. “Patient doesn’t feel like talking,” he said. “Patient has decided to stay to himself. Guarded. Withdrawn. Not in touch with reality. Patient thinks he can figure it out on his own. Patient has poor insight into his illness, believes the treatment is doing more harm than good. Patient has poor boundaries. Patient made untoward advances to others. Patient suggestively asked if he could scratch the back of another.”

Bagget walks over to the bed and leans over me, pointing his pen in my face. “Look, you can choose to play it your own way, but if you choose to go it alone, than you suffer alone. Don’t expect me or anyone to back you up.” Bagget walks to the door, stops, turns and looks at me a moment, and then exits. I return to staring at the ceiling.

My thoughts are not flowing like before. I try to work up the urge to write, but cannot. The pool of words that usually drown me to the point of reaching for a pen in hopes of staying afloat has been drained. I sit up slowly. I sit resting on the edge of the bed. I look around the room for a pen or marker or something, but not with any urgency. I see the black marker in the shadows of the corner beyond the reach of the arc of light from the window. I stagger to it and, with my back to the wall, slide to the floor. But still, nothing to write on or about.

The seclusion room door is open. Or rather, from my perspective, the door to the milieu is open. I do not know what time it is. There is light outside, but I can’t tell if it is closer to dusk or dawn. Have I eaten today? I can’t remember. Perhaps I can venture out into the milieu in pursuit of time and food. I can’t remember if there is a wall clock. I do not want to encounter anyone to ask the time. I sit in the corner running my fingers over the teeth marks in the marker and look out into the milieu. I suddenly remember learning somewhere that milieu is French, mil ‘mid’ + lieu ‘place.’ mid place. I do not remember studying French. In fact, if anything, I clearly remember not wanting to study it. Perhaps I learned it in the last couple of weeks. Did I learn it since being here? Why do I remember what I learned, but not how I learned it, the lesson, but not the lesson plan? Does forgetting how I learned make what I learned less valid? I need to stall some more before I venture out.

I look around the room. I wonder if the door to the bathroom has been left unlocked. I do not remember anyone unlocking it. And now I have forgotten how long I have been sitting on the floor in the corner shadow. I ease myself up by sliding my back against the wall. I walk to the bathroom door to test to see if it is locked. I place a finger on the door handle and pull lightly. It opens a crack. I see the toilet and next to it the shower curtain hanging on its plastic rod. I pull some more and the door bangs into the bed frame. I brush through the narrow opening. I see to my left the mirror above the sink. I hadn’t noticed this before. It is not made of glass, but highly polished stainless steel. They have thought of everything in terms of safety, if not in terms of aesthetics. The thin metal mirror has warped over time, giving a distorted reflection. I hadn’t noticed that before. The image I see of myself is askew. My head has the shape of an eggplant. I’m able to discern that my hair is sticking out on all sides. I do not remember when I last showered, but don’t particularly feel the urge to do so now. Nevertheless, I push back the shower curtain and turn the hot water spigot. Cold water bounces off the tiled wall and chills my skin. I stick my head under the stream. It slowly warms, but never gets passed tepid. I run my fingers through my wet hair and feel the gauze on my wrist soak up the water. I do not put my entire body under the stream; I lean in just enough to drench the front of my hospital gown. I leave the water running and exit the bathroom, leaving puddles in my wake. I find a dry patch on the gown and wipe my face. I advance toward the door, toward the milieu, toward the mid place.

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