"Dear Prudence" by Amanda Grieme

Saturday, January 29, 2011

...a Taste of Chapter One

Chapter One –“Dear Prudence”

Ana gingerly folded the last letter that she had written to Briar, and slid it into her backpack. She stopped and observed the somber walls that looked almost inviting that morning. The soft light that falls from New England autumn leaves seemed to wrap everything around her in quiet saltwater fog. It was a new solitude for her - not forced, but gently recognizable from her childhood. She felt fresh.

The doctors and nurses deemed the environment therapeutic, and for the most part seemingly had good intentions; Still, Ana begged to differ with their perception. In quiet thought, she occasionally paralleled the atmosphere to painful, prolonged emotional death. She thought that there was no quality of life inside those walls, just masked sadness braided with muffled consciousness and mangled memoirs. And if I may speak collectively for those who I encountered, I know there was a common truth, regardless of sex, mental illness, addiction, socioeconomic status, race, or baggage; it was a place to recover. Some did, and some didn’t. They simply sought to float in peace away from their aching minds. That’s all.

But Ana had given up trying to find that space between sanity and madness where she knew solace lay dormant. So away from her typewriter she strolled with a drug-free confident strut as opposed to her typically dazed zombie shuffle, indigenous to the gray souls that drift in and out of the vacant stares of that institution. I beamed as she simply whistled and sauntered with a mission, adorned in a denim jacket that she found while searching her room for wiretaps and recording devices. I stuffed it behind her dresser amongst a colony of dust bunnies. And when she put it on, she felt a bulge in the right, front pocket, and pulled out a dime bag of marijuana that smelled like it had been there for at least a decade; both items lent themselves as instrumental accessories to her aesthetic adjustment. She pulled off the casual doctor facade, flawlessly. The only exception, she had no shoes … just slip on foam booties that she acquired when admitted. Her belongings were housed in some lock-and-key abyss, and her vain attempt to crack the code on the lock to the room labeled “personals” was futile. In retrospect, I am confident that the slippers worked to her advantage. They were far more effective than sneakers, having quelled her stroll down the many corridors and echoing florescent stairwells.

Mornings, she usually hid her head under the bleached blankets when the orange and pink light at dawn snuck in through the blinds to cast dusty stripes on the far, white wall. It made the cinder blocks and painted particle board cabinets appear much more interesting than that of the low evening lights, switched on at a quarter past five in the evening. They were housed between the daytime florescent fixtures that looked like inverted ice cube trays from the fifties. It was not unusual that she remained in that cocooned position far beyond her wake-up session with the shrink du jour. I suspect that when they checked on her for the morning dose of little blue and pink imagination slayers, they were not surprised to find that she appeared still to be hibernating.
Clever girl.

Nurse Kelsey waddled in smelling of bleach, mothballs, and halitosis at 7:30, 8:00, 9:00 to check for life. She flipped on the brassy reading light attached to Ana’s bed at 9:30 and pulled the covers away, exposing strategically placed pillows, sheets and blankets, stuffed into a robe and shaped into a fetal position. Ana was resourceful. She utilized her shower cap stuffed with a pillow, and used a paper plate dressed with a crayon-drawn face as a disguise for her head. There is no such thing as coincidence; to have even happened upon a paper plate in the trash was miraculous. The Rhode Island State Hospital, like every other psychiatric facility that Ana had ever graced, did not allow a patient to have anything in her vicinity that could pose as a threat to herself
or anyone else. I’m still not sure how paper plates’ piece into that category, but the used one that was somehow overlooked lent itself beautifully to Ana’s craft. Perfect.

There was yet another overseen flaw in the facility set up that fostered her escape; a fifteen minute gap in time where the cameras were not scrutinized by security. She tested it so that by the time that old Kelsey sweat her way to security to commence the search, she would be strolling through JFK Airport holding a one-way ticket to sunny Miami; Ana researched diligently.

I got such a charge out of it. She woke early one day and sat in camera view mimicking a Gypsy Rose Lee strip routine in her hospital gown, using her pillow as the peacock feathers. She proceeded to expose her bare ass to the camera, lifted her typewriter, and pretended that she was going to smash it through the window in preparation for a jump. During normal hours, security would have been in her room in 60 seconds flat, with a psychologist and an injection of some substance that would sink her into a semi-comatose state for a couple of hours; I saw it happen to many others; not during the shift change. She calculated that by the time everyone figured out that she, polite Ana was the patient caught on camera, disguised as a doctor that strolled out of the building, and they had finished blaming every graveyard shift sloth that should have been watching more carefully, she would be floating amidst the tropical fish. Her mission accomplished, and my mission commenced.

Ana hypothesized right; the night clerks were all lethargic, stuffing their fatigued faces with day-old donut holes and drinking stale coffee before the shift change at half-past six. I watched while she saw them in passing; they didn’t even notice her. As usual, there wasn’t a doctor to be found until at least 7:00 a.m.; they strolled in methodically, and whisked by her room toward their leisurely lounge session to scan the night clerk patient behavior report. Fingers clasped, furled brows, they’d sign off paperwork that allowed the nurses to administer the proper anti-psychotics, anticonvulsants, seratonin reuptake inhibitors, and/or sedatives to assist in dumbing us helpless drones.

Ana slipped out of the main entrance with nothing but her wallet, a credit card, an ATM card, her drivers license, a social security card, and a bundle of unsent letters to long lost friends and family, here and gone, wrapped in twine. Ana never had the heart to toss the letters in the event that she wanted to drop them in the mail at the last minute; everything rested at the bottom of her tattered, green backpack.

A few days earlier, she tore up her photographs and flushed them down the toilet; she wanted no extra heartstrings webbing her into this life. She stared into the green eyes of Jack, lying in the tall, May grass looking back at her from a Polaroid, and shook with sadness. And my heart sank when I watched her kiss the photo, his face warped by falling tears. “I’ll always love you.” She took a deep breath, closed her eyes and her hands shook as she tore his photo into small shreds. She dropped it into the toilet with pieces of her family, and pushed the knob. I watched a tear trace the freckles on her cheek. She took a deep breath and shuddered, opening her eyes to the toilet bowl refilling. And in her warbled reflection she watched a remnant of a flushed photo peek out of the hole and float like a leaf in the bowl. She reached in and grabbed it. It was a portion of Sherman’s face, her Chocolate Lab who she loved with all her heart. She held it, wiped it off, kissed it, and added it to the contents resting in the bottom of her backpack.

She later wrote a letter and contemplated leaving it behind at the hospital, but decided that it should simply rest at the bottom of her pack with the rest. She unfolded it and read it for one last time...

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