He was lying on his side, one eye thickly patched, the other eye tethered to the blank wall across the room. In the chair beneath the window, a man in scrubs sat turning the pages of his paper. Beside the still life in the bed, I dropped to my haunches, one knee popping like bubble gum. Hey,” I said to the fifty-ish man. “Hi,” he said back without moving his lips.
My name is Peggy. I’m one of the chaplains here. What brings you to the hospital?” One eye appearing to invite me in, he tilted his head. Beat up,” he groaned, pulling a stiff sheet to his chin. “They kept kicking me in the face.” Man,” was all I could say, reaching for a better word. “The street?” “Shelter.”
I flashed on Michelle. A childhood friend of my partner’s, Michelle had slipped into a depression—and then a deep depression—and then a deeper one until she ended up on the park benches and back alleys where she was eventually killed by a bunch of boots to the skull. The same thing happened to my friend, Frank, who was robbed at gunpoint and slammed to the ground where he sustained a lifelong head injury from three sets of feet to his face. The police called it Attempted Murder.
I guess that’s not so uncommon out there, is it?” “Naw.” “But that doesn’t make it any easier for you…” He shook his head. That’s my babysitter,” he said, tipping his head behind him. At the sound of the fans coming to life in the sports section, I’d glanced in the same direction.
“Hi Tony,” I smiled, recalling the hot tip I’d texted to one of the nurses: There’s a cute CNA up on Seven. Hi Peggy,” he sang as if he knew something.
Tony hasta make sure I don’t do myself in.” “I know,” I whispered. “Do you wanna do yourself in?” “I hear voices,” he answered.
Voices,” I repeated, unsure of where I was going, “what do they sound like?” “Loud.” “What do they want?” “They want me to die.” “Wow.” It was the only true sound I could find. “I wish,” I went on, in search of another true sound, “I wish I could think of one thing to say that would take those voices away.” “That’s okay,” he said, forgiving me.
“How long have you been hearing these voices?” “Since I was little.” “But you’re still here,” I said. “After all these years, you’re still alive. How come?” “I haven’t suffered enough?”
I don’t know if it was an “Ohhh” or an “Owww” that came out of my mouth but I was starting to get it. This was mental illness. This was a man who had been living in brutal psychic pain since he was a boy. This was the boy whose own mind was plotting his own murder. And I didn’t know anything about that. In search of my strength, I dropped my head like a sack of bricks.
But I wasn’t giving up. “Have you ever been able to make the voices stop?” “Uh-huh.” “Tell me,” I said, getting somewhere. “What works? What do you do?” “I cut myself.”
Our eyes were locked. It was a long time before I spoke. “I’m so sorry.” He nodded. For quite awhile, we sat inside a shared gaze, nodding Yes. “Is there anything I can do?”
“Pray for me?” “Would you like me to do that now?” He nodded. “Would you like me to pray out loud?” He nodded. With a long breath and a downward gaze, I added, “What do you think, would you like to join hands?” Like a kitten under the covers, his hand wiggled free. I saw the scars on his wrist.
God, I began, Me and Tony, we got your friend Jack here with us.
You know Jack. You know what he has to go through everyday, just to eat and get some sleep. And you know better than I what Jack needs right now. But I’m gonna ask anyway. Because we need somethin’ special here. I’m gonna ask that you take Jack to that place in himself where those voices can’t go; that you take Jack to that place, deep within himself, where those voices have no access and no power. Take Jack to that place where the only voice is Your voice. Talk to Jack. With a word or a feeling or a sound, tell him what you want him to know; show him how to get back Home.
“Do you know that place?” I asked, opening my eyes. I saw Jack’s free hand, completely at rest, over his heart. “Thank you,” Tony said, as I unbuckled my knees. “Thank you,” Jack whispered, his face in tune with all seven seas. No, I would have said, had I been able to speak, Thank you.