The Man Who Made the Voices Stop

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. Continue reading

Go in Peace: A Dying Woman Comes to Voice

When it became clear to her that there were no remaining treatments to be tried, all that energy that got tied up in staying alive was suddenly freed for the one last thing on Laura’s mind:  As a mother, she blew it. She blew it with her daughters. She blew it with her sons. She blew it with her own mom.

She’d taken to hoisting a limp hand and, in that Down-Under twang, saying, Lymphoma Laura, pleased t’meetcha. Telling herself that all the time she thought she had to get it right was gone, she was eyeballing death in the belief that she had disappointed everyone.

How? She just never said the right thing.  She just never found that comforting combination of words and sounds that made a kid feel at home.  She could joke and she could jab but couldn’t say the stuff moms were supposed to say and one day, she clammed up. And once she realized she was fixin’ to die, she thought of nothing else.

But now, she didn’t just want to parrot that long lost lyric—I love you—she wanted to communicate the music of love in such a way that it could be turned to, sotto voce, for comfort, at any point in the remaining lives of her sons, her daughters, and her mother. She knew exactly what she wanted. Continue reading

A Priest’s Last Words to My Grandfather