I am in the community mental health center again. Waiting room. Nick is outside, smoking, I am holding a chair to make sure he isn’t overlooked. It’s the story of my life, these days. Across the room in a corner, a father and teenage girl huddle, speaking quietly to each other. A large pile of aging fruit is by the door with a sign above: Help Yourself.I wonder if that refers to the fruit or the patients. A middle-aged man with a half-hearted beard sits down next to me (in Nick’s chair!) but in this waiting room I am very careful not to disrupt anyone. I can feel the heat emanating off my body imploring him to move…I’m holding a place! I have to hold a place! Nick comes in from outside, looks for a moment at me and my companion, then walks to the far end and sits near father and teenager. Beard Guy gets up to ask the lady at the window about the holiday party flyer, which for some reason has last year’s date on it. I catch Nick’s eye and say, quickly, come sit here.
Beard guy smiles at Nick and relocates across the room. Looking around at the people occupying the waiting room I wonder about the routes that brought them here. Not the highways or the busses or the cars, but the events and circumstances. The ever-present question of why, and what. Above their heads, I see questions marks and faint cursive writing…words like genetics, drugs, trauma, bad luck. Will the faded cursive ever come clear? Will I ever understand any of this?
They call Nick’s name and in we go to see the medication doctor. She asks:
How are you feeling?
Are you sleeping?
How is your appetite?
Are you thinking about harming yourself?
How about others?
Are you hearing or seeing things right now that I don’t see?
Just the usual stuff our doctors ask all of us.
“Nick,” she says, “can you do something for me? I’d like you to count backwards from one hundred by sevens. Can you do that?”
He stares at her and then, almost unperceptively, shakes his head no.
“How about by fives?”
He resolutely counts from one hundred to seventy-five and then she stops him.
“Good. Now could you just try to do the sevens for me?”
Very slowly, with about the same effort it would take me, he starts, ‘100, 93, 86, 79, 72, 65…”
I sit watching him out of the corner of my eye, a lump in my throat, my brain aching. To me, he is a little boy in the school auditorium reciting his lines in the play. The little boy who had a whole life ahead of him to be filled with wonderful dreams. There is a faint furrow between his brows from concentrating. He completes the doctor’s requests pleasantly, politely.
I remember being a young mother in a cotton dress with the future all over my smooth face. Now my face has lines and furrows that reflect the routes my life has taken, but the future is still there. I will always believe in a future for him. Anything is possible.