Thursday, April 14, 2011

Chapter 6~~Emergence

Photo by
Brendon Stuart

“Are you sure you want to hear all this?” Jo asked in a plaintive tone.

“Of course,” I nodded. "How am I going to counsel you if I don't know the whole story?"

“We could talk about something else. Music for instance. What kind of music are you listening to these days? Do you still play the piano?” she tilted her head to one side and gave me a look.

“Are you flirting with me?”

“Certainly not!” Her cheeks reddened.

“It seems that way to me.”

“Well, even if I am flirting, what's the problem with that? Are you saying you want me to?”

"You're a married woman."

"So I am. But you can't blame a girl for a little innocent flirtation. It's fun."

“It could be dangerous.”

“Not likely," she scoffed. "Besides, I'm not afraid of a little danger."

"Me neither."

"In fact, I quite like it."

"Me too⎯if it's the right kind."

I eyed her steadily until she squirmed in her seat and twirled the gold band around on her wedding finger. "Okay. Okay. I give up! I’ll keep talking.”

“I’ll put in another tape.”

The emergency room was at the back of the hospital. The waiting area was large, with seating for maybe 30 people. There was a television tuned to reruns of The Oprah Winfrey Show mounted high on the wall in the corner and two lifeless viewers transfixed on hideously-upholstered chairs. The nature of their emergencies wasn’t readily apparent. One woman held a baby whose nose was running. A man, seated a few chairs away, seemed to be dozing. Perhaps they were waiting for loved ones.

Although Jo worked in the same building on the 7th floor, she had rarely been down to this department. The experience was somewhat otherworldly. She didn’t recognize the woman barricaded behind a plexiglass window who took her insurance card and heard her explanation of what they were doing there. The woman said she’d call Eddy's name when it was his turn before sliding the window shut. Larry and Jo stood near the glass doors in back, being careful not to step on the pressure-sensitive area which caused them to open suddenly, sometimes glancing outside with longing to the quiet parking lot hemmed in by towering eucalyptus trees. Eddy flitted about the room. First he stood on a chair in an effort to turn off the television.

“Eddy, I think people are watching that. You should ask them first,” Jo advised anxiously, but the potential conflict never materialized, since the set turned out to have no external controls. Jo wondered if the woman behind the plexiglass made the viewing decisions, or if there was an Orwellian Central Control office somewhere in the basement, where a fat man sat in the darkness, looking at screens. She made a mental note to ask Mandy about it.

After realizing he had no power over the television, Eddy sat down on a chair and leafed through a People magazine, chuckling to himself. Then he focused on the television again for approximately two seconds. “Do you honestly like this show?” he asked the woman sitting next to him, who didn’t answer. Next he came to stand near Jo and Larry, first bouncing nervously on the balls of his feet, then closely examining the pattern in the carpet and following it carefully with one dirty big toe. When Eddy stepped outside for some fresh air, causing the sliding glass doors to open and close noisily, Jo looked at Larry with alarm, trying to communicate telepathically: What is wrong with him? What is happening here? her look asked him. But Larry didn’t see it, or pretended not to notice. His face was blank, unreadable, and thirty seconds later, Eddy was reentering through the noisy doors.

When his name was called a few minutes later, Eddy let out a big sigh, as if he had been waiting there for hours, and eagerly followed an older nurse with glasses and bright orange hair through a heavy, locked door. Jo and Larry trailed behind. The nurse led them down a wide, white hall to a large room at the end which seemed to be both a storage and a treatment area. There was one big bed on wheels; two flimsy plastic chairs; formica counters covered with random pieces of metal and plastic equipment; two large machines on wheels with dials, buttons, and tubes; and a second, smaller bed surrounded by a heavy plastic curtain hanging from the ceiling. That side of the room was unlit. “Why don’t you sit up here,” the nurse patted the closest bed. Eddy obliged her, hopping up energetically. When he pulled his filthy feet up onto the clean white sheets and crossed his legs, Jo cringed. She and Larry sat on the two white plastic chairs and watched him.

“What happened to you?” the nurse asked as she took Eddy’s hand in hers and began unwrapping the white, gauze bandage.

“Oh, the usual,” Ed smiled. “I put my hand through a window.”

The nurse didn’t seem alarmed, and didn’t ask another question. “My son walked through a plate glass window one time,” she said, and proceeded to tell them about his drunken college years at Chico State. Eddy simply ignored her, closing both eyes and breathing conspicuously, taking long, deep inhalations through his nose and exhaling the air loudly through pursed lips. Jo felt embarrassed by his rudeness, and tried to make up for it by feigning attention to the nurse’s story, smiling companionably and nodding whenever she turned her gaze on Jo.

“Oh yeah, that’s a good one,” the nurse pronounced when she had the hand unwrapped. You’re definitely gonna need stitches. At least 10. Maybe more. But it’ll be awhile before the doctor gets around to you. Do you want some water or something while you wait?”

“I don’t know. Maybe,” Eddy opened his eyes. “What have you got?”

“Well, nothing really,” the nurse admitted. “Just water.”

“What kind of water?”

“Just regular old water from the water cooler. Nothing special. I could bring it to you in a paper cup.”

“I don’t know.” Eddy considered this a serious decision. “Let me think about it.”

A second nurse, young and blonde, entered the room with a clipboard. “Mrs. Thibedeaux?” Jo nodded, not bothering to tell her she'd kept her maiden name. “Would you please come with me?”

Jo looked hesitantly first at Larry, then at Eddy, reluctant to leave the room. “What’s the problem?” she asked the nurse. “Why do you want me?”

“There’s no problem” the nurse smiled reassuringly. “We just want to get some paperwork completed.”

The two of them walked down the hall to a small office with a desk and three chairs. After offering one to Jo, the nurse settled in across from her. “Can you tell me how this happened?”

Suddenly, Jo felt wary of the nurse’s authority. What might happen as a result of this interview? They can’t take Eddy away from me, since he doesn’t live at home. Right? So I don't really "have" him. And the policeman at CSM had said he wouldn’t press charges, so they can’t send him to jail. Or can they? Jo felt uncertain of her position, and glad that she didn’t have much information to give the nurse. Jo hadn’t been in the men’s room when the window was broken; she’d been safe at home, far away from the scene of the crime. Still, she chose her words carefully.

“I don’t know exactly how it happened,” Jo said aloud. “We were just sitting at home when we got a call from our son, asking us to pick him up. He said he’d put his hand through a window.”

The nurse made a note on her clipboard. “Where was that?”

“We were at home in Corinth. He was up at CSM. There were police officers there when we arrived. They made a report and everything. They wanted him to get into an ambulance, but he refused. So we drove up there and brought him down here.”

“Why did he put his hand through the window?” the nurse asked sympathetically, looking up from the clipboard. “Was he involved in some kind of a fight?”

“Well, no. That’s the scary part.” Jo suddenly felt that she could trust this nice-looking young woman who was radiating concern. It was a relief to be in a private room without Eddy listening. It would be an even greater relief to voice the fears that had been scurrying around in her mind. “I’m really worried about him,” Jo confessed. “He says he doesn’t know why he put his hand through the window. He says he wasn’t angry or upset, that he just wanted to. He says it felt good.” Jo found she was crying. “I don’t know what’s wrong with him. He’s acting so weird. His feet are filthy! And he has that really bad cut on his hand, but he doesn't seem bothered by it at all. I’m worried about his mental health.”

“You should be,” the nurse said simply, as if Eddy’s unbalanced mind was plain as day for any passerby to see. “Has he always been like this?” She handed Jo a box of Kleenex. “Have you had trouble with him before?”

“No. Not at all. I mean, he’s always been trouble. He has a difficult personality—argumentative and stubborn—but he’s never been flat out crazy before.”

“What do you mean by ‘crazy?’”

“Well, just doing crazy things, like putting his hand through the window, and walking around with no shoes. He seems to be a little paranoid. He won't let me touch him. And he’s evasive, not telling us what's going on." The nurse nodded sympathetically, urging Jo to go on.

"Two weeks ago, he said he had decided to be homeless. And I know he took some hallucinogens awhile before that, because he texted me about it. Do you think they caused something to go wrong in his brain?” Jo felt distracted by a bit of moisture at her left breast. When she looked down, she was horrified to see a big damp spot spreading over her tank top. She pulled her sweater tighter to cover it, looking up nervously at the nurse, who was too busy taking notes to notice.

“The first thing to do is to take care of his hand. After that…I’m not certain,” she looked up from her clipboard. “Tell the doctor what you’ve told me when you see him, okay? See what he advises you to do.”


The nurse attached her pen to the top of the clipboard and pulled it up against her chest, closing the interview. Still, the pair lingered in the office for a moment longer while Jo blew her nose and wiped her eyes.

When the nurse finally opened the door, Jo girded herself to return to Eddy’s bedside. She could see him at the end of the hall, clearly framed by the doorway, sitting like an outlaw black Buddha on the top of his white bed. His legs were crossed in the lotus position, with the bottoms of his filthy feet pointing up, towards the ceiling; his hands rested on his lap, palms also facing up; his black clothing stood out in stark contrast to the bright white all around him. Jo thought at first that he was staring at her hatefully, with Charlie Manson eyes, that he knew exactly what she had been saying to the young nurse about him, and considered it a betrayal. But as Jo drew closer, she realized with relief that Eddy’s eyes were shut. When she heard his deliberately slow, noisy breathing, her fear of reprisal evaporated.

Jo slipped back into the room quietly and sat down next to Larry on a flimsy plastic chair. A few moments later, a doctor entered brusquely, followed closely by the nurse whose son had gone to Chico State. “Let’s take a look,” he picked Eddy’s hand up from his lap unceremoniously. “We’ll need novacaine,” he told the nurse, who turned to leave.

“No. I don’t want any drugs,” Eddy interjected.

“Believe me, you want novacaine,” the doctor continued, turning around to look at us and smiling sardonically. “You’re going to want to be numb when I stitch you up.”

“No, I’m not. I don’t want any drugs. Don’t give them to me.” Ed withdrew his hand from the doctor’s grasp proprietarily.

“Look, if you don’t have novacaine, it’s going to hurt like hell,” the doctor said bluntly. He wanted to impress Eddy with his imminent ability to inflict pain, but when Eddy remained unimpressed, the doctor looked at Jo and Larry for back up.

“Listen, Eddy,” Jo made an effort to fall in line. “The doctor knows what he’s doing. He’s done this a thousand times. If you don’t have novacaine, you aren’t going to be able to keep your hand still while he’s working on it.”

“I think I can hold it still,” Eddy insisted. “I can hardly feel anything in that hand. Why don’t you try it without novacaine first, and we can see how it goes?”
“Look, I don’t have time for this.” The doctor dropped Ed’s hand back in his lap. “I’m not going to stitch it up if you don’t have the novacaine, so think it over.” He turned abruptly and started to leave the room.

“Okay, okay!” Eddy surrendered at the prospect of more waiting. “I’ll take it.”

“Good. The nurse will prepare a shot, and I’ll be back in a little while.” This time the doctor really did leave, and Jo stood up to follow him down the hall to the nurse’s station, where he picked up a folder and began looking through it intently, ignoring her presence just two feet away.

“Excuse me, doctor,” she began hesitantly. “I wanted to talk to you in private, because I’m concerned about my son’s mental health.”

“Yes, I can understand that,” he said without looking up from his chart. “How old is he? Eighteen?”


“When I’m done here, he should be taken across the hall for a psychiatric evaluation.” He shut his folder for a moment and looked Jo in the eye. “But the problem is, since he’s 18, he’s got to go voluntarily, and if they decide they want to admit him, he’s got to agree.” The doctor smiled sarcastically then, a big toothy grin, like he’d just delivered a good joke. "Isn't that a great system?"

The nurse who’d interviewed Jo was sitting behind the counter. She looked up with sheepishly.

“I don’t know if he'll agree to that," Jo stammered. "I can ask. I doubt he’ll want to."

“Good luck!” The doctor smiled dismissively and turned his gaze back to the chart he was examining.

“How long do you think it will take to stitch him up?” Jo tried to hold on to his attention.

“He’s not first in line. He’s going to be here at least an hour and a half. Maybe two. But if you talk him into it, the nurse here can put in a call to Psychiatry, to let them know he’s coming.” The nurse nodded with encouragement.

Jo walked back to the room slowly, considering how best to put the suggestion. “Look Eddy, we think you might be crazy, so we’d like to take you across the hall for a few tests” didn’t seem very appealing. She liked the clinical term that the doctor had used—psychiatric evaluation. It sounded less insulting. Still, she expected an argument, and when she entered the room, she tried her best to act casual, directing her first comment to Larry.

“The doctor says it’s going to be at least another hour and a half here, and I’ve got a phone interview set up at 5:30 for a story I promised Mandy that I'd have tomorrow. Unfortunately, I don’t have the number on me, so I can’t call the interviewee and change the time. So I was thinking I’d run home and take care of that real quickly, if it’s okay with you.”

"Okay," Larry nodded, and for the second time that day, Jo felt grateful to him. She knew he didn’t like hospitals any more than she did—probably less. Still, she figured he owed this to her. When the children were little, and more prone to accident, she had always been the one at home who had to race them to the hospital, adrenaline pumping. Looking at Eddy in his budda pose, surrounded by hospital equipment, she remembered the time when he was just four years old and broke open his forehead running into a door frame. The nurses had played a little paddycake game to trick Eddy into crossing his arms over his chest so they could trap him in an upper body restraint—a kind of mini-surfboard with wide Velcro panels across the front. “You shouldn’t be in here,” the doctor had told Jo moments later, as she prepared to stitch Eddy up. “We find the parents often faint.” Jo promised she wouldn’t cause a problem. In case of fainting, she sat on the floor. But she was terrified when she saw the size of the needle they were planning to use on his little, baby face. After putting a cloth over Eddy's eyes, which was a mercy, the doctor held a foot-long cylinder of anesthetic up to the light and squirted out a drop of liquid—just like in any monster movie. Then three adults moved in to immobilize his little child legs and chest. When the doctor lowered the syringe to Eddy’s forehead, it seemed the screaming would never end.

Things would be much calmer this time, Jo reassured herself. Larry had it easy. Still, she was glad to miss the stitching up.

After Larry gave her dispensation to go make her phone call, Jo embarked on her campaign of manipulation. “Eddy,” she began in a light tone, “the doctor thinks that after you’re done here, we should go across the hall for a psychiatric evaluation, and I agree. What do you think? Would that be okay with you?”

Eddy took a moment out from his noisy meditation to look up at his mother.

“Sounds like fun,” he grinned.


Back at home, Jo found Eddy’s little brother Michael reading on the couch in the living room, Jason leaning impatiently against the long sink in the kitchen, looking a little like a male model in his tight, white tee shirt.

“Eddy and Larry are still at the hospital,” Jo said breathlessly to Michael on her way to the kitchen. “They haven’t stitched him up yet. I just came home to do a quick phone interview,” she continued to Jason in a rush.

“It’s supposed to start in 10 minutes, so I’m going to go review my notes and then make the call. After that, I’ll come out and give you more details.” She paused to smile warmly at Jason, glad to see him back in her kitchen. She stood closer to him than was necessary.

“How long is the interview going to take?” he asked, running his fingers through his thick hair.

“I don’t know. Maybe half an hour.”

“I kind of need to get going. I’ve been waiting here for you or Larry to show up so I could give you the check for the Toyota and get the pink slip.”

“The pink slip? Crap. I’m not exactly sure where that is, and I don’t want to look for it right now. Why are you in such a hurry?” Jo asked plaintively, placing her hand lightly on his forearm. “You should stay here, Jason.” His name tasted like sweet milky tea in her mouth. “You should stay here to keep Michael company while I go back to the hospital.” She paused to gauge his response. “You know Michael doesn’t like to be alone. And after they stitch Eddy up, we’re going to take him across the hall for a psychiatric evaluation, so it’s going to be a long night.”

“No. That’s not going to work out.” Jason slid out from under Jo’s hand and took a half step away from her. “I’m supposed to go to Susie’s tomorrow, and I’ve got drive home first and pick up a few things.”

“Susie’s?” The name of Jason’s new girlfriend tasted like a ball of phlegm. “Why do you have to go home before you go to Susie’s? Why can’t you just stay the night here? You’ll be much closer anyway.”

“No. That doesn’t work for me. There are things I need at home.”

Jo wanted to ask him if he wasn’t worried about his good friend, Eddy, who was physically injured and apparently losing his notoriously brilliant mind. Jo wanted to ask him if he wasn’t worried about her, the woman he’d been slathering with attention for the better part of two years. Jo wanted to ask him if he wasn’t worried about Michael and Larry, two members of his former second family with whom he’d been eating dinner every week for months on end. But Jo was still wounded by the rejection⎯the abrupt cessation of his visits, and the refusal of her kiss. This second refusal only confirmed what he’d already demonstrated so clearly: he no longer cared about her, or them. So she didn’t ask again. She found the pink slip. She signed it. She accepted his check, flinging it down on the table like a tissue full of snot.

“'Bye,” she said tersely.

She didn’t walk him to the door.

After Jason left, Jo made her phone call, which took about 30 minutes, as expected. Tonight’s interview was with an expert on menopause. She had her standard list of questions: What are the symptoms? What are the remedies? What does the hospital recommend? But just before hanging up, she added one. “What about untimely lactation?” she asked hopefully. “Can't hormonal changes cause a woman who isn’t pregnant to produce milk?”

“Not usually,” the nurse answered. “Why do you ask?”

“Well…because I’ve noticed a little milk coming out of my one of my breasts lately. I’m 45, and I’m going through some stress. But that can happen, can’t it? It’s normal?”

“No. That most definitely is NOT normal,” the nurse said sternly. “When was your last mammogram?”

“I just had one yesterday," Jo said. "Now they want a biopsy.”

“Good. The sooner you get that looked at, the better.”

When the interview was over, and Jo was ready to return to the hospital, Michael said he wanted to come along, too. Jo wasn’t surprised, since as the youngest of three children, he had rarely been alone. Rose was away on a road trip, and since Jason declined her invitation to "babysit," the house was empty. But Jo was wary. She wished there was somewhere else for Michael to go. “Couldn’t you go to a friend’s house?” she asked. “It’s probably going to take a long time. After Eddy gets stitched up, we’ve got to take him for a psychiatric evaluation.”

“What’s that?”

“That’s when they try to figure out if you’re crazy.”

“Eddy’s not crazy.”

“Well, hopefully not. But he’s doing some pretty crazy things, like putting his hand through a window. So it’s a good idea to try and figure out what’s going on with him.”

“Why did he do that?”

“I don’t know, Michael. He says he just wanted to.”

“Sounds like Eddy,” Michael laughed admiringly. “I’m coming. I want to see him.”

“Okay,” Jo relented. Maybe Michael’s presence would be helpful. Besides, she didn’t have any other ideas.


Back at Sisters, Eddy and Larry were just being released from the back room into the emergency department lobby as Jo and Michael walked in from the parking lot. “Hey, Eddy. Let me see your stitches,” Michael said excitedly.

“Nah. It’s all taped up.” Eddy waved off his little brother like an annoying insect.

“How many did you get?”

“I don’t know. Eight maybe.”

“I still got you beat then,” Michael beamed, brandishing his palm, where a long, thin line snaked across the surface in the wrong direction, reminding Jo of the day he had swung excitedly around a slender tree after school, not noticing the nail that was protruding from its trunk until it had sliced open his hand. “This one took 12,” he bragged.

Eddy batted the hand away again as he looked out the glass doors to the parking lot and noticed that the sun was setting. “What time is it?” he asked.

“About 6:30.”

“Maybe we should go home and eat something before we go across the hall,” he suggested. “Dad was telling me about the delicious pesto pasta he made last night.”

“No, let’s go straight across,” Jo said anxiously. "It wasn't that delicious." She was worried that once they got home, Eddy would change his mind. She saw an image of herself as a child on the family “ranch” — just some acres of mud bound by fences in Atwater⎯approaching the skittish horses. Whenever they visited, the first order of business was to capture the horses they wanted to ride. Jo and her sisters would walk slowly out into the fields, closing the pasture gates behind them, making the roaming space smaller and smaller, holding the bridles behind their backs…

“I’m sure this is going to take awhile,” Jo said smoothly. “I can run home to get a bowl of pasta for you while you’re being interviewed and bring it back.”

That idea seemed to satisfy him, so they settled into a little four-seat group around a coffee table near the elevator, as if they were going to have a cup of tea or play a game of Settlers. Moments later, a woman with long brown hair and a placid face came out to talk to them. She paused a moment, looking from person to person, confused.

“Are you looking for Eddy?” Larry prompted. “That’s him,” he pointed.
“Oh, I see. And the rest of you are…?”

“The rest of us are here with him. I’m his father, that’s his mother, and that’s his little brother.”

“How nice that he has such a supportive family,” she smiled. “I’m a psychiatric nurse. What I’d like to do is interview Eddy alone first. Then I’ll come out to get you, and interview his parents alone. Then we can all come together and discuss what we discovered. Okay?”

Eddy seemed a bit reluctant. “I’m a little hungry,” he said. “My mom was going to get some food and bring it back to me. Will she be able to come back there while we’re talking?”

“Sure. That’s no problem.” The woman smiled encouragingly. “Just tell the nurses you have something that you want to bring back.”

She waited for a moment as the four of them sat there. Then Ed took the initiative and stood up. Jo watched as the woman pressed in a code to open the heavy door to the back rooms on the other side of the lobby. Ed was still barefoot, and Jo vaguely worried that he would step on a contaminated needle. He turned and waved goodbye as he passed through the door.

Driving home to get the bowl of pasta was a short but welcome distraction for Jo, who was understandably worried. When she returned to the hospital, she didn’t see Larry or Michael in the waiting room, so she asked the nurses to let her through the locked door to the rooms in back, where she wandered around unattended until she found Eddy alone in a small room, lying on a bed with thick chrome railings. He seemed to be sleeping. “I brought your food,” she said softly, not wanting to wake him.
“Oh, thanks.” He seemed groggy. He didn’t reach for the bowl.

“Where is the woman who took you back here? I thought she was supposed to be interviewing you.”

“She already did that. I don’t think I gave the right answers.” Eddy smiled. “She’s in the next room now, talking on the phone. All this is getting boring. I’m ready to go home.”

“Okay, okay. But we’re going to have to talk to her first. Here’s the pasta, if you still want it.” Jo put the bowl down on a counter. “I’ll go see if I can hurry her up.”
In the next room, Jo found the nurse talking on the phone, and a man looking at a computer screen. The nurse saw Jo in the doorway, and held one finger up to indicate that she would only be a minute. “The parent is here now. I’ll call you back.” Jo heard her say into the mouthpiece. Then she put the phone down and gave Jo a big smile.

“I see you’re back now. Good. Let’s go get your husband. I think it’s time for us to talk.” After retrieving Larry, the nurse shepherded the two of them into a small office across the hall from Eddy. Michael, she said, should wait in the little alcove adjacent to the room where she had been on the phone. The brightly-lit alcove contained a couch, a chair, a wall of closed cupboards and a closed circuit TV, which mirrored back a black and white picture of the alcove. It looked like a prison cell. Michael didn’t look delighted by the idea.

“Can’t I go sit with Eddy?” he asked.

“Sure. I don’t see why not.” Her manner was gracious, non-threatening, and Michael visibly relaxed a little before she closed the door to the interview room.

Once inside, she asked a long series of questions about Eddy’s childhood, personality, and behavior to date. Jo and Larry didn’t always agree on the answers. When the nurse seemed finished, Jo offered her theory that Eddy’s mental state had been caused by hallucinogenic drugs.

“Even if it was, he hasn’t taken any recently,” the nurse said, “at least if we can believe what he says is true. So what we’re dealing with here is no longer a drug reaction. What we’re dealing with here is a state of mental instability that needs further study and review.”

“Listen. I had something very similar happen to me in college,” Jo admitted. “I took LSD, and I had a nervous breakdown that lasted for a few weeks. What they did for me at the time—what my father did for me—was give me tranquilizers. Can’t we just get some tranquilizers for Eddy, and see if his condition improves once he gets a little sleep? I’m pretty sure he hasn’t been eating or sleeping at the apartment where he’s living. I’ll bet with a little food and some sleep, he’ll be good as new.”

“That sounds good to me, but it’s not what the doctor is recommending. I’m not the doctor. I’m consulting with him on the phone. Dr. Tarsa feels pretty strongly that Eddy should be admitted to the hospital.”

“Admitted?” said Larry. “Wait a minute. What does Eddy think about this?”

“I haven’t asked him.”

“Well don’t you think you ought to?”

“Frankly, at this point, it isn’t up to Eddy. It isn’t even up to the two of you. If the doctor thinks he should be admitted for observation, then he’s going to be admitted.”

“But we were told that it had to be voluntary!” Jo protested.

“That’s true, when there isn’t any perceived risk to himself or others. But since Eddy hurt himself, the doctor sees a risk of further injury.”

“Wait a minute,” Larry tried to put his foot down. “Where is this doctor? How can he make a decision when he hasn’t even met Eddy? What do you think? You’re doing the interviews. Doesn’t what you think matter?”

“Well, I’m inclined to go along with you. If Eddy were all alone, I’d say he definitely needs to be admitted to the hospital. His thinking is confused. He’s having visual and perhaps auditory hallucinations. He’s harmed himself and seems to be both paranoid and psychotic at this point. But since you are both here, and willing to care for him, I think it might be appropriate to release him into your custody. Who knows? You may be right. Maybe all he needs is a little rest. But as I said earlier, I’m not the doctor. I don’t make the decision. It’s up to him.”

“Can we talk to this doctor?”

“Sure you can. Let me see if I can get him on the phone for you.”

She rose to open the door and they spilled into the hallway as if expelled by the pressure in the tiny airless room. They found Eddy and Michael both in the brightly-lit alcove. Ed sat on the floor, his legs crossed mediation style. He held his injured hand in the air before him and stared at it intently. Michael lay on the couch, his hand over his eyes. Their images were projected in black and white on the small TV near the ceiling in the corner. Jo wondered where else it was broadcasting, and who was watching it. Larry followed the woman to her phone by the bank of computers while Jo went into the alcove with the boys.

“How’s it going in here?”

“Very well!” Eddy answered brightly. “I’m healing my hand. Are you done with your discussion? Are we ready to go home yet?”

“I don’t know Eddy. There’s some question. The woman is saying she thinks you should stay in the hospital for more observation. What do you think about that?”

Eddy leapt to his feet in a single motion. “I don’t know, man. Everything’s getting a little jumpy here.” He started pacing back and forth. “I was fine on my own. I felt really peaceful in the bathroom up at CSM. When I put my hand in the toilet, and watched the blood swirl down the drain, it was like I vibrating at the optimum level or something, and I could hear the underlying music—you know what I mean? But then all these people started getting in on the act, and now I’m losing my connection.” Eddy looked at Jo with frustration. His eyes were shining. Jo could feel some kind of heat pouring off him. Then he tilted his head to the side, spotting something behind her, and Jo turned to see that a security guard was now standing in the other room.

“What is he doing there?” she thought with alarm. “Surely he hasn’t come because of Eddy?!” He wasn’t looking at the three of them; he was leaning casually on the counter, looking toward the computer room. Maybe he had just stopped in to visit with the nurse while making his rounds…

“Just a minute, Eddy,” Jo tried to calm him. “Let me go talk to Dad.”

In the next room, she found the nurse on the phone, the man still staring at a computer screen (was he monitoring the alcove?), the security guard leaning casually against the counter, saying nothing, and Larry standing anxiously by.

“Listen Larry, Eddy is getting worse and worse in there. He told me he put his hand in the toilet up on the campus and watched his blood swirl down the drain. He thinks he’s spontaneously healing his hand by staring at it.”

“What are you saying to me?” Larry gave Jo a hard look.

“I don’t know…” she looked anxiously around the room, as if the answer to his question might be tacked on the wall. “It’s just that…I'm thinking maybe they should keep him.”
Larry looked shocked. “Are you willing to let them take him against his will?” His tone was incredulous.

“I don’t know. I’m scared. He’s acting so crazy.”

“Well I’m not willing to do that,” he said decisively. “He’ll calm down once we get him home. As soon as she gets the doctor on the phone, I’m going to try to talk him out of it.” Then he leaned in confidentially. “What is that security guard doing here?”

“I don’t know!” Jo was flustered. “Maybe they called him to keep an eye on Eddy?”
They looked at each other with alarm.

“Okay,” the nurse interrupted. “I’ve got Dr. Tarsa on the line. Why don’t you take it in the other room?”

Larry followed her across the hall to the small office where they’d been interviewed. Jo returned to the alcove. “Daddy’s talking to the doctor now, Eddy. He’s going to try to talk him into letting you come home with us.”

“It isn’t up to the doctor, is it?” He was still up and pacing.

“They’re telling us that it is.”

“Why are you doing this?!” Michael blurted out from his position on the leather couch, where he was still lying with his arm flung over his face. Jo could hear from the liquid in his voice that he was crying beneath his hand. She wasn’t sure if he was talking to her or Eddy, but she felt a powerful buffet of guilt in either case. “Why did we bring Michael here?” Jo suddenly asked herself. “Why did I let him come? He is just a 14-year-old boy. He shouldn’t be being exposed to this!”

“Doing what, Michael?” Jo tried to use a matter-of-fact tone, like his father. “Don’t cry, honey. What’s the matter? There’s nothing wrong.”

“Why are you letting them take Eddy?!” he shouted.

“Michael!” She was shocked. Michael never shouted. “We’re not letting them take him. We’re trying to talk them out of it.”

“Why did you bring him here in the first place? He isn’t crazy! Why did you tell them he was?!” Michael stopped trying to hide his tears, which flowed freely. He swiped his hand across his face. It was blotched red.

“Michael!” Jo cried again, flustered. “I did not tell them that. I just said I was worried!”

“Do you think I’m crazy?” Ed lunged suddenly in the direction of the security guard, who flinched, but didn’t leave his spot at the counter. Michael groaned and rolled over on his side, facing the wall. Jo put the palm of her hand flat against her forehead, as if applying that pressure could hold her brains in, could settle the wild thoughts racing inside her skull, and crossed the hall to the little interview room. Inside, she heard Larry talking quietly to the doctor.

“We think he just needs to come home and calm down a little…We disagree.” He looked at Jo and shook his head.

“Can I talk to him?” she whispered.

“Look doctor, my wife’s here. She wants to talk to you.” He handed Jo the phone.
“Dr. Tarsa, this is Eddy’s mother. I know you’re thinking you’d like to keep him here for observation, but I’m not sure that’s going to be the best thing for him. What I’d like to do is get a prescription for tranquilizers. I’m pretty sure once he’s slept, he’ll recover.”

“I don’t think benzodiazepines are indicated at the moment,” the doctor said in an authoritative voice. Jo was immediately intimidated. “Your son has already harmed himself once. I don’t want to give him something that’s going to weaken his inhibitions. Whose to say he won’t harm himself again?”

“He wasn’t really trying to harm himself,” Jo interjected. “It wasn’t like he was trying to commit suicide or something. He just put his hand through a window in a fit of spontaneity. He just thought for some reason that it would be cool.”

“I’m aware of that. And the fact that he sustained a laceration large enough to require eight stitches, yet didn’t understand the seriousness of the injury, didn’t immediately seek help, tells me that he is a risk to himself.”

“I really don’t think he’s going to hurt himself,” Jo blustered.

“Don’t you? Why not? How will you feel if he does? You say you want to take him home, but who is going to watch him there? Are you going to be able to stay awake 24-hours a day, to keep an eye on him? What will you do if he just gets up and leaves?”

“I don’t know...” her voice drained of confidence.

“Let me talk to him.” Larry impatiently took back the phone.

Jo wandered back into the alcove, where she found Eddy and Michael sitting next to each other on the couch. Michael rested his elbows on his knees and stared at the floor. Ed sat with his back erect and his eyes closed, breathing loudly. Jo noticed that the security guard hadn’t continued on his rounds, but was still leaning on the counter outside. She sat next to her children dispiritedly and wondered again if the man in the next room was watching them on his computer monitor. Why did they need a closed circuit TV, anyway? Couldn’t they just look at us through the door? she thought irritably. And if they did need to spy, why did they put a monitor in the alcove to make us aware of being spied on? Wasn’t surveillance supposed to be secret? The monitor, the bright fluorescent lights, the antiseptic smell of the hospital, and the close, cramped room upset her. She felt tired, afraid, incompetent.

“Dad’s still talking to the doctor,” she told her sons quietly. “He’s not easy to convince.”

“I’m tired,” Michael moaned. “When are we leaving?”

“I don’t know, honey,” Jo shook her head. “I’m tired, too. We all are.”

“I’ve been thinking,” Ed offered. “Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to stay here. I mean, it’s all an experience, right?”

Jo’s mood instantly lifted. “Are you sure, Eddy?” She felt the tension draining from the room. If they were going to take him anyway, it would be best for all concerned if he wanted to go.

“No, I’m not sure. But I think so. I hear they can’t keep me for more than 72 hours anyway. So I’m thinking it might be fun.”

“Okay baby,” Jo whispered, hurrying to seal the deal before he changed his mind. She leaned over to kiss him on the cheek, but he drew away from her. “I’ll go tell Daddy.”

“Wait a minute. How long can they keep me?”

“Just 72 hours!” she said enthusiastically. “That’s what the nurse said. A 72-hour hold, she called it.”

“Okay,” he nodded.

Larry was coming out of the office. He looked tired and worried. Jo hurried over to him. “Eddy says he wants to stay now.”

“Really?” His face lightened.

Jo nodded. “He says he figures it will be an experience.”

“Well, I better get back on the phone, then, because I just convinced the doctor to let him leave with us!” Larry gave a giddy little laugh. Then he walked over to the computer table and interrupted the nurse who was conferring with Dr. Tarsa on the phone.

“Never mind. He says he wants to stay now,” he said with a grin.

Once they were all in agreement, it took another 20 minutes for the nurse to complete the paperwork and get off the phone. The family sat together in the alcove, under the tiny television monitor. Eddy seemed nervous, but also excited. He talked rapidly of random things that had happened that day. Larry made an occasional dry joke about the hospital environment. Michael looked morose. Jo wondered if he would ever forgive her, or ever forget this awful night. Outside the alcove, another security guard came to stand next to the first one. So he had been there for Eddy all along. Finally, the nurse entered smiling, and reassured them.

“Everything is in order now. I’m sorry it’s taken so long. They’re ready for you up on the unit, Eddy. I bet you’ll be glad to finally get into bed.” She indicated a big, black clock on the wall. It was almost 1 a.m. “Are you ready?”

Eddy nodded.

“Okay son,” the security guard spoke for the first time, stepping into the alcove. “It’s time to go now.”

They all stood up and watched as Ed allowed the guard to take one of his arms. Once he stepped into the larger room, the second guard maneuvered round to take the other.
“Bye honey,” Jo called weakly after him. “We’ll come to see you tomorrow!”
Eddy kept his eyes closed as he walked between the two big men through the heavy, locked, impenetrable door.

Cut Off will be published in June.


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