A few hours later, Jack looked out the window of his room, watching the birds chasing each other through the air. This room was different from the one he’d woken up in; it was gentler on the eyes. The bed was a little nicer, and the walls were a calming green color. The teacher sat back in the chair he’d been resting in with a sigh. Dr. Andrews and a woman in a black suit and skirt, carrying a clipboard, walked in. Jack watched the way she moved. Her confident gait and posture reminded him of his sister Shi.
“Hello, Doctor,” Jack greeted calmly. “Who’s your friend?” Dr. Andrews smiled and his patient’s pleasant tone.
“Jack, this is Dr. Sheila Levine. She’ll be helping me evaluate you for a more conclusive decision.” Dr. Levine smiled a little, observing the man before her closely.
“I understand. As the saying goes, two heads. How long do I have to stay out of work here?” Jack asked plaintively, thinking of his math students’ tests he’d yet to grade.
“Well, we have a maximum of 72 hours to keep you on emergency hold. If you convince us you’re not a danger before that, you’ll be free to leave. If not, we’ll go from there when it comes, alright?” Dr. Andrews’ response satisfied him.
“I think that’s reasonable,” Jack agreed.
“Would it be alright if we start, Jack?” Dr. Levine asked gently, sitting across from the teacher, Dr. Andrews joining her. The patient nodded, looking out the window a moment longer before turning his attentive gaze to the psychiatrists before him.
“What started you down this path, in your opinion?” The young woman asked. Jack fidgeted.
“Well,” he began. “Lack of noise bothers me. Normally I leave the TV on, or play music. I’m trying to adjust myself to be more normal, so lately I’ve been turning everything off to acclimate myself. I thought it was working… I suppose not, though, considering.” He felt ashamed of himself as he explained his anxiety.
“I see,” Dr. Levine responded, “and how does that make you fe—” Jack held a hand up.
“I know it’s what you have to say,” he interrupted softly, “but that question is quite overused. Anyway, it is embarrassing when your girlfriend wants to cuddle, but all you can do is fidget and try not to hyperventilate in front of her. I’ve since stopped seeking romance.” Jack finished with pursed lips, looking down.
“And how do you feel about that?” Dr. Andrews asked. “I know,” he added, responding to the complaint.
“I get lonely, yes,” Jack answered, “but it’s better than getting dumped all the time. I’d rather be alone by choice than because the woman I’m with can’t handle me at my worst.” He shrugged, being as forthright as possible.
“Dr. Andrews tells me you’ve been suicidal before,” Dr. Levine asked. “Can you tell us about that?” Jack blinked, calling on his memories for a moment.
“You remind me of my sister,” he told her. “Long story short, I was too young to be a father figure but in the end my family was more important.” Dr. Levine looked at him expectantly. “Not good enough?” She smiled, bringing a chuckle from Jack. “I figured. When my father died, I took over caring for my siblings, being just old enough to do so and just naïve enough to think I’d be able to. My brother had medical issues and needed almost constant attention, and my two sisters at the time were both under 13.
“I was overwhelmed and trying to cope with the loss of my father, and I was attending college and running carpool. It got to be too much. I held on for about a year before caving and raiding Dad’s wine cellar. I was so tired of trying to have my own life while playing mom, dad, and big brother to three kids I didn’t want in the first place, so I wrote a note to my brother. But then I remembered that I wasn’t the only one whose father had died, and I decided they needed me more than I needed escape.” A moment of silence stretched after Jack stopped talking, making him nervous.
“You’re very calm while telling your story,” Dr. Levine remarked.
“Years went by before I told anyone. I’ve honed a reputation for being emotionally and physically stronger than your average math teacher. You see calm because I want you to see calm. In reality it’s all I can do to sit still.” Dr. Andrews wrote in his notebook.
“What would you rather be doing?” The man asked, curious.
“Hiding,” Jack responded with a shrug. “That’s what I did growing up when life got too big for me, and I still keep my closet floor clean so I have room to sit down.” He sat on his hands to keep from holding his shoulders. “I’m an adult. I should be mature and capable enough to handle my issues. I should be in control of myself.” He stared into Dr. Andrews’ eyes as he finished, giving the doctor a chill.
“Nobody is perfect. Not everyone copes with stress the same way,” Dr. Levine suggested, noting the emphasis Jack placed on control. He turned to her.
“It is reasonable to expect myself to remain calm in most of the situations I panic at the thought of entering.”He bit his tongue to stop himself from continuing. The woman noticed.
“Such as?” She prompted. He sighed.
“I don’t like quiet, or meeting new people. I don’t like repetition, being embarrassed… I can’t fail, or do public speaking, or feel like I’m forced into something. These things are terrifying.” Jack made eye contact. She squirmed under his gaze.
“What do you do when you can’t hide?” Dr. Andrews spoke up, breaking Jack’s focus. He paused before speaking.
“I tell myself to man up,” Jack explained, “and do my best to ignore the maelstrom inside. I know if I act on my impulses, I’d be committed and doped out on too-strong, mind-numbing brain killers for the rest of my life. I like not being in a straightjacket, so I control myself until I’m alone and can avoid freaking people out.” He cocked an eyebrow theatrically, amusing himself to alleviate his awkwardness. The doctors both wrote notes before Dr. Andrews continued his questioning.
“What kind of impulses?” He inquired, almost afraid to ask. Jack saw and laughed.
“Nothing too bizarre,” he chuckled. “No, I usually just want to hold my shoulders or pace or something. I’ve seen people do that, and while I understand what they’re doing, I also see the looks they get from bystanders, the whispered gossip as strangers speculate. I think most people find harmless pacing more frightening than an actual outburst of psychotic behavior.” Dr. Andrews noted the response.
“Why do you think that?” Dr. Levine asked.
“If you see a schizophrenic person talking to himself, you assume either he’s got a wireless headset or that he’s schizophrenic. If you see someone with a bipolar disorder trudging through a low or buzzing through a high, you may just think they’re feeling whatever emotion they’re displaying at the moment. But,” Jack continued, “when you see a pacer, you don’t know if she’s nervous, or if he’s about to go postal, or if the voices are saying to kill. It’s disconcerting, and people don’t like that.” He fell silent.
“You’re very observant,” Dr. Andrews remarked. “It’s not often I see someone with your level of insight.” Jack smiled, accepting at face value what he hoped was a compliment.
“Thank you, I try,” he replied. “Next question?” The man waited patiently as the two doctors looked over their notes. Dr. Levine spoke first.
“Just to clarify,” she started, “you’ve never been suicidal except what you’ve told us?” Jack looked to her calmly.
“I’ve thought about it a few times,” he corrected, “but it was never a strong enough urge to desire action, and when I’d wander a little too far down that mentality, I would look at the note I wrote Dan, and it would remind me that life is worth fighting for.
“Besides,” he added, “I’m a pretty good teacher, and I don’t want my kids to miss out on a good education.”Jack smiled, taking pride in his work.
“Do you think you’ll attempt suicide again?” Dr. Andrews asked him.
“No,” Jack answered forthrightly. “Not because I just want to get out of here. If trying to cure a minor neurosis is going to cost me my life, I’d rather just stay weird.” He saw a flash of pity in Dr. Levine’s eyes.
“Don’t feel sorry for me,” he blurted out a little more forcefully than he intended. “I don’t need pity.” An inkling of sorrow leaked into his voice, but he hoped they didn’t hear it.
“If you don’t want to be like this,” Dr. Levine responded, her tone defensive. “We can arrange some counseling. Do you know if your insurance covers that?” Jack turned to her, no longer irritated.
“I’m sorry if I sounded upset,” he apologized. “While I have insurance, I am sure they’d rather jump straight to drugs. I’ll tell you what: after I’m discharged, I have to come back to get this needlework out. When I do, if I’m still depressed, I will work with whoever you recommend. If my insurance won’t cover it, I am the heir of a sizeable chunk of my father’s estate. Let’s just say that’s part of why I thought I could care for my siblings.” The doctors were pleased with his offer, unaccustomed to willing patients.
“If you’re serious about wanting to overcome your obstacles, I think we can work with that,” Dr. Andrews replied, smiling.
The following day, Jack was up and moving around comfortably enough that the other doctor, whom Jack now knew to be Dr. Castle, felt his patient was well enough to be discharged. Dr. Andrews wanted to talk to Jack some more, so he came to deliver the news himself. He entered the room to find his patient counting the ceiling tiles, lying with his head hanging from the end of the bed.
“Having fun, Jack?” The doctor teased, amused at the antics. Jack sat up, pleased to see Dr. Andrews again so soon.
“I ran out of things to draw,” he explained with a smile. “Have a seat.” He shifted on the bed.
“Dr. Castle has filed to discharge you from the hospital, but I have to give my say on whether you’re good to go mentally. I have a couple questions I forgot to ask yesterday that I’d like to go over.” Dr. Andrews handed Jack the discharge notice and opened his green notebook. Jack read the notice quickly and set it on the bed beside him.
“That’s fine. I’m restless anyway,” he confessed happily. “Ask away, doc.” He waited patiently for the man to speak.
“You said you’d been drinking both times you were suicidal. Does that happen often?” The patient smiled.
“There is a correlation, yes,” Jack replied. “Usually I drink when I am depressed, although sometimes it happens the other way around. Before the other day, I hadn’t had a drop in five years.” Dr. Andrews looked up from his notes at this revelation.
“Oh?” He prompted. Jack nodded.
“Yeah,” the teacher went on, “I used to party sometimes when I was younger but then I started making bad decisions. After a scare with the cops driving home, I eased up on it. Then I noticed if I drank while depressed, I felt worse than if I didn’t. I got rid of all my alcohol, except one bottle of 180-proof that was too expensive to throw out, and I locked up my mother’s crystal shot glass. It’s the only thing I have left of her, so I couldn’t toss it. I hid the key, but this time I distracted myself by sorting my key collection…” He trailed off, letting the doctor connect the dots.
“I see,” the man said. “A veritable perfect storm, if I follow correctly.”
“I broke the glass,” Jack revealed quietly.
“Why did you break it?” Andrews asked.
“Because I was hammered, and it’s her fault I’m like this!” Jack told him, a little more emphatically than he meant to do. The doctor blinked in confusion.
“But it was all you had of hers,” he countered, fishing for an explanation.
“She was a bitch,” Jack shrugged, calm again. “I mean, I remember her yelling at Dad for no reason all the time, and, while I liked her better before she left, I’m glad she disappeared when she did. Besides having the fortune, Dad was a better parent than she would have been.” He finished softly, a sad smile on his face.
“Why is it her fault, and why did you like her better? Why did you change your mind?” The doctor asked curiously.
“I grew accustomed to noise very early,” Jack responded quietly. “She yelled constantly. I learned that if she was quiet, she was dangerous, and would smack us if we acted up. I liked her,” he continued, “because she spoiled us with sweets and toys. I didn’t change my mind until after Dad died…” Jack stopped, tears welling up in his eyes.
“What’s wrong?” Dr. Andrews pried.
“Dad was everything she wasn’t,” Jack forced out. “He was calm, levelheaded, and treated the five of us with respect. He budgeted his money so we would have it when he died. Dad and I fought constantly, and Dad tried his best to tame us. I resented my father, blamed him for my mother leaving. He knew it; I told him all the time. I was horrible…” Jack paused, steeling himself. “Dan and I were fighting when he died.
“I had stormed off to my room to avoid another gentle lecture about family. I could hear his slow footsteps coming down the hallway, then a loud thud. I looked out to find him lifeless on the floor right where I’d been yelling at my brother. Dan came out and started screaming, and my sisters followed suit. I called an ambulance and followed it to the hospital, where we learned he had died instantly of a brain aneurism, and even if I had tried CPR, it wouldn’t have helped. He stopped, looking away.
“I’m so sorry,” Dr. Andrews told him. Jack just shook his head, not wanting to continue but knowing he needed to.
“I was nine years old when she left us,” the teacher rasped. “The night before, Dad read me a bedtime story, and I told him I loved him. He seemed really sad, but wouldn’t tell me why, so I said it to make him feel better. That’s the last time he heard me say those words.” Jack wiped his eyes. “Nine years. I hated him for the last nine years of his life…
“After the funeral, I’d go to the cemetery while the kids were in school,” he pressed. “For months, I would just go and sit, leaning against his headstone, trying to feel close to him. On especially painful days, I begged his forgiveness for being such a rotten son.” Jack stopped to regain his composure, suddenly embarrassed by his tears.
“Did asking for forgiveness help you?” Dr. Andrews inquired gently.
“No,” the teacher smiled sadly, sniffling. “I still go five times a year; on his, my mother’s and my birthdays, the day she left, and the day he died. People say it gets better as time passes… They’re liars. I still hurt like he died this morning.” Jack fell silent, having run out of things to say. He was visibly miserable.
“Were you really that horrible? Teens say hurtful things all the time, especially to their parents.” Dr. Andrews reasoned. Jack shrugged and put his hands on his shoulders, not caring if the doctor saw it.
“He told me every day he loved me,” he insisted. “If I didn’t ignore him, I told him to leave me alone, albeit with more colorful language. I knew it hurt him; that’s why I did it.” The man forced a sad smile. “Every morning with breakfast, I got up earlier than the kids, and he’d greet me. ‘Good morning, Jack. I love you. Eggs or ham today?’ And every morning, I’d answer in one-word sentences.
“Every night at bedtime, he’d tell me again. ‘Good night, Jack. I love you.’ Every night, I either ignored him or lashed out. Toward the end, he started saying it more softly… sadly…” Jack’s voice caught in his throat. “He tried… He tried so hard to earn my approval, and I knew it the whole time. I didn’t care, even when his tone changed and he was slower to say it.
“The last day,” Jack continued hesitantly, “he changed his morning greeting. ‘Good morning, Jack. I love you. What do you want for breakfast?’ I said I wanted an omelet and he said, ‘you’re an adult, so why don’t you make it just how you like it?’ Then he left. I was just glad to be rid of him. I caught him later in the garage with red eyes. He kinda brushed it off at first but when he knew I had caught him, he said he was sorry, and then… ‘I still love you, you know. You make it hard sometimes, but I do.’ The way he said it put me off-guard and I just… looked at him, said ‘okay’, and then left.
“That was the first time in years I’d acknowledged him without a fight…” Jack sighed, dropping his hands to his lap weakly.
“Do you think your response made him feel better?” The doctor asked gently.
“I don’t know,” answered the patient. “Maybe? It was the last thing I ever said to him. I didn’t wait for a reply though, so who knows?” He thought for a moment. “Can I leave yet?” He looked at Dr. Andrews.
“Are you safe to be by yourself right now?” Jack nodded. “I’ll set you to leave for tomorrow. If you’d like I can bring by a puzzle to busy yourself.” He nodded again so the doctor left. Alone at last, Jack curled into a ball by his pillow.
“Could you hook up my phone so I can call my neighbor?” He asked when he heard someone enter the room with a familiar rattling noise. Jack sat up to see Dr. Andrews set the box on the table.
“Sure,” he replied, bending to reach behind the side table to plug the cord back in.
“Thank you,” Jack told him. “Can I have him come see me? I’d really like my own clothes to wear.” Dr. Andrews nodded.
“We’d offer you the ones you had on, but your jeans were soaked and the paramedics destroyed your shirt, so…” Jack just shrugged at the news.
“That’s okay. It wasn’t my favorite.” He reached for the puzzle. “Oh cool, a beach scene.” The doctor asked if he needed anything else, and Jack shook his head. “No, thank you.” The teacher watched him leave and grabbed the phone, dialing his neighbor.
[I finally got around to this again. I'm still mad about losing it but I have to move on.]