“Maisie?” She turned her head away from the man in the sitting in the corner of the psychiatrist’s office. Doc Jenkins, the earnest young psychiatrist who was smarter than most of the patients wanted to admit, had asked her a question but she had no idea what he said.
“Hmm?” she looked at him, then turned her head back to the corner. The man who had been sitting there was gone. He came and went and never said a word, but he had become a constant in her life that she did not understand, but depended on.
“Are you real?” she’d asked him before Reomi had taken her to the hospital, and he’d smiled and nodded. That was in the days when the manic episode (as she now understood it to be) was slowly taking her over.
“Maisie, what are you looking at? There’s nothing there.” Doc Jenkins looked his most earnest now and she’d have to come up with a believable lie. This doctor was smarter than he had seemed at first. She no longer lied to him, except when she had to, like now.
“It’s just easier sometimes, you know, not to look at someone. If I look at someone’s face, then I have to deal with them, and I’m not sure I’m ready to deal with anyone besides family and friends.” And maybe not even then, she thought.
“Or to pay attention? Maisie, you know I’m on your side…”
“Please, stop saying my name so much, I hate my name. Ma wanted a little girl with red-gold hair like Indian corn, instead, she got me.”
Ah, he thought, back to your mother. “I thought you and your mother loved each other. You told me you got along with her like you would with a friend.”
“I did, I do, I love my family, I couldn’t ask for better, but getting this diagnosis has made me feel like I’m not really me. I mean, it puts a lot of thing into perspective, but not been in a good way. Now it seems like everything is being taken away from me. You want me to go on disability, but if I do I won’t make much, I might even lose my apartment. Who cares if I get Medicare and Food Stamps? I like my job, I like the people I work with, and you tell me I should give it up?” This was the point in the session where she always started to cry.
He leaned forward and handed her a tissue. “One catastrophe at a time, Maisie. We get you settled on your meds, you take an extended leave from working and get back on your feet. Maybe you’ll be able to get a job or return to your old one, and by then it won’t seem so bad.”
She nodded and got up, wadding the Kleenex in her hand. He buzzed her out of his office, and she retreated to her room, her sanctuary.
Maybe the man would be back in her room.
She remembered the first day she saw him. She’d had one last fight with her boyfriend, and was staring at her phone. She was distraught and not really paying attention as she stepped into the crosswalk. Someone grabbed her arm and pulled her back to in time to keep her from stepping in front of an oncoming car. She looked up and saw one of the workmen from the construction site at the corner site smiling at her. He never really said anything, but that smile said it all.
“God, I’m so sorry, you must think I’m really stupid.” She looked and saw the face she was used to seeing now. Not a handsome face, but a very nice one all the same. His hair dark brown hair was kind of a long, though not really, his eyes were brown too, and twinkled as he smiled at her. He patted her on her back, and as she walked away, she could see him still giving her that smile.
The next day she went back to thank him, but the layout of the construction site seemed all wrong like someone had re-arranged it. And there was no sign of the six-foot-tall worker with the brown hair and killer brown eyes.
It had started soon after that. She didn’t know if he was to blame for the manic episode, or if it had merely been coincidence, but she started losing her appetite and soon could no longer count on sleep. She tried everything that she knew: she quit caffeine, tried valerian for sleep, and when that did not work, melatonin. Someone suggested hard exercise, running, biking, working out at the gym but it did not help,
Her family watched as she grew thin and pale. Reomi, her roommate, tried to tempt her with food she had no appetite for. She gave up all pretense of going to work, after all, she’d bought every type of policy for every contingency she could imagine not needing, but now it was sustaining her leave.
She went to her doctor who was alarmed by her thin figure, the black shadows around her eyes, and her overall weakness. She gave her the name of a hospital, a doctor, and a lawyer in case her place of employment did not cooperate.
She went home and collapsed on her couch, and saw her rescuer standing next to her, He was not wearing his construction clothes, but a long jacket that might have some from the seventies, a shirt, and bell-bottom jeans.
She could see he was concerned for her, that he looked worried. He put his hand on her forehead, and she saw tears in his eyes.
“Don’t worry, I’ll be okay,” she told him, “Reomi will be home soon, and when she sees me she’s going to call ‘911’. Just don’t leave me and I’ll be okay.”
Who are you really talking to, Maisie, she asked herself, you have no idea what’s going on! You have no idea who or what he is, or if he’s real. All you’re seeing is that heartbreaker face, and you don’t want to be one the one whose heart gets broken. Everything you’ve read has taught you to beware of this. He looks sweet, he’s acted kindly towards you, but maybe that’s just a front.
She fell asleep, the deep sleep of exhaustion from days without sleeping. She didn’t hear Reomi come in, or feel her shake her as hard as she could, trying to wake her. Nor did she hear the paramedics shout her name, and was not aware when they strapped her to the gurney and loaded her into the back of the ambulance.
She woke up in the emergency room, a doctor and nurse standing over her, asking her questions she was too tired to answer. She found herself admitted to the psych ward, and submitted to endless questions asked by an earnest young psychiatrist whom she found herself liking, though she hadn’t really intended to.
She could see the patient concern in his eyes, that he really did care. She began to answer his questions and slowly they began to see a pattern in her behavior that one day led him to her diagnosis.
“Bipolar disorder,” he’d said, “You’ve probably had it all your life, it just finally got out of control. We’ll get you started on your meds and something to help you sleep. If you take care of yourself and get enough rest you can live a normal life. Just pay attention and beware, don’t let things go so far next time.
She walked out of her session feeling lighter then wondered, suddenly, where her mystery man was. She felt guilty, all the time she’d been in the hospital she hadn’t thought of him until now. She started looking for him, afraid he had left her, wanting very badly to see him.
He appeared next to her bed that evening, smiling and holding her hand. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, but he put a finger to his lips. He put his hand to her cheek, lingering there. She turned her cheek into his hand, closed her eyes, and experienced the first restful sleep she had had in weeks.
The next morning she opened her eyes and saw that he was sitting in a corner of her tiny room, smiling, giving her encouragement, his look telling her she was going to be all right. At that moment she felt that if he didn’t go away, she would be.
She got up and for the first time, looked in the mirror, trying not to be dismayed at how thin she was, at the circles under her eyes. She could feel him standing behind her as he put his arms around her shoulders and held her tightly.
“Do you think I look ugly, I feel ugly,” she closed her eyes, wanting to cry.
He shook his head and kissed her on the top of her shiny red-brown curls. No, I think you’re beautiful and gave her a look was tender and encouraging. She closed her eyes and rested her head against him.
Doc Jenkins was trying to get her attention. “Maisie, you’re not interacting with the other patients, you stay in your room too much.”
“I interact in group, I have enough interacting with that. When I get out of here, I don’t want to see any of these people again, ever.” She wanted to look in the corner but held back because she didn’t want him to see her longing gaze at the man she could not take her eyes from. If she did, if anyone suspected anything, she would never get out of this place.
“Doc, how much longer do I have to stay here. I feel better, I’m exercising, and if I take my Klonopin, I can sleep. I’m even being good about taking my meds, though I hate the way they make me feel.”
“Let’s see. You’ve been here for two weeks, you have at least another two. I want to make sure you are stable and med compliant before I send you home. You were a pretty bad case, Maisie, we want to make sure you’re on your feet. If you aren’t meeting standards, you could be here another month.” He laughed at the dismay on her face. “You’re doing well, except for being a hermit, you’re cooperating. I can see you’re really trying, so don’t give up hope.”
He buzzed her out of his office, and she left feeling better than she had in the past two weeks. The thought of her mystery man, should I call him a ghost, what is he after all, she wondered? He somehow helped her feel like she might recover her life after all. She could feel his hand on her shoulder, and she could not wait to escape to her room and lie with his arms wrapped tightly around her.
Reomi picked her up on the day she was finally released. She took her suitcase and gave Maisie a kiss, “You look so much better, you look, well, healthy. You’ve lost that pale look you had. As she hugged Reomi, she looked around, trying to see him.
The man wasn’t with her, but surely he knew where she lived. She could not bear it if he left her, not now. She wanted to feel him curled around her at night, sitting next to her as she watched television. Thank goodness Reomi was going to school and worked part-time, they wouldn’t have to worry about being alone.
Reomi was saying something to her, but she wasn’t really listening. “Maisie, are you--did you hear me? I said, Larry called, he said he wanted to apologize…”
Larry was a lifetime ago, Larry was a mistake. How could she ever think that she had loved someone who had treated her so badly? “Let him apologize to someone who wants to hear it. After a month away from him, I realized that he never did me any good, never cared about what I thought. Let him treat some other girl that way, I’m not interested.”
She looked idly in the rear-view mirror and some him sitting there, giving her a thumbs up. Oh, you’re here, you’re here, she thought, and felt her heart leap a little.
“Are you working tonight, Omi?” she asked, hoping the answer would be a “yes”, but Reomi shook her black head.
“No, I’m not. Our parents are coming over for dinner tonight to celebrate your getting out of the hospital. Mom’s bringing sukiyaki and salad and your mom is bringing a fruit torte.”
Maisie cringed, “You should have asked me, I would have said no. Why did you do this to me?”
“Because if I asked you, you would have said no; and if I waited and asked again, you would have said the same thing. Come on, they love you. My parents like you better than they like me. They’re happy you’re doing so well now. You try to shut everyone out, well, you need to learn that’s not the way to do it. I almost regret this leave you’re on, but I know how badly you need it. You gotta make yourself well, you know.”
The same thing the doctor had told her. She looked in the mirror again and saw him sitting in the back seat, nodding in agreement. So, you’re a traitor too, she thought.
She got through dinner, she didn’t know how but she did. She tried to keep from glancing towards her bedroom, knowing he was there waiting for her. How long would their parents stay, anyway?
It seemed like forever, but eventually, both sets of parents left. Reomi and her boyfriend Grant disappeared into her bedroom, and she was free, at last, to retreat to hers.
That night he was waiting for her, the bed turned down. She crawled in and he tenderly tucked the covers around her, smiling sadly.
“Will you stay all night and watch over me?” she asked.
He leaned over and kissed her forehead with his cool lips. He pulled a chair over to the side of her bed and took her hand. “All night,” his look said, “I’ll be here all night.”