Life So Perfect, p.1Nathan Bassett
LIFE SO PERFECT
Life So Perfect is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used factiously, any resemblance to actual persons, dead or living, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
“If life’s so perfect, why this? Something got you here, led up to this. What is it? And leave the ‘I don’t knows’ the other side of the backdoor.”
Joe’s finger twisted fraying upholstery on the well-worn gray chair. Shrugging one shoulder, he said, “It was a bad day. Everyone has a bad day. Listen, I don’t want to be rude and it’s nothing to do with you, but this is crap. I don’t need to be here. I’m not like those others out there. Those kids in this place, I’m sorry, but they’re … well, I’m not crazy. I made a stupid mistake. I don’t deserve to be here. There’s plenty of crazy people that need this sort of thing, but I’m not psycho.” Control. Control. It’s about control. Don’t be such an idiot. Joe looked at the therapist and forced a smile – a feeble effort to appease the one who would decide when he would go home. “Sorry. I know they’re not crazy. But … I just don’t belong here.”
Braxton chuckled. “Hey, there are a few crazy ones here. Those are the ones that want to be here.” He leaned forward, pointed to Joe’s left arm. “How many staples? Twenty-one? And the pills? How many pills was it? Fifty? Oh yeah, sixty. We have to figure out what got you to the point where death was your only option, the only way out. Something’s going on. What’s going on up there and in there?” Braxton pointed to Joe’s head then chest. He leaned back and tucked his left foot under his right leg. His eyes fixed on the soon to be seventeen year old.
Joe glanced at his therapist; he had to get away from the man’s demanding gaze. He stood up and took three steps toward the room’s lone window. Should be out there, in the real world. His gaze rested on the distant landscape. Picture perfect. An endless canopy bursting with subdued shades of red, yellow, brown and orange. Autumn in the Ozarks. The best time of year: crisp chilly air filling the lungs, football, pumpkins, Halloween parties – and his birthday. Should be home, not stuck in this godforsaken hellhole. Football? Season’s over for me, no hope now, no chance of a scholarship now. Probably gonna flunk, have to repeat my junior year. All ruined. Screw this. Screw this guy. His eyes shifted down, a half dozen adult patients wandered around the enclosed courtyard, all smoking, all looking drugged up, zoned out – Pathetic, sad creatures. Rather be dead than like that.
“So what is it? What got you here?”
Joe turned and faced his therapist. He filled his lungs and pulled his shoulders back. He knew his beefy six foot three frame could be intimidating, and he worked hard to use that to his full advantage on the football field. The reality was he hated his size; always knew people saw him as fat, not muscular; knew others were laughing behind his back, laughing at his pudgy face that too often was sprinkled with pimples. He brushed his closely cropped brown hair and held his hand on the back of his head. “Screw this. Screw you.” The words were about to give birth. Control. Show him you’re in control. Joe emptied his lungs. He sat down, looked his therapist in the eyes and nodded. Braxton’s dull blue eyes seemed so strange; sometimes sad but comforting and sometimes piercing and overpowering. His graying hair, long and always pulled back in a ponytail, made him look old. Forty-five, maybe fifty. Too old, whatever. Joe didn’t know what to make of this guy. He couldn’t decide if the man’s low, raspy voice was comforting or irritating. He didn’t want to like him; he didn’t want to trust him.
He’d had a therapist when he was seven. Only because the school nurse insisted. “Some signs of depression,” she’d told his mother. “It could only help him.” His mom balked at the idea. The well-meaning nurse insisted all the more, “Certainly won’t hurt. Just for a little while, help him adjust to the divorce.” Divorce. Big deal. Everyone’s parents get divorced. He had coped fine, just like his brother and sister had; they were all just fine. Three months he met with that therapist. She was young, would take him out for ice cream, walks in the park, even to movies. He thought counseling was okay then, but he was not seven anymore, and Braxton was not a twenty-one-year-old fresh out of college.
Joe attempted to smile; he wasn’t sure what expression surfaced on his face. What the hell does he expect? I don’t need this. Hell. Just do what you have to. Fake it ’till you make it, that’s what the kids here say. Don’t have to like him. Just give him what he wants. Not a big deal. “Okay. So where we supposed to start?”
Chuck stared down the hall into the kitchen. His mother’s muffled sobs stirred confused emotions; anger, despair, ineptness, dread. He took a step forward. Wait. Give her some time.
Sarah sat at the kitchen table staring out the French doors, the black of the night seemed to envelop her soul. So old. She seemed so old now. He told her a few months ago she was letting herself go – not exercising as she had religiously done, not watching her diet like she used to. Of course, that was a mistake. She cried, then she got angry, threw a plate that nearly hit his head. He apologized, said he didn’t mean it. He had just come home for the summer after his first year at college. He didn’t intend to hurt her. He was worried. She’d always been a warrior – never defeated, always proud, always strong. But she had changed and he knew why; but the why was never talked about. And even though the why had been dealt with, mom was no better. She pulled an oversized fluffy pink robe tight around her shoulders: the robe he, his brother and sister gave her four Christmases ago. The Christmas their father went on a Caribbean cruise and came back with his third wife.
Sobs subsided. Chuck searched for the right words to give comfort, bring peace – somehow bring back normality. Normality? An illusion. It was never really there. At least the illusion had carried them through the past few years. Damn Joe, selfish, thoughtless prick. “You okay mom? Still can’t sleep? You shouldn’t worry. At least you know he’s safe.”
Her gaze remained fixed. Without moving her head, she reached her hand out. Chuck came through to the kitchen. He pulled a chair close to his mother and held her hand. “It will be okay, mom. He’ll be fine. The little bastard did something stupid and mean. Just wait till he gets home, I’ll twist both his ears off.”
Sarah shook her head. “It makes no sense. This just doesn’t make any sense.”
“When did Joe ever make sense?”
“You know he is a captain for the football team this year. He’s so proud of himself. I’m so proud of him.”
“I know mom.”
“He thinks he can break your record for career tackles at the high school.”
Chuck smiled. “Never going happen, mom. I just might have to break both his legs.”
Sarah looked at Chuck, then looked away. He felt her fingers press into his palm. “Seeing him in the emergency room, having his stomach pumped while they put staples in his … hardest thing I’ve ever done. And leaving him there … there in that psyche ward. Some of those children … they’re so … so angry. Some of them seem so lost, so pitiful. He needs to be home.”
“He’s safe there mom. You know he’s safe. I couldn’t sleep if he was home. I mean, we don’t know what’s going on inside that head of his. What if he tried again? What if he actually …”
“No. You’re right. He’s okay, he is safe. But the why? Chuck, do you know why? Has he told you anything? Mentioned anything? What about any of his texts? Is there anything? Anything? There must be something, some sign. What’d we miss? He must have said something to you. Think.”
The desperate heartache in his mother’s voice fueled
“Don’t say that.”
“You know I don’t mean that. God damn him, he scared me.” Chuck got up, kissed her cheek. “Get to bed Mom. This won’t help.”
He went to his bedroom, lay down on his bed and shut his eyes, knowing sleep would refuse to come. He knew more than he could tell his mom – things she did not need to know, did not want to know.
“Ya’ asleep? Joe? You sleeping or not?”
Joe didn’t move, keeping his eyes shut. What luck, stuck with this roommate: intrusive, lacking in bare basics of common-sense social norms. Joe just wanted peace, quiet. He needed to piece things together – figure out how he was supposed to live his life. How would he deal with his family? Could he ever go home? Did he want to go home? Would he try it again? Maybe he should. Life. Is it really worth living? Everything imploded. London Bridge crashing into a pile of toxic rubble. Humpty Dumpty, nothing but scrambled egg. No hope of status quo now. No security to rest in, hide in. No future to keep dreams alive. No reason, no reasons; only unrelenting shame, only unforgiving guilt. Maybe should try it again.
“What’d ya think of that new girl? She’s fine. Nice tight ass, nice pair of jugalos. Yip, she’s a nice piece of work. Maybe a bit overweight, but all the more to get a hold of. Yeah, she’s one worth get’n a hold of, don’t you think?” Steven’s whiney tone grated on any unfortunate being within twenty feet of the sixteen year who looked to be twelve and often acted more like a child of six or seven.
“I’m asleep, alright. Just shut it up.” Joe blurted out as curtly as he could.
Steven responded with a growing lilt in his voice, “She was looking at you. Yes she was. She wants you. There for the taking. Yeah, nice bit of ass for the taking. Yum yum yum.”
Such a cruel and thoughtless intrusion upon his thoughts. Joe imagined placing a pillow over the kid’s face and screaming “Shut the crap up!” I just need some peace, silence, darkness, nothingness; give me some time to decide if life is worth living, if death is the best alternative. To sleep and never awake. What would be so bad about that? “I’m asleep. Shut your mouth already, or I’ll shut it for you.” Joe’s words came out slowly; he was trying hard to calm his agitation; he so wanted to bury his fist in the kid’s face.
“Maddie’s her name. Get her number. Yip, she wants ya. Can tell by how she looked at ya.”
Joe’s words now came out quickly. “I don’t give a flying flip who she is or what she is. This is not a place to make friends and the worst place in the world to find a flippin’ girlfriend. Jesus, these people are crazy here. No telling what’s going on with her. She’s a nutter like all the rest in here. Company included. Now just shut up. I mean it.”
Steven’s golden complexion and jet-black shoulder length hair, almost always braided into a ponytail, proudly proclaimed his Native American heritage. Stern and stoic brown eyes gave evidence he came from a clan of warriors. His face often appeared void of any emotion – until rage erupted, too often without warning. Like a hornet buzzing dangerously near, you fear the creature may, at any moment, attack and unleash its venom, but you dare not swat it; that would only provoke the hideous thing.
Joe learned quickly that Steven, on his good days, irritated everyone around him, but on his bad days would instantly become a mighty hellion stirring up peers, infuriating staff, causing security guards to be called to prevent rioting on the adolescent psyche ward of St. James Hospital. Few could tolerate him, all tried to avoid him. But Joe knew just enough about his sad life to feel some pity for the guy. He decided he would at least pretend to be a friend, only in the hospital, of course. But right now no such sympathy existed; his annoying roommate was stirring an uncomfortable rage inside him.
Steven’s volume increased. “You’re wrong. This is the place to find a girlfriend. She’s here because she needs someone to love her, make her feel like a woman. Oh yeah, you’re just what she needs.” Steven sat up in his bed and threw a rolled up pair of dirty socks that hit Joe on the forehead. He laughed like a small child would after burping or farting. “And she’s just what you need.”
As Joe’s body sprang upright, his bubbling rage suddenly faded. A diversion. He didn’t have to lie there wallowing in a world of unresolvable and unanswerable questions. He threw the socks back at Steve. “Then you go be her savior. I reckon you’re the one that needs a crazy girl’s love.”
“Sorry, no white chicks for me. Can’t abide by that blond hair, and those green and pink streaks. Such a paleface, no thanks. She’s a cutter ya know. Emo probably. But that’s okay. You just have to make sure you stay away from the bipolar chicks, and never, never go near a borderline. Oh boy, God no, don’t even talk to a borderline. I reckon there’s two borderlines here at the moment, LaShawna and Amber. Oh yeah, run from those bitches as fast as you can. Now, a major depressive you can deal with. Yeah, two major depressives would make for a positive. You and little Maddie will be real fine together. And the way she was looking at you. Yip, I’m gonna have to get her number for ya. You can save each other.” Steven threw the dirty socks back at Joe, hitting his left cheek.
“Damn it. Stop that.” Joe threw the socks toward the window at the far side of the ten-by-fifteen-foot room. “The last thing I need is a girl from the lunatic ward. Stay out of my life, please. And you shouldn’t go around diagnosing people. Makes you sound like a goddamn shrink, a flipping therapist. Diagnose yourself. Yeah. What’s the label you’d slap on your crazy self?”
Steven laughed. He hopped out of his bed, retrieved the socks and threw it back at Joe. “Hey. You come back here six times and you start figuring these things out. Maybe it’s my gift. Yeah. I can just look at them and know what’s wrong with them. It’s my hobby, reading the DSM and put’n labels on people. Me? My diagnosis? Hell, you want the one they give me, or I should say, the one I want them to give me? Or you want my own personal diagnosis?”
Joe chuckled and said, “Both.”
“Their label? Schizoaffective. A nice mix of bipolar and schizophrenia.”
“Meaning, I have wonderfully uncontrollable moods which run wild and make sure I can’t control my anger. It’s like … yeah, a tireless impulse to rule the world. That’s the good side to bipolar. Now add to that the cool ability to see and hear things others can’t see or hear, and that’s the schizo bit. That’s why they stick me on that stupid Abilify. Supposed to deal with both the anger and the hallucinations. Hey, better not tell, but I don’t take their shitty pills. Don’t need them.” Steven lifted the corner of his mattress up. “Look.” Illuminated by light coming through the frosted window on their door, Joe could see a pile of about 15 small white pills all slightly dissolved. “Remind me to flush these in the morning, before they decide to check our rooms again. I’m not a schizo. Don’t need them. They can think what they want. ”
“So you don’t see stuff, hear stuff?”
“Oh, I can see things you can’t see, but they are real and they are there. Your little white mind doesn’t understand that, and doesn’t need to. Indians, we understand a lot more about this world then you pale-faced pretenders. But my diagnosis? Reactive attachment disorder, and for that there are no meds. There’s only a wounded heart that will always beg to be healed, but can’t ever be helped. It’s a heart that won’t ever let love in … no matter how much it wants to.” Steven lay down and pulled the covers up over his chin. “Don’t you dare tell anyone this, but I get myself in St. Jimmies only to have a break, have a nice place to stay and some good food. And sometimes I act up just to stay longer, until I’m ready to leave. Don’t tell anybody about this stuff. What I do, I do cause I hav’ta.”
“Sorry. Don’t buy it. Blaming your dad. Okay, he can be scumbag. He let you down your whole life. I get it
Irritating, not comforting. Braxton’s raspy voice made Joe want to scream, Too many cigarettes, you probably have lung cancer, you deserve it, it’s your own fault. What’d you know? Don’t buy it? Go to hell. Three sessions Joe had been saying all the right things, explaining why he took the damn pills, sliced up his wrist. Dad ruined his life. Dad, never there, never understood, never cared, never the father. A few over-the-top presents at birthdays and Christmas does not make the sperm donor a father. What does Braxton know? I hate my father, I wanted to die. That was it. Let me go home. Why that night? Not any of your goddamn business. “I was just thinking about it more and more. It was getting me down. I guess I realized what a creep he is, how he ruined my life. Yeah, just overwhelmed me, that’s it.”
“Well yeah. That’s it. What kind of shrink are you anyway? Aren’t you supposed to sympathize, what do you all say, empathize, with me? Help me get over it? You act like it’s nothing. What do you know? You no doubt had the perfect father.”
“Did I? Here’s the thing Joe-boy. Sure, crappy parenting affects the kid, makes their life hell sometimes, leaves scars that are never gonna disappear. I get all that. And you can spend your time in here moaning about the failures of you parental figure, I got plenty of tissues for ya. And yeah, eventually you’ll have to work on forgiving your dad. But October 1 was not about your dad. Something else is going on and if we don’t delve into that reality … well next time your mom may be burying you.”
Joe stared at Braxton’s bookshelf on the far wall, trying to read the titles of bigger books; ‘DSM IV,’ wasn’t that the one Steven talked about? ‘Male Sexual Abuse,’ must be a great read at bedtime. ‘Treatment Planning for Adolescents,’ more ways to put labels on us, ‘Solution Focused Therapy,’ oh really? ‘The Courage to Heal,’ Heal? Heal what? “I’ve had enough. Can I go back to the unit now?”
Life So Perfect by Nathan Bassett / History & Fiction have rating 3 out of 5 / Based on15 votes