Cursing Junk Food Gods
At five a.m. the door banged open and fluorescent light flooded the previously darkened room. All three of us groaned. That’s when I knew my voice had returned. I elected to keep silent. Nurse Belinda entered, joined by rent-a-goon, for morning rounds. I turned to face the wall wondering if I would ever know a full night of sleep again.
“Arms up,” Nurse Belinda ordered.
With eyes still closed I raised my arm swiftly, nearly clocking her. The goon instantly stepped between us and I dropped my arm. She glared down at me saying, “Don’t even think about it, missy.
” Missy? Missy? Is that the best you’ve got, you eighth grade-dropout?
Big B took my wrist to show me what was expected. She took my pulse and checked my blood pressure while goon watched carefully, spoiling for a fight. Moments later, the two filed out and the room went dark again. From a corner bed, I heard a whisper,
“Hey! Pssst! Hey! New girl!”
I remained silent. Nonetheless, the voice persisted,
“Make it easy on you. Don’t start shit with Big B.” I tugged at the uncomfortable pillow longing for silence but the emphatic voice went on insistently, “Big Belinda and Nadine, the guard, are lovers. Na will make your life miserable if you start up with big B. By the way, welcome to hell.”
Breaking my silence for the first time, I whispered, “Thanks, I think.”
I snuggled into the blanket, closed my eyes, and drifted back to sleep drawing comfort from having won an ally and potential friend. Precisely at seven a.m., I listened to what could only be a herd of Buffalo stampeding through the halls. I lay there shocked, thinking, Chaotic disorder in a place that’s all about control? Surreal.
The girl in the bed across the room got up and headed for the door, then paused to toss over her shoulder, “Smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em.”
I sat up in bed rubbing my eyes and then looked around taking in my surroundings. “Not what you expected. Huh?” It was the voice from the corner bed.
“It’s ahhh,” I stumbled, grappling for words to sum up my estimation, “It’s… No. It’s not,” I replied, with adjectives failing me altogether.
“I know. I got here three days ago. I’m Danica.”
“Hi, Danica, I’m Emmaline. Call me Emma,” I responded with a halfhearted smile.
“Okay Emma. Its weird right,” Danica queried.
I knew the feeling intimately but wasn’t ready to talk and deal. I tried not to wince, “What’s weird?”
“That we weren’t supposed to be alive today.”
I realized that Danica may appear to be a shy mouse, but she was actually sharply pointed and fearless. I closed my eyes as images of the preceding week assaulted me.
“Yea,” I murmured, “It’s weird.”
“Where did you matriculate from,” Danica asked hesitantly, “I mean, how did you end up here?”
“How did you,” I countered sharply.
“Okay. That’s one for the psychiatrist,” Danica backed off.
Feeling slightly ashamed of having rebuffed my first and only ally, I forced a small smile and evaded the topic, “I traded one hell for another. Didn’t you?”
“Yea, sure enough,” Danica laughed softly as we stood and approached the door. I estimated she was about my age. Probably a year or two younger, I surmised. Her dirty-blonde hair was short, cropped close to her face with bangs. It was flattering, but gave her a childlike appearance. She was a little taller than I and as thin as a rail. I doubted she had ever eaten an entire meal. Had I seen Danica from a distance, I would have mistaken her for a kid.
Maybe she is just a kid. Too young to feel fear? I wondered but felt certain that by virtue of being here, she had definitely known fear.
She stopped me in the doorway saying, “Show no fear and stick close. I’ll be your informant.”
I wondered why I would need one. What could possibly be worse than last night?
Danica cautioned me to avoid the food-cart stampede running from smoke-break to breakfast. We parked it at the end of the long table to wait until the other patients were seated with meals. Big B and goon doled out trays that were made specifically for patients on special diets, one of whom chose a seat directly across from of us.Through lowered eyelids, she said a soft hello.
“Hi,” we replied in unison.
She eyed the empty spaces in front us and asked, “Not eating?”
“I wish,” Danica grumbled.
“I’m diabetic,” she explained, “They force me to eat this cra… food,” She amended her language.
“We’re going to have to teach you some driving words,” I smiled.
Just then, Danica grabbed my hand and hauled me out of my seat, “C’mon. The mob is gone.”
“Wait here,” I instructed the young woman, “We’ll be right back.”
I searched the picked-over food cart for anything resembling a caffeinated beverage while Danica picked up a tray eyeing me warily.
Not finding a cup of coffee or even a soda, I moved to search the opposite side of the cart, rummaging frantically, pushing aside trays, juice drinks, and small milk cartons.
Danica stood behind me, waiting patiently, already knowing what I was searching for. With nothing left to search, I turned frenzied eyes to her.
“They don’t have it,” she sighed, shaking her head dejectedly.
“But,” I began half hysterically. “Shhh,” She cut me off, “Na and B are watching us.” She shoved a tray into my hands and guided me back to our seats. I sat down trying to collect myself but failed. I was at my wits end, “But they allow smoking for shit’s sake! No caffeine,” I blurted, questioning her and any junk-food god that would listen.
“Nope,” she replied, “This might be a good time to take up smoking.”
The woman across the table groaned, as did I. I lowered my voice and whispered menacingly, “I was admitted late last night. I didn’t sleep until some ungodly hour of the morning. I was rudely awakened at five a.m. I’m not going to make it through the next hour, let alone the rest of the day!”
“I know,” Danica replied, “Today’s going to be a bitch. Same thing happened to me.”
That’s when I felt three sharp taps on my shoulder. Big B stood behind me armed with paper and pencil. She shoved a form into my hands, ordering, “Fill this out and return it to the front desk.”
Danica issued, sheepishly, “Oops. I forgot.”
“Good going, informant,” I groused.
The form requested names and phone numbers for people I was willing to see. To me, it seemed like the final “screw you.” I was done. I walked with steadfast assurance, in a bee-line to the front desk, crumpled the form into a ball, and aimed for the trash can.
I made the first basket of my life with an adamant “No way in hell!”
Returning to the table in a fit of anger, I shoved my tray away and stomped to a door that opened onto a large porch with an expanse of lawn beyond. I needed air and freedom. I needed a way out.
The porch was cool cement against my still bare feet and I made my way beyond it to warm grass and sunshine. I stood in the middle of the lawn soaking in the morning sun and looking around. Finally I could breath and started to wonder why patients didn’t just leave in the night. It was certainly solitary enough, open and unsupervised enough. That’s when I noticed it.
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