Editor’s note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
By Karen Brode
Every Tuesday afternoon we had group therapy. I dreaded it with all my heart.
At least it was better than individual therapy. There were other people there to fill in the silent places. People like Mrs. Travers who always wanted to tell her story over and over and over.
I had been in the loony bin for three months and I knew the whole story by heart. Any one of us in the group could have told it. Yet, for some reason, Dr. Henshaw let her tell it every time she wanted to. I wondered if I was the only person there who noticed this. I looked around but no one else seemed to notice we were hearing the same story every week.
Or maybe they were all just pretending. I learned early on that it was best to appear extremely stupid. To speak up with anything of intelligence might be interpreted as rebellious. It might lead to more medication, or worse, restraints.
So I sat there like the rest of them looking at the ceiling tile while Mrs. Travers dove into her story for the millionth time.
“They fired me!” she screamed. I jumped. I wasn’t expecting her to tell the story with such high volume. Sure, she always had a note of desperation in her voice, but this was a little different. I kept my eyes on the tiles above, but listened for any sign she might explode completely.
“I gave my whole life to that company! When I started working there, my babies were little. I left both my babies in that baby prison so I could work and make our lives better!”
The first time I heard her mention baby prison, I had no idea what she meant. I learned later that she was talking about daycare.
“My babies had everything they wanted because of me! That horrible excuse for a father was only good at doing drugs and going to prison. I had to shoulder it all.”
She paused for a moment, almost panting. I dared a glance at her and saw that her eyes were wide. It was like she was reliving her life with her ex-husband.
“He told me he was just barbecuing steaks. I couldn’t imagine why you’d barbecue inside the shed, but I never grilled anything in my life. When the shed went up in flames, he tore out of there and left the three of us to die in his fire.”
She squinted her eyes until tears came. “He was cooking meth, you know.” She shook her head. “No. Idiot. He wasn’t cooking meth. He was too stupid to cook anything. He just thought he could do it. Instead, he nearly cooked his whole family. Poor Joey and Donnie….”
I forgot the ceiling tiles and leaned forward toward Mrs. Travers. This was taking a little bit different turn from the weeks before. Normally she focused on the place she had worked for 35 years. She had been a bookkeeper at a roofing company. Everything had been great until they bought a computer and told her to keep records on it. She usually talked about how ridiculous she thought computers were and how she continued keeping books in the same way she always had, on paper. She didn’t think anybody at the company would notice or really care, as long as she got her work done. To this day she didn’t understand why she was fired.
Nothing she said was funny, not even the fact that she had told her story so many hundreds of times before. Still, it never ceased to surprise me that she couldn’t understand why she had been fired from the roofing company. This woman had withstood so many things, but it was the firing that got her. She could never quite come to terms with it.
All the sudden, her voice got even louder. She started rocking back and forth in her chair, wringing her hands. I looked over at Dr. Henshaw. His head was down, but I couldn’t tell if he was taking notes or sleeping. I hoped he wasn’t asleep because I didn’t think Mrs. Travers was going to make it through her story without some professional help.
“I got fired the year Donnie graduated from high school!” she continued. She stood up and paced the room. I clutched my arms to my chest, just in case she started throwing punches. “How was I supposed to buy him anything without a job? I couldn’t even make the payments on his braces!”
She walked around the room. Her eyes were wild. And was it me? Or did her hair look like it was standing on end?
“I didn’t care about my own teeth! My teeth were always in terrible shape.” She clenched her terrible teeth together and curled back her lips to show no one in particular just how horrible they were. There weren’t many left. “I was always glad when a tooth fell out because it saved me from having to pay a dentist! But they kept falling out!” She reached a finger up to her mouth and tapped on one or two. “I’m not sure how many I have left.”
Then her arms started flailing and her face went wild again. “Joey and Donnie’s father was in prison from the time they were little. They hardly remembered him. It was just me! All alone! I never had any help! And NO ONE CARED!”
I was getting seriously worried now. Her face was red and the veins at her temples were throbbing. It was then, too, that I realized Dr. Henshaw was asleep. How could he sleep during this?
Mrs. Travers stopped talking. I looked over at her and saw she was staring at Dr. Henshaw. Her face was contorted like an angry bull. She leaned over the back of her empty chair and said, “Hey.”
She snapped her fingers and clapped her hands. “Not you, too,” she said in an eerily calm voice. “You don’t care either!”
She let out a crazy hyena scream and charged through the circle of chairs toward Dr. Henshaw. He woke up just as she slammed into him. His chair went backwards and his head hit the floor, knocking him unconscious. Mrs. Travers didn’t seem to notice that he was already out. She sat on top of him and punched him over and over.
“How dare you sleep through my story! What kind of doctor are you?” She cried and screamed at the same time. She was in a blind rage. Her whole body shook with anger. “You’re like all the rest of them! You don’t care!”
I’m not sure how long it was before the paramedics broke down the door. They pulled Mrs. Travers away and put her in a straight jacket. She fought valiantly, but there were more of them than there were of her. She kept screaming until they injected her with some sort of sedative.
The rest of us just sat there silently watching. It seemed no one wanted to be implicated in that moment of insanity. We were all curled up in different ways. Some had their feet up in their chairs with their arms around their legs. Others were crouched against the wall in a fetal position. I just sat there with my arms pulled to my chest, trying to pretend what was happening was absolutely normal. Even when the paramedics left to take Mrs. Travers away, I just sat there and looked at the bloodied, unconscious body of Dr. Henshaw. They were back soon enough with a stretcher to carry him out, but it was so strange to be left alone like that.
In the silence that followed, I wondered what we were supposed to do. I looked around the room and heard whimpers from different ones. Were we supposed to leave now? Were we supposed to wait? I never knew what I should do in that place.
Karen Brode is a senior contributor for Jet Planes and Coffee. She grew up in Denison, TX and graduated from Denison High School in 1972. She took courses at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and worked in a church office for 25 years. She and her husband, Gary, have been married 39 years and they have one son, Brandon. Karen’s hobbies are writing, sewing, and gardening.