Mary Andrea’s Dilemma–last entry
Please read entries 1 – 4 where I explain I’m trying something new. This is the end of an unpublished short story I wrote years ago. I’d appreciate feedback about what you like and what you don’t like. Entry 1 is the longest one. The rest of the entries are much shorter.
© 2011 J. Dempsey.
It was so horrible! I’m just glad I made it back home. Chang stole the nurse’s notes, at least that’s what he tells me. I don’t know what to think anymore. I’m writing this down before I lose my nerve–or my memory.
Master Chang led me through a maze of dark, stinky tunnels. When we got to the other side, it was like my brain turned off or something. I woke up to fluorescent lights and thought I smelled a freshly used chamber pot. It was a bedpan, I was in a hospital bed and Chang was holding my hand. He had one of those $100 haircuts and he was wearing a white lab coat.
“Pupils responsive,” he said loudly, flashing an annoying light into one of my eyes. “Hello, Mary, I’m Dr. Chang. We’re glad you are finally with us.”
I thanked him by screaming so loudly he had to put his hands over his ears. He was about to put me into restraints when I asked, very lucidly, where I was and how I’d gotten there.
“I’m frightened, I’m not histrionic,” I said, trying to remain calm. “Where am I?”
“Mrs. Anderson, you are in what was once called the Crawford County Insane Asylum. It recently became the Crawford Institute for Mental Wellness. I will call your family and inform them you are aware of…”
“Wait a minute, you lost me at the ‘Mrs. Anderson’ part. I’m Mary Andrea Crawford,” I insisted.
“According to your family Bible, you were born Mary Crawford in 1882. No middle name. You married Ronald Anderson on…”
“You know that’s not true,” I said “I hate Ronald Anderson!”
“Of that I have no doubt.”
“Why are you dressed like a Beverly Hills doctor?” I asked.
“I am a doctor,” he said. “You trusted me. That is why you are now lucid. Your mind has not been with us for decades. I will return to check on you.”
My surroundings became a blur. I felt so weak I couldn’t even get out of bed to go to the bathroom. The night orderly forgot to clean out the bedpan for two nights in a row. Whenever I awoke, I thought it was the chamber pot under my bed, expecting to hear my mother tell me it was time to get up. Then my eyes opened to the harsh fluorescent lights, a panorama of white walls, the fuzz of nurses rushing past my doorway, and the sound of hospital carts. I spent most of the time going in and out of sleep, waking up only to be told to take more pills to make me sleep.
It was two days before Dr. Chang felt I was ready to look into a mirror. The face that stared back at me was wrinkled, toothless, and surrounded by a ring of stringy white hair. It was so ridiculous, there was nothing left to do but ask questions.
“How old am I?”
“You are 81.”
“What year is it?”
“So, there’s no internet yet?” I sighed. “I’m dying to get on-line.”
“What does that mean?” He wondered loudly.
“Don’t you remember what a computer is?” I asked.
“No,” he humored me. “Do you?”
“It has chat rooms and you can buy things. You watch movies on it and you can even look up stuff that happened way back in 2002,” I replied. Only then did I notice we weren’t alone.
He bent down and whispered, “Keep speaking in that manner and you will not be able to leave.”
“What the hell happened to me?” I demanded.
“We were trying an experimental therapy. It involved using hypnosis and a new drug.”
I asked, “How many people are on it?”
“There were 300 patients without family or guardians,” Chang said.
“Okay. How many people who were on your stupid drug are still alive?”
“All were old,” he said. “Many have…passed on.”
“Let me guess–around 30 people?” I asked. That’s when the nurse at the door dropped her clipboard which, I assumed, was a ‘yes.’ “So…I’m what–number 301?”
“For many years your son, who was your guardian, would not give permission to attempt it. After he passed on, the decision fell to your daughter’s child, Andrea, as no other family member showed interest.”
“How did I get into this ridiculous place?” I snapped at him, as well as I could with no teeth.
“Mrs. Anderson, you were 18 when your husband, Ronald, assaulted you with a fire iron. You were badly injured, but those injuries healed.”
“Healed? What you’re describing is major head trauma!” I cackled. Chang looked at me funny. “I liked you better when you were Master Chang, my sifu.”
“Where did you hear that term?” He whispered.
I named a couple of breathing techniques I learned from him, showing him with weak emaciated arms a few of the simpler punches he taught students. He was not amused when I said, “I’m a black belt in toilet time.”
“I will explain what happened to you after you healed,” Chang said. “The psychological impact you were exposed to over the years finally took your mind. You were placed into the asylum as ‘addled.’ Had it happened today, Ronald Anderson would be jailed and you would have received better treatment, but he said you were trying to kill your children. No one questioned him. Ronald was automatically granted custody of them. Mrs. Howard, the pastor’s wife…”
“That nosy bitch!”
“Allow me to complete my sentence,” Chang said. “She presented evidence showing you to be the victim. You were trying to protect your son from his father. Mrs. Howard’s perseverance made her an outcast.”
I told Chang I was too young to have children and I was a schoolteacher before 3pm. Then, I said, “After 3pm I was studying psychology on the Internet. I’ve applied to several colleges.”
“You were never a school teacher. What is the interest?”
“It’s the internet,” I said, spelling out each letter.
“You are not listening,” Chang sighed.
“Neither are you!” I insisted.
He just rambled on as if I hadn’t spoken. “You were married at 13. We believe you were raped as you walked to school. You were forced to marry your rapist due to the resulting pregnancy. You gave birth to a son at 14, only 8 months after marriage. You were almost 17 when you gave birth to a daughter. You were 4 months pregnant with your 3rd child when your husband assaulted you with a fire iron. Your son remembers vignette’s of previous abuses toward you and your children. He witnessed things a child under 5 should never have to see.”
“Nice story,” I sneered. “Thankfully, it isn’t true.”
Chang pointed toward the young nurse busily writing notes for him. I got the message. “Mrs. Howard convinced the court to remove your children from Ronald’s care, months after your admission to the asylum. The condition your children were in by that time presented all the evidence she needed.”
“It had to be bad if a kid was taken away at the turn of the century,” I said.
“Ronald left town. He was never seen again. Your parents raised your children. Your son became a writer for the Crawford County Herald, and later he became the editor. He was always grateful to Mrs. Howard for her help, remaining her friend until her death. His respect and prestige in the community grew until people accepted what he had to say as the truth. Mrs. Howard most certainly saved his life–and his sister’s life.”
“What happened to his sister?”
“Unfortunately, your daughter accompanied her second cousin out of state to marry him. She was 13. It created a rift between your son and the paternal uncle who had encouraged his grandson to do it. She died in childbirth, Mrs. Anderson. They were able to save her daughter, though the birth of a child 8 months after marriage always causes more than a little controversy.”
“What happened to her daughter, then?” I asked.
“Damn it, Chang! I don’t have children!” I yelled at him. “I don’t know what kinds of hallucinogens you put into my water, but…but…this isn’t funny!”
“Your recovery became her life’s work. Your son raised your granddaughter. She is a neurologist specializing in brain damage, a pioneer in the field of hypnotherapy.”
“Then you know I’m not some addled old lady who can’t remember past 1899!” I insisted. “If I were–I wouldn’t know that anyone pummeled into unconsciousness by a fire iron is going to be severely brain damaged! There’s no way I would be able to talk with you like this!”
“Your granddaughter developed the drug we used on you. I am the one testing it. We had been involved in some rather heated discussions with your son before we were allowed to use it.”
“I repeat–you’re the one not listening, Chang. I don’t have children!” I knew that frown. I was seconds away from one of his boring platitudes, so I asked, “What did they discuss?”
“Whether or not to leave you alone or try to bring you out. Your son has several children of his own, but now that he’s…”
“Do you have a picture of this so-called son?” I asked. Dr. Chang pointed at my bedside table. “That’s my father!”
“No,” he replied with put upon patience. “That is your son.”
“Did something happen to him?”
“He was hunting in January.. His truck crashed into a tree in route. One of his 5 sons—his youngest—had asked him not to go. He wouldn’t listen. I’m sorry to say that you lost your 2nd youngest grandson at the same time, too. That grandson tried to call for help on their CB radio. We know because the receiver was in his ice-covered hand when he was found. The temperature dropped so low, they both froze to death waiting for help.”
“This doesn’t make any sense,” I protested. “This isn’t my time. This isn’t my life! I don’t belong here!”
“You may go, nurse,” Chang ordered the woman. “Leave your notes.”
“Yes, doctor,” she said, dutifully placing them on a tray containing bright red jello.
There was a knock on the open door. A woman in her late 40’s, or maybe her early 50’s, was staring at Chang. She had an intensity in her eyes a lot like Ronald’s just before I broke his nose. I’ll be blunt. She had that arrogant doctor look, like she thought she was the Queen of England or something.
“Dr. Anderson, this is your grandmother, Mary,” Chang said.
“Not her!” I cried out.
“I wish you could remember,” Dr. Anderson sighed. “I wish I could understand why you have to walk into your bathroom at exactly 2:55 every afternoon. Why do you have to stay there for 10 minutes?”
“I don’t want to be stuck in outhouse time,” I told her.
“Please, Mrs. Anderson,” she said.
“I don’t speak ‘arrogant doctor,” I yelled at her. “My name is Mary Andrea Crawford! Can’t you and Chang talk to me like you’re human and not like you’re another species?”
She sighed. Not just one of those ‘I’m-so-frustrated sighs,’ like Chang. It was more like watching the end of a horror movie where people go through gut wrenching drama, think they’ve won, but then discover they’re going to die anyway.
“You don’t know how hard it was to convince the new director to reconsider his decision to keep you on a behavior program. When he tried it, you screamed the entire night. Your son was furious as his family pays dearly for a private room. He has been very generous over the years. We all know where you are during that time. You’re not a hazard to yourself or others.”
“Your granddaughter is trying to help you,” Chang said. “Listen to her.”
I met him with a blank stare, pointed at my so-called granddaughter and said, “That manipulative bitch is Pastor Howard’s wife!”
Maybe I was abducted by a shadow government, force-fed drugs and having an hallucination. Maybe Chang did put something in my water. Or maybe I was dreaming and that Internet psych course I passed with a C- was finally taking its toll.
Dr. Anderson took a long look at my face before staring down at the ground like she’d been there, done that, and didn’t want to do it all over again. “It appears she is lucid enough to transition,” The bitch said..
“Have you chosen a nursing home?” Chang asked.
“Nursing home?” I managed to ask with as little emotion as possible. “May I speak with you privately?”
“She will not be kept in an institution,” Dr. Anderson insisted. “She will live with me.”
“That’s a choice?” I whispered to Chang. “Can I die instead?”
“My patient has requested to speak with me privately,” he stated coldly. “We can discuss her future over lunch.”
Meeting his eyes with equal coldness, Dr. Anderson stated, “I’ll expect you in my office as soon as you have finished consulting with your patient.”
“I’ve heard about nursing homes. People are neglected there,” I said. “I’m coherent enough to know I’ll last 2 days in her house. I’d rather go back where I came from.”
The last thing I heard was Master Chang whispering, “That could be arranged.”
The last thing I saw before I blacked out was Deputy Jones, only he had a mop, a pail and was cleaning my bathroom at 2:55 as I walked inside it. He smiled politely and asked, “Are you all right, ma’am?”
The next sensation was walking through that smelly tunnel holding someone’s hand. I opened my eyes to find Master Chang leading me toward a light, one hand holding mine and the other one holding the nurse’s notes. As we were walking out, I squinted at the bright blue sky, took in the scent of pine, listened to the wind softly fluffing the pine needles and asked him, “Why?”
“Keep these nurses notes as a reminder,” He said.
“If I was just some old lady in 1963, how do I know about the Internet?” I demanded.
“Never ask to know anything you are not yet ready to understand,” he said, smiling in that guru sort of way. I just wanted to punch him.
So here I am, back in the girl’s bathroom writing in my diary so that others can see what happens when you try to leave. I’ve tucked the nurse’s notes with this entry hoping they don’t disappear. The strangest thing is that mom and dad acted as if I’d never left. Maybe it’s better that way.
When I told him I’d decided not to leave, my father asked me, “What changed your mind?”
I smiled at him, stuffed my wig into my duffel bag, and replied, “No matter what happens, I’m young, healthy, and at least I have today.”
That’s a very interesting story. Like all of your longer stories that I’ve read. You have an amazing imagination. Maybe I should create a blog site where we can air our longer works.
This is about our perceptions of reality, of mental illness and of the mind. Is there a correct answer? Why does Mary Andrea believe that’s her name? Are there multiple lives and if so can they blend together under the right circumstances? What can you do if you’re not yet ready to know the answer?
I wish I were qualified to rate how good your story is … which obviously is. I would love for some actor to read it out loud over a Toastmasters Meeting and hear what a team of Evaluators would have to say. (They’d have something to sink their teeth into.) 😀