At the clinic they fed us pills like they were biscuits. Those pills made the tongue loose in my head, my left arm numb from the elbow down. Sometimes the world would smoulder at the edges. Patients came and went, people from every kind of background but all with one thing in common: no longer capable of contributing to civil society, they needed to be kept out of sight— losers, loners, dreamers, freaks; God forbid they ever make it onto a TV screen.
Anna-Lucia was one such patient. A bi-polar twenty-year-old of Italian descent, she bristled with fierce energy. A permanent darkness hung beneath her eyelids, as if she had never learned how to sleep, but her body moved with the ferocious, unpredictable rhythm of an ocean harnessing a storm.
‘Sometimes I have this dream,’ she told me once as we both sat on our beds in nightgowns. My bed was opposite hers, rain slashing at the window. ‘Always the same. I’m at a funeral, the coffin right in front of me. There’s no one else there, just me and whoever’s in the coffin. At first, I’m confused. Why is there no one else here? Does no one love this person? So I step over to the coffin to see who I’m grieving.’ She swept dark bangs out of her face, exposing badly-healed gashes on her wrist. ‘And it’s me. It’s me in the coffin.’ She chewed on a nail. Some moments later, she angled her head like a chirpy little bird, and said, ‘Ever fuck a girl?’
Another time we were watching TV in the break room. A giant cartoon duck scuttled about the screen, declaring its insanity to us all.
‘What the fuck are we doing in here?’ she said.
‘Learning to live again, or something,’ I said.
She shrieked a laugh at the ceiling. ‘All I’ve learned in here is that there is a serious amountof fucked up people in the world.’
‘Everybody’s fucked up.’
‘Not like we are.’
The cartoon duck had somehow acquired a bow and arrow, looking to commit murder.
She said, ‘I think I’m going crazy in here, man. I’m going fucking crazy.’
‘You were already crazy. That’s why you’re in here.’
She stuck out her tongue and grabbed my face with both hands. Then she kissed me. It seemed to shock even her. ‘Hey, wanna see something?’ she said. ‘Follow me.’
She bounced up from her seat and ran out of the room. We weren’t allowed to run in the clinic but the staff had long since quit telling Anna-Lucia this. She did anything she wanted.
When I reached her bed, a notepad lay opened on her lap. ‘I drew it for you,’ she said. On the page two female figures soared out of an open window, gigantic smiles carved into their faces.
‘Is that me and you?’ I said.
‘Excellent deductive skills.’
‘I wish my boobs were that big.’
She laughed, eyes shining like diamonds in her skull. ‘Artistic license.’
‘I guess that’s why we can fly.’
‘Oh we’re not flying. We’re falling. Together.’
Anna-Lucia and I showered at the same time every day, chattering to each other from adjoining cubicles. She’d step out of hers completely naked when finished, blissfully secure in her beauty. Sometimes she’d talk so much that I’d be dressed and ready to leave and she’d still be standing there in the nude, dripping.
But one time we went to the showers together and everything was different. She looked at me strangely as she opened the curtain. ‘I’m really, really glad I met you,’ she said.
‘I’m glad I met you too.’
She smiled and stepped inside.
I was surprised when a few minutes passed and she still hadn’t spoken, but I hadn’t slept well the night before and was glad of the silence.
Until I saw the blood.
The doctors fought hard to save her, I was told, but she’d severed an artery and the blood loss had simply been too severe. She’d sliced near an old wound. Could be that she didn’t want to die, just wanted someone to bandage her up, take care of her.
Anna-Lucia, I never told you this, but you had my heart.