This is part 3 of the Three Days Crazy series.
I waited by the breakfast cart while the nice african man called names. My eyes scanned the room, analyzing my options for seating. The inmates were still grouped off at a table, they seemed to be acquainted from previous circumstances. A young man, no older than 17, shouted out to a young willowy girl by name and she sat with him. A few others joined them, till their table was full.
A few other tables were occupied by single residents. One man wore brown sunglasses that shaded his eyes with a 1970’s gradient. Another, a woman, muttered the words “They aren’t talking to you, shhhh they aren’t talking to you” over and over, to no one in particular. I sighed with relief when I spotted an older man with a big round belly and kind eyes, seated alone.
Historically, grandpa aged men love me. I think they enjoy getting a young pretty girl to laugh, and only sometimes does it ever turn pervy.
My name is called, I grab the tray with a smile, and slide into the heavy red chair across from the grandpa. I smile, one of my more charming smiles, and ask if he minds if I join him. When he looks up, he seems relieved by my presence. “Not at all, take a seat.”
We chat. Mainly about the food. The weather isn’t great small talk when you’ve been locked up for a few days. I think about asking him how he landed himself here, then decide that probably wasn’t good crazy person etiquette. I settle on asking when he checked in and how long he’d be staying.
He eyes are framed by wrinkles, I assume from too many days spent in the sun. He’s wearing an old beat up flannel, his face scruffy with gray hair.
He reminds me of my grandpa, on my mothers side.
I remember my grandpa busting through his back door, arms wide, welcoming his grandchildren to his home. He did this most often on the holidays.
I would tumble out of the 15 passenger van with my younger sisters. Crooked teeth and papery white skin, I would scurry over to my grandpa with a smile. He would blink, and say, “Well! How’s Anna today?”
I never bothered to correct him.
As one of nine children, I was used to it. After five grandchildren, he’d lost interest in the wiggly pink things my mother brought to his house every two years or so. We all looked so similar, I couldn’t really blame him. I was child number six. A louder version of Jamie, a bossier version of Anna, and a female version of Michael.
Quite frankly I was a failed attempt at recruiting another male to the Curtis Clan. I was a duplicate coin in a collection, a number on spreadsheet that ruined the bottom line, another mouth to feed, and another body to clothe.
I sipped my coffee and listened as the grandfather figure gushed over his daughter. I winced at his words. To hear him explain, in great detail, his daughters accomplishments and ambitions. He listed her failures as if they were medals of honor, he was “just so proud of her for trying.”
I laughed, “I don’t even think my dad knows what I do for a living.”
He laughed, I think he assumed I was joking.
It was true though. Other than “Marketing” and “Manager” my life was an enigma to my father. And to most of my family, for that matter.
A few years prior I had joined in on a camping trip with a few siblings, my brother-in-law, and my dad. A few days in we came upon a large stream cutting into our path. While the rest of my family stood by the banks of a mountain stream, I stripped off my shoes and pounced from rock to rock as the icy water rushed below me. Shoes in hand, I turned back to my family, cowering on the opposite side, to see my father’s expression. He looked surprised.
My father was genuinely shocked. Something that felt so natural to me, something I’d spent most of my life doing – trying new things, facing fears- was shocking to him. He truly had no idea who I was.
And we both knew it in that moment. I could see it in his face. The scrambling for an ounce of information about who I am. He truly didn’t know.
The old, kind stranger excused himself, I assumed he noticed I was no longer engaged in the conversation. I returned my tray, begged for a second cup of coffee to no avail, and crawled into my bed, missing the simple luxury of a sofa.
As had become the norm, I curled myself into a ball to numb the gnawing pain in my chest. My family, other than two sisters, had no idea I was in the hospital. They were clueless about my slow decline into madness. They had no idea I’d pondered killing myself over Christmas dinner. They didn’t know, and didn’t know to ask.
With the heel of my hand I rubbed the ache in my sternum, trying to loosen the nerves that gripped my ribs.
I rocked back and forth, thinking about my new friend.
This stranger knew I was in the hospital. He knew I was sick in some way. He knew I couldn’t take care of myself. He knew whatever smile I happened to be wearing wasn’t telling the whole story.
He knew me. This stranger.
This stranger knew I was fighting a battle; a battle I’d almost lost.
I felt my stomach drop as tears began to wet my pillow.
I let myself feel the sadness for a moment. Let it radiate from my chest out into my limbs like a warming flame. Spreading to every corner, till it doubled back on itself. Creating more and more heat, till my center was burning with anger.
I wiped my eyes, clenched my teeth, and sat up.
They didn’t know. He didn’t know.
They were much to busy to concern themselves with the whereabouts of number six.
And I started laughing.
“Spoiled little girl doesn’t feel special,” I mocked as I picked up a book.
Number six needs to get over herself.