Emily Rae Robles

the paradoxymoron


“Smoke break!”  It was Jeanne again, bellowing out the words that meant fresh air for the first time in hours—at least, air that was as fresh as it could be with fifteen patients outside smoking their allotted cigarette.

“It’s my birthday,” Ellie said, as she walked out the rarely opened door with Brian.  “They’re gonna give me two cigarettes today because it’s my birthday.”

“That’s cool.” Brian smiled, mainly to try to get Ellie to smile back.  She didn’t.  He tried again.  “What’s the number?”

“The what?”

“The number.  Of years, I mean.  How old are you?”

Ellie sat down on a bench near the gazebo, staring at something not quite visible.  “21,” she said finally.  “It’s my 21st birthday.”

“Wow,” Brian said.  “Congratulations.”

Ellie let out a strangled noise that could have either been a laugh or a sob.  “Yeah, right,” she said.  “It’s my 21st birthday, and I’m spending it in a mental hospital.  Best birthday ever.”

“At least you won’t forget it,” Brian attempted.  “It’s gotta be a pretty memorable birthday, even if it sucks.”

“No kidding,” Ellie muttered.  She continued to stare at the nothingness beyond the enclosing walls.  They sat in silence.  Brian counted his heartbeats until Jeanne came out with the cigarettes.  Nineteen, twenty, twenty-one.  He grinned to himself, imagining that his heart was in tune with Ellie’s years.

“What’s so funny?” Ellie asked, jumping up to get in line.

“Oh,” said Brian, trying again to make his smile contagious.  “I was just thinking that we should get whoever’s in charge of food to get you a cake tonight.”

“My friend’s bringing me a cake,” Ellie said, fidgeting impatiently as Jeanne lit her first cigarette.  She snatched it immediately and sucked in the smoldering air.

“Your boyfriend?” asked Brian, nodding his thanks to Jeanne.

“He’s not my boyfriend.  Anymore.  It’s complicated.”

“He makes you smile,” Brian said.  “It’s what everyone here wants: to make you smile.”

Ellie’s mouth twitched, but not upwards.  “Maybe I don’t want to smile,” she said.  “Maybe I don’t have anything to smile about.”

They sat in silence again, listening to the other patients laugh and joke about things that didn’t matter.

“What would you be doing right now if you weren’t here?” Brian asked after a while.  “How would you be celebrating?”

Ellie stopped smoking for a minute, then threw her cigarette onto the cement and ground it to pieces with her heel.  She stood up and stormed back into the building.  Brian jumped up and jogged after her.

“Ellie,” he said.  She ignored him.  “Ellie, I’m sorry, we don’t have to talk about it.  Come out and have your second cigarette.  It’s your birthday. Might as well do what you can to enjoy it.”

She didn’t stop until she reached the lounge, where she curled up on the couch and rocked back and forth.  Brian sat down next to her and watched as she covered her ears and whimpered.

“Are they bad today?” he asked.

“No worse than always,” she responded, drawing her knees closer to her body.  “Always calling my name, always pulling on me.  It’s always my left shoulder.”

Brian reached out to touch her shoulder, but jerked back when he saw a nurse give him a warning look through the window.  No touching, he thought.  Never any touching, when sometimes all someone needed was a hug.

“You know we’d all do anything to cheer you up,” he said.  “We all want you to have the best birthday you can in this hellhole.”

Ellie was silent.  Then she brought her fist down hard on the arm of the couch.  “Why today?” she sobbed.  “Why does there have to be a day specifically to remind me of the fact that I was born into this screwed up world?  Why did I have to be born with these stupid voices following me around everywhere?  Why can’t I go a day without wanting it all to be over?”

Brian chewed on his lip.  “Ellie,” he said, “I think you’re here for a reason.”

“Oh shut up,” she snapped.  “Anyone who thinks there’s a reason for the crap that is my life can’t call themselves a true friend.”

“No, listen,” Brian insisted.  He scooted closer to her on the couch, eyeing the nurse through the window.  “No matter how much you hate your life right now, there are so many people who are so glad you’re in their lives.  I don’t know what I’d do in this place if I didn’t have you to talk to.  You’re crazy smart, crazy gorgeous, and just a crazy awesome person to be around.”

“Yeah right,” Ellie muttered.  “I’m just crazy.”

“Those voices aren’t who you are,” Brian persisted.  “They aren’t you.”

“I know they aren’t me!” Ellie yelled.  “I’m not stupid.  But they’re there and they aren’t leaving any time soon.  Now just leave me alone before you start sounding like them.”

She started to rock back and forth again, hands over her ears.  Brian watched with helplessness pouring forth from his eyes.  After several more heartbeats, a nurse came into the room.

“Why don’t you go out and get some air while you can?” she asked, masking her coldness with warmth.  “We’ll take things from here.”

“I wanna help out,” Brian objected.  “Ellie, are you okay?  Can I stay?”

“Helping out is our job, not yours,” said the nurse.  “Now if you’ll go take your break, we can give her the professional assistance she needs.”

“It’s her birthday,” Brian muttered to no one in particular, shrugging his shoulders in defeat as he exited the room. He wandered outside and sat down beside Marcus, a homeless boy with whom he had instantly bonded.

“It’s Ellie’s birthday today,” he told Marcus, who was playing Scrabble with Dan and Emily.  He glanced at the game.  Dan was winning, which was funny because he had dropped out of high school while Emily had a college education.

“No joke?” said Marcus, looking up.  “Sucks for her, being in a mental hospital for her birthday.”

“Yeah, that’s what I said,” said Brian.

“If I were her, I’d celebrate by drowning myself in the shower,” said Dan, without turning his gaze from the board.

“Seriously?” sighed Emily, looking from Dan to Brian.  “Dan, you could at least refrain from being yourself when someone’s birthday is at stake.  Ellie’s having a crappy day.  We should cheer her up somehow.”

“Tried,” said Brian.  “The nurses kicked me out.”

“Are the voices bothering her again?” asked Emily.  The two girls hadn’t grown particularly close, but Brian had noticed Emily make an effort to sit next to Ellie in groups and at meals.  He also noticed that she tended to sit on Ellie’s left side in an attempt to speak over the voices that followed her everywhere.

“Yeah,” said Brian.

“I’m glad she’s here,” said Emily.  “It means that she’s alive.”

“What?” Brian was taken aback.  “What do you mean?  Would she not be alive otherwise?  How do you know this? She never said anything.”

“Yeah she did,” Marcus put in.  “You missed group this morning.  She said she had planned on going to Vegas and doing the deed there, just because birthdays suck so much.”

Brian realized that he was gaping slightly.  He closed his mouth. “Wow,” he said.  “I had no idea.”

“She’s an awesome girl,” said Emily.  “I really like her.”

“Well.”  Brian turned back towards the building, taking one last glance over his shoulder at the scrabble game.  “Dan, ‘epic’ doesn’t have a ‘k.’”

Ellie was still in the lounge when Brian walked in.  He was glad to see that Karla was sitting with her.  No one disliked Karla.

“ Hey,” Karla greeted him.  “What’s up?”

“Hey,” Brian responded automatically.  “Ellie, can I ask you a question?”

Ellie looked at him through her dark bangs.  “Sure,” she said tonelessly.

Karla looked at Brian.  “I’m gonna go get a drink of water,” she said and bounced out.

“What do you want?” Ellie asked when the door closed behind Karla.

“Well, here’s the problem.”  Brian sat down beside her on the old couch again.  “I want something that might be an issue.”

“I’m good at having issues,” Ellie shrugged.  “What’s up?”

“I really, really want this,” Brian insisted.  “So it’d be really, really great if you could help me out.”

“Dude, I’m schizophrenic,” Ellie said.  “No one wants my help.”

“I do,” said Brian.  “You’re the only one who can make this happen.”

Ellie sighed.  “Fine,” she said.  “Dish.”

Brian glanced over his shoulder to make sure the nearest nurse was busy, then surreptitiously put his hand over Ellie’s.  “I really, really want you to stay alive,” he said.

Ellie froze but didn’t move her hand.  “That’s not up to you,” she whispered.

“I know.”  Brian scooted closer.  “That’s why I’m asking for your help.  Do you think you can do it?  For me?”

The door behind them opened, and Dan walked in.

“Oh dang,” he guffawed, grabbing the TV remote off a shelf.  “Brian and Ellie.  Nice going, man.”

Ellie jerked her hand away from Brian’s.  “I can’t promise,” she said softly.  “I can’t do anything for anyone right now.  I can’t even do anything for myself.  I’m really sorry.  Really, really sorry.”

Brian sighed and leaned back against the smooth chill of the leather sofa.  “I won’t forget you,” he said.  “Ever.  Even if you get out of this place and decide you don’t want to be alive anymore, you’ll still be alive to me.”

“Wow, enough with the cheese, man,” Dan interrupted loudly.  “Just make out with her and be done with it already.”

“Brian.” It was a new voice, Jeanne’s.  “Brian, your psychiatrist has signed all your paperwork.  You’re good to go as soon as your ride gets here.”

Ellie looked up.  “You’re leaving?” she asked.

Brian sighed in frustration.  “I didn’t know it was going to be today,” he said.  “But I guess everyone leaves eventually. I’m sorry, I wish I could be there for your birthday.”  This time, when he stood up, she stood up with him.

“I don’t know what to say,” he said.  “But you know, don’t you?”

“I know,” she said.  “And Brian?”

“Yeah, Ellie?”

“I promise.”

She walked closer and wrapped her arms around him in an all-encompassing hug.  Brian tried his hardest to pass warmth through his body to hers, praying that their friendship would last beyond the doors of the hospital.

“Happy birthday, Ellie,” he whispered.

She looked up at him, and she smiled.


February 18, 2011 - Posted by | hospital stories, psychiatric pstories, stories, writings | , ,

1 Comment »

  1. […] .  I’ve posted “Christine,” “The Worst Thing in the World,” and “Smile,” so pick your favorite and vote!   I will love you […]

    Pingback by Vote for my stories! « Emily Rae Robles | March 5, 2011 | Reply

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