It still hurt a bit to talk. His voice cracked as he thanked the nurse for bringing him water. She smiled politely. He was good looking— for a boy half her age— but she’d noticed that none of the other nurses, chatty bunch that they were, had stopped by to peep in on the sleeping boy with the black curls. She wondered why. She wondered if it was the same reason there were no get well cards, no flowers, no embarrassing stuffed bears with their little fuzzy arms in slings. His parents had been in to visit with him the previous day, and his mother had paced in the waiting room the entire night in emergency. But today his room was still and silent.
“Is there anything else I can get you?” she asked, feeling a deep sadness creep into her body, starting to weigh down her every thought. How terrible to be alone on Christmas Eve, waiting, like a gift no one really wanted to open.
“No, that’s all right. Thank you. I think I’d just like to sleep for a while longer.” He spoke with the sort of measured calm she was used to hearing in terminal cancer patients. His brown-black eyes seemed to soak up all the light in the room, and for a minute she felt she was on the edge of an abyss of impossible depth—and then she was tired. She couldn’t believe how suddenly it had come on. She yawned a goodbye and smiled politely once more and went to the staff room to nap. There she dreamed of loneliness, of snow-covered wastelands, and a single, child-sized mitten coated in frost.
They let him go back to his own room that night, and he immediately got started packing his things. His battered duffel bag was in the closet, and he folded his pants and shirts neatly and put them in it. There were very few personal effects in the room, some stationary and pens, a photo of his mother and father that they’d sent, some other correspondence. Tucked in between the Christmas cards from his parents and the hospital staff was a red and blue edged air mail envelop. It had arrived at his parents house, and they’d forwarded it to him at the hospital. It was unopened. He kept it that way, and tucked it into the inside breast pocket of his pea-coat.
He was sliding into a pair of comfortable loafers when there was a knock at the door. As he had expected, it was Dr. Van Haughton, his individual counselor from the psych ward. Despite the fact that he’d never really cared for the man, for an instant, Aiden felt bad about making him work on a holiday. “Doctor, thank you for stopping by.”
“It’s fine. I wanted to talk to you about what happened.”
“Which time?” He was off half of his medications and feeling agitated but alive. He had a plan and no one was going to stop him.
Van Haughton mentally reviewed Aiden’s charts. He’d been one of the most promising patients in the ward—polite, with what seemed like a genuine interest in working thought his mental and emotional issues—until about a week previous. Van Haughton had noticed a subtle shift in his mood. He hadn’t been able to pinpoint the cause on his own, and Aiden had been less than forthcoming. “We’ll start with two days ago, and work backwards, all right?”
“Whatever.” He finished putting his shoes on and sat down on the bed.
“Why did you try to kill yourself?”
“What do you mean?”
“You took almost a month’s worth of Thorazine and tied yourself up in a bedsheet. They had to pump your stomach. You almost died.”
Really, he felt stupid about it now. He hadn’t been hoarding his meds with the intent to off himself, he just didn’t like the way the Thorazine made him feel. He didn’t know why he’d done it. He didn’t care. “It was a cry for help,” Aiden smirked.
“I…see.” Van Haughton sighed. “You’re not taking this seriously. What’s going on? What’s changed?”
“Last Thursday was my birthday. I’m eighteen now. I don’t have to do this anymore.”
“Well yes, your stay here becomes voluntary at this point, but considering the fact that you attempted suicide in the last week, it would be my recommendation that you stay and continue your therapy.”
“I know. I wasn’t really serious about it though. Believe me, the last thing I want to do is die. I want to live—I want to have a life. That’s why I need to leave. I don’t want to spend another year…in stasis here.”
The doctor sighed. “All right, Aiden. We can’t make you stay—and I can see where you’re coming from. You’re young, you want to have a normal life. You need to keep taking care of yourself though. You need to stay on your medication, and I’m going to give you the names of a few out-patient psychiatrists. I want you to pick one and follow up, okay?” Aiden was surprised by Van Haughton’s genuine concern. He’d been preparing for a fight, and he’d been met with understanding and compassion. He felt deflated.
They sent him home with his parents the next morning. Snow was melting in the sun. He watched the world pass by the car windows, noticing the minor changes made to the landscape in the years he’d been absent. A shopping mall where a pasture had been, an upscale grocery where there had been a farmer’s market. He could feel the weight of the air mail envelope against his chest.
“Aiden, sweetie—“ his mother started, only to stop just as abruptly when he looked up.
They spent the rest of the ride in silence.