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Authors: Paula Bomer

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BOOK: Inside Madeleine
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The party was big and loud. Music blared—The Cure, The Cult, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Smiths, Meat Beat Manifesto. Outside of Pittsburgh, where Mary grew up, people listened to Foreigner or Van Halen. To rock music. Just being in the room with these people, the music playing, made her feel sophisticated. The room was filled with smoke and Mary kept going back to the keg.

“My father loves me so much, he offered to buy me a car to
come home. I said, no way. I’m staying in Boston,” she said to three or four people at different times.

“Why does my mother hate me? Why? I never did anything to her, I didn’t,” she said to Darrell, at around two in the morning. They were sitting on the couch and she was leaning into his shoulder, feeling very emotional. It felt good, to be so full of feeling. Such tragic feeling! The party was over. Only she and Larissa remained. And Larissa had disappeared into a bedroom with Clay.

Darrell looked down at her. He was taller than her. This fact alone made her heart surge with a sort of love for him. He tried to say something, but he was too drunk and his mouth just hung open for a while.

“I think my father would sleep with me if he could. I think he loves me that much,” the words came out, dirty and awful. The next morning, waking on the very same couch at Darrell and Clay’s house, she would remember saying those words, and her head throbbed viciously with shame.

Monday at work, Brigid said, “Why don’t you take Bill out for some coffee? Try to make it decaf, okay? But be back in time for the staff group meeting at one.” She handed Mary three dollars.

Bill was standing in the TV room, watching the television with the sound off. He stood back in the corner, wringing his hands. He was an exceptionally thin man, tall with gray hair. His head lolled to the side and he wore very thick glasses. He was the sort of person that by looking at him, you could see that
something was wrong with him. Not all the clients were like that, but many were, if not most. Some looked normal and even acted semi-normal. Bill looked wrong.

“Bill, would you like to go out and get some coffee?” Mary asked.

He turned his head to her. “Sure,” he said. His voice was thick and slow, ruined by cigarettes and medication.

It was a lovely day, warm and clear. They crossed the wide expanse of Commonwealth Avenue and turned down to Brighton Avenue where there was a pizza shop. Inside, Mary ordered two coffees, both decaf. She felt embarrassed to be here in public with this man; she felt like the young men behind the counter were looking at her strangely. They sat down together at a booth and Bill lit a cigarette.

“They know me here. I come here a lot,” he whispered.

“Oh? That’s nice,” Mary said.

“Sometimes, they give me the evil eye.”

“Excuse me?”

Bill scrunched his forehead and leaned over the table toward Mary. His eyes looked exactly the same behind his thick glasses. “This,” he said. “They do this.” Then he sat up. “But I’m not afraid of them. It’s just a message. I get messages all the time.”

“No one is giving you any messages, Bill,” said Mary. “People may look at you a little oddly, but it’s not a secret message. I think shaving would help. A clean-shaven face gets less looks.”

“I don’t like to shave,” Bill said, rubbing his face which was
covered with erratic gray stubble. Then he leaned over the table again. “The beard protects me. It protects me from them knowing who I am.”

“It’s okay that they know who you are. You don’t need protection. Really. You’re a good man, Bill. No one is out to get you.”

He laughed gently. “You’re young. You don’t know anything.”

This made Mary blush. “Tell me about yourself,” she said, trying to change the subject. “Where are you from? How long have you been living at Cleveland Circle House?”

“I’m from Waltham. I’ve been in Cleveland Circle House for four years, ever since I got out of the state hospital.”

“Do you like it here? I bet it’s nicer than the hospital.”

“Sure. There aren’t as many crazies here. I don’t like the crazies. I know we’re all a little crazy, but they had the real crazies in the hospital. I like it here.”

Bill stood up and went to the counter and Mary watched him. He got a refill of coffee and sat down and lit another cigarette. “I hate decaf. I like the real stuff.”

“Brigid doesn’t think the caffeine is good for you, Bill.”

“I know. But what’s a man to do? It’s my only fun. I don’t drink beer anymore. I don’t have any ladies anymore.”

Mary didn’t know what to do. To grab the cup away from him seemed cruel. And she didn’t think she had it in her to do that, anyway. Who was she? A young college student. He was a grown man, regardless of everything else.

As they walked back quietly, she said, “I enjoyed talking with you, Bill. Anytime you want to talk, or need to talk to
someone, you can come and get me. And try to remember, no one is out to get you.”

“That’s nice,” he said, as they walked up the porch steps. “You’re a pretty girl. I like you.” And then he patted her on the shoulder.

The weeks passed. Mary learned how to fill the ice cube tray and made sure that everyone took their meds. As time went on, the futility of it all made itself aware to her. Would telling Bill that no one is out to get him ever convince him otherwise? Of course not. He had his delusions long before he met her, and most likely, he’d have them until he died. Mary began to focus on the practical, like Brigid, like all the others who worked at Cleveland Circle House. She tried to make sure the clients were all shaved and showered. She wanted their shirts tucked in. She wanted them in clean clothes. She wanted the bad smells to go away. She wanted them to do their chores and brush their teeth. The wild mood swings, the delusions, the overwhelming sadness and rages and fears—what really could be done about those? They came and went, taking over people and then setting them free. The blue and white and pink and red pills Mary doled out seemed to help some. If nothing else, they dulled the whole experience of life for them. Mary began to think that that was the best that could be done. To mother them about their daily life, and to medicate them so they didn’t feel so deeply.

It was the middle of August, a Monday, and the group session was being led by Ahmed’s wife, Laura. Brigid was there, like
always, as well as a graduate student named Dave and another man, Roger, who worked there but also lived in another one of Ahmed’s houses. He had been a client, but now he worked there. This gave Mary a sense of hope—They can be healed! They can get better! Normal even!—but she also kept her distance from him. She was ashamed to admit it, but he frightened her.

Laura was a petite brunette, with a very gentle voice. She began the group often by asking someone to “share,” and then the person to the left of that person would share, and so on, until everyone had shared. Today was different.

“I wanted to start by sharing myself,” she said. “My sister had a baby who died this week. The baby was born dead. It was a full-term baby. She named the baby Alexandra and there was a lovely funeral for the little angel. She also was able to hold her little girl. I was there at the hospital with her husband to witness the birth. You see, we didn’t know at first the baby was dead, not until after we arrived at the hospital. She asked me to take pictures of her holding Alexandra, which at first …” Here, for a minute, Laura faltered. “Which at first bothered me. I guess I thought it was too much. Or something. But I did what my sister asked. What else could I do? In her moment of grief and sadness? I felt obliged to give her at least that, to honor her wish. So I took a picture. And then she asked me to hold her daughter and her husband took a picture. And I took a picture of her husband holding the girl, too.”

The one rule about group was that no one was allowed to
say anything to the person speaking. Everyone just listened and then when the turn ended, everyone else just said “thank you.” It was non-judgmental. It was just a place to share.

Laura reached in her purse. “As the days passed, I became less upset by my sister’s request. I now really understand it. This was her daughter, dead or not. She was going to remember her forever. Why pretend not to? The days of trying to forget these things are thankfully over. No one forgets giving birth to a dead child. No one ever has, or will.”

“Thank you,” said Dave.

“Thank you,” Mary said, out of obligation.

“I’m not done yet,” Laura said, a hint of peevishness in her voice. “I brought the picture of myself holding Alexandra here to share with you all. I am going to pass it around. I, too, am grieving the loss of my niece. And I would like to share my pain here. That’s what group is for.”

Mary’s head felt very light and her ears started to ring. The picture came around and she looked at it. In it, Laura looked down at the blue infant in her arms, not at the camera. Self-consciously, Mary held onto the photo for a moment, attempting to disguise her fear and disgust.

At the end of the session, they all took turns hugging each other. They often did that, but sometimes they did some other kind of “touch” therapy. Mary truly hated this part of the sessions. Just because they worked together didn’t mean they should touch one another. She didn’t understand the logic of it. As Laura came toward her for their hug, Mary gritted her teeth.
Slap, slap
! She imagined slapping her, not hugging her. Then she hugged her.

The next week Mary’s father called.

“I’m coming to visit you! Before school starts. I’m coming next weekend.”

“Is Mom coming, too?” Mary asked, surprising herself with the bitterness in her voice.

“She doesn’t want to,” he said flatly. “But I’m desperate to see you, Mary. It’s been too long!”

A flash of memory from Christmas passed through Mary’s head. Her mother’s back to her, angrily doing the dishes. Her father, wringing his hands, asking, “What record should I put on, Mary? What would you like to hear?”

“You’ll have to stay at a hotel,” Mary said. “We don’t have a lot of room here.”

“Okay. That’s not a problem.” He sounded hurt. Mary’s heart flooded with shame. She was hurting the only person who’d ever been good to her. But the truth was, their apartment was too small and Larissa smoked so much weed now that there was no way her father could stay.

“Great, Dad. Call me when you get here.”

The day before her father arrived, Mary was working her only night shift. It had been a relatively quiet night, except for Carol, who roamed through the common rooms, the hallways, and kitchen, and then did it all over again. And again. Muttering to
herself, her hands balled up in fists. She had clearly cycled out of her depression. Something else was going on now.

It had been weeks since Mary had spent a special hour with Carol. She never missed her weekly coffee with Bill. She liked Bill. But she’d been avoiding Carol. Mary walked into the common room where Carol was at that moment.

“Carol,” Mary said, but Carol ignored her and tried to walk past, muttering angrily. “Carol, wait.” Mary followed her and grabbed her shoulder.

Carol turned around quickly and Mary drew her breath. Carol was breathing heavily, her face contorted with rage, her lips pulled back, revealing filthy teeth. For a moment, Mary was afraid.

“Carol, would you like to talk with me? In your room? I’m the only one here tonight, but I thought we could spend some time together here, at the house.”

Oo kaay
,” Carol said, with a nasty, fake enthusiasm. “Okay, miss pretty. Whatever you say, miss pretty.”

“Come, let’s go to your room. You seem angry. Let’s talk.”

“But of course, miss pretty. You’re the
,” she hissed. “Aren’t you?” But she began walking to her room.

Mary followed up the stairs. Carol shared a room with a very old woman who basically lived in front of the television. When Mary first started working at Cleveland Circle House, she read lots of the files on the clients. Barbara, Carol’s roommate, had first been institutionalized in 1957, at the age of fourteen, for “promiscuity.” She wasn’t in the room when Carol and Mary
got there. Carol walked up to her dresser and grabbed a tube of cream.

“I want to be pretty like you,” said Carol, her voice falsely sweet. “Will you help me? Put this on me. Help me put this on,” she said, and gave Mary the tube of cream. It was a retinol cream, for her acne. Mary had helped her apply it before, during one of their special hours. It was something Carol liked to do.

“You should wash your face first.”

You should wash your face first
,” Carol mocked. Then, darkly, “
. You’re a

“You shouldn’t call me that, Carol. I just think it works better if you put it on a clean face.”

“What’s so dirty about me? Huh? You think I’m dirty? Cause I fucked your precious Bill today? I did, you know. I fuck everyone here. You think you’re so
. Don’t you? Don’t you? This is what they like,” she said, grabbing her enormous breasts. “They like this, you see? You see?”

“Carol, I’d like to give you an extra Valium. I’ll be right back. Wash your face. We’ll put the cream on. And … brush your teeth. I’ll be right back.”

Mary ran down to the office. There was a beeper number for Ahmed, to be used only in emergencies. There was also a beeper number for Brigid. She called it first. She then grabbed two Valiums and brought them upstairs.

Carol was laying back on her bed. Her hands were up her shirt and she was massaging herself and moaning obscenely.

“Here, Carol. I want you to take these.”


“Stop doing that. It’s inappropriate.”

Fuck you
. You think just cause I’m crazy I don’t like to
? What do you know.
. You’ve never been
, that’s your problem.”

“Take these,” Mary said, standing there with her hand held out.

Carol took the pills and put them in her mouth. Then she opened her mouth wide, showing the two white pills on her tongue.

“Swallow them, Carol.”

Carol stood then, groaning, sticking her tongue out defiantly, the pills still there, and she began massaging her breasts again.

BOOK: Inside Madeleine
10.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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