“New recruit in room 430,” Hannah slid the clipboard across the desk to me. “He’s cute too.”
“I always told momma I wanted to find a husband in the psych ward,” I replied with a smile and a southern accent for an added laugh. Hannah chuckled, walking away as I read the patient’s name, stopping my heart dead. It couldn’t be true.
But as my walk down the dismal corridor came to an end it was his face I saw asleep in the patient’s bed. I couldn’t breathe as the monitors beeped louder than ever in the dimly lit room. I didn’t even realize I had walked into the room until a terrified voice broke through my trance.
“Is he going to be okay? No one has told me a thing.” A pretty, petite woman sat in a chair near the bed. Her face was streaked in eyeliner and there was blood on her clothes she hadn’t yet noticed.
I tried smiling at her before I looked through the file. “He lost a lot of blood, but the stitches are holding. He’ll be staying with us for awhile, though. It’s standard procedure.”
She nodded, staring at the ground instead of the man in the bed. I set down the clipboard and walked closer, picking up a bandaged wrist seeing blood had seeped through. As I reached for more gauze and tape she spoke again. “I don’t understand. I thought things were great. He seemed fine after our date, but I left my phone in his apartment so I went back and I… I found him in the bathroom…” She hunched over, sobs overtaking her.
“How long have you two been dating?”
“Just about three months.”
“And he never mentioned any history of depression or anything similar?”
“No, never. They already asked me that. If I’d known I…” She paused, sniffling slightly. “Well, I wouldn’t be here right now.”
I nodded, trying to keep the disdain from showing on my face, unwrapping the bandages on his wrists. When his skin was bare, I could see how deeply he’d cut. Four horizontal lines nearly down to the bone.
“Are you okay? You’re shaking.”
I looked up at her and that’s when I noticed the tears streaming down my own cheeks.
“Aria, can I see you for a moment please?” Dr. Braverman called from the hallway.
“I’m just bandaging the patient, Doctor.”
“Hannah will take care of it,” he said as Hannah came into the small room with a worried smile on her face.
“Look,” Dr. Braverman said, averting his gaze for just a moment while I wiped the tears from my face. “I know you’re new here, but if you can’t handle this kind of work you should consider a transfer to a less intense unit.”
“I apologize, sir.” I said, attempting to pull myself together. “It won’t happen again.”
“It better not.” He leaned his head back slightly, looking down his nose at me as I cleared my throat and thoughts. He let out a sigh, placing his hand on my shoulder. “Go clean up and finish your reports. It’s about the end of your shift, isn’t it?”
“Yes, sir.” I glanced back into the room once more before walking back down the hallway.
The day shift had cleared out for the day and the night nurses were settling in for another quiet night. I took another walk down the corridor before heading home myself, but once my eyes fell upon his sleeping face, I stopped, leaning against the wall to keep myself from falling to my knees.
“Do you know him?” Hannah asked, approaching quietly from the darkness.
“I use to. Where’d the girl go?”
“She left. She said she couldn’t handle this anymore.” She was quiet for a moment. “How do you know him?”
“I was going to marry him,” I said, looking her in the eyes for just a moment before I walked away.
Being in his room was louder than any other room in the building. The monitors tracking his heart beeped at deafening volumes, as I scribbled mechanically on charts trying to pretend it wasn’t him in the room, it wasn’t him so close to me.
“Nurse,” spoke a hoarse voice I barely recognized. “Nurse, can I have some water?”
I turned around slowly, feeling the white wash over my face. I could see something flash in his eyes when he saw my face. “Aria?”
“Yeah,” I forced a smile. “I’ll get you some water.”
Days passed with nothing being said. I couldn’t go near him for fear of derailing his treatment. I’d ask the others to handle anything involving his direct care and forced myself into other duties on the ward.
I was smoking behind the hospital when I heard his voice clearly for the first time in years. “I get the feeling you’re avoiding me.”
I turned to see his smile, the one that had stolen my breath on so many nights. “I thought it would be better for you,” I said, fighting the tears tickling at my eyes.
He pulled a cigarette from a crumpled pack and sat beside me. “How have you been?” He asked casually, his voice like butterscotch.
“I’ve been alright. New job, new town.”
“Obviously,” he smiled. “When did you move here?”
“A few months ago.”
“And you didn’t call?”
I breathed a weak laugh. “I thought about it.”
“I wish you would have.” He said. I turned away, feeling what was left of my defenses cracking.
“Is your girlfriend going to pick you up?” I asked.
He laughed slightly. “No. When I called she said she couldn’t handle being with someone like me.”
“Hey, not everyone is brave like you are.” He smiled, staring into my eyes. “Have you been dating?”
“I’ve tried,” I said, looking up at the sky. “But…” A tear fell before I could stop it. “But none of them are you.”
“You and I…” he breathed, running his free hand through my hair. “We can never be. You know that. This is proof of that,” he said holding up his still stitched wrist.
“I do know that, but the moments when you were clear, the moments without mania or depression, in those moments I knew you were the one. And no one can compete with who you were in those moments.”
He smiled again, his own tear tracing the cheek I so longed to touch. “We can’t live for brief moments of heaven between long stretches of hell.”
I nodded as a sob escaped my lips. He held my face in his strong hands, wiping away tears with his thumbs. He pressed his lips against mine as I dissolved into him..
He pulled away, still holding my face. “Remember when I told you I’d always love you?” I nodded. “I haven’t broken that promise.”
He stood up staring down at me for a snapshot longer, then I watched as he walked out of my life again.
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