Robert Bard

Archive for 2011|Yearly archive page

Food Shopping on the Government

In Mimesis on August 30, 2011 at 7:05 pm

Reginald had been raised all his life to be proud, and to never accept help. His mother had once told him that if he ever thought about receiving food stamps, welfare, or anything like that, that he would no longer be welcome in her house. It was not so much that she looked down on people that received them; she just knew that Reginald would never himself need them, and should never accept them. Reginald had been given all the tools and talents necessary to live life without government aid, and had been raised to feel guilty about accepting help of any kind. While he was at college, and in high school, there were all sorts of different forms of help that he could have—and perhaps should have—received for the care of his mental disorders. He would have been able to take longer on tests, perhaps have extended paper times, all sorts of things, but he prided himself on being able to do everything on his own—until he talked to Elizabeth.

Elizabeth had come from an impoverished family with little means, and had learned from a young age to take all that you can get, more out of direct necessity than pure greed. Her family had long been on food stamps, and now that she was old enough for them, she had sought them herself. Being of little means, and being a very persistent person, she had managed to secure a few hundred dollars worth of food stamps for herself, even though her needs were largely met by the family she was now living with. The way the system works, however, is that if you show that you don’t need it—i.e. don’t use it—then it is reduced the following month. Elizabeth viewed this as more of a challenge than anything else. Of course she could spend a few hundred dollars on food for herself every month. Who couldn’t? She frequently took Reginald out on grocery store trips to buy whatever they pleased, and Reginald came along, though he felt guilty for doing so.

They found themselves, this time, at a local grocery store, in the chocolate isle.

“Which one do you want, baby?” Elizabeth asked Reginald, as she gestured to various candy bars. Their basket was full of treats. Reginald loved grocery shopping, because he loved cooking, and when he was depressed, good food often cheered him up—gaining weight, however, did not.

Reginald felt uneasy. He wanted the chocolate (he had a soft spot for chocolate), but he felt wrong about letting Elizabeth buy it for him. It wasn’t like he had money to buy it himself, but he would rather go hungry than accept help from someone else, especially under these circumstances. Elizabeth could sense Reginald’s uneasiness. “C’mon babe. I know you want the dark chocolate and raspberry Ghirardelli. It’s your favorite.”

She was right, of course, but Reginald felt wrong about it. “It’s okay, babe,” he said. “I’ll go without it.”

She sighed, and threw the candy bar in the basket. “I don’t get what’s wrong with you. It’s not like it’s costing me anything,” she said.

This was all wrong, Reginald thought to himself. He had wanted to provide for her, and indeed, in the beginning of the relationship he had—until he had spent all the reserves of money he’d had, and with no more money coming in had run out. He hadn’t been able to find a job yet, though he had looked long and hard. He had always dreamed of being able to provide for Elizabeth, and it frustrated him more than anything to be so emasculated as this. He was useless, he felt, and instead of helping her, was only taking from her. This went against everything that he had ever believed, and how he had been raised. Both of his parents worked, and they felt their son should have a decent career and be a productive member of society. It didn’t bother him that Elizabeth was receiving government aid—he felt she deserved it because of her disability—but it bothered him that she would buy him things. He didn’t ask her to; no, he would never do that; she did it because she felt sorry that he had no money to spend on his own. He didn’t care about not having money; his parents bought all that he needed, and he had learned to live without the other things that he might want, such as going out to the movies, or going out to dinner. Free entertainment had now become the best form of entertainment. All he wanted was to find a job and take care of her, because that’s what he felt she needed. She was in a helpless situation, yet in a lot of ways she was the one helping him, because he was even more helpless. He felt incompetent, and worthless, and more than anything, angry. This was not a situation, he felt, which was destined to last.

The Most Momentous Moment

In Mimesis on August 30, 2011 at 7:01 pm

“Each day my thoughts are seldom far from you

And living has become a joy. I know

That I will always love you, my heart soothed

 

By every time you say ‘I love you so.’

I am consumed with longing for the day

That I can say ‘I do,’ so now although

 

My lips seem so courageous, this I feign

Because what I will ask you is so dear,

So please forgive me if I stutter when I say

 

That I would live a thousand lifetimes with you here

Beside me. Let us go then you and I*

To a life of happiness beyond compare.

 

I’ve waited for this moment all my life:

So will you marry me and be my wife?”

 

*This line is taken from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T. S. Eliot.

Circumlocution

In Mimesis on August 30, 2011 at 6:51 pm

*(As a brief note–and not part of the story–this material was previously published earlier on in this blog, but I have since moved this chapter to later on the story. Hopefully this does not confuse anyone who had read this before. Enjoy!)

 

Sometime after Reginald was almost hospitalized, he and Elizabeth were sitting in the car at a stoplight as she spoke on the phone with a collections agency about a car that she had owned previously. Her voice had been calm at first, saying, “I know I owe money. What I’m trying to get you to see is that the car was repossessed in September, so I don’t know why I have to pay for insurance for it all the way to the next July. Can I get a deferment?”

It hadn’t ended there. This was something alien to him. His parents had always provided him with a car to drive so that he could get to work, or to school, or wherever. They might have imposed strict regulations on using the car, but at least he had one. Now he was driving her to one of her appointments because the medical taxi that was supposed to drive her hadn’t showed up. It was frequently like this. No one seemed to be listening to her voice, especially not the person on the other end of the line. “I know that. I’m just asking for a deferment. I can’t make the payment right now. I’m homeless, and I’m unemployed. I have no money to give you. I just want a deferment so I can try and come up with the cash.”

Even now his parents were paying for his gas because he couldn’t find a job, and it wasn’t just the gas, it was the insurance. He had never paid a cent towards any kind of car insurance from the day he sat in the driver’s seat. His parents had paid it all. For all her life she had worked hard to pay for her own car and her own insurance and her own gas and every other car related expense. Her father had never contributed a cent towards it. In his defense it wasn’t just that he didn’t want to, it was that he couldn’t; he didn’t have the money to give her. When she got into accidents she paid for the car to be fixed, or bought a new one. Reginald’s parents always paid for the damage he’d done to their cars, the ones they provided for him. He’d had too many accidents to recount here, but the main underlying theme behind all of them was that they were his fault, and not the other driver’s. He’d hit parked cars on the other side of the road because he was too busy looking back at his brother who was trying to enter the vehicle as it sped away, backed into parked cars and driven off on multiple occasions, rammed into the side of a car while having an argument with his girlfriend on the cell phone while speeding through a red light, and slammed into a guardrail while a friend smoked a bowl in the back seat and bounced her head off the window and spilled the ash all over his seat. He’d had three accidents without leaving his driveway, causing significant damage to the car. He put enough damage on the same car to total it twice in one month. There were more; there were lots more. All of them had cost his parents thousands of dollars to repair, some of the time out of pocket because if they had reported it to the insurance company his premiums would have skyrocketed too much, or he would have lost his insurance. In total, his parents might have spent more money on buying and fixing cars, and on insurance to keep those cars on the road, than on his entire college expenses.

In addition to the accidents there were the speeding tickets. The most egregious of these was when he was going 96 MPH in a 55 MPH zone weaving in and out of traffic. He did this right past a State Troopers barracks. This was unbeknownst to him at the time, however, but he found out soon enough. His music was so loud (for anyone that is interested he was listening to Tool, the song “Stinkfist” at full volume) that he didn’t hear the siren behind him, and being a fairly unobservant driver it was a while before he checked his rear-view mirror. Apparently the cop had been chasing him for some time. This resulted in an arrest. His parents hired a lawyer, and the four traffic violations, including a misdemeanor and talking on a cell phone while driving, were greatly reduced to minimal points on his license. There were other times that, after blinding a cop with his high beams and speeding, the cop said bluntly that he could smell the alcohol on his breath, or on another occasion that they could still smell the reek of weed on his clothes, and somehow he had managed to pass their sobriety tests and come away with minimal points, if any, to his license, but most importantly without any DWIs or DUIs or anything of the sort. At one point he was shaking because he was afraid the cop would find the drugs he had on him, and when the cop asked why he was shaking he just told him cops made him nervous. The cop had showed up to court, reduced his two-hundred-and-fifty dollar ticket to a thirty-five dollar parking ticket, and said that they weren’t all so bad now were they (the irony in this is that the cop in being a good person was being a lousy cop, the necessity being that to be a good cop you have to be kind of an asshole, and always suspicious, making it so that being a nice guy, and a good cop are two qualities that are diametrically opposed to one another). Another time he had been pulled over without a license on him and wearing batman pajamas and a bathrobe midday, and the police officer let him off because he said he liked batman too. Whenever he got points on his license his parents would inevitably pay for driver’s safety courses that would take up to four points off each time. He’d had to do this numerous times, but even after all the courses, still had numerous points on his license, and an outstanding ticket that he had no way of paying for, but that his parents would eventually pay for, and bail him out again.

The person on the other end of the line did not seem to be getting the point. “You’re not listening to me at all. I can’t pay you because I don’t have any money to pay you with. I’m homeless. I’m not getting any financial assistance, but once I do I can start paying you back. I just need a deferment until I start getting financial assistance.”

The irony of all of this is that Elizabeth had worked in collections before and had enjoyed her job quite a bit. She had told him that the phone dialed automatically, and that on the computer the person’s credit score and history would pop up with all sorts of other information. She was quite nosy at times, and she liked the wealth of personal information that was readily available, with just strokes of her fingertips.

Her car had been repossessed, though, because she ended up not being able to pay the fees for it, but it wasn’t because of anything she had done purposefully. It was just a bad hand she’d been dealt. She had been in a car accident and developed chronic pain, bone spurs, and fibromyalgia had set in. Fibromyalgia is a disease that attacks your muscles in a fairly unknown way. It causes constant pain and fatigue, and the symptoms are similar to having an extreme case of the flu. At the time she was going to college full time and working full time, making Dean’s list every semester, with her first class at eight in the morning, and getting out of work at nine at night, five days a week. She would then come home and cook her boyfriend dinner, sometimes in lingerie, which he would decline and say that he had eaten already, and was too tired for sex. The stress of all this had wore on her until she broke down. She got tired of taking forty milligram Oxycontin twice a day with six seven and a half milligram Percocet in between, as prescribed by the doctor. It hadn’t taken away the pain. It just made it so that she didn’t care. Eventually the pain got so bad that she couldn’t get out of bed. She couldn’t keep her job. She couldn’t go to school. Her doctor told her that she couldn’t work for a year, and gave her six reasons why, and suggested that she go on disability.

During this time Reginald failed his first semester of college because he stopped going to his classes, but then managed to put together a string of five semesters of Dean’s list and one semester on President’s list, but he mostly didn’t work. While she had wore herself out from working so hard, he goofed off and experimented with drugs, including cocaine, LSD, and DMT (and of course marijuana and alcohol). This added to the drugs he had already tried, which included mainlining heroin and eating mushrooms. In fact when he mainlined a mixture of cocaine and ecstasy it had caused Isis to break up with him until he got sober, which took him a year and a half to do.

The inequalities of life were readily apparent in one car. In the driver’s seat was someone who was irresponsible, but who life had blessed with good health, well off and caring parents, and enough intelligence to do whatever he wanted to with his life, once he tired of being irresponsible. In the passenger’s seat was someone who had worked hard all her life until she had wore herself out, and who now was in constant pain and whose doctors advised her to not even seek a job or school for the next year, and yet no one was listening to her, and despite all her hard work, paying into all these government systems, she was unable to get disability, food stamps, or any kind of government financial aid because the system is not only fucked, it takes forever. It had been like this for months. She was (technically) homeless, broke, and in miserable health. Reginald’s voice is irrelevant. It is of the privileged class—the class that had supremacy for hundreds of years. Elizabeth is the oppressed, the underprivileged, the downtrodden, the hand reaching up for help but crushed again and again, but he, if he could somehow redeem his life will try to give her a voice and show her that all hope was not lost, because his one saving grace is that he loves her, and he will do anything for her.

Her voice was tremulous as she spoke into the phone, “I used to work in collections. I know that by law you have to give me a deferment if I ask for it. That’s what I’m asking for. Can I get a deferment please?”

The conversation could go on for hours. She had explained to him that collections agents are only allowed to say certain preset phrases, and they just regurgitate them back to you over and over, but by law if you ask for a deferment they have to give you one.

She went back and forth with the collection’s agent, and then the collection agent’s manager for quite some time, all the time just asking for a deferment. She explained that the constant calls from the collection’s agency were filling up her inbox and that her social services workers were not able to leave her messages when they needed to, and that this was exacerbating the situation by delaying the process of her getting aid, and that the fact that she was not getting aid was the reason that she couldn’t pay the collections. She explained that she really wanted to pay off the collection’s agency and restore her credit to some semblance of its former self, but that she would not be able to do it for at least a month, and that she was asking for a deferment only until she started getting assistance to help her. Finally the manager gave her some vague response about giving her a deferment for some indeterminate amount of time; it could be three days, it could be three months. Either way they wouldn’t tell her any more.

She hung up the phone and turned to Reginald, and said, “Sometimes, I just want to shoot myself.”

The Waiting Room

In Mimesis on August 30, 2011 at 6:38 pm

On one side of Reginald stood his mother, and on the other, stood Elizabeth. They had been waiting for hours already, and moving deeper and deeper into the heart of the hospital, passing stations at which Reginald was examined by more and more doctors and nurses. They had started at the emergency room waiting room, and then had been transferred to the psychiatric ward waiting room, where Reginald had been asked to strip out of his street clothes and put on blue “paper clothes.” Now, after hours of waiting, the nurse was telling Reginald that he could only have one visitor with him in the innermost waiting room. Reginald hated to choose. Here was the woman who had given him birth and been with him through all his hardships, his most constant advocate. She had fought so hard for him when he had gotten expelled from his school—both times—all to make him have a better life. On the other side was the woman that he had loved since elementary school, and the woman that he had hoped he would someday marry. It was really an impossible decision. He was frustrated to have to make this choice. He turned to Elizabeth, “C’mon, let’s go.” With that, he turned his back on his mother and followed the nurse into the interior of the psychiatric ward, abandoning his mother to the cold, bright waiting room. He looked back over his shoulder; she looked heartbroken.

In the interior waiting room Elizabeth held Reginald’s hand. “You’re going to be alright,” she said to him. “Everything is going to be just fine.” Reginald could feel his anxiety growing, but Elizabeth was like a shot of heroin right in the jugular, and calmed him down immensely. He felt he could not do this without her. There were other patients in the waiting room with them, eating strange, awful tasting hospital food, and Reginald could feel their eyes upon him. This close scrutiny made him perspire, and the cold drops of sweat ran down his brow.

Reginald and Elizabeth watched the waiting room television silently; Jeopardy was on. It was Children’s Jeopardy, and every once in a while Elizabeth would whisper the answer to Reginald. For some reason he thought this was a sign of Elizabeth’s brilliance, though the children on the show were no more than thirteen. As time went on, Jeopardy turned into Wheel of Fortune and Reginald could feel himself growing increasingly impatient. He was not like the loonies in here, he was thinking to himself; he was sane. His outbursts at home—though increasingly violent in nature—were typical, and no cause for alarm. He was excellent at rationalizing to things to himself, and could manipulate anyone with his words into thinking anything; now, he would manipulate them into thinking he did not need to be here.

As they waited to be seen by the doctor, Elizabeth held Reginald’s hand, and tried to calm him down. It was evident from Reginald’s face that he did not want to be here, and she spoke encouraging words to him. She was the only reason he was here, and the only reason he could be here. The thought of an involuntary hospital stay terrified Reginald more than anything in the world, but he trusted Elizabeth more than he had ever trusted anyone, and if she said things were going to be okay—though nothing seemed to verify it—he believed it. They had always shared a special bond, and it moved Reginald that Elizabeth not only did not run away during this time, but that she was here in the hospital with him, holding his hand. He knew that he had a long history of mental disease, but so did she, and though their love was in a way bizarre and dysfunctional, it comforted Reginald. This union of two kindred souls put Reginald’s heart at ease, even amongst so much anxiety. He knew he was not like the other people in this room, and the thought of having to spend an indeterminate amount of time confined within the walls of this hospital with them was driving Reginald to panic. Thank God, he thought, I have Elizabeth here.

After an hour or so in the interior waiting room, Reginald was called to see the doctor; Elizabeth came with him. They walked slowly along the brightly lit corridor. Hospitals make a person feel insane, even if they are not. The lights are blinding, cold, and sterile, and the walls are painted white with no ornaments on them. Everything that could be used to hurt oneself is removed, or hidden away—even pencils and pens. All the beds in the place have straps on them so as to secure patients if they get too restless, which adds to the paranoia and claustrophobia. Any sane person would not want to be in one of these places, even to work. They entered the doctor’s room, and sat down. The doctor was a large, robust, Indian man of about forty or fifty, and had glasses that made him appear slightly fish-eyed. When he spoke it always appeared as though he were just catching his breath. “So what appears to be the problem?” he asked Reginald.

With great difficulty Reginald thought about what to say. Though he had been having violent outburst recently, he did not want to be confined here. He simply wanted a strong anti-anxiety medication to relax him. “I’ve been having a lot of anxiety lately,” he said at last, “and frequent outbursts.”

The doctor looked at the chart, flipping through the pages. “Did anything precipitate these outbursts?” he asked Reginald. He was studying Reginald. His eyes moved over him as a mechanic studies an engine with a malfunction. It was hard to tell if the doctor even saw people anymore, rather than patients. The people who come in to mental institutions are perhaps at their weakest moments; they are fighting for their lives. The doctors work as though they are on an assembly line; they make adjustments or send the car back for repairs to the shop upstairs.

Reginald knew he was playing a game here. If he were to get the desired medication he would have to make the right moves. Unfortunately there was no disguising the truth in this situation. In some ways he would have to be brutally honest and just hope for the best. “I took some ecstasy and acid and I seem to be having a manic episode,” Reginald explained to the doctor; “To add to that my hands are shaking considerably.”

The doctor swiveled back and forth on his chair. His clothes looked tight on him in some areas, and loose in others. The suit did not quite fit him. Suits are not quite made for large people. The doctor scratched his chin and scribbled some notes into Reginald’s chart. Reginald could not see what he wrote, and he had always wondered what it had been anyways when he had seen doctors. They were always scribbling notes furiously. “Do you have a history of drug abuse?” the doctor asked Reginald.

Do I? Reginald thought to himself. He thought back to the years and years of drug abuse that he had been through. He had first had a drink at five years old. It had occurred when he was downstairs in his parents’ basement with a friend playing near the liquor cabinet. He had often seen his father drinking scotch, so he decided he would take a swig. Never before had anything ever burned his throat like that, and he rushed upstairs and started chugging orange juice. His mother had inquired as to what had happened, but he just said he was really thirsty, and she just shrugged it off. Later on, when he was around seven, he had gotten drunk off his parents’ wine with his younger brother when no one was home to watch him. He had started smoking marijuana in sixth grade, and had become a regular user by ninth. It was also in ninth grade that he started getting drunk more regularly and started smoking cigarettes. He stopped going to school and started getting high or drunk every day and ended up spending two and a half years in ninth grade. This was the beginning of Reginald’s substance abuse problem. By fifteen or sixteen he had started shooting up coke and heroin, and experimenting with mushrooms. He ended up getting arrested and quitting those drugs for the duration of his probation, but still drank and smoked weed. Somehow he never failed a piss test. His method of “smoke for three weeks, and then don’t smoke for a week” seemed to work for his monthly drug tests, and the probation officer let him off after two-and-a-half years for “good behavior.” He remained clean off hard drugs for a few years after probation, but by his early twenties he was back to shooting coke, and when he wasn’t doing that, snorting it as well—which never had the desired effect. He experimented with acid during this time, and fell into a nasty DMT habit, which nearly resulted in his committing suicide after a severely bad trip. This most recent episode had included ecstasy (which was cut with heroin and methamphetamines, as Reginald later found out), acid, marijuana, and a research chemical that Reginald knew little about. When the doctor asked him about a drug history, he was unsure of how much of this to relate. “I’ve done heroin, coke, mushrooms, acid, ecstasy, DMT, marijuana, and alcohol,” he finally related.

“How much,” the doctor inquired.

“Not much of anything,” Reginald said. “Just experimenting really.” It was true, in some ways. Reginald did do a lot of experimenting; the drugs he’d done the most of had been marijuana and alcohol. For the most part he had limited his use of the other drugs—not because he didn’t want to do them—because he couldn’t afford them.

“Anything else going on?” the doctor asked. The doctor’s skin was glistening with sweat. The hospital wasn’t even that warm. His belt was around his navel, his pants up outrageously high. It was like he was wearing a zoot suit.

“No,” Reginald lied.

For the first time, Elizabeth spoke up. “Show him your legs honey.”

Reginald felt betrayed. They might keep him now if they thought he was a danger to himself. He knew that Elizabeth was only acting in his best interests, but he didn’t give a damn about his best interests. He just wanted some goddamn Xanax to calm him down and get the fuck out of there. The doctor looked at Reginald with a quizzical look on his face. “What is she talking about?” the doctor asked.

“I cut my legs,” Reginald squeaked out. He really hadn’t wanted to say anything about it. The room felt cramped with the three of them in there in the small office. Elizabeth was sitting to his left, and the doctor was sitting in front of him. The door was shut, and even if Reginald wanted to run, he couldn’t get out of the interior waiting room; the door to the waiting room was locked. Reginald began to feel very claustrophobic. He suddenly felt as if he may not go home. For the first time in his life, he felt anger towards Elizabeth.

The doctor nodded. “Show me,” he said, and gestured for Reginald to get up. Reginald’s paper clothes crinkled as he stood up, and he pulled down the pants so the doctor could see his naked thighs. The doctor inspected the cuts on his thighs. “These are superficial,” he said bluntly.

Reginald felt relieved and offended at the same time. Superficial? he thought. I cut myself with a Buck knife! Outwardly he breathed a sigh of relief. This meant that the doctor did not think he was a danger to himself. “Yeah,” Reginald said. “I wasn’t really trying to harm myself.”

The doctor explained to Reginald and Elizabeth that he thought Reginald only needed a medication change, and that he was going to write Reginald a prescription for Xanax and Cogentin and adjust the other medication that Reginald was on. He wrote the prescriptions and told Reginald what Reginald had been waiting all night to hear: that Reginald could go home—and with a Xanax prescription as well.