“I was a traveling musician.” The plumb man looked off into space for a moment then reengaged Mr. Gilridge.
“Where did it end?” remarked Mr. Gilridge.
“Where did what end?
“Why your traveling musicianship of course.”
“It never ended! Musicianship is not something of the seasons, always coming and going man.” He took in a gulp of air, expanding his stomach over his trousers. “I am Jonas Hemingsworth! I am a musician man, a musician!”
Suddenly the walls of the psychiatric treatment facility began to dim to a much blander citrine, as Mr. Gilridge scribbled something on his note pad. Sean Gilridge thought back to no more than five minutes ago, when, while standing in the hall, he was given three new cases to be completed with no delay. Funny though, he tried to recall for a second, what exactly he ate that morning, and did this for some time; he remembered nothing.
“So lad, Jonas wiggled his comb- like mustache, “Do you partake in the musical arts?” He was yelling at this point.
“No, but let’s talk about you. I see you your fifty fourth birthday is coming up in a few days. That’ll be exiting.”
“Oh, that’s what they want you to think.” Jonas leaned forward with his elbows on his knees. His tone dropped. “Don’t trust the files lad. If you want to know me, then get to know me.”
He reached in his worn blazer and pulled out a sheet of paper. Jonas slid it across the coffee table towards Mr. Gilridge. Mr. Gilridge began reading what must have been a list of one hundred points, each describing something about Jonas or an astounding accomplishment of his
“Now that’s worth reading lad!” Jonas put on a jagged smile and pointed. I used to be a sprinter for the Scottish national team you know.”
Mr. Gildridge honed in on a point maybe half way down the page and scrunched his face. “Really? Why that’s quite fascinating Jonas. Now was this before or after you fought for our independence over two hundred years ago.” Mr. Gilridge looked up and muttered, “it is discrepancies, such as these, which label you as suffering from an acute dissociative disorder. What do you say to this?” asked Mr. Gilridge now, even beginning to doubt the sincerity of the man’s heavy accent.
Jonas’s face fell and he murmured, “I think it’s time for a smoke break!”
“This is impossible, especially seeing as you’re not a smoker.”
“Ah, perhaps you’re right Mr.”, he trailed off.
“Gilridge, the psychiatrist interjected.
“I was in the war you see, only we did not win our independence”, claimed Jonas
“This is the United States of America Jonas, we are independent.”
Jonas spoke again, “Yes, we have our independence, but not our freedom lad.” He surveyed the room and then looked back at Mr. Gilridge. I am not free because of my so called disorder. But neither are you, seeing as your time is spent monitoring my disorder. “At least I get pudding on Mondays and Thursdays (for good behavior) lad. “What do you get?”
“I get to help my fellow man.” Mr. Gilridge began to shift in his chair.
Jonas leaned in with a suspenseful performance. “So do I”, he whispered. He shot back in his chair. “Do I not employ you! Do I not feed you doctor….”
“Hmmm”, Mr. Gilridge scribbled once again. “I didn’t see any mention of a mood disorder in your records.
“Well doctor”, Jonas began to smile. “I like to keep it fresh.”
“I was an actress during my younger years and then a receptionist later on.” She looked at Mr. Gilridge expectantly.
Mr. Gilridge offered a smile. “Yes, and when did you begin to feel ill? I see you admitted yourself.”
“After I burned down the theater where I acted, I knew something was wrong. But I didn’t feel ill necessarily, until I set fire to my coworker’s hair when I moved to Alaska.
“What motivates you to perform such violent acts Shelly?”
“What motivates you to itch doctor, or to turn over in your sleep?” She gripped her elbows with opposing hands and gently began to rock. “Really, I didn’t want to. It actually became somewhat of a chore.”
“And what do you think may be the cause to all this impulse?”
“Well, I suppose my impulse control disorder, as you guys call it, may have something to do with it. It couldn’t be the man abusing me at home every night.” A switch in her flipped. The abuse I could take; it was just, no one said anything about it, like my bruises weren’t even there. How would you handle such neglect doctor? How would you like for Douglas Foxworth to take you on as a mistress only to beat you when you inquire the details of his marriage? “Of course, he’s a judge now and can pretty much put his claws on anything he wants.”
Mr. Gilridge took a second to recover. “Okay, maybe we could talk about your acting career. What was your favorite thing to perform Shelly?”
“I loved Shakespeare. I know its cliché, but I can’t help it. I performed Othello so many times I felt as if I was written into the play. When I die, I must remember to thank ole William for such pleasing times, however brief. “Do you know Shakespeare doctor? Do you know Othello?”
“Yes indeed Shelly, although, I was always more drawn to Macbeth. Regardless, I applaud your good taste.” Now Shelly, what do you suppose you enjoy most about yourself?” He was gaining back his confidence.
She thought for a moment, “My taste for the arts!” she cried. This sent Shelly into an infallible whirl of laughter. She fell to the floor, then stood up, then to the floor again.
Mr. Gilridge began to notice the immanent pattern of mockery from the patients. He had never been warned of the total lacked of respect from the patients. He expected manic episodes but he never expected for the patients to exert any kind of wit.
His detachment was interrupted by Shelly’s attempt to rip the curtains from a nearby window. Eventually, the drapes fell and formed a red pile of cloth at his feet. Shelby then proceeded to form one the longest rants that crazy has ever known.
“OTHELLO BY SHELLY SHAMANSKI!” Shelly cheered over and over. “Heaven me such uses send, not to pick bad from bad, but by bad mend. Their dearest action in the tented field, and little of this great world can I speak, more than pertains to feats of broil and battle!”
This went on for quite some time…
“Lewis, are you still with me?”
“Oh sorry doctor,” Lewis murmured in a rather timid manner. “Yes I am.”
“I see you were a professor of philosophy and American literature. I find that very interesting Lewis.” Mr. Gilridge spoke softly.
Lewis was in his early thirties and had sad eyes. They were a vibrant blue yet a sorrowful pair none the less. His brown hair was in disarray. He was pale and seemed fragile, the kind of person you would want to take care of. He looked so lost compared to the others.
“Doctor”, started Lewis, “I do want to be helpful but I’m afraid I cannot.”
Mr. Gilridge seemed puzzled.
“I realize you are a professional. I fear however that our relationship may affect the validity of your work. I didn’t even know you were a doctor here. I suppose you might be new then.”
“Yes, very new. I can guarantee our potential friendship will not hinder the success of our time together. I do appreciate your consideration though Lewis.”
“No, it is not the promise of friendship which worries me doctor, it is the relationship we already hold and have held for some time now. But you’re right, it doesn’t matter.”
“Oh”, Mr. Gilridge paused for a moment, “I was not aware that we were previously acquainted. What does matter to you then Lewis? Is it time? Is it space? Is it nature?”
Lewis shrunk in his chair. His chin began to repeatedly jerk left and his blinking became irregular and painful to look at. “Nature”, he stated while beginning to rock himself back and forth. He look to the window and then at Mr. Gilridge. “Do you want to take a walk doctor?” His eyes welled up with tears and his bottom lip quivered.
Mr. Gilridge pitied Lewis so, but he could not allow it. “I’m sorry Lewis but I think it would be better if we stayed inside.”
Lewis nodded politely and resumed rocking and twitching. “I like Emerson”, he spoke. His new mood changed him into an only slightly less solemn figure. “He helps me feel better when the orderlies yell at me. I don’t mean to wet the bed.” He tried overcoming another wave of tears. “Through are interface with nature, we can heal ourselves as men. That’s why I wanted to go for a walk doctor. I was just feeling the need for a little healing that’s all.”
“Well, I sympathize with you Lewis. I can’t imagine the anguish of not being able to go on a walk when you want to.” Lewis nodded gave up what almost resembled a grin. It faded as he stood up and jolted towards the window. His hands clenched the thin iron bars. He turned red and burst into tears.
“Please don’t break! Please don’t bend!” he cried.
“Lewis!” called Mr. Gilridge.
“His intercourse with heaven and earth becomes part of his daily food. In the presence of nature, a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows!” He struggled onward.
“Lewis! You are having an anxiety attack!” I’ve never seen such an act of cognitive dissonance, thought Mr. Gilridge.
“Hold me brother! Love me! Love me…..”
Mr. Gilridge jumped up and ran over to Lewis who fainted into his arms. “I need help in here!” shouted Mr. Gilridge.
Three men in white burst into the room. They brought in a stretcher for Lewis and wheeled him out with pristine efficiency. Lewis woke for a moment and called out, “I just want to see the rain again!”
An authoritative figure came in wearing a tailored suit with tiny glasses straddling the edge of his nose. “And how are we doing today Sean?” he said.
Mr. Gilridge swallowed before speaking. “Fine I guess sir. I did experience a bit of a scare though.”
“Yes, yes. It must have been terrifying for you. I am Warden Braxton. Believe it or not we have met before; although I’m sure you don’t remember.”
“Oh, why is that sir?”
“Well Sean, you are a patient at this facility and one who is known to suffer from a great deal of amnesia.
“I beg your pardon sir...”
“Let me explain Sean. Where did you study at…. that’s right, you don’t know. Where did you grow up…. you don’t know. I bet you can’t even tell me what you had for breakfast this morning.”
Mr. Gilridge felt his heart begin to race. “No! he shouted. I’m tired that’s all.”
“Sean, in the eleven years of your residency at Whittingham Asylum, you have suffered two strokes and at one point were in a coma which lasted six months. What’s more Sean, we have already had this conversation three times.”
Mr. Gilridge shook his head in disbelief. “This is a ruse! You probably told that poor man Lewis that we were brothers just to throw me off. I’m not buying! This is an experiment isn’t it?”
“My God Sean, you aren’t just brothers with Lewis. You are his identical twin…Let me help. Your memory has been severely compromised due to your last stroke. He tapped the left side of his head drawing focus to the brain and more specifically, the hippocampus.
“I am confused Warden but I know who I am.”
“Sean, you can’t even recognize your own twin. You can’t recognize yourself.”
Then Mr. Gilridge noticed something quite interesting. This man of great authority and of great knowledge was wearing the same kind of slippers as Jonas, and as Shelly, and as Lewis.
Mr. Gilridge pondered for a moment. Then, suddenly he realized nothing made sense. So, he thought, now it all makes sense. “In the disillusion, I find the truth!”
The same orderlies that wheeled Lewis out returned frantically. The taller of the bunch spoke between long breathes. “Oh… good… you found him.”
“This man is a patient, no?” Mr. Gilridge questioned.
Now the short stumpy one spoke. “He’s not just a patient. He’s a sociopath, a kleptomaniac, a schizophrenic, and as you may have noticed, a pathological liar.”
“What’s the cause of such a multitude of ailments?” inquired Mr. Gilridge.
“No one can really put their finger on it,” called the tall one. He claimed this patient, Ralph, was a man named, Dr. Richards’s special project. Apparently Dr. Richard is sold on posttraumatic stress disorder stemming from some childhood episode.
“His humanistic approach is getting some results,” claimed the giant in white.
“Careful though” said George. I caught him trying to spike my tea with Rohypnol the other day. You know that’s a nasty bit which will pretty much strip you of your memory, for a while at least.”
Ralph spoke up once more. “Just in case you forget Mr. Gilridge, you are also a tea drinker.” Ralph was taken away with a smug grin on his face.
“Ah yes”, thought Mr. Gilridge, “I had tea for breakfast.”
Note: While taking Literature and Psychology classes my senior year of high school, I felt inspired to write this short story. Flashes of Insanity has a nice blend of real psychology, “Death of a Salesman” style writing, and a “Shutter Island” feel. In this piece I subtlety explore the freedom of patients as wells as the function of counseling as a form of justice.
The Center for Writing Excellence is pleased to announce our fourth Annual Summer Writing Institute!
Tuesday, May 23, through Friday, May 26, which is a half day, in Oaks 207. Please register by May 3.