continued from … Valentines Day Eve, part four.
I awoke at 7:00 AM to the florescent lighting being turned on and a large lady with a short-cropped haircut yelling, “Time to get up!”
This place was littered with too many lesbians on staff.
The plastic sheet crinkled as I rolled over to face the wall in retreat.
The lesbian shut the door and Jeff hopped out of bed, threw on a robe and made his way out to the common area. I rolled over and looked to Mike who was crammed between his bed and the wall. Motionless, but I knew he was alive by his slight snoring.
I laid there for another few minutes, looking up at the glow-in-the-dark star stickers affixed to the drop ceiling.
I got up, put some clothes on and tried to wake Mike. I stood over his bed and said, “Mike, it’s time to get up.”
Not so much as a flinch.
I touched his shoulder and repeated myself, a little louder and sterner this time. “Mike. It’s time to get up.”
Nothing. Not even a break in his snoring.
This time I rocked him back and forth. Louder and sterner yet. “Mikkkkeeee. It’s time to get up!”
He gently opened his eyes and said, “I’m skipping breakfast.”
Okay, I thought. Suit yourself.
I exited the room quietly to the common area, where to my surprise, all of these drunks and addicts were already up! Roughly half were in the lobby, a few making coffee in the vending area, and the rest outside smoking their morning cigarettes.
What in the hell are these people doing up so early? Aside from Mike, I was the last one up.
I was to find out that most people here were so used to falling asleep with the aid of the bottle, and once the bottle was taken away, they had trouble sleeping. Made sense. Thankfully I wasn’t as sick as them. I had no trouble sleeping. Except for last night – but that was because the bed was so awful, right? I mean seriously. Who wouldn’t have trouble sleeping on a 2 inch mattress atop a plywood box, with a plastic sheet crinkling beneath you?
The nurse on duty called me over. “You Dan?” She sounded a little gruffy and had bleached blonde hair just like the nurse who admitted me the night before. Were poor dye jobs or butch lesbian cuts a prerequisite for obtaining a job here?
“I’ve gotta take your vitals. Come on over and take a seat.”
I sat down in the chair beside the nursing station as Mary took my pulse. She got distracted when one of the other inpatients asked her a question and had to start again. She got her count and recorded it in my chart. Next she stuck a thermometer in my mouth and began asking me questions to which she wanted me to nod my head to.
“Any trouble sleeping?”
I made indicated a little bit with my thumb and index finger gapped slightly.
I nodded my head from side to side. No.
Again I nodded my head from side to side. No. Thank gawd I hadn’t – there were other people in the room! How embarrassing!
The thermometer beeped and she removed it from my mouth, recording the reading in my chart.
“On a scale from one to ten, ten being the highest, what’s your anxiety level?”
That seemed like an odd question. I thought about it a little bit, and realized that I was actually taking to this place better than I thought I would. I wasn’t all that nervous, nor was I scared. In fact, I think I felt a little “less sick” than most of my peers. I still had a lot to learn.
“I guess about five,” I responded.
“Okay, good. Now I want you to hold your hands straight forward from your body and hold them as still as you can.”
Another strange request, I thought. I proceeded with the exercise. I knew that my hands were always a bit shaky, but this was embarrassing. I couldn’t hold them still if my life had depended on it. Both hands trembled erratically.
Mary recorded something in my chart and sent me on my way.
Seeing people outside smoking, I ran for the coffee in the vending area, poured myself a Styrofoam cup full, and made a mad dash for the exit. I set my coffee down quickly, donned my coat, and slowly walked outside in my slippers, pajama bottoms, and a winter coat – holding my coffee as carefully as I could with my hands shaking the way I’d grown accustomed to them shaking.
“Wanna hear a joke?” asked one of my fellow smokers.
“No, not this early in the morning, please.” I was not in the mood to be social. It was zero degrees, the ground covered with snow, I could see the steam rising from my coffee, my breath, and my cigarette. It was my intention to puff this bitch down as fast as I could and make my way back inside.
“What bounces up and down at 100 mph?” he asked anyway.
I didn’t even think about it before responding. “I don’t know.”
“A dead baby tied to the back of a truck.”
“That’s awful!” Who could think a joke about a dead baby was funny? I continued alternating between the coffee cup and my cigarette, intending to get away from this guy as soon as possible.
“What’s red, bubbly, and scratches at the window before exploding?”
“I don’t know, but really, that’s okay, I don’t have to know.” I was almost pleading with him NOT to finish his joke.
“A baby in the microwave.”
That was enough. I tossed my cigarette in one of three metal buckets intended for just that, and made my way inside.
Breakfast was being served upstairs. That sounded good. I rarely ate breakfast, unless it was a bagel or doughnut that somebody brought into the office.
I found my buddy Bob at the end of the line for breakfast. We chatted momentarily as the line advanced and we were then standing inside the cafeteria. No, I’m not kidding – this was an elementary school cafeteria plopped right into a treatment center. Memories of my own elementary school surfaced. How I used to stand in line waiting for the ladies with the hairnets to plop the slop onto my tray. Doing everything I could to avoid any subsequent splashes of gravy from hitting me, or worse – my clothes!
Bob introduced me to a lady behind the counter. “Christine, this is Dan. He’s new here.”
“Well hello, Dan! Welcome!”
Boy, she was rambunctious.
“Hello,” I replied.
“What do you want in your omlet on this fine morning? We’ve got eggs, egg-whites, sausage, cheese, tomatoes, onions, green peppers, red peppers, olives, salsa, sour cream. You name it.”
Not able to think quick enough on my feet, and fearful that I’d hold up the line, I replied simply, “Surprise me.”
I made some toast and readied my orange juice. I set my tray down next to Bob’s and went back to the buffet where Christine had just finished up my omlet. I could get used to this.
It was spectacular. Christine kicked ass. Not sure what she used in that omlet, but it was fantastic! Bob explained to me that Christine used to be the Executive Chef at the Wayzeta Country Club – a place I’d certainly heard of. Something like a $100,000 initiation fee and a $30,000 annual membership fee. The place was as hoity-toity as they came in Minnesota. Which explained why my simple omlet could have been served down at any five star restaurant for $25.
Yep, I could get used to this part.
“So, ummm, no offense to Christine, but if she used to have a job like that, why in the hell is she working here?” I inquired.
“She’s an alcoholic. Been sober two years now after going through Hazelden. She heard about this job shortly after getting out of treatment and thought it would be good for her sobriety. I’m sure she’ll find something more glamorous, but for now, this is part of what she does to stay sober.”
Yikes, I thought. There’s no way I’m going back to my high school job at McDonalds – I certainly hope it doesn’t come to that.
I finished breakfast rather quickly and headed back downstairs to see if I could catch a cigarette in the absence of dead baby jokes. I could see nobody outside as I descended the stairs. Phew. I made a quick run to the coffee machine, got a refill and headed back to the “Atrium”, as they referred to it as. I guess they called it an atrium because it’s ceiling vaulted up the two stories of the building and had windows along the exterior. The stairs leading up to the group room, staff offices, and the cafeteria were also contained within the atrium. But for me “Atrium” stirred images of beautiful plant life, elegance, and fine things. This place certainly had none of those things. The stairs were carpeted in that thin stuff you might find on an average boat – meant to last a long time and withstand sun and water. The floor was covered in that taracotta 6 inch tile that you find in the kitchens of every fast food restaurant this side of the equator. And the coat rack was a real piece of art – steel piping visibly welded together on a rolling base. More than three coats hanging on it and it leaned dangerously to one side. Oh, and fake plants. About 4 of them. With that fake moss covering the supposed gardening soil in the pot.
I stepped outside, again playing that balancing act with the coffee – trying to open the door and then light a cigarette without spilling. I stood there in solitude. Roughly 7:30 in the morning now. The sun was coming up. Snow covered the ground. Birds chirping.
The smoking area was in the rear of the building. A small cement patio bordered by a small parking lot that butted up against a creek and swamp land. The dead grass poked through the piles of snow, claiming its territory even through the dead cold of winter. Somebody had spread bird seed near the edge of the swampland. Birds were picking at it, and a bunny was a little further down the hill, nibbling the seed on the ground. There were townhomes beyond the creek up a hill. Further down the creek was an open area – something I presumed was either more swampland or maybe even a golf course. Then I thought better of the latter. Why would anyone put a golf course up against the rear of a treatment center for the gays in Eden Prairie?
So I had survived the evening. Now what? Before I had time to contemplate my situation any further a tall and slender black man came out wearing a multi-colored robe and slippers. He sat in a chair that I hadn’t even considered – far too cold to put my rear down on anything. He had the beginnings of an afro, crossed his legs in a lady-like fashion, and leaned forward in a pseudo fetal position to retain as much of the heat his body generated as possible.
“Hello. I’m Dan.” I greeted him without extending my hand. Again, too cold – no disrespect intended. The tone of my voice told him I was friendly.
“I’m Hennnrrrryyyy” he drawled quietly in response. A bit like a southern belle.
“Nice to meet you.” I said. Henry didn’t say another word. He just smoked his cigarette in silence. It was a bit awkward so I headed for the door, put out my cigarette and returned to the Atrium.
Morning Affirmations was set to begin in ten minutes. If last night’s Fuzzy Wuzzy exercise was any indication as to how today was going to pan out, I was a little excited at the prospect of how strange things might become.
I went back to my room, changed out of my pajamas, brushed my teeth and woke Mike up. In a zombie-like manner he arose from bed, slid into some flip-flops and exited the room. I guess everybody has their own routine.
I made my way to the atrium once more, this time to head back upstairs for the ensuing affirmations. Shit, what were those three things again?
To be continued …