I was twenty years old, locked up again. This kept happening. Nobody believed that I was supposed to save the world, so they put me in a hospital with a bunch of crazy people who didn’t know what was going on.
“I can’t sleep without the light on,” Maura moaned.
“You need to turn it off,” I said. “I can’t sleep with it on.”
The mental health worker came into the room.
“We need to shut off the light,” I said.
“I need the light on,” Maura said.
“You’re supposed to sleep with the lights off, so I’m shutting them off,” the mental health worker said.
“But I need to see,” Maura said.
“You don’t need to see when you’re sleeping,” the mental health worker said. “Your eyes are closed.”
I wondered why they always stuck me with the craziest people. Is it because I was also like that? I wasn’t crazy; I was in touch with God. Why didn’t these stupid people who worked in this place know this? They’d be sorry when their turn came to be judged, if I were in charge, they would be in trouble.
I had a black T-shirt that had PARIS printed in big letters in pink and green and yellow plaid. My mother bought it at Woolworth’s or K-mart of some place like that. Paris was always in style. I thought it was my destiny to go to Paris and do French things such as eat croissants and wear a beret, then I would save the world. I called it my French trip to destiny.
Maura called me Paris. “Hey Paris, get out of my way!” she said. “Paris, don’t touch my stuff! Paris, you need to take a shower!”
I got tired of her yelling at me. She was sick, but I didn’t appear as sick as her. She had short brown hair that hung limply by her sides, and a puffy, potato like face that looked like she had been pumped up with a bike pump. She wasn’t pretty. She was probably about forty. She hated me, for the simple fact that I was her roommate and I got in her way.
We met in that was a circle of chairs around where the bedrooms were, Day Hall Two. Day Hall One had a TV, that’s where we ate meals.
In medication group, a man sat on the floor, and explained to the group leader, “I thought this was meditation group.”
“No, we don’t do meditation here,” the group leader said.
“Maybe we should,” he said. “We need to relax and focus.”
“You can make a suggestion, but this group is about medication,” she said.
I didn’t like to talk in group, because I didn’t want any of these sick people to know my secrets. I wore my truth as a necklace that nobody could see.
Maura was always skulking around. I didn’t like being near her, because she was rude to me.
“Hey, Paris, don’t steal my medication!” she said.
I said nothing. I wanted peace and quiet, not people screaming at me. I had been in the hospital enough that I knew if you went to group, they would let you out sooner. You had to do what they said in order to become free.
I went to group, and I followed the rules, and they let me out shortly. I only had to spend a week as Maura’s roommate with her screaming at me calling me Paris. I knew what to say and do to get out of there. I went to day treatment, then eventually I was free as a canary in Paris.
The years went by. I stopped getting locked up in the hospital. I took my medication, and I came down and realized that I would never be the savior of the Universe, which was depressing, because I came to the conclusion I would never be anything. I did what I had to do. I went to school; I got some degrees, and I couldn’t get a job in my field, since the economy was in the toilet, so I ended up working at the front desk of the Cardiology department in one of the biggest hospitals in the world. The office saw between three hundred and four hundred patients a day. A lot of people walked through those doors. One day it was Maura.
I recognized her right away. She came to me and said her name. I didn’t remember her last name, but she looked the same. Even the same haircut, and the same goofy face. It had been twenty-five years since the last time I was in the hospital, a lifetime ago.
“My name is Maura Morgan,” she said.
I found her on the list.
“Could I see a photo ID?” I said.
I looked at her age. She was about the same age as the Maura I knew.
I printed her medication list. The printer was delayed, as usual. I hit the machine.
“These things have a mind of their own,” I said.
She laughed. She seemed okay. Not like the crazy Maura I knew years ago. Time can change people, and they can get better. I know because that happened to me.
I looked at her when she sat down. A young woman was with her, probably her daughter. They had similar features. She looked between twenty-five and thirty. Maura wore a striped shirt and her daughter wore a polka dot shirt.
I wanted to know her story, what happened to her. But that was not my business, and I didn’t want my coworkers to discover my history, so I couldn’t say anything. I sat there and remembered Maura calling me Paris during that time in the hospital, and it jolted me.
I had finally made it to Paris. I went on vacation by myself three years previously. I loved it. I visited the Eiffel Tower and rode on a boat down the Seine. I ate escargot. I went to the Pere Lachaise Cemetery and saw Jim Morrison’s grave. I didn’t think about Maura at all when I was there, because the psychiatric hospital was the last thing on my mind.
When she left, I wanted to yell, “We’ll always have Paris!” But I thought if I said that, she might remember, and it might make her upset. I didn’t want to do that to Maura.
The past was in the past, and it would stay there. I never had to tell anyone, and I never would.
About the Author
Shannon O’Connor holds an MFA from Bennington College. She has been published in The Wilderness House Literary Review, 365 Tomorrows, Oddball Magazine, previously in Wordgathering, and others. She lives in the Boston area and can be found sharing her opinions on her blog, mshenreviewsthings.blogspot.com. She works in a hospital.