Rachel Johnson

Flight – Part II

Bobbi and Benjamin are seated together on a couch in the common area in front of the TV. Watercolor paintings of hills blending into the night sky interrupt the monotony of white walls surrounding them. Daytime host Maury dramatically introduces two cousins who had married each other, both of whom whose parents were also cousins.

Benjamin laughs, amused. “Can ya believe this trash?”

She smiles, “I think it’s intentional. What better way to sedate us, huh?”

He nudges her with his elbow. “Mmhm.”

Overhead, the AC blasts on and she shivers, hugging herself.

He takes the blanket from behind his back, covers her with it and tucks it around her neck, saying, “There. You have to keep a blanket with you, kind of like that guy from Peanuts? The one who dragged it around everywhere? You remember?

“Linus, right?”

He laughs again, “Yeah, that’s the one.”

The nurse at the station to their left looks up from her paperwork, glare icy, prim curls tucked tightly into a bun. Benjamin and Bobbi have taken to calling her Nurse Ratched. They giggle.

His laugh and smile are an automatic response, a façade he maintains even when he’s fucked up and hurting. He got the news a few minutes ago. It’s official, he’ll be gone in five days. She tried talking to him about it, but he refused. Grip of his hand around hers beneath the blanket tells her he’s panicking. How the hell could they do this to him?

Three and a half weeks ago, he walked himself into the emergency room after surrendering his .45 to the cops. On that night, he pressed the hot end of the gun to his temple after firing it at the shooting range. It had left a faint crescent scar on the tanned skin, like a crow’s silhouette in flight. Emergency room staff didn’t know what to do with him, he showed up saying he was suicidal, but was smiling and joking with everyone.

She understood though, right away. She knows exactly what that feels like. That’s the deceptive side of this bipolar crap, how high and up she can be, yet at the same time feel the need to shed her body, just to end the shit that never stops. Although it’s been a couple weeks since they had her on meds, she still felt exhausted, physically, mentally, and spiritually. She starts each day high and giddy, yet by sundown she was sobbing and screaming, breaking down every day. It took its toll. So much so that her mind tries to detach itself to cope with the everyday trauma of living. That’s where the dissociation and derealization come in. Statistics say, as a population, those with bipolar have a 15% suicide rate. When she was first diagnosed, that was a hard number to swallow.

Benjamin’s voice pulls her back. “You know, you should try harder.”

She shrugs and marvels at how every “a” sound he makes extends like an exhalation: Ahh. He’s talking about making more effort to do the individual and group therapy, to try to be around people, to find the motivation to go on.

He asks, “What are you going to do when you get out?” Although his tone is casual, it’s a loaded question. He knows she was supposed to get married.

“I don’t know.” Its honest enough. “And you?”

“Same. I don’t know how…if I’ll make it on the outside. Here, at least, I’m safe.”

She doesn’t have to ask who he’s safe from. They both know. Despite what she told Patrick, it’ll hurt to lose Benjamin. She owes him more than the answers she’s giving him. It’s difficult navigating whatever’s going on between them, with Jackson’s absence overshadowing them. “I don’t know what’s gonna happen with Jackson. He…he’s part of the reason that got me here.” She turns her head to expose her neck, so that Benjamin can see the faint, green bruises. This morning, he kissed the tender skin, and she felt his intent to heal her. She wishes she could do the same for him.

Jackson throws his weight against the bathroom door, breaking the lock, and drags her out of the shower. He takes away her pills. His excuse is that she ODed. Just wanted the thing inside her to stop, had to take more pills because they weren’t working like before. He lifts her up, half-dragging her down the hall, and throws her onto the couch, hand around her neck and with the other he shoves his fingers down her throat, trying to force her to throw up. He pins her down with his weight because she’s trying to buck him off. “Stop it, Bobbi! Just stop it! You don’t mean it! You know you don’t!”

Wordlessly, she scoots closer to Benjamin, so their thighs touch, and she strokes his fingertips with her own, reveling in his living warmth.

“Would you mind if I bumped into you on the outside?” He says the words carefully, as if testing cold waters. There is a need in it that she can’t satisfy, that she’s hopeless to cure.

She wishes she could tell him something else, make some promise to him that they’d find each other once they’re both stable, but she knows that day won’t come for her or him. She entwines her fingers with his and answers, “They have this warning in AA. Two alcoholics should never see each other. And the implication… is that two mentally ill people shouldn’t be together. Cause of the guarantee of disaster.”

He exhales against her cheek. She knows he’s smiling, his default reaction to pain.

Bobbi doesn’t know how to tell him she hadn’t seriously considered they might exist to each other, outside. The Basin is a strange twilight zone. After exhausting weeks of manic highs and deteriorating lows, she gave into the compulsive hypersexuality. Jackson, her soon-to-be husband, didn’t matter. It was a disturbing, familiar phenomenon. Yet Jackson stayed with her, he saw her deteriorate over the past two years. She was diagnosed six months after they started dating and he rescued her from herself more than once. She owes it to him, finally, because he sacrificed grad school and his future, to care for her.

Benjamin puts an arm around her, and Bobbi tries to sink into him. It hurts and hurts and hurts, just living, but here, right now, it’s bearable.

The following day, after lunch, Bobbi waits until the other patients have gone back to their rooms for afternoon reflection, which is the hour they’re supposed to shut up, take a nap, and get out of the staff’s hair. She catches Patrick as he’s exiting the cafeteria, laughing with one of the techs, clipboard in hand. The tech looks back and forth between them before leaving.

She says, “You need to keep him here, Patrick.” Hallway is nearly empty. The nurses, except for the guy doing checks and the tech Patrick was joking with, are in their locked breakroom behind the nurses’ station.

Patrick guides her by the elbow to the obscure plexiglass wall that looks out on the courtyard. He raises an eyebrow. He doesn’t ask who she’s talking about. “Are you speaking out of self-interest?”

“No. He’s gonna end up hurt.”

“I can’t say anything about it because of privacy laws, but every person is carefully evaluated before they’re released,” he says.

She argued, “That’s not good enough. Why don’t you do the evaluation instead this time?

He shakes his head. “I’m not going to discuss this with you, Bobbi.” He turns to walk away.

She yanks his arm, halting him. The psych tech he was talking to, who is pushing a cart full of linens, notices and starts jogging over to them. Patrick shakes his head and gestures for the guy to stop. He does, but he continues watching them.

She releases her grip and says, “Please, Patrick, please.”

Patrick smiles benignly and shakes his head. “I can’t.” He responds to the desperation in her voice. He breaks one of the rules and takes her hand in both of his. The look on his face is open, honest. She doesn’t see a lie on it. But he can’t help.

He answers, “I can’t, Bobbi. He’ll be fine. We wouldn’t release him if he wouldn’t be.” He drops her hand and excuses himself to finish his rounds.

A few minutes later, she finds Benjamin doing pushups in his room. It’s dark and he’s alone.

She blurts out, “I tried. I asked him to redo your evaluation, but he said no. I asked him to keep you here, but they won’t do it.

He gets up, wiping sweat off his face with the back of his hand, stark outline of his jaw rigid. “What?”

“I talked with Patrick and asked if they could reevaluate you, so you could stay longer. Told him you weren’t ready for it yet.”

He seats himself, leans forward, the folded line of his body tense. Drops his hands between his legs. “How the hell could you do that? Did I ask you to?”

She swallows. She’s never seen him angry. He looks too much like Jackson. “What? I thought… I didn’t even think it was an issue. I thought you needed some help.”

He glared, eyes dark and brittle. “Why the fuck did you go and do that? I didn’t ask for your help. You’re so damn selfish, Bobbi!”

It’s midnight. In the parking lot Jackson sits behind the wheel of their Jeep, the ambulance’s red flashing lights turning his face a pale red. As the EMTs lift the gurney to put her into the back of the ambulance she looks up at him. His eyes are hollowed. He turns on the SUV and backs out in front of them. They shut the doors on her. She sobs, tasting his blood in her mouth, sticking between her teeth. He refused to let the EMTs to look at him and waved off the cops. She doesn’t say anything, doesn’t want him to be taken away. It is mutual, how they hurt each other and couldn’t stop. It only intensified as her moods worsened. The blame was hers, too. 

She digs her nails into her forearms. “How…how is it selfish to want you safe? To give a damn about you?!”

He said, “You don’t really care. You think you’re good, but you’re not. You’re so selfish you can’t see it.”

She’s silent. Doesn’t know what to say. She waits for him to explain because the fear is back.

Finally, he asks, “Why take up with me anyway if there’s no chance we could be together?”

“I didn’t…I thought you knew, ‘because I told you I was getting married.”

He scoffs, “To that fuckin’ guy who’d hurt you. Maybe you deserve each other, how reckless you are, how easily you hurt people. You deserve him if you’d settle for that. And some advice when you do this again. Don’t fuck the guy over. Don’t act like you care.”

Her voice frays, “That’s not…not what I was doin’, Benjamin.”

“Just leave it, okay. Get the fuck out. Leave me the hell alone.”

She’s too stunned and hurt to move.

“I said get the fuck out, Bobbi.”

She struggles to get the words out, but Jackson’s hands clamp around her throat. It’s fear that paralyzes her, and she wishes she could do more, say something that would matter to Benjamin, but she can’t. Can’t lie to him. Can’t even tell him the truth.

When he speaks again, his voice is flat, restrained, “Please, leave.”

She clamps her hand on the stainless-steel doorhandle and opens it wide. He sits on the bed, refusing to look at her. She shuts the door quietly behind her. She tries to take on his pain, but of course she can’t.

Four days later, the day of his release, Benjamin comes to her room again while her new roommate is away at breakfast. She feels his urgency and hurt, in the thrusting of his hips, his grip around her ribs. They leave each other wordlessly. The following morning, in the shower, she traces the bruises he left.

In her fifth week, during a session, Patrick tells her the news about Benjamin. He’s reluctant to share the details, but she’s insistent. He had a bought another gun and a case of bullets. He went to a favorite spot in the hills between Rio Rancho and Sandia Pueblo. A woman on a dirt bike found him, reported it. Hairline fractures expand so the pieces of her fall, break away, as she recites his name and initials BEBEBEBE over and over again. Benjamin’s collarbones beneath her lips and she tastes the tobacco decay. Bipolar takes a harsh toll on herself and those around her. It’s a high-risk game, like Russian Roulette.

“Flight” – Part I

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About the Author

Rachel Johnson is an indigenous, androgynous poet/writer from the Navajo Nation in New Mexico. She lives with chronic pain, bipolar disorder, and major depressive disorder, among other disabilities. Her writing and poetry have been published (or are forthcoming) in The Dine Reader: An Anthology of Navajo Literature, Anti-Heroin Chic, Writers Resist, and Prairie Schooner.