Same time. Same kind of cereal. Same overbearing sense of worthlessness and shame. Different day.
Malcolm had no intentions of killing himself before he came here, but the idea became friendlier to him each new day he spent there. The mundane and monotonous nature of the psych-ward was almost aggressive, and what moments broke the long boring hours were usually filled with aching reminders of humanity’s darker side. Were those moments boring? Of course not, but episodes of open weeping did not ween Malcolm off of the mundane. They only made him wish for more of it. Right now, it certainly was not a boring moment, and Malcolm Steadman hated himself for resenting that.
It was visiting hours for the involuntary holding section of the psychiatric ward.
Malcolm wanted to kill himself.
As Malcolm listlessly stirred his rainbow-colored cereal and tried to find the strength within him to finish, families of those that had tried to commit suicide gathered sporadically around him. The commons area, where Malcolm had been spending most of his time, now became an open forum for tears. Tears of sorrow, relief, anger, and tears of shame dominated the area. The TV that was usually set to a volume somewhere above “wrath of Thor’s hammer” was now muted, but the TV (had it been on) would have an impossible time drowning out the raw wailing of the tearful. This, of course, made Malcolm extremely nervous and uncomfortable.
It had occurred to Malcolm to leave. Not that he could go very far, but he could at least be far enough away from the scene that he would at least feel less awkward. Malcolm, however, suddenly found himself in the dead middle of the room and surrounded by these outburst of grief before he even knew what was happening.
Moments before, Malcolm was staring at his cereal with its unnatural colors and contemplated the nature of it. He mused that something so vibrant with color was usually something profane in nature, the bright reds and yellows being warning signs on only the most venomous snakes. He admired the irony in that the cereal was absolutely not healthy and had actually looked forward to his inevitably stark and nightmarish epiphany as its terrible and dire grip on his psyche would actually be a nice reprieve from the boring morning. It had been the only time he had ever actually looked forward to the condition that had plagued and ruined his perfectly normal life. Things really had been that boring. Then he was suddenly surrounded.
Trapped might be the better word.
Yes, Malcolm could technically leave, but he was too afraid to. He was so deep in his own thoughts, so completely involved in his own musings about the cereal he was not eating that he did not notice as his peers latched on to visitors and formed little tribes. If Malcolm stood up, now that he was the eye to the storm of familial grief, he would surely be noticed. Being noticed was always the last thing Malcolm ever wanted to do. So he sat. And he waited. He stirred his cereal absentmindedly. He silently hoped that “visiting hours” was a gross misrepresentation of time and a false advertisement and that it would be over in minutes. Most of all, Malcolm felt foolish.
His stirring became frantic when the table behind him, a family of four circled around one of his “peers” and began to pray. On his other side, an elderly woman wept and yelled “why would you do this to me” at the young man who felt he wasn’t brave enough for coming out of the closet. Malcolm suddenly became very aware of the fact that he had been rocking back-in-forth anxiously, and tried even harder to muster the will to eat the rest of his cereal. The prayer was not silent. The old woman’s weeping more angry than sad.
The bright colors of Malcolm’s cereal had not lost their luster after soaking for this long, so there was that.
Malcolm attempted to check the time, get a sense of just how long he had been sitting there enduring the scene around him, when he spotted Garry. Across the room and under the room’s only clock sat Garry, looking straight down at the aged carpet. Across from him sat a pregnant woman, aged in pimples and face streamed in teary mascara. The girl pointed at her belly as her eyes demanded a return gaze from Garry. Garry shook his head and continued staring at the floor. There was no reconciliation under the clock.
The saddest thing in this room, the person that should make heartstrings wrench in misused friction: Malcolm Steadman. He was not here for the right reasons, everything leading up to this moment was a mistake, but this moment was revelatory. There was no one here for Malcolm. No one to be relieved he was still alive, no one to pray for him, no one to accuse him of wrong doing, no matter how ill placed that sentiment could be. Malcolm had no emergency contacts. That wasn’t even the sad part. The sad part is that if Malcolm did, he would’t want anybody to know. His need to be normal meant he let no one in. His constant striving to not stand out meant that he pushed people away, never let them get to know him because if they did they would know he was far from normal.
Before Malcolm could react, Garry was suddenly beside him, the girl hadn’t moved. Garry slapped Malcolm on the back, and announced loud enough for the girl to hear him, which was coincidentally loud enough for everyone to hear him: “Hope, this is my friend Mal!” The room quieted, sobbing ceased into silence and prayers too loud for privacy halted and hushed. All eyes were on Garry and Malcolm. Hope said nothing. “Mal that over there is Hope, we’re gonna get married!” Garry yelled. Malcolm said nothing. “A’int that right Hope?” Garry continued. This was too much attention. Malcolm felt like melting to the floor. Hope said nothing.
Almost graciously, the pimply pregnant girl named Hope marched over to Malcolm’s table and sat down. Neither Hope nor Malcolm knew what to do with this new social situation thrust upon them by Garry. A voice utterly mouse like said “hi” and Malcolm was surprised to find that it was his own. The eyes of the room parted and focused once more back where they were before. Garry looked between his two social hostages and looked pleased. Not sadistically, but like he genuinely did not understand his transgression and was somehow unable to read the two people beside him. Malcolm cleared his throat, and in an attempt to save his masculinity repeated his greeting to hope in a deeper voice. Hope blinked.
“Mal’s the guy I told ya about, the one here because he’s afraid of space and shit! Cool huh?” said Garry, declaring rather than asking. It had suddenly just occurred to Malcolm that Garry’s gesture of introduction, no matter how awkward or terrible, may have been an act of kindness. Malcolm was the only one in the room without a visitor, now he had one. Hope smiled politely. “Garry can be a handful sometimes” she said with a knowing glance, “I’m sorry”. Hope looked away from Malcolm and gave a stern gaze to the overly skinny tattooed junky that towered over them.
“Don’t be” Malcolm replied.
Malcolm had no friends of worth before he dialed the suicide hotline. Now it looked like he would leave (if he would leave) with one. This friend was a socially unaware drug addict and had impregnated a teenager, but it was still an improvement.
After pleasantries were officially exchanged, and as the three of them warmed up to one another, Malcolm’s table continued to be the oddity in the room. It was no longer an island of loneliness surrounded by a sea of depression, soon it would be the only table exchanging the one thing as cringe worthier as tears: laughter. For the duration of the visiting hours Malcolm forgot about his self-induced isolation and despite feeling completely out-of-place among the two lovers, felt grateful. Hope was the last of the outsiders to leave the room, but Garry remained at the table.
The two of them talked candidly, and occasionally even excitedly for the remainder of the evening. Distracted, and nearly content, Malcolm remained untouched by his existential terror.
This will not last.
Malcolm’s cereal remained unfinished.
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