Day For Night

His days are spent confined – in his bland, undecorated room (or his cell, as he prefers to think of it), in the group therapy room, in the physical therapy room, in the arts and crafts room, in his psychiatrist's office, in the clinic, or occasionally, when he's lucky, in the small, enclosed garden out back. Wherever he is, he's never allowed to be on his own. In his cell, they check on him once every half-hour, day and night – just to make sure he hasn't somehow hidden contraband, or slit his wrists, or hung himself from a knotted sheet, or set a fire with a smuggled cigarette lighter. Not even the bathroom affords him more than a few brief moments of privacy. Even there, he has to leave the door open, and then they still show up to check on him.

"How are we doing, Greg?" they ask him endlessly, until he wishes he actually could find a way to slit his wrists or hang himself from a sheet. "We're just fine," he replies snidely, even though he knows his "attitude" brings him unwanted attention from the psychiatric staff and will probably ensure that he's trapped here longer than if he pretended to be docile and penitent and sane.

Nothing belongs exclusively to him in this place, except those three damn shirts, some plain, white briefs and white t-shirts (none of his prized t-shirts in this place of conformity, lest they be stolen by some closet nonconformist), two pairs of pajama pants, a couple pairs of jeans and his shoes and socks, plus a hairbrush and a toothbrush. Everything else is provided. No iPod, cell phone, TV, Gameboy, guitar, or piano – none of the outer trappings that made him him, the things that allowed him to spend his time avoiding either the clinic or whatever might upset him… whichever came first.

In his dreams, he's free. He feels the deep growling hum of his motorcycle beneath him as he pulls away from the curb, away from his own apartment, heading aimlessly through barren city streets. Passing houses and businesses, he merges onto the freeway. Swerving between two lanes of traffic, he knows instinctively how close he can get to the car on his right or on his left without scraping either.

Sometimes, he pulls off his helmet and feels the spring breezes ruffle his hair and whistle through his beard. When he looks down, he sees a satisfying black Rolling Stones t-shirt under his leather jacket. Above him, the sky seems bluer than it does in that little patch of yard back behind Mayfield, the one where patients who behave themselves are allowed to meander, and if they're really good, to claim a corner for their own little gardens. He's never managed to be good enough to get a garden; in fact, he seldom even gets to meander.

When he's free, in his dreams, colors seem more intense. Sometimes he rides in the rain, and after the rain, he sees a rainbow, with colors brighter and deeper than he remembers them being. Disney colors, old-fashioned 1940s Technicolor, intense reds and purples and greens and yellows and blues, vivid hues that are beyond anything his eyes are actually capable of seeing. When he wakes up, he finds it amazing that he can perceive these colors without benefit of mood-altering substances.

There's never a rainbow during his real day, which sounds pathetic, but pathetic and drab are what his life has become. Nothing to do, nothing to challenge his mind, nothing to keep him occupied – or preoccupied – nothing to help him avoid the all-consuming, soul-destroying pain that none of these high-priced pain management specialists can seem to help him conquer… at least not without benefit of something that will kill him sooner rather than later. They call it pain management, but none of his pain is actually managed. It's out of control, just like his mind. He's caught in this drab hell, between the Scylla of Vicodin and its attendant liver damage/delusions, and the Charybdis of soul-sucking pain.

For the first time, because he's so terrified, he's really trying to work with them: to do the deep breathing, the stretches, the leg-strengthening exercises, to take the alternative medications – anti-inflams, anti-anxiety meds, muscle relaxants, NSAIDs, oxy this and methadone that – anything but the sweet Vicodin that actually reduced his pain to a dull roar and kept his mind clear enough so he could do his job, but which was rapidly destroying his liver and his sanity.

Now, after a few weeks, his body is clear of the Vicodin, but with nothing useful to replace it, all he has in its stead is that everlasting pain. The truly petrifying thing is that his mind is not better. He's still hallucinating, still has delusions. Amber is still here, and Kutner, and his not-dad, and every patient he's ever lost, a growing cacophony of voices and faces, telling him he's failing, that he'll never leave here and never be free again. As the days go by, instead of getting better, he's less and less sure what's real and what isn't. Sleep, when it comes (which it seldom does), is usually dreamless, without bringing the freedom and surety he craves.

About once a week – if he can trust his sense of time (which he can't) – he gets to dream, gets to be free. He climbs on that motorcycle and gets away. Or he jogs in the park. Sometimes, he flies, performing aerial acrobatics in that miraculous blue sky. Sometimes, he swims into an even deeper blue sea, playing with dolphins and whales as schools of smaller fish tickle his toes.

On those rare dreaming nights, he's free. Free of Mayfield, free of pain, free of drugs. He's himself as he might have been if blood clots and Stacy and pain and Vicodin and insanity had never happened. And the best part of being free, is that he's also free from doctors, psychiatrists, physical therapists, well-meaning friends and the dead people who inhabit what passes for his mind these days. In his dreams, he always knows what's real and what isn't. What's real is the blue blue sky and the greenest grass ever, and wind and sun and speed and comfort.

What he wants more than anything, is for that freedom to become permanent, for the reality of the blue sky and green grass to be the only things in his mind.

Because the best part about dreaming is that he's always alone. And being alone is even better than being free.