Sun Gone Lost
Shelby nervously tugged on her shirtsleeves as she waited for the elevator doors to open, her black cardigan suddenly feeling like it was far too small. There was a short male nurse co-occupying the elevator, who kept glancing at her as she shifted from foot to foot.
"Getting hotter out, huh?" he eventually said.
She glanced up in mild surprise, as if she hadn't noticed he was there. "Uh, yeah," was her automatic response as she turned her gaze back to the slowly-climbing glowing red floor number.
"You here visiting family?" the nurse probed.
"Just a friend."
Finally, the doors slid open and Shelby hurried out, already having forgotten about the male nurse, who might have been cute or even handsome had she bothered to notice.
Her first thought when she entered Noah's ward was to wonder if the woman at the nurse's station had given her the wrong room number. She understood that this kind of disease could change a person, but she hadn't seen him since Beth had been born, and she'd still expected to see the tall, muscular Noah that had swaggered down the hall of the maternity ward. Now, Noah was lying on his side in the bed, facing away from her, looking much thinner than she remembered.
"Noah?" she said hesitantly, still not entirely sure that it was him.
"What?" He didn't move.
She took a breath to steel her nerves and came around the end of the bed so that he could see her, and eased tentatively into the chair situated for visitors. "It's good to see you," she said.
He gave her a look like he knew she was lying. "What are you doing here?" His voice was flat, his face gaunt, and there were deep shadows under his eyes made all the more noticeable by the unusually pallid tone to his skin. The hospital gown didn't suit him and made him look even sicker. He was watching her with an unnerving steadiness.
"I wanted to see how you were doing."
His only response was to fiddle with one of the several braided bracelets around his right wrist. His left wrist sported a hospital identification band, and above it, four long and narrow scabs ran down his forearm.
"So...how are you doing?" Shelby prodded gently.
He gave a one-shoulder shrug. "I've got drugs in me up to my eyeballs and I'm on suicide watch."
She nodded. "Yeah, uh... Rachel told me what happened," she said softly, glancing at the stitched-up gash down the side of his forehead.
"I don't want to talk about it," he snapped.
He stuck his thumbnail between his teeth and yanked off a small sliver of it, making Shelby wince slightly. "Where's Beth?"
"She's at day care."
He frowned in thought for a moment. "How old is she now?"
"I bet she looks like Quinn."
Shelby smiled softly. "You'd be surprised how much she looks like you." Noah didn't speak, his face contorting into a deeper frown. Shelby's gaze fell back onto the four scratches down his arm. "How did you get those?"
He didn't need to see what she was looking at to understand what she was referring to. "They're from my sister. I threw her down the stairs."
Shelby couldn't suppress a small gasp, and Noah's eyes finally snapped up to meet hers. The action startled her, almost as much as the fact that he was staring at her without saying anything. After a few moments, she finally averted her eyes to the floor.
"I'm going back into the hospital," he said a minute later, his voice still unnervingly flat. "Child Services is threatening to take Sarah, so I'm going back."
"Was that your decision or theirs?"
"Doesn't matter." He pulled the thin blanket up over his shoulders, closing his eyes.
"You've lost a lot of weight." It was a terrible conversation point, but Shelby couldn't remember the last time she felt quite this nervous, and she was beginning to grasp at straws.
Without opening his eyes, he responded, "Yeah, well, it's kinda hard to eat when there's bugs in the food."
Shelby swallowed audibly and didn't speak, completely at a loss now for what to say or even if she should be saying anything. How on earth would she cope with this if Beth turned out to be the same? A rock worked its way up her esophagus.
Several minutes later, Noah's eyes were still closed, and she thought he'd fallen asleep when he quietly said, "You can't let Beth go through this. Kill her; she's gotta die."
Shelby flinched and lurched to her feet, backing away from him. She hurried out the door and back towards the elevators, her heart pounding in her ears.
Joann Puckerman had felt exhausted for the last six years straight, ever since Bill had walked out the door with a six-pack in one hand and a suitcase in the other. She liked to think that she'd done the best she could, being a single mom recovering from an abusive relationship, and yes, she may have a little too much beer every now and then, but what did they expect? She had two kids - one of whom seemed bent on getting into as much trouble as possible - and she had been working two or three jobs since before Sarah had learned to walk. She hadn't had a vacation since college, so she was entitled to that extra beer, dammit. She earned it. When Noah's doctor had somberly delivered the diagnosis last September, her first thought was "Oh, for fuck's sake. Sure, God. Just add it to the pile."
Now, for the second time, she was in Noah's room, shoving clothes into a backpack to bring with him to the institution. His bedroom had always been messy, but since he'd been sick it was downright chaotic, and Joann had never had the time to clean it along with the rest of the house. It didn't matter how much the doctors explained, she still didn't fully understand what was happening inside her son's head (not that she ever had, but now it was even harder to pick apart), but she was pretty sure that even mental illness was not supposed to affect someone's ability to clean their own bedroom, and the fact that he had ignored her repeated requests for him to at the very least pick up all the crap that was strewn across the floor just pissed her off. She didn't understand why Noah would periodically flinch at nothing, or why he would periodically blank out and stare into empty space, or why he'd thrown Sarah down the stairs, or why the fuck he'd jumped off a bridge.
Yes, logically, she knew it was all because of the disease in his head. But she didn't know why.
Feeling an all-too-familiar surge of anger, Joann slammed the bag she was packing onto his cluttered desk, sinking onto the edge of his bed and resting her head in her hands. Every cell in her body was prickling with exhaustion, and she was just so sick of having to deal with this, with getting overdue bills in the mail, with holding up three jobs in order to barely meet the hospital payments every month, with everything. She sighed, her teeth grinding slightly as she tried to push down the urge to drive her fist into the wall.
She looked over her shoulder to see Sarah standing in the doorway, her arms hugging her skinny chest. There was a hideously large patch of blackened skin blooming over her right temple, and a pattern of smaller bruises down the side of her neck left from Noah's fingers. Joann knew there were a few more on her shoulders and back.
"Hey, sweetie. What's up?"
"Is Noah coming back?" Sarah's voice trembled a little, as did her shoulders.
Joann tried to smile comfortingly. "No. You don't need to worry about that. It won't happen again."
Sarah swallowed. "But...why isn't he coming back?"
"Honey, we can't have him live here if there's any chance he'd hurt someone."
The girl's lower lip trembled. "Would he come back if it was my fault?"
Joann's eyebrows snapped together, and she stood up. "What do you mean?"
"He wouldn't have hit me if I didn't do anything."
"Sarah, it wasn't your fault," Joann said firmly, crossing the room to wrap her daughter in a tight hug (well, as tight as possible without aggravating Sarah's bruises). "It was Noah's fault, and only Noah's fault. Okay?"
Sarah sniffled, but nodded, and Joann gave her a quick kiss on the top of her head. "You want Frosted Flakes for dinner?"
Once Sarah had gone back downstairs, Joann sighed and returned to packing Noah's bag. She began to dig through his closet in search of his one and only sweatshirt and found it on the floor beneath his no-longer-used letterman jacket. As she carelessly snatched it to throw it into the bag, there was a solid thunk as an object that had been wrapped in the sweatshirt fell out. Joann frowned and picked up a well-used and slightly worn notebook with no name or label of any sort on the cover. Thinking it might be something left over from when Noah was in school, she leafed through a couple pages, her eyes widening as she skimmed over sheets filled to the margins with disorganized scribblings running left, right, backwards, upside down, and in every other direction possible, in some cases even running straight off the page mid-word.
As her heart picked up speed slightly, Joann sat back on the edge of the bed, staring at the chaos in her hands. Noah's handwriting had gotten even messier and more jagged - some spots had holes in the paper where the pen had punched through - and Joann noticed that on some pages the penmanship turned from jagged to softer and more jumbled and then back again, and her heart climbed back into her throat when she realized that she was looking at physical evidence of the difference between when Noah was taking his medication and when he wasn't.
Words and snippets began to jump out at her as she turned the pages, as if announcing the most prominent parts of her son's broken mind.
I got to get out of here
my tongue is gone it left
i swearto god if she sticks me again ill KILL HER
why wont tyler leave me the fuck alone
ASSHOLES DAMN FUCKERS
shut up Shut up shut up shut up sut up shut up
im going to take my brain and throw it outthe window and bash my head through the glass
Why can i never remember wha
GET OFF ME
The words suddenly blurred, and Joann reached up to wipe her eyes with the back of her hand. The solid pages of nonsensical text were cut through with the occasional doodle - thick black lines like veins that wove back and forth between the words without forming any sort of picture. Joann took a deep breath and shut the book, tucking it under her arm as she carried the packed bag downstairs. She set the bag by the front door, then took the notebook into the kitchen, where she dropped it into the trash can before reaching into the fridge for a beer.