I'd Love to See Inside Your Mind (And Tear It All Apart)
Your name is Fred Bonaparte and you've been working in Thorney Towers for quite some time. You've gotten to know the patients, you've set up almost familial bonds with the other staffers, you've learned to like your job out on this little rock in the middle of a lake. You knew some of them had anger issues, some violent action, some incredible paranoia. You'd dealt with it all before.
You knew how to disarm patients with quiet words and genuine listening, you knew how much they suffered, you knew the stigmas against them and you had a pretty good understanding of where they'd come from. But there were some who baffled you. There was an actress who had violent reactions when not around bright lights, which was startling to say the least. There was an artist who was too strong for his own good, obsessed with bullfights and cursing them in the same breath. There was a dentist who was just downright sadistic, playing mind games when they would let him and putting on a pleasant, downright friendly façade when they wouldn't.
But you only saw these names in passing, you were mainly in charge of helping the more stable patients around. Your relationship with everyone aside, you were still "the newbie", the team baby, picking up the slack when others were more invested in the harder and more taxing cases. You were more than happy to help sort medication and file paperwork, and you did it with the most careful, scrutinizing eye ever. A single slipup could cause important information not to be found or a patient to get violently ill – or worse, relapse.
You took pride in your job and you loved it because of how quietly and subtly important it was to keep the Home running and operating smoothly.
When they asked you to take on a patient, though, you couldn't help the bubble of excitement rising in the back of your mind. Heck yeah, you would take on another, more than routine 'Hi, how you doing?'s, this was something exciting.
You glanced down at the file they handed you and felt your heart leap into your throat. The name, clear as day, read "Crispin Whytehead". Oh, how you remembered that name. How did he get here? You glanced down the page concernedly, reading 'danger to society' and 'vegetative state'.
They hadn't gotten him to respond to anyone for the few months they'd had him there? He was obviously aware, you read, since he was able to take meals and drink for himself, he would merely shut down when there were other people in the room. They'd watched him through one-sided glass come to life as if breaking through the thick film of nonresponse, feeling his way around gently with his bare feet and making it to the table where they'd put a paper cup of water and some simple, soft things.
The report read that he had been impressive with his ability to manipulate the paper plate they had left, especially with his supposed blindness (You would correct them later, yes, he was blinded) and lack of arm usage. When they'd come to pick it up afterwards, he fell back into almost a trance, staring at the wall and acting like a limp rag doll when the orderlies helped him into a wheelchair to go back to his padded cell.
"Gosh," is all you'd been able to say, after giving the files a once-over and agreeing to meet the man. When you arrived to his cell, you were shocked to see his condition. He'd always had long hair, but now it had thinned and become oily. He looked gaunt, his lips puffy from having been chewed, his eyes – oh god, those eyes, you still remembered them so sharp – staring blankly at the padded wall in front of him.
"Hey, Crispin," you started, but your voice seemed weak to your ears and silent to his. You let a full minute pass, counting your heartbeat and pacing your breath, and you noticed you couldn't hear his own even though his chest was rising and falling. He was always so quiet. You remembered how he used to show up out of seemingly nowhere, all quiet words and responses to tough questions that made a man feel so stupid in comparison.
"It's Fred. Fred Bonaparte. I usually don't tell patients my last name, but-" You cut yourself off with a strangled squeak as you saw him blink and focus those dead eyes on you, right where your voice was coming from. You wondered if he even gave the other orderlies a glance. "I, uh, I usually don't. But since, you know…"
He hadn't moved otherwise, but the sign of some thought stirred with a louder-than-average huff.
You decided it would be good to sit on the floor with him, to bring yourself closer. He had even more trouble seeing the further away something was (you thought that was being "nearsighted" but you could never tell the difference between that and farsighted) and compared to your relative positions, your head was really far away. "So, uh, I was wondering if maybe you'd like to-"
"I never thought I'd hear that name again."
Your thoughts stopped dead in their tracks as Crispin gave you a once-over in that oddly calculating way he had, but you didn't feel any fear. Just excitement. Imagine that! You, the new guy, got an unresponsive patient to actually speak to you!
"It's been a while, huh?"
"I'd still recognize the nose anywhere."
For the first time in a long time (Wow, had it REALLY been that long?), you laughed. It was a genuine laugh, bubbling up from somewhere in your gut and fighting its way to the surface. Already you felt calmer, more at ease with the gaunt man in front of you. And judging by the ever-so-slight smile on his face, the lightening of the creases in his brow, he was feeling better too.
This was what you lived for.
A few weeks in and Crispin had become your confidant. You'd been talking to him on a daily basis – some days he's more chatty than others, sometimes he's content to sit and listen to you babble about this and that. That was one thing you always admired about Crispin, he was a great listener.
One day you came in and plopped yourself down next to him on the padded floor and he was the one to initiate the conversation, unseeing gaze toward the door. "You know, a lot of you aren't very good at your job." You ask what he meant and he shook his head, lapsing into silence for a while. You know by now that it's a good idea to shut up when he's turning that big old brain over in his head, thinking of what next to continue the conversation with. And even though it lasts a few minutes, the silence isn't an uncomfortable one.
"They don't listen," Crispin finally said. It had a certain weight to it, a heaviness of confession. "Of course, they never listen to the crazy ones. Or perhaps it's just me."
You started to protest a little, gently prodding, treading lightly on the ground of his unresponsiveness when the other doctors or orderlies tried to get him to speak, and Crispin just shook his head again.
"I don't mean listening to me, Fred. I mean the others here. They never listen to them."
"A tortured artist, screaming within the confines of a blank white cell. No creative expression, nothing to break through his bullfighting block. Give him enough time and he'll start painting the walls in his own blood, no matter how calm he is on the surface." Crispin leaned against the wall, using the force to push himself up and begin pacing. "Put Edgar Teglee in art therapy. Suggest it to one of your colleagues. Say you came up with it all by your lonesome, they'd never believe a madman would know what would benefit another madman."
"I'll suggest it, definitely," you agree, and the conversation switches to another topic, and another, and another until it's time for you to leave. You give Crispin a smile and a wave goodbye as you shut the door- he had mentioned appreciating the gestures, even if he couldn't see them- and go back to your business.
Another week passed. Edgar was put into art therapy with your tentative suggestion and a few days later began showing signs of improvement. His unstoppable rage was now, at least, channeled into paintings rather than other people. He no longer looked like a wild bull, taming his wild mane into a distinguished beard and moustache with a few streaks of grey through it. He drew and painted what you could only describe as masterpieces - of himself, of the other patients, of the doctors - but the spirit of the bullfight still captivated him.
"It will come with time," you found yourself repeating, Crispin's words becoming your own. He always knew so much, knew how to get right to the center, the heart of the problem, and make tiny adjustments just-so. You supposed that was why he was so good with strategy games. He analyzed everything, chewed it over carefully before making any sort of move. It was the kind of intelligence you admired more than you'd like to admit.
You tell Crispin the news and he responds with a nod, a pleased and self-important smile. Yes, yes, he knew it. You ask HOW he knew it, the questions burning up inside of you, and he merely responds that "People will say a lot of things when they think you don't hear them". Oh. OH.
Crispin had been recently introduced to the common room for an hour and a half each day. The doctors said it was in an attempt to see if he'd socialize with anyone other than them, anyone other than you. He didn't, spending the time quietly sitting at a table and seeming to drown everything else out. Oh, he was a sly dog! The time spent idly sitting in his wheelchair was actually spent in passive observation, watching the commotion around him as just another object, a fixture in the room. People, patients, said things around him – to each other and to themselves. He was able to pick up on Edgar's art block and the beginning of a reason behind his rage ("Scorned lovers," Crispin said, "From his high school days").
The blind man was able to see what nobody else in the damned asylum could, and he would only tell it to you.
He saw that there was a pattern behind the fallen star's madness, how she screamed and clawed at the walls until her fingers bled when it was dark out, how she was sweet and caring when they were in decent light (He said that she'd tried to get him to draw with her once and that failed, but she just gave a gracious smile and said that she would figure 'Crispy' out some time soon. You snickered at the pet name she gave him). He suggested a night light for her to help quell the violence in mood and action.
Once Gloria's room was illuminated, most of her nightly fits subsided. She was able to rest well and seemed even more cheerful than before. You suggested to her, as an aside, to challenge Crispin to a game of tic-tac-toe and she chirped about how wonderful an idea that was.
The next day, Crispin had lined his cell with his spoils: At least twenty sheets of paper, each covered with tic-tac-toe boards with Crispin's shaky crayon Xs and Gloria's swirly pen Os. There was, invariably, a line across each game that signified the X superiority.
Gloria didn't challenge him to any more games after that, but her sunny attitude toward the man didn't change. If anything, she felt her losing only made their bond (invisible to all but her) stronger.
Now Boyd, Boyd was a tough one to crack by even Crispin's standards. He spent his days writing on the walls, wearing chalk down to tiny nubs between his fingers. Names, faces, political and foreign and mundane. He was building a web in his mind, how everything connected to something, some big picture you didn't see, and he would fill an entire wall within a few days and a ream of paper in one. You'd actually gone and asked Crispin for advice on this one while you played hacky sack with him (How he kept track of the ball, you didn't know. Until he explained that it was a dark ball in contrast to an offwhite floor.) He responded that there was no real advice he could give without talking to the man, trying to get on his good side, speaking in the manner only two insane people could share. You said you'd try to set up a meeting for them, somewhere quiet, with lots of paper for board games and conspiracy theories between the two of them and Crispin hesitated with the ball carefully balanced on one foot.
"Hey, it won't be bad to talk to someone else," you reassured him, "You and Gloria get along well, don't you? Even if it's only on the basis of Tic-Tac-Toe."
He shifted the ball to the other foot, looking up at you instead. For once, there was a moment of unsurity written across his face, but then he finally nodded.
"Think fast," he said, and the ball came flying in your direction.
You remembered how you met Crispin, all those years ago, and he was that shy kid who sat in the back corner of class, seemed to wear long sleeves even when the days turned to Summer, and always answered the teacher's questions clearly and concisely, sometimes using terminology nobody had ever heard before. He was the straight-A breeze-through-high-school kind of guy, the perfect picture of a nerdy introvert. You, on the other hand, managed average grades. You were pretty good at Football (Er, soccer) and really tall, but it wasn't like you were some kind of super cool kid.
But you'd asked Crispin for help with your English homework and he'd been there for you, encouraging the mind that wanted to learn. Under his tutelage, things started making sense. He had a love for reading that burned deep and he could see things nobody else in the class did.
And that's why it was so tragic when their chemistry class had their little accident.
Okay, maybe it wasn't too much of an accident.
Crispin had always been nearsighted and the safety goggles didn't fit over the large cokebottle glasses he had to wear. When he took them off to be able to read directions, maybe nobody expected he would be bumped. Maybe nobody saw the hydrochloric acid splash onto his face and into his eyes. All you knew was that it'd been quiet one moment and a commotion the next, Crispin frantically dunking his head into the eye wash and the professor ordering the rest of the kids outside.
Maybe you only caught a glimpse of a grin on the face of your soccer mate.
When Crispin had finally gotten discharged from the hospital, he had given up on wearing his glasses. He couldn't see much anymore anyway. His muscle memory was okay, so he was able to take notes using a laptop and print them out in a large font to study with. Eventually the chemical burns on his forehead healed. Eventually he was able to regain the slightest bit of sight.
For the most part, though, he shut himself away even further. You took it upon yourself, you reached out to him again and this time it was to help instead of asking for it. You took the time to type up your notes and print them for him, you would read him the assigned chapter or pages to be read, you stuck near him to help him get around.
You always marveled at how Crispin didn't have too much trouble re-memorizing the layout. He nudged forward with his toes first, feeling out any obstacles in front of him. He counted out the stairs, memorizing them, climbing up and down with ease when the need arose. He ran a hand along the wall as he walked, feeling the space or lack thereof as an indication to turn.
He recognized you for your voice, your bumbling manner, but instead of calling you out on being a wimp, he greeted you by squinting upward at your face and saying "Fred, I'd recognize that nose anywhere."
You admired him.
When you went off on your separate ways, you never really expected to run into him again. Especially not here. You went into psychology, he went off on some quest to better himself, and that was that. He wasn't supposed to end up as your patient, he wasn't supposed to be largely catatonic, it just didn't happen.
But it did happen. You figured you were glad to see him again, just… Not for this reason.
Something about this entire deal struck you as funny, though. There was just something about the warning "danger to society" on his file. Nah, that wasn't good old Crispin Whytehead. He was just too shy to socialize or something. He always had been quiet. Always.
You approached the subject gently, when you did approach it. You and Crispin had finished your game of hacky sack and sat back down on the floor together, you asked about his life, what led him here. He grinned and it was the first time you'd seen him smile so wide. There was something a little unsettling to it. "Oh, I was just choosing to solve two large world issues at the same time."
"What were those?"
"Overpopulation," he stated, "And world hunger."
It took a moment for that to sink in. And then you wanted to wretch.
"You don't mean…"
"Of course I do. It's a perfect solution, if handled properly and carefully. They just happened to find the bones…" He trailed off. He must have seen the horror on your face. Or felt it emanating from you.
"I should go."
Crispin's smile had turned into one of a predator, but he sat back against the padded wall of the cell casually. "Why do you think, Fred, that they don't let me out of this straightjacket?"
"Goodbye, Crispin." Your voice was kept carefully flat.
"Have a nice night," he returned, but you could tell that he was silently laughing, laughing, laughing.
Since then, your visits were much shorter. He was still the same Crispin you knew, but something had changed, something you just couldn't handle. And he slowly, slowly, withdrew further into himself. Until he was blank again, even to you. You couldn't handle that. Being around him was sickening, but being away from him made him begin to relapse, to show even more signs of his catatonic states. He would wake up a little around Boyd, but for the most part…
No, you'd had the guilt of losing Crispin (Or, at the very least, his sight) for far too long. You weren't going to lose his mind, too, not when it was entrusted to your care.
You went home one night and dug out a board game. It was an old favourite, anyway, and you knew how Chris loved strategy games. His Tic-Tac-Toe with Gloria, connect-the-dots with Boyd… And now Waterloo-O with you.
Returning the next day, you wheeled Crispin out into the common room to give him a little fresh air and you explained the rules of the game, how one was the defender and one attacked, and he studied the board as best he could with his dead eyes. Once he glanced back up to you, you let him choose: Attack or defend?
He chose to attack, using a plastic spoon clenched between his teeth to move the pieces.
You didn't know how, but his strategy was flawless. He won the first time. And the second. And the third. The two of you drew a small crowd.
You were on your tenth game before you were tugging at your collar in discomfort, glancing at the scoreboard Boyd had been keeping on the wall. Ten to zip.
"I think it's time we head in, huh? We can play more tomorrow."
"Getting tired, General Bonaparte?" Crispin asked around his spoon, drawing a few gasps from the assembled patients. It had been the first time they heard Crispin talk, you figured that was something to gasp about. The defeats had still left a bitter taste in your mouth.
"Yeah, I am," you admit, and pack up the game and pieces and Crispin's spoon to wheel him back to his room.
The next day, Crispin's score almost tripled.
By the twenty-seventh game, you were outraged. How dare he beat you so soundly at your own game? How dare he defeat the man who had lived through these battles himself, who had fought and shed the same blood and tears-
Huh? You looked up and into the mirror in the bathroom you had excused yourself to [since your hands had started to shake – you knew that it wasn't good to leave the patients to their own devices but something inside of you had come loose and you were trying choke down panic] to find a picture of yourself dressed up in stupid Napoleonic dress, complete with the characteristic oversized hat.
Wait, that wasn't a picture.
'How dare that cretin!' the you in the mirror screeched, pointing an accusing finger, 'And how dare you for giving up and letting him win!'
"I didn't give up," you argued, feeling silly for talking to a person in the mirror that most markedly wasn't yourself. You worked here, you weren't one of the patients. Hallucinations happened to them, not the orderlies. It was the patients here who needed to be talked down from their manias, the patients who saw people speaking to them in mirrors, who saw their own faces bearing unfriendly smiles, felt the grip of hands around their throats and the screaming of 'I will beat the fighting spirit into you, boy!' in a ridiculously fake French accent. It wasn't you. But your head hurt a lot, anyway. You felt as if a game of Waterloo-O were going on inside of there, all of the plastic pieces gaining life and fighting to the death and you were there, fighting against yourself-
Somewhere, faintly, you were aware that Crispin was smiling as they forced you into a straightjacket so you wouldn't hurt yourself. He always won these kinds of strategy games. This one was just held up to some very high stakes.
And you lost.
As you passed in the halls, you with your escort and him in his wheelchair, you could have sworn you heard him whisper "Want to play again, general?"