The Captive Audience
2011 Essay Contest-Adult Honorable Mention
The woman in the white coat was staring at me, her pen poised on her clipboard. “Why today? What triggered this?” I didn’t know what to say, and my throat felt so raw from when they pumped my stomach, I wasn’t sure my voice would even work. Should I tell her the truth, that I couldn’t face another day hiding in my office, instructing my secretary to hold all calls while I pretended to review deposition transcripts? That for weeks on end, I had been unable to sleep and could not stay awake, floating through the days in a Starbucks-fueled purgatory. That my social sphere had narrowed to my mother, who now dropped by every night, babbling about her acting class, her latest court filing against her ex-husband, and her newest strategy for getting her dog to pee outside. “How are you really?” she’d finally ask, and we’d call it a night on what we both knew was a lie.
The woman in the white coat seemed sincere enough. I didn’t know what to say but wanted to say something. “Why today, why today?” The question reverberated in my head. “I didn’t want to go to work today, that’s all it was,” I heard myself say, my voice a raspy whisper. Wrong answer, I could tell by the tight line of her lips. She took a moment, waiting to see if I was done explaining myself. And then, I learned I was going to a hospital because I was too unpredictable for outpatient treatment. She wished me well.
Hours later, my second ambulance ride behind me, I was now official, with a plastic hospital band affixed to my wrist. I wasn’t sorry to be locked up, but was haunted by the question, “Why today, why at all?” I was waiting for my visitor – I knew who it would be. A nurse in a bright smock was behind the glass, watching me and a 20-something girl with a snake tattoo on her neck, a drug rehab case I later learned.
When my mother entered the visitors’ room, the silence broke. Her hands fluttering, she assured me that she’d “get me out” in no time, that it was just a bad spell and would pass. And then, it dawned on her: I might not get out in time for her final scene night at the acting studio. “You’ll miss my Lady Macbeth,” she cried, for the first time realizing the gravity of the situation. But my mother is nothing if not resourceful. “I’ll do it here, now. There’s plenty of room and I’ve got an audience.” And so she did. As my mother pranced and careened before me, tattoo girl, and the nurse, I finally broke through the flatness. “Out, damned spot!” my mother shouted, pantomiming knife thrusts as the alarmed nurse reached for her phone. I now knew “why,” and, with a welling of tears, I understood what it would take to get me better.
Terri Scadron lives in Silver Spring.