I’m mid-way through a sleeping pill situation as I walk in late to the staff meeting. I’m alert but my body feels like it’s been filled with invisible magic and my limbs are floaty and disorganized.
The twenty or so staff pause their conversation as I slow-motion drift through the room. Chairs line the four walls, forming a rough circle. I’m going right through the middle of the circle. I wave a hand around in an attempt to gesture “hello” to all of the people, all at once. It seems like the most efficient way to get the greeting part over with with. Also, it’s a nice sensation. My arm feels like a kite.
I select a chair, arrange myself into it and start rubbing my face. I say, “All right, very exciting. Meeting time. Let’s meet. How do we start this thing? Who goes?”
I clap my hands a few times. My mood plummets. I yawn, stand, walk over to the corner where a coffee deal is set up and make two cups that I carry back to my seat.
While I’m doing that, our supervisor, Marcy, clears her throat and says, “We were just discussing feedback from the inspection.”
“Good topic selection,” I say. “So good. Did we fail, though?”
“I was telling everyone that it went fine,” Marcy says, “Mostly fine. We always get dinged for something. This time it was the med fridge thermometers. Apparently we’re not using the right type of thermometer. It doesn’t really make a lot of sense. They’re the same ones we’ve had during every other inspection, but we need to change those out.”
The psych nurse, Tanya, says she will order the correct ones.
There’s a moment of quiet, so I say, “The thermometer topic has concluded. Other people say other things now. Let’s really keep this momentum going. I’m sorry I’m talking so much, Marcy. I know you’re trying to stick to an agenda here and I keep talking. I might be over doing the coffee.”
Marcy looks a little confused, but waves it off and asks a case manager about a particular client. The room is a mix of case managers and mental health paraprofessionals. I work the graveyard shift at a small psych unit on the edge of campus. I’m the least important person here. Nothing I say matters. It’s the only thing I like about this meeting.
I lose track of what people are saying. There are too many words happening.
My mind entertains itself by sorting through the room’s sensory palette. Hand slowly rubbing the arm rest on the chair, a green, scratchy feel. Six narrow bulbs recessed into the ceiling stab down at us. I close my eyes and sparks, six of them, drift away. I open and close my eyes repeatedly to get the sparks dancing. Look at them go.
I breathe in. The room smells like coffee and hair gel. There’s a vacuum somewhere, a small one, drilling away with air.
The people around me laugh and I fake laugh and Marcy begins talking to me, so I nod my head repeatedly in what I imagine to be a meeting kind of way. I think, “This is what people do in meetings.” My ears fail to catch her words. I don’t know how I’m going to survive this conversation. I start to sweat as my eyes intensely scrutinize numbers on the wall clock. I’ve only been in this room for four minutes. Marcy is still talking to me. My chest wants to open into a weird mouth and scream.
I look back at Marcy. Her voice makes a questioning sound. She stares at me. She waits.
Experimentally, I say, “All good” and I give a little thumbs up. Then I hold my breath. The “all good”/thumbs up deal seems to placate people most of the time. I use it constantly.
Marcy bristles and says, “I’m asking if you were able to do that.”
“Yes,” I tell her. “All done. All good.”
And then later, hopefully, I’ll puzzle out what we were discussing. I’ll just do a lot of things at work and hope one of them was the thing she had in mind. Anyway, I overtly change the topic.
To the group I say, “I do think we need to work out transportation for next week’s blood work. I know of four who need to get that done. If the case managers want a break, I can just take a group in the van. Do it all at once. And hey, guys, I’ll get to drive the big van.”
I’ve learned that staff are more likely to overlook a lot of my general dysfunction if I periodically volunteer to do grunt work.
Marcy writes in her notebook, says, “Okay, that’s out there. Anyone interested can contact you and work that out. Thank you. Let’s move on to the new client’s family situation. Has anyone met bio-dad yet?”
One door to the room is halfway open and invisible world detritus seeps in through it. I hear the conversation-halves of nearby secretaries on phones. Keyboards clicking in a military rhythm. I listen in a lower way and hear the ambient hum of building guts- the droning Star Trek sound. I shuffle my feet and look around. People are writing in notebooks and verbal pausing as Marcy goes through the room sounding staff out on various topics.
I smell sugar. I stand up, walk out of the meeting. I dart into a supply closet and stretch my limbs and breathe and close my eyes until the sparks grow dim. Then I go wandering around the building looking for the pastries.
I re-enter the meeting with a box of donuts. I eat two- they’re stale- then hold the box up, offering it to anyone, but people are too busy talking to notice. I cradle the box on my legs like a laptop computer and stare into it and think about pastry memories. The fried apple pies grandmother made. The intoxicating density of Greek pastries. That one time when I was nine or so and I lobbed a cinnamon roll into the top of the neighbor’s chimney. There were days like that. Weird days. Plural.
I laugh and a few staff look over, so I make a serious face and stare at the wall.
The words people say slowly turn into a staccato exchange, a call and answer that makes me think of birds. I listen along and pitch in verbal pauses and silences that hopefully convey a subtle attentiveness.
I stand up again and walk out. I can’t remember exactly which room I stole the donuts from, so I meander the halls and eventually stick the box on top of a random filing cabinet. Layers of disembodied voices funnel through the hallways, like passing ghosts. I wade through them and laugh at the out-of-context phrasing. Ringing phones, ambient hums, military clicking.
I go back to the meeting and pour additional coffee. I sit and rub my face and listen.
Someone tells a funny anecdote about a client. Multiple people have day-off requests. Someone is angry about a thing. The discussion turns factional. Briefly, things are tense. My head tennis-matches the conversation.
I want the universe to end.
Marcy says, “M, before we wrap up here, I wanted to say that I know how difficult it is for you to make these. You’re our day-sleeper, so afternoon meetings, that’s tough. I’ve been on your case about it, and I’m always grateful when you’re here. I want to strongly encourage you to continue to be at these meetings, okay? Once a month. That’s all I ask. This wasn’t too bad?”
“Oh, it’s all fine, Marcy. This is happening. I got the angry notes from HR, so I’m behaving now.”
After a bit more discussion, people stand and mill about and converse. I look straight ahead, avoid all of them and dart out of the room.
The hallways in this part of the building get tricky. They never seem to go in helpful directions. I roam around and wind up in a janitorial sort of space. I just see a lot of pipes and buckets now. Everything smells like window cleaner. I rub my nose and try a door…it opens on an obscure bit of parking lot that I never knew existed. I walk outside, circle the building for awhile, try to find my car.
At home, I shake the sleeping pill bottle, empty; the last one gone some time earlier that morning. I crawl into bed anyway and close my eyes.
Sparks punctuate the darkness.