“Here to see Ally again?” The old woman behind the front desk asks me. I nod and she types something into her computer. “Someone will be here to take you to her room in a moment,” she tells me and I nod. I sti down in one of the plush chairs. Sorrow erupts in my chest as I remember out last meeting the day before. How she would only respond to tnod and shake her head.
“Jason?” I look up to see one of the clinic nurses gesturing towards me. “Jason, she’s ready to see you now.”
As I walk down the hall I hear the panicked scream of another patient. One who make have lost her mind to the same degree as my Ally. Or maybe this one was only halfway there. I debate in my mind what I would rather have if I had a choie in the matter. Would I rather see the dead look in my best friends eyes every day when I go see her, or would I choose to see her scream at the unnamed horrors as they etch themselves in her vision.
We pass through long stretches of hallway, and as usual I wish I were anywhere but here. I miss the old days, when visiting my childhood sweetheart meant laughter and play time. As I walk through the hallways, I see men and women who have been there ever since I first started coming to see Ally.
“Hey honey! Come to see your little wife again?” asks an elderly woman who I know to be Chandra. “Why don’t you come here and have some fun with me instead, sweet-heart?” I don’t bother to remind Chandra that we’re not married, and I know to ignore her final comment. Ever since I forist came here, I’ve leanred to get used to commetns like that from people who you think would know better, until you remember where they are.
I stay close to the nurse that guides me, even though I know where I am going. I don’t want to rfeel alone in this place; to be lost and lose myself. We walked until we enter a different ward that I know is used for those who can’t handle to be by themselves anymore. It’s for those who they think need constant care. The staff members who care for Alley say that in her case, it’s more to make sure that the other patients can’t get to her. I still remember hearing Natalia, her old roommate, saying that people who entered this war never left, because they never recovered. I didn’t want to hear it then. I denied every word. Now I know the disheartening truth.
We approach her room and my legs can’t decide whether to turn to jelly or rush to a sprint when I see the name ‘Alexandra Shaw’ on the outside of the room. The nurse who accompanies me pulls out a key and unlocks the room, allowing me enter unaccompanied, which is a relief compared to when I first started coming to visit her. In those days, someone had to sit in on every reunion, taking notes on everything she did.
The room we enter is all white, with the exception of a long light blue visitor’s bench again one wall, and a long panel of glass that I know to be a one-way mirror. It always gives me a chill when I realize that someone is constantly watching us through there. There is no single moment that we have to ourselves.
Ally is dressed in a white robe, and her once warm brown eyes have a vacant look in them. Ally she can do when I enter is lift her head. I almost see something jump in her at the sight of me. There is a faint flicker of the old Alley there and I feel a faint glimmer of hope that maybe it’s not over. As soon as the expression reaches her eyes, however, it’s extinguished and I fall into a pit of despair again. It’s been like this every time I’m here. She’ll recognize me, she’ll appear to be happy for the one moment, and as that moment ends, she goes back into a daze.
Her body is the color of new fallen snow, and as usual it’s apparent that she hasn’t been outside in months. I tried convincing her care-takers that she need to be outside once, and it worked. Everything when smoothly until Ally stopped walking. She had lost her will to be outside, to even participate in normal activities. The machinery sitting in one corner of her room reminds me of that time when she lost her will to live. Then, they started pumping food into her stomach. At first, she had resisted, and I was there to comfort her, but not she is as much a zombie then as she is the rest of the day.
“Hey there, Ally,” I call out to her, as a I take seat on her bed, where she’s already sitting. She looks up again and only barely gives me a sad smile. “How are you?” I ask, though I know she won’t answer. I will never be able to explain why this is the first thing I say to her every day. I know her routine well enough. I also know that she won’t answer. Even so, I reach I reach to feel the old fire she had, and then I fall into an icy numb when I realize I can’t.
I sit with her and ask her yes or not questions about how she feels today. She doesn’t respond, and I have to work to hold back tears when the cold realization that I’ve lost her stabs me in the chest for what isn’t the first, and won’t be the last time. She is essentially a living corpse with her white robe, and ribs showing under her pale skin. We sit in silence together, and slowly her eyes appear to grow heavier and heavier. Dr. Lace once told me that the only time she didn’t resist sleep was when I was there, which I never quite understood. After all, what would prevent her from sleeping? And what does she do every day during the day if she’s not asleep? I’ll never know.
I hold her in my arms and whisper pleasant things to her until her eyes close. I give her hand a slight stroke, the way her mother used to. I remember how her mom clung to her when she first became ill. She blamed herself, and I can’t pretend I don’t understand why. As it is now, her mom isn’t able to come see her every day, and I know tonight I will call to update her, even if there isn’t anything to say.
When she has been asleep for ten minutes, a nurse comes into get me. Gently, I move her so she’s no longer cradled on my lap. I lay her down in her bed, and tuck her in, the way her mom once did when we were young. Before I leave, I give her hair once final stroke and a pang of loss hits me when I realize she only looks how the way I remember her when she’s sleeping. “Goodbye Ally,” I whisper.
I follow the nurse down the halls of the institution and try to remember why I continue to hold onto her when I know she’s already gone and dead to the world.
Something in me knows that I will never really be able to leave her. I will cling to her until her body catches up to her current state, and she falls asleep for the last time. As I walk out of the home that keeps her, I let tears fall down my cheeks as I mourn my best friend, my still-breathing corpse.