My name is Cassidy Aarons and I live at 793 Willard Avenue, apartment number thirty-three. I am twenty-seven years of age, Caucasian, and completed a Master’s degree at Columbia University in the year 2007. I have a six year old son named Dayton whom I have not seen in several weeks.

I do not know where this document will travel or into whose hands it will fall, but my only options now, I fear, are to either surrender and let this go unwritten or to leave this last testimony to reach the eyes of the public. It may not go so far. I suppose I have yielded enough to realize that nothing is within the realm of my control anymore. Nothing except the dominion of my brain over my nerves; neurons firing off in smooth and practiced order to manipulate my fingers over this keyboard.

At this very moment, it is quite probable that, while there is no warrant for my arrest, while I have committed no civil or felonious crimes, agents of the FBI or NSA or some other agency are waiting outside my apartment to apprehend me. Don’t ask me why they don’t knock on the door or simply burst inside like in the movies; I don’t know.

When I took my job at the psychiatric care clinic, it was with the sense of utmost resignation that most parents are familiar with. Although my specialty in college was with pediatrics and I would have rather spent my sixty hours per week in the children’s cancer ward passing out medication and teddy bears, in light of my recent divorce, I took the job that was best for my son. The hours were static and the pay was just exceptional enough to push that last bit of selfishness from me. I needed to be there for Dayton when he got home from school and I didn’t want to tear him away from the sort of lifestyle he was accustomed to when his parents could still stand one another. In spite of my less than lacking interest in changing bedpans for patients that shouted endlessly about figures that weren’t there, I accepted St. Josephine’s offer and clocked in for the first time on September 23, 2011.

Like any hospital of its nature, St. Josephine was divided into different wards that graduated according to the severity of its patients’ cases. Ward one was for self-admitted patients, ward two was for patients dealing with chronic issues that made them unfit for functioning in society, etc. My credentials and experience coupled with simple demand moved me directly into the second ward, where I passed out pills from behind bullet-proof plexiglass for some time before I could bear to even listen to the patients. I punched in, did my duties, and punched out according to the same schedule every single day without my heart in my work. Within six weeks, I was crying in the shower every morning and ready to quit. Something had to give. It was either change something or quit my job and put myself and my son through hell while facing the constant accusations directed by my ex-husband and his family regarding the quality of my parenting and decisions.

The only choice I would allow myself, for the good of my family, was to stop going into work with a closed mind. I had to make this career work for myself, even if it wasn’t exactly what I had chosen. After letting the past month get the best of me, I walked into work around the beginning of November with a smile on my face, just as though I were still trying to brighten up the oncology center. It became difficult for me not to get too attached in some cases. And they all noticed. Almost all, I should say. Due to the range of mental illnesses present in the second ward, some of the more paranoid patients were reluctant to warm up to me, and Bethany certainly more than any of the rest.

I’ve thought long and hard about this, but considering the path my life is no doubt about to take, I don’t guess that HIPAA policies are all that important. There is a magic behind her very name that foreshadows every single event that has led my life to this point. Bethany Fauber-Moon. It was against protocol to dig around in patients’ files simply to learn how sick their case was, but I knew from her medications that Bethany was being treated for severe anxiety, paranoid delusions, and mild depression. From what I could understand, none of the other nurses were all that certain just what her diagnosis or diagnoses could have been, either. Unlike other long-term patients, Bethany did not share a room, Bethany did not eat in the highly-sanitized cafeteria, and, what was most perplexing to me, Bethany did not take her medicines in line with the other patients. One of the other nurses or myself would come to her small bedroom with a tray loaded with tiny plastic cups filled to the brim with colorful tablets.

When faced with the repetitive activities of a mundane career, it becomes easy to gain a focus on the unusual aspects of one’s day. I don’t really know how to explain it other than that. I guess you could also say that I was determined to get some kind of response or attention out of Bethany, because even months after I started putting my all into my work again, she still had not spoken a word to me. I made more and more of a point to be kind to Bethany and try to engage her in conversation. I brought her Hello Kitty stickers, Pocky sticks, and glitter crayons, the kinds of things her mother brought her on Tuesday afternoons. Occasionally the nineteen year old would silently present me with a stiff smile and crude drawing torn from the rough pages of her little sketch pad, but Bethany never made eye contact. I would tape the pictures up on the inside of the plexiglass of nurse’s station facing inward without ever really analyzing what they could have meant for Bethany. I simply assumed that they were quick little scribbles out of polite obligation.

It wasn’t until I had accumulated five, maybe six or seven drawings that I eventually noticed a pattern. I was sitting at the stool in my station listening to a very concerned Bancini demand to know why his Trazodone dosage had been decreased from two hundred to one hundred-fifty milligrams when I just so happened to look over and notice the curious amount of a certain shade of blue Bethany used in each of her drawings. Mostly the pictures were just a random assortment of shapes and impressions I always thought were a result of the heavy anti-psychotics dispensed to her every day, but it was that royal navy shade that really struck me. Sorry, I said to the patient on the other side of that bullet-proof material, that’s for the Doc to decide, and I never took my eyes off of that middle ‘O’ on the second drawing. I began to wonder more about the peculiar things.

Come around February, Bethany’s peculiar visits home began to extend from one evening to three or four away from the facility. Not a single word was mentioned about the patch of missing hair on the side of Bethany’s head when she returned one Thursday morning, dropped off by her mother. I asked one of the psychiatrists on hand about the spot of alopecia and he merely shrugged and surmised that the stress of adjusting and readjusting to different environments constantly probably induced a mild case of trichotillomania, and perhaps he’d note that on her file later. This was the first time I was truly disturbed by something in that hospital, and I am sorry to say that it did not end there.

Following that conversation with Dr. Verger, I intercepted Rosemary on her way to Bethany’s room to dispense her morning cocktail of medications and asked her if she wouldn’t mind checking in on one of the elderly patients down the hall. I knocked on the door to announce myself and found Bethany sitting on her bed, holding the raggedy doll that had been her constant companion since childhood.

“Good morning, Bethany,” I greeted her, setting down the tray on her bedside table. She clutched Lucille to her chest a little more tightly. “Do you need some water, some juice?” I noticed then that the bald spot on Bethany’s head actually sported uniform-length new growth hair, absolutely inconsistent with Dr. Verger’s theory of patchy, uneven trichotillomania.

Bethany’s eyes made it all the way up to my nose before darting to the floor again. “Did you know. . .”

“What’s that?” I asked, completely shocked by the sound of this young woman’s voice. “You’re mumbling, honey. Can you speak up for me, please?”

“Lucille and I don’t like the absence,” Bethany had this habit of licking her lips that drove me insane. Her lips were always so badly chapped. It reminded me of Dayton when he was a toddler, licking his lips until he cried from them cracking and bleeding.

“What do you mean, sweetie?” I asked in my most obliging tone. “Here, drink up and take your medicine.”

Bethany, ever-terrified of disappointing an authority figure, swallowed down every last pill and every last drop of water offered to her.

“Up there,” Bethany pointed to the ceiling. “It’s the absence. Lucille and I don’t like it there.”

“Bethany, you don’t spend any time in the upper wards,” I explained to her slowly. “Those are for different kinds of cases than what you’re here for. All of your care and treatment is taken care of here, on the second floor.”

Those warm brown eyes widened and my own heart trembled in pity for the fear written across her face. “No,” she whispered. “Not up there. Above it all.”

I opened my mouth to respond, but another nurse knocked on the door and summoned Bethany to the eleven-thirty therapy session in the green room, the only group activity Bethany attended.

“I know you know,” Bethany said to her worn pink rug before exiting the room, her doll still flush against her chest. Rosemary stood at the door, watching me for just a second, and then walked away.

Bethany did not speak to me again for almost two weeks. I knew that the time I was focusing onto this particular case detracted my attention from other patients and thereby the quality of my work, so I did what I could to compensate and escape notice. I thought about what Bethany said to me, those few words ever transacted between us, at least a few times throughout the course of my daily life, though usually more. I dreamt of it. My stomach seemed to pull when that strange and cracked voice would over and over again tell me that she ‘knew that I knew’. I could feel the insidious sort of tension in my back and my chest as the strength left my legs. There simply had to be more to this case than the others, and truthfully it frightened me. Things just weren’t adding up. Why was Bethany so fixated on pleasing those for whom she was a charge? Why was Bethany isolated? What about such a harmless patient, who so diligently swallowed any pill put before her, deemed it necessary for her to be removed from her peers and even from the facility at such unorthodox intervals? Why was she now required to take so many vitamins every day? Why was there so much mystery, and in some cases blatant lies, about Bethany’s medical needs and diagnoses? And what could I have possibly been privy to, which I of course wasn’t, that so thwarted the evanescent trust she had in me that she cowered and trembled in my presence for days after our brief conversation? Why was a person locked into a medium-security facility with barred windows and high clearances so very afraid?

I spoke earlier about my reluctance to work with persons so afraid of imaginary figures, and I indeed did work with patients that swatted at their delusions and shouted in fear until a lovely dose of medication entered their systems and a nice orderly took them to their rooms. The fear that I saw in Bethany throughout my employment at St. Josephine’s was. . .a different beast. It wasn’t the same kind of look that Bancini had whenever he talked about the mines and the things he thought he’d seen there. It was nothing like Mrs. Miller’s obsessive terror at Jay Leno allegedly sneaking into her house at night. What I could see in Bethany’s eyes was what I had seen in the children’s cancer ward. I could never forget the way they would hold my hand and stare up at my face while we wheeled them into various rooms for more needles, more radiation, more testing. It was just exactly like that, actually. Bethany was like a child with leukemia, too tired to put up a brave front any longer.

I know I need to speed this up and move things along now. There are just so many little things that come to me now that I’m finally doing this. I feel so free now, even though I am so incarcerated by my actions in what I thought was doing the right thing. But Bethany deserves to have her story told, and now she is unable to do so for herself. Perhaps she never was able.

As unnerved as I was by the questions and secrecy surrounding Bethany Fauber-Moon, it was impossible to just let the issue go. I watched as my fellow staff members floated in apathetic disinterest, though they must know at least as much as I did about the unique nature of Bethany’s case, if not more. I didn’t understand how they could ignore the situation when there was something obviously quite wrong, almost sinister, going on in our ward. I began asking questions to select orderlies and nurses, but never the doctors. A few would chat about what a sweet girl Bethany was, what pretty chestnut brown hair she had, but the conversation was never allowed to go much further.

“You know,” Rodriguez said to me after I mentioned the strange drawings to him, “we’re not supposed to discuss patient cases and their therapy. We’re here to help them, not gossip about them. You should focus more on your job and less on your obsession with Ms. Moon.”

That was probably the most aggressive response I got. Most of my colleagues would let the subject drop awkwardly or simply shrug my concerns and questions off. I was therefore able to justify the most questionable of my own actions based upon their silence. At approximately three o’clock on the afternoon of February 13th, 2012, I attempted to access the files of Bethany Fauber-Moon in the mainframe of St. Josephine’s computer database, and after that occurrence, there was simply no chance of ceasing my growing obsession. I don’t know what I was expecting to pull up when I logged into Planning Plus, honestly — maybe some sort of relation between herself and a member of the board of directors from the hospital, something not necessarily so insidious that someone might want to hide. I typed in her full name, her birth date, even some of the medications prescribed to her — Trazodone, Seroquel, things of that nature — and nothing. Not a single file, not a single patient matched with the person I knew currently sat in room eleven on the second hall of ward two, a doll clutched to her chest, a pink clip in her hair.

Like I said, there was simply no going back. Rosemary came into the nurse’s station then and I had to close out of the program before I was noticed digging around for a patient’s file.

“Whose turn is it to pick up lunch?” she asked. Her perfectly-white Keds clopped around the hard floor on her way to the age-old printer. “I think it’s Christine’s turn. Do you want some Chinese food? I could kill for an egg roll right about now.”

“No, not really,” I told her. I removed my little Lunchable from the mini-fridge. “I promised Bethany a little lunch date. Watch the front for me?”

I didn’t wait for an answer, of course, but she didn’t come after me. My chest was burning from the tension balanced over my ribcage. I needed to see her face. Though I’d distributed countless doses of medication and carried in umpteen lunch trays to her room, she wasn’t in the system, and my mind was just in a fragile enough state to need confirmation that she existed. Time seemed to slow to an excruciating pace with every step that I took, and I could hardly breathe anymore when I reached out and touched her doorknob. The metal was warm. “Bethany?”

Inside, there she sat on her bed, combing through Lucille’s hair. She was looking at me again, my cheek, my forehead, my chin, and she was smiling. “See her hair?”

I nodded. “Can I sit down at your table?”

“Yes, I think so.” Bethany cleared her throat. “Lucille’s hair is still nice and pretty. It’s even shinier than usual. I’ve been trying to brush her twice every day. They say that distributes the oils in your scalp more evenly to keep your hair healthy.” Her hand sheepishly went to cover the spot that was still bare on her own scalp. “My hair. . .”

“Oh, I think your hair is still gorgeous, Bethany. So thick and long. I wish I could stand to grow my own out. I spend too much time chasing after my patients and my little boy to worry about my hair, though.” I tried prying apart that damn block of processed cheese that comes smelling of plastic in standard Lunchable trays. “I’ve kept mine short for years. Have you thought about cutting your hair?”

Bethany shook her head insistently. “Cut it more? I don’t think so, Ms. Aarons.”

“Is that what you’ve been doing with your hair, Bethany? Cutting it there?” I touched my own scalp where hers was obviously shorn. The other staff members maintained that she had been pulling her hair out all this time, but that made no sense even given the physical evidence to the contrary. Trichs didn’t tend to remain in one particular spot on their heads, and especially not such small patches. It couldn’t have been much larger than a silver dollar sized section on her scalp.

“Not me, I don’t do it!” Bethany exclaimed, looking at me just like my own child when he denied taking a twenty dollar bill from my purse.

“Okay, honey. Would you like this Oreo? Come and eat your tray and let’s chat.”

“I swear I didn’t do it, Ms. Aarons.” Bethany drifted to where I sat, brows deeply furrowed. “You aren’t mad, are you?”

“Of course not. Here, have the cookie. I won’t tell anyone.” I placed it on her napkin. “How are you feeling today, Bethany?”

Her little hand swept across her forehead. “T-tired. I get really sleepy when I’m gone.”

I’ve kept this a secret up until now, but I’ll never regret doing this. I reached down into the pocket of my scrubs and turned on the voice recording program on my iPhone. So far I’ve only been able to paraphrase to the best of my recollection, so I’ve kept the dialogue to a bare minimum to lessen misrepresentation of the bare facts that I intend to present to any reader of this document. The phone is long gone, but I managed to hide away the sound files well enough that I may transcribe them today. This recording began at 4:07 pm, February 13th.

MYSELF: Bethany, what gets you so tired? Do you play with any siblings?

BETHANY: I don’t really have any brothers or sisters anymore.

MYSELF: Anymore? I’m sorry to hear that.

BETHANY: Yeah. . .they’re all back in Colorado, I think.

MYSELF: Why in Colorado?

BETHANY: We lived there.

MYSELF: So it’s just you and your mom here? Your mom lives in town?

BETHANY: N-no. . .

MYSELF: Does she live somewhere like Mesa?

BETHANY: [silence]

MYSELF: What kinds of things do you do on your leave time?

BETHANY: Lucille and I. . .we go different places. Wherever they tell us to go. She never leaves me by myself.

MYSELF: She sounds like a really good friend. How come whoever does your hair doesn’t do her hair too?

BETHANY: Well, they’re not really interested in Lucille. Well, they are, but not her hair. Not her head. Not like my head.

MYSELF: Why is that?

BETHANY: Because hers is so soft. Mine is rock hard, they say. It takes more work.

MYSELF: More work?

BETHANY: I don’t know. [I remember her shrugging here] The doctors and stuff.

MYSELF: Oh, so you go see other doctors when you’re away from the hospital? Fun.

BETHANY: Yeah, I go see the big doctors a lot now. They take all the medicine out and look.

MYSELF: You mean you don’t get any medicines while you’re there.

BETHANY: Um. . .yeah. That’s what I meant. Is it time for therapy now?

At that point she had grown uncomfortable enough that I reluctantly turned the conversation in a completely different direction, but my mind was racing from the unusual, somewhat frightening things she’d mentioned about the big doctors and what I took to be some kind of examination of her skull, possibly even her brain. I watched as she shared pistachio pudding with Lucille and we talked about what doctor would preside over the group therapy session before the day crew left and the night shift began.

Submitted: December 11, 2019

© Copyright 2023 Dr. Shenita Etwaroo. All rights reserved.

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