There was never a moment where he stopped and thought his life was out of control. It was only natural. Nothing could excite a man that has no expectations of life. It was like watching a movie through the eyes of a main character with no objective or purpose. Every day he sat in his room lost in his own reflection for hours on end. Wasting away. His face lost its youthfulness. His skin loosely clung to his cheek bones making him look years older than he actually was. His hair hadn't been combed or cut in god knows how long. It was a big messy mix of knots, naps, knicks, and knacks. It was like a black hole sucking in anything and everything it came in contact with. His eyes, sunken and tired looking, slowly examined every inch of his face and body. If there was ever a person the phrase "you're a shell of the man you used to be." applied to, it's him. Even his clothes struggled to stay in place on top of his skinny frame. As if the fabric had sense enough to not want to be a part of this sad looking picture.
Without fail every single day his movements, calculated and unchanging, were of a man who had simply given up on life. Only 28, yet resigned himself to the idea he will not see his 29th birthday. For the last few years he slowly began to realize there was no amount of drugs or women in this world that could make waking up in the morning a bearable experience. It was not due to the usual tired feeling one has when you wake up terribly hung over. Rather, it was a complete emptiness that made the thought of having to make it through any day a chore. A full time job he was deliberately trying to get fired from.
Sure, now his basic needs were met for him. There was a TV he can watch if he ever ventured outside his room. The pills they gave him were more recreational than medicinal to Joe, allowing him to dull the influence of the outside world on his daily routine of nothing. Cannot forget he also gets three square meals a day. Only Joe could maintain the same lifestyle in and outside of a mental facility. Of course, there were moments that managed to make him feel something other than total apathy. Like how every so often a soft spoken woman would bring him his food instead of his regular attendants. She wasn't striking in appearance whatsoever. In fact, I'm positive he only liked her because their conversations consisted almost entirely of talk about the weather and sexual innuendos. Either way, she became an object of pleasure to him. Frequently he found himself trailing into thought about when the next time Wendy might be bringing him food. When she did appear it always came at dinner time and he was making it a habit as of late to try and look somewhat presentable right before dinner. Random visits from Wendy were the only thing keeping him from tuning the world out indefinitely. No matter how unfortunate Joseph's situation may seem to some, he managed to always keep the same routine. That routine abruptly changed three weeks ago.
The day started like any other. He awoke to the light hitting his face from outside his dirty window. It was sunny, a nice break from the recent overcast skies that have become a common sight. He lay in his bed for a few moments preparing himself for the day. Even though he literally did nothing all day, he still felt the need to prep himself for the eventuality he may have to leave his room and speak with someone, anyone. The attendant came with his food right on time.
ATTENDANT: Good morning Joe, planning on blessing us with your presence today?
JOSEPH: Good morning Sam. I wouldn’t put your money on it.
ATTENDANT: Ok, well I'll leave your food here for you.
Sam is a rather large man. Joe always thought to himself that Sam was built like a man that should be chopping trees with a single blow, not carry trays of food and taking care of pathetically troubled people. He is dark as well, his white scrubs contrasted so sharply with the rest of his body. Him walking over to put the tray down looked almost comical as his hands make the tray seem as if it were made for a kid.
JOSEPH: You wouldn't know if Wendy is here today, do you?
ATTENDANT: It's beautiful outside, why don't we do something fun? What do you say?
JOSEPH: Don't bother. I don't know why I asked.
ATTENDANT: Ok Joe, good bye.
(Joe nods his head to acknowledge the departure.)
He could feel the heat of embarrassment building up behind his face. Joseph hated that Sam would never respond to his inquiries about Wendy’s whereabouts. At one time Joe even convinced himself Sam must be romantically invested in her and couldn’t bear to say so. Now Joe has decided Sam must just be uncomfortable around women or even talk of them. His reasoning being a man that large must find it hard to be gentle enough for a woman. Joe sat there for a while after Sam left, thinking about how odd it was such an unremarkable woman could actually cause him to care for anything at all. He didn't want to but he got up from bed to investigate what he had been given for breakfast. "Oatmeal, eggs, sausage and buttered toast. Another wonderful meal brought to you by the State of New Jersey." He said this to himself in a sarcastic tone as he dragged the tray closer. The rest of the morning went by with haste. Before he knew it, the afternoon sun moved lower in the sky and cast deep shadows on his room.
Every night there was an inkling of excitement to his movements. He wasn't completely silent or motionless as he sat and thought. His fingers frequently rubbed his knees as if caressing the knee of a loved one. Joe was not one to have traditional feelings about people. He has never had a long term commitment to someone or anything. His doctors tell him acquiring friends and maintaining relationships are key to his therapy but friends never interested Joe. What good is a friend to someone who would rather be alone than with company? Nonetheless, Wendy could be considered his friend. He was nice to her and was generally curious about what she did on her free time and what kind of person she was.
It was now a quarter to 6pm and he knew dinner would be coming any second. So, he cleaned up what little trash he had laying around and tried his best to tidy up his clothes. Just as he stood in front of his mirror, picking away crumbs from his shirt, a knock came on the door. He knew at once it was Wendy by how soft the knocks were. Maybe it was because the weather has been terrible recently but he spent almost the entire day lost in thought about her. This moment could not have come any slower.
JOE: You can come in. (it wasn’t easy for him to hide the eagerness in his voice as he beckoned her into his room)
WENDY: Hey there stranger, it’s been a long time. Where have you been?
JOE: The real question is where have YOU been? You know I’ve always got time for you.
WENDY: (she laughs) Wow, you really do belong here.
JOE: (confused but trying to impress her) Well, they did stick me in this room for a reason.
WENDY: Oh yeah? And what was that?
JOE: (not expecting that answer, he races to think of something witty) obviously so that I keep my hands off you.
WENDY: Now, now. Let’s behave ourselves for a moment; I have some interesting news for you.
JOE: I'm listening.
WENDY: Ok well, I was speaking with Sam and he told me you wanted to get outside to enjoy the weather tomorrow.
JOE: But... (He tried to cut in but she quickly continued)
WENDY: --So I was thinking instead of that, you could show me around your room.
JOE: I don’t have to wait for tomorrow to do that. (He turned around and began pointing.) That’s my bed, my window, my desk, my chair, my mirror, and you have met my door already. That does it for my room.
WENDY: You're such a loon. You know what I mean.
JOE: Well then I don’t know why we have to wait till tomorrow for that either.
WENDY: (she laughs) I have things to do, honey.
JOE: Well in that case you better get on your way. I've got a few things to do myself. I’m a busy man.
WENDY: (Smiling still) I see that your light is off and the door closed every time I come by.
JOE: I told you, I like to keep myself preoccupied. (He supposed that lie wasn't actually so far from the truth). How long have you been working here anyway? It’s like you popped up from nowhere.
WENDY: (Her smile faded) I don’t work here Joe...
He just stood there with a completely hollow look to his eyes and stayed still, mouth agape, without a single twitch. No one in his wing knew what happened to Joe or why he wouldn’t move. When he snapped out of it the next morning he began taking care of himself again. He even began spending time in the common area more often. However, he hasn’t spoken a single word to anyone. Not even Sam. Most curious is the fact Joe hasn’t saw or heard from Wendy since.
© Copyright 2017 Carlos Santana. All rights reserved.
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