Mary’s Room

“I have decided to go insane,” Mary announced. 

Susan raised one eyebrow behind her clipboard. 

“I figured I should tell you,” Mary continued, “on account of you’re my psychiatrist and when I come here next week absolutely raving mad, I don’t want you to try and fix me.”

Susan placed her clipboard face down on her lap and readjusted her glasses. “I’m afraid I don’t quite know what you mean, Mary.”

“No,” Mary nodded, “of course. I know I’ve got to explain these things.” But Mary explained nothing, unless her explanation was embedded somewhere in her stare, which she directed at the wall for the greater part of a minute. 

“I guess,” she finally began, “that I see it like this: I have lots of problems. You know that, that’s why I’m here. I’m bothered, and I’ve always been bothered in a halfway type of way. I’ve got work, and studies, and men, and I’m not terribly good at any of them, and on top of the big things I’ve still got to brush my own teeth every day? Which seems like an especially extra insult… and I’m just so tired. It’s a load of work and I’m sick of work, so I’m seeing you, but psychiatry hasn’t done shit for me, so I figure… why not go for it?”

Susan pursed her lips. “Go for what?”

“Insanity! I’m going all in on crazy.”

“And you think that’ll make you feel better?”

“Yes! Why, you’ve seen ‘em. Crazy people? They don’t know anything, not the really fucked up ones. Nobody expects them to be anything but crazy. And when you’re walking down the street and you see somebody singing show tunes on top of a mailbox you just think, oh, they’re crazy, and you don’t give it another think. I don’t like to be thought of very much, so I think that would be good for me.”

“So. The breathing exercises haven’t helped?”

“Hmm? Oh!—not particularly. No.”

“Have you tried them?”

Mary smiled into the seam of the couch. 

“Why not, Mary?”

Mary did not like to be asked why she didn’t do things. She also didn’t like to be asked why she did do things. She was misunderstood through the terms of such minutiae—or she didn’t understand them—and a breath felt like a low thing. 

“Don’t know,” Mary answered, unknowingly, “I’ve just been busy, I guess. Stressed.”

“Well, deep breaths might help with that.”

“Yeah. They might.”

Susan, who was not a bad person, smiled and folded her hands together. “Alright,” she smiled, “it looks like we’re out of time.”

Mary booted herself from the couch and began to gather her belongings. 

“So, this week,” Susan continued, “I want you to practice those breathing exercises, okay? That’s your homework, okay?” It cracked Susan up a little to call breathing homework. She figured that was kind of whimsical.

“Sounds good!” Mary said, and smiled. 

“Alright! See you next week!” 

“Yes! See you next week!” Mary replied as she walked out the door and nodded to the dissociative identity schizophrenic who was next (and second and fourth and seventh) in line. 

When Mary entered Susan’s office the next week, it was patently clear that she had not been doing the breathing exercises. Normally a conservative dresser, Mary was this week regaled in her very most mad clothes, consisting mainly of a yellow rain poncho, a feather boa, and a Yankees cap. The possible insanity of her face was unknowable, since she had a bandana over her eyes and ear plugs sticking, at odd angles, out of her ears. 

“So,” Susan began, “how are you?”

Mary disentangled some snot from her nostril and placed it on the couch beside her. “Not crazy yet,” she announced. 

“I thought we had forgotten about that.”

Mary pulled her ear plugs out and began to suck on them. 

“I said,” Susan said, “I thought we had forgotten about being crazy.”

Mary spit her earplugs across the room in great lazy arches. “Oh? I guess you were confused.”

Susan gave Mary a concerned look. 

“That’s something I wanted to work on—” Mary continued, “I mean before—I’m an awful communicator. But it doesn’t matter now… won’t matter. Soon I won’t have anything left to communicate.” 

Susan rubbed the bridge of her nose. “Mary, I… I’m not quite sure what you think going ‘crazy’ means.” 

“I already said.”

“Tell me again? You seem very… preoccupied with this.” 

Mary was quiet. 

“Why are you wearing a blindfold?” Susan asked in a despairing tone that suggested that she consistently had to ask patients the exact same question.

“I think,” Mary said, twisting her feet back and forth, “that a very important part of being insane is not knowing anything. I mean, that’s how come people become delirious—they don’t know what they’re seeing or what they’re hearing. I want—I want to live in a sort of anti-consciousness like that. Blind, deaf, mad, there must be so much space in that. If you’re too crazy to see the newspapers or hear Phil Collins or take out the trash, then there must be so much lovely, empty life.”

“But Mary, you must know that’s not true—I mean, everybody thinks… everybody worries. You can’t stop that.”

“If I believed that,” Mary replied firmly, “I’d go crazy.”

Susan sighed and walked over to the side table to pour a glass of water. 

“Oh! I see!” Mary gasped, “Oh, that’s good!”

Susan began to pour but all the ice came out of the pitcher first. 

“Psychiatry is terribly clever,” Mary beamed. 

Lacking anything else to do or say, Susan kicked more than an acceptable amount of ice cubes under the table. 

“Listen,” Mary continued brightly, “I’ve sorta got plans to go into town and preach apocalypse, so if we’re all done here—”

“Hang on, hang on. I think—it’s probably best that we see each other sooner than next week. I think you had better speak to some specialists.”

“Oh lovely, that’ll help,” Mary said, sticking a pencil up her nose.

Susan sat down again. “Mary, what are you doing?” 

“Uh, just trying to get my brain out. Like those Egyptian fellas.”

“They only used to do that after people were dead, you know.”

“Really? That seems unkind.”

Susan looked up at the ceiling. “Mary,” she began guardedly, “Mary, you know, I think you better wait right here for a minute. I think we had better meet for a little longer today.”

“… alright. If you think so.” Mary was unprepared. 

“I’ll just be a minute.”

“I trust you.”

Susan left, taking her pencils with her, and knocked on the door of all the other doctors in the building. Susan, it is important to note, was not a stupid person. Neither were Dr. Bouchard, Doctor Larkin, Doctor Nyugen or Doctor Nixon. Doctor Stevensen was a bit. 

Yet when these for the most part not stupid people entered Susan’s office they were (almost) stupefied by what they saw: an empty couch, a pile of mucus, and an ever growing puddle of water underneath the side table. All the doctors turned to Susan. 

“Susan?” Doctor Larkin asked with a tone of professional concern. 

Susan wheeled around to look at the gently consolatary doctors. She laughed. The doctors did not laugh. Susan laughed some more. Then she pushed the walls back to their rightful places and ran out of the room. Doctor Nyugen picked up the phone. 

Perhaps a person running wild in a psychiatric unit should not be an especially surprising sight. But, as any mad person could tell you, psychiatric units are some of the sanest places you can be. Everybody is trying terribly hard to prove how little they need to be there—everybody who can be is on their best behavior. 

But Susan (not mad) didn’t know the rules, so she ran, and then she drove, and security guards who considered themselves very well versed in the hysterical woman followed her until she had left the parking lot of their jurisdiction, upon which point they packed up their tasers and shared a smoke. 

Untased, Susan drove fast down River Road. The road felt long, and Mary’s absence struck her as a loss. It occurred to her in passing that Mary could be a person she had just made up—having as she did a certain disposition towards an overactive imagination—but this seemed instantly foolish. The line was fine, at the very least, and flexible. 

About a half mile after the most rural Cumberland Farms, Susan noticed a family of campers standing by the side of the river. A poncho hung in the tree above them, and Susan knew that she had found her loss again. Losses in life have a habit of acting like this. They have a habit of being something less than graceful. 

“Are you crazy?” Susan heard the camping father yell as he looked through his backpack for the situation’s appropriate tool. 

“No,” Mary called back placidly, “but I’m awfully flattered.”

Susan pushed through the gingham clad family till she stood on the river’s baptismal edge. Mary, wearing only her underwear, had propped her feet against a fallen tree so she could lay still in the river like it was a bed, and the vision struck Susan, for no reason at all, as something like a broken heart. 

Susan said, “Mary,” and nothing else. Mary turned to look at her, unblinking. 

“Do you know her?” whispered the camping mother in a whisper that smelled like cashews. “Who is she?”

Mary, eyes screwed closed, took the question for her own. “Don’t mind me, I’m nobody. I’m nothing—nothing of a nothingness. I only exist in certain boxes… I’m not here and you can’t know me. I’m no one.”

“She’s Mary,” said Susan. 

Mary sighed. Being Mary was a heavy thing. 

“I’m calling the cops,” said the father. 

“You’ll hurt yourself,” said the mother. 

“Mary,” said Susan. Mary opened her eyes, looked at her, nodded, and climbed out of her river. Then she walked past Susan without a glance. 

The campers, perennially prepared, gave Mary their Nemo blanket and a thermos of italian wedding soup and their advice on hypothermia and hysteria, and then they left her sitting all askew with Susan on the shore. Both Susan and Mary found that their minds were blank, so they sat close and quiet and didn’t ask each other things. The world felt like it was made out of shortbread and receipts, and they were disinclined to upset it. 

After some time, an apple fell from a nearby tree. Mary let out a shriek. “It’s red,” she laughed, eyes watering, “oh god.”

“Yes,” Susan smiled as she dug a thoughtful hole in the dirt beside her. “Do you maybe want a better psychiatrist?” 

“Yes, I think so. Not at the old place, though.”

Susan giggled. “There’s no old place, not anymore.”

“No? How come?”

“Flooding. Security guards electrocuted themselves and the whole place went to hell.”

Mary smiled. “But there’ll still be a new place, won’t there?” 

“Yes. A new place with new people and new couches and new waters.”

“Am I being redeemed?” Mary asked, as she stretched her arms. 

“Something close, I think.”

“Good. People in stories so seldom are.”

“Well,” Susan replied cautiously, “you’re Mary.”

Mary stuck out her tongue to catch the sunlight and closed her eyes again. “Yes,” she said. “Let’s go to the hospital.”