Face Down and Freefalling
He stood in the doorway of the rustic old shack that had once been his family homestead– broken hearted and hell-bent on what he felt he had to do – as he looked out across the horizon at all that was left of the barren land. Once there had been cattle here, then sheep. Three generations before him had worked hard trying to eek out some semblance of a life here once upon a time, before the drought had hit. Now all that was left was what his dad had once jokingly referred to as nothing more than an empire of dirt.
“Poor bastard,”he thought to himself, shaking his head at the thought of his dad working himself to death in this Godforsaken place with nothing to show in return.
If his dad only known– all those years of going without – that beneath all the dirt and dust lay one of the world’s largest deposits of gold, just waiting to be dug up. Of course, all the gold in the world couldn’t buy the man what he needed, what he wanted now. Taking a step forward onto the front porch with it’s rotted out floorboards creaking under his weight, the man took one last drag of his cigarette then tossed it into the dirt below.
He looked up at the rising sun in the East, shielding its rays from his bloodshot, teary eyes, knowing this was to be the last sunrise he’d ever see. The sun’s warmth surrounded his tanned skin as he inhaled deeply, taking in the sweet scent of the morning air wafting around him.
God’s glory in its fullest, at its finest, he thought to himself, wondering at the same time how God – in all his infinite glory and wisdom - could create such wonder and at the same time take all that is sacred and loved from him.
Where was God yesterday? Where was God when he was burying his love, his life, his– everything? How could he go on living in a world without them? All the while knowing in his heart that there was no loving and merciful God looking down on him, caring for him, watching over him? He was nothing more than a shell, a broken man, left all alone in this empty, cruel world.
The man looked to the Heavens once more, cursing such a wretched God that could do such a thing with the slightest of hand and seemingly without any thought or concern for those that he created. How could God show mercy and spare the lives of men who don’t even deserve it and yet take the lives of innocents? He shook his aching head and looked down at his dusty, worn boots. No, there was no God present here, he thought to himself. Not yesterday, not today, not ever again.
He felt in the front pocket of his jeans for the small plastic bottle then headed towards his pickup– his face a mixture of sadness and determination.
It was 3:30am when Dr. Emily Brooks was awakened from her sleep by her cell phone’s tune – Lady Gaga’s ‘Edge of Glory’ - sounding like a cursed bull horn in her ear. She’d just come off an 18 hour shift at the hospital and was hoping to catch a few hours sleep before returning there the next evening.
“Damn,” she cursed under her breath as she hung up the phone. She wasn’t supposed to be on-call tonight but apparently there was trouble with a new patient in the ward and the attending physician was somehow ‘indisposed’ or some sort of bullshit. Whatever.
Dr. Brooks– or ‘Emmy’, as she was known to her friends – quickly pulled on a crumpled pair of jeans and yawned as she ran a brush through her tangled mass of chestnut hair, not bothering to look at her reflection in a mirror. What the hell did she have to look good for at three-fucking-thirty in the morning anyway? Certainly not any of the attending nurses and definitely not some drug-addled psych patient, that was for sure! She grabbed her keys and cell phone, threw on a raincoat and headed out into the dark, rainy night, cursing herself for not turning her phone off before bed.
Twenty minutes later, she arrived at North Metropolitan Psychiatric Hospital in Perth, dripping wet from the rain and pissed off at having been dragged out of bed in the wee hours of the morning on her day off.
“Dr. Brooks,” a frantic-sounding young nurse called as she quickly ran up to Emmy, “I’m so glad you’re here. I didn’t know what else to do and…” she trailed off, throwing her hands up in the air.
“So, what’s the scoop on this nut-job?” Emmy yawned, pulling her white lab coat over her rumpled, wet clothes. She normally wasn’t so flippant regarding patients but damn it to hell she was tired and wet and so not in the mood for another whack job coming off whatever his drug of choice was and causing havoc in her hospital.
The attending nurse handed her the patient file as she quickly led the doctor down the hallway towards his room.
“He’s a transfer from Rockingham General,” the frazzled young nurse told her, “John Doe. Attempted suicide – twice, I was told.”
The pair turned a corner and headed down another hallway where they could hear loud yelling coming from one of the rooms at the far end.
“Great, so they sent him here for us to baby-sit, that it?” Emmy snapped.
“Not exactly,” the nurse explained, “they actually had him on watch there until he tried it again. Somehow the bugger managed to lift a pair of scissors off one of the interns, waited until he was alone then sliced his wrists up pretty badly. They transferred him here for a complete psych evaluation. Its all in his file there.” She pointed to the folder in Emmy’s hand.
They paused outside the patient’s room, where the loud yelling and banging continued.
“So what the hell amI doing here? What happened with the attending physician? Why can’t he handle this one?”
The nurse bit her lip, “Well,” she hesitated, “when the attendants tried to strap the patient to the bed so he wouldn’t hurt himself he sort of went – ape-shit. He actually broke one attendant’s arm and the other one’s nose before Dr. Bloomfield came in and tried to subdue him.”
“And, well, the patient managed to get the syringe away from him and injected it into Dr. Bloomfield instead.”
Emmy tried to keep a straight face. “Let me get this straight,” she said, stifling a chuckle, “not only did he take down two attendants but he managed to take down the head of psychiatric as well? And you think I might be able to somehow handle this patient by myself why?”
The nurse bit her lip and shrugged her shoulders, “You were the only doctor that lives close by and who actually answered their phone,” she admitted, nervously. “And besides, you’re typically great with the more difficult of patients.”
“Though I appreciate the thought, flattery won’t work - not on me, not this time,” Emmy admonished, but then let a slight grin slip.
More shouts and a loud crash were heard coming from the patient’s room as Emmy grabbed hold of the doorknob. “Okay,” she said, more to herself, as if to mentally prepare for whatever monster she’d find inside the room, “I’m going in.” She paused a moment, pointed to the tray of what must have been the patient’s untouched dinner. “That his?” she asked. The nurse nodded. Emmy quickly grabbed a little plastic cup with two small pills in it along with a small container of water and shoved them into the pocket of her lab coat. Taking a deep breath, she looked back at the nurse, cocked an eyebrow, “Stay right outside the door here in case I need you. Got it?”
The nurse nodded, unsure of either of their capabilities in handling this matter.
As Emmy slowly cracked the door open she was surprised by a middle-aged security guard who jumped in front of the door and snapped, “Stand back, I got this!” She was about to close the door when suddenly there was a buzz of electricity. The guard hollered out in pain and went hurling in the air past her - his limp, unconscious body crumpled to the floor with an unceremonious thud.
“What the…?!” Emmy gasped, realizing the guard had been a victim of his own taser gun.
Her first instinct as a doctor was to check to make sure the guard was okay but she stopped herself and instead turned to get a good look at the man– or monster - that had been causing all the trouble.
When she saw him she blinked, taken aback by his appearance. Here was no monster, no giant wild-man, but a rather average-sized, normal looking bloke– quite muscular and good-looking even. In any other situation Emmy thought she would even be attracted to the young man. She subconsciously ran her fingers through her tangled hair - half wishing she’d actually made more of an attempt at making herself more presentable before rushing out of her house. She quickly shook the passing thought from her mind, slowly slid into the room and shut the door behind her.
Emmy kept her eyes trained on the wild-eyed patient, her heart pounding as she took a fraction of a second to assess the situation. He stood backed into the corner of the room– taser in his strong, capable hand – scared and as naked as the day he was born. Despite his appearances, Emmy knew that he’d just single-handedly taken out two attendants, a doctor and a rather large security guard and should still be considered dangerous. The tattoo on his left shoulder made her think he must be ex-military, which would explain how he was able to take down the guard so readily. Emmy took a deep calming breath, started to make a move forward towards the man.
“Stay the fuck back,” the man yelled at her, wielding the taser in her direction.
Emmy stopped in her tracks and stood with her back against the door. She slipped his file into the back waistband of her jeans and then slowly raised her hands to show him she was unarmed. “So, you’re the one that got me called down here in the middle of the fucking night on my day off, huh?” She narrowed her eyes and looked him up and down, “Thought you’d be larger,” she managed a chuckle.
The man blinked, shifted his feet, taken aback by her statement.
“In stature, um…height - that is,” she assured him, smiling, realizing her faux pas.
Emmy slowly inched closer towards him, her back against the wall and her hands still raised in front of her.
“That’s far enough,” the man yelled, nervously.
Emmy stopped moving, making sure to keep eye contact with the man. “Alright, alright, big boy,” she told him in what she hoped was a calm and soothing voice. “I’m not going to hurt you.” She let out a deep breath as she tried to keep calm. “So, why don’t you tell me – Mr….um…” she pulled his file from the back waistband of her jeans where she’d tucked it before entering the room, “Doe…or would you prefer I call you John?”
“Aidan,” the man replied, still guarded and on edge. “Its Aidan.”
“Aidan,” Emmy repeated. “Well, Aidan, I’m Dr. Brooks. I’d say it’s a pleasure meeting you but under the circumstances…” She smiled and cocked an eyebrow.
Aidan just stared, stoned-faced.
“Well, then,” she went on, clearing her throat, “why don’t you do me a favor and put down that taser and put this gown on,” she picked up a hospital gown that was sitting on the edge of his bed and held it out for him, “and we can sit down and have a little chat about what’s upsetting you.”
“Why?” Aidan asked, apprehensively - his voice raspy from yelling.
“Well, for one thing I find it rather, um,” she grinned, looked down his muscular and well-toned body then back up to his eyes, cleared her throat, “distracting… you know, trying to have a conversation with you while staring at your third leg there.” She motioned to his privates, blushed then composed herself and went on, “and for another thing, did I mention this is my day off and I’m not in the fucking mood to get tased by one of my patients?”
A grin spread across Aidan’s face as he slowly relaxed. “Fair enough,” he told her, quickly snatching the gown from her outstretched hand and slipping onto his body as he kept his eyes even with hers. The taser still clutched tightly in his grip.
“Thanks,” Emmy told him, then motioned towards the weapon still pointed at her, “now, the taser, please, if you would be so kind?”
Aidan stared at her, unmoving, for a moment longer then hesitantly set the taser down on the floor in front of him– still guarded and keeping full eye contact.
“Great,” she told him, relaxing a bit now that he was disarmed, “now just, um, kicked it across the room and we can have that chat, alright?”
Again, Aidan hesitated, not sure if he was doing the right thing or not in allowing himself to become so vulnerable.
“Look, if we’re going to get through this we’re going to have to trust one another,” Emmy said, stifling a yawn. Damn she was tired despite the adrenaline rush she’d just gotten moments before.
Aidan let out a sigh and reluctantly kicked the taser across the room with his bare foot.
“Thank-you,” Emmy sighed with relief. “Now why don’t you have a seat here on the bed and tell me all about what’s going on that’s gotten you so riled up?”
“Why don’t you ask them?” Aidan snapped, motioning towards the security guard who had begun to regain consciousness.
“I’ll talk to them later,” she replied, “Right now, though, I’m asking you.”
Aidan opened his mouth as if to say something, and then snapped it shut and turned his attention back towards the guard.
“Nevermind him,” Emmy told him, watching out of the corner of her eye as the guard slowly made it to his feet. “We’re talking here. Just you and me.”
Aidan tensed and turned his gaze towards the far side of the room where Emmy was now aware that the guard was regaining his wits. The security man’s eyes went straight for his weapon lying on the ground between them and made a move to go for it.
“Don’t fuckin’ try it, Mate,” Aidan warned him, his icy glare trained right on the older man.
The frightened guard looked over at Emmy. She shook her head‘no’ and he took a step back away from the taser.
As the security guard slowly inched towards the door, he looked back at Emmy, awaiting instructions. When she nodded the okay, he quietly exited the room. Both Emmy and Aidan let out a sigh of relief as the door shut behind him.
“Now,” Emmy said, “where were we?” She sat back on the bed and crossed her legs up under herself as if she were at a sleepover with her girlfriends, her eyebrows raised, expectantly. She patted the bed next to her, motioning for Aidan to sit.
Aidan moved slowly towards her but stopped just short of the bed, choosing instead to stand at a safe distance away in case she tried anything. His jaw was clenched tight, as were his fists; he was ready for a quick escape need be.
The two stared quietly with eyes locked, each evaluating the other. After a few awkward moments, realizing Aidan wasn’t going to answer her, Emmy broke the ice, “Look, I don’t know about you but I’d really like to get the hell out of here and get some sleep. Of course, only way either of us is getting out is if you start talking. So,” she paused, stifling a yawn, “let’s just get the ball rolling here, alright?”
Aidan just stood quietly, contemplating if he should say anything as he looked down at his bandaged wrists.
“Fine, I see you’re going to make me work for this,” Emmy sighed, pulling open his file and reading through the notes scribbled in it. “Name – John Doe… scratch that – Aidan…?” she paused, questioningly, as she waited to see if he’d give her his last name. When he didn’t, she went on, “Approximately 25 to 27 years old…yadda, yadda, yadda…,” Emmy skimmed through the file. “Oh, here we go. Says you were first admitted to Rockingham General two days ago for an attempted suicide,” she looked up at him over the top of the file, looking for any kind of a reaction. When he gave none, she went on, “Someone found you in the cemetery, passed out across a couple of graves… paramedics arrived on scene, had to resuscitate you, rushed you on to the closest hospital where they pumped about two dozen Xanax from your stomach.”
Emmy looked up at Aidan once more, setting the file aside. He was quiet but his face clearly showed the pain he was in. “So,” she said, quietly, “you wanna fill me in on what was going through your head when you downed all those pills? Or,” she pointed at his bandaged wrists, “when you sliced yourself up like that?”
“I...,” Aidan started, quietly.
“I…,” he sighed heavily, trying hard to mask his emotion, “I don’t want to talk about it.”
Emmy stared at him for a moment, trying to understand what he might be going through. “Okay,” she told him, “fine. If you’re not ready to talk about that I understand. So…,” she leaned forward a bit, closing the gap between them, “how about you just tell me what set you off here tonight then? What happened that got you so angry you had to take out half the medical staff… and my boss?”
Aidan cleared his throat, looked up at her with guarded eyes, “They provoked me,” he said, angrily.
“Provoked you…how?” Emmy pressed him.
“They tried to strap me to the bed. I didn’t want to be strapped to the bed… or to anywhere else for that matter.”
“Ahh,” Emmy replied, “now we’re getting somewhere.” She smiled at him, relieved that she was able to finally get him to open up at bit. “I can’t say I blame you, I myself am not into the whole bondage thing, either,” she told him, with a grin.
Aidan shifted on his feet, his brow furrowed.
“Sorry,” Emmy told him, clearing her throat, “Bad attempt at humor. Seems my jokes only get worse the more sleep deprived I am.” She shook off any embarrassment she had and changed tactics a bit. “So why do you think they wanted to strap you to the bed?” she asked, softly.
“You tell me,” he snapped.
“Well gee, I don’t know, Aidan, could it be because they were afraid you might try and do something stupid again like you did back at Rockingham?” Emmy snapped back, sarcastically. She normally didn’t lose her composure like that but dammit she was tired of playing games with him.
Aidan clenched his fists tighter, his body tensing. “Fuck you,” he growled, angrily.
Emmy let out a sigh. This was going no where fast. She’d hit a nerve and now she had to back-peddle to get him to trust her again. She sat back on the bed, attempting to appear more relaxed and less combative.
“That tattoo you got on your shoulder there,” she pointed towards his left side, “Military, right?”
“What of it?”
“Nothing, just wondering,” she told him. She paused a moment, thinking, then went on, “Afghanistan?”
Aidan nodded, curtly, wondering where she was going with this.
“I had a cousin there,” she stated simply. “Communications. Did two tours. Saw quite a bit of action. You?”
Aidan hesitated, then answered, “Infantry. Front line. So yeah, I saw more action than I would have liked.”
“Wow,” Emmy replied, “Brave man. I’m impressed. Not a lot of men come back alive or in one piece.”
Aidan shifted on his feet, clearly uncomfortable at the whole conversation.
“So what made you join up?” Emmy asked him, trying to keep him talking.
“Judge gave me a choice. It was that or prison,” he told her, quietly. “In retrospect I should have chosen the latter.”
“So, tell me, what drives a man to go from defending his life –not to mention his country’s – to just…just…give up? Just help me understand because I’m at a loss here.”
Aidan took a step forward and sat on the far edge of the bed, his shoulders slumped.
“Still not ready to talk about it, huh?” Emmy asked, gently.
Aidan let out a sigh, sat quietly, avoiding eye contact.
“Fair enough,” she told him. “Look, if you want to get out of here we’re going to have to work together. That can’t happen, though, if we don’t form a mutual trust between us. So, I’m going to make you a deal…,” she paused, slid to the edge of the bed next to him, “I’ll make sure that no one tries to strap you to the bed again if…”
“If what?” Aidan asked, uncertain.
“If you promise to behave yourself here. Don’t hurt yourself again or try to take your own life or the lives of any of the hospital employees.”
“That’s a lot to ask,” he snorted.
“Just give me a day, that’s all I ask. We’ll take it a day at a time. Otherwise, you’ll leave me no choice but to call in more guards and believe me they will strap you down and shoot you so full of drugs you won’t know which way is up.”
Aidan looked into her pleading eyes, thought for a moment then nodded his head. “One day,” he agreed.
“Good,” Emmy replied, smiling. “Thank you. Now,” she said, reaching into her lab coat and pulling out a small plastic cup containing two small pills and the container of water, “One last thing before I can get out of here.” She held the pills and water out to him.
Aidan looked at it, questioningly.
“No worries,” she assured him, “this is just your standard antidepressant with a little something extra to help you relax and get some sleep.”
He sat still, his jaw beginning to tense once more.
“Trust,” she told him, pointing from him to her and back again. “I promise you, no one is going to strap you down while you’re asleep.”
She held the plastic cup closer towards his hand and reluctantly, he took it and held the pills to his mouth a second before downing them both then guzzling down the water.
“Good,” Emmy repeated, smiling broadly, taking the cups from him, “Now you lie down and have a rest and I’ll see you in a few hours.” She got up and headed towards the door.
“Wait,” Aidan called out, quickly getting to his feet.
Emmy turned, looked at him expectantly. “Yes?” she asked, curiously.
He stared at her a moment, his face a mixture of emotions. “Stay,” was all he said.
Emmy’s expression softened. “I’m sorry, I can’t stay, but I promise I’ll be back here when you wake up.”
Aidan nodded - his eyes vacant and tired as he watched her leave the room. He collapsed back onto the bed and closed his eyes.
Once in the hallway, Emmy quickly slipped the plastic cups that had held the meds and water into a plastic bag then scribbled the patient’s id number on them.
“Get these to the lab,” she told the nurse that had been waiting outside the room for her. “We need to lift his fingerprints off of them. Once they get the prints have them sent to police to do a check for us –both for criminal as well as military records. If he won’t tell us who he is then we’ll find out on our own. I’ll be back in a few hours when my next shift starts to see if we get any results.”
The nurse nodded, took the bag from her, and then hurried down the hall.
Emmy looked back at Aidan’s room, wondering if he’d keep his word or if she’d be getting another phone call at home. She let out a sigh, turned on her heel and headed out into the rain to her car.