Mid-May, 2015, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, Iowa City, Iowa
Arthur Kirkland sighed as he was wheeled onto the psychiatric unit, 1 JP West. Just what he needed, to be transferred to another part of the hospital, to the psych ward. He was greeted with some manic patient shouting at the entrance.
"Now, Arthur," the nurse began, "we have you under EDO protocol because you are under a very strict diet." If he were able to open his mouth wider than an inch after having it wired shut, Arthur would have interjected or made a sarcastic comment, but he just wasn't feeling it, so he stayed silent. "Luckily for you, we have another male EDO on the unit, so you two will be roommates."
Arthur rolled his eyes. Just what he needed. He just hoped this one wouldn't bombard him with the usual questions. "What happened to your jaw?" "Did you really shoot yourself?" "How did you survive that?" When people did things like that, it made him feel even less lucky to be alive. He felt like a failure for not being able to succeed in ending his life, and he didn't need people talking to him about it to remind him that he had failed at the one thing that could've saved him from all other failures.
"We'll show you to your room, so you can get situated, but we're not comfortable with leaving you alone, and you're on observation starting today," the nurse stated. She smiled at Arthur. "Sorry, Art."
"It's Arthur," he huffed out, hoping she could hear the irritation in his voice. He hated that he had to be on some eating disorder protocol. He didn't have an eating disorder. He had a living disorder! Why couldn't he have just died?
"Sorry, Arthur," she corrected. "I'll remember that in the future." She opened the door to the first double bed room and there was a male patient in there by himself. "Alfred, are you supposed to be in here?"
The patient turned around. He was wearing a baggy hoodie and jeans with sneakers. To Arthur's surprise, he looked very physically fit despite the fact that he also looked incredibly thin. He wore thick-rimmed glasses and his blond hair stuck up a little in the front. His blue eyes lit up when he saw Arthur.
"Is this my new roommate?" he asked. He bounded over excitedly.
"Alfred, that didn't answer my question," the nurse reminded.
"Sue me," Alfred said with a shrug. "Aren't I always in places where I'm not supposed to be?" He grinned widely at Arthur and stuck out his hand. "How ya doin'? I'm Alfred Jones, your new roommate! I swear I'm not as crazy as most of the others here!"
Arthur let out a soft, uncomfortable laugh and shook Alfred's hand. "Arthur Kirkland," he greeted, using what little space he had to speak since his mouth wouldn't open much. "Pleasure."
"That looks painful," Alfred commented, rubbing his jaw to show what he meant by "painful".
Arthur slowly nodded. "It is." His emerald green eyes met with Alfred's eyes and he quickly looked away. He didn't like how happy Alfred looked. They were in a bloody psych ward! There was nothing to be happy about!
"Is he going to be sitting out in the day room all day, too?" Alfred asked the nurse, pointing at Arthur, who wanted to slap his hand away from his general direction.
"Yes," the nurse stated, nodding.
Alfred grinned at Arthur and put his hand down. "I'll save you a recliner next to mine. Since we have our disorders, we have to sit in recliners. I'll make sure you get the best one since you deserve it." He patted Arthur's shoulder and then left the room.
The nurse gave Arthur a sympathetic smile. "Al really does mean well," she said. "His brother Matthew has been working with him on social skills. I promise you'll get used to him. He's a real sweetheart." She frowned. "Arthur, do you want to talk about your situation?"
Arthur sighed. "I am humiliated," he said. "Mortified. My classmates operated on me! I was supposed to be a surgeon! I should've just died!"
"Why did you try to kill yourself, Arthur?" the nurse asked him.
He worst question of them all, and she asked it so casually, as if asking what he thought of the weather outside. His throat felt tight as he thought of that night, thought of that phone call. He could still feel the pain of coming to and having to call emergency services himself. How he could barely talk because of all the blood in his mouth.
"Can we skip that for now?" he softly asked. "I do not wish to speak of it."
The nurse frowned. "It was that bad, wasn't it?"
"You try shooting yourself in the head and living through it," Arthur softly said. "It does more to you than you know…"
"I'm sorry, Arthur," she softly replied. "By the way, I'm Amber, and I'll be your nurse tonight."
Arthur nodded. "I'll go to the day room now…" He left the room and went to the day room.
There were a lot of people out there. The unit held twenty-two, and about half of them were out in the day room. And as promised, Alfred had saved a recliner for Arthur, patting the seat of it for Arthur to sit in.
Arthur sat, but he was secretly praying that Alfred wouldn't want to talk. He wasn't in the mood for conversation. Also, he wasn't sure he would be able to hold one due to his jaw and the pain. He just wanted to be alone, but that wasn't allowed there. Not after what he did.
"Hey, are you okay?" Alfred asked him. "You don't look so good." He looked closely at Arthur's jaw. "Breaking your jaw must really hurt. I'm sorry that it happened."
Arthur absently nodded. He really didn't want Alfred to ask further into how it broke or anything. He didn't want any of that. He didn't want anyone to know how he ended up there, but it was bound to come out sooner or later. Maybe he'd tell Alfred in a few days, but not now. For now, he'd just stay silent and wait for his pain medication.
Amber walked over with a computer on a cart. "Arthur, can I scan your wristband?" Arthur's eyes widened, but he gave her access to it. Amber pulled out a miniature scanner and scanned the barcode on his wristband. "Can I get a rating on your pain on a scale of one to ten, ten being the most pain you've felt in your entire life?"
Arthur thought for a moment. The most pain he'd felt in his life was waking up after shooting himself. Nothing could ever compare to feeling a bullet in your sinuses and your jaw shattered to tiny pieces, and knowing there was nothing you could do about that. After thinking for a moment, he held up seven fingers.
Amber frowned. "Oh, Arthur, I'm sorry." She opened a package and dropped two small medicine tablets into a small medicine cup and poured a small cup of water before handing both to Arthur. "Here you go. I hope you feel better soon."
"I won't," Arthur grumbled, taking them. He had a little trouble putting the two tablets in his mouth. Once he got them in, he drank the water to swallow them, having barely any trouble.
Amber smiled. "You good, Arthur?" She walked away after Arthur nodded.
Arthur sighed and sat back in his recliner, popping up the built in footrest. He stared at the TV for a moment before closing his eyes.
"I have a question for you, Arthur," Alfred said.
Arthur opened one eye to see Alfred looking closely at him. "What is it?" he asked cautiously before opening his other eye. He really hoped Alfred would end up being tolerable.
"You have an accent," Alfred observed. "It's interesting. Where are you from?"
"London," Arthur sighed out. "I'm British. Studying abroad." He sighed, thinking about how disappointed his family was in him for what he had done. If he could, he would have vigorously shaken his head to rid the thought, but he couldn't. Instead, it remained lodged in his memory.
More so, his mother's voice remained lodged in his head. "Why would you do this to us? Why would you disgrace our family like this? You are no longer a part of our family, Arthur. You already proved that through your words and actions. Just stay in America."
"Wow!" Alfred enthused. "You're a long way from home, Arthur!" He grinned widely. "London! That's so cool! Dude, what's it like?"
Arthur just wanted Alfred to leave him alone. "I don't really wish to speak of London right now, Alfred. Could we please talk of other things?"
"Sure thing, Arthur," Alfred said, smiling. "My brother is coming today! Would you like to meet him?"
"Perhaps," Arthur sighed. Maybe after meeting Alfred's brother, who would probably act just like him, he can just go off himself in a bathroom or something. Arthur groaned but lightly touched his jaw so he could pretend it was from pain so as not to seem rude. "If I could just get my jaw to stop hurting…"
"Yeah, that just looks painful as hell," Alfred commented. "How did it break anyway?"
Arthur's heart skipped a beat. He had been anticipating that damned question, just not so soon. "Well, er…" How was he supposed to answer that? "I would rather not talk about that right at this moment. How about we discuss that tonight when it's just the two of us? I don't wish to discuss it in front of a large group of people, Alfred."
"Is it the reason why you're here?" Alfred asked, eyes widening in understanding. He then frowned and looked down when Arthur nodded slightly, trying not to move his jaw at all. "I'm sorry to hear about that, Arthur. Yeah, we can talk about it tonight when we go to bed."
"Very well," Arthur softly said, turning his gaze to the television. It was an episode of Forensic Files, which made him uncomfortable, considering the woman was shot in the head. "Now who the bloody fuck chose this program?" he muttered.
"Oh, I think it was Jan," Alfred said. "She's an EDO like us, and she rules the roost. If anyone changes the channel without her permission, there will be hell to pay. I'd suggest not complaining. This is her favorite show."
Arthur honestly did not care if it was her favorite show or not. If he had to sit out there and endure being around people, he sure as hell was not going to endure that show as well. He grabbed the remote from her chair before she knew what was going on and changed the channel to something else.
The very pale, extremely thin woman rose to her feet, glaring daggers at Arthur. "Excuse you," she snarled at him. "Just what the hell do you think you're doing? I was watching that!" Her mousy brown hair was in a messy bun held in place by a crochet hook with bright pink reading glasses perched on the end of her nose.
"I have a problem with it," Arthur simply stated, scanning the screen for a different show to watch.
"You can't do this!" she raged. "I always watch that show! You can't mess up my routine!"
"Looks like I just did, love," Arthur carelessly told her, a hint of boredom in his voice.
Amber came running out of the office. "What's going on here?!" she demanded. She saw the remote in Arthur's hand and the angry look on Jan's face, immediately understanding. "Jan, come with me," she softly said. "We need to talk about something really quick."
"He turned off my show!" Jan raved as the nurse guided her away. "He can't do that! I didn't find out who shot that woman!"
Amber sighed. "Please calm down, Jan. I understand you're upset, but you'll understand what's going on after group today. I'll talk to him when I'm done with you, okay? He's an EDO like you."
Arthur could still hear Jan ranting and raving as he sat back with the remote. He ignored everyone else staring at him in awe. It was ridiculous to him that no one else had ever seemed to stand up to that woman before. She was a patient in a mental ward, not the Queen of England. And it was a remote, for crying out loud. He tossed the remote to Alfred. "Find something everyone can agree on," he said, not wanting the pressure on him.
Alfred looked at Arthur, still stunned from what he had just witnessed between him and Jan. "I have never seen someone deal with Jan like that, Arthur," he said. "She's been here longer than I have, and twice as many times as me. She practically runs this place. And yet you just completely gave her a what for…"
"She's a person," Arthur scoffed. "Just the same as we are. I don't see any reason to think that she's any better than I am." He folded his arms over his chest and watched the television to see what kind of show Alfred would choose. He was pleasantly surprised to find that Alfred chose to watch Oprah, which was something the other EDO patients wanted to watch.
Jan came back a few minutes later, a sniffling wreck. She walked over to Arthur and slowly leaned in on him, hugging him. "I'm so sorry," she softly whispered through her tears. "I had no idea…"
"I didn't expect you to," Arthur simply stated, catching on. He awkwardly patted her back, not used to having his personal space invaded like this. He had grown up in a family that was very big on not touching other people, so he had never had much human contact. The hug he had suddenly been brought into made him feel extremely awkward and it was an unpleasant experience for him.
Amber walked over to them. "Jan, I think he gets the hint. You're sorry." She smiled apologetically at Arthur when Jan pulled away. "Can we go talk in your room for a sec, Arthur?"
"I don't see why not," Arthur sighed as he reluctantly stood. He walked with her to the room he shared with Alfred. "Are you going to tell me that my behavior was out of line? Because I don't care."
"No, that's not what I brought you here to tell you at all, Arthur," Amber stated. "I brought you here to tell you that what happened with you is going to have to be shared in EDO group this afternoon."
"What?" Arthur asked, almost panicking. "No, I won't allow that. I'm not ready for it."
"Arthur, if you weren't ready for it, you wouldn't have been allowed down on this unit," she told him. "So you're obviously ready. If you would like, the nurse leading the group can explain it for you."
He thought about it for a moment. Which would be worse for him, having to relive it as he told them himself, or having to relive it as someone else told them? "I don't know which is the lesser of the evils," he softly said with a shrug. "Both of them sound equally as horrible and just as triggering as the other." Arthur squeezed his eyes shut. "Do I have to be in the room when you tell them? Could I come in after?"
Amber looked torn. "I don't know about that…"
"I don't want to talk about it," Arthur said. "I don't want to hear about it. I don't want to answer questions about it. I don't even want to think about it. If you're going to make my story known, at least give me the relief of not being there for it and not letting them ask me any questions until I'm ready."
"That's completely understandable," she said with a nod. "I'll see what I can do. Every patient is different, and your case is definitely one of the more unique ones we've had here. Perhaps they could let it slide this once. Go back out to the day room, and I'll go talk to the nurse running your group. I'll let you know as soon as I know."
Arthur nodded and headed back out to his recliner. He let out a groan as he sat down and shut his eyes once more. His head was spinning as he thought about what he was going to have to do. There was no way that he wanted to tell them what he had done to himself. There was no way he could tell them why his mouth was wired shut.
"Hey, are you okay?" Alfred asked him. He peered at him through his glasses, blinking in concern. "You look so pained and hurt. Do you want me to get a nurse?"
"No," Arthur stated through clenched teeth. He stopped clenching his teeth quickly, though, due to his jaw aching from it. "I don't need a nurse, Alfred. I'm fine."
There was a loud bang as Alfred's recliner footrest went down and Alfred exclaimed, "Mattie!"
Arthur's eyes flew open as he looked up and saw Alfred hugging a man who looked just like him. The only difference was that this man's hair curled and was a bit longer, and that the man was a bit thicker than Alfred, but a healthy thick. Were they twins?
"Mattie, this is my roommate, Arthur!" Alfred excitedly said, gesturing to Arthur. "Arthur, this is my little brother, Matthew!" He was so excited that he was nearly bouncing up and down. "I'm so glad that you two finally get to meet!"
Matthew smiled at Arthur. "Hello, Arthur," he softly said. "I'm pleased to meet you. I hope my brother hasn't been too much to handle." He seemed completely different from his brother. "Al can be a real handful."
"Oh, shut up," Alfred grumbled, crossing his arms in a sulk.
Arthur smiled a little. He liked Matthew. "It's nothing. And I'm pleased to meet you as well, Matthew."
"Mattie here's from Canada!" Alfred said. "He lived up there with his dad up until he was seventeen! Now he's here with his fiance!"
Matthew's eyes were wild as he stared over at Alfred. "Al!" he hissed. "Don't!"
"You're engaged?" Arthur asked. "I'm glad to hear that. Congratulations."
"Thank you," Matthew mumbled, turning a light shade of pink. He rubbed his arm and looked down. "He's actually parking the car right now. He'll be in here in a few."
"Wait, Gil came to see me?!" Alfred excitedly asked.
"Yeah," Matthew softly said, looking up at his brother. "He was so excited to have the day off and wanted to come with me to see you."
"Yes!" Alfred said, shadowboxing the air.
"Alfred, stop that!" Amber said, running out of the nurse's station. "There is no exercising! You know the rules!"
Alfred frowned. "Whatever, Amber," he sighed. He sulked slightly and turned back to Matthew, anger quickly forgotten. "So what are we going to play today, Mattie? I bet I'll be able to kick your ass in it anyway."
"Oh, and you're so certain?" Matthew asked, narrowing his eyes at his brother. "We'll see about that one, Al." He smirked as an announcement rang in over the speakers.
"Would all psych ed patients report to psych ed group in the dining room?" the voice asked.
"That's us," Alfred said, looking at Arthur. "I don't have to go, but you do."
"Actually, Alfred, we want you to go for the first five minutes," Amber said. She looked to Arthur. "And I was able to talk to the nurse running it, Arthur. You don't have to be there."
Arthur gulped. This was the group where they would find out what he did to himself….
Arthur licked his lips as he walked into the group a few minutes later than the rest of them. He closed his eyes as he heard some of the girls sniffling like Jan had done that afternoon. He didn't want to hear them, and he didn't want to see them. It wasn't fair that they had done this to him. It wasn't fair that everyone was crying because of him. He didn't want their pity or sympathy. He didn't want any of this.
When he finally opened his eyes, they locked with Alfred's, and his heart shattered in his chest. Alfred's eyes were bloodshot and watery. His nose was cherry red. His face looked betrayed. Arthur sat down next to him and forced himself to close his eyes once more. He couldn't bear looking at any of the people around him anymore. It was too much.
All that was left was enduring things like that for a couple more months...