Nancy had been a psychiatric ward nurse for thirteen years. She was exhausted, but her husband Bill had been laid off and she had kids to feed, so she showed up for work every day. The conversations she had with her patients, on the ‘not psychotic enough for straitjackets but not stable enough for the real world’ ward kept her from getting too bored with her work. Plus, she liked most of her co-workers.
Today was just another day for Nance- her 18 month old had been up all night with a cold even Benadryl couldn’t touch. She got into her 1997 Toyota Pieceashit and rode the 35 miles on the New Jersey Turnpike into work, wondering how much longer the car could make the trip. She switched on the radio and the first thing she heard was,
“I’m pretty sure your wife isn’t going to give up the anal with everyone watching.”
Fucking Howard Stern. He is such a goddamn PIG, and even though they could barely afford diapers SOMEHOW Bill managed to find the money to pay Sirius every month so she could have the pleasure of listening to this sexist asshole every time she turned on the car. She almost always changed the station right away. Almost. Every once in awhile, she couldn’t resist listening for a mile or two.
Her cell phone rang and she fought the urge to answer it but saw it was her mom, and she dreaded the thought of having to call her back more than the thought of answering. So she answered.
“I’ve started taking the Xanax we bought in Mexico,” said Mom before Nancy could even say hello.
“Oh good, Mom, well maybe it will help!” offered Nancy.
“Are you implying that I need Xanax?! Is that it?!” she heard through the phone, with hysterical flair. “I need to talk about my car. There’s this guy Angel, and he says if you give him your credit card number, he can fix my car.”
“Mom, do not give him any credit card numbers. I’m almost at work- I’ll talk to you later.”
Nancy hung up, cringing at the thought of having to call her back. Her mom belonged in the facility she was headed to more than half the patients. Bill was always telling her she should be nicer to her mom (just last night he’d laughed as he said “Remember when your mom told me about rainbow parties?”) but phone calls to her just ended up causing her more stress.
She pulled up into the circular driveway of the old stone mansion, veering off towards the little dirt lane that led to the employee parking lot. As she walked in, she first encountered Addie, a 75 year old African American woman who worked at the registration office and was like a mom to Nancy- a sane mom.
“I gots me a new lover,” said Addie. “Whoooo-eeee he’s a looker.”
“Really, Addie?! That’s great!” said Nancy, genuinely pleased. “How long have you been seeing him?”
“Well,” said Addie, “I first saw him at a picnic sometime last summer. We didn’t know each other, but I had a George Foreman by then. I decided that day that I had to have me summa that. So now? I’s having me sum. Mmmmm- MM!”
“Wow,” said Nancy, “Sounds serious! Think you’ll get him to marry you, or is five dead husbands enough for you?”
Addie smiled. “We’ve shared harnesses. That’s enough!”
Nancy laughed as she walked down the hallway toward her ward. She ran into Jeff, a janitor, coming out of one of the patient rooms and shaking his head.
“What’s the matter, Jeff?” asked Nancy.
“I am sick and tired of cleaning up crap all the time!” said Jeff, pointing towards the patient room. “That one ain’t just crazy, she stupid! Craps on the floor right next to the toilet ever’ single day. I think she like me, want to see me come in here and clean it up ever’ damn day. There sho would be better ways to let someone know you like ‘em! It ain’t convenient at all for me to hafta drag this bucket up in here ever’ God blessed day.”
Nancy grinned. “Yeah, but you gotta remember where we work! I’d say taking a crap is equally as inconvenient, but it makes a bolder statement.”
She winked at Jeff and kept moving towards the tiny cubicle in a regular sized office that held four desks- hers, and three other nurses. Sitting at the desk beside hers was Jim, a cute young nurse just out of school. He was eating a bag of marshmallows.
“Nice breakfast, Jim,” said Nancy.
“Yeah, well doc says I can’t have caffeine anymore because of my migraines,” said Jim.
Nancy smiled. “That reminds me of the time I was convinced I could fit two raw eggs in my mouth simultaneously,” she said. “I went through a whole dozen before giving up.”
“Whadja do that for?” asked Jim.
“Seemed like a good idea at a college bar on a bet,” said Nancy. “I can’t believe I ate a dozen raw eggs and STILL had to buy the drinks. Not to mention puking for the next 24 hours straight.”
As she walked down the hall with her chart to visit her first patient of the day, Nancy watched as two bloated, hungover doctors walked by. She wondered why it was that the craziest people in the world weren’t the patients, they were the doctors driving Jaguars and getting paid tons of money to shove pills down people’s throats- or, rather, write on a piece of paper to tell other people to do the pill shoving. She overheard a snippet of their conversation: “What, you have to go jack-off two midgets?” and rolled her eyes in disgust (but not surprise- there was little of that around these parts).
Finally she arrived at the room of Tina, a Latina former stripper who had undergone a mental breakdown after the death of her only child. She wasn’t your average everyday crazy, but post traumatic stress disorder wasn’t just for soldiers, and she had landed in here after an ambulance worker talked her off a bridge. She chatted for awhile with Tina, asking about her medication side effects and how much longer she’d be inpatient. Tina told her she was hoping to get out next week but was wondering what she’d do for work as the school where she was now a teacher had laid her off, forcing Tina into an ugly lawsuit.
“Do you think you can get a substitute job in another school,” asked Nancy.
“Nah, I think I’ll go back to Newark and get my old job back,” said Tina. “Better money, less stress. Plus, girl, you know I know my way around a pole!”
“Good for you!” said Nancy, flipping to the next chart and heading down the hall.
Oh, God. Next was David.
David was schizophrenic, obsessive compulsive AND had an obsession with Spongebob Squarepants. The doctor had been trying to work with David into admitting he was gay, because having sex with Spongebob was pretty much all David ever talked about. Nancy tried to ask him about anything…ANYTHING else when she entered his room.
“Hi David,” Nancy started. “It’s super nice out today, maybe you could go help weed the garden out back.”
“NO!” shouted David, who began rocking back and forth. “Then I would have to clean the stone path because it is filthy, and all they would give me is a kitchen sponge. Kitchen sponges are the worst. That’s why I stopped having sex with them. The kitchen ones that is. I still have sex with the sea ones.”
“Ok, David,” said Nancy as she made a note in the chart and thought: just another day at the office.
She wondered if she should just go ahead and try the Xanax. After all, everyone was doing it. Or? Maybe, she’d go with Tina back to her old workplace. Bill didn’t know about it, but she thought to herself:
“I know my way around a pole, too.”