Wind scatters leaves as I approach the house.
The geranium he hung lies on the floor.
The same porch board’s loose. The coir mat sheds.
I fumble for the key and push at the door
that opens to guitar amps, music books
and cardboard boxes left by the man
who asked me not to touch his clothes
or toss the newspapers till he came home
from the hospital, sorted through the stuff
once and for all to organize his life.
"If my father dies, you're going down with him."
The words pierced the air, and suddenly there was silence.
I hadn't noticed Frank’s son at first. He'd been pacing in the back of the family group gathered in our ICU waiting room. Now, up close, I could appreciate how large and intimidating he was. And I'd just had the thankless job of telling him, along with the rest of his family, a shocking, completely unexpected truth: Frank wasn't dying, he was already dead.
"Nursing students needed to work in the University Hospital, good pay, orientation."
As a rising nursing-school senior in the 1970s, I naïvely applied for the job above without getting the full details. No one mentioned that I'd be working in a psychiatric unit housing twenty-five aggressive, catatonic or schizophrenic patients, many of whom had been locked away for years.
The entrance sign, which should have read "Locked Psych/Med/Surg Unit," said simply "5 East."
On my first evening shift, I overheard two nurses discussing how to monitor a new patient, transferred from the federal psych facility across town.
"Can we get the student to do it?" said one.