Labyrinth

I had intended to finish yesterday’s post but then I had a dream that’s kind of distracted me. That first, then I’ll finish yesterday’s post.

It’s been seven years since the stroke. I live by myself in an apartment in an unknown city. Poseidon, my kitty, stops by from time to time when he’s not out saving birds and squirrels from the perils of bird and squirrel life. I don’t know how long I’ve been alone; only that it’s quiet. Shhh. I have to be quiet. I live in a hotel. So it’s not really an apartment, is it? But I have a lease. But it’s a hotel. But I live here. But I can’t stay, and I’m alone. But I can’t leave. Maybe it’s like Hotel California. Whatever.
I’ve recovered from the stroke far beyond expectations, and even ataxia seems to have slipped away. I’m in heels and a skirt suit. A skirt suit? Really? Me? More importantly, I can walk in heels again? The elevator doors slide open and Andrea follows me inside. We’re going shopping for something. Once we get to the ground floor we wait for our car to pull around. Don’t I drive yet? The car pulls up and Andrea leans into the passenger window to say something to the driver. She straightens after a moment and looks over her shoulder at me, then disappears. Just like that. Poor! Not there. The car went with her. It made sense in the dream. She is somehow at the shopping mall now and the driver is stuck in a snowstorm in Lima, OH. I don’t know how that happened, but… okay. Poseidon saves birds and squirrels? What?
Now I’m waiting for my car. I check the Uber app on my phone and see that my driver is three months away. Stuck in a snowstorm in Lima. It sucks to be stuck in cold weather. Turn on the heater. Maybe tomorrow will be better, yeah? See you in a few months. Andrea says she’s fine with waiting a while for me to get there. I need a pencil. I don’t know why, but I should have a pencil with me. I turn to go back inside and stop when I notice that our apartment shares the building with a hospital. Wait, what? Who is the ‘we’ in “our” and how have I not noticed that an entire hospital shares “our” building?

I haven’t been alone for all of these years? Who do I live with? I know but I don’t know. I’m unable to think of the name but can feel it on the tip of my tongue; I’m unable to picture a face but can almost picture it. Who is that? My head hurts. A slow, thick ache in the back of my head, near the base of my neck. Near my brainstem. I shake my head and walk to the sliding doors of the hospital. The hospital’s lobby is a mix of Kingswood Medical Center and Ben Taub. I know that I have been inside each of those hospitals at some point but I don’t remember why. The woman at the front desk is familiar, but I don’t know where I know her from.

“I’m sorry, but we’re closed now,” she points with her pen to a sign on her desk, “Nine to five are our operating hours.”

I smile, “I need a pencil.”

“It’s good to see you again, Ellie.” She smiles as I step past the desk. How do I know her?

My stomach lurches and I feel sick. I throw an awkward grin her way and hurry past her desk to the elevator. Second floor. I step into the elevator and try to remember why I need a pencil. How odd to need something with such a pressing urgency and not know why. I just know that it can’t be a pen or a mechanical pencil, and that the importance of acquiring a pencil is slowly… expanding. The elevator doors slide open and I step onto a floor that looks more like the floor of an office building than that of a hospital. Cubicles fill the space behind the desk that faces the elevator. A hallway branches off on either side of the cubicle area, leading to who knows where. Dr. Crump sits behind the first desk.

“I’m sorry, Ellie, but I can’t help you anymore,” She looks tired.

“That’s okay,” I fidget, suddenly nervous, “I just need a pencil.”

Anna walks past the doorway on my left, “There’s one in the casting room. Hi, Ellie!”

I want to follow her and ask questions about AOTA but I have to stay focused. What am I looking for? Right, a pencil.

“Would you point me to the casting room?”

Victor appears out of nowhere, “Down the hall on your left, at the very end. Where are your socks?”

My socks? I don’t know why he’s asking about socks, so I smile awkwardly and edge my way to the hallway on the left, lift my affected hand and give a tiny wave. I turn and skip down the hallway… in heels. I can’t wait to actually do that again. The hallway is long and empty, curving to the right. I can see that it leads to a long room that’s basically a larger version of the hallway, except it has hospital beds lining the left side, with curtains that can be pulled between the beds as partitions. Every bed is empty. I guess patients go home for the day. I shake my head and think about how strange it must be to be a patient who goes home at the end of the day. A 9-5 patient. Odd.
I walk through the door at the end of the long room. The room that greets me is an operating room, long like the first room. I walk quickly to the door at the end of the operating room, not wanting to be distracted by the interesting objects lying in drawers, the screens hanging from the ceiling, the familiar calm. What am I looking for? Pay attention! The hallway is followed by another room; the same as the first. I sigh in frustration. Where do they keep pencils in this place? I hadn’t expected this floor to be this large; a labyrinth of hallways and hallway-rooms. I don’t like it.

I turn around to make my way back the direction I came and stop in my tracks. The room has somehow widened and the doorway has disappeared. In front of it are three rows of beds with patients lying in them. Some have their eyes closed and I somehow know that they’re awake anyway. The others, the ones with their eyes open, stare into my eyes or at some part of my body. None of their bodies move.

“I want to help you,” I say. No one replies.

I stare for a moment as it dawns on me that I know some of them, but I don’t remember their names. The longer I look, the less I know them. I slowly begin to forget them. Right then and there, I forget Andrea, Derrick, Meg, and my first girlfriend.

“I want to help you,” I say again, this time to total strangers.

No one replies. Locked-in Syndrome, all of them. Where did I put that hallway? I need to wake up. I need a pencil. Have you ever had one of those dreams where you know that you’re dreaming? I turn around and walk back to the opposite end of the room, through the doorway, and into the next operating room. I look back to see that one by one, single file, they’re following me. They want to get out too. I wait for them to catch up before continuing. It goes like this for what feels like years. When can we leave? And then I begin to forget to slow down and wait for them. I forget what I’m looking for and I forget that the line of beds following me. I keep walking and forget that they’re trying to keep up. Why have I been stopping to wait at the end of each hall?
I eventually find the first room that I had entered, the original one with the beds. Haven’t I? No, this room is from another dream; a recurring dream I’ve had since I was a child. This room is underground, long and flooded. A sewer. A mattress is about to float past, so I reach down to grab the edge and pull it closer. Don’t look in the water. I stare straight ahead as I float to the end of the room, relieved and gulping for air when I finally hoist myself onto the landing at the end of the end. I want to look back but I don’t. I don’t want to see the carnage I can smell. Just keep moving. I’m finally back in the main area of the floor with the desks and cubicles. I look around and realize that I’ve come full circle and the hallway I had entered is across the room. I begin to feel panicked.

“Please. I need a pencil,” I say to the people in the room.

I don’t know any of them anymore. They look alarmed and begin looking through desk drawers for a pencil. A girl with short curly hair calls me over to a desk near the center of the room and gestures for me to look in the drawer. Pencils. Finally. Why do I need a pencil?

I wake up, wrap my arms around the empty pillow next to me and begin to cry.

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