The Facts of Life

Sometimes when I’m writing to you, I proceed to discuss hard things. For every beginning, there is an ending — we all know that. And going to church isn’t for everybody; I learned that the hard way. Last Wednesday, Laura went to her weekly prayer group meeting, which gets together at eleven in the morning. The members who go are mostly the elderly ladies in the church, who go around visiting the sick, helping the needy, and seeing people who are confined in nursing homes. The First Baptist Church of Robersonville is a large, brick structure located on Railroad Street. While Laura was in there, I thought I would go to the park, with my iPhone and my wireless ear-buds, to listen to some music and to walk a few miles around the sidewalk that surrounds the baseball field. I travelled across town on my bike to get there, but to my chagrin, the gate was closed and chained with a padlock. With my plans now destroyed, I returned home, and, at length, decided that I would take my music with me and walk down some avenues and side streets.

I listened to some pleasant euphonium being piped directly into my ears as I walked across the parking lot of Robersonville Manor onto Main Street, but was annoyed by the passing vehicles that drowned out the notes of my songs, so I turned onto Laurel Avenue and onto Broad Street. After walking several blocks, I passed by a house that was partially destroyed by a fire years ago, but has since been salvaged and repaired, with a woman currently living in it. I’ve passed by it often, and never gave it a second thought.

I walked a few blocks further, up to the intersection of Broad and Railroad Streets, right beside the post office, where the street and the railroad tracks run beside one another, when a young, black man approached from the opposite side. I didn’t think anything of it, but he immediately stopped walking. He had something on his mind, but I had no idea what it could be. He wanted desperately to avoid me; I expected him to just cross to the opposite side of the street so we could walk past each other with plenty of room between us, but when he began walking, he traveled as fast as he could without running, toward Laura’s church, in precisely the same direction that I had planned to go. I turned on Railroad Street, and fell in behind him. He glanced back at me, quickly over his shoulder, then turned onto another side street, but, as I was passing the church, he appeared on Railroad Street again a block away. He had tried to circle around, to get where he wanted to go without me seeing him. I just continued walking, and tried not to pay attention to this strange person.

I continued walking past some very old houses, then approached the vacant high school. There was a lot of history there, with the collection of aged yearbooks and school newspapers archived in the local library. After you walk past the old Robersonville High School, the pavement on the street ends and it becomes a dirt track leading straight to the cemetery. My mood grew sombre as the monuments came into view. As I walked among the graves, I realized that I wasn’t paying attention to my bouncy music anymore, as my mood quickly took a dark and sombre tone. I began to show the utmost respect as I avoided stepping on anyones resting place. I noticed several prominent last names, such as Roberson, Stalls, Roebuck, and Smith. Several of the graves were a hundred years old. Some of the people here lived to ripen to a very mature age, but some died as children, not getting a chance at life at all. In the middle of the graveyard, I saw a canopy surrounding the tombstone of a married couple, with fresh overturned earth covered in fresh flowers. I soon realized that this was a member of Laura’s church, buried beside her husband, Mrs. Doris Everette Roebuck, who had lived to be a hundred-and-two.

Laura and I went to her last birthday party. She was sitting in her recliner in a dignified manner. When we spoke to her, we had to lean close to her and speak loudly and plainly for her to hear, but she was fully alert and aware. As I was eating a piece of her birthday cake, one of her neighbors, Karen, who works with Laura at the food bank, stopped by for a visit. (Since Karen is a person I see frequently, I’ll tell you more about her in a future letter.) Soon after the matriarch’s birthday, she told a family member that she was tired, and she didn’t feel like living anymore. When her health took a downward turn, she had to go to a nursing home, and she didn’t survive long after that.

I spent some more time at this final resting place, viewing the names and dates on the other headstones, some monuments being larger than others, listening to a song entitled “Come Dancing,” when a ringtone interrupted and I pressed the button on my microphone. It was Laura. She had just got out of prayer group. I told her where I was and she picked me up there. We went to her house, and the remainder of the day was uneventful, but the next morning I decided to go walking down Broad Street with my music again. While I was listening to Deep Purple, and walking past the same house that got partially burned up and subsequently repaired, I saw the same strange black man walking out the back door, wearing the exact same clothes, along with the white woman who lived there that was twenty years his senior. She was wrapped up in a house-coat with no sash tied around her, holding it together with both her arms without a stitch of clothing underneath. The man walked past me and tried to get away from me as fast as he could. Yesterday, he must have thought I had just come back from visiting this woman myself, and it became obvious why he viewed me with suspicion, doing everything in his power to avoid me.

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My Perennial Visits

I never like going to the doctor, especially to my psychiatrist, since I consider him my sovereign — he is the person who has the most power over me — but it is a benevolent authority. His name is Dr. Sabanayagam, but we patients call him Dr. Saba for short. He is a cheerful, brown-skinned man originally from Sri Lanka; his wife acts as his secretary and assistant. I have often wondered if they emigrated here because of the thirty year ethnic conflict in that country between the government and the so-called “Tamil terrorists,” but I never dared to ask about it and it was none of my business. I sometimes talk to him about the books I’m reading, and one time I told him about the conclusion I made once in that to read history was to read about war. Dr. Saba shared with me that in the country he came from, the history books were all edited and changed over and over to suit those with prerogative.

The patients whom Dr. Saba treats are precisely the ones who have no sway at all — the poorest of the poor, the sickest of the sick — persons in group homes, children who have no parents, and people like myself who are disabled mentally ill. Dr. and Mrs. Saba travel from Goldsboro to Greenville every month. Their Greenville division is in an old, decaying office complex that the owner has been trying to sell for years. Most of these offices are vacant, and the ones that are not cater to those persons who are struggling to live on their own, in their own homes. The waiting room has old, dilapidated furniture which the landlord will not replace, and he was slow about repairing the heating and air conditioning.

When I entered the waiting room, Mrs. Saba saw me come in and retrieved my file from her portable filing cabinet. A man in a wheelchair — with one leg and with his upper chest strapped in — was wheeled out of Dr. Saba’s office by one of his caretakers while the other one carried a file folder full of paperwork, who immediately called someone on her cell phone so they could get picked up by the nursing home staff. His next patient was a young man who walked very slow with a dazed expression on his face, accompanied by another human services worker who was also carrying a file folder. As soon as the two of them exited the office and approached Mrs. Saba to make their next appointment, Dr. Saba came out, picked up my folder, and called me by my first name.

When I entered his office and received his cheerful greeting, the first thing Dr. Saba did was to put me on the scales. I weighed in at 167.6 and he wrote it down in my chart. I told Dr. Saba about the health problems I had experienced since I saw him last. I showed him the empty bottles of tizanidine and predisone I had finished taking, describing to him how I injured my spine in the shower. He told me that the tizanidine was a muscle relaxant, it could make me feel fatigued and sleepy, and that the predisone was a steroid to clear up the inflammation in my back. I replied to Dr. Saba that I hoped that I never have to take predisone again. I told him about the insomnia I experienced. I told him how I wet my bed. It had an impact on how I felt — it made me nervous and angry, making me hate everything and everybody, but now the pill bottles were empty, and the steroids were out of my system. I mentioned to him that there was still a slight sensation in the lower center of my back. Dr. Saba said it would probably take around three months for it to clear up completely.

Dr. Saba looked at me with a rather pensive gaze. “Since I saw you last, you have lost nine pounds. How did you do it?” I had gotten to the point where I would rather drink coffee than eat, but I didn’t tell him that; instead, I mentioned the current situation he may have heard about concerning a polar vortex that has placed North America in the clutches of a January freeze. Since it is now too cold to ride my bicycle, my only alternative was to fast. Sometimes I would wait until the middle of the day, eat a small piece of bread, and that would be all I had all day. I didn’t want him to pick on me about my weight anymore. I knew that both my primary care physician and Dr. Saba wanted me to weigh 170, but it is very difficult to stay there, and Dr. Saba said not to lose any more weight.

He concluded by saying the I do well most of the time, but I let little things get to me. To this I wholeheartedly agreed. Dr. Saba rose from his chair behind his desk and said it was good to see me. As I exited his office, I received a prescription and an appointment to come back in sixty days. As I walked out the front door, I called Laura, who was at a retail store looking over the clearance aisle, and I asked if she was hungry. She picked me up and I took her to a Mexican restaurant across town. I broke my fast by eating four large tacos, and Laura got three burritos. She said that I didn’t have to take her out to eat just because she took me to the doctor, but I replied that I wanted to because she was so kind to me.

Not Anonymous

My letters to you are meant to be part of a conversation, but the majority of the time they are a one-sided discussion. It is as if my epistles are private, but I know they are not. If you are reading this, I have absolutely no idea who you are, and this circumstance has emboldened me, giving me the courage to write about everything and everybody in telling my whole story — without inhibition, without shame, and without fear. I read novels about the idle rich, or about people in better circumstances, and I’m hereby setting out to describe in unabashed detail the silent lives of low-income people. Wealth or poverty is relative, I suppose. There is an off-ramp from the interstate highway on the way to Greenville where a homeless man, with long dirty hair, unshaven, with rumpled and filthy clothes, stands with a cardboard sign smiling sweetly, trying to make eye contact with the motorists who stop at the nearby stop sign. He stands there each and every day. One afternoon, near a shopping mall, I saw another one with a sign laying on his back, sobbing in the pouring rain. The Heritage Foundation, a government think tank, writes that the poor are not really so bad off as we might believe. After all, it’s not as if we live in the days of Charles Dickens.

I do not live at the poverty level which the federal government has delineated, but Social Security was never meant to be a person’s only source of income. It is mandated that only a certain percentage of my monthly resources should be spent on food, and this is why I was issued a food stamp card. It is easily recognizable in the check-out aisle, with its bright red, white, and blue colors representing the American flag. Whenever you use it, the people who are watching you in the grocery store will know something about you. The Greenville newspaper, The Daily Reflector, has within it a column entitled “Bless Your Heart,” which communicates approval toward issues and people it approves of while heaping sarcasm toward things it does not. In one issue, it gave out a bless your heart to a person with a smart phone using a food stamp card to pay for her groceries. These attitudes are institutionalized. You may have read my previous letters and asked yourself, “Why does this writer speak of receiving food stamp benefits and he owns an iPhone? I’m a taxpayer!” The main reason I bought one was so I could call someone for help in case I had a flat tire while riding my bicycle. Food stamp benefits are based upon monthly income, not on a person’s savings. I won a settlement in a class action lawsuit against the government years ago, so now I have a nest egg in a savings account, which I am not ashamed to say that I add to it each and every month. Is all this social welfare or social justice? Ask yourself why such a large population of people have to depend on food stamps and food banks to make it every month — it isn’t necessarily because they don’t work. Those who do not work cannot, either because they are elderly or because they are disabled. My handicap has been proven time and time again by the preponderance of the evidence. I will never own property or have a family of my own, and I have put my shattered dreams behind me.

Laura owns a house and a car because she also entered into a class action lawsuit, but her’s was because she was injured by a pharmaceutical company. She received a lot more money than I did, but she spent it all. Laura still takes a lot of medicine. When I came over to see her yesterday, Pee Wee had given her a bath and washed her hair, but it was in disarray when I arrived. She was pale and her speech was rather slow. Diane and I have been trying to get Laura to use her crafts room and to start painting her ceramics. Laura and I were in there painting with the television on when Diane and her husband, Gayle, arrived unexpectedly. Gayle came to help Laura with her fax machine, and since he was a computer technician when he was in the Army, he knew more about it than I did. “Laura, it looks like you’re stoned,” Gayle said when he saw her. Diane said the same thing.

Diane came into the crafts room, sitting beside Laura on the couch as we were painting and Gayle was in the bedroom working on the fax. Diane either did not fully realize what she had done the other night, or else she wasn’t aware that I knew about it. She didn’t act in any way differently towards me, so I must be taking things a little too seriously. I tried to forget about the whole incident as we sat around the crafts table, littered with paints and ceramics. We looked up at the television which was situated upon a large chest. On it was a show entitled Horders, a program about people who pack rotten food and trash in their homes and refuse to part with it, living with flies, rats, and other vermin. There was a commercial that came on in the middle of it about trained psychotherapists who were just a phone call away. Give them your credit card number, and they would charge you only a dollar a minute. The next commercial was for a group of California psychics who could put you on the right path, all you needed to do was to dial their number on your cell phone. Meanwhile, Diane and I were talking to Laura about her medicine, and she showed us the double dose handfuls she takes every morning and night.

Gayle finished with Laura’s fax machine and left for the grocery store. He goes grocery shopping for himself and Diane everyday, always calling her on the phone while he’s in there. While Diane was sitting in the crafts room, Gayle called her three times. “It never fails,” she said. When he was leaving the Food Lion, Diane gave Laura a hug and said goodbye. It wasn’t long after that when Laura got tired of painting and wanted to lay back down in the bed. She wrapped up and I sat in the recliner facing her, turning on some music on my iPhone. Laura was falling asleep. I told her I would call her and wake her up in time to take her medicine a six o’clock, so I left and went home; when I called her at six, she didn’t answer.

A Special Road Trip

Laura has an adopted brother who lives in a group home in Goldsboro, and we share the same psychiatrist, who travels to Greenville once a month. I see Dr. Saba once every sixty days, and my appointment with him is coming up soon, (but that is another story). And whenever I visit Andrew, I cannot help but think of the ugly theories of a hundred years ago, when Havelock Ellis wrote about the task of social hygiene, when the rich preached the doctrine of Social Darwinism and the natural selection inherent in breeding human beings like cattle, when society refused to look at its own blemishes in the mirror, and instead went to war against handicapped people. The sense of solidarity I feel in being part of a once vilified minority is very acute. I love Andrew as if he were my own, and I’m sure he is getting the care he needs and he is happy.

Laura and I left Robersonville at about midmorning to meet her parents at the Food Lion parking lot in Tarboro. Billy and Mary Ann were both sitting in their van waiting for us when we arrived. With hugs and greetings all around, Laura locked up her car and we entered the van, got strapped in, and off we went. I was sitting in the back.  I looked out the window as the streets and the avenues of the city gave way to rural roads, empty fields waiting for the spring planting season, and farm houses which dotted the landscape, passing through open spaces, villages, and other small towns. When we arrived in Goldsboro through the back way, we travelled down Norwood Avenue until we went through a wooden privacy fence with its gate open. We parked behind a large house, observing that the van which transported the residents to their daily activities was not there. When Billy called the Nova employees on the phone, he found out that the staff on night shift failed to tell the people on day shift that we were coming.

We chatted as we waited there for a while, then their van finally passed through the gateway and we saw the people in it. Andrew waved when he saw us. When the van parked, he got out and approached us as I opened the door. He couldn’t walk in a straight line, and as he stood slightly hunched over, he looked at us with his blue crossed eyes. “Hey, Tom,” he began with his slow, childlike drawl, “Hey, Laura. Hey, mom. Hey, dad.” Billy led Andrew inside the house through the back door to sign him out, asking him if he had lunch yet. Andrew said he was hungry and ready to go to the restaurant.

When Andrew entered the van, and Mary Ann put on his seat belt, Laura and his mother presented him with some gifts they had brought. Laura gave Andrew a small bag of candy, while Mary Ann gave him a ball cap and three car magazines with a lot of pictures in them. Andrew expressed his endless gratitude. He showed us the first place ribbon he received at Special Olympics for shooting a basketball through a hoop. I looked at the writing on the blue ribbon. Embroidered on it were the words “Achievement, Courage, Joy.” I congratulated Andrew on the fine job he did.

Laura picked out the restaurant and when we arrived, Laura, Andrew, and I left our jackets in the van. When we all stepped out, Andrew held his arms out. “I love you, Tom.” I gave him a great big hug, replying, “I love you, Andrew.” Then he turned his crooked eyes toward Laura and with outstretched arms, declared, “I love you, Laura.” She hugged him, too, declaring her everlasting affection. As we walked across the parking lot, Mary Ann straightened out his shirt, which was a little askew, then, as Billy held open the front door of the eating establishment, we all marched in. Billy always pays for our meals, and I hope he knows how much I appreciate him. This place was buffet only; Billy settled the tab at the register in advance. When we found our place to sit, Billy took Andrew up to the buffet aisle to help fix his plate for him. We all got our plates to the table, held hands, and blessed the food (Billy is a retired minister). I didn’t eat anything that day prior to lunch, my stomach was empty, and the two plates of food I ate felt good going in, but when it sat there awhile, it started to hurt. All of us had full stomachs when we left. As we passed by the cashier on the way out the door, Billy, with a wink and a nod, said to her, “We left some food behind for you.”

When we returned to the group home, Andrew put on the ball cap that covered his grey hair, and we all hugged him again and said goodbye. Soon we were back on the rural highways and I was looking out the window again at churches, country stores, and farm houses that whispered by. As we were traveling faster than it was probably lawful, Billy had to put on brakes. “What’s this?” was his interrogative exclamation when we drove up on what looked like an old washing machine which had fell off the back of a truck. Billy swung around it and we continued, but Laura got out her iPhone and called the highway patrol. After she did this, a news article popped up on her screen. The longest government shutdown in US history had now come to an end.

I pulled out my own iPhone to get the details. NBC News wrote that President Trump agreed to open up the government for three weeks, to give federal workers their back pay, while the Republicans and the Democrats continue negotiations over border security. It seemed that Donald Trump did not get the border wall that he demanded. I read some other news articles describing the airline traffic jams at major airports, the damage done to the economy, and the blame Trump was receiving for it, who declared on camera, “I’ll be proud to shut down the government.” Now Laura and I will not get our food stamps held up, and Laura will be able to distribute meat again to the clients at the food bank.

Recovery and Enlightenment

It has been the better part of a week since I’ve written to you, and I hope you haven’t been worried about me. I wanted to wait until the steroids got out of my system, and to defer my next letter until the steamship of my mind was sailing upon calmer waters. Now my mind is full of mush; I have to think things through as I write. There are several stories I would like to tell, but my head feels as if it is filled with stale air. As I sit here listening to lounge music, I will tell you one of them. I guess I will begin at the beginning.

Laura has a neighbor across the street who comes over from time to time, usually in the late afternoon when I’m home, or in the early evenings when I’m in bed asleep. Her name is Diane. All this started when she began helping Laura put puzzles together. Diane’s husband got tired of her going over to Laura’s everyday and bought a puzzle for themselves to work on, but Diane continued going over to Laura’s anyhow. One evening, Laura began discussing the anxiety and depression she felt at night before she went to bed. Diane got hold of her tablet and got on Facebook, finding Laura a depression support group. Then Diane began to ask Laura about her relationship with me. Laura told her that we were technically just good friends. “Well, Laura, don’t you want more? Don’t you want to fall in love and get married some day?” Laura stammered and replied, “I dunno, maybe so.” Diane put a dating site on her computer and told her to give it a try. She might find a boyfriend.

Well, Laura told me about the incident, and added that she didn’t want this. I asked her why Diane would want to come between us, and to break our friendship apart. Laura didn’t give me a straight answer, but she told me that “I’m trying to get the subscription to Our Time out of my tablet.” Our Time is a dating site for singles fifty and older.

The next morning, Laura made her morning phone call to me as soon as she let Pee Wee in the house to help her. Laura said she felt depressed. I suggested that we go eat at the Chinese joint here in town: it would get her out of the house and make her feel better. We met after Pee Wee left Laura’s house to go attend to her other client. After we ate and chatted, we returned home and I brought up Diane. I said that you think you know a person, when they smile at you and act as if they’re your friend, but when they go behind your back and do something to hurt you, then you learn what kind of person they really are. “She didn’t mean nothing, we were only playing,” Laura declared, adding that she wasn’t interested. But Diane knew that I went over to Laura’s house every day. She also knew that Laura and I had been friends for years before Diane and her husband moved here. If Laura acted upon Diane’s suggestion, what would become of me? The men on that website had a lot more money than I, they owned their own transportation, and they didn’t have the medical problems I had. Laura replied that she didn’t want my money, that as long as she had a car we could get around together, and, if they knew about her medical problems, they probably wouldn’t want her, either.

I just cannot view Diane in the same light anymore. I was the one who took care of her dogs while she traveled to her other home in New York state to go before a judge so she could get disability benefits. I had the key to their house, and never violated their trust. I thanked Laura for being open and honest with me about what Diane was doing. Laura makes friends easily and has numerous acquaintances, but my illness causes me to be forlorn and cloistered. I sometimes fear the injury that isolation could bring. Doctors say that loneliness can cut years off a person’s life.

What Diane didn’t realize is that Laura does not care about sexual things. When she was growing up, Laura was the victim of a child molester, and that is why we’re friends instead of lovers. As for me, my experiences in the state hospital and in other places has rendered me such a paragon of performance anxiety, that I’m incapable of consummating a marriage.  Laura and I are both celibate, and will probably remain so for the remainder of our lives. We can’t even live together. We both have our own space, and we’re both better off that way. Laura continues to be friends with Diane, but I wish she would mind her own business.

Another Sleepless Night

The day I described to you in my last letter was nothing like what I experienced the following evening. I went to bed early, took my medication — including the steroid for my back — and quickly fell asleep. But I awoke in the dark. I looked at my digital clock and mistook the number nine for a three. I thought I had been asleep for six hours. I went into the kitchen and made coffee; I made only four cups this time, but I made them very strong. After reading for a few hours, I went back into the bedroom and looked at the clock again. It was only midnight. I grew hungry and ate a bowl of pinto beans. Eating — that was what triggered it! All of a sudden everything exploded. My heart rate shot up. I could feel my pulse in the twin arteries of my neck. Soon I could feel the blood vessels in the right and left sides of my head, which reminded me of diagrams I have seen in anatomy books.

I didn’t know if something bad was about to happen, so I dialed 911. The dispatcher asked me if I was experiencing chest pain; I told her no. Soon after, the rescue squad arrived. One of the two men looked at my pill bottles, and he saw the prednisone bottle. He also asked me why I took klonopin; I replied that I suffer from anxiety and panic attacks. One of the technicians brought in a kit which looked like a large suitcase. He took my blood pressure and my pulse. My blood pressure was higher than it normally was, but it was not too high, and my heart was running at a hundred beats per minute. “Let us get a picture of your heart,” he said. They brought an instrument out of the suitcase with some wires hanging out of it. One of them hooked the electrodes on my arms and around my chest, and, when they turned it on, a paper shot out with a squiggly line scribbled upon a crimson grid. The technician looked at it and declared my heart was fine. He told me I would be okay when the coffee wore off, but they could take me to the hospital if I felt like I needed to go.

I declared that I would just stay home. I signed a document of a legal nature, and they said to call them back if I needed to. They left and the sun came up four hours later. I went over to Laura’s, called her on the phone, and knocked on her bedroom window to wake her. We had somewhere we had to be this morning. Laura came to the door to let me in. When I entered her bedroom, I saw and empty cup on the floor surrounded by a great big puddle of soda. This made it the second morning in a row she had done this. Time was running short because we had to be in Jamesville in about an hour, but we eventually made it on time. After the appointment — which took longer than usual — I was to meet my mom at my apartment. She planned to take Laura and I to lunch in Greenville. The three of us went to the Cracker Barrel, then went to the public library afterwards.

It was late afternoon when I returned home. I was exhausted. I forced myself to stay awake until bedtime. I took all my clothes off — for I sleep in the nude — and, after taking my medication, I lied flat upon my back, wrapping the covers tight around me like a larvae in a cocoon. I quickly fell into a deep, deep slumber. When I awoke the next morning, I found myself soaking in my own urine.

Sleeping

Here I am, running on too much caffeine and not enough sleep; the steroids I’m taking for my back are keeping me awake, too, causing me to be jittery and jumpy and nervous. At first, I didn’t think these white, nasty tasting pills would interfere with my sleep, since I was supposed to take two at bedtime, but when I did this, I tossed and turned. And as I rolled and tumbled within my blankets, I received flashbacks from when I was in the state hospital. There was this black woman, and my skin was the wrong color, who had established an ongoing feud with me. She worked in the women’s ward next door, but she could come into the men’s ward through the nurse’s station, and one afternoon she made a point of doing this with a set of leather restraints. She saw me pacing the hallway by the bedrooms, and she came out there, restraints outstretched, pacing along with me. The other patients who were perambulating along with us got out of the way, so me and this bitch stood face to face — she didn’t dare look up at me, and I could tell in her mannerisms the sudden redolence of fear — but she kept walking past me. She wanted to intimidate me, but I was much larger than her. She wanted to start a fight, but she couldn’t do it without getting injured herself, and if some of the other staff came to her aid, why was she alone in another ward with a pair of restraints?

I didn’t take the bait, and she walked back through the nurses’ station — back where she came from. As I lay there with my eyes closed — visualizing through the hazy, kaleidoscopic images which permeated my mind –I could suddenly see the blue cinder block walls, the tiles of the hard concrete floor, the sterile facade, with this tiny black woman, trying to be a big woman, dressed in a smock, displaying a set of restraints with two outstretched arms. She faded away like a ghost when I shook my head under the covers — a long, awful memory burned into my brain as a hot seal upon wax. I think of this scene from time to time, and my mood immediately swings into a maelstrom of agitation. I knew I must not dwell upon this; I arose from my bed and got myself dressed, and went into the living room with my tablet.

I turned on France24, viewing the current social unrest in France, among protesters who donned yellow vests, as they fought with the police. There had been one strike after the other, shops vandalized and cars set on fire, beginning when President Emmanuel Macron raised taxes on gasoline. It was the final insult to working people, who called Macron “the president of the rich,” for he had cut taxes on the wealthy — claiming to jump-start the economy — giving the lower classes and the poor no more excuses to “game the system.” I left France24 and went over to Sky News, watching the United Kingdom struggle to break out of the European Union. The British, with all this talk of nationalism, began to hate immigrants from eastern Europe so much, that they were now threatening to destroy their own economy, causing chaos in the government and confusion in their cities. Prime Minister Theresa May saw her Brexit plans collapse yesterday, but she survived a vote of no confidence today and remained in power. I also turned to Aljazeera, and, watching the longest shutdown in our own government’s history, with federal workers standing in line waiting for their meals at food banks, another migrant caravan was leaving Honduras on foot, to make another attempt at the American Dream.

I dozed off in my recliner, but this was just the first night of a week long treatment plan in order to clear up the inflammation in my back. Meanwhile, Laura, as I was staying up night after night, was sleeping all day everyday and not answering the phone. I walked down to her house and said in my iPhone, “Call Laura.” As her phone began to ring, I banged on her door as hard as I could. I was relieved when she got up in her gown and answered. I told her that if she didn’t show up to volunteer at the local food bank this evening, her boss, Tina, would be angry with her and she would miss out on the free food Tina gives her. Laura got up and got dressed, then she made it there on time. The following day she did the same thing — remained asleep and didn’t answer the phone. This time she had an appointment with Monica. When I arrived at Laura’s house this time, her home health worker, Pee Wee, let me in, saying that she couldn’t give Laura a bath this morning because she couldn’t get her out of bed. After Pee Wee left, I walked into the bedroom and saw Laura all wrapped up in her blankets, motionless. I feared the day would come when I would find her laying there unconscious, or even dead.

I placed my hand upon her shoulder, saying, “Laura?” She sprang up, startled that I had gotten inside her house without her knowledge. When she slowly crawled out of bed, and, after going to the bathroom, she asked, “What’s wrong with me?” I replied that she was probably overmedicated, and that she has sleep apnea and hasn’t been using her breathing machine lately. She got dressed and fed me two plates of food, warning me that the steroids would make me eat more and make me gain weight. We went into the living room so Laura could sit up in a chair. I took my iPhone in there, putting on some music guaranteed to keep her awake. I played the album Low Budget, by The Kinks. As Ray Davies was singing, “This is Captain America calling / Catch me now I’m falling,” Laura knocked over a cup filled with soda, and it spread itself out all over the floor.