Priscilla lay in bed staring at the television. The cloud coverage displayed by the Doppler radar, coupled with the report of a cold air trough, and the barometric pressure, seemed to indicate that the meteorologist would be right with his prediction for the weekend weather. She had a long drive ahead of her and she didn’t want to get caught in the blizzard that was reportedly expected in the North. She did however, hope that the snow would fall in truckloads once she arrived and was settled into the cabin.
Ah the cabin: The most beautiful place on earth. Bless my father for deeding it to me rather than my brothers. They would merely have used it as income property or worse, they would have sold it. Yes, this was truly one of Dad’s better decisions, thought Priscilla.
Rolling out of bed, she slid her petite feet into her slippers and headed directly to her closet to don her days wear. Midway to the closet, her Golden Retriever, affectionately named Goldie, darted in front of her and came to a complete stop just inches from Priscilla’s knees. With her tail wagging and her body moving in an overzealous wiggle, Goldie jumped up on Priscilla further upsetting her balance. Priscilla staggered backward and unable to regain her balance tumbled to the floor where Goldie proceeded to playfully pounce on her and smother her with kisses. Priscilla chuckled as she reached up to return her dog’s affections by vigorously rubbing Goldie’s’ ears. It never failed that on the days that they were to depart for the cabin, Goldie’s’ temperament would seem to change from the sedentary old dog that she had become over the last 11 years to a highly excited and vivacious puppy.
Goldie seemed to love being at the mountain cabin just as much as Priscilla. The dogs’ instincts were always correct when it came to knowing when they would be leaving for her favorite spot. The nature walks, frolicking in the multitudes of streams and fresh air seemed to be so good for Goldie but when it was time to return to the city, she would once again resume her role as the old dog that she truly was in years.
Priscilla packed her suitcase the day before and all that was left before they embarked upon their journey was to turn the thermostats down and set the faucets to a slow drip to prevent the pipes from freezing. The old apartment building that they lived in had never been updated for anything, including the pipes. The original lead pipes that were installed in the 30’s remained in place and functioned just fine, according to her landlord. However, Priscilla knew that unless she wanted to come back to find her belongings completely destroyed by water damage, she would have to make sure that none of those old pipes froze.
With the two chores completed, the apartment locked up, and Goldie faithfully positioned in the front passenger seat of the Bronco, they were ready for the long drive to the cabin located in Vail Colorado. She turned the key to the ignition, warmed the engine for a moment, and then began the drive for the home where her heart was.
Dr. Ashcroft watched through the viewing glass as his 29 year old female patient wrestled with the blanket on her cot. He motioned the nurses to remain steadfast in their position as the patient methodically removed her hospital gown and began draping the blanket she held across her bodice as if dressing in some unknown attire.
“I want to watch her behavior uninterrupted. I’d like to try to figure out if there is something that she is trying to act out. It may give us a clue as to where she is in her mind.” Dr. Ashcroft stated firmly.
“Yes Doctor.” The charge nurse quietly and understandingly replied.
Facing a barren wall and standing erect, the patient reached forward touching the wall with a pincer grasp and moved her fingers ever so slightly to the left. She then took 17 steps to the other side of her locked room which placed her directly in front of the two-way mirror that the doctor and nurses where viewing her through. She reached outward with a fully extended arm and twisted her wrist ever so slightly. She repeated this motion at two other random locations in her room. After having done this, she leaned downward and with an open palm, she moved her hand back and forth.
“Is the video tape rolling”?
“Yes Sir Dr. Ashcroft.”
“Good, I’d like for her brother to be able to view this on the monitor in my office when he arrives, maybe he will have an idea where she is in that mind of hers”.
Following a few other hand motions, the patient appeared to developed a slight wobble in her gait as she walked to a chair located on the East side of her room by the only window that was there. As usual, when she sat in that chair, she began acting out what took Dr. Ashcroft only a short period of time to decide was driving a vehicle.
Dr. Ashcroft had been able to conclude the meaning of many of her actions during her confinement by simply having been a child himself that played charades from time to time. But what Dr. Ashcroft really needed to know is why she had completely lost herself to a delusion. His hunch was that somewhere in all of her actions was something that would lead him to the answer but until he understood all of her actions, he would not be able to piece together the puzzle.
With the windows to her truck rolled down and the crisp cool air blowing through her long brown hair, Priscilla took in a deep refreshing breath. As a feeling of contentment came over her, she decided that she definitely appreciated the outdoors more than most people. She had worked as a secretary for more years than she cared to remember and her work space felt like nothing more than an isolation tank to Priscilla. With no windows to look out of and four puke green walls surrounding 6 days a week, Priscilla enjoyed every opportunity to be surrounded by nature. It’s just not natural and it definitely has to be unhealthy to be subjected to such rigidity, she told herself about her work environment. She knew that she would never have the beautiful view that she had hoped for when she started her job with “Newsome, Riley &Smith”, for as soon as she was hired 4 years before, the three musketeers that owned the company felt that all employees would be more productive if separated from all possible visual distractions. Subsequently, the offices were renovated and the employees were placed in institutional green cubicles. There were no windows and all the lighting was artificial which was argued by the three employers to be the best lighting for performing the “type of work that secretaries do”. They threw in, as though they were doing some enormous favor to all of them, that the greenish color on their surrounding cubicles was found to be, through studies, the most stress reducing color available. Priscilla had, from time to time, considered leaving but would quickly talk herself out of it telling herself that it paid the bills…particularly the taxes on the cabin.
Two hours into Priscilla’s drive, it began to snow, which was not at all what she had seen on the radar and certainly not what the meteorologist had projected. It had appeared to be much further away. Good Lord! This weather should not have started for another 6 hours at least! Priscilla downshifted and slowed her speed as she looked out over the mountains in an attempt to see what the sky looked like ahead of her.
If this weather persists, I may not make it by dark. This is not good! I know there isn’t enough firewood to get me through the night up at the cabin which means I’ll have to go down to the lake and get some from the old shed. God I hate going down there at night! Hmmm, maybe it’ll let up and I can make time later in the drive.
“Stephen Manchester is here to see you”.
“Alright, direct him to my office and I’ll be there in a moment. Nurse Peterson”?
“Keep the camera on during our meeting please. I’ll retrieve it when I am ready”.
Dr. Ashcroft continued to gaze at his patient in wonderment for another minute before he gathered her chart and began down the hall toward his office. Upon entering his office, he found Stephen Manchester standing facing the wall where Mrs. Ashcroft had proudly displayed her husbands credentials. As if startled by Dr. Ashcroft’s entrance, Stephen spun around sharply when the door opened. Almost instantaneously, a look of embarrassment crossed his face.
“You must be Stephen. Hi, I’m Dr. Ashcroft, the psychiatrist caring for your sister”.
“Hi, nice to meet you. I was just looking over your degrees and awards. I must say, I am quite impressed”.
“Thank you, although I hesitate to take too much pride in them at the moment as they haven’t been of much use with your sister lately. Can I call you Stephen or do you prefer Mr. Manchester”?
“Stephen is fine”.
Dr. Ashcroft extended his hand for a quick shake from Stephen before seating himself behind the cherry oak laminated desk. Pushing his glasses further up his nose and with a sigh escaping him, Dr. Ashcroft began:
“Okay, Stephen it is. I wanted to meet with you to discuss the progress, or lack thereof, that we are making with your sister here at Melbrook. As you know, she has been a patient here for nearly 4 years. During the first year, we made a substantial amount of progress by bringing her out of the catatonic state in which she arrived. Past that we have found ourselves in a quandary so to speak. We don’t know why but she now appears to be living in an imaginary world. She is completely unaware of other people’s presences and we are never sure of what exactly she is acting out. Of course there are some things that she does that we presume to understand but really it is only guessing on our parts. That, Stephen, is what we hope you can help us with”.
“Pardon me for asking, but what exactly do you think that I can do that you cannot”?
“Well, we have been recording her behaviors with the hopes that you would review some of the film with us, and I know that it is a shot in the dark, but, maybe, just maybe, you might see something that she is doing as having meaning because she is your sister. I also am prepared, if you are willing, to send a couple of copies of tapes with you so that you can view them over time, being that you are unable to visit very often.”
A sudden sense of guilt passed through Stephen. He knew he should have visited her more often. The shame, however, of his contribution to her current state, was just easier ignored from a distance.
“If you see something on them that you think you recognize then you can reach me any time of day to discuss it with me’. Dr. Ashcroft continued.
“I doubt it doctor but I guess it couldn’t hurt anything to try. When do you want me to look at them”?
“Do you have time now”?
Stephen paused for a moment. He was completely taken by surprise by all of this. But now, unless he wanted to appear callous and without compassionate, he would have to deal with his sister on a level that he never in his life wanted to. With a hint of hesitation, Stephen agreed.
“Yes, I guess now is as good a time as any”.
“Alright then, I will have Nurse Peterson bring a tape in and set it up for us to view. It will just take a few minutes. I’ll be right back”.
Stephen couldn’t help but feel as though he wouldn’t be of much assistance. He hadn’t been much of a brother over the years notably during the last 4 since her commitment hearing. The guilt over having testified during the hearing plagued him daily and was the source of his avoidance since. Oh, that was not the only source of guilt but it was the main one.
The snowfall had lifted and Priscilla was able to pick up her speed with the hope of arriving at her cabin before the sun set. She estimated that she had another 120 miles to go and approximately 1 and ¼ hour until sunset. She was beginning to feel a bit stiff from the previous hours of driving while leaning into the steering wheel so she made a concerted effort to lean back and relax her shoulders. She reached beneath her seat and retrieved her CD case. Flipping to the back of the case, she removed a classical CD of various artists and inserted it into the CD player. Almost instantaneously she felt her muscles begin to relax. As she drove along the highway that winded upward into the mountains, she began to sway her index finger up and down from side to side as if she were conducting an orchestra. She passed a sign which read: “Vail 112 miles” No problem, I’ll make it in time. Thanks again Dad, I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have this place. It is the only place I can go and collect myself; it is the retreat that keeps me sane. Priscilla began reminiscing of old times. Beautiful memories of her childhood were held within that cabin property. The cabin and the property that surrounded it was where everything that was ever meaningful to her had taken place. It was where her families’ best times were had and it was also the link that kept the memory of her mother so alive in Priscilla’s’ mind. The cabin had always been her Mothers’ favorite place to be just as it was to Priscilla. She remembered when she was just a child, her mother saying; “Cilla, a person’s got to have a place to escape in this life. Even if it is just for a day. If they don’t the stress and disappointments of everyday life will get you somehow, someway, and next thing you know, you’ll be weaving baskets in a padded cell”. She was sure her mother was right as she always felt refreshed after a weekend at the old place. The only thing that could be better about it now was to have the rest of the family there with her. Even though her parents were deceased, her brothers weren’t and it would sure be nice if they could reconcile their differences about the cabin and spend some time there together. My brothers never seem to have time for me since Daddy passed. Maybe I’ll try to call them again when I get there. Priscilla passed another sign that read; “Vail 104 miles”,
Dr. Ashcroft returned to his office to find Stephen once again viewing his degrees. This time, Stephen didn’t turn from the wall when he entered.
“So you graduated from Harvard”?
“Yes I did, that was a long time ago”.
“Is this the same degree that all other doctors get or do you go through a different program altogether”?
“Yes, it is the same degree that all other physicians are required to have. Psychiatrists have to go through pretty much the same classes and training as say, surgeons, family practitioners and the like except when they choose their specialty, then, they branch out to their chosen areas of expertise and begin those particular modules”.
“So if you wanted to change from psychiatry to cardiology, you could”.
“Well, not exactly, I would have to go back and train in that field for many years before I would be qualified. It gets a little complicated”.
“Alright, after giving it some thought, I think that I would like to start with this morning’s tape and maybe move in to what she is currently doing in her room. We have it set up for remote viewing so the switch over from the tape will take no time at all.”
“Uh, I don’t know that I have that much time today doctor”.
“That’s okay, you’ll be surprised at how quickly this will go. Some of this has a great deal of repetition in it and we will be able to skip through some of the content. I just want to make sure that you see several different clips so that we improve the chances of you being able to clarify any meaning of motions with her”.
Priscilla arrived to the long dirt road that led to the cabin just before the sun began to set.
If I wait to bring the stuff in from the truck, I’ll probably be able to get the firewood in before dark.
Five minutes after turning onto the dirt road, Priscilla’s bronco came to a stop in front of the old log cabin where she intended to spend the next 3 days. She reached into the glove-box and fumbled for her flashlight. Then, stepping from the Bronco, with Goldie close behind, she began the long hike down the side of the mountain toward the old shed and bait-house. Priscilla wasn’t sure how much snow had fallen but there seemed to be at least four inches crunching under her boots as she walked slowly down the slope. The hike wasn’t that far but it took longer than one would think as she tried to make sure she had good footing…unless of course you were a dog like Goldie who appeared to be having no problem at all skipping over the snow and rocks.
At the base of the mountain, there was a 10 foot bluff with a small trail leading down it. The trail had been etched out from years of wear and it led safely to the base of the mountain. Goldie hit the trail first with her tail feverishly wagging then picked up speed and was at the shed door in an instant. A few minutes later, Priscilla was there to unlock it. The sun had gone down now and the sky had turned a few shades lighter than navy blue. After a bit of fumbling inside her coat pocket, Priscilla removed a set of keys and thumbed through them. When she had located the one that would unlock the wooden door that stood before her, she slid it into the lock, turned it until it clicked and slowly pushed the heavy creaking door open. Priscilla breathed in the old sheds’ damp musty odor. She had come to love that smell over the decades as it reminded her of her youth, a less troubled and seemingly stress free period of her life. As Priscilla ambled over to the south wall of the shed, she lightly brushed the cobwebs out of her way. When she reached the wall, she grabbed the old sling that had been hanging there since the winter before and began to load the firewood into it. Having packed enough for the night but not too much for her to carry safely, Priscilla and Goldie were ready to head back up the mountain. Up the bluff trail they went with the logs in tow.
With the days’ light having completely disappeared, Goldie looked protectively back at Priscilla every couple of feet. Priscilla had nearly made it to the top of the trail when Priscilla noticed her boots sinking deep into the snow then slipping when they hit the soil underneath. Priscilla struggled to maintain her balance with each step. Just a few more steps and the incline levels out a bit and then the rest will be easy, Priscilla told herself. Above the bluff now, Priscilla continued to concentrate on her footing as she held tightly onto the extra 50 pounds of weight that she was carrying in the sling. Almost there…No sooner had that thought crossed her mind than her left foot slipped from underneath her. Dropping the sling and falling on all fours, Priscilla reached desperately for something to grab hold of but she was moving to fast. She began spinning out of control tumbling down the mountain side. With each rotation of her body, her hands attempted to grab something solid in a futile effort to break her downward spiral. Oh my God the bluff. Priscilla was headed straight for it. Her body began to pick up speed all the while being battered by rocks that were buried in the snow and trees that lined the path downward. After the first few blows and useless attempts to grasp hold of something stationary, Priscilla recoiled covering her head with her arms and attempted to draw her knees toward the center of her body. This made the blows harder as she continued to rolling downward. She knew she had reached the bluff when she no longer felt her body being hurtled into painful objects but instead felt herself sailing through the air. In an instant her arms and legs were flailing again. She tried to right herself but her body was still rotating. With an audible thud, her body hit the ground, landing on her back. For an instant, Priscilla wondered if she was alive or dead. Battered and bruised, she moaned and tried to lift her head. Pain shot through her and each breath caused that pain to escalate. She lay still for a moment in an attempt to mentally assess the damage done to her body without inflicting more pain through movement. Goldie had come back down the mountainside when she had noticed Priscilla falling and was now standing steadfast beside her. Priscilla looked up at her as the dog began licking her face and whimpering. Priscilla attempted to raise her arms up to pet the dog and let her know that she was okay but her arms didn’t seem to want to move. A sudden panic swept over Priscilla and she once again tried to move her arms. This wasn’t happening. Priscilla raised her head off the ground to look at her arms while making another attempt to move them. Once again, there was no movement. She tried to move her legs and nothing happened. Her head was reeling from the pain she felt with each breath and she was now frantic with fear. Oh my God, I can’t move…..Oh my God, Jesus Christ, I’m going to die out here. Please God don’t let me die please!!! Tears stung her eyes in the cold and the snow had now begun to fall at what she thought was the beginning of the blizzard that was predicted. Priscilla knew that there would be no help. There were no living souls for miles around. They were alone, her and Goldie. Priscilla thought it might be her imagination or more likely her fear making it difficult for her to breathe but either way, it seemed to be getting harder and harder. Each breathe was excruciating and she didn’t feel as though she was getting enough air. She began making a conscious attempt to inhale and exhale but still felt as though she was suffocating. Goldie had begun nudging Priscilla’s body with her head and pawing at her. Priscilla noted the marks in the snow where her legs had been before Goldie had started trying to move her. She moved my legs. For a moment, Priscilla thought that maybe her best friend and faithful companion would be able to move her to the bait house for shelter from the impending blizzard if she kept it up. She quickly realized that it wouldn’t matter; she couldn’t even unlock the door if the dog did happen to drag her there. All hope was gone. Priscilla closed her eyes and began to sob. Breathing was definitely difficult and each breath had become more painful and difficult to achieve. Goldie had seemed to resign herself to the inevitable also as she took her place, faithfully, on the ground beside her master in an attempt to warm them both.
Within only moments, Priscillas’ breathing had become not just painful but almost non-existent. They were shallow, irregular and completely uncontrollable. It was at that point that Priscilla found herself thinking of things she hadn’t thought about in her intire life. For some reason, she saw, with clarity, not only all of the mistakes that she had made in her life, but also her choices of merit. Intense love for every living thing that she had ever known flooded Priscillas’ soul and peace overtook her as she watched her last breathe escape and vaporize above her body.
“Okay Stephen, this is from this morning. Let me know if you want to stop the tape at any point to discuss anything”.
“Alright I will”.
Fifteen minutes into the tape, Stephen had commented on a few of the behaviors of his sister. He had thought that at one point she was petting what used to be the family pet. At another, it looked to him that she was packing a suitcase. Stephen could not quite put his finger on it but something was nagging him about all of this. It looked familiar but at the same time, he was afraid to speculate on any of this, he wanted to be certain. If it was what he thought it was, it would make a great deal of difference in her treatment and prognosis.
Just then, Dr. Ashcroft’s phone rang and he picked up the receiver. The nurse on the other end was frantic. Dr. Ashcroft tried to keep his composure as he hung up the phone and speedily excused himself from Stephen, citing a patient problem and telling him that he would return momentarily. After he had left the room, Stephen stopped the tape and sat thinking deeply about what he had been seeing and the circumstances that brought his sister to the institution. The guilt that he had tried so desperately tried to bury was resurfacing. He had always known what he and his brother did was more than his sister could deal. All of what he was seeing seemed to confirm that her state was in fact their fault. Just then, he heard “code blue” being announced on the over-head speaker. He thought he heard them say “code blue, room 209”. He listened, straining to hear, when they announced it once again. Indeed the “code blue” was taking place in room 209 where his sister had spent the previous 2 years of her life. He quickly reached for the monitor switches, which he had studied during one of those “repetitive” periods of the tape, and pressed “security 209”. Almost instantly, an image appeared on the screen that he never wanted to see and would never forgive himself for; his sister laying motionless on the floor of room 209, with too many people to count, trying to bring her back to life. His stomach knotted and he thought he might vomit. Suddenly, he didn’t want the cabin anymore. Suddenly he understood what that place had meant to Priscilla and suddenly he knew what she had been doing on those tapes. He would give it to her! That property was not even important to him, it’s just that they followed their Fathers’ will and he had willed it to Stephen and his brother. Stephen looked at the screen and saw that all of the medical personnel had backed away and a few at a time disappeared off the screen as they exited her room. It was too late. With that realization, Stephen sat back in his chair and began to cry for the mistake that he had made not that long ago but would have to live with for the rest of his life.