"Happy anniversary, my love."
"Happy anniversary to you too. Oh, Clyde. Can you believe we've been married for fifty years?"
"Of course I believe it, Tammy. I've loved you since the first time I saw you."
"Tell me the story of the first time we met, Clyde."
"You've heard it so many times. You really want me to tell it again?"
"Please, dear. I love the way you tell it."
"You had just moved to town and were driving to your aunt's house. Something on the side of the road caught your eye, so you pulled over. Then when you tried to get back on the road--"
"You can say why I pulled over, dear."
"I'd hate to make you sad, especially on such a special day."
"It's been over half a century, Clyde. I want to hear the whole story."
"Okay. You pulled over and found a dying dog lying on the edge of the muddy road. The dog had obviously been hit by a car and you could tell it had been lying there for some time. You knew there was nothing you could do for the poor creature, so you sat with her until she finally let go and passed on. You wept over the small brown body. When you ran out of tears, you picked yourself up and walked back to your car. When you tried to get back on the road, you found that your car was stuck in the mud."
"And that's when you came along."
"Quite right. I had ridden out to the back half of the property to drive the cows in, when I noticed you standing on the side of the road. I rode up to the fence, swung off my horse, and asked if you needed any help. You said you did and introduced yourself as Tammy."
"Then you tipped your hat, just like in the movies, and told me your name was Clyde."
"I could tell you'd been crying, though obviously I assumed it was because your car was stuck. Still, even with your eyes all puffy, you were the prettiest girl I'd ever seen. I remember thinking that if you looked that beautiful while sad, I couldn't wait to see how good you looked when you were happy."
"You've made me so happy over the years. I hope I've lived up to your expectations."
"You know you have, honey. Now, on with the story. I told you I could get your car unstuck, but I'd need to go back to the house and get my dad's truck. Not wanting to leave you alone on the side of the road, I pulled the fence’s barbed wire apart and held it wide so you could duck through."
"Then you tried to pull me up on your horse with you. Like in some trashy romance novel."
"You were having none of it. Instead you, me, and the horse walked the mile back to the house. Once there, we hopped in dad's truck and I pulled your car out of the mud."
"You did more than that. You pulled my car all the way down the road to my aunt's house."
"And we've been together practically every minute since."
Tammy slapped the steering wheel with her hand and let her head fall back against the headrest. She was stuck in traffic, running late to her first day at her new job. "Could this get any worse?" she asked herself before looking up through windshield, sure her thoughts would conjure a downpour.
The skies stayed calm, but that did little to keep Tammy from freaking out. Turning on the radio, she searched for a song to calm her nerves. She focused on the music, trying to block out her anxiety. Suddenly, the car behind her emitted a loud honk that perfectly conveyed the annoyance of its driver.
Tammy looked up and saw that traffic had finally begun to creep slowly forward. Her car crawled forward with the flow of traffic for several minutes until she came upon the reason for the delay. An accident had been holding up traffic. A truck had slammed into the side of a small red car. Tammy tried not to look too closely but, she could tell that the accident had been a bad one.
Traffic finally began to move forward again at a normal speed, leaving the accident behind. Even as the scene shrank in her rear-view mirror, Tammy couldn't get the accident out of her head. She thought of all her old coworkers in the ER and wondered if they would have to work on whomever had been involved in the accident.
Tammy had spent the last six years working as triage nurse in the emergency room of the city's largest and busiest hospital. At first, she'd loved the rush of the job. The relief of saving a life. The delight of seeing the gratitude on the faces of a patient's loved ones.
Six months ago, those feelings disappeared, and everything changed.
Years of trauma, stress, and high-pressure decision making had finally worn Tammy down. She stopped sleeping, barely ate, and dreaded having to go into the hospital for her next shift. Anxiety became her constant companion. The monkey on her shoulder, incessantly chattering in her ear.
Distracted, exhausted, and burnt out, Tammy began to make small mistakes at work. Nothing major, nothing that led to losing a patient. Still, it was the wake-up call that she needed a change. After taking a few weeks off to get her head straight and relax, she found a job at a psychiatric hospital.
Today was to be her first day and now she was going to be late. All because of an accident. As she neared the psychiatric hospital, she was reminded of something her grandpa always said. "There's no planning for an accident. You just gotta push through."
<3 <3 <3
"Now I suppose you want to hear about our first date."
"You know me too well Clyde."
"Better than I've ever known anyone. I've loved you for as long as I’ve known you."
"I've loved you since that night at the rodeo."
"Ah, yes. The rodeo. It was a few days after we met and the circuit brought the rodeo to town. I was to represent the local boys in the saddle bronc riding competition --"
"And you nervously invited me to come watch you."
"Heck yeah I was nervous, Tammy. Asking out a pretty girl like you was scarier than getting thrown from my bronco."
"Quit talking sweet and get on with the story."
"That night, since I had you in the stands to motivate me, I recorded a personal best time. It wasn't enough to beat the professionals, but I sure showed them that small town boys know how to ride."
"You got forth place. That's not too shabby. Plus, you were the most handsome rider that day."
"If only there'd been a handsomeness contest and you'd been a judge. Anyway, you found me after the competition, and we got to talking. Intent on congratulating me, ole Roy the rodeo clown came up behind me, still in his face paint. Little did I know, you were scared of clowns."
"So, you see Roy coming and scream bloody murder. Then you turned and ran off. Leaving me standing there bewildered."
"But when you found me later in the parking lot, I made it up to you."
"That you did, honey. That you most certainly did."
<3 <3 <3
Elated that she was only fifteen minutes late, Tammy finally made it to the psychiatric hospital and rushed inside. She signed in at the front desk and was introduced to Marlene, the APRN who would be her supervisor. Marlene gave off a glacial air of standoffishness. Tammy wondered if it was because she was late, but when she apologized for her tardiness, Marlene barely acknowledged it. Instead she offered a curt greeting before motioning for Tammy to follow her.
Tammy and Marlene made their way through the hospital and ended up at a large conference room. A bright mural that looked more like a failed tie-dye experiment than actual art covered three of the four walls. Tammy was momentarily shocked by the contradistinction of the vividly colored conference room wall and the sterile white walls of the hospital's hallways. Marlene cleared her throat and Tammy was abruptly brought back to her senses.
Tammy took a seat at the long table in the center of the room. Aside from herself, three other new hires would be receiving Marlene's training. Marlene handed each of them a packet and then began the training. They spent the morning going over various protocols pertaining to documentation, restraint techniques, and environment of care. Most of it was old news for Tammy. She jotted down a few notes, mainly differences between this hospital's policies and those of her last hospital. Even as her eyes began to glaze over, Tammy tried to act like she was paying attention. After five hours, in which Marlene talked them through a quarter of the packet, the group took a break for lunch.
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"You don't have to tell me what comes next Tammy. Now you want me to tell you about our wedding day."
"Who would get tired of hearing about the happiest day of their life? The day that spawned all the joyous days that followed?"
"In between my chores and helping dad around the farm, I spent that summer building a new barn. Once it was finished, I asked you to marry me."
"You've always been good with your hands, dear. Our mothers did a fantastic job of decorating the barn on the day of the wedding. It was already a lovely building, made even more beautiful by the chains of flower garlands hanging from the rafters and the lines of lit candles."
"Both of our families came to see us get hitched. While Dad drove into town to fetch the preacher, you stayed in the house and I nervously shuffled around the barn.”
“That was the first time I ever saw your shirt pressed. A teal and white checkered flannel beneath your best overalls. Complete with a bow-tie that brought out the blue in your eyes.”
“I know you always say that your wedding dress was too simple, but I thought you looked radiant. As you walked down the aisle to meet me by the altar, I was happier than a kid on Christmas morning.”
“I could tell. The way your face lit up when our eyes met stilled the butterflies fluttering around inside me.”
“On that crisp autumn day, we confessed our love for one another by reciting our own vows."
"I promised to stand by your side for all your days. To love and support you no matter what life chose to throw at us."
"And I promised that I would never forget you. That I would carry your love with me for the rest of my days."
“I got so lost in your eyes, I barely heard the rest of the ceremony.”
"After the vows, the preacher united us in marriage. Then, we all shared a big supper before climbing into your car and heading off on our honeymoon. We planned to stay in St. Louis for a few days, though that night we ran into some trouble on our way into the city."
"Oh, must you tell this part dear?"
"Of course not, honey. You're right, no sense dwelling on it. Let's focus on the happy memories instead."
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The group ate lunch in the hospital's cafeteria. The other three trainees sat together and began to get to know each other, but Tammy chose to sit by herself. Her only company a pitiful salad and thin sandwich. It wasn't that she didn't want to eventually become friends with her new coworkers, she just wanted to take things slow. She’d developed a strong bond with the nurses she had worked with in the ER. Those friendships had made it even harder to leave her previous position.
While Tammy was struggling over whether to find a new nursing position, she had been wracked by guilt. The last thing she had wanted to do was to abandon coworkers who had become both dear friends and comrades in arms. Resigning from her the ER would mean cutting ties with her friends.
Finally, Tammy had no choice but to focus on her own health and well-being. Some of the guilt still lingered, but Tammy was determined to push past it. As she chewed her flavorless sandwich, Tammy tried not to think about how her old coworkers were fairing without her.
Tammy was excited about this new position, but knew there was a chance it might not be a good fit. She wanted to leave her options open, in case she wound up not being happy at the psychiatric hospital. If she befriended her new coworkers, Tammy knew it would make such a decision that much harder. She resolved to go it alone until she was sure she wanted to hold on to her new position.
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"Tell me some of your favorite moments from the last fifty years, Clyde."
"Only if you'll tell me some of yours, Tammy."
"Our three-year anniversary when we went camping and slept on that blanket beneath the stars."
"Ice skating in the park every winter."
"Dancing together whenever our song came on the radio. Even if it was just in the middle of our living room."
"Taking long Sunday drives in the country."
"Falling asleep next to you every night."
"Waking up next to you every morning."
"So many other moments."
"Too many to count."
"I love you, Clyde."
"I love you too, Tammy."
<3 <3 <3
The first day of training concluded with a quick tour of the hospital. Tammy followed along behind Marlene and the other trainees, trying to commit the various wards to memory. As they passed by one of the rooms, Tammy heard someone say her name. She looked in the room and saw an old man sitting upright in his bed. The man was talking to himself and using two voices. One was obviously his own, the other a high feminine sounding voice.
Tammy called to Marlene and asked about the old man. "It's odd for a patient to carry on such an elaborate conversation with themselves isn't it? I've never heard of a psychosis manifesting so completely and animatedly.”
"That's Clyde. He's been passed between facilities for over fifty years," Marlene said. "When he was a teenager, his new bride was killed in a car accident on the outskirts of St. Louis. A truck slammed into their car. Clyde survived but Tammy, his wife, did not. When the paramedics got there, Clyde had pulled her out of the car and to the side of the road. He knelt by her side and watched her die."
Tammy let out a gasping breath, one she didn't realize she had been holding. Her eyes were wet with tears that threatened to roll down her cheeks. Composing herself as best she could, Tammy nodded for Marlene to continue, her mouth so dry that she couldn't force out any words.
"The trauma caused Clyde to have a psychotic break. One from which he's never recovered. He goes on like that all day, having the same conversation. To him, it’s as if his wife never died. Every day, he relives their courtship and then invents details of the life he believes they had together."
Having explained as much as she cared to for the moment, Marlene turned and continued the tour. Tammy stood frozen and stared into the room at Clyde. As they had earlier that day, the words of her Grandpa floated through Tammy's mind once again. "There's no planning for an accident. You just gotta push through."