“Luke, medication time” the familiar voice said.
“Sit up now, here you are. Hold out your hand, two tablet, here’s your water. That’s it, pop them in your mouth and drink your water down. Good man. I’ll be back later to check on you.”
Luke could just make out the silhouette of Lucy leaving the room. He knew she was one of a few people who came in to his room to check on him, give him medication, and just check on his general well-being, especially when he was having a ‘down’ period.
His bed was warm and cosy as he pulled the soft cover up around his ears. The sun was sinking slowly and shadows were creeping into his room. It was getting chilly too.
Lucy had asked him if he wanted his light on but he didn’t. It hurt his eyes and the darkness seemed to round off the sharp edges of his mind.
His thoughts were the same ones he had every day - regrets and disappointment. Like a sneak they entered his mind and no matter what he did - put his head under the pillow or tried to vigorously shake them free, they stayed. He knew there wasn’t a quick fix for his problem.
Luke thought about when the doctor came in to see him.’ Was it yesterday, or was it the day before?’ he asked himself. He couldn’t really remember. ‘Anyway, whatever day it was, when he came in, I told him that the medication didn’t seem to be working. And I recall him answering “Give it time my friend, give it time. You can’t rush these things”.
The room was quite dark now and shadows from the trees outside danced on the wall like a spirit doing a war dance. As the wind picked up the dancer began to get frenzied, arms and legs moving in all directions.
“I need the light on” Luke told himself reaching out for the bedside lamp and pressing the switch on.
There was a knock on the door and a bright voice called out “Luke can I come in?”
“Yes” he answered abruptly.
The door was opened and in walked a middle-aged lady with a beaming smile. “Hello my love. Are you coming down to dinner tonight?”
“No thank you.”
Oh, not feeling too bright today love? Alright then I shall bring your tray up a little later.”
Luke’s mind wandered backwards to his work place and the elderly lady who would bring the tea trolley around in the early days. ‘What was her name?’ he thought ‘Brenda, Barbara, it was something that started with a B’. He recalled that he wasn’t very respectful to her. He thought a tea lady should push her laden trolley through the corridors and serve – that’s what she got paid for.
“Tea or coffee love?” she would ask, puffing slightly from the exertion of pushing something too heavy for a lady of her age. He wouldn’t even look at her as he replied “No.”
Luke’s dinner was brought in on a tray. “Here you are pet, a lovely meal for you. Now eat it all up! And that’s an order” and she laughed out loud as the door shut behind her. Even though the food here was good, Luke wasn’t hungry. He moved the roast dinner around on his plate, ate a small potato and put the tray on his table next to the bed.
He lay down, hands behind his head and went back to another time when shadows danced on the walls and the wind howled like a lone wolf outside the window.
The dormitory at his boarding school was austere and stark but he could lay his head down at night and know that somewhere along the long track of school life, he would be done. He could leave this place and go to university and start his journey towards a wealthy and fortunate life.
He had never wanted to be like his parents. They weren’t very educated and to Luke, hadn’t done very well in life. They might have been happy people, and content with their lot, but that wouldn’t be enough for him.
The only reason he was at boarding school was because he came from a country town a long way from what he called ‘civilisation’ and his grandfather in his will, had left a bit of money for Luke to go to a ‘good school’ which meant boarding.
He would go home at school holiday times, not really looking forward to it. He began to feel differently towards his parents, kind as they were, he felt annoyed at them, just for being themselves.
He didn’t talk much and he never told them about the ‘open days’ for families to attend. They would have been proud to come to Luke’s school, and used some of their savings to get the long train journey to his school and pay for overnight accommodation, but Luke didn’t want them there.
His mind travelled to the night of his graduation from university and he could see the beaming faces of his old-fashioned farmer parents. He remembers thinking that they had scrubbed up pretty well, the one suit his father had ever owned was pressed especially for the evening, and his mother had her hair permed for the occasion too.
Warm tears began to well up in his eyes, but Luke wouldn’t let them fall.
‘Why did I shut them out as if I didn’t even have parents, I never took friends home to meet them. They were no part of my life. I was too embarrassed about them – what a terrible son I was’ he thought.
He fell asleep and slept soundly through the night.
The next morning when he was woken up by a stream of sunlight piercing through his curtains, he sat up quickly, rubbing his eyes and yawning. Feeling a little brighter than the night before, he decided to try and embrace the day and all it had to offer, no matter how difficult that seemed.
After a quick shower he went down to the dining room for breakfast and joined some of the other residents. He knew a few of them and nodded or said good morning as he passed by.
Luke liked to sit at a table on his own if one was available, and if he had to share, he never spoke much. This morning he sat by himself. He went to the self-serve bench and put two pieces of bread into the toaster, and made a cup of tea.
As he was buttering his toast, another man came up next to him to refill his coffee cup. He held out his hand to Luke saying “Hi, I’m Tony.” Luke took his hand and shook it, “Luke” was all he said, then picked up his plate and walked towards his table.
As he was biting into the soft jammy piece of toast, the man named Tony came and sat down at the table opposite Luke. “I like this room with the sunlight pouring into it. Makes it sunny and happy, don’t you think Luke?”
Luke looked up at the short balding man, and as he smiled at Luke, he could see that he had a couple of teeth missing. He answered him “It does send a certain warm feeling through you when you look out of the windows at the beautiful green trees, it’s nice.” Tony seemed happy that someone was talking to him.
‘Once upon a time I wouldn’t have bothered with someone who I thought wasn’t clever or cluey. If you had nothing to offer me then I wasn’t interested. If they didn’t deserve my attention, I didn’t give, it but not now.
One of my many staff members once told me that if I went on treating people the way I did, with no respect at all, then one day it would come back to bite me”. “Bite my backside” was my reply.
I remember how sometimes there would be a beggar in a doorway I happened to pass on my way to a meeting in another building, and I would just look at them disdainfully and say “get a job.”
How could I have done that? I recall having an argument with Rebecca once when I told her what I said to the beggars. She was horrified and told me that I was not only arrogant but mean too. I think that is when she actually saw what I was like.
Tony was talking again and my mind jumped from Rebecca to the present time. “Can I get you another cup of tea?” he was asking me. “Oh no thank you. I’ll need to be going now” and I up and left.
When I thought of Rebecca and to me, one of my greatest losses in life, I grew very melancholy. It was my own fault that she left. I didn’t treat her well enough. She deserved much better and I didn’t give it. ‘Self-absorbed, a narcissist, self-centred, arrogant and rude’ is what she called me as she left with her two suitcases, slamming the door behind her.
I didn’t even try to get her back. I actually thought she would come back when she came to her senses, but she obviously thought she had come to her senses by not coming back.
I had a session with the psychiatrist after breakfast and didn’t feel like going. I just wanted to get back into bed and sleep, but at this place, unless you were vomiting, you had to go.
I admit that I usually felt slightly more positive after a session, the talking to someone who basically just listened always helped, but I still wanted to curl up in bed now it was over.
Instead, I sat on a wooden bench under an overhanging branch, the soft leaves almost touching the back of the seat and just watched, time just ticking by.
Visitors were allowed here at any time as long as they signed in at the desk and confirmed it with staff members, to make sure the residents wanted to see the visitor.
I looked around and saw Tony walking along the path with a pretty, short lady and a young lad. Tony held hands with the female and the boy bounced a ball next to them. He resembled Tony, probably his son. They all looked comfortable in each other’s company, and were chatting non-stop along the route.
I felt happy for Tony, I really did, but at the same time slightly envious. I hadn’t had one visitor since I’d been here. Even the shrink asked me why I never saw any members of my family or friends. I told him the truth – I was an only child and I had been a terrible son and had disowned my parents a long time ago but didn’t go into great detail. As for friends, I probably didn’t deserve any.
I would never forgive myself for the way I treated my parents, and they had every right to never forgive me either. I knew they were still alive because I had bumped into an old school buddy who still lived in the small village close to where our farm had been. He had asked me at the time why I had never gone home to see my parents and I didn’t have a reasonable answer.
I had been here for quite a few weeks now and the longer I was at this facility, the more I learnt about myself. I knew a few months ago that my life was spinning out of control, devoid of any moral compass in terms of business and money making. Nothing was taboo as far as I was concerned. I was ruthless and cutthroat. I would lend money to people who needed it, but with added interest that could make or break a person, and if the latter, so be it.
It got to the stage where I began to question myself. One of my business colleagues needed to borrow money after a couple of big failures in the building industry. I of course lent him the money he needed but it wasn’t enough. I lent him more. He had also gone to a couple of loan sharks and borrowed off of them. The money I lent him was to pay them back, he told me.
As quite often happens, it quickly spiralled out of control and he had got himself caught in a web of bad people, (dealing in illicit businesses), and he wasn’t able to pay them back. He asked me if I could forget about him paying me back my money and just give it to the sharks circling for his blood. He would pay me further down the track when his ‘other ventures’ came good.
I told him no.
I will wonder if that was the right decision or not for the rest of my life now. He committed suicide three days later. I guess it couldn’t have been the right decision or Ben would still be here with his wife and children.
The only way I thought would stop this from happening again was not to lend anyone money. To me that was the solution. I wasn’t thinking of Ben. Even at the funeral when his wife came up to me, weeping uncontrollably and asking if I had any idea what had happened to make Ben take his own life, I answered no.
One morning I woke up feeling quite unwell. I couldn’t describe how I actually felt but I remember that I didn’t want to get out of bed. I had looked at the alarm clock and saw that it was 7am. I must have pushed the snooze button at 5am. I was always in the office by 5.45am but not this day.
I couldn’t break free of the imaginary chains that seemed to be keeping me in bed. My head felt light as if there was nothing in it, and I kept shaking it. Passing in front of my eyes, going around and around as if on a conveyor belt were my parents, business partners, office staff, my cleaning lady, the tea lady at work and other people that were in my life in some capacity. I had a moment where I thought I was dying and this was the end. I had expected to pass through a tunnel, with the light at the end of it silhouetting friends and family who had gone earlier. But it didn’t come.
A weight like a huge rock sat on top of me and no matter how I tried, I couldn’t get it off.
The conveyor belt was still going around and around but I knew these weren’t people who loved or cared about me because their tight lips and downcast eyes said it all.
“What is happening?” I cried out but no one heard me. I couldn’t breathe, my chest hurt and then it went black.
All I remember after that was waking up in hospital in a single room and a doctor of some sort looking down on me.
“Hello Luke. You’re finally awake.”
My mouth was dry as I tried to speak, so I whispered “Why am I here?”
“Your work colleague found you. You didn’t arrive at work for a very important meeting, at the time, so he went around to your house.”
“What’s wrong with me?” I asked in a hoarse voice, quietly.
“You’ve been sleeping for two days – in a catatonic state. Now that you are awake you will be dealing with our psychiatrist Dr Bell and then we will know what to do with you!”
‘What to do with me’ I thought ‘like a piece of rubbish.’
I looked around the hospital room and thought nothing. It was as if I needed someone else to decide for me, like Dr. Bell.
He did decide. I needed to go into a psychiatric rehabilitation unit as I was showing signs of a mental breakdown. I had been found in a catatonic state and needed long term treatment.
So here I was. Perhaps slowly improving, some days but then not others.
This was my last session with the shrink for the week – unless it was deemed necessary, we were ‘session free’ at the weekend.
I hadn’t expected him to ask about my parents, but he did.
“Today I would like to find out specifically about your parents Luke, but before you begin, are they still alive?”
I took a deep breath and wondered what I would say. “Someone told me not that long ago that they were but that’s all I know.”
I told him about what good parents they had been and how I had been ashamed of them, basically disowning them. I never visited or tried to find out how they were. And after a few minutes of silence, I said that it was probably one of two regrets in my life that I would perhaps never be able to forgive myself for. Then I cried.
I couldn’t remember the last time I cried, probably as a small child. I knew that I had made many people cry but never myself.
As the floodgates opened, I felt as if the nastiness and negativity of my past – the self-indulgence, meanness, narcissist behaviour and everything else that made me who I was, was getting washed out of my system. This was the final rinse, clear water. The dirt and grime had gone down the drain.
I lay on my bed, red eyed, exhausted and ashamed. I could have been so much better to many people along the journey of my life. This was a new beginning for me. A chance to say sorry to those I wronged and do some good in the world.
And I knew I desperately needed to start with my parents.