Jedrt Lapuh Maležič, short prose Težkomentalci (Heavy Mental)
Translation: Barbara Skubic
They Have Faces, Even Them
I'm not allowed to make any calls and they won’t give me a phone, while my girlfriend keeps calling the headquarters to find out why they’re keeping me on straps. The generalissimo doesn’t speak with her, because lesbianism is a part of my psychosis, so much about that, and will pass when they up my dosage. Up my dosage. A sympathetic attendant comes to unstrap me and feed me the morning ration of meds, so that for the first time in a week, I’ll manage to show up at the morning rounds by myself. I so much do not care and I so much don’t give a rat’s ass about these people that I let myself be untied from the bed like the Crucified deposed from the cross, while she kindly washes my face with a damp cloth. “Don’t you think it’s been enough?” she says.
Says to me?! That it’s been enough? Have I knocked myself to the ground all by myself and stuck needles into my ass night after night, day after day, have I butchered myself and tied myself down? I don’t say it out loud, because my tongue feels heavy like lead, I just look at her, like this, angry, so that the bint soon shuts her trap, because she doesn’t have a clue what it’s like to be on the wrong side of the veranda while the headquarters is in session and all you want is some fresh air and then a horde of half literates fall on you who can hardly wait to finally see some action in the silent lair of public administration. Shoo, gadflies. Nobody asked you to raise me, and even less to stick your spikes into foreign flesh. I can barely walk now and I can barely see ‘cause of the toxic fog, but for as long as there’s an insult on the tip of my tongue, you won’t get a good night’s sleep.
They bring me, staggering, to the door of the nurses’ station beside which the door for the rounds is. Because I can barely stand, one look at the other patients makes me instantly change my mind and turn around, towards the attendant who’s pushing me forward lightly. She holds my upper arms, which she was protecting before from behind, just in case I’d need catching mid-fall, and gently encourages: “Just show yourself to the Mr and Mrs, you don’t have to say anything.” Then she produces a fleeting half-smile and says: “It might, in fact, be best if you don’t,” which makes me smile, as well. “I would particularly recommend you don’t howl like you did the last time,” she says and our eyes are laughing by now. I say out of spite: “Ready, steady, go,” and inhale deeply for a scream, but she’d already seen through me, that I’m meek, and because my eyes are stoned-smiling, she simply covers my mouth with the palm of her hand. She doesn’t touch me, she just marks the gesture, as if otherwise my chapped lips would leave a mark on her manicured hand.
Then she says: “You’re really quite something, little miss,” and I don’t dwell on her lack of respect. I wouldn’t screw her over, like last time and the time before, by hollering at the top of my lungs that the doctor should finally let me go from this menagerie, I wouldn’t scream what they’re doing with me, I wouldn’t fuck with her to the point that she’d be forced to butcher me with injections, because this attendant is okay, really okay. It’s not her fault that she’s surrounded by loonies and sadists and in reality she doesn’t want to be here, she just doesn’t know it yet.
I’m waiting, standing in the corridor, and hint at her that she can leave me alone, but she continues to stand behind me, protecting my upper arms from behind, like a contour or a hallo. Every now and then she moves her hand and the warmth on my skin moves along with her protection. In other circumstances she’d get on my nerves, but her hands are now like a pillow, I feel them even though they’re not touching me. Hospital rooms are locked, so that nobody can rest. Some people in the ward, who have for the most part changed during my ordeal, are loafing in the day lounge around the corner, including the fat goon Trudi who ended up without parents and so the good people of this institution protect her from the world, and at the same time probably use her as the guinea pig for that newest trend in meds, a syringe filed with seroquel, oh, so odious to me.
I fall into the anger trap again, so I blot the thought of Trudi out before it gets to me – my social justice activism is not to be trusted, because my very appearance is, as I have only now become aware, completely untrustworthy. I fix my hair and with the eyes as clear as I can make them, I ask the nurse if I look as if I spent the last few weeks on straps. She laughs ad responds: “You’re not the first one. Don’t worry. Mr and Mrs Doctor know what to do with you.” She said it in a way as if the psychos were married, and after all, as far as I’m concerned, they might even be. Neither responds to my girlfriend’s calls, because they’ve collectively decided that a happy union with a woman is a strange symptom in my diagnosis.
When I threw a fit last time in the surgery where they conduct rounds, the act that now seems wrapped in a mist, I did it because they, at my mention of the human I love most in the whole world, both sighed: “Ah, this lady friend of yours, of course,” rolled their eyes and exchanged meaningful glances, saying, what, is this psychosis still going on. I told them she was no lady friend, but they sighed even louder and cackled that she obviously couldn’t be anything else. That was when, as I remember now with crystal clarity, my fuse blew. My pressure rises when I remember their self-redeeming posture and the thoughts they stuffed in my head, and again I’d like to blow up their enthroned asses if it came to it. I can’t go to the rounds, it’ll be better that I remain on the corridor, amongst the patients, and perhaps go for a smoke with fat Trudi. I ask the nurse I might, just for today, skip a chance to dig through my psyche, but she shakes her head, smiling. “Everything will be fine, Amber, don’t you worry. You’ll just show your face.”
I just showed my face and they immediately filled it up with puss, Mr and Mrs doctor. Their first question was the same as always: “Have you perhaps ...” I know exactly what follows and it gives me a little rush, so I interrupt them and complete them: “Have I perhaps heard voices? Oh, yeah, plenty of voices, don’t worry. They came from the television before the evening news and kept telling me the time!” Of course I was sarcastic as hell, very obviously furiously sarcastic, but Mr and Mrs first exchanged a victorious glance, then they started to study my file manically and filled it in with their vision of the world. After the glancing consultation they nodded to each other and the Mr – as very well becomes non-democratic environments – took initiative: “We believe that you could gradually attempt the open ward.” From straps to freedom? This was all it took? “After the injection, the nurse will accompany you to unit I5, to Dr Mrzlikar.”
I know Dr Mrzlikar. Better yet, I know his patients. We used to share a balcony. They’ve died, every single one of them, yet they keep on lively running around. An auntie whose husband will no longer sleep with her and who tries to kill herself every week, a youthful fortune teller who used to be full of healing wisdom, but now sits in the corner like a heap of misfortune and puts on weight, a guy who can’t pull himself back together ever since they caught him hacking bank computers, and a super smart chess player whom they’ve enabled, with radical approaches, to walk a mountain trail and run a marathon, yet at the same time his mental capacities have dried up and he believes in his own disease and incapability, so he can’t produce a single college paper to set himself on his own feet, let alone finish studies and move out. I have to think this one through really well. Perhaps the offer to be moved to the open ward won’t come so soon again. But I’m already worse off as it is, so screw that, too. “I’ve nothing to do at Dr Mrzlikar’s,” I say emphatically and reinforce: “Thank you very much, but if that’s the case, I’d rather stay here with you wonderful people.” I think I manage a sarcastic smile, probably a crooked one, but still.
Mr and Mrs are flabbergasted. She seems to me a tad more touched when she stares at me. I think her eyes welled up, but perhaps it’s just the light that seeps through the curtains and draws pearls into her irises. I decided that I would, during my first exist from the admissions ward, visit the missis in her office to present to her my side of the story. Perhaps she’s got some compassion left and she’d understand, after all it wasn’t she who had me butchered and she’s a mere observer, because Mr, following the hierarchical position, appropriates all the decision-making strings. “What is it that you actually want?” yells the Mrs angrily in that moment. Rather than asking, she’s reproaching me for not having accepted her goodness. It becomes clear to me that she had to fight hard for me. As if I’d practiced it a hundred times and without my tongue twisting a single time, I rattled: “I’d very much like to go back to unit I4 which I had left voluntarily. To Dr Gržinič in I4. I’ve unresolved issues waiting for me there.” The missis is indignant. “Such as?” It’s none of her business, so I use the sentence I’ve used to respond so many times before to the question if I were a lesbian by any chance, a response I was taught by a professor whom I asked one drunken night if she’d ever tasted human flesh. “What might be the purpose of such a private inquiry?” I ask and think that the professor must have eaten human flesh at some point. Mrs Doctor waves her hand as if she’d just gone insane, as if she needed to be pinched at such insolence from a drugged patient.
I love it when the enthroned get flabbergasted. If they give you what they believe without doubt that you want, they expect you to jump like Roberto Benigni at the Oscars 1999 and kiss their foot. I doubt Roberto Benigni wasn’t aware of this and actually find his trick, whether it was meant to be a trick or not, an excellent mirror to the awards presenters from the American Academy. You wanted grovelling, here’s a dose ironically full of it, have it and keep it and may it remind you of what hypocritical bitches you actually are. And on the top of that, I really do have things to do in ward I4. I have to apologise to the nurse I’ve insulted in the moment of bad judgement. All I saw was her systemic face, and to me, she was at that moment merely a number in the periodic table of drug doses, so I snapped at her really nastily. She was the fence I couldn’t climb. I yelled that I couldn’t see a thing because her udder was constantly dangling in front of my nose. And also that she will, if she truly is the professional she appears to be, shrug her shoulders over my statement anyways and leave me alone. This is the unresolved business. This is karma that makes one dangle from the hated person on a single silver thread, so you can’t die in peace. “I have things to do in I4, that’s all you’re entitled to be interested in,” I tell Mr and Mrs who look at each other incredulously. “But there’s no room in ward I4,” says the Mrs. I insist, although from behind my neck an angel is yelling: “Watch out, John Wayne! From the back, watch out!” They were visibly insulted, which will most likely come back to bite me in the face. “You may go, we need to consult what to do with you,” they say and as I exit I have a feeling that I’ve screwed myself ever so slightly after all.
I wander off to the day lounge and the veranda where we’re currently allowed to go. As I tread the micropaths along which they dragged me a couple of weeks ago, all hysterical and kicking and nettlesome, I truly feel that that wasn’t necessary, but I cannot agree with the dosage I received for my childish impertinence. It wasn’t madness, it was rebellion. I wasn’t manic, I was coldly determined to prove them my dignity – in that the border between the day lounge and the veranda is a fictitious one and that it only exists in their messed up heads. That I can step over it whenever I want to, because all this used to be a meadow once, a meadow with no owner, because all their therapeutic machinations at that time had no name whatsoever, and won’t have it in the future far ahead, because all this, all this that they see and we all see, will be overgrown by weed by then.
I still paused for a second before I crossed the threshold to the veranda, because that was all I’d done then, weeks ago. They were having a meeting during the evening news, and I felt like having a ciggie. I set my foot on the veranda then, just like now, and I was not prepared to move it regardless of encouragement or order. This meadow, I told them, this meadow is not your property. They looked at each other, as if they’d cut the grass themselves and built the mastodontic complex of the psychiatric hospital. As if I were a person of colour stepping into their slave-owning civilisation. Their looks reminded me of all the grand inquisitors of the world and all the murderous generals, and the result is that I’m a quite a needle cushion right now and slightly annoyed when treading onto the precious piece of concrete that once indeed was a meadow, but no one could even guess that now.
Fat Trudy skips past and says: “It is you, no way?!” Her singing accent places her somewhere towards the surrounding villages of Ptuj. “It’s not,” I smirk. It’s true, I’m not. This is definitely no longer me. This is me in my domesticated, broken version and this veranda is just as much a meadow as I am. I don’t bother to explain, because Trudi says: “You’ve a visitor. Some old guy couldn’t find ya, so I told ‘im I’d find ya sooner than him.”
My darling papa, only marginally worried. He’s more angry at me. We’ve not seen each other for a long time. “I’m kinda weak,” I say. “Of course you’re weak, you keep on arguing all the time,” he rolls his eyes. And then very earnestly: “I’ve never thought you’d be such an asshole,” he says and my eyes well up. All this time when I was tied down I couldn’t cry. Where’s this fatherly warmth now? I’m just an asshole, what do I even expect.
“You don’t know what these motherfuckers are doing to me!” I soon pull myself together. “Where were you when five of them lay on the top of me and pressed me into the ground with their knees, eh? Where the fuck were you?!” I snigger while his eyes are saying one thing and his mouth another. The mouth keeps repeating: “Don’t yell, come on. It’s not important anymore.” The more they repeat, the more I yell and the more the drops of sweat slide down my cheeks: “What they did to me! Fascist pigs, I could kill them! And they enjoyed it, too!” I howl and I sob, and while what his mouth says suddenly no longer reaches me – I only hear his eyes. They’re enormous and sad. When I hear his voice again, it’s less crass: “Can’t you see? How can I get it through to you that from where you are now, nothing can be achieved?! You’re not so stupid as to go fuck with them from the inside? Have you been dropped on the head?!” And something sticks. Mother of god, something sticks to me. I hear something. And I feel like someone has kicked me in the stomach and ripped my guts. I run from the waiting room back to the ward. I ask them to take me, even tie me and ban visitors, so that they don’t understand what the fuck is going on in the end.
No matter how smart I take myself to be, I am in fact unbelievably assholish. I’d order and screw with and burn the system rather than my own hard head. Moments file in front of me when I resented my father for not taking care of me and lectured instead. Moments when my guts were being ripped open because I knew he might just be right. Quite pathetic that for years and decades I’ve been carrying millstone with me, one that could be used to destroy the invisible walls of this fucked up institution, or complete them, depending on the point of view! But no, I prefer to carry this stone in my arms and blame others, as if they were those who put it there and said: “Carry it.” And all that while cussing and panting and wheezing instead of simply putting the burden down. This doesn’t mean I have to cast it into someone else, just put it down. Stagger left a little, then right, if necessary, and then put it straight to the ground. This time I may have heard some sort of a voice. Straight to the ground, it was saying. Put down. Like this. Good girl.
I curled up in an armchair in the day lounge and I had no use for anyone who was lounging out there. This is how I spent time until lunch, and I’d have stayed there even longer if fat Trudi, who has it a hundred times worse than I do, but doesn’t whine and feel sorry for herself, hadn’t called me. “Where are you, you beat up gal?” she said and pated my back. First I saw her worn out sandals on the floor. “Trudi, honey, what’s your shoe size?” I asked her and looked into her puffed up face. “Same as yours,” she jeered. “You have something for me?” I promised her I‘d bring her supershoes if I ever make it out to fresh air. “Listen,” says Trudi. “Eh?” say I. “It’s annoying. But you have a visitor.” I just shake my head. I’m done playing this game. “Tell them I was killed. That it was too much,” I tell her, then I roar with laughter, because I am truly pathetically spoiled. Of course I get up and stagger into the waiting room.
There’s nobody there. Trudi, that little good-for-nothing, is making me look like an idiot, I think and return to the ward. When I pass the surgery, I think that it’s a little packed. I see someone who’s turning the back to the glass part of the wall, obscuring my nosy gaze. It’s a little unusual that they’re conferencing in the surgery, because usually they do it in the team room or some other space where patients cannot spy after them. Because Trudi’s nowhere to be seen, I nick a fag from the box she’d left in the smoking room next door and slide to the door of the surgery from the outside of which a lighter for patients is dangling, stuck on a string with a band aid. When I light up, the fag starts smouldering and I blow hard, just as the door of the ambulance open. I blow the smoke into a face of a nurse who’s not from around here. She’s my nurse from the ward upstairs, the nurse I’ve insulted, the nurse who was just subbing and never meant to harm anyone when I called her a cow a month ago. Because I’ve no clue what to say in situations like this, when you owe someone a double apology, I just say: “Oh,” and then I bugger off to the smoking room quickly because we’re not allowed to smoke in the corridor. Then I grab my head, because I’m sorry that I’ve not at least taken the opportunity to fix the karma, but the nurse has already left and most likely has nothing to come back for to this hellish admittance ward. The ward only has space for us, the epic pathetics carrying millstones around, and perhaps for those who were just passing by. And for Trudi, because they don’t exactly know where to stick her. In which file drawer.
She blasts along as if she hadn’t just screwed me over, and all I say to her is: “I’ve nicked a fag of you.” In response, she winks at me: “Did you find her?” Who, when she knows very well that there’s nobody in the waiting room. “Don’t play with me, kiddo,” I tell her and laugh, convinced that we both know very well how I fell for it. “Nurse Tanja, dude, when I told U ya had a visitor waiting!”
I’m so stupid it fucking hurts. Nurse Tanja came all this way to the ground floor for her apology, to visit me personally, and all I did was blow smoke to her face and said: “Oh.” Dumb as a doornail, fuck yeah. I fling the fag into a pot of water and run out of the smoking room, but in front of the surgery I get intercepted by none other than the generalissimo. His eyes spiral into me and he stretches out his arm so I cannot pass. Borders may very well be fictitious and all that, but I know full well that in that moment, he is my border. I cannot run over him after nurse Tanja, not even to the waiting room. “Amber...” he stops me mid-stride, maliciously, dryly. I’m afraid of his army and all the damage this can mean.
“Yes?” I wait impatiently and for once avoid him in awe, but I do slow down tremendously. “Amber, you’re going to ward I4.” The decree has been spoken. I stare at him, amazed.
The only thing I say to spiral eyes is: “When?” and they respond, “Right now. Please, follow nurse Tanja although I trust you still know the way.” I don’t know what exactly was going through my head as I was walking behind nurse Tanja upstairs to the promised land, but I do know that some like to call it treatment and others, gratitude. I’m not sure how effective it is with tools like myself, but supposedly sometimes, only sometimes, a sick head has a better judgment than a healthy one. It’s a good thing nurse Tanja was walking in front of me, because I’d have a real difficulty looking her into the eyes. Only when we reached the second floor I managed a quiet: “I apologize. I am truly so...” Before I finished, she drowned my voice. “I’ve already forgotten.” This is what she said instead of: “Shut up this second, because I haven’t forgotten yet.” I tried again, but she waved her hand and looked into my eyes. “I know it wasn’t you, you know what I’m saying?” Of course it was me, I thought, surprised. I was the one who cussed at her, not some sort of psychosis which might speak through me like a body snatcher. I’m not another person when I’m manic. I’m fully accountable for my actions. But in that moment, it was easier to grab myself by the heart as if I intended to rip it out and swear that I didn’t mean it that bad. Her eyes were still hurt, but filled with mirth.
She hinted to me to follow her into the towel closet where she showed me a huge rubbish bag. “Your stuff,” she laughed. I didn’t remember anything. That I had any stuff with me? Strange, we, the time travellers, don’t haul clutter with us ... I was finding pieces of paper with slogans, journal scribbles, I was rummaging through the “rubbish” and finding notes, translations, sketches, drawings, memories of what I used to call profession, at times and with a certain dose of pathos even vocation. Too happy that my treasures didn’t go straight to the bin and I’d be able to revive my little grey cells, I squeaked to nurse Tanja: “So I’m not just a number after all!”
She look at me earnestly, I’d soon think still indignantly, and finally slowly said: “Me neither, darling. Me neither.”
Love - what is it?
We all want it, wish for it, wonder about it.
We are ready to travel over the world to find it,
sail over seas to see it,
go to the meadows to smell it,
to the clouds to touch it.
But sometimes you go to the seaside,
to dip yourself into the ocean like a tear drop,
relaxed from the search of everything
and then suddenly - you meet -
- - - - - - - - - - - -
There were no words to describe how lucky I felt to meet such a wonderful girl and my heart was racing and pounding at that thought and then do not know why I remembered a sentence from a wonderful poem Shake the Dust „do not let a moment go by that doesn't remind you that your heart beats 900 times a day and that there are enough gallons of blood to make you an ocean“. How wonderful was to dive in one's ocean to came out in another.
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
If I had just one wish
What is it in your touch,
what magic, poetry or dance?
Your way of expression yourself,
the most sincere, direct, continues
flow of energy, of how you are
without interruptions, evaluations, judgments
and most loving, affectionate and honest attitude towards the others.
What is it in your touch -
most warm and powerful
presence of yourself?
I would like to see you dance,
see me, us dancing together,
see what magic our bodies
would do to one another –
I wonder, if bodies could speak in language
what they would tell of us.
And your voice soft spoken
in combination with a big smile
is a small wonder in itself
worth experiencing it
and living for
even if you spread it among all.
And it does not matter if we are in different times or spaces
there are infinite possiblities of being together
for me working with words
is moving closer every second and making impact
even if it is like a shooting-star you are not even aware of
in the night sky.
But now it is perhaps time to say farewell
although I would gladly
stay a little longer,
keep feeling your touch
and try something new
like tasting your lips,
and your soft
like swan white skin
and see your moving hips
see joy in your
wonderful blue eyes
and hear beautiful sounds
out of pleasure
directed by my DJ tongue.
Wish this beautiful girl
with a magical touch,
and a big smile,
be my lover.
Now I understand you much better then before
- I always did to some degree -
but I feel I need to fully forgive you in order
to love fully, freely and trustfully again.
Only by trying to understand your point of view
(even if you did not ever bother to find out mine)
I know and understand that our love story needed to end
because it was not good any more to any of us
I understand it is awful to be loved
if that love is conditioned
and how awful is that
someone does not accept you the way you are
but 'I love you only if'.
So I forgive you but will keep away from you
I sometimes wonder why this person was so special to me
why I could not not forget her for a long time
even though I tried
even though there were other attractive women
coming my way.
But then all of a sudden I realized there was no need to analyze
I know what I felt in my heart was love.