Johnson's voice melted into oblivion when I first saw her. There she was, sitting in her room, mindlessly playing computer games. I watched her for a couple of minutes then called Johnson over.
"Oh, her. She's no one special. Severe agoraphobia and hasn't said a word since her fiance died."
I was intrigued, to say the least. There was this beautiful woman sitting in a room in a mental hospital playing computer games. She acted normal enough, though I suppose with agoraphobia she would certainly seem that way to the casual observer, until someone tried to take her outside.
Through the rest of the tour, my mind was with her. I just couldn't stop thinking of her. I knew already who my favorite charge would be. I don't even know for sure why she was so intriguing. Maybe it was the way she seemed perfectly normal. Maybe it was the look of intelligence she had. Or maybe it was just the fact that she was one of the most beautiful women I'd ever seen.
I learned a great deal about her through the next few weeks, by reading her file and simple observation. I learned that her fiance had died in a car accident when she was at home asleep, and that she hadn't said a word since then and was afraid to go anywhere. I learned that she was barely an adult and hadn't done so well in school though had done quite well on standardized tests and had always tested high on IQ tests. The most recent revealed a 147. I learned through observation that she was quite good with computers, and though she never said anything verbally, she said quite a bit in email and other forms of writing. She was also quite good with graphics.
With each passing week I became more intrigued. This was the perfect woman... except she had suffered so much pain in her life that she was now oblivious to the outside world, and seemingly preferred it that way. Sometimes she saw me watching her and looked at me with sad eyes... and then looked back down at whatever she was doing. I learned she was more active at night most of the time, and tended to sleep through most of the day. When she was awake she usually wore nothing but a blanket. Presumably if she wasn't going to go out there wasn't any point in her getting dressed. Perfectly understandable.
For the most part she ignored everyone around her, only occasionally acknowledging that she wasn't the only person present. She seemed to prefer solitude. Staying most of the time in her room on her computer, her only link to the outside world was the arrangement of light on the computer screen.
About a month and a half after I started working at the hospital, I was watching her as usual and she looked up at me and smiled a little. I smiled back, quite encouraged that something had happened. She then picked a small diskette up off the desk and handed it to me. It had written on its label, "Poetry." I said thank you and put it in my pocket.
Once home, I took the disk and placed it in my own computer. I loaded the contents of it, and found it was half full with nothing but poetry. I read through about a third of it that night before I grew too tired to continue. The next night I read another third, and the next I finished it. It was some of the saddest poetry I had ever read, and also some of the best. There was a great deal of pain in those words, and occasionally anger, and near the end, almost a peace. It seemed she had accepted her situation and was growing comfortable with it even though to most it would be a prison.
I copied all of the files to my hard drive so I could return her disk to her the next day. I brought it back to the hospital and went to her room. She was inside, sitting at her computer as usual. I tapped her on the shoulder and handed it out to her. She jumped a little at my touch, but when she turned she gave me a little smile of recognition. She took the disk, looked up at me, and said, "Thank you." Two words that meant the world... because they were the first she had spoken in close to a year.
"No, thank you," I returned. "Thank you for sharing yourself with me."
Through the next few weeks we talked and I counseled her, though the environment was more like a friendship than a doctor-patient relationship. She still rarely left her room and she still spent most of her time on the computer, but at least now she was talking. She told me about her fiance and how she felt when she heard he had died. She told me about how alone she had been since then. She told me about how she wanted nothing more than to be by herself since she didn't have him anymore. She told me how the hospital was a blessing because she could do what she wanted to do: sleep when she was tired and wake up when she wasn't.
She & I grew closer and I began to try to talk her into a trip outside. She was quite adamant that she not go. Every time I brought it up, she quickly changed the subject. When I asked her directly, she would never say more than she "wasn't comfortable." Eventually I quit asking her about it for the most part, but still had to try at least once a week.
Finally the perfect oppertunity presented itself: a poetry workshop. If I could convince her to go it may help her on her way to freedom. I told her about it, and she said it sounded wonderful.
"So you'll go then?"
"I don't know. I . . . can't."
"Sure you can. We can go together, if you need to leave, then we will."
"But. . ."
"No Butts about it. We're going."
A look of doom crossed her face at that, and I immediately wondered whether I had made a mistake. But I quickly shook it off, deciding it was only the agoraphobia. If she were to ever leave this place, she would have to overcome that.
The day came, and I arrived at her room.
"Are you ready to go?"
"I'm not going."
"Of course you are."
"No, I'm not."
I went over and brought her to her feet. She offered no resistance, and I was relieved that at least she was already dressed. I led her outside, and she watched the floor the whole way to the front entrance to the hospital.
We reached the entrance and opened the doors, and as the first sunlight she had seen in a long time hit her, she looked up to see it.
And then she was quickly reduced to a pile of dust.