|PIECES OF GRAY|
By Dana Hunter
Scratch, Scratch, tug, tug. It was July and Katherine Gray was wearing a long sleeved shirt and a pair of cut – off jeans. She pulled at the bandages on her wrists concealed by her shirt. Her hair was black and twisted into dreadlock’s, pulled up into a ponytail. Katherine had caramel colored skin, her eyes were almond shaped and a piercing blue. She possessed the distinct talent of raising one eyebrow while cocking her head to one side when something caught her attention or didn’t seem quite right, she called it her “bullshit detector” and it was never wrong. Panic set in as she felt a bead of sweat trickle down the small of her back, it was ninety-eight degrees outside and there she sat bundled up in a heavy shirt. Katherine began to tug at the gauze from her, “little accident.” She laughed to herself and thought about the scene from the movie “BEETLEJUICE”; where the dead showgirl held up her blue arms and flashed her slit wrists and referred to them as her, “her little accident.” Katherine wondered if she would have become a civil servant in the afterlife too if she had succeeded. She sat with her back to the wall and facing the door so she could see everyone who entered her favorite coffee house “The Deep Cup”. A dimly lit hideaway, whose atmosphere was quirky and peaceful. There were photos of famous poets and various animals and playbill covers on the walls. The music was eclectic, switching from rock to country and soul or R&B and yet it all seemed to smoothly flow together without a hitch. The waiters dressed in jeans or shorts or skirts. The only dress code was the word WAITER printed on the black shirts worn by the different servers. The deep oak chairs and tables were comfortable. There was an occasional couch or chaise thrown in for groups. The clients ranged from Twenty-years-old and up. A mixture of ages and races and delicious coffee concoctions.Katherine jabbed at her iced coffee with a straw, as she tried to sink the cubes. “I don’t know why I even bother”, she moaned into her cell phone.
Lady Dahlia sat on the other end of the line offering encouragement.
“Each attempt I make these days just seems to fall flat.’ Katherine said. “I want to do what the psych doctors asks, but I don’t think they realize what they’re asking of me at times.”
“What the hell is that s’posed ta mean?” Dahlia answered.Lady Dahlia was a bit rough around the edges, but she or rather “he” was honest and patient. Lady Dahlia Moore performed Drag at the local club, “Le Resistance”. His hair was brown, or blonde or red. Depending upon the character he was performing that night. He spoke in a slightly raised tone in public, but when speaking to Katherine, it was always low and comforting. Dahlia and Katherine met five years ago in the waiting room at their therapist’s office. They clicked instantly. As Dahlia would say, “madness knows madness.” She trusted him with everything. They talked about their illness, sex, and makeup. Katherine once asked Lady Dahlia to squeeze her breast. Reluctantly he did, then pulled his hand away quickly, “Auugh!” he shuddered.
“I feel you” Katherine responded, “I don’t hate my body, I love my breasts. I am just not wired for sex anymore.” Katherine flipped up her skirt and opened her legs wide, and smacked her vagina with her hand, “And this,” Katherine explained. “Nothing.” She smacked it two more times. “Not even a tingle.” She lowered her head, closed her legs and fixed her skirt. “I can see a cute guy and my heart jumps, but from the waist down. I’m dead.” She muttered into Lady Dahlias’ chest.
He had taken hold of her and held her in his arms. “My medication has even taken sex away from me.” She said flatly.
They both cried that night, Lady Dahlia held Katherine even tighter and kissed her on top of her head.#Katherine took a slow sip of her drink, shook her head and then poured four more packets of raw sugar into the cup and stirred rapidly.
“They tell you, get out there. Meet people, be social. The whole “people are social creatures” bullshit.” Katherine continued on the phone. “But what psychiatrists don’t understand, is that just going out for a cup of coffee can be mentally and physically exhausting.” Katherine sighed and took a sip of the sugary mixture.
“Can you walk?” Dahlia asked.
“Of course, I can walk,” Katherine replied, slightly upset.
“Now, hold on and listen. If you can walk, you can get there. So many people can’t walk, so they have wheelchairs or crutches or those walkers with the seat on them. I always wanted one of those, mine would be purple with rhinestones. The whole point is to get where you’re going too, no matter what it takes. Just get there. And for you, it’s sitting in that coffee shop, waiting for a guy and hopefully, making a friend. Not a husband or a future. But a friend and that’s all.” Lady Dahlia said in a calm tone.
He worried about Katherine constantly. The phone call he got a few months ago stressed their friendship. Dahlia hadn’t realized how much he loved his little ‘Kat’ until that day when he thought he would never see her again.
“You sound like an oracle,” Katherine said in relief. “An orifice?” Dahlia joked. “Don’t be stupid.” she laughed back. “You’ve calmed me down like you always do. Thank you “Oh Dahlia on high.”
“High being the operative word Guurrrl. I’m overdue to get “on high.” Lady Dahlia joked.
“Ok, talk to you later. I’ll let you know how it went.” Katherine hung up her phone and placed it on the table. A friend. She was waiting for a friend and nothing more. Good not to put too much pressure on a situation, when you don’t know what the situation will become. There was a time she would look at a man and plan a lifetime with him in five minutes. She would have to take this slow and moment by moment, but how do you explain long sleeves when the weather outside is so hot? Do I have to explain? She thought, and decided to worry about that when and if Michael got there. # Katherine had met Michael in the Graphic Novel’s section of the library, where she volunteered shelving books. They discussed Marvel vs. DC comics and the Fables collection of stories. Michael was a tall and decently handsome painter of Italian descent who taught art at the local high school. His looks wouldn’t stop traffic, but they appealed to Katherine and she loved how his blue eyes played against his jet black hair. Like hers did and she adored that connection.
Michael had offered to walk her home one afternoon, but Katherine refused, saying coyly “We’ll talk more about that walk if you can find me here tomorrow.” From that day on, each time he entered the library, she would play the game of “Can Michael find Katherine.” She would let him see a glimpse of her, then dash off into the book stacks. If he actually was interested she thought, he’ll find me. And he always did.Katherine could count the number of dates she had the displeasure of attending on one hand. Michael would be number five. She had looked forwards to the date, but the voices would always come and tell her not to get her hopes up. That what she sees in his eyes, is not attraction, but pity. That he thinks you’re a nutcase and he has been talking to your mother in secret. This was the thought that scared her the most. # Her first unexplained episode took her by surprise. Leaving her feeling lost and confused. Katherine had just finished her first round of final exams. She rushed into her dorm room and was bombarded with thoughts and ideas and emotions. Like a freight train they ran through her head and she could feel the earth spin beneath her feet. Katherine was swirled up into it’s pull. She wanted the swirling to stop for one fucking minute, so she could catch up. Katherine felt a pull from her gut, like she was leaving the room, but standing still.
She could see herself sitting on the bed. Body erect and empty. At first she didn’t realize what she was seeing. Katherine wasn’t part of herself anymore. She couldn’t feel herself breathing or her heartbeat.
Katherine felt herself crammed in the corner of her dorm room ceiling. She looked around at the bookcase and chair and her body, wondering if she really looked that way.
“Is that what people see.” She thought to herself.
Staring back down at herself. Katherine tried to figure out how to get back into her body. She felt a responsibility to go back, but not a desire. Slowly her thoughts eased and the swirling had stopped. Katherine had caught up with the world. It was like time had stopped and waited for her to catch her breath. Before she could think about the peace she was feeling, she was back in her skin. She could move and breathe. She took a deep breath and never spoke of the experience to anyone.
A few years after the “experience” the bottom fell out of Katherine’s life. All of Katherine’s dreams of becoming a professor were shot to hell. She was a gifted Cellist who wanted to eventually teach and was in Graduate school for her Masters in Music. Katherine had another episode which landed her back in New Jersey at her mother’s house. This one was not like her first, in this episode she saw black dogs following her and could hear a voice threatening her, telling her that it was “coming to get her.” Katherine couldn’t think clearly or trust her own thoughts between what was real and what was something she had concocted in her mind. She could no longer play her beloved Cello, which beckoned to her from its case in the corner of the bedroom, “play me.”
Katherine’s heart hurt that she no longer could remember where to place her fingers to produce a note. She had lost her ability to play. When mental illness struck, Katherine found that she could no longer think, feel or process information the same way. Everything was filtered through a sieve of confusion. Her mind felt like it was flailing in the wind. She could reach forwards and sometimes, could catch the edges but never would she be able to hold it in both hands again. The different medications Katherine tried in order to control the rapid thoughts and deep depressions made her feel like she was walking through wet concrete. A zombie type state where Katherine would stare into space without thought and couldn’t muster the energy to move or the motivation to do anything but sit still or sleep.When she walked, it was a labored shuffle and each movement felt like slow motion. It was a struggle just to speak, so she didn’t and either her appetite grew or didn’t exist at all. There were other side effects with each medication change. Diarrhea, rashes, insomnia, nervous tics. Katherine could remember, those were horrible days when her mother would yell at her, “Get up and just DO something!”
While deep inside, she was yelling the exact same words to herself. How could Katherine trust herself, when one minute she’s talking about who they killed off on the latest episode of The Walking Dead, and the next she believed that there were satellites in space that were reading her thoughts, or that she could fly. These thoughts felt like reality to her as real as wood. Life had become a series of daily distractions in between the time to take her medication. Just a flow of video games, coloring books and surfing the net. Unable to work, she felt like a failure at life. “You lose yourself,” she once told Lady Dahlia. “You can never trust yourself again and you’ve lost all control. Imagine questioning if your decision to turn left was some grandiose thought, or a true desire to just turn left.”, she continued. “Nothing is as simple as, I want to turn left. It’s a question of reality versus something your mind created and there are times you can’t tell the difference.”
Katherine knew one thing she had control of, one thing that was always there for her when the pain of living got to be exhausting. Katherine had control of when and how she chose to end her life. And she held onto this trap door with both claws. # Katherine’s memories of her youth were scattered by the illness. There were times she could recall moments of warmth and love from her mother. Big birthday parties in the park, where she would get mountains of gifts and her mother would hold her so tight, Katherine would become tangled in her blonde hair and the scent of gardenia, her mother Cassandra would whisper in her ear, “You’re my forever, Kitty Kat.” Once Cassandra’s parents discovered that Katherine’s father was black, she was disowned and she had to get two jobs to survive. Katherine was her special project, to show her parents they both were good enough and didn’t need their approval or their money. Once a beauty herself, Cassandra had a curvaceous body and long blonde hair. Ice blue eyes and perfectly bowed lips, just like Katherine. Cassandra Gray’s looks had long faded and so had her faith in her daughter. Cassandra never had a chance to attend college and when Katherine received a four-year scholarship, she beamed with pride and thought this is my child, she is smart, beautiful and will one day do great things. Katherine’s father and Cassandra’s family had both left her years ago. It was just the two of them. Her little “Kit Kat” was her pride and joy.
The day Katherine returned from Graduate school was the end of Cassandra’s dreams. Gone was the daughter who would prove her parents wrong, instead, she felt they had sent her back a mistake. Katherine was no longer her “Little Kit Kat.” Her Katherine didn’t talk to herself and sleep all day and have crying fits. Who was this stranger? Katherine became this burden for her to carry. Some stranger living two doors down across from the bathroom door. She didn’t want to blame Katherine, but there was no one else there to blame.# Upon leaving the psychiatric wing a few months ago Katherine was offered a choice of a group home. But there was a waiting list and she had no relatives she could stay with until a spot opened up for her. Reluctantly she returned to her mother’s house. It wasn’t a healthy environment, but it was a roof over her head. When she turned the key to enter the house, it was quiet. Good, she thought. Katherine just wanted to get back to her room. She climbed the stairs and immediately saw the broken bathroom door from the night of the incident.It had been over a month and nothing had changed, it lay halfway in the hall and halfway in the bathroom. You had to step over they weathered gray split door to use the toilet. But her mother had left it there.
“I didn’t clean anything! It’s your mess.” She heard her mother yell from the bedroom further down the hall.
The hardwood floor was stained with small circles of blood. My blood, it occurred to her as she stepped over the door and turned to enter her bedroom and pushed past the dresser, which she had used to block the door that night.
Dried blood in pools of brown were smeared on the bedroom floor. Suddenly, Katherine felt hot breath on the back of her neck. Katherine turned with a start and saw her mother. Cassandra was standing behind her in a stained house dress with large patterns of flowered print. She wore nothing underneath and her large breasts moved with each labored breath. Her hair had turned yellowish white with age.Her skin was pale and her face defied her true age, by not showing one wrinkle. Ice blue eyes were deep set and her eyebrows were heavy on her forehead, which protruded like a caveman’s brow.
“Don’t expect me to clean anything. The mop is in the bathroom. Somehow, you need to fix the door.” She said and left the door slamming with a loud thud. Katherine stood and stared at the red stains. As her mothers’ words resonated in her mind, “Don’t expect me to clean anything”, she stood transfixed in one spot. She relived the day when it all went wrong. # Katherine had woken from a fitful night of bad dreams. Her medication had been changed once again and things were shaky. It was one of those moments when she wanted to use that trap door, but it was a moment and moments pass. Katherine decided she couldn’t keep walking that line anymore. Either I get on living or I get on dying she told herself. And this morning she made the decision “to get on living.”
She decided to play the part and go through the motions of dressing neatly, brushing her teeth, doing her hair and making breakfast. Katherine found comfort in the routine, it made her feel safe. She felt that if she did these things, these concrete movements daily, she was less anxious.
Katherine left the bathroom and hurried downstairs to prepare breakfast, only to find her mother had already finished the task. There were pancakes and sausages piled on the nineteen-fifties style red kitchen table. The entire kitchen was a throwback to that era. The refrigerator chugged loudly because it was so old. At times it could be heard upstairs as it strained to keep the food fresh and cold. The kitchen walls were a dingy yellow and needed a fresh coat of paint. There were counters and cabinets of finished wood that had seen better days and a gas stove that needed cleaning.
Cassandra stood at the head of the table surrounded by four chairs, even though there were only two of them. She had a forced smile on her face. “Breakfast is served,” she said and took a seat. Katherine’s right eyebrow raised and she cocked her head to the side, something didn’t feel right. But she took a seat, bowed her head and began to say grace. Before she could finish saying Amen, Cassandra interrupted, “I sold your Cello,” she said and began eating.
Katherine could feel her heart sink and the anger swell. Her mother just sat there eating her breakfast. Katherine could feel her mind swing, as thoughts piled upon thoughts within emotions. She was overwhelmed and sad, while angry and scared all at once. Without thought, she picked up the kitchen knife and began tapping the table, slowly at first.
“Now, don’t get theatrical. You weren’t using it anyway. We needed the money. It’s not like your working.” Cassandra said with a mouth full of pancakes and sausage.
She continued to fill her mouth with food, ignoring the increased pace and sound of the knife. “Tap!” “Tap!” “Tap!” Which changed from an annoying sound, to stabbing louder and louder on the Formica table top.
Katherine couldn’t speak. Even if she knew what to say, she couldn’t form the words. She continued to stab at the table. “Thump!” “Thump!” “Thump!”
“Would you stop that!” Cassandra yelled.
Suddenly Katherine screamed at the top of her voice, “You BITCH!” The knife went flying towards Cassandra, but missed and clanged loudly as it fell and slid across the kitchen floor.
“Are you mad?” Cassandra screamed in disbelief. “Yes! I am. Remember that!” Katherine yelled back.
She picked up the plate of pancakes and threw them against the chugging refrigerator. “How could you?” she asked full of anger.
“You weren’t using it!” Cassandra replied as she jumped up and moved to the other side of the kitchen.
Which was the smart thing to do, as Katherine took hold of the bottom of the red Formica kitchen table topped with pancakes and sausage and flung it off of its feet and onto the floor!
Cassandra screamed in fear, as Katherine bounded for the stairs, looking for a place to hide. There were too many thoughts, too many emotions and feelings of loss. Cassandra was close on her heels cussing and screaming at her, but Katherine couldn’t understand a word. She was lost in anger and better to take it out on the kitchen table, than her mother. She reached the top of the stairs and headed for the bathroom. Opening the bathroom door, she slammed it shut behind her. The old weathered door came off its hinges and fell towards the floor. She held it in her hand for a second and then dropped it to the floor with a THUD! “Shit!” she yelled and started to climb over the door. Cassandra reached the top of the stairs and caught sight of the bathroom door torn off its hinges and Katherine climbing over it as she made her way towards her room. “You slammed the door so hard you broke the damn thing!” Cassandra screamed and smacked Katherine with the back of her hand so hard, her knuckle began to bleed. Katherine stood defiantly straddling the bathroom door, lip bleeding.
“You hit like a girl,” she said as she slowly stepped over the bathroom door, entered her bedroom and with a “THUD,” she slammed and locked the door behind her.
She began to push a dresser against the door, but it toppled over instead and fell with a crash, it still served it’s purpose and blocked anyone from coming into the room.“What the hell are you doing?” Cassandra bellowed.
She tried to get into Katherine’s bedroom jiggling the handle and pushing it with her shoulder, but it wouldn’t budge.
“Katherine open this door!” she yelled.
She began to bang on the outside, leaving smudges of blood from her knuckles with each pound on its surface.
“I can’t do this anymore!” Katherine screamed at her mother in the hall.
She tripped over a throw rug on her bedroom floor and landed on her face, “WHUMP!” Numb to the pain, Katherine crawled across the floor and pulled the phone down by its cord from the side table, next to her neatly made bed. “Crash!” The phone hit the floor, as she scrambled for the receiver and dialed.
“Dahlia, I need you. I need you now!” Katherine yelled into the receiver.
“Are you ok?” Dahlia answered.
“No, I don’t know. She’s at me again!” She began to cry deep from her gut, each tear pulled from a place of pain and loneliness.
“Tell me what is going on Kat? Take it slow.” Dahlia said in a calm and easy voice.
“I tried this morning. I decided I was going to try and live and stop thinking about death. I got up, took my medication, dressed and was going to make breakfast. But she was there, with this big fucking Sunday morning breakfast thing.” She said as she started to cry again.
“Come on Kat, what happened next, tell me. I can’t help you if you don’t talk.” Dahlia pleaded.
“I should have seen it coming, I should have seen it.” Katherine said between the tears, “Dahlia, she sold my Cello!” Time stood still for one instant and the banging had stopped. “OPEN THIS DAMN DOOR!” Cassandra bellowed from the hallway. Splintering the moment and taking Katherine with it, her face went blank and her eyes began to blink rapidly.
“Oh my God, what the hell is going on?” Dahlia screamed.
Katherine reached over and knocked down her bedside table in one mechanical movement. The draw of the table opened up as it crashed to the floor. Pens and pencils and other items were strewn across the hardwood floor. Katherine began to search for something with one hand while holding the phone with the other. “I hear her every day and I’m tired of it,” Katherine spoke in a deadpan voice. “Tired of the cruel words and nothing to do. I really have nothing to do. It’s just moments between meds, did you know that Dahlia?” she asked slowly.
“I’m just distracting my mind in-between medicating myself.” She continued. “I can’t work, I can’t fuck, as far as my mother is concerned, I can’t do anything right. I am tired. So very tired. And now my Cello is gone.”
“I’m coming over.” Dahlia threatened.
“No don’t. I won’t be here.” Katherine answered.
She’s found it.
With her right hand, Katherine hung up the phone gently. With her left hand, she wrapped it tightly around a pearl handled old fashioned shaving blade. “OPEN UP KATHERINE OR I’M CALLING THE POLICE!” Cassandra threatened loudly.
“Call them, call everyone, call the Pope. It doesn’t matter!” Katherine stood up and yelled at the door.
She held the straight blade in her hand like a samurai sword.
“Kitten, just open the door”. Her mother said in a soft welcoming voice.
“What are you playing at now Mom? Compassion? Do you really think I am that stupid!” Katherine replied with anger.
“You sold my Cello, the one thing I cherished, the one thing I hoped could get me back to who I was before all this “SHIT!” began.” Katherine paused. “And now you call me “Kitten” like nothing has happened. Just go away.” Katherine says exhaling as if she had just run a marathon.
“Don’t be so mean Katherine. You know how I get sometimes. Just open the door and we can talk.” Cassandra said in a honey dripped voice.
The door bell rang and Katherine could hear her mother go down the stairs. At first, the blade lay limp and cold in her hand. Katherine rolled up her sleeves. Then she heard the rushing footsteps on the stairs grow louder. Katherine gripped the blade tightly and places it onto her warm flesh. Feeling the cold metal, she hesitates as the footsteps stopped in front of her bedroom door. Katherine panicked and slashed each arm with an upwards motion as everything went black.#Tug, tug. Scratch, scratch. Her wrists were beginning to bother her. This shirt is too hot, she thought. I should have ordered something cooler. She wondered how long she should wait, what was the appropriate protocol for first dates?
Scratch, scratch. Tug, tug. Slurp. Katherine finished her second iced coffee and was afraid to order a third. As her anxiety began to grow Michael walked thru the doors of “The Deep Cup”. Breath deep, she thought to herself. That was the past, and she was determined not to live there again. Katherine was moving forwards and this was her first step. Michael, a friend was going to have coffee with her, in her favorite place. And all that existed was this moment. About the Author:Dana Hunter earned her B.A. in Communications from Upsala College. She has been writing poetry and short stories with an emphasis on mental illness and living with the everyday struggle and surviving. She lives in New Jersey and is presently working on a collection of short stories designed to end stigmas attached to those with mental illness.