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THE RULES

by

Tiff Holland



There are two rules you must know about mental wards. Rule number one: never read your own psychiatric records - never. Don't read your admitting records or your therapy notes or even the nurses dailies which seem harmless but can include little personal things like the fact that you asked for sanitary napkins which in the therapeutic world is somehow interpreted as some kind of progress - you asking. Second: never date another patient. This seems obvious and no doubt covered elsewhere, in the songs of The Counting Crows or the novels of Susan Sontag or the movies of Carrie Fisher, and yet, he seemed so irresistible, and he wasn't really in the mental ward, just spill-over from detox, and he was kind and smiled and congratulated you on your Jeopardy answers and hell, what did you have to lose?

You ask yourself this when you wake up in his waterbed on a Saturday morning and find a bouquet of a dozen long-stemmed condoms on his dresser, and he tells you they're a gift from his ex-wife. He tells you this while he straps on his pistol and drinks his Budweiser for breakfast because, hell, beer doesn't count. Somehow, this doesn't even faze you. You stick around. You spend many Saturday mornings in his waterbed because that guy you're in love with, another cop don't you know, won't return your calls, and every time you think you've mastered the loneliness you find yourself out on the river humming "Goodnight Irene," that is, the part about sometimes you get a great notion, and that's what got you on the mental ward in the first place.

This goes on until, finally, one Saturday morning, he tells you you're bringing him down. He smiles when he says this, chugs his breakfast Bud and adds the can to the stack beside the bed. You realize, really, that uniform is almost the same as the pajamas he wore in the hospital, that he always tilts his head to one side when he talks, that he really is crazier than you. After all, you asked for those sanitary napkins, you're getting better, but he still absolutely crawls to the fridge he's so drunk on a Friday night. You try not to think about his gun when you drive around town. You get a job. You forget the other cop, too, and then you marry him. Years later, when it's safe, you send to a firm called "Quid Pro" for your psychiatric records. You need a list of the medications you've taken. You read the notes. The admitting report records you as "cyanotic." You look it up: blue, unresponsive. You realize just how far you've come.







ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tiff lives in Northeast Ohio where she is currently undertaking a crash course in the songs of "The Wiggles". She teaches at Kent State University. Her work has recently appeared in Zacatas, In Posse and Pig Iron Malt. Her favorite novel is Sometimes a Great Notion.




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