CAROLYN'S COMPOSITIONS

November 11, 2010

My People


CAROLYN’S COMPOSITIONS

MY PEOPLE

Nancy Briskay Cornell Lipsius

     During her lifetime, my late mother worked as a secretary for a psychiatrist. Below are vignettes of a few patients who touched this season of her life.

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   He enters the waiting room quietly, slides into a chair and sits, body slumped, eyes downcast, a rumpled, unwashed, unshaven, disheveled appearance. My greeting to him goes unanswered and he glances at me surreptitiously from under lowered lids. He is early for his appointment and the magazines on the table hold no interest for him. Nor does he converse with any of the others in the room. His posture projects dejection, sadness, loneliness, the very burden of life itself. At long last it is his turn and he shuffles slowly into the doctor’s office for an hour of therapy, and medication that appears to relieve nothing. He returns to me, and, without comment, accepts the card for his next appointment, tears close to the surface. My “Goodbye, see you next week” goes unanswered.

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     He enters my line of vision, snowy white hair, incredibly blue eyes, a man in his late seventies who for all intents and purposes may well be old St. Nick himself. His smile and gracious greeting could melt the heart of a stone. It is only his trembling hands and the slight list as he walks that betrays the early Parkinsonism. His optimism and cheerful outlook make even the doctor feel great. When he leaves the office my mood is “up” and I look forward to seeing him again.

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     She walks in briskly. She is thin to the point of transparency. After registering with me she sits down with not only one magazine, but at least six—flipping through the pages restlessly. She lights a cigarette, draws on it rapidly, puts it out and lights another. Her face has tight lines of tension around the eyes, the mouth, almost destroying the flawless skin, turning her full red lips into thin red lines. Tiring of the magazines she approaches me and, words spilling one over the other from her lips, tells me of a son who is sixteen and involved in drugs and alcohol, who has been arrested for drunk driving; about her husband leaving her, moving to the south and who hasn’t sent her a single penny so that she must try to sell the house and move to a smaller place. The words just keep tumbling out, in monotone, words that have been voiced over and over. She enters the doctor’s office, and, on her return, her eyes are red and swollen with weeping and I know the next time I see her the words and attitude will be the same and she will have become even more transparent.

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     He is black, clean-cut and always has a cheery smile and “Hello, how’re things going to day?” He is the mailman. His eyes sparkle, his kindness and helpfulness reveal a love of mankind that masks the fear and concern for his 19-year-old son who was injured in an automobile accident, suffered severe brain damage, almost died and, after months of hospitalization and numerous surgeries, is finally able to walk, may even be able to return to college at some future date. Under this enormous burden the mailman manages to brighten my day.

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     He is seventeen and walks into the office quickly. He asks if the doctor is in and, even though he is early for his appointment, he glances anxiously at the doctor’s door, the clock, fidgets with a pen on the counter top, demands to know if the clock is correct, asks “Where is the doctor?,” returns to the waiting room t pace like a caged tiger, asks for a match, asks again if the clock is right. He asks for another match, smokes a cigarette part way, puts it out and then lights another. It is finally time for him to be seen by the doctor and in his haste to get into the doctor’s office he trips and stumbles over the thresh-hold. When he returns to my office he is somewhat calmer and more in control.

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     She is young and pretty, well-dressed in the latest of “preppy” outfits. Aware of her attractiveness, she postures, smiles and laughs frequently. I need only to look into her eyes to be aware that she is hearing and seeing something only she can see or hear.

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     He approaches my window quietly, speaks in a voice so low I have to keep asking him to repeat his questions. His face is damp with perspiration and he trembles ever so slightly. “Will it cost a lot? Will I have to take expensive medicines? Will my insurance cover any of it? How long will I have with the doctor? Do I see the doctor every week? I don’t like taking pills.” While I am taking his history his answers are just above a whisper. Having been reassured that his medical insurance will cover his visits to the doctor and a large percentage of any prescribed medication, he sits down in a straight chair and remains stiffly erect, eyes straight ahead, knuckles white on hands gripped tightly to the arms of the chair.

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     With a sheriff at each side he enters the waiting room. He stands quietly and I can hear the metallic clicking as the handcuffs are removed. He is smaller than I had expected, neat, clean-shaven and speaks in a well-mannered voice while I take his history. I hear the clink of the leg irons as he sits just opposite my window. He remains there silently, staring straight at me, staring and staring, until it is his turn. I know that he has murdered another man and I am not sure—should I be afraid?

     These are my people.

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ADDITIONAL READING:

My Mother as My Mentor

Pearl Harbor: A 1942 Radio Broadcast Script

RIGHTING A CIVIL WAR WRONG: A Gravestone for a Civil War Veteran

Reflections on motherhood

MOOSE, GOOSE, DEER

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1 Comment »

  1. I wonder if her insights could have helped the Dr.? I know that’s something she would never presume to think. I ended up reading each vignette wanting to know more about these people.

    Comment by 1littlesister — February 7, 2011 @ 8:37 pm | Reply


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