THE BLANK BOOK
I got this book from my granddaughter Emma. The cover looks like a gunny sack. It has a dried purple flower on the front, and all the pages are blank. It’s supposed to be pretty. The purple pen that goes with it is squishy, like chewed-up gum. “So it doesn’t hurt your hand, Gamma,” Emma said. I laughed, thinking where my hand has been these eighty-two years, and what it’s done. I was polite, though, and asked her real nice what in the world I’m supposed to do with it. “It’s for your thoughts,” she said. “If you have any memories or reflections you want to write down. Or a poem, maybe, or a sentiment you think is meaningful.”
That girl has always worked my last nerve.
They all feel guilty for putting me here, so they’re trying to keep me from losing my mind. I also got a jigsaw puzzle (one of the biggest wastes of time I can think of) and an embroidery set (which I have always hated) for Christmas. My son Dean even gave me a paint-by-numbers kit with three kinds of dogs: a poodle, a collie, and a German shepherd. Do they think I am retarded? That I’ve gone back to my childhood?
They don’t know the first thing about me.
I put those other gifts down in the day room and they got snapped up like nobody’s business. I tucked this book in my top drawer thinking I could tear the pages out if I needed some blank paper. It’s thick as a damn Bible. I don’t know who in their right mind could ever fill it. Then this morning I got up early, when the light was just starting to come through the blinds. Usually my pills knock me out ‘til breakfast, when the walkers and wheelchairs make a slow-motion stampede for the dining room. But this morning was quiet. Nobody calling out from their bed, or knocking a mop around. The phones at the nurses’ station weren’t ringing yet, the gardeners weren’t running their leaf blowers, and the delivery trucks weren’t idling outside my window.
This morning I sat straight up in bed like somebody called my name. Lots of times I can’t get out of bed at all. I stay there all day, dozing and waking up, dozing and waking up. I might swallow a few more of my little darlings to settle my nerves. Sometimes whole chunks of the day disappear. Fine by me. But today I woke clear as a bell. I did my bathroom business, sat down here at my dressing table, and started to write.
I got a plan. I’m going to write down everything I ever wanted to say. I’m not holding nothing back and I don’t give a damn what anybody thinks. Most people don’t tell the truth about their lives, including me. I’ve done things I’m not proud of. I lied to keep myself alive because life is hard and there’s things you got to do. But now I got nothing to lose. I’m going to tell the truth, once and for all. I hope those that put me in this place read it when I’m dead—which I have a feeling won’t be long. Maybe then they’ll see.
The trucks are starting to idle outside new, spitting fumes right into my window. And the inmates are creeping down the hall, yelping like animals fighting to get to the watering hole. Damned if I’m not hungry myself. Those rubbery eggs don’t sound half bad.
I got another reason for keeping this book. It’s called leaving a paper trail. Something fishy’s going on in this place and I want a record in case anything happens to me. That’s right. There’s whispering, and shifty looks, and things gone missing.
It’s all going down here.
I’m using the purple pen.
I’ve always had the prettiest handwriting.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Breaking Out of Bedlam by Leslie Larson. Copyright © 2010 by Leslie Larson. Excerpted by permission of Broadway Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.