Blackbird Has Spoken: Part 14
From Blackbird Has Spoken: Part 13
Dr. Murray Stricklen invites longtime friend Thomas Gimmler, administrator of Mercy Hospital, to a penthouse he's staying at to stay under the radar of Homicide detectives. His reason for having Thomas over is to find out if he's been talking to the police. Thus begins a game between the two, a game of lying, misleading, bullying and finally a terrible fight leaving Stricklen seriously injured. Thomas then faces the man he's become, a man he is ashamed of.
Thomas and Dr. Wong meet in the chapel where both are seeking to find the God of Ivy Ledbetter and Cloe Ludlow.
Thomas continued. "This is really weird, Dr. Wong."
"You telling me," said Wong. "Call me Huan. No need for formality."
"Right, Huan. Come here often? Are you a religious man?"
"Not before, but patients talk about God, that Jesus up there. They say He give them strength, love, and sometimes peace in their suffering. It make me curious. I just trying to see if I can find what they have."
"Really." Thomas stood up. Mind if I join you, Huan? My neck's getting stiff."
When Thomas joined him, Dr. Wong returned the question.
"Are you religious man, Thomas?" Dr. Wong knew the answer, but asked to be polite and to sate his curiosity.
"No. Never have been... I've heard tidbits here and there about God, but to be honest, I'm clueless. God has never been on my radar until now."
"Radar? I know what radar is, but how God can be on radar?"
Normally Thomas would have found Dr. Wong an idiot for such a question. But his heart was changing by the hour.
"It's an expression that means God has never been in my thinking. I've never cared about religion and thought it for weak people."
"Hmm. Mind if I ask why you here? Oh, that too personal."
"No, no don't feel that way. I guess my immoral, arrogant life has caught up with me. The weight of what I've done to my wife and people all my life is like a boulder of guilt. I can't go back and undo the wrongs I've done, but I can't live with myself and I want to change. I want something I can't put a word too. I don't know how this all works. I've heard a few conflicting things about God and religion. I never paid attention, I never cared. But now..."
"Ivy and Cloe tell me their God forgive. Maybe that what you seek?"
Thomas was surprised and embarrassed at the tears that stung his eyes and threatened to unveil is pain. But he knew that Dr. Wong was a caring man.
"You know, Huan, I think you've put the right word to it. But why would God forgive a jerk like me?"
"I wonder about forgiveness too. Patient tell me she yell and shake fist at God, then she tell God she sorry. I think to myself, why would God accept her after yell and shake fist. It all confusing."
"Yes, it sure is. I hope we can find a way to get some answers. I know they have a chaplain here."
"Chaplain. That priest or something?"
"I'm not sure exactly, but I know he gives spiritual guidance to patients."
"Hmm. Maybe we ask him?"
"Oh," he exhaled, "I'm not sure I want the whole hospital seeing me talk to a chaplain."
Dr. Wong put his hand on Thomas' shoulder. "Thomas, you say you want change. My patients say "suck it up." I check it out in Urban Dictionary."
Thomas grinned with amusement but didn't say anything.
"Well, Huan, you have a point." He checked his watch. Huan, I hate to break up the party but I'm exhausted and I have important matters to attend to at home." He reached to shake Huan's hand. "It's been a pleasure, Huan."
"Yes, pleasure. Maybe see you here again?"
"Maybe. Perhaps. Good night, Huan."
It was visiting hours and Ivy's cousin James came with Aunt Gwen in tow. Another emotional reunion. Aunt Gwen did most of the crying. She handed Ivy a suitcase full of clothing, toiletries, fluffy towels, books and a journal from Ivy's apartment. Ivy couldn't wait to sleep in her own PJ's, use her own toothbrush, and write in her journal tonight before bed.
"Aunt Gwen, I can't tell you how grateful I am that you brought these things from home. A real towel, wow."
"Ivy, we've worried half to death about your whereabouts and well being. I can imagine it must have been difficult to tell anyone you're here, what with the stigma and all, but we're your family, honey. No judgment here. We just want to support you in whatever way you need. You don't have to do this alone."
"Now this far into it, I don't know what I was afraid of by telling you guys. I was just so far down at the bottom I wasn't thinking straight. I'm so grateful you're here. It's been so hard. First Nana died, then my dear friend Cloe was murdered. She was the most amazing friend I've ever had. She helped me in ways you can't even imagine. I miss her so much."
She broke down for a moment. Then she opened the drawer to her night stand and handed something to Aunt Gwen.
"Look, this is the goodbye card Cloe made for me the day she was discharged. How was I to guess the goodbye would be forever?"
Aunt Gwen read the card while James read over her shoulder.
"Oh Ivy, what a beautiful card. So her Grammy sang the morning song to her like Nana did for you?"
"Yes. It's what connected us so intimately together. We even sang it together a couple of times when things were hard."
"That's lovely. Nana sang it to me and your father when we were growing up too. But Ivy, the goodbye between you and Cloe is not forever. She's on the other shore and will be there waiting for you when it's your time to pass over."
"That's true. Thank you for that reminder. You wouldn't believe what she suffered in her lifetime. She was hospitalized over and over again. But this time around, because of how we bonded and helped each other, she'd finally turned a corner and knew she'd never have to return here. We planned to help each other recover once we were both out. Life was full of hope and promise again. And then she died, murdered. I got so angry with God I shook my fist at him for taking away Mom, Dad, Nana and Cloe from me. I got really ugly with him."
"You know, Ivy, I've done that myself. When your daddy died, and then your mother, I was very angry with God as well. I think it's a very human response to devastating tragedy. God understands. He honors our honesty. He forgives you, sweetheart."
"Oh, I do know that. Getting that out of my system and receiving His forgiveness has helped me get unstuck. For the first time since coming here I'm sharing in grief group. I have moments, sometimes hours or days of terrible pain and darkness, but I feel God's hand and love, and now he's brought you and James to me. How did you guys find me, anyway?"
"It wasn't easy," James said.
"When you didn't return our calls after a month or so we got worried. We checked with your landlord, your work, and when both said they'd not seen or heard from you we really got scared," said Aunt Gwen.
"Yeah, and I ended up hiring a private detective," said James. "It took him awhile but he finally got a lead and found you. But when we checked with the hospital they wouldn't verify your being here. I came anyway and gave them my card. I'm so glad they told you about my visit and that you agreed to see me.
"Oh Ivy, I'm so sorry for all you've been through," Aunt Gwen said. She wrapped her arms around her niece once again. "I brought one more thing for you, dear. Here."
Aunt Gwen handed her Nana's cloth bag. Ivy pulled out a heavy book - Nana's study Bible. She really broke down. She kissed the Bible and thanked her aunt over and over again. James and Aunt Gwen saw how spent Ivy was and figured she was eager to be alone with Nana's Bible. They hugged and kissed her goodbye with a promise to return the next day. When they'd left, Ivy read and wept over Nana's Bible. She fell asleep with it in her arms.
Little Ivy was in Nana's lap, who held a book in her hands.
"Nana, will you weed me this book?"
"Give me your little hands, darlin'," Nana said. "I'll teach you about God's word, the Bible."
Nana's lap was comfy and she smelled like lavender. She put her hands over Ivy's three year old hands. They felt so warm and comforting to Ivy.
"Let Nana show you God's Word. See these words on the cover? They say, "Holy Bible."
"God's wewd," Ivy said with glee.
"That's right, honey, God's word."
"Open it, Nana."
Nana helped Ivy open the Bible to Genesis.
"Look, Ivy. This says Genesis. Can you say Genesis?
"Genasis. What's Genasis, Nana?"
"It means beginnings. Genesis is the story of how the world began, how it was made, and the first animals and people."
"Oh boy, I want to hew how the wewld was made."
"Okay. I'm going to teach you your first Bible story. Let me read it to you first. 'In the beginning...say it after me Ivy."
"In the beginning," Ivy said.
"That's right, honey. 'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."
"Created means something was made. Like when you make a picture on the drawing paper I give you. You are creating, or making something. God created the heavens and the earth and much more. Now repeat it after me. 'In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth."
"In the beginning, God cweated the hebens and the earf."
"Good Ivy. That's right. Now say, 'The earth was formless and void.'"
"The earf was fomless and boid. What is fomless and boid?"
"That means it had no shape and it was empty. Say, 'Now, darkness was on the face of the deep."
"Now dakness was on the face of the deep. Was it a funny or sad face?"
"Face in this story doesn't mean like a people face. It means the part that is showing, on top of."
Ivy's face was as void as the earth was without form. It didn't matter. There was time to learn.
"Good girl. 'And the Spirit of God was hovering..."
"And the Spiwit of God was hubowing. What's hubowing?"
"Well, it means it's standing in one place. Standing over something. Now let's say it again. 'The Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.'"
"The spiwit of God was hubowing ova the face of the watews."
"Very good, Ivy. You are such a smart girl. Do you know why?"
"Because God made you smart."
Ivy's little face lit up. "God made me smawt? Goodie, God made me smawt."
"Yes, God made you smart. Okay, here's the next part. "Then God said...'"
"Then God said."
"Let there be light."
"Let thew be light."
"Right. Poof, God made light. Let's say the whole sentence. 'Then God said, let there be light.'"
"Then God said, let thew be light, POOF!" Then Ivy and Nana burst into gales of laughter. "Let thew be light. POOF!" Ivy said again. "Let thew be light. POOF! POOF! POOF!"
"You are a silly goose, Ivy. Now let's finish. 'And God saw the light and said that it was good."
"God saw the light and said it is GOOD! POOF!" Ivy said with hilarity.
"GOOD! POOF! Ivy, girl, you got it."
Ivy's little arms went up in the air. "I got it! POOF."
Nana and Ivy giggled until they were exhausted. That night when Nana tucked Ivy into bed, they repeated the verses again with sleepy laughter from Ivy.
"Okay, give Nana butterfly kisses."
"Buttewfwies." Ivy put her hands on Nana's face and drew it to her own and blinked her lashes on Nana's cheek. Nana giggled as if she was being tickled.
"Now give Nana a regular kiss." Ivy obeyed and yawned. "Okay, darlin', go to sleep now. Nana will see you in the morning."
Nana walked to the door and opened it and switched off the light.
"No, Nana. Tewn on the light. I'm afwaid of the dak."
"Okay, Nana will turn off the big light, but I'll turn on your little lamp here on the dresser. " Nana turrned the lamp on.
"POOF!" said Ivy."Let thew be light, POOF! Ni night Nana. Wuv you."
"I wuv you too, Ivy. Ni night."
As Nana stepped out into the hallway she heard Ivy yell out, "POOf!" and giggle.
Ivy woke up laughing. She was in her bed in the hospital. When she realized where she was she was charmed by her dreams and giggled. She had dreamed as it really happened when she was three. She turned over and snuggled the blanket close.
"POOF, Nana," she giggled, and then she was weeping with a deep ache and longing for her Nana.
Erlene called on Ivy to share what was on her heart. She told the grief group about her dream and had everyone in stitches. Soon there were cries of "POOF!" around the room.
"And then I woke up laughing out loud." Ivy told them. "The dream was just how it happened in real life. I said 'POOF!' back to Nana in heaven and then I cried with such sorrow and longing. I miss her so much." And she started with tears all over again.
"Ivy," said Erlene, "Your tears of sorrow are as precious and dear as your memories."
A middle aged man named Henry spoke up. "My grandmother used to read me the Bible, too. One of the verses I learned was Psalm 56:8. 'You number my wanderings; put my tears into Your bottle; are they not in Your book?' When I was in my twenties I went on a trip to the holy land. I was in this little shop and they had all these little bottles, different shapes and colors but all very small. I asked the clerk, 'What are these little bottles all about?' He said 'They're called tear catchers. It comes from the Bible, Psalm 56:8 - You number my wanderings; put my tears into Your bottle.' I bought several for my family and a few friends. I keep mine on my night stand. I'm not a little boy anymore, but I've done more weeping in recent months than I ever thought possible and I look at my little tear bottle and feel so close to God."
"You number my wanderings; put my tears into Your bottle; are they not in Your book?" Psalm 56:8
"That is so sweet," said a woman named Cass. "I learned a verse about tears, too. About weeping actually."
"Share it with us if you like," said Erlene.
"Okay. It's from the Psalms also. Psalm 30:5 'For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for life. Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.''"
"What does that verse mean to you, Cass?"
"I've suffered debilitating depression at times during my life, like what brought me here. And I've always taken that verse so literally. A literal night. I've asked God why it isn't true for me because my weeping never lasts only a night. I mean a weeping heart, not just literal weeping. When I hear it I feel like I got gypped. But as we're sharing here today I think it means a season of weeping or sorrow, not a literal night. His favor is for life, and eternal life for that matter. That gives me a little spark of hope. I haven't felt joy in so long. But these little stories and verses we've been sharing has sprinkled a little joy dust over me."
"POOF!" said the group in unison.
"Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning." Psalm 30:5
Family support group
James and Aunt Gwen signed up to participate in a family support group in which they are educated on depression, anxiety, other psychiatric disorders, suicide, medications, the psychiatric program's philosophy and model, how the family can help support their loved one, and the staff offering support to the families. The class would be presented in three sessions by Dr. Wong, Dr. Fairfax, unit nurse Clara Cyborn, and Nick, the social worker Ivy met on her first day at goals group.
Ivy was deeply touched that James and Aunt Gwen would commit to such a lengthy class. They lived such a long way, at least a forty five minute drive in good traffic. Ivy heard from many patients that their families weren't interested. She also knew of several patients whose families did partake and she noticed the difference in how supported they were and their more substantial progress. She was shocked also at how troubled many of the families were. Young Jeb, who had been on the unit a week before she came and was discharged a short time ago had a very toxic mother who had visited quite often at first. Jeb was always a mess at wrap up just before bedtime. Ivy heard her bellowing at him one night.
"Jeb, you're doing this to embarrass me. Do you know what people are saying? I can hardly hold my head up at the garden club. You've always been uptight and morose. What have I done to deserve this? I raised you to be a self-sufficient man."
"Gee, Mom," his sister had said. "You disappeared for weeks while we were growing up. Dad and we kids never knew where you were. Then you'd show up as if nothing had happened, looking like death warmed over, and you'd tell Jeb and me that it was our fault for being such rotten kids, and dad being a milquetoast."
"Shut up, Karissa. Jeb, you get this from your father's side. His sister was a nutcase and his mother received shock treatments. Do you realize how selfish suicide is? Cowards take the easy way out."
Ivy could hear Jeb crying and yelling at his mother to get out and if she didn't he'd succeed next time. Then his mother pitched another tirade and security had to escort her out. She went to jail for attacking them. At Dr. Fairfax's orders she was not allowed to return. Ivy felt so sorry for him and felt traumatized just listening to the whole thing.
At the first session of the family support class Dr. Wong facilitated. They watched a half hour video on depression and anxiety, their symptoms, and three case examples. Then the families were encouraged to ask questions. The last part of the session was to let people share if they wanted to about what was going on in their lives as it pertained to their loved one's issues and hospitalization.
James and Aunt Gwen asked many questions.
"I'm James. I am the cousin of Ivy. Dr. Wong, I hear you're a favorite doctor here. My cousin raves about you. Can you tell us about your approach with patients?"
"Thank you, James. My model informal. I listen and talk more about issues, educate, put patient more at ease. We talk about medication, symptom, side effect or improvement, problem of that nature. We discuss treatment plan if they have question. When patient is confuse or fearful about feeling and experience in hospital I explain these normal feelings. Many patient say "I afraid of going home. That crazy. What wrong with me?' I tell them this not unusual because they feel safe here, but medication, therapy, groups, education prepare them. It take time, but if they participate they succeed. Some confuse why they have to go to certain group, or what good does group do? I tell them importance of groups and find out how they doing. I tell them about myself sometime. They like knowing I human and understand. I also tell them about studies, cases I have in past as pertain to their situation. That answer your question, James?"
"I think you're adorable," said Aunt Gwen."
"I second that," said another woman named Meredith.
"Meredith, really?" her husband said, annoyed. "Adorable isn't important. And just for the record, Dr. Wong, I find your intelligence, knowledge, approach, and compassion much more impressive than your adorableness." That got a laugh from everyone, though he was dead serious.
Dr. Wong blushed. "Thank you, sir. Adorable not part of treatment plan," he quipped. There were more chuckles around the room. "Treatment team of nurse, social worker, therapist, and psychiatrist work together, keep each other inform in meeting and other type of communication. Team work very important. Holistic therapy."
"How long do patient's typically stay here?" Meredith's husband asked.
"It vary quite a bit. Depend first why they here. Some depress, can't function. Some suicide attempt. Some have trauma, or medication difficulty. Also depend how severe issue is, family support - thank you all for supporting your love one, by the way. Most important how much patient put into getting well. Sometime patient have setback for variety of reason. People stay from five day to three month, give or take. Each patient individual."
Many of the family members left feeling much better simply by being educated and able to ask questions. As James and Aunt Gwen were leaving, Aunt Gwen sighed in relief.
"You know James, I feel much more assured about Ivy's future. I think our support means the world to her and encourages her. Dear thing has been through so much."
"Yes, she has. But she's going to finish her time here strong and much sooner, I think, now that we're here."
"She's lucky to have that adorable doctor, too."
James rolled his eyes. "Whatever."
Thomas pulled into his garage at five thirty. As he entered the house he smelled the aroma of tomato sauce and Linda his wife stood at the kitchen counter preparing a salad. Dinner would have to wait. He had to talk with his wife about all that was happening. He didn't want to live one more day of secrecy, deception, or guilt and shame. The load had become too heavy. She took one look at Thomas and knew something big had happened.
"What's happened?" she asked.
"Let's go into the living room to talk."
They sat on the leather sofa. He faced Linda and took her hand. It made her uncomfortable because he never took her hand, and she pulled it away.
"Linda, I have so much to tell you. So much is going on, but before I tell it all to you, I want to begin by telling you how very, very sorry I am that I've been such a terrible husband and caused you so much pain. It's hard to even look you in the eyes right now. I've been so selfish, cruel, deceitful and unfaithful. I don't know why you didn't leave me years ago. Certainly you can no longer love me, and I don't deserve that love."
Linda wondered if he was having an affair and after all these years finally feeling guilty. Or maybe he was in some sort of serious trouble.
"What's the catch to this little performance?" she asked. No way was she buying this charade.
"There's no catch, Linda, I promise you. I don't blame you for being skeptical. It's just that I've had to finally take a look at myself, the life I've lead, the way I've treated people, especially you."
"Okay, I'll bite. What has caused you to see the error of your ways? Get caught doing something illegal? Get jilted by a lover?" Her voice was bitter.
"No. Neither of those. You know my friend Murray, right?"
"Of course. How could I forget that snake? He's flat out evil. Quite frankly, Thomas, his influence over you has helped form the man you've become. Is this something about what he did to that patient, somebody Ludlow?"
"I'll get to that. But you must believe me when I say how deeply ashamed and regretful I am that I have treated you so badly. I don't expect you to forgive me, but I want to say it anyway."
"Right. This isn't a "wave the magic wand" deal. I don't know that I can forgive you, but I'm willing to hear you out. Why, I don't know."
"Linda, I want to rebuild our marriage and will do anything to make it happen. I mean anything, but if you decline, I will understand."
"So tell me what's happened. The suspense is killing me."
"Okay. I've had to come to terms with my total arrogant, dishonest, and abusive ways as I've watched what's been going down with Murray. When he admitted to me that he'd abused Cloe Ludlow while treating her as a patient with his usual arrogant flippancy, I felt repulsed. I finally admitted to myself that I'd seen the signs of such abuse of women the whole time that I've known him."
"I see. And you're a boy scout?"
"I had that coming. No, I don't see myself as a boy scout. Yes, I've had affairs as we both know. That was a betrayal and abuse to you and I deeply regret it. But I never went as low as to treat a woman in the sick manner that Murray did. I always turned my head to Murray's pathological side. Truth is, I always found this type of behavior vile and repulsive, but I had some sick loyalty and have been too intimidated by him to call him out."
Linda was still steeling herself. She just didn't trust that he was being sincere, however much she wanted to. But at least he was speaking the truth about Murray.
"That's only the tip of the iceberg," she said. "But listen, just because you never stooped as low, what wrongs you have done and your turning the other way at Murray's behavior and remaining his friend is nearly as bad. This isn't warming me up, Thomas."
"I get that, but please, just let me finish. When Murray got reported I was ready to put him on leave and start an internal investigation despite his protests. I knew in my heart of hearts he did it. But the police took over everything. I do admit I defended him to a few people, but regretted it quickly. I never contacted him while he was incarcerated. He contacted me when he got out. He admitted his guilt to me, bragged about it. When an investigator came to see me I told him about Murray's admission to me."
"That does surprise me."
"The other night Murray invited me over to a penthouse he's staying at at one a.m. His invitation was insistent and I knew something was up. Long story short, he got very drunk and attacked me. But he was slow and clumsy and I got the upper hand. I messed him up really bad, Linda. My anger and sense of revenge had a power I've never known. If he hadn't have passed out I might very well have killed him. When I got into my car, the horror of what I'd just done, and the life I've led overwhelmed me. Linda, I've never committed an act of violence in my life. When I got home and saw you sleeping peacefully I realized how much I do love you and what a horrible mess I've made of both our lives. I know making breakfast the other morning did nothing to heal us, but it was my feeble attempt to begin loving you tangibly.
"When I got to work that morning, Dr. Wong came to see me to ask for new furnishings for the patient office because he wanted a more cheerful environment for his patients. I was so struck by his kindness. And you know, I have to give him credit, he was willing to tell me I've not been an open, sensitive leader. We shared a laugh at that and I got the ball rolling with his request. After he left, my conscience about Murray still laying there wounded got the better of me. I went and checked on him and was sickened by what I'd done. I called an ambulance and checked on him just before I came home. He needs surgery on a busted arm and shoulder. I broke his nose very badly and he may need surgery done later for some of the damage. I keep asking myself how I've come to this.
"On my way out the hospital elevator I noticed the chapel. I've never noticed it, and as you know I've never darkened the door of a church other than weddings and funerals and I've despised religion. But I went in and sat and prayed. I don't understand God or religion but I asked God for help and that I want to turn my life around. Funny enough, Dr. Wong was in the pew behind me and we got to talking, trying to figure out this God stuff. We decided we'd call on the chaplain."
Linda was riveted. When he was done she saw a glimmer of hope but was still afraid to trust this was all legit. She wasn't sure what to say.
"Thomas, let's have dinner and we can talk more. You look peaked, you need food."
They sat down to eat, did the dishes together, and talked long into the night. It was a start.
Questions & Answers
© 2016 Lori Colbo