It was a gorgeous mid-summer day when Mary decided to leave the hospital on a day pass for the first time. As she was of age and of sound mind, the doctors could say nothing of her decision to go.
As she prepared to leave, the surrogate who had helped to raise her asked “are you sure you’ll be okay?”
“Of course I’m sure!” Mary responded. “And you really must not worry, it’s only for the day! I am excited to see the city. I’ve thought for a long time about this day.”
“Yes well please just don’t forget what we told you.”
“I won’t! I’ve remembered everything. Enjoy this beautiful day!” She said as she danced off toward the city.
The sun was shining and the squirrels were laughing. There was not a cloud to be seen and the air smelled like fresh leaves. Mary could not have been any happier to be alive as she came to the edge of the street.
The city before her was bustling with wonder. People went about their ways carrying bags, walking dogs, and holding children. Once her light was green, she waited for just the right moment to jump across that street and into the flurry of the busy city.
And when she did, the steady stream of movement carried her with it, like a log floats down a raging river. She laughed to herself at the excitement of it all, it was so much more thrilling than anything she’d ever experienced. The sound of the cars made her jump as they honked and a policeman whistled and pointed. Inside the cars people were bent over their steering wheels, shouting to the people on the street and waving excitedly at them.
After some time in the streets Mary decided to go down into the subway. She had it in mind to visit an area of the city she used to visit long ago, where she had much joy as a child. Joining the current of people flowing down the stairs into the underground, she felt herself swept up in the ebb and flow of all the eager bodies. She laughed out loud again at the thrill of it all and people began to notice how joyous she was.
As she went further underground, laughing all the way, people began to walk more widely around her, looking back at the woman who was having such a great time. Further away they stepped, to look upon her in admiration. She smiled at them all and waved at the children, and before she knew it she was on a train headed to the place where she used to play.
On the train she looked at the face of every single person, looking for joy, but not one looked back at her. Their faces were all the same, as if the same dull story went through all of their minds and it bored or annoyed them all in the same manner.
“IT’S A BEAUTIFUL DAY!” Mary shouted to the train full of people. Bodies jumped, heads ducked, and eyes shot back at her as she smiled and jumped up and down. People ruffled their newspapers and teenagers pulled their headphones from their ears to see what was going on. Nobody smiled back at Mary, and almost everyone went back to exactly what they’d been doing before.
She arrived at Gilman Station and did not recognize it, but got off the train and went upstairs to the exit. Pulling the door open, she allowed the woman behind her to go ahead, and Mary nodded at her with a smile. The woman rushed the door without hesitation and was soon followed by a stream of people who said nothing nor noticed Mary as they trundled through. She listened to the sound of their feet while she waited, a quiet shuffle that whispered “me me me me me.”
After a minute or two when the people were done rushing the door, Mary passed through and into the face of the sun. It had been so long since she was last here! She wasn’t sure how long it had been but she knew it was a very long time.
The buildings were almost the same as she remembered, the butcher shop was still there but the toy store was gone. She walked on between waves of vague and certain familiarity. While some things looked the same, there was a feeling that was different.
She walked past some familiar houses and further up the road and began to worry when she didn’t see the park. She wondered if they could have taken it away. But then she saw up ahead something that she remembered from long ago – an old rusted gate. It was still there.
Creeping through the park gates and closing the rusty hinge behind her, she sprang forth excitedly on her toes like a dancer taking a great leap. Before her the park was stretching out, almost exactly as she remembered it. It was still a magic land, and she was about to rediscover all of it.
Oh the trees and the gardens were even better than she remembered! They had grown taller and grander and stretched across the land. All of the time she had spent in the hospital was spent thinking of this park and the day she’d return. And now she knew that her dreams and her memories were true and valid as she ran through the park, her heart fluttering with the wings of the birds.
She wasn’t used to that kind of running and flying about so she soon found herself dizzy and out of breath. Finding a park bench underneath an old maple, she remembered there had once been a table too. Nevertheless it was as great as before and she knew this bliss would fill her forever.
She sat down and took a deep relaxing breath, gazing out lazily at the blue summer sky. It was so good to run free here again. For so long she’d waited for this day, to return to the place of her only memories.
And as she stared out longingly at the familiar land she eyed a row of houses atop a ridge at the far side of the park. The longer she stared, the more scattered images and feelings filled her head. She raised her hand to her neck, as her mother had also done when she would worry. She rested it on the long scar that had stretched out as she had grown, and ached for the life that had been missed.
She knew now that it was time to leave and quickly got to her feet and started back on her way. She had come back to this place to find a piece of her missing heart and had found it. But now as she left, she felt as if was leaving an even bigger piece behind. As she walked further away, her chest grew heavier with the longing for all that had been lost.
As she went back into the train station her whole body felt heavy and she wished she could sit and breathe. But when the train came there was nowhere to sit as it was full of people crammed in together, and for this reason as well there was very little air for her to breathe.
The train ride was truly awful. As the train went further along, the packed riders crushed her and she felt as though she was drowning. Someone beside her wore a backpack, and as they kept turning to see what the next station was it kept knocking her in the head.
People were shoving into each other while trying to avoid one another, disconnected from thinking and focused on getting somewhere. And as the train pushed on and her ride became more unpleasant, she became one of them as she growled and pushed through the suffocating train ride.
She found herself back at the hospital in a state of physical and emotional disarray. The nurses regarded her with uncertainty as she came back to her home, dazzled and dizzied by the day’s experiences. When they asked her what she had done, where she had gone, or what she had seen, she said nothing except to declare the city mad.
She would never speak more of the day, happy to be back in the safety of the hospital. Never again would she have the desire to leave the order of her world, or the safe and quiet hallways she would spend her life pacing. Always longing for the park, and the piece of herself left behind.
© 2009 – 2011 Chris Dwyer