When the sun goes down, my mind is a scary place…
…so baby when the lights go out, hold me until it fades…
Barton Parish stared dreamily at the white ceiling, the lyrics from his wife’s song dancing through his mind. Brilliant rays of light spread through the small window of the room, glowing, bouncing off the white surfaces. Barton lay still, as if unable to move, he felt pressure on his chest, his hips, his legs. An itching heat mounted in his forehead. The melody continued, he saw her face on the ceiling screen, saw those full lips moving as they produced the sweet, melancholy sounds.
…lately I’ve been having doubts, is that what they call losing faith?
…hold me… hold me… hold me until it fades…
…hold me… hold me… ‘till night turns to day…
Her name was Torrie; no one ever spelled it right. But she was beautiful, angelic. They had been married in early summer, with gray clouds lightly kissing them with trickling rain. It was supposed to be good luck––rain on your wedding day––and the gray sky made for perfect photographs. The memory faded as a polaroid reversed through time. Barton drifted… drifted like those clouds on his wedding day…
He yawned, stretched, sat up, the floor ice cold on his bare feet. The room was far too bright, too bare, as if his vision was going. He couldn’t discern the edges of the furniture, the bedroom decorum. Rap-rapitty-rap, the door to the small room slowly swung inward, and an inviting aroma of coffee, eggs, and bacon replaced the sharp, sterile smell enveloping Barton the moment before.
“Hello, My Fairest,” Torrie’s sweet voice said. Barton still couldn’t seem to entirely withdraw himself from the fog of sleep, for he thought she’d said: Hello, Mr. Parish… Torrie always used sweet pet names, never such formality. She walked in, appearing wrapped in a white effulgence, holding a tray. Barton’s eyes struggled for purchase.
“Morning, my love,” he said. “Breakfast in bed, again? Why do you spoil me so?”
“Love endures all things,” she simply replied. Her warm hand slid up his forearm, playfully pinched the nook opposing his bony elbow. “Wakey, wakey, eggs, and bakey,” she said, tittering as if the pinch was to pull him awake. Why did he feel so groggy?
“How did we get this way?” Barton said, inhaling deeply over the tray which had been set before him. “Last I recall, I was the one caring for you.”
“One day at a time,” the sweet voice replied, “it’s the only way…”
The radiance of the room became a whirlwind of color, invoking dizziness, and momentary confusion. Barton was suddenly a fly on a wall, an incorporeal body watching the room from above. Details sharpened to focus, and now the room was in brilliant color, clearly defined shape. Cerulean, crimson, and cream etched into symmetry and form on a rug covering much of the chestnut flooring. The curtains were swept back, and motes swirled in that beam of morning light, destined to add to the growing layer of dust on the antique dresser and nightstand. Barton now saw Torrie halfway under the covers of the four-poster bed, the sheets and comforter folded back perfectly as if ironed and pressed. Barton saw the familiar figure enter and sigh with the sight before him. From the astral plane––or wherever he was––Barton saw himself looking at his wife in the throes of catatonic depression. His conscious self knew this other visible self felt powerless at the sight of her. She hadn’t moved a muscle in at least forty-eight hours.
The room again was a tornado in technicolor, a swirling kaleidoscope, pulling him through time. Backward? Forward? Sideways? Does time even have a direction? Torrie was now at the piano, the melody was back. The notes were painfully beautiful, and her lyrics were crushingly sad. Hold me until it fades… she sings. The other Barton rests against the corner of the hallway, out of view, listening to his wife sing her heartbreakingly beautiful songs… Tears stream down his cheeks. That had been a good day, perhaps a great one.
The blurred haze of brightness returns, the smell of breakfast food and freshly brewed coffee have faded. The ceiling screen is again visible, though more shadowed now. Torrie’s voice rings in his ears like wind chimes on a summer day.
“Seasons change, as do people. The same wind blows on us all, my dear.”
“I… I… don’t understand…” Barton says, “when did you get better? When did I get worse?”
Silence hung in the room as a dusty chandelier from an old ceiling.
“I’ve been thinking of your song. Thinking of our anniversary when you got high with me and then got freaked out about those aliens in that TV commercial,” Barton continued. “Do you remember all those fabulous wines we drank? The fireworks on that beach full of strangers? I can’t remember the name of the place…”
“Cayucos…” her sweet voice replied.
“That first year married was so great, nothing but happy memories then. I can’t even remember when things changed.”
“Maybe they never did. Sentimentality has a way of creating blind spots, my love…”
Barton’s eyelids again became heavy, shutting away the room where she had been moving in his periphery, shrouded in her glowing white. “I love you…” his lips barely whispered as he again drifted below the surface of consciousness.
It was the day they first met, the first-day Peer-to-Peer met, held by the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Torrie was learning to cope with depression, Barton, with bipolar. There had been an instant attraction between the two. It overshadowed the fear that neither was fully capable of supporting one another through their mental illness. What if their Bad Days coincided?
He asked her out on the final day. They went first for coffee, then for dinner. Drinks were ill-advised for them both, could poorly interact with their meds, but they snuck a few on those first dinner dates. Barton and Torrie took long walks in the botanical garden and on the rocky beaches. He would rub the beach tar off her feet with olive oil afterward, taking care to never miss a spot, rubbing her small, cute feet for much longer than necessary once clean. She moaned with delight. Neither remembered enduring hard days with one another, but they had to have done so, hadn’t they?
Reality spun around him again, shifting, turning, tumbling, and changing shape. Barton felt himself a marionette being pulled and jerked around haphazardly by a puppet master overtaken with seizures. Torrie’s voice again enveloped him; it was tender, sweet, haunting…
When the sun goes down, my mind is a scary place…
They were together on a couch in a dimly lit room, a large window to one side sketched with a thin orange glow. Dying embers of the setting sun fading away into darkness. Barton had an arm around Torrie; she was trembling, the quiver felt contagious. Barton heard her voice caress his ear, thrumming with her shaking body. Her lyrics changed…
Baby when the sun goes down, my world is a scary place…
There was a screeching sound at the windows, the front door began to shake as though pounded on by a gargantuan fist of wind. The orange etching of the horizon was gone, and the streetlights… The streetlights never came on, the other houses dark, the roads devoid of cars, the house empty of light. The power is out, Barton thinks. Torrie still shaking and quivering in his arms, still singing her nightmarish tune in her ethereal voice…
Hold me… hold me… until they fade…
Hold me… hold me… until they go away…
The window begins to rattle, the scratching, squealing sound rising, rising… Barton looks over, still holding Torrie tight. He sees them; the They of Torrie’s now changed song. They rise up the windows, an inky black smudge rolling upwards like dripping oil defying gravity. They grow, they worm higher, wriggling into barely definable shapes of a vaguely human form. The night is black beyond the windows, yet They are blacker still, glowing somehow, like sooty smoke reflecting a fire’s glow. Now, They have faces, They have mouths; open mouths responsible for the terrifying screeching sounds of endless pain. Tragic arms raise to reveal oil slick fists ready to pound on the windows and break the glass.
Torrie’s eyes are now closed; she is still shaking, vibrating, thrumming as if electricity is surging through every atom of her being. Barton shuts his eyes too. She sings louder and louder, raising her voice in an attempt to overpower the sounds of the They.
… Baby when the sun goes down, My Mind is a scary place… becomes:
… Baby when the sun goes down, My World is a scary place… and then:
… Baby when the sun goes down, Our World is a scary place…
They’s deafening screams now overtake Torrie’s stirring song, and Barton opens his eyes again to look back at the window. He’s just in time to see the Stygian figures not break the glass of the partitioning window, but slip through it as though it were nothing but the smooth surface of a still lake.
The tumble of light returns… shifting, turning, changing. Then, blackness. Utter emptiness.
Barton becomes aware of his breath, the faint pulse of his heart, the pressure has returned to his chest, hips, legs. The itching heat on his forehead, wrists, ankles. Curtains raise. No, not curtains, eyelids. He blinks, once, twice, fluttering the blur out and away. The white ceiling screen is back, again bathed in brilliant light. Barton tries to stretch, to move, to sit up. He can’t. Sleep paralysis again? He thinks desperately.
Then the familiar: Rap-rapitty-rap. The sound of a door swinging open. This time, no accompanying smell of coffee and bacon.
“Good morning, Mr. Parish,” a voice said.
It was female, but not Torrie. Barton saw movement in the corner of his eye, still felt unable to move. His pulse quickened. He felt a warm hand on his arm, that familiar pinch, this time cold and sharp.
“Seems you had a rough night. This should help,” the female voice said. “We’ve got to get you ready for group therapy today, young man.”
Barton’s eyes swam into focus, the warm face of the woman sharpened above him. He saw the streaks of gray amidst the mousy brown hair, saw the crow’s feet caused by the welcoming smile. Her eyes were light blue, and filled with compassion he didn’t understand. Where was Torrie? Where was he?
The itchy warmth on his forehead disappeared, then the pressure on his chest and wrists. He felt the woman’s cold fingers working.
“Try sitting up now, my dear,” she said. “Let’s get you cleaned up.”
Barton slowly rose as the pressure left his hips, legs, and ankles. Those cold hands helped swing his feet to the floor. Sitting up, he saw the woman entirely. She was a nurse. Her name tag said: Crestwood Psychiatric Institute. Underneath was the name: Margaret.
After the woman gently sponged Barton down and helped him put on fresh clothes, she slowly guided him out of the room. The room that before was awash in light and blurred beyond his comprehension was now crisp, its emptiness and lack of contents and color now clearly defined.
Margaret led Barton down a white hallway, and through double doors into an expansive room where a diverse group of people was taking seats formed into a large ring. Men and women, young and old, wore varied expressions ranging from fear to despair, to a hollow, empty, unknowing gaze. Barton’s stiff legs shuffled over the shiny flooring, the dizziness leaving him with every step, the confusion remaining. Nurse Margaret sat him down in a chair. Barton rubbed his eyes and scanned the circle of strangers, hoping to find a familiar face.
His tired eyes came to rest on a woman sitting directly across from him in the circle, her hair was frazzled as though it hadn’t been combed in days. Dark circles shaded the puffy skin below her eyes. She looked back at Barton without a shred of recognition.
A middle-aged man with salt and pepper hair and horn-rimmed glasses looked up from a notepad and spoke. “Okay, everyone, I believe we left off our last meeting with Laurence, so I believe that means we should start today with…” The man scanned the pad before him. “Torrie. Do you have anything to share today, anything noteworthy since our last meeting?”
The woman with the deadpan stare looked away from Barton and toward the man who’d addressed her. Then, she spoke: “I’m not sure what to say, Dr. Grant. When the sun goes down, my mind is a scary place…”