As if we were on opposing ends of some distant planet, she and I sat at the dayroom lunch-table blithely gazing into the thin air hovering just out of reach of our mutual stares. She was as beautiful a young woman as I had seen.
Lovely and vibrant she was as I found myself fascinated and yet intrigued by her sense of wit and avid displays of intellect. Her twenty-something voice reminded me of the tales of Ulysses and the Odyssey; with its songs of the sirens that drew men to their watery graves on the salty Aegean Sea.
We spoke in low, searching tones, careful not to rudely offend one another's sense of decency and privacy. Caring not to disturb the beautiful simplicity of the moment we shared, we spoke and nodded as if being aware of a secret only we could share; a common perspective no one else could understand. Yet, somehow her presence inspired me to reveal the innermost sanctum of my hopes, desires and dreams for the future.
Now and again, I glanced up at the occasional ward nurse spying upon how well or badly the patient-student nurse interactions were going in the day area. Like fish in an aquarium, we all pretended no one would be neither observing nor writing about our behaviors. We could keep some semblance of normalcy to our actions. They weren't watching us and we weren't being watched; not really, we would pretend.
The low murmur of telephones ringing and hospital workers chatting saturated the air and mixed in, strangely, with the aseptic smells of rubbing alcohol and ointment that always beset life on the ward. The dayroom TV droned on as CNN correspondents dished out news flashes to the half-dozen or so patients who blankly stared at the floor, either unaware or uncaring of any reality other than that which existed inside their own tormented minds. With a practiced clinical detachment, she peered at all of this with undaunted expressions reflecting only the mildest of personal interest. Her comrades appeared wary and pensive but she only seemed doggedly courageous in the face of periodic verbal splurges by hallucinating patients attempting to tell her of their crazy voices inside their heads.
Rushing in and darting about were the staff nurses either abandoning ship or diving on board the unit as the chaos known as shift change emerged into being. Neither she nor I were moved as this tempest of activity swirled around our table like an oasis in the eye of the storm. She made the world outside of our sphere melt away and become as meaningless as a falling crystal raindrop splattering an whitecap ocean wave.
Her eyes extolled me to remain inspired in my writing as I yearned to contribute all that lay within my soul for a better humanity. I was driven to want to be a better man as I listened with eager ears to her words, her tales of life from whence she came.
Stories of an existence far from any I had remotely experienced. I, the middle-aged black son of a desperately poor ghetto family and she, the youthful white daughter of a well established upper-middle class professional. I, the homeless and depressed patient of a VA psychiatric ward and she, a struggling co-ed from a nearby university nursing school, seemed to create a vibrant chemistry as though we had known each other for years. .
Somehow we found common ground in the telling of our story; the symphony of the words we wove as we reached out to one another in a warm display of our mutual humanity. At last, I thought, a Kindred spirit had come as a God-sent muse to fan my flames of creative thought. She made me feel like a mentor; I wanted to teach her. Like a brother, I wanted to fight for her. Like a Father, I wanted to protect her. And like a friend, I wanted to share with her my life.
For her, I would write forever. And life suddenly became worth living again, if only for a moment as she let the dancing rays of golden sunshine caress her eyes and crown her with the hope that comes with youth.