My thoughts were interrupted when the door creaked open, letting some light in.
“Sorry to disturb you. Is she asleep?” A young Hispanic woman with long black hair down to her ass walked into the room. She looked like she could have been a teenager.
“Yeah, she is. Do you need me to wake her up?”
“No. That’s fine. My shift is almost over. I can have Jeri come back in an hour. Someone just needs to give her meds.” She held out her hand, and I took it. “I’m Marisol.”
“I’m Jake, Ivy’s husband. I take it you’re new here?”
“Yes. I just started this week. I…uh…didn’t realize Ivy was married. I saw your picture on her dresser. I thought maybe you were her brother or something.” She looked down at her feet as if she regretted her comment and then glanced back up at me. “Not that she couldn’t have…I didn’t mean…”
“I know what you meant. It’s fine.”
I expected her to walk away, but she moved in closer. “Was she always…like this?” This girl was making it obvious that she was new. It wasn’t the first time that a staffer hired at this place seemed green. Working in social services, the first rule of thumb: do your job and don’t pry into the personal lives of your clients. She’d probably never even worked with the mentally ill before. It was hard to find good staff because the pay was crap considering the responsibilities they had. I guess I couldn’t fault her for her curiosity, but it seemed a little inappropriate.
“No. She wasn’t always schizophrenic. We met as teenagers. She was...” I hesitated to use the word normal and looked over at Ivy’s red curls—the one constant—sprawled across the pillow. “She was vibrant, happy then.”
Marisol continued to look at me as if she was expecting me to continue, but I didn’t. I just kept looking at Ivy sleeping.
“So, when did things change?”
“When she was about nineteen, about six months after we got married. Over the years, she’s gotten progressively worse.”
“This must be really hard for you.”
I really didn’t want to be having this conversation with a stranger. Did this chick really think I was going to get into this stuff with her? Of course, it’s been fucking hard for me! She couldn’t begin to understand the road that Ivy and I had been on over the past six years.
“We have our days,” I simply said dismissively.
“Well, she’s lucky to have you.”
I didn’t even know how to respond to that, so I didn’t.
She continued standing there, clearly unable to read my rigid body language. Then, I could sense her eyes lingering on me and when I looked over at her, she was staring at the tattoos on my arms. She looked up at me with a look I recognized all too well. “I hope you don’t mind my asking. Do you have a girlfriend?”
“Why would you ask me that?” I snapped.
“I’m sorry…it’s just…you’re a very attractive man and clearly a good guy. I just figured…maybe you get lonely. I’m getting off work in fifteen minutes. Would you want to go get something to eat?”
She had to be fucking kidding me.
“No. I have a train to catch.”
“A train? Where are you going?”
My responses were getting terser by the second. “New York.”
“On a trip?”
“With all due respect, aren’t you supposed to be working? I’d be willing to bet coming onto a resident’s husband is not in your job description.”
Marisol walked out without further questioning. I hadn’t meant to be that harsh, but she deserved it for treating Ivy like that. Sure, I lived a separate life outside of my marriage and dealt with that guilt. But this girl had no right to make assumptions about the nature of that relationship and to disrespect Ivy right under her nose. Ivy shouldn’t have been looked after by people that would take advantage of her so easily.
I felt my heart clench.
Ivy rustled in her sheets as she started to wake up. She leaned up against the headboard and grabbed a cigarette. Her chain smoking had gotten worse over the years. She got up and stood right under the clock on the wall, looking up at it without acknowledging me. She liked to watch the hand go by.
I walked over to her and kissed her gently on the forehead. “Baby girl, I have to leave. I was just waiting for you to wake up so I could say goodbye.”
She blew smoke in my face and said, “Don’t come back, Sam.”
Sometimes, she called me Sam. I had no idea why.
I’ll always come back, Ivy…even when you don’t know who I am.
On my way out, I demanded to see the house manager to request that Marisol never work with Ivy again. Since I couldn’t be here during the week, I needed to be able to trust in the people handling her care.
The blast of cold air outside was a stark contrast to the stagnant air in the group home. I hopped a bus to the Amtrak station and boarded the last train to Manhattan.
During the ride, guilt set in because with every mile closer to my destination, I felt a familiar relief, anticipating the reprieve that the work week always brought. When it came down to it, though, I was trading one place of emptiness for another.
When I approached the entrance to our building on Lincoln Street in Brooklyn, she was staring out the window as she often did late at night. It was like Rapunzel waiting in the wings, except instead of long hair, she wore a scarf tied around her head, and instead of a loving gaze, she gave me the stink eye.