After the Sturm und Drang


Steve tells me that he is near a Dunkin Donuts and will bring me coffee and a breakfast sandwich, and will arrive in a few minutes. I wheel downstairs to see the apartment manager. She is shocked that I’m back and horrified at what I’ve been through. She has a staff of five: in the past month two have retired and one has gone out sick, nevertheless, when I report that with both thermometers in my apartment set at 80, the temperature is only 70, she calls for a staff member to get a space heater for my apartment. Then she gets me a roll of toilet paper.

Steve comes with his five-year-old son who—the day before? Is that when we were at the Iroquois, trying to gain the bed that the judge said belonged to me? The child had been left in the temporary custody of the state trooper who had gone outside for better cell phone reception.

They walked in together and the child extended his arms, shrugged his shoulders, and said, “What’s with all the drama?” Neither Steve nor I are melodramatic but apparently this is real drama, not teenage-girl drama. Or the drama of a certain someone at the Iroquois whose emotional maturity is inferior to the child’s.

So it turns out that while I was at the hotel deciding not to call Steve and wake him, he was still awake. In fact, he was awake until 4:00 a.m. on my behalf. I had no idea that I mattered enough to anyone that they would be wakeful on my account. And the five-year-old little Greek chorus says again, “All this drama.” Steve had called all the hospitals and the police. When he talked to the state trooper, the trooper offered to come with some of the other troopers and move my stuff back into my apartment. I am humbled and touched.

When Steve and the fellows from Teen Challenge moved me out, they had to start from scratch. When I was ambulanced out of my apartment on May 24, I was in the middle of living and that is how my apartment was left: dirty dishes in the sink, houseplants on the windowsills, bottles of perfume on the dresser. The movers had to shut everything down, pack everything up, and move everything out. From the looks of it, they worked from large to small, and ran out of time before they were done. Clearly, no woman was present.

The bedroom and living room floors are covered with trash, bits of broken plastic, and bags of unidentified stuff. Hangers, papers, bubble wrap, briefcase, sewing kit—all strewn around. The kitchen, mercifully, was left virtually intact. Dishes and canned goods are still in the cupboards. The refrigerator contains condiments and a goodly collection of dead fruit flies; the freezer still has frozen dinners, homemade vegetable soup and a lot of little packages of bacon. The coffeemaker and toaster have been unplugged and had their cords coiled up but they are still on the counter, ready and waiting.

There are dust, dirt, dead bugs and cobwebs on the floors, windowsills and walls. Stevie tilts his head to one side, smiles, and says, “This is just like living in a cabin in the woods.” Yup—if part of the roof has caved in letting in windblown debris, and the woodland critters have lived and died in it, and the random hunter or hiker has used it for shelter and left rubbish behind.

Stevie, from the kitchen, calls, “So what are you going to do next?” And the little Greek chorus, from the living room, replies, “Get on with living.” And I tell Stevie my plans for alternative therapies, healing and recovery. And he is very happy. He proposes to get a woman in to clean the apartment that day or the next but I demur, saying “I need time to make it my own first.”

As Steve and the little Greek chorus leave with a bag of garbage, I call to him “I love you!” The worst thing about the 104 days in punitive segregation was that I had no one to love. I follow him—and the trail of dirt from the broken garbage bag—down the hall. He and the little Greek chorus leave the building; I get let into an empty office and start to make phone calls.

I call for acupuncture, massage therapy, aide service, psychotherapy, the Nursing Home Transition program, and Time Warner to restart my phone, cable and Internet access. It is the Friday between Christmas and New Year’s and five of my calls go to voicemail. Only Time Warner is staffed to take my call and they decide they can start service on Monday afternoon. Meanwhile, I have silence broken only by the boom box, which basically only receives Mars Hill (Christian) Network and Syracuse University’s jazz station. I long for my recliner and television with DVR but that setup is a long time off.

What I have now is a bed. It has no sheets on the vinyl mattress but I discover you don’t need sheets if you are clothed from neck to toe. With the auto BiPAP, sleep is good and peaceful. I am sleeping better than I did in any hospital or nursing home. The worst moments are when I wake up in the morning, after morning and afternoon naps, and in the middle of the night. I feel terrible and I am alone. There is no call bell and no aide or nurse to be summoned; no security—I am alone. But these bad moments pass quickly and I move on to feeling what may be serenity. I also consider the possibility that it is simply numbness from all the battering I’ve taken in the past eight and a half months but at least it is quietness after all the sturm und drang of institutional “care.”

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
This entry was posted in Government Services, Housing, Medical care, Poverty, Powerlessness, Values and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to After the Sturm und Drang

  1. dee says:

    Oh anniie bannanie u are so cute. Let someone come in and clean for you. STAY WARM sweetie !!!

  2. Jack Joe says:

    I double that: Stay Warm Anne!
    and know that you are far from alone – many thoughts and prayers and people, you need only to say the word. or as many words as are necessary 🙂

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