It was Christmastime, and my last night on call
I sat alone in the lounge, staring at the wall
It had been a crazy day, and my nerves were raw
I was starting to think I should have gone into law
It was seventeen past midnight, and all the halls were dead
“I’ll be back in two minutes,” the attending doc had said
I’d waited here for hours, but he still hadn’t come back
So, since I was exhausted, I put down my head for a nap
But as soon as my eyes closed, there was a harsh, resounding boom
And a flash of neon lights flooded the whole room
My eyes shot open, and I jumped, for right in front of me
Sat a little green-clad elf with a mini Christmas tree!
“Forgive me,” said the tiny elf, “for this unexpected meeting.
It was the only chance I had to extend my Christmas greetings!
Now, I know we don’t have long, but there’s a lot to see
So don’t look back, no, don’t look down. Just hold on tight to me!”
With those words, the elf grabbed my hand, and we both started to fly
The room disappeared, my vision went fuzzy as everything whizzed by
My head felt funny, my knees gave way, and I thought that I’d see stars
I’d begun to think this was my end until the elf said, “Here we are!”
I gazed around in wonder, silent as a mouse,
Until I finally realised, “Wait, this place is my old house!
And there, that’s me, hard at work, studying at my desk
I was prepping for several midterms, and a nasty physics test!”
There was a knock behind me, and I jumped around to see
My three dearest childhood friends, who had come to visit me
“Come play with us!” they said. “You’re in here studying every day.
It’s Christmastime, so take a break. You never have time to play!”
Their hands were clasped together as they approached the little me.
“No!” shouted the little me. “Can’t you see I’m busy?”
My three friends turned to leave, their heads hung rather low
“I’m really sorry,” the little me called. “I’d really love to go.
But I don’t have time for games of tag or catch or even soccer.
I have to study really hard, so I can become a doctor!”
The room spun quickly, but, this time, I found myself arrive
In a stranger’s house in a much more modern, festive Christmastime
There was a family gathered around a heavy-laden table
A man said, “Thank you, Lord, for letting us be able
To join together at this time in health and joy and peace
Thank you for letting us gather here to enjoy this festive feast!”
A little boy by his side jumped up and down and cried,
“And thank you for every doctor and nurse who’s ever saved a life!”
It was then I looked around and saw the room anew
I saw the things this family had recently been through
I saw a girl with bandages wrapped on her arms and face
I saw an old man standing with his back held in a brace
I saw a lady hold a baby close against her chest
I saw these things, and even more, as I gazed upon the rest
Then the room spun once again, but this time, it turned dark
I was in a hospital, but not the same one from the start
I saw an older version of me standing my a bed
Old me looked up once and said, “Forget it. He’s as good as dead.”
The friends and family around the bed began to scream and cry
But old me turned and left the room. I left the man to die!
“What is this?” I said as I clenched my fists. “This cannot come to be!
What madness would possess me to forget humanity?”
“It’s easier than you think,” the elf said sadly. “Medicine is draining.
The things you do and see every day are very, very straining!”
“I don’t care!” I gnashed my teeth. “I will not be like that!”
“Good for you! I know you’ll do it!” the elf said, taking off his hat.
And then I woke up with a start. The clock read twenty past.
I seemed to have been sleeping, but my heart was racing fast
“Oh, there you are,” said the attending doc. “We have a case on Ward two.
Hurry up, or we’ll be late. We have a lot to do!”
As I stood, I saw a flash of green fall off my lap
I picked it up and realised it was the small elf’s hat
A gentle reminder to stay strong, kind, and true
In everything I’d be, and in everything I would do
It was late Christmas Eve when I wandered the streets
The white snow crunched beneath my two bare feet
The streetlights were dim, but the moonlight was bright
I walked without aim on that dark, fateful night
I didn’t have purpose, or a place to call home
I was ragged and wretched, and utterly alone
As I wandered around, a voice called from above
“Pardon me, Miss, but I’m looking for Love!
Do you think you can help me? It won’t take too long.
I have a map here, but I think it’s all wrong!”
The voice was a child’s, though I found that hard to believe
This was no place for children! They’d fall ill, or freeze
Yet I knew that voice, though it was only a child’s
I’d heard it before, although not for a while
“Look right up here, Miss!” I heard the voice urge
I followed it this time, and saw a shadow emerge
I squinted as I tried to see who it could be
Imagine my surprise when I saw the child was me!
“Good evening,” it called. “I hope you are well!
We haven’t much time, and I have much to tell!
…but it’s Christmas Eve, Miss. Why are you alone?
Shouldn’t you be with family, safely at home?”
I looked at the child, with eyes so naïve
That it made my soul shake, made my heart bleed
“Little me!” I said softly. “I have no family
There’s no Christmas spirit for broken souls like me.”
“Oh, no,” she said. “You’re wrong! All you need is love!
And that’s just what I am looking for, the kind I told you of!”
With those words, she took my hands, and flew into the air
And then she let go suddenly, but I stayed floating there!
“Come on!” she said, soaring higher, above the homes and trees
“I know this is all seems crazy, but there’s something you should see.”
We flew for hours, or so it seemed, until we reached a house of snow
“Welcome,” said the girl, as we landed, “to the official North Pole!
Santa’s not here, of course, and the elves are having naps
So that means we have some time to search the Christmas Map!”
I saw the patterns carved in ice on the sides of the great walls
They seemed to form some kind of route, but it made no sense at all
“You see,” the girl said, pointing, “I found you walking here,
In the place where Pain and Longing have built up through the years
And I myself have come from here, the place of Tender Youth
But this is where we have to go, the Love Long Lost to Truth.”
“This is all ridiculous,” I said as I stepped back,
“This map has so many twists and turns, it’s easy to lose track!
How do you know where you’re going, or where next you should go?
This whole thing is just a wall with patterns in the snow!”
“But that is love,” the girl told me. “It’s hard to find at first.
But I know that it’s what you need when you feel at your worst.”
“Oh, give me a break!” I snapped at her. “Who do you think you are?”
“I’m you,” the girl said, laughing slightly, “a shadow of a star.”
That was when a ‘ho, ho, ho’ broke into the air
And when I turned around to look, I saw Santa Claus standing there.
“I see your pain,” he said, to me, “do you not remember love?
That magical feeling that lifts you up, and carries you above?”
“Old man,” I said, quite scornfully, “I’ve never known that feeling.
I was born with scars that burn and burst without ever really healing.”
But Santa just smiled, and tapped his nose, and said, “I think you’re lying.
You used to love at Christmastime, even when your world was dying.
Little you has realised that, and came to save your soul.
All you need is a bit of love to make your spirit whole.”
“That’s it!” the girl said, joyfully. “Christmas brought us together.
And its magic is so strong, it will help us find love forever!”
The girl was earnest in her words, I couldn’t help but grin
And that was when, for the first time, I felt love creeping in
And that was when I realised, that all the things I’ve seen
The rage, the pain, the broken hearts, they all were hurting me
And I had never learnt to love because I’d grown up with pain
But that just meant that I lost out with nothing left to gain
And so I learnt to fall in love, for on that Christmas Eve
I learnt to find love in my heart by learning to love me
“No,” I muttered to Ghost. “The answer’s ‘A’. I’m sure of it.”
“Your funeral,” said Ghost.
“Miss Bryant, is there an issue?” Teacher called from the front of the room. “A test is a solo exercise.”
“Yessir,” I muttered.
“Sucker,” said Ghost.
“SHUT UP!” I snapped.
Heads turned in my direction.
“Sorry,” I muttered, looking back down again. Teacher didn’t say anything, but I heard him sigh. This was the fourth time I’d done this this month. Mama had warned me that if I acted out again, we were going to the doctor.
But Ghost was so annoying! He wouldn’t shut up!
“That’s mean,” Ghost whined. “I do too know when to be quiet!”
“No, you don’t!” I fumed. “There! Done! Finally!”
“…are you sure about that last question?”
“Miss Bryant.” Teacher’s voice was different this time. Time-to-go-to-the-office different.
“Stupid Ghost,” I muttered.
I swung my legs as I sat on the…what do they call these things? Doctor’s office beds? Stretchers? Ghost would probably know, but he was sulking, since I blamed him for getting kicked out of class.
The door swung open, and I jumped. “Emily Bryant?”
“That’s me,” I said.
“I’m Doctor O’Connor. I understand you’ve been having some trouble in school…?”
“She keeps yelling things and speaking to people who aren’t there,” Mama said. “The teachers say it’s as if she’s sharing test answers with someone. But I’ve heard her doing it when she’s in her room, alone.”
The doctor raised an eyebrow. “Is she on the phone?”
“No! You don’t think I thought about that? You think I want a crazy kid?”
Doctor O’Connor tutted. “Now, ma’am, we don’t like to use the word ‘crazy’ in the –”
“Well, that’s what she is! She spends all day cooped up in her room, speaking to God knows what. She doesn’t eat, she doesn’t sleep — you can see the bags under her eyes — she doesn’t play music, she doesn’t do anything except act out and whisper to the air!”
Doctor O’Connor flipped through his clipboard. “Is there a time when this behaviour started?”
“About a year ago, I’d say.”
“And did anything happen a year ago?”
“Well, my older daughter, Emily’s sister, died.”
Doctor O’Connor tutted again. “How?”
“Mmm.” The clipboard was tossed onto the desk. “Ma’am, how about you let Emily and I have a little alone time?”
“NO!” said Ghost, making me jump. Both Mama and the doctor noticed.
“Can you hear something, Emily?” he asked, with the gentle tone of a predator luring in its dinner. “Is there someone else here in the room with us?”
“No,” I said, flatly.
“Oh, come on!” said Ghost. “I’m right here! You can tell them.”
“No, no I can’t.”
“Are you speaking to someone, Emily?” said the doctor.
“Me!” said Ghost.
“Shut up!” I said.
“EMILY!” said Mama. “You see, Doctor? You see what she does?”
They ended up putting me on several pills. ‘Depression’, they called it. ‘Psychomotor agitation’. ‘Hallucinations’. ‘Grief’.
I knew what they were doing. I knew what they were after. And, as annoying as Ghost was, I’d take him over a ride in the happy farm any day.
“What are you doing?” said Ghost, as I flushed the day’s supply of pills down the toilet. “I thought you were supposed to take those!”
“They’ll make you disappear,” I said, flatly. “And, as stupid as you are, I’d miss you if you disappeared.”
“Aw, shucks, I knew you cared about me!” Ghost said, giddily.
“Anyway, there’s someone who wants to meet you.”
“Hello, Miss Emily,” a new voice said. Stiff. Stuffy. “It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
“He’s been begging for days,” said Ghost. “Hard guy to tell no.”
“He sounds so…stuffy,” I said.
“Stuffy? Hey, that’s excellent! Hey, Stuffy! Finally introduced you Em. Aren’t you going to say thank you?”
“I appreciate the gesture, sir,” Stuffy said formally. I could imagine him bowing.
“Anyhow, Em, you don’t need those pills, I guess, if you don’t want them. Stuffy and I will look out for you.”
I smiled, capping the pill bottle before returning it to the medicine cabinet. “I know. And thank you.”
A.N. This poem is based on the psychiatric sign “loose associations”, in which patients loosely connect words and ideas into a pattern which doesn’t follow any logical sense. It can be quite poetic, however, as evidenced below.
It’s late at night
Sky of starlight
Stars from afar
Racing like cars
Speeding down tracks
Bullets rain fast
Fast like my heart
A piece of the pie
Apple of my eye
Eye of a needle
Sharp like a weasel
Bushy little friend
Friends to the end
End of the line
No, not tonight