2010-02-04: FB: Not Today



Date Set: January 5, 2009


Aaron meets Sydney Falkland, who turns out to be his new therapist

One Year Ago…

"Not Today"

Manhattan Psychiatric Center

Day 10. No improvement as far as the meds are concerned, but that's not terribly surprising given the length of time anti-depressants generally take to start being effective. Aaron sits staring at the piano in the main activity room of Manhattan Psychiatric, idly pondering why they didn't put him on anti-depressants before he hung himself. He eventually makes his way over to the piano. It's a relatively inexpensive upright, by no means glamorous and absolutely nothing like the studio grand he has back at his apartment. But he's not at his apartment, and probably won't be for a good long while— at least until he can convince the doctors he's not going to go jump off the roof or something. Sometimes he's not entirely sure what they want from him.

His hand brushes against the polished wood. It's uneven. He imagines he could get a sliver or two from it if it gets any more worn. His fingers grip the cover and try to draw it up to the access the ivory keys when it catches. It's locked. He reefs at it a little harder, which gains the attention of two orderlies. His eyes drift towards them. "Open the piano," he says.

The orderlies look towards Dr. Walker who approaches. "Aaron?"

"Open the piano," he says again, more command in his voice. He's not entirely sure why, but he feels like slugging the man.

"I'm afraid I can't do that Aaron. You know why."

"Unlock the fucking piano!" Aaron recalls the last time he asked for the piano to be unlocked. He was told he'd have to cooperate with the doctor to use it. Privilege must be earned, he was told. "Fuck your privilege, man." The fist comes in a flash, clocking the doctor in the side of the head before the orderlies have the chance to restrain the young musician. And that in and of itself is a tough job. Aaron struggles as though for his life, and even manages to get one of the orderlies off and limping away after a swift kick in the shin before he's restrained properly, and sedated.

"I'm sorry you had to bear witness to that, Miss Falkland," Dr. Jarod Walker says in his baritone voice as he returns from seeing to Aaron Michael's sedation in his room. He holds an icepack over the left side of his jaw. "First emotion he's shown in the ten days he's been here. The first few days he was catatonic, and when that finally broke he seemed confused that he was still alive. I'd like to say that display there was an improvement, but it's still so destructive. It's … unfortunate."

Sydney hung back during the debacle, watching curiously, altogether unsure of herself. Of course, she's not exactly in her element here. Typically she works with people who seek help — who want help, but here that isn't always the case. Her cheeks redden against the backdrop of her pale skin as she allows the questions to linger in her mind, wholly unsure of which to ask first. Instead, she chooses to confront the apology with a warm smile of her own, "There's no need to apologize, doctor." She hmms quietly before adding, "But at least he's feeling something. Doesn't that mean the reality of his circumstance is finally sinking in? Even anger is better than nothing." But then she doesn't claim to be the expert in this room; she's still learning.

"What kinds of interventions have you tried?" she finally asks. "I'm not entirely familiar with the case at hand…"

"It's a very tragic case. Aaron Michaels, rising star musician, you may have heard of him. He headlined the Lightbringers. Tragic, especially given what happened in October. You probably heard about that. One hundred and fifty people died in a fire at a comeback concert event at a small music hall. It killed his family, friends, his band— including his fiancee. Frankly, I've never seen a person with such a tragedy as that," Dr. Walker explains, leading Sydney back towards the young man's room at the Manhattan Psychiatric Center. "One of his old bandmates, a Thomas Wilkes, found him in his apartment hanging from a belt on Christmas Day. He called paramedics and Mister Michaels was brought here after being assessed at Bellevue.

"Right now we're just trying to get him to understand… well, to be quite honest, I've been doing this for twelve years and even I'm at a loss. It's a lot to work through, especially for him. We've started him on anti-depressants and he's completely ignored two different psychiatrists. Him showing emotion is a good sign, but I'm inclined to add the caveat that if his anger continues to resolve into violence, things could be very bleak for him."

"I'm familiar with the story about the comeback concert — it really was tragic, and all over the news, but… didn't know about the suicide attempt," Sydney says plainly as she follows the doctor back towards the room. "Christmas isn't really a surprise though, is it? I mean, losing friends and family is hardest around the holidays. And it only just happened." With a sigh she nods, "Well, there's still hope for Mr. Michaels. I believe it. I will cling to it. I think he can bounce back. People are incredibly resilient." There's a momentary pause before she asks, "Was he undergoing any counselling prior to the suicide attempt?"

The question is left lingering as the pair approach Aaron's room. Sydney takes a deep breath as she smoothes her skirt and clears her throat. She raps on the door gently before peeking into the room, "Mister Michaels?"

"It's a miracle it didn't end up in the gossip rags or anything more mainstream," is the only further remark about the suicide that the psychiatrist makes. He nods to her question, "Some. It was suggested to him that he seek regular counselling, but apparently nobody saw that it was done. Rather disappointing, given he was at Bellevue until the beginning of December." Dr. Walker leans against the doorframe to watch how Miss Falkland approaches the situation. "He won't be entirely lucid after the sedation, but feel free to talk to him. I'll be observing from here if you need anything."

Aaron's eyes drift open a bit at the sound, though his eyes are bleary. He rubs at them while looking around to gather his bearings, thinking he may have fallen asleep. The voice isn't a familiar one, so he eventually shifts his gaze to the door. "Please tell me you're not another shrink. I'm sick and tired of this crap."

A nod is given to the doctor as Sydney slowly pads into the room. "I'm no doctor," she starts before adding, "but I am one of those psych types. Sydney Falkland. You can call me Sydney." It's semi-unprofessional, but she's used to working at Hope Hearth, and formality isn't a priority there. She shoots him a tight-lipped smile as she studies the patient. Tilting her head she asks the age-old psych question, "How are you feeling?" Yet the tone doesn't imply that it's a loaded question. In fact, it's quite the opposite, but she doesn't bother clarifying. Not yet. "So I take it you're not a fan of me and my kind?"

"Aaron," he responds in kind, "Don't go calling me Mister…. so condescending." Aaron grits his teeth. "Kind…. you're not kind. Polite, maybe, but never kind. Kind would let me rest." He groans and rubs his head, "My head feels like a drum. Did somebody beat me?" His eyes drift close a moment before he jerks awake, a bit clearer from the look of his less-glazed-over eyes. "Feeling? You want to know how I'm feeling? Have you ever been burned alive in a giant crematorium? I have. It's not fun."

Sydney hmmms quietly while nodding. She's unsure; still learning, but says rather quietly, "Aaron it is then. And I realize you've dealt with a lot of us shrinks, but we're not all the same." She doesn't speak her mind further, instead choosing to sit down on one of the chairs in the room — the one closest to the door. "Well, you actually got into a physical altercation with one of the doctors, after which you were sedated. I was asking about that, in all honesty." Finally she answers the last rhetorical question, the tone is gentle, not chiding — an invitation of sorts, "And no, I haven't been burned alive, it must have been scary."

Aaron closes his eyes again, gathering his wits about him before he pulls himself into a sitting position. He lifts up a hand and moves it back and forth, watching it. Then he notices his slightly reddened knuckles. Not enough to bruise, though he does feel a little bit of lingering pain, like he hit his hand on something. More like just the sting of clapping too hard, only on the top of his hand. He licks his dry lips and blinks to clear his vision of tears he hadn't even realized were forming. Those tearful eyes fix on Sydney. "You should try it sometime. Might put things a little more into perspective for you."

"Would you wish it on someone else? Even a shrink?" She asks quietly before shifting in her seat and planting her feet on the ground. She's not writing notes today or overanalyzing; instead they're talking. "I'm not going to pretend to understand what you've gone through, but I think I might be able to help you just the same. You've been through something most people can't imagine, not even in their most vivid nightmares." She swallows. "We could sit here and swap stories, but that's not what this about. I can't pretend to understand your pain, even if we'd been through the exact same thing." She presses her lips together and fixes her eyes on him, "How have you been coping?"

"Pain meds… alcohol… leather belt." Aaron looks furious at that part, disgusted reall. "If that son of a bitch had just left me there, I wouldn't have to be here right now. But noooo….." Then he looks confused, though it seems his mind is defogging. "I don't even know why he was at my apartment. He didn't even come to the concert, never visited after. I don't think I'd seen him in over a year, but there he was, at two o'clock in the morning. He couldn't wait to get me off the phone when I told him there was a reunion show and I thought he should be there. Fucker."

"So this fellow that found you was there for no reason?" Sydney asks gently as she leans back in her seat, it seems she's staying for awhile. "That is unusual, particularly if it had been that long since you'd spoken — do you know what motivated him to visit this time?" Her lips twitch a little as her eyebrows furrow into a tight knit v, "Why didn't he want to go to the reunion show?"

"I didn't say he didn't have a reason." Aaron actually has to think about what he said for a moment, his head not quite wrapping around it. He looks up as he goes over what he just said until he realizes it did in fact make sense. "I didn't exactly ask why he was there, I wasn't precisely conscious, you know?" He touches his bare feet to the floor, feeling the cold of the linoleum on his otherwise toasty feet. It seems rather soothing to him, and he remains silent for a while. "Tommy Wilkes was always pissed at me for dating Annie, so when he told me to break up with her and I told him to shove it, he quit the band. Frankly, I think we were better without him. Our songs had more soul."

"Did you and Tommy ever smooth things over?" Sydney asks with still furrowed brows. With a sigh, her forehead relaxes. "So why do you think he was there?" She watches Aaron as she clutches the arms of her chair and stretches her legs in front of her before replanting her feet on the floor. "Were you good friends with Tommy before the falling out?"

"Irreconcilable differences," Aaron mutters. He presses his feet against the ground until he's certain he can hold his own weight and then stands and walks to one of the corner of the room near his bed. "Yeah, we were friends. Not good friends, but friends. Knew him since I moved to Midtown. He felt that the band would be doomed if Annie and I dated and something happened between us. We disagreed, and he quit. Not exactly a falling out." He turns around and leans into the wall, facing Sydney with his deep sapphire eyes. "As for why he was at my apartment, to make me miserable no doubt. How the fuck am I supposed to know, right? Bastard succeeded if that was. I'm definitely more miserable."

Sydney crosses her ankles only to uncross them seconds later. She plants her feet on the floor again. "So he wasn't in touch at all. It seemed like a random circumstance?" She attempts to summarize before she pushes on to the next question. "What did the rest of the band think of yours and Annie's relationship?"

"Something like that," Aaron says, turning back into the corner and staring at the wall for a bit. "The rest of the band was fine, even after I told them I was going to propose to her. Hell, only reason it needed a reunion show in the first place was because it was slowly dissolving thanks to my greater aspirations than just being a bandleader. Got my music degree at NYU to thank for the lack of time for the band. But, once I graduated, no reason not to strike some new life into it." He turns back around, "Right?" He lets out a snort, "And if it weren't for that bright idea, I wouldn't be here. Go figure."

Blinking at Aaron incredulously, Sydney shakes her head, but only for a moment. "Did you start the fire?" She pauses before posing the next question rather strategically, "Did you, in any way, plan for the fire to start? Did you aim to hurt those people?" She swallows. The line of questioning is gutsy, but she's trying to get to the root here and create some measure of cognitive dissonance.

It's Aaron's turn to blink, also incredulously. His self-deprecating line of thought severed. "You think I would kill my fiancee and my entire family, not to mention burn myself half to death? To what end could I possible be motivated to do that?" He pushes off from the wall and walks closer. "Are you insane?" He comes even closer and whispers, "Do you honestly believe I could murder a hundred and fifty-four people?" Unlike the doctor, he's memorized the exact count of lives lost, though he added one, considering himself to have lost his life to the fire as well.

Hook, line, and sinker. "That's my point. It wasn't your fault. No matter what you think, this wasn't your fault. Even if the concert was your idea, you didn't cause this. A person can't stop living because something bad might happen someday. In the future." Sydney continues to watch him, somewhat unsure of his approach, particularly considering he just decked one of his doctors and she's not the sturdiest woman. "And only a hundred and fifty-three people died according to the story I've heard." She stares at him intently, "Who was the hundred and fifty-fourth person in your estimation?"

"Ohhhh…." Aaron's eyes narrow slightly when he realizes he's been tricked, and he wags a finger at her. Then he turns away. "Take a wild guess. I didn't try to kill myself because of something that might happen some day. It already happened. You already said it yourself, you have no idea what it's like. I woke up in the most excruciating pain of my life only to find out that what I had prayed was the worst nightmare of my life was actually reality. And I had nothing. No one. Save for my apartment, and my family's apartment. Got rid of mine, no point in being in Greenwich Village. More memories of Annie there, anyway…. Back to Midtown for me. And by some miracle, my guitar survived the blaze. Untouched. Didn't realize its case was flame-resistant, but the fire fighters pulled it out of the rubble. Bit of water damage, but nothing irreparable. Hand-crafted guitar. Best craftsmanship I've ever seen." He sits down on his bed. "No, I didn't start the fire. But it may as well have killed me."

Absently, Sydney raises a hand to her jaw line and runs her fingers down her cheekbone, dark eyes still gazing at Aaron. "That's an incredible amount of loss," she concedes. "But… physically, you lived." She glances at the ground and then back at Aaron with a sigh, "I don't expect you to be out celebrating life after that, but you lived." She hmmms quietly before asking, "Where is this guitar now?" There's another moment's pause before she adds, "Have you played since the fire?"

"Yeah…." Aaron mutters, hands slipping to the thin cotton t-shirt he wears, and subsequently pulls off. His entire chest and back look like a patchwork of burn scars. Skin grafting was clearly done in some places, but mostly the skin was in-tact enough to be left to heal. "Physically, I lived." He drops the shirt to the floor as he stands from the bed and moves a little bit closer. "These," he says, waving his hands slowly towards the scarred flesh, "Don't even come close to illustrating the scars in my mind and heart and soul." His eyes have glazed over with tears again, "Surely death is better."

"Simpler, perhaps," Sydney can't deny that much. She runs a hand through her blond hair while pressing her lips together into a solid thin line. "But you're not dead. And even if things suck; you're alive, you lived through this. It was hellish, and you've lived through it. Now it's your choice what you do with that. It's your choice to either carry on, or let it all be in vain." She sighs. "Would your family and friends want you to keep going, or just give into the anger and let it all go?"

"I imagine…. they'd be disappointed," Aaron says, "But then again, they're not here, they don't know what it's like, and they can't exactly stop me now can they?" He hooks the fallen shirt on his foot and slings it against the wall. "Yeah, things suck. Couldn't possibly be any worse, but they could be better. You know, if I hadn't tried to save Annie, I could have made it out unscarred? I suppose, maybe she was already dead. A stage light fell on her, hit her in the head. She was still bleeding when I got her outside, but all the heat…. All I could feel was pain. I walked through fire to save her, and she died anyway. And I have nothing to show for it but the scars on my back."

"Disappointed? In what ways do you think?" Sydney asks with a slight tilt of her head. "And while they might not be here, their memory isn't gone…" she pauses before adding rather hesitantly "…unless you've chosen to forget rather than honour it." This is, a possibility, enough people in the world forget their troubles. "Why do you think you lived through it?"

Aaron stoops down to pick up his shirt, putting it on slowly, making Sydney watch the scarred flesh just a little longer. "Rather hard to think of the good memories when all I can ever see and think of is their deaths. That's one of the many reasons I used…. to justify what I did. I haven't slept particularly well since October. I'm lucky if I can stay asleep for a half hour, unless I'm medicated. One way or the other. And even then, it's only because I can't wake up that I manage to sleep through the dreams.

"I can still smell the burning flesh."

"I think it would be more concerning if the dreams didn't haunt you," Sydney says somewhat earnestly, while staring at the floor as Aaron puts his shirt back on. "If you weren't feeling anything, that'd be more of a concern. Sometimes we should feel upset. When bad things happen, it's normal to react the way you do." She sighs heavily. "What do you miss most about them?"

Aaron stares at Sydney after she asks that question. Wide, tear-filling eyes. Then she just shakes his head back and forth. "No," he says, squinting his eyes shut to push away the tears. He continues to shake his head. "I'm not going there, not now." He clenches his jaw as he opens his eyes, wiping the tears away with the back of his wrist. "Not today."

"Alright," Sydney says quietly as she glances at the floor and then back up to Aaron, her own emotions coming to the surface. She presses down any empathy she has and forces a tight lipped frown. "What do you feel like talking about, Aaron? We can talk about anything." She tilts her head and then asks, "Like… why do you hate it here?"

"Why should I like it? They force me to take drugs, won't let me play music, and it's not like I can go for a walk or anything," Aaron retorts, eyes fixed on the budding head-shrinker. "This isn't much different than a prison, only my fellow inmates aren't trying to rape me." Then again, he has met a few that make him wonder…. "Yet."

Both eyebrows are raised, "I'm sure they'd let you play music if you cooperated with them." There's a pause as Sydney considers how to broach the subject. "You know why you're here, right? I mean aside from the belt incident… I know it may seem silly and trite, but the goal is more than simply turning you back into the world. Maybe some shrinks have that goal, but I think it's about more than minimizing the death toll." She frowns with a sigh, "No one can keep you from taking your own life but you. No matter how long you're kept here, it's your decision whether you honour memories and avoid what would have disappointed them or whether you do the single most selfish act in the history of humanity."

"Oh please, humanity won't miss me. Humanity won't even care. It's population control at its best. Sure, it'll cost the city a couple hundred to stick me in some pine box and bury me six feet under, but there's no family left to the foot the bill. Hell, they can cremate me. Probably cheaper, certainly wouldn't be the first time, either." Perhaps surprising, Aaron then plunks himself down on his cot, apparently spent. He flops onto his back. "Oh what's the point? Seriously…. what is the point of living? Because I can't … I can't grasp at it anymore. It makes no sense to me. I used to have everything figured out, a clear idea of what life was and what it was all about and now…. now, I have nothing left."

"Someone would miss you. No matter what we think of our own lives, we touch more people than we know," Sydney quips back before shrugging. "Maybe you don't believe in purpose, but if you don't, then how do you make sense of your living through the fire when so many died?" She hmms quietly while crossing her ankles, "Well, what was the point of living before all of this happened? What had you figured out? And how did you get there?"

"That's the thing, I don't make sense of it," Aaron replies. He pulls himself up onto the bed and sits against the headboard facing Sydney. "I'm an entertainer. Dime a dozen, really, but I'd like to think my music had soul. But it had soul for a reason, and that was the people I made it with. That's how I got there. The people. The connection. I don't know how to do it without them."

"Have you played much since it happened?" Sydney asks with another hmmm. She's pondering something. Perhaps they'd gone about therapy all wrong. "I know that you mentioned your guitar made it out unscathed… Does playing give you some sense of peace still?"

Aaron nods and shakes his head, "It's complicated. I can't touch any of the songs we used to do. It makes me think of that night and that is not a place I like to be." Merely mentioning it makes him go somewhat pale. "But there are so many songs out there that I used to just play alone, or …. I mean, I get why the lock the piano. I can only imagine how many people in here can't play it and would just make a ruckus. But I've won awards for my playing. I can play. And yeah, it can be peaceful. Don't know how much at this point, though."

"Where did your guitar end up?" she asks carefully. "And is there someone you know that might be able — or willing — to pick it up? The piano makes sense. We don't want people getting upset, but I think I might be able to swing a guitar. Playing would likely have to be semi-supervised for awhile, but… I don't really believe in keeping people from their passions…"

Aaron shrugs, "Probably back at my apartment still." He scoots along the cot towards Sydney and shakes his head, "I … don't really have anyone. I mean, you could try finding Tom, but I don't think he cares. I think he came to my apartment to yell at me or something, God knows it was what he was good at. Couldn't yell at me if I was dead, you know? But then, he did bring me a suitcase of clothes. He left the keys with the desk, so I don't know, you could get it if you wanted to."

"I could do that for you… I know my way around the city; could probably find my way there…" Sydney says with a nod. "Is the guitar easy to find in the apartment? Like in the open and easy to see?" She hmmms, "I think we could probably swing it if you'd be interested in having it here… but if you're not, don't feel obligated. I just imagine it might make the hours go by faster…"

"Unless it's managed to sprout legs and walk away, it should be on its stand next to the studio grand. It's case shouldn't be too far off, either," Aaron remarks. "All out in the open." Most of the spacious — huge — apartment is open. It's a far cry from the tiny room he's in now. "Hours, days, weeks. Yeah, it definitely can help to pass the time."

Sydney nods and smirks, "Alright then, I'll go to your apartment, find your guitar, and bring it here. Do you need music or anything else while I'm there or are you good otherwise?" The question hangs. She knows things are far from good, and her expression says as much, and so she shakes her head slightly while rising from her chair, "That's not what I meant… all I meant was… do you need anything else?"

"Company from time to time would be good," Aaron says, efforting to minimize how pathetic he sounds when he says it. He fails, miserably, but pretends he didn't sound so lame. "I think a discman or anything else with a wire might be construed as an effort to strangle myself again." So humour clearly isn't his strong-suit.

Sydney's lips flicker into a very small smile, but only for a second. "Fair enough. I'll be back later today with the guitar and anything else I think I can manage to get passed them." She pads to the door before turning back to offer him another weak smile, "Thanks for talking to me. I'll see you soon." That said she reaches for the handle and steps out the door, towards the doctor who'd been watching from a safe distance.

Aaron sits on the bed and watches as Sydney leaves, only managing to say one more thing: "Thank you."

Outside, Dr. Jarod Walker awaits. He pleased, if sadly so given the circumstance of the young man whose room he waits outside of. Once the room door has closed, he walks with Sydney some ways down the hall before speaking. "I must say, I'm impressed. He completely ignored me and Doctor Wright. I'm still not sure how you did it, but I'm glad you did. There's finally hope for him. Of course, you're perfectly right, he will be supervised initially until we're convinced his self-destructive phase has passed, probably once the anti-depressants start to have an effect. A guitar can be dangerous, as sad as that is, though from the sounds of it, it's too important to him to damage in anyway. That's a good thing."

Sydney shoots the doctor a weak smile, "I don't know why he talked to me, but I'm glad he did, I think we can help him if he lets us, and yes, I realize how dangerous a guitar can be, but I don't think he'd harm it either. And it occurs to me maybe we've been approaching the music thing from the wrong angle. I think… I think it might be therapeutic to him in a way. It might help him to open up. That's my hope anyways." She shrugs. "And as long as he's supervised…" this is punctuated with another shrug.

"You're quite right," Dr. Walker says, "You've assessed the situation better than we have; granted, you had a bit more information than he had. He actually talked to you. Though we really should have considered it before, I am ashamed to admit. Normally, privilege comes from cooperation. Patients who cooperate with us and take part in group, take their medications, they get to do things others don't. Normally. Just not today."

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