Every Silver Lining's Got a Touch of Grey

Every Silver Lining’s Got a Touch of Grey

by Benjamin Mast

Every Silver Lining's Got a Touch of Grey

Without knowing any of their music, I didn’t like Grateful Dead. Call it a mother’s instinct, call it blatant ignorance and close-mindedness, it must have played in my house for days, weeks, maybe months before I found the album cover under Second Daughter’s bed. Anything featuring an Aphroditic (read: nude) girl in a threesome with a caressing Satan dressed in used-car-salesman sleaze and a smoking skeleton does not belong in a twelve-year-old’s room, especially when emblazoned with a band name fetishizing suicide. Names mean something, and the name itself was enough to consider the album bannable. Even now that she’s sixteen, I wouldn’t approve, though I’d have a daintier step through the conversation, considering the stormy tidal waves of hormones and angst that were only beginning to crest four years ago.

Mike defended her, rising from silent fatherhood as some closeted Grateful Dead fan. But back then—before—he defended the girls arbitrarily, which infuriated me, as if he had a right to choose sides on their musical choices when he didn’t have much opinion on the schools they went to or the grades they got or the boys they texted. He printed off song lyrics and read them aloud to me with more passion than he did our wedding vows. He read me articles from Salon and Variety and Rolling Stone about the musical miseducation of youth today and the long-lasting value of fusion rock from earlier decades. He bought mp3 albums of the band’s entire collection, making sure it was pulled up whenever he had his phone out. Bullish anger rose within him, but in a more measured form than it often took, with calculated arguments and mocking eyes. Normally he just grabbed my wrist in a vicelike Indian burn or spewed unintelligibles.

“You bought her the album, didn’t you?” I finally asked one night as we were lying in bed, our backs toward each other like they do in the movies to show there’s trouble. “You got her started on it.” He shrugged, as if he couldn’t remember. Aggressive guitar strumming leaked through the bottom of our blue-cast room, overflowing from Second Daughter’s and pooling near the bed.

The next day, I required the album art removed from the album case, but that the music itself could stay, which Second Daughter did in a way that showed it was not a loss, casually tossing it in the trash while whistling a song I irritably recognized as the fourth track on the album. The smoking skeleton mocked me from the bin until the garbage men picked it up Tuesday morning.

It’s a fully fallacious argument to have wished for a Swayline back then, in order to have not fully necessitated installing one later, but it’s a scenario that plays through my mind: an extra shot of dopamine, two extra of serotonin, hell, one of melatonin to be safe, and we never would have gone to Dead & Company that year.

They weren’t even a cover band, more like a full-on revival, and tickets to the show were my healthy attempt to pretend I hadn’t lost, a strategy I think our representative Tricia would approve of now, if a similar situation arises, which of course it won’t.

“AC in here broken again?” Mike asked on the drive. He took the Enclave to his office, leaving me with a hand-me-down behemoth of an SUV that he had insisted we take to Clarkston for the concert, despite my warnings about its shortcomings.

“As I said, yes. And the CD player. And the back-door handles both came off, so you can only open those doors from the inside.”

Second Daughter rolled her eyes from the backseat, at something — her perception of how impoverished we were in comparison to her rich friends? that we argued in front of her still? or simple habit?

She was wearing a long-sleeved black shirt that now had to be ungodly in the sticky July heat, especially without the AC. I watched her discomfort for a short while, wondering if she regretted not wearing the yellow tank top I had recommended, wondering if she regretted wadding it up and literally throwing it in her trash as I walked out of her bedroom. She arched her back to reduce the number of contact points with the bucket seat’s faux leather, but stayed silent, as if waiting on me to challenge her fashion choices just so she could crow about how comfortable she was. I’d risen to that bait a fair number of times, so instead I turned on NPR.

As soon as Diane Rehm quivered through the speakers, Mike rolled his driver’s side window the whole way, drowning out her tenuous alto with the roar of Michigan humidity blowing through the car.

The concert was outside.

“You didn’t know what ‘amphitheater’ meant, did you?” Mike accused immediately.

“I’m hot,” wretched Second Daughter said, now that the situation had become my fault and she would no longer have to take responsibility for wearing a stupid outfit.

“I thought it was just some old-timey concert hall.”

He snorted.

“It’ll still be fun,” I encouraged, feeling otherwise.

Everything seemed saturated, spinning with sweat and color and sound: rugs and blankets spread like patchwork on the flattened grass farther from the stage, the gatgat of sweet wine pouring into plastic glasses, graphic neon tank tops and glittering piercings. It was the kind of audience I imagined Jenna, our eldest, would feel at home in. Jenna was in her second year at college and now sent us selfies featuring her glowing smile at all sorts of events like this. She had left early for school that summer to make up a failed econ class from last term. I wished she were there then—she always knew the best place to stake out, the best distance from speakers, the best angle to see the band, and as an added bonus: she didn’t hate me. She didn’t hate anyone.

The crowd bubbled and ballooned as we found standing room nearer the stage. I could barely see, and I felt Second Daughter curdle with frustration as she realized, being in all likelihood the youngest fan there, that seeing over the adults would be a struggle. The tickets—my gift, my concession to their stupid love for this stupid band—were becoming a curse.

But the music saved me, saved us all. At first.

Dusk settled, and its coolness was accompanied by a few raucous opening numbers. I was indifferent, numbed to the music at this point, but the intoxicating adoration of ravenous adults drunk on this inexplicable musical obsession was exciting, I’ll still admit.

Every now and then Second Daughter would turn excitedly, before she could forget to be bitter and hot and ungrateful, and tell us something—“That’s Bob Weir, it really is,” or just a whispered song title, “Jack Straw!”—and it was sweet, and the memory still is, considering how rare those glimmers of joy shine four years later.

A song into their second set, a group of four giant men in front of us slunk off, probably to find beer, and the gap they provided lent us a better view of the screen projected at the top of the stage.

It wasn’t until then that I noticed: “That’s John Mayer.” My voice was easily swallowed by the rush of noise around us, so I slapped at Mike’s arm and he leaned his graying blonde head toward me, red with sweat and pleasure. “That’s John Mayer!” I yelled. I had seen him in concert with some girlfriends two years before. Janice had told me, before we went, “He makes love to every note he plays.” She was right. And blown up to monstrous proportions on the screen, gazing out of sunken eyes and clutching his guitar like he would a woman, she was still right.

“No,” Mike yelled back, confident. “He wouldn’t.”

Someone beside us, an ageless tattooed blonde that could have been a methy twenty-two or a botoxed sixty-two, yelled back. “Yeah! It is him! It really fucking is! He plays with Dead & Co!”

At which, I whooped, swollen with renewed interest, and Mike and Second Daughter spun to me.

“That’s John fucking Mayer?” Mike bellowed, but his fucking was angry, not amazed like the blonde’s was, so I raised my eyebrows to remind him Second Daughter was there, but he didn’t stop yelling, which is bad news. “You brought us all the way out here for John fucking Mayer, didn’t you?”

“I had no idea!” I said back, but it was hard not to sound angry when we were both yelling at the top of our lungs, just to be heard over what had morphed from music to cacophony since the change of mood. “They’re good!” I added, trying to diffuse whatever was happening. Mike got latched onto certain things—that was nothing new. But normally not in public.

He grabbed my wrist, hard. Second Daughter watched, glowering too, and I could read her fear easily, because it was a reflection of my own.

We left, then, early. I remember the blonde watching us go, a confused look in her eye, before returning her attention to the concert and whatever guitar riff was escalating at this point.

The next morning, I woke in Jenna’s bed, abandoned since she had started her summer term making up an Econ class from last semester. I found a purple blotch circling my right wrist and another on my right shoulder. It was enough to get an appointment with a Swayline representative.

***

Jenna is almost a decade older than Second Daughter. She’s long-haired and joyful, if not as intelligent as we’d hoped, though she got into Sutton, which is more than we expected. The fact that it’s her sixth year due to changing majors and failed classes can be overlooked, because she will marry Jason soon, and he is an engineer and we like him fine. Marriage was never going to be a problem for her, not with that hair and that smile. She changes it all the time, but no matter what, it retains some magnetic model-like beauty. She has it bleached into a platinum Spring Break variety currently, but I wish, at times, the russet curls she had as a toddler would make a comeback. But artificial is the controllable, after all.

Second Daughter has her head shaved, a recent development.

The moment we found out was the last time I’ve had to Sway him—though on this occasion it was hard to cast much blame. In all truth, I would have welcomed a Sway myself. She stomped through the garage door, unlaced boots flopping off, like two mutinous soldiers among the rows of neatly paired shoes on the mat, a malicious stoop in her shoulder and sneer on her lip. It wasn’t until she was nearing the threshold of her room, after passing which I would no longer have the power nor the will to ask her how her day was, as surely as I am supposed to do after sixteen years of living together, that she tossed off her hoodie to reveal an alienesque skull. It wasn’t shaved and shined but riddled with rat-tail wisps of her original silky brown, as if it had been hacked off by a friend in the high school bathroom. It may well have been, I reminded myself.

Mike’s hands were in the kitchen sink. Mine were on his back in the middle of an evening massage that I imagined was taking off the bitter edge of cleaning up dinner prep. He had been so much more accommodating recently, taking the brunt of the evening chores even after a day at Forgman’s.

Under my palms, I felt his entire body tense when she revealed her cobwebbed head.

Mike’s anger was almost visible, as if it would rise out of his own accelerating breath and charge at our Second Daughter like a bull at a red dress, indiscriminating in what it would plow down in order to flatten what first offended.

“_____,” he snapped, using Second Daughter’s given name, as Tricia has since advised against in order to steer away from his triggers. “What did you do?” His soapy hands slammed the counter in a sudsy splash before he reeled toward Second Daughter’s room.

She had turned, her hand on the knob to her room, just down the hall from the kitchen. Her face had a twist of fear threading between her thinned white lips, widened eyes, and several parallel wrinkles on a normally distilled forehead of creamy unmade skin.

“What the fuck were you thinking?” he said, his footsteps like thunderclaps.

The Swayline was in my hand in seconds. I can read the signs of the bull in the house by now. The device is flat, black, reflective, and requires a certain gentle caress to awaken that feels dissonant with the situations for which it is required.

Mike was out of the kitchen before I could adjust his levels. Second Daughter was still scared, but defiant in a masochistic way. I briefly— so very fleetingly—wondered if I should wait before he got to her, before he screamed at her to behave like a normal girl should. But her face didn’t need another bruise she’d refuse to cover up, and I didn’t need another call from Tricia telling me the school has contacted her again and if I don’t show proper understanding of my Swayline I wouldn’t be allowed to have it and indubitably would have to have a monitor following Mike around at home. Or worse.

All that went through my head, that fast, before I swiped up on his dopamine and serotonin levels.

Just like that, his fists relaxed, his veins retreated back behind skin, the snorting bull rendered docile.

“Your dog needs a shorter chain,” Second Daughter sneered, somehow glowing victorious, before retreating to her room with a slammed door that threatened the portraits of the girls hanging in the hallway. Her father sank to his knees in the hall, a goofy, toothy grin smeared across his face.

***

“That was two weeks ago,” I say to Tricia, as Mike and I attempt to recount the events after Second Daughter’s shaving.

She’s writing on a paper on a clipboard, instead of a notepad. Something about that makes me uneasy. Doctors use clipboards covered in printed pages, so they can put them in files that other people can read. Tricia just takes notes for herself, for our next session, doesn’t she?

“And everything seemed to… spark… from the realization that Second Daughter shaved her head?” Tricia’s voice is like yogurt. Smooth and sweet, but with enough acid to keep you on your toes. She gets to the point in a way I never can.

I feel Mike twist in his chair. The hair might become another trigger that must be avoided. Tricia waits for him to add anything, but he doesn’t say much during our sessions. When he’s been Swayed, his memory gets a little funky. He doesn’t always trust himself to recount correctly. I’ve become his eyes.

“It was one of the bigger doses I’ve ever given him.”

“Bigger than…?” She lets that one hang, cautious of letting slip a known trigger. Conversation is like walking a minefield these days. We both paw at our Swaylines—she’s the only person that has one for Mike other than me, a safety precaution for these meetings, when we have to explore the minefield more specifically. Like we’re flagging the field for the known mines—we have to get close enough to set the markers down, but not so close as to set any off.

She’s referring to one of Mike’s biggest breaks. In retrospect, it’s almost humorous. We were both reading our Kindles in our chairs in the living room before bed—he was straight-backed in his rocker, unmoving despite the chair’s specific capabilities, and I was curled on the sofa, knees tucked into my chest. I was always flexible as a kid, and I had regained a bit of that dexterity as an adult, as Mike and I started yoga after we put in the Swayline.

“Hm,” I said aloud. It’s a thing I do, a thing I know I do, saying “hm” and then waiting for my obvious realization to be inquired upon.

Mike knew this. In my periphery, I could see him put his own Kindle down in his lap.

“Hm,” I tried again.

He continued to wait, without asking.

Ever since we started Swaying, Mike’s waiting has become discomfiting, glassy. Like a smooth lake before a storm, like it could go on forever in an uneasy stillness, and my anxiousness was a humidity that would break it.

“Hm. Did you know ‘whelm’ is a word too? Like overwhelm, but just whelm.”

His waiting continued to extend, but maybe a ripple broke the lake, because he said, “I see,” and without looking at him, I could tell he’d picked up his reader.

“What would you guess that it means?” I hated to feel annoying, when I’m just trying to interact normally. This was a question I would have asked him twenty years ago and he would actually have thought about it, made a joke about it. But now he just returned to his own novel or whatever it is he was reading. “What do you think whelm means? What would you guess?” I held my finger over the word, so the definition would pop up. “It’s just the same thing. The same as overwhelm.” My voice contained actual surprise.

“What?”

I was honestly surprised enough he responded at all that I didn’t notice the bullish anger settling between his brows.

“They’re exact synonyms. No difference at all. To whelm is to overwhelm.

“The exact same?”

“Yeah.”

“Why in all hell are there two different words?” His voice had escalated, and he stands up hurriedly, sending the rocker scuttling backwards in a rush, then back to hit him in the back of the knees with its seat.

I was seeing the signs now (how could I not?), and I scrabbled at my back pocket for the Swayline.

“Don’t use that fucking thing on me,” he yelled. “Don’t touch that fucking thing. This is just a conversation. And that’s stupid. It’s the same fucking word. It’s the same fucking WORD!” And on his last shouted syllable he took his reader in two hands and snapped it like a kid might a Wheat Thin. He kicked the rocker again, only making himself angrier when it returned to his shins again, so he kicked it once more, this time sending it on its side, banging into the back wall, leaving a paint chip he still hasn’t recovered.

By the time he spun on me—because he would, of course, blame me: for the etymology of this random discovery, for the interruption, for the rocking chair’s construction, for having the Swayline in my hand, for everything—I was already adjusting his levels, almost knocking him unconscious for the fear that trembled my hands.

I swivel back into real time, as Tricia’s penetrative green gaze hasn’t left my face, searching for anything I’m not giving her. “Not as much as that time. He got a bit loopy but not…” Three years ago, I would have never considered how normal a conversation about my husband’s consciousness or lack thereof at my hand might become.

“And was it a pretty even split, the dopamine and serotonin?”

“Yeah, I’d say. You can check the Line to be sure but that was my intention.”

Mike has withdrawn almost completely at this point, per usual. He does not like to talk about his medications, however necessary Tricia assured him they were.

“Increase in anxiety at all? Libido? Anything like that?” She always checked for signs of serotonin syndrome. When we first started, Mike didn’t have a solid shit for about eight months, and we had more sex in those eight months than we had had since Second Daughter was born. The sex wasn’t necessarily good, more like a burden to release or a scratch to itch for him, but there was something pleasant about being part of an anxious desire of his again. Issues with levels fell after that, after we had nailed his dosages more specifically.

I looked to Mike on that one. Anxiety had become his punishment for his anger, and there was something sadly righteous about it in my mind. He generally didn’t divulge too much about it to me, although every now and then he cracked a bit in session. Today he just shrugged.

“And you didn’t hurt Second Daughter at all?” Tricia asks this at him pointedly, as if recognizing how he was sinking toward introspection.

Mike shakes his head, slow but definitive. His gray eyes are slack somehow, resigned to these probing un-accusations, but still sifting through his paranoia. He looks older than he’s ever looked in this moment—something in the overhead light has cast the grizzled blonde of his beard a wolfish silver, his eyes seem deeper within their wrinkled nests than usual, his broad body seems softer. I’m waiting for Tricia’s eyes to swing toward mine to check for confirmation on his quiet testimony, but she resists the impulse, maintaining steady eyes on my husband.

She reminds me of the clerks at the customs desk at the airport—the small, steely workers who check your passport and command you to look into this camera and how long were you in Senegal and just for tourism? and look straight into your soul when you tell them you haven’t smuggled any seeds or fruits or meats across the border, keeping eye contact for longer than you thought they would, so long that eventually you’re convinced that you have brought in diseased figs and half a raw cow in your suitcase, and right before you slur out a misguided confession, they send you through the gate, following you with an uninspired welcome back to the States.

Mike doesn’t flinch, and I’m proud of him, because sometimes in those airport customs moments, he convinces himself he has hurt our daughter in the memory fog surrounding mood Sways. Here, he’s resolute, though silent, like he doesn’t trust his own words. Maybe he doesn’t. Maybe the minefield isn’t worth it.

It isn’t too long before our time is up, and Mike pulls our beetle-black Enclave up while Tricia finally checks with me on Second Daughter, who we can finally refer to as ____.

Outside, Mike doesn’t hurry me with a bleating honk.

***

“Where’s Alex’s mom?”

“She forgot about his chess thing tonight. He’s not leaving school till like seven or something.”

Second Daughter curls into the passenger seat, facing resolutely away from me.

“I could have walked.”

“It’s like four miles,” I remind her, avoiding her hairlessness by keeping my eyes straight ahead.

“I could have waited.”

“It wasn’t any trouble.”

“For you.”

Second Daughter has always had a way with words, for the better or the worse. Blistering. That’s what Mike calls it, when she would really turn on someone, her speech soured with malice, her eyes glinty and flat. But once I found a deck of loose-leaf poems she left wedged in a journal under her bed, and I hang onto that memory of paging through her softer words, edged with flowers and sadness. Sometimes the malice hung to them as well, but beautifully, like deadly vines clinging to a strangled building.

I replaced the poems, trying to turn every wrinkled page just as I had found it, so she wouldn’t notice I had slipped behind her defenses, but she must have smelled my curiosity on them, because I never found any again.

She still writes, though. She must still write. I believe this even as she curls in the passenger seat, pretending I’m not there, and looks more like a caricature of a sixteen-year-old than ever (outside of the shoddily shorn head, which is still jarring and repulsive in the same way those Mexican hairless dogs are).

“Tricia’s upping Dad’s dosage,” I say after we’ve pulled out on 7th Street.

“Does that mean we get to say my name again at home?”

I’ll admit to myself, that one took some getting used to. But Tricia had assured that “Second Daughter” wouldn’t have as many blindly negative associations as her real name after the last episode.

I flash a smile at her, because I’m unsure what else to do. The next words moisten my mouth, waiting to ripen till I let them squeeze out: “I think it would be a good idea for you to come, too.”

“Come to what?”

“Come to see Tricia. Just so you know the process with your father. I think it’s better that more than just me knows. And maybe we can get another device for you, in case you’re home with him when I’m not.”

“Ask Jenna. She always seems interested in what’s happening in everyone’s lives.”

“I already asked First Daughter.”

“For God’s, Mom. I know she isn’t the trigger. Just call her Jenna.”

“‘Establishment of a habit,’” I quoted Tricia.

“If you spew one more fucking line of bullshit from that doctor—”

“She’s not a doctor.”

“You say that like it’s a good thing?”

“She’s not. She’s our Swayline rep.”

“Then why is she in charge of the device that is literally sending a current of drugs into my father’s body?”

“You know he needs them.”

“No, Mom. I know you need them. I know you can’t bring yourself to admit it’s actually his fault he hits.”

Used to,” I correct. “With any other illness—”

“I still don’t understand how you defend this.”

“—I wouldn’t just turn my back on your father. Cancer’s hard, oh no, well, no chemo for you, no radiation for you, even though it’s available.”

“You can’t just call it an illness and be done. You can’t forgive him back to being good.”

“When he’s balanced—”

“He’s not balanced, Mom.”

Exactly. That’s why we use the Swayline. Sometimes she makes me insane, forcing me to speak in a circle without recognizing what she’s doing, feeling she’s won some game of logic when really she’s just pointing out that life is hard. Is that what she wants, for me to admit that life is hard? Because life is so hard.

“Life is hard,” I say, and she scoffs.

***

She comes to Tricia’s office with me, though. In the end, she doesn’t even need much convincing. It’s one of the only days this November she hasn’t worn a hoodie, so I think she’s doing it just to publicly shame me with her baldness. But I want her there—I need her there—and so I don’t say anything.

Tricia greets us with the expected promptness and stoicism, offering Second Daughter no more than a cursory glance as reward for her daring fashion statement. It’s her first time in the office, as she refused before, first because she didn’t trust doctors, and then because she thought it was wrong for non-doctors to administer this type of care. Round and round she goes, stalled out by her own logic.

She approaches it today with a vague curiosity, like an old person with an iPhone rather than an undercover journalist. Tricia, as usual, blurts brief sentences, then closes off into complete silence, as if willing a response without asking a question. I don’t think she has experienced a lot of teenagers, and I’m embarrassed of Second Daughter’s curtness but surprisingly proud of her resolve.

“Your mom says you’ve been hesitant about your dad’s medications so far,” Tricia says, and Second Daughter waits patiently for a question. Finally: “Is that true?”

“Yup.”

“So, I’ll just show you what we do here and walk you through the next steps with Mike’s levels, so we can eventually get you connected with his Swayline. You may have to sign some admission forms just for security reasons.” Silence. Tricia looks at me briefly, discreetly. “Is that okay?”

“Yup.”

Tricia eyes her coldly but maintains a lightness in her tone. We walk through several overly lit rooms, glowing with ceiling fluorescents and white lab coats. The facility looks much like it did when I first brought Mike in, almost four years ago now. Tricia’s saying, “Swayline kind of works like an insulin pump. We have to give the body a way to introduce new chemicals fast, chemicals that settle anger. But the genius part is the remote capabilities.”

I fade in and out, as I’ve heard the pitch before. Through glass, we see the products being integrated—a quick prick in the back of the patient’s neck, a remote receptor planted behind the left ear, a testing facility for the remotes. I watch Second Daughter, reading her reactions, but she mainly exudes mute distrust.

“Any questions so far?” Tricia asks, but Second Daughter doesn’t acknowledge her.

Tricia shuffles a ream of papers in front of her. “Read through these, but we need them signed before we get you hooked up with a Swayline.” She strides off into an office, leaving us in a sterile hallway. She’s circled in red every spot Second Daughter needs to sign.

I take my Swayline out, joking, “You’ll probably get a cooler model than me.”

“So, they want to let me control his levels too?”

“For protection, honey. That’s all. I’m not home all the time.”

“Do you hear yourself, Mom? I need to be protected. At home. From my father.

She works this argument up, every now and then. Threatens to call Child Protective Services. If she does, she’ll learn that Swayline itself is a huge department within CPS that she would probably be redirected to eventually.

She starts off slowly, reading the first page out loud to me and laughing at some of the phrasing for being too medical and some for being not medical enough, but loses patience by the third page. She finishes signing, flipping through the rest of the stack of pages quickly as Tricia stalks back toward us. She takes the papers, checks for signatures, then hands them to me.

“Your signature on the last page, Mrs. Dunne. We’ll get started while you look through everything.” We exchange a glance. I’m thinking of Mike, wanting to call him for some reason. This place is a guilty place for me. My bruises brought him here, my John Mayer bruises. Everything here is the same color as his lax gray eyes, lifeless without the bull snorting dust behind them.

I shuffle through the pages my daughter signed. The first are general safety, waivers and protocol for anyone entering the patient care section of the building. Her signature is surprisingly adult. Absent are the curlicues that used to assign her spelling notebooks, the full-circle dots for eyes, the childish flourishes. Just quick cursive, slicing across the page, neat and fast.

I sigh, and flip to page fifteen and read through it quickly, my heart lifting and my stomach sinking at the same time. I acknowledge that, as another patient’s Trigger, my emotional stability is of the utmost importance, and I will do everything in my power to maintain and sustain it. Signed, ____ L. Dunne.

I flip the page. I’m crying, but I’m not sure why. This is for her protection, and mine, and Mike’s. I acknowledge that I have exhibited interest in altering the levels of someone else’s Swayline, and that this interest is dangerous for myself and for others around me, including the person with the Swayline. Signed, ____ L. Dunne. Another page. More tears.

I acknowledge that I have exhibited behaviors or traits hereditary by nature to someone already living with a Swayline and would like to protect myself from the possible future that entails. The following list of traits is so convoluted with medical language that the first time I read it, Tricia had to walk me through each one. Some of them are easy enough: displays of aggressive defiance, inappropriate mood swings. At the bottom, my daughter’s handwriting: Signed, ____ L. Dunne.

The papers still in hand, I walk to the door my daughter and Tricia just entered. The window to the room is small and rectangular, the type with a black grid over top of it. She’s lying in a hospital bed, artificially still like a taxidermied pet, anesthetized into acquiescence. Tricia is standing coldly by her bed, a Swayline in her palm, as a surgeon makes a small incision behind my daughter’s ear. I look back at the last page, where in circled pink highlighter my signature is required.

I acknowledge that my dependent requires a Swayline in order to better regulate his/her emotions, for the safety of himself/herself, myself, and others. I have been made aware of the product, the consequences, and the process he/she will now undergo to achieve this regulation.

“Katie,” I whisper through the glass.

I sign the paper.

About the Author

Benjamin Mast

Benjamin Mast is from a small Mennonite town in northern Indiana. He has been a roamer so far, moving from Indiana to Virginia to Chicago to South Korea, and finally back to Indiana, as he lives and works in Indianapolis. He seeks good food, good volleyball, and good lit wherever he goes.