Shira walks into the smoke-room. "Look at this!" She shouts. "What do you see?"
She's holding a pair of shoes up, and waves them in front of us.
"Look at them!" She repeats.
I inspect the shoes. "Two lefties," I reply.
"Two lefties!" She shouts.
"Seriously Shira?" Mark asks, while he starts laughing.
"Please don't tell me you got those for me," I say.
While taking a shower yesterday, I forgot to remove my shoes from the bathroom. The result was that my footwear became damp. I told Shira about it, but bought new shoes at a store today.
"I did," she says. "But I brought back two lefties! I'm so stupid."
She sits down.
"At least fit them, then I can get the right ones tomorrow."
"I told you not to get me anything. But thank you, I really appreciate it."
The situation is so charming that I can't stop smiling. Shira hands me a left shoe. It doesn't fit.
The next evening, I find a cake on the dinner table. Happy birthday to me, is written on it with chocolate. It's decorated with strawberries, and from a good Limburgish bakery. There's only one person that has been handing out treats every day since the moment she was hospitalised. I look at Shira, who's getting a drink from the machine. I feel a pain in my throat. It's not her birthday now, or is it? Did I miss the memo? We've celebrated two birthdays here the last 4 weeks. Usually someone tells the whole group who's next up in line, and when. The next person gets the birthday-candle; a ritual I introduced to bring some light into the darkness. Should I have asked Jace to give it to her?
Shira sees me. "My aunt got that for the whole ward!" She says. "It's her birthday."
I'm relieved, and touched also. This is typically Shira's family; very warm and friendly. They take care of each other. You wouldn't guess that behind the cookies, presents and hugs, a very unusual lifestyle is present. They travel. It's in their blood. Their language is one of the world; a mixture between all languages and dialects they've come across while broadening their horizon. Mark told me Shira never really got to broaden hers though, in the same way most western women have been able to. Due to circumstances she had to leave high school as a young teen. Once out, she took care of the children in her family. Mark talks about her as if she's a delicate object in a museum. She has a difficult past, but a lot of love to give, regardless, and definitely too much energy for just herself alone. It's early in the morning when I talk with Mark about her. About how Shira is street smart but sometimes gullible due to missing an education. That she's fluent in her cocktail-language, but sometimes doesn't know the meaning of simple words like "charming" (I let her read what I wrote). Which really makes her even more adorable.
"She's a very pure soul," Mark says. "You don't meet a lot of people like her."
I can see in his eyes that his appreciation for her has developed beyond friendship level. It's been interesting to watch infatuation between two people develop and grow.
I sometimes wonder what kind of person Shira would have been if she never left school. The fact that she's still standing after what she's been through makes me respect her a lot. Nobody dislikes her. How can anybody dislike Shira?
When Mark tells me he's in love with her, I can understand why. It makes me wish the world would see the Shira I've gotten to know here, and the Shira Mark sees. A friendly, loyal woman, who's inhaled a lot of pain in life, but expels fireworks from her lungs. Beautiful fireworks. For Shira is beautiful, inside out.
So happy birth-day to you, Shira. You're one of the births in life I'll celebrate from now on. We need more people like you. Because ultimately, life is not about reaching the highest ladder career-wise. It's about spreading kindness, and protecting it. People like you make the world go around. Even though the majority of society will never see or admit it. They will mainly see your high heels and purple lipstick - sorry, lipliner! - and not the power-woman you've become. But here, we see it. And I'm glad I'm here. I'm glad I've spent 13 weeks in this place, where I met the hidden ones from society. The ones who temporarily can't function in it, due to what it has become. But for what it's worth, I want to say: they all matter. Including you.
Written with permission of Shira and Mark. Names have been changed to protect their privacy.
Inside the System: A blog series about mental health, being hospitalised, and pretty much everything I've experienced these last 6 months. From naked patients crawling through the hallway, to having your medication dose raised 4 times in 6 weeks due to your ex boyfriend threatening you. From being publicly shamed online for speaking out and being called a liar, to what actually happened, and how and when I will press charges against my ex. So, a lot of mental vomit will be thrown on my blog upcoming weeks.
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