Shining Armor

He hears voices and believes they know more about him than he knows about himself. Kids on the street call him “Cray-cray,” too lazy and hip to pronounce the “z,” and roll their eyes as he sits with his legs drawn up to his chest, rocking rhythmically to keep the voices still.

Kenneth enters this chattering inner world willingly. He carries a stick but to him it is a broad sword. He wears a baseball cap, backwards, but in his mind, it is a warrior’s helmet. He fights dragons, the green trash bins that line his street on Tuesday mornings. He digs deep into their throats to find the treasures that dragons eat:  books, cereal boxes, newspapers.

princeIt is my job as Kenneth’s advocate to make sure he takes his meds but after the first couple of weeks of my assignment, I see the drugs make him miserable. I ignore the rules and let his mind go.

I go on adventures with him. I get my own long stick – a cane I picked up at the Goodwill store around the corner – and a Red Sox baseball hat that I wear backwards.

Kenneth is part-ninja, part-dragon-slayer. This involves a lot of kicking and stabbing at the air and yelling. I feel like a kid again. We run down alleys. We skip through the park. I am losing weight, having Kenneth in my care three days a week.

I try to get him to clean his apartment but he insists on keeping his towers of newspapers, rubbing his head and rocking a little, saying, “I need those. I need those.” I convince him to bathe, arguing that dragons can sense us from blocks away without a shower every day. I also get him to the barber’s, saying that knights of any decent order wear no facial hair, and show him a Prince Valiant comic strip as proof.

When Kenneth breaks his hand after punching a dumpster, (I try to stop him but he can’t hear me), my supervisor appears at the ER, blistering mad, and fires me on the spot. I know I violated policy, joining Kenneth in his romping dragon slaying. I debate whether I should say goodbye and decide that it is the only honorable thing for a knight-in-training to do. I find Kenneth in bed, behind an ER curtain, subdued and monosyllabic, a cutting contrast to his high-strung but naturally amiable self.

“Kenneth, I have to go,” I say. “I don’t know if or when I’ll see you again, but I wanted to thank you for teaching me courage.”

“I didn’t teach you anything you didn’t already know,” he says, flatly. Then he looks up at me, head tilted, “I want to go home.”

“I know, pal,” I say, feeling pressure behind my eyes as I try not to cry.

I turn and walk out, not looking back, past my former supervisor who stands with her arms folded, expecting a confrontation, I think. I keep walking out of the hospital, down the driveway, onto Route 4, kicking the air and an occasional trash bin or mailbox. I pretend my cane is a fencing saber, advancing and retreating and lunging as I slash at nothing, and a passing car of teens honks and yells, “Hey, you cray-cray!”

I walk four miles to get home. The house is dark and quiet, as it always is, but now it seems to swallow me. I try to imagine what part of me I discovered in the past three weeks that I could still keep. I try to figure out where I belong. Then I sleep.

 

*

 

Two years later, I have my own cleaning business. I have a contract with the state to clean its office building downtown and today I stop by to drop off some flowers to the office manager, as I do on the anniversary of every contract. Wearing my Red Sox cap backwards and my personalized cleaning uniform, Shining Armor company logo emblazoned on my back, I ride the elevator up to the 14th floor. Just as the door opens, I spy Kenneth, briefcase in hand, in a handsome blue-gray suit the color of a lazy, dark cloud, a white shirt, and navy blue tie. He has a beard, but it is neatly trimmed. His eyes are the color of chicory. I start to smile, nearly ready to give him a hug, but he holds the elevator door to let me pass, politely.

 


 

For this week’s YeahWrite challenge.  Prompt:  What’s the frequency, Kenneth?  Word count:  745

48 Comments Shining Armor

    1. Meg July 22, 2014 at 11:42 pm

      Thanks so much, Beth! Hope you’re doing well. Really appreciate your visit and commenting.

      Reply
  1. jethag July 23, 2014 at 1:53 am

    Love this. And I’m curious about the story behind it, although I can imagine a lot of it. You say a lot by not saying a lot.

    Reply
    1. Meg July 23, 2014 at 8:09 am

      I’m glad you enjoyed it! It was written in response to the prompt “What’s the frequency, Kenneth?” It’s a quote from the guy who beat up Dan Rather back in the ’80s. He was schizophrenic. REM’s song, however, was not about schizophrenia. Michael Stipe took that quote in a whole different direction. As did I! Thanks so much for your kind words and for reading. I love your blog.

      Reply
      1. jethag July 24, 2014 at 1:20 am

        I had no idea that REM song was about the guy who beat up Dan Rather! I felt you brilliantly encapsulated schizophrenia, REM song or not. I love your blog, too.

        Reply
  2. Jennifer G. Knoblock July 23, 2014 at 5:32 am

    As always, well written and so sympathetic. This one is especially thought-provoking.

    Reply
    1. Meg July 23, 2014 at 8:12 am

      Thanks, Jennifer! Hope to be over in the lounge soon!

      Reply
      1. Jennifer G. Knoblock July 23, 2014 at 10:54 am

        Looking forward to it!

        Reply
  3. Marcy July 23, 2014 at 8:00 am

    I loved how Kenneth gave the speaker as much as the speaker gave him and the name of the cleaning company too. I was curious to hear more about what allowed Kenneth to become successful.

    Reply
    1. Meg July 23, 2014 at 8:16 am

      Hey, Marcy — thanks for reading and commenting. I probably should have given more attention to Kenneth’s new situation. Some schizophrenics are able to hold down jobs and live a relatively normal life with medication. I imagined Kenneth got a job working for the state, doing accounting.

      Reply
  4. Thain in Vain July 23, 2014 at 8:14 am

    What a thoughtful story, Meg! It’s important that we connect to humans — even those we don’t understand or label “cray-cray.” Kenneth, locked in his own world, teaches the narrator how to play, how to enjoy this simple things in life — something he takes with him for the rest of his life. Also, clever take on the prompt, “What’s the frequency, Kenneth? ” TiV

    Also, I’m thinking about joining the YeahWrite challenge in the fall, but I can’t seem to grasp the concept of how to post to the grid. Do I need an account of some sort? You advice would be greatly appreciated!

    You seem to participate in in the YeahWrite challenge a lot. It seems like a great community. What are your thoughts?

    Reply
    1. Meg July 23, 2014 at 8:35 am

      Thanks so much for reading, Eilidh! Yes, you got it. Kenneth’s world freed the narrator’s world in some way. I have a brother who is developmentally disabled — high functioning but with brain damage that will never get better. He’s 60 and most of the time is a happy guy. I would never wish mental illness on anyone, but I can also see how it might be freeing, at times, to not hold back one’s delusions or behavior.

      I’m so glad you are interested in YeahWrite. You would be a fabulous addition to the group! You don’t need an account or anything. Each grid operates separately (although during the summer, they’re all thrown together), and when the grid opens for submissions, a badge with linking code is posted. You copy that code into your text, at the end of the piece on your blog, upload and you’ll see the badge appears and it links to YeahWrite. Then you go to the grid and scroll down to find the “link up” button–which is only available while the grid is open for submissions. It takes you to a linking program where you paste the URL of your blog piece, then you click a button and it submits the link for you onto the grid. When you go back to the grid, you’ll see your very own badge for your piece with the other submissions. Everyone votes when the grid is closed. What I love about this group is that folks are great about reading and commenting, and there is some outstanding writing. Right now, there are “lounges” where you can get a critique. It lasts until sometime in August. Check it out!

      Reply
      1. Thain in Vain July 23, 2014 at 10:37 am

        You story conveyed an understanding of mental illness. I agree about it being terrible and freeing at once! Again, very thoughtful piece.

        Reply
  5. MamaMickTerry July 23, 2014 at 10:32 am

    This was wonderful, Meg!
    It’s always the “little” things I love about your writing. “Chicory” eyes…perfecto! xo

    Reply
    1. Meg July 23, 2014 at 6:27 pm

      I worried that chicory might be too obscure…you don’t hear many references to “chicory blue.” But the funny thing is that I was thinking of our FedEx driver, who has these amazing blue eyes. A kind of chicory blue that stops you in your tracks. (Sorry, husband, if you’re reading this. I’m not infatuated with the FedEx guy, I promise.) Thanks, Michelle, for your steadfast support. <3

      Reply
      1. MamaMickTerry July 23, 2014 at 6:33 pm

        Oh Meg!! You crack me up!!
        My hubby reads my comments, too and will usually have something clever to say 😉
        Chicory was perfect…not too obscure, not too “fancy” or pompous. It was just unusual enough to stand out–like eyes are supposed to. Plus, I really like words that “make a pretty sound” when I read. Loved it!

        Reply
  6. MWPL (@whitepicketlife) July 23, 2014 at 10:48 am

    That was a wonderful story! Engaging, compassionate, thought provoking, I found myself really caring about the characters.

    Reply
    1. Meg July 26, 2014 at 12:33 am

      I’m so glad to hear this. Thanks a bunch for reading and commenting.

      Reply
  7. Dawn July 23, 2014 at 11:11 am

    Great take on the prompt. It seems we both went in the same direction with it. Your story is a bit more hopeful than mine, which I enjoyed. It’s refreshing to read another’s take on how mental illness affects a person and those around him. Also, the hopefulness you portrayed, as Kenneth was able to stabilize and function in the real world. I’ve worked with chronically mentally ill patients both inpatient and outpatient and the stigma that they are all “cray cray” and not able to function like you and I is dangerous. It’s not always the case that they can, but as you tell in this story, it does happen.

    Reply
    1. Meg July 26, 2014 at 12:38 am

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments, Dawn. I agree — it is important that society knows that with help, many people suffering from mental illness can live full lives. I get so frustrated by the lack of support for mental health. While I’m glad that we no longer have the huge state hospitals that we used to have, you would think we would have anticipated that all of these people were now going to be out on the street with little help and greater stigma. I’m glad we wrote on the same topic.

      Reply
  8. Christina July 23, 2014 at 12:08 pm

    oh i really enjoyed this. i felt so connected and i really appreciate that.

    Reply
    1. Meg July 26, 2014 at 12:40 am

      Thank you, Christina! I loved your submission to the grid this week.

      Reply
  9. Blake July 23, 2014 at 6:15 pm

    I loved the casual tenderness of this story – the way it grows up accidentally between the characters and gets thwarted. Some great lines, too – “a handsome blue-gray suit the color of a lazy, dark cloud” is perfect.

    Reply
    1. Meg July 26, 2014 at 12:43 am

      Thank you, Blake! I’m glad you saw tenderness…that’s what I was trying to convey. And it does get thwarted in the way that life often steps in and interrupts. Really appreciate your kind comments.

      Reply
  10. Michael July 23, 2014 at 10:55 pm

    I don’t think I’d heard the word “chicory” before. I like it! And I liked the story as well. I’m glad Kenneth and the narrator ended up in better places.

    Reply
    1. Meg July 26, 2014 at 12:44 am

      If you lived in Ohio, you would see chicory along damn near every country road. And if you grew up in the ’70s, you would have heard references to chicory coffee. I can’t remember which brand used chicory but I remember the commercials. 😉 Thanks for reading!

      Reply
  11. Melanie L. July 24, 2014 at 10:50 am

    As always, great piece. Love your writing!

    Reply
    1. Meg July 26, 2014 at 12:45 am

      Aww, thanks, Melanie. Back at ya!

      Reply
  12. inNateJames July 24, 2014 at 4:59 pm

    I like how you made his recovery the strangest part of the story. How he walks right past her without a clue that anything ever happened between them, let alone something that changed the course of the narrator’s life. Eerie and well executed, Meg!

    Reply
    1. Meg July 26, 2014 at 12:50 am

      Hah! Yes, it is the strangest part, isn’t it? I wasn’t quite sure how I would end it but then it occurred to me that we sometimes have these fleeting, intense relationships with people who disappear from our lives. Thank you, Nate, for your lovely words.

      Reply
  13. tnkerr July 24, 2014 at 7:53 pm

    Chase your dreams, Nice job Meg. Really enjoyed it.

    Reply
    1. Meg July 26, 2014 at 12:50 am

      Yes! Thanks a bunch, Thom. So glad you enjoyed it.

      Reply
  14. cynkingfeeling July 25, 2014 at 1:21 pm

    At first I was miffed by the last paragraph. I didn’t want to meet the healthy, stable Kenneth who ignored his former caretaker. The more I pondered this, the more I realized that your ending reflects reality: we encounter people who influence us yet forget us.
    Nicely told.

    Reply
    1. Meg July 26, 2014 at 12:54 am

      Oh, good! I’m glad you had this response and reflection. I think the narrator was ok with Kenneth not recognizing her (actually, I’m not even sure what gender he/she is). His/her memory of those few weeks makes up for Kenneth not remembering.

      Reply
  15. Esther July 25, 2014 at 5:03 pm

    I love this story. It inspires hope 🙂

    Reply
    1. Meg July 26, 2014 at 12:55 am

      Thanks very much, Esther. I am glad you found it hopeful.

      Reply
  16. DragonSpark July 26, 2014 at 3:45 am

    Haha! I missed this on my first run through the supergrid. Glad your comment made me curious enough to check! Very entertaining and heart-warming. Great post!

    Reply
    1. DragonSpark July 26, 2014 at 3:57 am

      Something really wired happened: I thought the story ended at “Prince Valliant”. I skipped to the bottom of the page to comment. After doing so, I decided to scroll back up and read the thoughts of others. Confused by them, I decided to go back and make sure I had read everything properly.
      So I actually missed the ending bit. Having gone back and read it, I feel happy for both protagonist as their lives both got straightened out, but sad their paths had to separate. However, my first comment still stands, this piece is very heart warming and entertaining. Congrats! I just had two stories for the price of one!

      Reply
  17. Pingback: yeah write #172 weekly writing challenge kickoff: summer series week 3, supergrid winners, writing topic teasers | yeah writeyeah write

  18. YeshuM July 27, 2014 at 2:52 am

    Wow, Meg. I wish I was here sooner– I could’ve voted you in for this beautiful piece! I love how you ended it, you just satiated my curiosity. I love the idea of Kenneth overcoming his demons

    Reply
    1. Meg August 14, 2014 at 8:08 am

      Thanks for your kind words, Yeshu!

      Reply
  19. cafloyd July 27, 2014 at 11:01 am

    … not likely…. otherwise, people would just take their meds

    guess that’s why it’s fiction

    Reply
    1. Meg August 14, 2014 at 8:11 am

      True, the odds are stacked against them. But some do continue to take their meds, hard as it is. And yep, this story is fiction. Thanks for reading.

      Reply
  20. Silverleaf July 28, 2014 at 10:19 am

    I didn’t get a chance to read the grid at all last week, but I’m happy I happened across this today. Such a wonderful story, Meg, and told so beautifully. I’ve known a number of people in similar situations, people who should have been taking meds but who invariably would go off them because they thought they were better, didn’t need them anymore or because life on meds was dull and colourless. I think you really capture that. I was also a bit hurt on behalf of the narrator that Kenneth didn’t recognize him, then thought maybe the narrator hadn’t really helped Kenneth by letting him just “be,” then remembered that having an uncreative, successful job isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be. You really made me think about the whole thing!

    Reply
    1. Meg August 14, 2014 at 8:18 am

      Yeah, I left the ending a bit ambiguous because living in the world on meds might not be all that wonderful. And definitely, the narrator was enabling Kenneth. Thanks for reading and thinking and commenting, Silverleaf! You’re the best.

      Reply
  21. Stephen Thom July 28, 2014 at 10:36 am

    Nice one. I have missed your writing. I like your style. There is no magi-realism this, though it almost feels like there is. You have gone with an interesting subject here too. Would the narrator perhaps be a kind of enabler? So as much good as he is doing he is also exacerbating the illness. Perhaps. The end bit is my fav bit. There could be many reasons why kenneth blanks him. perhaps he has had to draw a mental blank slate to continue. he does not want to acknowledge this piece of his past, but it should be enough to see him in his new life. he might even have just been shocked, all these memories coming up in that moment, and withdrawn into himself. and i scrolled back up and saw the REM prompt link! supercool. I love REM. my fav song is carnival of sorts (boxcars) off chronic town. monster was a cool album. strange currencies was a beautiful song on it. but 80s REM were incredible. I have document and greem posters on my wall! 🙂

    Reply
    1. Meg August 14, 2014 at 8:25 am

      So good to hear from you, Stephen. Sorry it took a couple weeks to respond. Been stupid busy with work lately. Hard to do both writing for myself and my employer. Thanks for reading and commenting (and tweeting!) on this. Yes, you’ve definitely pegged the narrator correctly — an enabler who thinks he is doing things for the right reasons but ultimately it is a bit selfish. And as I’ve noted in a couple of comments, I did want the reader to question the ending. Not sure if that is a great writing strategy but I didn’t know the answer myself either! 😉

      I also love REM. My favorite will always be Murmur.

      Hope to read some of your work soon. Hope to emerge from work soon! Be well.

      Reply
      1. Stephen Thom August 14, 2014 at 10:33 am

        ah its a great type of ending…challenge the reader make them think a bit more&come up with their own conclusions…chekhov&kafka would also like your ending…best thoughts, dont work too hard 🙂

        Reply

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