Leave of Absence
Leave of Absence by Tanya J Peterson
Title: Leave of Absence
Author: Tanya J. Peterson
Publisher: Inkwater Press
Pub date: 2013
Price: $17.95 e-Book: $2.99
Availability: Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, Inkwaterbooks.com, Powells.com, iTunes, Kobo.com
An empathic and honest portrayal of human beings stripped to their core and made to redefine reality and themselves, Leave of Absence reveals the emotional latticework of those suffering from mental illness, as well as the lives they touch. In this insightful and meaningful novel, Tanya J. Peterson delves deeply into the world of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and schizophrenia, and proves that fiction can act as a powerful vessel for conveying basic human truths.
When Oliver Graham’s suicide attempt fails, he is admitted to Airhaven Behavioral Health Center. Unable to cope with the traumatic loss of his beloved wife and son, he finds a single thread of attachment to life in Penelope, a fellow patient wrestling with schizophrenia and its devastating impact on her once happy and successful life. They both struggle to discover a reason to live while Penelope’s fiancé William strives to convince her that she is worth loving. As Oliver and Penelope try to achieve emotional stability, face others who have been part of their lives, and function in the “real world,” they discover that human connection may be reason enough to go on.
Written with extraordinary perception into the thought processes of those grappling with mental illness, Leave of Absence is perfect for readers seeking an stirring depiction of grief, loss, and schizophrenia, as well as anyone who has ever experienced human suffering and healing.
Officer Gregory Jacobi eased himself slowly into a sitting position on the ledge of the roof of the eighteen-story building. He planted one foot firmly on the floor of the roof and allowed one leg to dangle over the edge so that he straddled the low wall in a seemingly relaxed, casual position. Far below him, a crowd gathered on the Chicago street. He noticed a distinct lack of fire trucks and ambulances. Knowing they were on their way, he silently implored them to hurry. He was worried about the man teetering on the edge a few yards away from him. As a police officer working in downtown Chicago for over a decade, Gregory had assisted in more than one suicide rescue, and in his experienced opinion, this man was ready to jump. Immediately.
“My name is Gregory,” he said gently. Come on, man, he thought. Look over here. Make eye contact with me.
The man didn’t look over, but stared straight ahead, and then closed his eyes.
“What’s your name?” Again, no answer.
The man’s eyes remained closed.
Where are you with the landing pad, rescue squad? Gregory continued to talk to the man in a calm, soothing voice. “What’s going on? Things must be pretty rough right now to get you all the way up here. I’m a pretty good listener, and I’m great at keeping secrets. Tell me about it.” If he could get the man to talk, he would buy some time. People often desperately needed someone to listen, to provide a human connection, and he could build on that connection to talk them down. Gregory felt confident that he could form enough of a connection to keep the man in place, if only he would make eye contact. The avoidance of eye contact, though, meant he had already checked out. More than likely, he didn’t have it in him to make connections anymore. Gregory’s brow furrowed in concern. He wanted to distract the guy, get him to look over. Random questions often threw people off enough to break them out of their current thinking. “So what’s your favorite thing to eat?”
Nothing from the man on the ledge. Not a sound. Not a twitch. Just deep breaths, which meant he was preparing for the plunge.
With relief, Gregory saw the rescue squad approach. Quickly, with efficient, almost super-human movements, the responders were out of their vehicles and inflating the landing pad. The jumper didn’t react to the bustling scene below. Perhaps he didn’t notice; his eyes were still closed, as though he were blocking out the entire world and the pain it had evidently caused him.
The pad was ready below and help was standing by, so Gregory slowly moved his leg back over the ledge and rose to his feet. “I can’t imagine how awful you feel right now. Believe it or not, I care, and I want you to stick around so you can be okay again.” His voice was low as he crept toward the jumper. “I’m going to come a little closer to you, okay?” In a slightly bent position, he inched toward the man, who gave no indication that he noticed or even cared. Upon reaching him, Gregory stepped up onto the ledge. “I’m right beside you. I’m going to put my hands on your arms, and I’m going to help you step back off the ledge so we can talk for a little while, okay?” Touching a suicidal person was contrary to all Gregory’s training and regulations, but he sensed the desperation in the man. He would most definitely jump if Gregory did not physically remove him from the ledge.
Carefully, tentatively, Gregory grasped the man’s arms. Ideally, they would have made eye contact, and Gregory would have pulled him back gently so he stepped off the ledge and onto the flat surface of the roof. Instead, the man jerked as though thoroughly startled. He looked at Gregory, briefly, just long enough to reveal the depths of pain in his eyes. And then he lunged forward.
It happened so quickly, Gregory didn’t let go. Together, the two men—hopeless jumper and hopeful would-be rescuer—plummeted downward toward the chaos below.
Gregory heard the gasps and screams of the crowd. The noise grew louder until he hit the landing pad with a thud and a jolt. Before either man had a chance to move, other police officers and emergency medical technicians descended upon them in a flash of movement. Someone grabbed Gregory and helped him up.
“What the hell, Jacobi? What’d you grab onto the guy for? No jumper is worth risking your life like that. You okay?”
Slightly out of breath and more than a little shaken, Gregory replied, “Yeah. Fine. Pad broke my fall.” He turned to see how the jumper was. Another officer had already pulled him to his feet and was now cuffing his hands behind his back. “Hey! Whoa. What are you doing to him?”
“Restraining him for his own protection. He’s obviously impulsive and dangerous to himself. You know the regulations.”
“Yeah, but it just seems a bit much.” Gregory stepped closer to the man with whom he had just taken an eighteen-story plunge.
The jumper’s shoulders sagged, and he didn’t struggle against the restraints. Beneath scraggly whiskers, his chin quivered slightly. Speaking to no one in particular, he muttered, “No. Why?” His voice was a barely audible whisper.
In another attempt to connect with the distraught jumper, Gregory answered, “Maybe you are supposed to live.”
In response, the man’s face contorted and he squeezed his eyes closed. Gregory was compelled to fully observe the man for the first time. He was tall, a good two inches taller than Gregory’s own six foot two. He looked about the same age, in his late thirties. He was utterly disheveled. His clothes were wrinkled, faded, torn, and stained, although, oddly enough, they appeared to be recently laundered. His brown hair was unruly and reached well below the frayed collar of his plaid shirt. It would have been a nice shirt had it been treated better, but the man didn’t look like he’d been treating much about himself very well, other than the fact that, despite being completely unkempt, he was clean.
Gregory tried again. “Can you tell me your name, buddy?”
“It’s Oliver Graham.” The response came, not from the jumper, but from a woman who had approached Gregory and stood just behind him.
Startled, Gregory spun toward her. “You know him?”
“Sort of. He’s been frequenting my shelter.” She gestured across the street. A group of people, many of whom looked similar to Oliver, stood outside under the awning of a brick building. Painted on the awning were the words “SafeSpace Shelter.” The woman continued speaking. “My name is Lilly Brown. I’ll tell you the little I know, but maybe we should get him out of here and away from this crowd. This is pretty intense, and it’s definitely not helping him right now.”
They both glanced at Oliver. He had dropped to his knees, but the officer continued restraining him so he couldn’t bolt should he experience a sudden burst of adrenaline. He hung his head and looked down, maybe to avoid eye contact with anyone in the large crowd still gathered nearby, and he breathed heavily.
“I know you’ll be transporting him to Airhaven,” Lilly continued. “Why don’t I come along? I don’t know a lot about him, but I can give you a few details.”
“That would be helpful. Thanks. I’m Gregory Jacobi, by the way.”
He stepped closer to Oliver and took the officer’s place. Gregory helped Oliver to his feet and walked him toward the car. “Hey, Oliver. I hear you know Lilly here. We’re going to get you some help. Okay?”
No response from Oliver.
“I’m going to put you in my police car, but you’re not under arrest. Lilly and I are taking you to Airhaven Behavioral Health Center. It’s a place where you can get better.” Gregory gently eased Oliver into the backseat of his squad car.
Oliver made not a sound. He simply closed his eyes and leaned his head against the window when Gregory closed the door.
Oliver knew deep in his heart that he would never, ever be better.
Author Website: http://tanyajpeterson.com/
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Tanya J. Peterson holds a Bachelor of Science in secondary education, Master of Science in counseling, and is a Nationally Certified Counselor. She has been a teacher and a counselor in various settings, including a traditional high school and an alternative school for homeless and runaway adolescents, and she has volunteered her services in both schools and communities. Her previous titles include Losing Elizabeth, a young adult novel about an abusive relationship.