This writing was for the Front Lobby Bench, whose June topic was:
I have yet to pick/find a disease that fits what I want for this story, so please keep that in mind as you read and wonder where the details on that are. Otherwise, comment away! Comments of all nature are more than welcome.
A Guardian is a being that is created in response to a deep, unfulfilled need of a child. They take various forms and serve various purposes, depending on what the child in question needs. They are invisible to most and generally dismissed as imaginary friends. But their existence is key to many a child's growth and well being.
Where do Guardians come from? Do they even exist before children need them? And what happens to them when the children they help no longer need them?
Jordan took the seat to the right of her husband as they both sat down in front of the doctor's desk. The office wasn't anything out of the ordinary for a child psychiatrist. There were shelves of books behind the desk, taking up the entire wall. A spacious window with a nice view occupied the adjoining wall, bordered on one side by the various degrees and memberships this doctor had. But the window was only glass and frame, no way to open it. In front of the window was a large open area, a muted color designer rug designating how much space was to be uncluttered, surrounded by a couch on one side, two easy chairs with an empty end table between them on another side, and the doctor's special ergonomic chair kitty-cornering with the last two open sides. The wall across from the desk, beyond the open area, was lined with shelves and storage devices for children's toys, all of which were neatly put away. The last wall's only notable decoration was the door from which patients and their parents entered, as Jordan and her husband, Jackson, had just done.
She waited nervously for Doctor Hall to move around his desk and take his chair, which took longer than normal due to his getting on in years. Then Jordan waited more anxiously as he opened their paper work and reviewed it. He made the typical doctor non-committal "hmm" sound, and the stereotypical motion of looking down then back up the chart as if he could read a whole page at once in a few seconds simply by scanning it backwards. He even had the little metal framed glasses, which he held up slightly with his right hand so he could peer out from underneath them at what he was supposedly reading. All of it simply unsettled Jordan further. Shouldn't he have already seen all of this? Shouldn't he already know what was wrong with her daughter!? Why was he going through motions and wasting time right in front of her when he already had the answer!
Jackson put a steady hand on Jordan's arm, signaling her to calm down. She managed to peel her eyes away from the doctor to look at her husband. He was leaning slightly over the arm of his chair towards her, his face was empty of emotion but his eyes were steady and strong. She could practically hear him repeating to her "It's okay, everything is going to be fine," as he had over and over again the last several days. She simply nodded, then slumped back in her chair to await a verdict.
Doctor Hall finally set the folder down, clasped his hands together over it, and looked up at them. "Your daughter is quite sane," he informed them bluntly. "Much more so than would be expected under the circumstances," he added with a trace of approval in his voice.
Jordan failed to react. She was waiting for the "BUT". This sounded like good news, BUT there was always more. There had been every other time they had talked to a doctor in the last several years.
Jackson simply nodded, as if saying of course his daughter was in perfect mental health.
"Her outbursts, her occasional anti-social nature (introspection), her sudden mood shifts, her refusal to be parted with the stuffed animal," Doctor Hall, went on to say, "are all consistent with her situation." He moved one of his arms and picked up a piece of paper. "With your permission, if you recall, her medical records had been sent over. Everything is as I would expect it to be for someone with as severe a disease as she has." He set the paper back down and leaned slightly back in his chair.
(Here it comes,) Jordan thought, and braced herself for the bad news, squeezing Jackson's hand. He placed his other one over hers.
"It is quite clear to me," Doctor Hall announced, "Elizabeth has a Guardian."
Neither parent responded. Jordan blinked a few times while her mind tried to process what she had just been told, but she came up with nothing. Was that bad... or good?
"A guardian?" Jackson eventually asked for the both of them.
Doctor Hall nodded. "Yes." He paused a moment, then leaned forward on one elbow, taking his glasses into his hand and almost nibbling on the end of one side. "You see, a guardian is a being that responds to certain needs in a child. It can take pretty much any form the child wants, whatever is most useful in relating to the child. Different needs cause different guardians, and a child's guardian can change over the years. Guardians, if not bound up in a beloved object, are invisible and so of course considered imaginary friends," he explained with a dismissive wave of his hand holding his glasses. "Those in a physical form," he started the other side of the explanation by opening his other hand and moving slightly outwards, "are generally considered safety blankets or comfort toys. Eventually children out grow their guardians, and most go on to lead perfectly normal lives." His hands returned to their original positions, one on the desk, the other holding the glasses near his mouth in a thoughtful manner. "But guardians are essential to many children growing up healthy and well adjusted, especially in extreme cases like your daughter's." He paused again, looking back and forth from Jackson to Jordan with a look that asked if they had any questions so far.
"So when she's talking to Claire, her stuffed animal...?" Jordan started to ask slowly, trying to put together some understanding of what she was being told. "Holding only half a conversation..."
"She is actually talking with her Guardian," Doctor Hall confirmed. "And it is talking back, to her."
"So... Claire is real?" Jackson asked, his voice full of doubt.
"Undoubtedly," Doctor Hall replied.
Jordan and Jackson turned to each other, sharing a look. "Okay," Jackson started to speak first, turning back to face the doctor, "say we do believe you-"
"I do," Jordan interrupted. "Such things can be real, I know it." She glanced sideways at Jackson. "We, know it."
Jackson gave a quiet "hmmph", and sat back in his chair, indicating he was not about to fight this argument.
Doctor Hall quietly looked back and forth between the two for a moment, then let the comments slide. "Elizabeth's case is special, however," he continued on with his explanation. "I have been tracking guardians for decades. It's not typical for a guardian to have a very normal and real type name such as Claire. Unless it's a doll that comes pre-named and becomes a guardian." He gave a slight shrug as he opened his hands to the two in front of him, indicating this just happened to be the case. "Younger children have too hard a time pronouncing real names, and in general children prefer to pick identifying names, like binky or blanket, or simply make up creative names." He looked down at a pile of folders on one side of his desk. "I've been able to follow several guardians through the childhoods of multiple children, despite name changes, as their characteristics and behavior with the child they are guarding do not change. Even when I come across new Guardians, usually they are simply new to me but have been around, already identified by another specialist." He looked back up at the parents. "I do not believe this is the case with Elizabeth and Claire. I think Claire may be a new guardian."
"New guardian?" Jordan asked, the oh-no feeling in her stomach knotting tighter.
Doctor Hall nodded. "In all my years, I have only come across a new guardian two other times, and my associate here has only come across one once. All three times, the Guardian was an older sibling of the child in question, one who had died before the younger child started manifesting symptoms of a guardian."
Jordan inhaled broken sounding breath, turned and grasped her husband's arm with both her hands. She shut her eyes tight as her head dropped slightly.
"I have to ask," Doctor Hall's voice spoke quietly, respectfully, almost with apology, "did you two have an older child?"
Jordan clenched her teeth to keep her chin from quivering as she breathed.
"We had an older daughter," Jackson's voice replied very slowly, fighting to keep control. Jordan could not tell how he was fairing, for she didn't dare open her eyes. "She died, from the same disease Elizabeth has," Jordan continued. "Her name... was Claire."
Whatever Doctor Hall's reaction was, Jordan did not see. She simply clung to Jackson as she fought back a wave of grief. She felt Jackson's arm pry itself from her grip and move around her body. There were words from him in her ear, meant only for the two of them, but she barely heard them. It was only his tone and his form she was able to react to. But with his help, Jordan soon managed to regain control of herself enough that she felt she could interact with the doctor again.
"We thought," Jordan said in unsteady voice, "she simply remembered it from when she was younger. Elizabeth was one and a half, but she had known her sister's name by then, had been able to say it, when- when Clarie...."
"In all three cases before this," Doctor Hall spoke so Jordan didn't have to, still with subdued voice, "the older children had died from what they were then guarding the younger from. One case even had the guardian passed down from sibling to sibling, though in different forms, until the last grew up." He leaned forward, and with his best comforting voice offered the couple, "This is a good thing. With Clarie, it is much more likely Elizabeth will survive."
Jordan raised her eyes to look Doctor Hall in his, and believed him. She sighed out what hurt she could, and relaxed in Jackson's arms.
Jackson nodded to the doctor. "Then what do we have to do?" he asked. "I mean, we can't go telling her caregivers and teachers that her older sister's spirit is causing her to act out."
Doctor Hall nodded in understanding. "You continue with Elizabeth as her doctors instruct, and I will handle her teachers. Any caregivers- nurses or whomever- can be told or not as you see fit, as much or little as you see fit. They already deal with many patients, and since Elizabeth is not violent I doubt they much care how she gets through her sessions and treatments, so long as she does."
Jackson and Doctor Hall went over more details and specifics, Jackson being sure all possibilities of any sort he could think of were taken care of. Then a little round of small talk, before it was clear the meeting was starting to wrap up.
"Do you have any other questions?" Doctor Hall asked.
"Doctor?" Jordan asked lightly. "Are all guardians... like ours?"
Doctor Hall smiled a little, almost bittersweet smile. "Yes. All guardians used to be children. They tend towards being with children who are going through similar things as they did before they died. It seems to be how they know how to help best."
Jordan nodded. "And when the child grows up," she started another question, her eyes taking on a far off look, "they always move on to another?"
Doctor Hall started to shake his head. "Honestly, I do not know what happens to them all. There are many, yes, who move on to other children. I've been able to match several, my colleague many more, and across the country some of my guardians have been found just as I find those first identified by others. In fact, all of those who were not tied to an object have turned up again, eventually, with another child somewhere. Though only some of those who were material have turned up again." He shrugged. "I do not know what happens to the rest, or even what happens to Guardians when they are between children needing them."
Jordan nodded slightly, and leaned her head against her husband. "I do."
Doctor Hall looked genuinely surprised. So much so, it was his turn to not speak for a moment. "You do?" he finally managed to get out. "What?"
"They sleep," Jordan replied simply.
"Sleep," the doctor echoed neutrally.
Jordan nodded more firmly this time. "Mine still does. She hardly wakes up anymore. But, she's still there.... I can still feel her when I need her."
Jackson sighed deeply. Doctor Hall looked to him, and he nodded solemnly back. "She has this doll," he started to explain to the doctor. "Ever since she was a child...."