Parts of Speech Neglecting Indirect Objects Like Viruses

Parts of Speech Neglecting Indirect Objects Like Viruses

In the wake of massive systemic upheavals during the coronavirus pandemic, psychiatric patients cluster in broken circles, remaining voiceless and feeling forgotten. Trapped behind locked doors- at the mercy of defective fax machines- further disconnecting them from the scarcity of community resources, they shuffle up and down dingy hallways in non-skid slippers. Some fall anyway, like flies or young kids leaving consonants off of the ends of words. Many see them as indirect objects, languishing because they have ceased to be the subject of their own sentences, a narrative without a cause, fundamentally rootless.

 I am a social worker, buried deep in paperwork, masked and gloved, trying to make a difference. Social distancing protocols like amateurish practices impede the steps I can take to effect change. We speak in scant syllables from across the room. I hold my breath. Biting my tongue to save face, I wonder why I bother trying to shield us from the painful truth. It’s not as if I can do anything different. Not now, anyway.  

Inevitably I languish, plunging far deeper and darker than any six-foot increments could possibly measure. Let me count the ways we must strive to conceal our mistakes like skin-deep blemishes outside industries are quick to call flaws. We hide behind unpolished verbiage, camouflaging the futility of slight gains underneath the umbrella of weak makeup we wear like clowns across our hot red faces. Why speak about entertaining creative differences like a language of action we only defend against? I am weary of chasing deviations like demons I can’t divide, let alone conquer. 

 Psychiatric patients stand-alone- no apostrophe- no apology. Drift from prepositional phrases to dependent clauses, and back to being an object others modify. Stuttering over words, they seem incapable of meeting the verbal demands belonging to nascent high-pitched voices. I’m almost tempted to finish their thoughts, but it’s kinder and safer to stay silent. I mull over my choices; to insert spaces into tight, hard to breathe places, or deleting hyphenated phrases. The looming presence of this internal rhythm speaks to me like plainsong. Many of my patients hear voices. Their highly evolved sensory playback systems record an entourage of background sounds like emitting distinct, private melodies: soft, sorrowful, shrilling. Sound waves travel at different speeds contingent upon the holding environment. Vital signs are used to measure a body at rest and the frequency of breaths over time. 

This too shall pass slips too easily off the tongues of the non-afflicted, the worried well, who are mostly hunkered down in homes with heat and more than one Wi-Fi setting. How are they so comfortable theorizing about the plight of human suffering from their couches?

Our intentions become questionable. Neglect grows more virulent than any virus, festering like dark circles in those pouches developing beneath watery eyes. Wounded faces bruised like rotten fruit peel back layers of damage. We are treating the decades of pain many psychiatric patients have endured chasing after geographic cures and tripping over regret like sinful mistakes.

The worst kind of suffering is feeling strapped. People stuck in places get treated like things. They become adjectives used without a noun: the poor, the marginalized, and the disenfranchised. 

Even psychiatric patients, the sickest of the sick, I’ve heard some folks say, know when they’re being condemned. 

So hold on. Don’t give up just yet. I’m working toward a plan. Yes, I know the doctor won’t be here before ten and won’t be available after eleven. Don’t go behind the nurses’ station. Among other things, it isn’t phone time yet. I understand an hour feels like a day, and a day feels like a year- but please work with me if you can. Yoda from Star Wars says there is no try, just do.

These are my pleas to my patients: I use short choppy prepositional phrases, bleeding from sore and chapped lips, dripping down my double chin like raw mistakes.   

Tammy Smith

Tammy Smith lives and works in New Jersey as a psychiatric social worker.  She draws her inspiration from her mental health advocacy work. Her writing has been published or is forthcoming in The Esthetic Apostle, Ailments: Chronicles of Illness Narratives, and in io Literary Journal.


  1. Social work is a labor of community uplifting. Thank you for being out there.

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