~ by Linda Simoni-Wastila
I hate this place. Although it is beautiful here, bucolic even. If you didn’t know, you might think you were on the campus of a fine, private school in, say, England or, maybe, Andover, Massachusetts. But the sign at the Mill Street entrance speaks the truth, “Welcome to McLean Psychiatric Hospital” and in smaller letters, “A comprehensive mental health care system affiliated with Harvard Medical School.” Harvard rules the world, at least my world.
This is where I land when I fall from grace.
I’m quiet, Sam’s quiet; what is there, in the end, to say? We follow the signs to admissions and park the car. Sam’s been here before, last time with me, so we know the routine. The car doors slam too loud. We walk in drizzle up the brick-paved walk. Inside is bright. A latte-colored woman smiles behind the glassed-in desk.
“We’re here to check in,” Sam says.
I curl into the arm of the upholstered chair, towards the potted plastic tree. Muzak pipes in from the ceiling, almost loud as the soft scratch of the pen and Sam’s concentrated breathing.
“Sign these.” Sam places two pages in my lap.
The words jumble: seventy-two hours, voluntary, consent, rights of refusal. The Bic weighs ten pounds, but I scrawl on the dotted lines anyway. I turn back to the fake plant.
He leaves my side, the clipboard clatters far away. A copy machine whirs. White flashes through my closed eyelids.
“Who’s the admitting physician?”
“I’ll page him.”
The vinyl sighs when Sam sits down. His hand thrums on his pants. I sink deeper.
“Ben.” He shakes me. “Bruce is here.”
Arms wrap behind my shoulder, lift me up. I moan.
“His back. Careful,” Sam says.
I push my aching self up.
“He seems very out of it,” Bruce says.
“They pumped him full of Haldol. Ativan. God knows what…” Sam’s voice quavers in my ear. “I had to get him out of there, he was a zombie.”
“We’ll take care of him.”
A nurse takes my right wrist, the unbandaged one, snaps on a plastic yellow ID band. I am now an admitted patient.
“Where we going?” I manage to mutter.
“Upstairs,” Bruce says. “To the hospital.”
“Uh, how long?”
“As long as it takes,” Bruce says. “We need to get you stabilized.”
“We can do that at your office. Don’t need to be here.”
“Yes, Ben, you do. You’re a danger to yourself.” Bruce hoists up my bags. “We don’t want to lose you.”
Sam pulls me close, careful of my back. “This is where we part, buddy. I’ll be by tomorrow. Remember, I love you.”
I start to cry. I can’t help it. I hug Sam back, wondering why he, why anyone, would love me.
The room is adequate: institutional beige, twin bed, washed-out blue bedspread, small dresser, wood desk, chair. Steel mesh lines the small window, interior and exterior bars punctuate the view of the night. There are no pens or pencils in the desk – I check the drawer – although there is paper. No scissors, no razors, no mirrors, no glass, no ropes or strings, no sharp corners. A small surveillance camera watches from a corner. There is no door to close.
A hefty black woman with cropped white hair bustles in, places my bag on the end of the bed.
“I’m Adele,” she says, voice like molasses.
I don’t offer my name, she knows it anyway. “What time is it?”
“Almost midnight. Let’s get you settled in.”
Unpacking takes very little time. She inspects every item in my two bags, checks pockets for contraband. She unlaces my shoes, pockets the cords along with my watch, belt, the change resting light in my pocket.
“For safe-keeping,” she says. “Been here before?”
“Um… not this building.”
“I’ll give you a quick tour. But be quiet.”
I follow her into a dark, spacious common room inhabited by shadows.
“Here’s the bathroom.” She taps a door marked men. “There are showers, sinks, towels. Toiletries. Everything you need.”
She strides to a large semi-circular desk. An attendant, Puerto Rican or Mexican, he looks my age, stares at several small, flickering monitors. The crazies sleeping.
“There’s always someone at the front desk. Come here first if you need anything. We serve meals in the common area. Someone will go over our rules tomorrow.”
“Two other men, four women on the other side. Why?”
She half-laughs. “Calm before the storm, honey. Why don’t you get ready for bed?”
I worry about the coming storm, worry I’ll be here when it hits. I pull out sweats, stumble in the dark to the bathroom. No mirrors here. A good thing. I shower, the water is hot, the pressure decent, I don’t want to leave, but then I see the cameras.
Adele waits, bearing three small white paper cups, one filled with water. I recognize the blue and yellow capsule, swallow the lithium.
“What’s this?” I hold up the white pill.
“A sedative, to help you sleep.”
I place the pill on my tongue.
“Did you swallow?” she asks.
Lips clamped, I nod.
“Let me see.”
I stick out my tongue.
“Well, good night then.”
The light snuffs out. Pillow hugged to my chest, I spit the half-dissolved tranquilizer into the tissue balled in my fingers, and watch the moon bleed through the bars.
(c) 2010, Author Linda Simoni-Wastila
Absolutely*Kate: "How do you write, Linda? Let us count the ways."
LINDA ~ "I write sad and dark. Someday I hope to write a funny piece, or a touch of horror or scifi or fantasy... and it is odd because I really am a very content and happy person."
And oh, she is . . . and a true blessing too, of depth and warmth and professorial content that urges even Gravity's Rainbow to tumble off its tucked in place on a bookshelf. She has that effect to affect fellow writers, colleagues, readers, friends to no end. She reaches in your heart, tugs around, and leaves some kind of absolutely delectable Tuscan pastry on your open tabletop, with just the right accompanying vintage, and you know you just love her the more.
LINDA: "But I write what I write, and A*K, I have this piece for AT THE BIJOU. It is a modified excerpt from my first novel BRIGHTER THAN BRIGHT, and has never seen public ink, cyber or otherwise. Of course, it deals with my crazy Ben... "
Absolutely*Kate: "Your crazy Ben comes sane alive. I want to protect him, hold the wonder-cure . . . know more and more, and then some about him. Guess it will be your book I'm wanting to tumble off my shelf. Thanks so much for all you are in shipshape generous inspirator spirit aboard our mighty HARBINGER*33. May your gardens grow with the perennial care you notably give forth ~ an editorial red pen, a soft sigh, a snorted laugh to get by."
It seems Linda followed Erin up the steps to the balcony. Scrawled in noticeable peony pink Revlon, was Linda's bio for all to see, but done in such an aesthetic way, she received the balcony award from all who came to view her. View her? Her blog's an award winner too: leftbrainwrite. There, her mind muses, memorably.
And back on the balcony stairwell, she well wrote:
"By day, I'm an uptight and proper academic - you know, a publish or perish type who resides in tall towers with the likes of Rapunzul. In the evening, I morph into a lovable mom and wife, play with my children, hang with the hubby. But when darkness falls and the house stills, I write. Thank you for the opportunity to strut AT THE BIJOU. Peace, Linda"
Absolutely*Kate: "Thank*YOU Linda for this depth of debut. You've softened the spirit of our fine staff of renown, and I'm quite sure, many an illustrious fellow writer and reader too."