My parents tried to kill me. I laid down and started to fall asleep but I wasn’t tired so they were probably using carbon monoxide to make it look like an accident. Or they turned off the pilot light on the oven. I don’t know. I thought the house would explode so I called the police. They came and got me with an ambulance. I think the dog ran away when the paramedics opened the garage. The paramedics asked me who the president was. They asked me the date. I knew who the president was.
Now I’m in triage and they’re trying to feed me oxygen. not oxygen Mom’s sitting in front of me. I can keep the mask on and kill myself or take it off and fill the room with the gas. The mask is in my lap pumping gas into the room as I try to explain myself. Should I keep it on and kill myself or keep talking? keep it off Explain.
“I wish it hadn’t come to this.”
more carbon monoxide “You tried to kill me.”
“That’s crazy. We love you.” She smiles. But it’s that alligator smile. her, them She says that there are ways we could have settled this more inexpensively through that smile. Her eyes are hard when she uses that smile. She wants me dead. deserve it I put the mask back on. I don’t want to kill her too.
“I love you too. I’m sorry. Things’ll be different after this. I can be good.” I try to explain but the doctors and nurses will hear me and they’ll take mom and dad away. back on More inexpensively? She wishes I’d just done it myself. inexpensively, one bullet No hospitals.
The door opens and someone in scrubs comes in. “His carbon monoxide levels are a nine.”
“A nine? Is that bad?”
“Very bad.” not safe Mom leaves. There are voices behind the door. The nurse or whoever she is, Mom on the phone: “Then open a window!” She’s talking to my sister. let the poison out I hear my boss, “I’m gonna get a promotion for this!” Why is he here? Mom loves me. Dark. I won’t be here long.
“Your brother’s in the hospital again. Visitation’s on Tuesday.”
The room is all gray cinder blocks. The hall is bright, an inverted L around the crack in the door. devil. there. The door opens and the devil says, “I slept there last night,” pointing at my bed before shuffling down the hall in the form of a fat, crazy lady.
When I wake up someone asks me how I’m feeling, says I can go home when I’m better. It’s Becca, my girlfriend. But I’m not at Becca’s. And her bed isn’t this narrow. That was a long time ago. I don’t know where I am but she’s here.
“They want me to go home.” no they don’t “Sometimes they want me to go home but sometimes they don’t want me to have a home. They talk to me. I don’t really know who they are. I’m trying to figure that out.“
Becca is sitting on the bed holding a clipboard, the same sympathetic brown eyes I remember, but she looks very far away. “We’ll help you,” she says. I think it’s her. She says I’m in a hospital, that I’m safe. lying She shakes her head, leaves me in the grey. Then the dark. not her It’s high school again and we’re together. I’m running cross country and she’s watching.
The doctor is dressed in business casual. He sits behind a small desk cluttered with the problems of his patients. A man and woman sit opposite him in stout wooden chairs. She is quiet and nervous. He does the talking: “Why is this taking so long?”
“This type of treatment isn’t the same as, say, an infectious disease like the flu or a staph infection. You can’t wait it out or get rid of it with an antibiotic.”
“Each person will react differently to the medications and it is often trial and error to get the patients on a combination that works.”
“He needs to come home.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea. Frankly, this is more of an acute care facility. Given the circumstances of his admission, that’s why he came here but I recommend a long term facility for your son”
“So when can he come home?”
MountainView Hospital: Where Peace Meets Wellness. Sometime in the 1980s it was given its current name. Something innocuous and friendly. “I was in Mountain View for a week collecting my thoughts,” sounds better than, ”I was in the state hospital for a week because I attempted suicide.” Or so the logic went.
It’s located in an upper middle class area. Red brick homes with two car garages and bay windows with copper roofs hide from the modernist stucco hospital behind a row of trees. Fifty years ago it may have looked fresh and exciting in its modernity but today it’s stained, overcrowded and poorly staffed. It’s the worst hospital he’s been in yet.
We’re sitting in a cafeteria with the families of two other patients. This ward houses the difficult cases. Ten or twelve of them mill around behind us, a delirious abandoned troupe.
“You’re here to get better. Don’t feel guilty,” a father tells his son who appears to be about thirty.
“I got in here last night from Athens. My stepdad threw me out. I got these burns on my knees. How these get here?”
There’s John. Or Jack or James or Jay. I’m not sure of everyone’s name but I’m sure we’ve met before.
“You think he threw me out like a drunk overstayed his welcome at the bar.”
We won’t be here long.
“No-oh-oh. He really threw me out. Picked my ass up and out the door. BAM!”
We know these people. More than we’d like to maybe. We know James or Jay or Jack, talking to his mother or a social worker. Olga is the fat woman who rambles on, about nonsense that makes sense only to her. No one comes to see her. I’ve spoken to her a few times. She likes it when I smile during her stories. They’re impossible to follow. She forgets that we don’t know her neighbor from thirty years ago or her pastor or her brother and on she goes. I smile anyway. Eat word salad.
His name over the PA. “You have visitors.” You know your name, don’t you? Come see your family.
I glance around the cafeteria. The carpet has dark spots of indeterminable provenance. The table is sticky. Paper trash bags to prevent asphyxiation. The windows don’t have bars but the plexiglas is secured with security screws. Real glass is dangerous and bars are intimidating. Prison windows have bars. This is a hospital. The windows are there for decoration mostly. Let in a little light. Remind them of home. No belts, no shoe laces. A very safe place where everything is out of the ordinary. I see him dragging himself down the hallway in house shoes as I turn to him, swallow the pity and guilt and say, “Brother! We missed you! Are you hungry?”
Mike is diabetic but he’s not diabetic for the reason that most other people are. The hospital made him diabetic. It won’t get me.
“Eat more than that. It’s good! And you don’t pay for it.”
Mike’s cool I guess but I think he’s just some homeless guy they picked up to teach me a lesson. He eats too much hospital food.
“Ay, Jim! You gonna eat your applesauce?
When we met, James asked me to call him Jim but I didn’t feel comfortable. James is old. He gets to eat early. He goes to sleep early. He never goes to group therapy. He watches Wheel of Fortune every night and no one complains or asks him to change the channel. He’s well taken care of. He’s also miserable.
“Take it.” James pushes a knobby hand across the table, delivering a little plastic cup of mashed apples. “Thanks, man,” Mike leans his head back and eagerly lets the food slide down his throat.
He was planning for retirement but his wife died last year. He loves his family and they love him. He’s here because they love him even though it makes him miserable. He misses his wife. He thought it’d be easier if he just went with her but his family didn’t want that. She died and he just wanted to go home. With some pride. But now he’s here. Couldn’t even take himself back home. But his son visits once a week and the grandkids come and shift uncomfortably in front of him. Every Sunday, the dog and pony show. I patted him on the back when he told me how he got here. What else do you do for an old stranger, crying his eyes out in a molded plastic hospital chair? I told him I wouldn’t end up like him. It cheered him up a little.
Mike asks me if I’m gonna eat my salad. I glare at him. He eats too much hospital food.
“We’re a very loving family,” says the mother.
Her husband steers the conversation in a direction he thinks will help his son come home, “He needs to be with us. It’s better for him if we deal with this at home.”
“It would be in his best interests if he went home after he starts to cooperate with the treatment. He’s a… difficult case.”
“What are the discharge procedures at this hospital? How do we get him out?”
“This is not a long term facility. Your insurance is set to deny further claims here and I’m doing my best to keep him under medical supervision. We can try to transfer him to a long term care facility in the city.”
“He needs to be with his family,” says the father.
“Well, he doesn’t seem to be a threat to himself anymore. But we would recommend that he continue residential treatment until we can get him to a point where a outpatient treatment is a more reasonable solution. Magnolia Bluff has an excellent Partial Hospitalization Program.”
“If you could just give us the discharge paperwork.”
“It doesn’t exactly work like that, but— Have you dealt with a hospital like this before?”
“We have. We’re a very tight knit family. This is our problem.”
I dream when I’m home. Sleeping relieves the pressure the Sons put on me and I’m happy in my dreams. I mostly dream about running. Not running from something, not scared of my burdens and suffering, just running. I liked to push myself. I ran in high school. It was what I liked to do before the medicine made me fat. I dream of speed. I dream of freedom.
I keep having this one dream. I wake up and kiss my sister. I tell her good-bye then I put on my favorite shoes. I walk out the front door of mom and dad’s and start to run. Fast. Faster than anyone can run. I pass trees and cars, strip malls and the hospital. Soon, I’m running through woods and fields, away from the streets I started on. I run all the way to the coast in a few minutes. The dream ends and I’m back in the dark. But at least I’m at home.
Since he came home he mostly sits in the garage and chain smokes. He says he doesn’t have a disease. He doesn’t think he sees a real doctor. And he doesn’t think his medicine does anything. I kinda agree with him on the last point.
You get flashes of the real him sometimes when he’s home. His sense of humor is still there sometimes. He tried showing us a dance one of the other patients did in the hospital. He gyrated like he was twirling a hula hoop until his track pants fell down. He said the other guy’s pants fell down too. He laughed the whole time, telling us he couldn’t do it right. He’s there but he’s never really going to come back.
Mom and Dad fight almost every day now. He’s become a problem that needs to be fixed or forgotten more than a son. There’s a mutual resistance between them that makes progress nonexistent. They fight over which doctor to send him to. They fight over which medicine to give him. They fight over money. They fight over whose family has a history of illness.
He seems so rude now. He’s used to the hospital. Having orderlies and dish washers to clean for him after an almost all you can eat insurance paid dinner. I wish it was a bad TV show and you could just hit him on the head with a rolling pin. One good smack and he’d be right back to normal.
I want to do my best to keep him content even if it’s in his own world. Maybe open a business and put him on payroll doing something with minimal responsibility to keep him busy and fulfilled. Start a new family with him and someone who’ll love us both.
I think a lot about how to leave. To run. We’ll find a good doctor at a good hospital. No one will have to fight anymore. And I’ll be happy too.
All I have left is hope. I’m one bad day away from desperation. That single day came and went for my parents so I cling to hope like a buoy in the undertow.
I’m back for a little while. They give us little activities to do every day so we aren’t a bunch of crazy people milling around aimlessly. Instead we get to be crazy people who talk about how we’re going to try to be less crazy.
“My goal for the day is to live by the serenity prayer, to accept the things I can’t change and have the courage to change the things I can. I feel pretty good about meeting my goal today.”
The tech points a finger at the next patient after each goal. Later we’ll have a cognitive group, a lunch, maybe some art therapy or relaxation bullshit therapy before dinner, more groups or even some 12 steps for the addicts.
“My goal is just to do a little better than yesterday in a place I know is safe. I think I can do it.”
Some of our families come to visit twice a week. We talk quietly as we’re monitored by a tech or nurse. We try to prove to the people on the inside that we want to be on the outside with the people who put us here.
“My goal is to accept that which I cannot change and to take responsibility for the burden I’ve dealt others with my actions. I think today is the day I’ll accomplish the second part.”
After James finishes his goal, we’re done. The tech asks us to consider what the others have said. He says that we can learn a lot from them, after all we’re in a similar positions. Positions we don’t want to repeat. Admission to the hospital shouldn’t be a pattern we create to deal with our problems. We’re here to learn how not to come back. I think about what James said. I don’t think I’m going to come back.
I like Jack. His mom brought him here after they had a fight. She said he was violent and needed the medicine. I like him but I still keep an eye on him. I heard someone ask if he was James. He may be an Agent of Destruction.
“See that’s how I got these burns on my knees. And on my elbows.”
“That’s cool, man.”
But James was worried about retirement.
“Said he fucked that up hisself. He dead now.”
Who am I talking to? “Who died?”
“Jay. The other one. That’s what I call him. You know. That old man. James. James died. I’m James too, that’s what my momma call me. I go by Jay on the outside, or Jack in here. See my bracelet” PATIENT: PERKINS, JOHN J. D.O.B:2-13-1989.
I don’t think I like Jack. He brings bad news. “I’m not going to die. Am I?”
“Naw. That old Jay. Worryin’ about his taxes an shit. Die by his own hand. In here. What you, about twenty? Thirty? Don’t worry about dyin. We safe here. You know that. I told you already. “
“No, I don’t think so.”
“I ain’t been here but a couple days and I know more than you?”
I don’t like Jack anymore. I won’t come back here again.
There’s always a panhandler at this intersection. He carries everything he owns in grocery bags. His beard is sandy brown and matted, hard lines frame his gray eyes. He’s ten years or so older than my brother would be. Not many people bother to look at him. I put a quarter in his cup.
I see his face. It’s lost, but it’s there.
I keep looking when I’m out like this, running errands or just going for a walk. I give money to the people on the street. Every time I look to see if it’s his face that looks up when the change falls in the cup. I keep an old picture with me, from when he was feeling good, smiling with Becca at Homecoming. I show them the picture, ask them to keep a look out for him. His face is still there, in my head and here in my purse. I haven’t found him like this. Not yet. I hurry on before some homeless stranger sees me study their face, before the tears of empathy come. I go home and hold the picture. I cling to hope.