I get a room equipped with a bed, locker, and roommate. The room is bland enough, like a college dorm room except for the plastic covering on the mattress. This I understood the reason for, easier cleaning for the incontinent. I tried very hard not to think of how many people had piddled on my bed in the past.
My roommate was Laura. She was a little Asian girl about five foot three with thick owl glasses and the squashed face of one born dinged in the head. She was hyperactive and unfortunately she was one who went from hyper to an upward spiral of super charged hyper.
There are assumptions regarding the mad that I had that I quickly had to change. The first of which was in the matter of sleep. I was looking forward to getting some sleep. Lots and lots of sleep. I had assumed that the mad, especially those in a hospital mad house with enough drugs in their systems to fell a rhino, would have no trouble in the sleep department.
Yes, well, come to find out, the mad, by and large don’t sleep. During the day they might seem zombiefied but night charges them with a disjointed restlessness that just won’t quit. They fight sleep with every fiber of their being, tossing in their beds as if the sheets were attempting to strangle them. They mutter moan and take up long conversations with the voices they hear. (why those voices never seem to say anything interesting is what I want to know)
Laura was a squirrel. A busy hyperactive squirrel.
I lay in bed trying very hard not to move. Every time I turn over, the plastic sheeting on the mattress crinkles like Christmas wrapping paper which wakes me up. Having a bed that wakes you up every time you move in bed is I think rather defeating the purpose of having a bed in the first place. I learned to sleep with corpse like rigidity.
Laura was a squirrel. A busy hyperactive squirrel. Laura would lay down. Twist, moan, fight the sheets, then turn on the light and go digging in her locker. Her locker was packed with paper bags. Somewhere in the bottom of all the paper bags was her squirrel cache of snacks. Bags of Cheetos extra crunchy.
That was another assumption blown all to hell. I thought mad people liked pudding. Nice quite pudding. Not so, turns out mad people like crunchy snacks. Cheetos extra crunchy was a particular favorite of many.
Laura would rustle the bags finally finding the cheetos, spend a goodly amount of time snapping the bag around like she was subduing it, then finally she would dig in with much enthusiastic cheeto chomping. Snacking urge satisfied she would mangle the dead carcass of the empty bag and bury it in the bottom of her locker.
She lay back down and turned out the lights.
And half an hour later repeat.
And half an hour later repeat.
All night long.
Morning arrived and I stumbled from my bed, not in the best of moods. (Why ohh why has the world turned against me? Ok so people are trying to kill me. Ok so I’m stuck in a mad house. But is a single nights sleep too much to ask? )
I shuffle my way to the outside patio and sit lighting one of my camels. I stare out through thechain link feeling a bit like a monkey in a zoo. A cross sleepy monkey who needs a cup of coffee.
The only other person out on the patio is Wilson. Wilson is a elderly black man with silver hair and a dignified posture. He wears a walkman its headphones permanently attached to his ears. I don’t know what he is listening to. I imagine an endless ball game.
We sit smoking in companionable silence for a few minutes, then he turns and looks curiously at me.
“What are you doing here?” He asks me.
(Ohh lord, what mad house rule have I broken? No girls on the smoking patio before breakfast?)
Seeing my confusion he takes his ear phones off (A huge gesture. It was the one and only time I ever saw him take off his walkman earphones) He leans toward me looking at me with concern.
“What are you doing here? There an’t nothing wrong with you baby girl. Why are you here?”
I had no idea what to say.
(Well you see it was all a big misunderstanding. I thought paranoia was like totally in this season. My bad)
That look of deep concern on his face and in his voice. I almost started crying. (Concern, Fuck, who could have seen that coming? )
“My landlord is trying to kill me because I got in the way of his drug business. No one believes me, so I’m here. Which is better than being killed I suppose.” I shrug.
He nods and grunts and puts his ear phones back on.
(How odd. What does it mean when a mad person thinks your sane?)
As it turned out he wasn’t the only one with doubts about my insanity. Not the staff of course, they were perfectly content with the diagnosis as given. My fello mad people however, simply refused to believe that I was one of them.
At first they thought I was one of the Doctors, or an intern. “Or maybe a nurse?” Oddly I was more often asked if I were a Doctor then if I were a Nurse.
After awhile the majority seemed to come to the conclusion that I was a spy of some sort. They just didn’t know who I was spying for. Some thought I was spying on them, either for the staff or for some journalistic endeavor or research. Some thought I was spying on the staff, even that I had some strange power over the staff.
Every once in a while I would get some tug on my arm and someone would ask in a furtive stage whisper “Tell them I’m ok to go out on pass. I’ll be good, really I just want to go out for a walk.” Or “Tell them to please cut down on my medication? I know it’s good for me but it makes me feel so bad if they could just cut it down a little?”
To each request I had to reply that “Hey I’m just a patient here, they won’t listen to me.”
Then they would give me that look, that ‘you could if you wanted to but you’re just being mean’ look and walk away, totally unconvinced.
A few days into my enrollment at Nutter’s U I was sitting on one of the day room couches, the furniture all look like they had been extruded by a playdough fun factory, when Mike stepped up for his try at the ‘figgure out why she’s here. Thing.
Mike is a beautiful boy, looks like a Calvin Kline model except for eyes that peer out at you too brightly. He introduces himself to me by telling me he used to be friends with leather head, “The real leather head, you know from that movie the Texas Chain Saw Massacre was about.” He asks me what I thought about that.
“I think you should chose your friends with a bit more care.” I said.
After that we got into the “No really I am a patient here. I don’t work here.” (I have one group of people constantly asking me if I hear voices and the other group of people who hear voices are constantly asking me if I am a Doctor. What the hell has gone wrong with my life?).
Then he asks me where I was from originally. San Francisco is a city of transplants.
“Maine.” I said.
“No you’re not.” He says.
“Yes I am. Really I’m from Maine originally. Grew up there till I joined the army at eighteen.”
“You’re not.” He insists emphatically. “You don’t sound anything like a person from Maine.”
Which is true, people usually seem to think I’m an Americanized Brit. I don’t know why, too much BBC radio as a kid maybe.
“I know you., I know where you’re from.” He proclaims as though he has uncovered my secret identity.
“You’re the girl from someplace else.”
A part of me feels a high school sense of rejection over it all. (What kind of fucked up shit is this even the mad people don’t want me as part of their group? ) My fate in life, to be forever sitting at the rejects lunch table.
My second night with Laura was a repeat of the first. I couldn’t figure out how she kept going, even batteries run down eventually.
My third night two am, My roommate Rocky the busy squirrel is digging through her piles of paper bags for her secret stash of crunchy munchy cheetos.
The Elmer Fudd in me is coming out. (Be verwe, verwe, qwiet, we are hunting sqwuiwells, he, he, he, he)
“Laura, please,” I groan. “ If you need to eat will you please take your cheetoes out to the day room?”
She paused in her busy digging. She peered out at me through her owl eyed glasses. She raised an accusing finger at me.
“I know you.” She whispered at me, half in horror half in fear. “I know you, You’re evil.”
This was the wrong thing to say.
I get cranky when I don’t get any sleep. (For heaven’s sake, why doesn’t anyone want me to get any sleep?)
I smiled at her, slow and evil my eyes going cat feral. I began to sing. A little lullaby my grandmother used to sing to me.
“The worms crawl in the worms crawl out when you’re dead they’ll crawl in your mouth. They will dance on your elbows and over your toes. They will have a little party inside your nose.”
Trust me, people from Maine do have a certain morbid strain in their genes, it’s not just Stephen King.
She stared at me, her eyes going wide behind her owl glasses.
“You, you, you’re a witch.”
“Yes that’s right I am.”
(Close enough, I’m an American free market pantheist: That is I accept the idea that the gods exist on the grounds that that which can neither be proven nor disproven I chose to operate on which ever idea is the more colorful. Having gods is more interesting then not having them. And all art has its beginnings in a church of some sort.
Being that the Gods exist I like any good American am always looking to cut a deal.)
She leapt up and went rumplestiltskin spinning around like wild a top, screaming. She threw her empty plastic cup at me.
I bopped it out of the air one handed, not raising from my bed. (Bed=Sleep= I’m not fucking moving from this bed)
She launched herself at me. The flying fists of munchkin fury. I fended her off one handed. My other hand had decided enough was enough and was trying to pull the blankets up over my head.
She was trying to slap me on my fore head open handed and she was screaming at me.
“Spirits of evil come out.! Satan come out! “
2am and a mad person is trying to perform an exorcism on me.
The staff finally alerted to the commotion arrived and dragged the girl off to the third floor for heavier meds and a more calming atmosphere.
I felt a little bad about it. Teasing the mad isn’t nice. But as I said, I get cranky when I don’t get my sleep.
I snuggled into my blanket and slept.