Monthly Archives: July 2010

Strays, or, “Every Little Memory Has A Song”

The first night I was on the streets I was pretty terrified. I had been able to coast by for the first little bit of almost-homelessness because friends of mine would offer up a couch or a section of floor. As soon as those offers ran out, that’s when shit got sideways for me. An ex-girlfriend of mine who was in the process of moving had allowed me to stay the last few days she had left on her lease in her vacant apartment. Those few days were spent in complete silence. Well — other than me laying around in a puddle of sweat on the floor, listening to the creaks and groans of the apartments surrounding it. Not to mention the middle of the night screaming and weirdness going on. She left me a couple of days worth of non-perishable goods and was kind enough to buy me a couple of packs of cigarettes.

I ran out of food and smokes pretty quickly. Probably the second night.

I remember being completely fucking ravenous and rummaging around in the dumpster behind the grocery store near the apartment at three in the morning. In one trash bag I found a goldmine of just expired yogurts that still had the chill of the refrigerators on them. I also found loaves of bread that had been baked in the bakery, some dented cans of pork and beans, and a couple of smashed cans of a coffee drink. There was also a Burger King in the parking lot, and the next night when I was just as starving as I was the night before, I waited until I saw the last of the employees leave and then popped open their dumpster and did the same disgusting thing. I found a few burgers that had been cooked but were still in their wrappers and took off my shirt, filling it with whatever edible remnants I could carry.

When I got back to the apartment, I emptied out my findings on the kitchen floor. I sat and opened up each burger, looking for creepy-crawly critters or anything that would give off tell-tale signs of food borne disasters waiting to happen to me. I remember crying when I took a bite out of one of the burgers, because it tasted so dry and felt awful in my mouth — like a mouthful of meat-flavored sand and grit. I really had no idea what the hell I was doing — most of my life up to this point I had somehow managed to take care of myself and my business enough to not be in this type of situation.

*****

I must have been around five or six years old the first time I really saw a homeless person. I was with my mother, and we were headed from Bensonhurst into Manhattan to see my father at work. I remember walking with her, and seeing a man who was wearing ratty and torn clothing, shoeless and really disoriented-looking. He was standing just outside of the entrance to the subway, and was drinking out of a paper bag. This was in the mid 1970s, and New York City was definitely a much different place then. My mother wasn’t really good with dealing with shit that frightened/upset her, so I remember being led away pretty briskly by the hand.

Something inside of me, even in that fleeting and foggy moment, always knew that whatever that man was experiencing — I would know that place at some point in my life.

*****

Like most red-blooded American teens, I had done the typical running-away-from-home shit that we all do at some point — basically camping out in a park for a night or two and then knocking on the door, tail tucked firmly between the legs. I remember an extremely heated argument with my mother when I pierced my ears that resulted in me going and staying with my friend and his father for a long weekend where we ended up going to a lake and doing fun shit I never did with my own family. Then when we got back, my friend and I went out for a few hours, came back, and then we caught his father in the back office with a street hooker.

*****

One of my earliest memories ever is of me waking up in the darkest part of the morning before the rest of my family. I wandered around the house in my feetsie pajamas exploring everything in the dark. I even went down into the basement by myself. I couldn’t have been older than four or five, but I might be wrong — parts of the memory are really clear, and other parts are really kind of foggy. I do, however, remember being down in the basement and going through the cabinets underneath the bar that was down there. I picked up something that was in a purple velvet bag — it looked like some sort of treasure that I would find in one of my comic books or something. Inside of the velvet bag was a little bottle. I remember opening the bottle and smelling what was inside of it. It smelled hot to me, and the vapors that wafted up and into my nose had me curious, so I took a long drink from it. I still remember licking my burning lips afterward, and how my stomach felt like it was on fire.

That was probably the first drink.

After that I went back upstairs and looked in on my parents sleeping. They weren’t stirring — my father was snoring like a bear. I then went into the room I shared with my little sister and watched her sleeping for a minute. These moments, even when I think about them now — there is something about the way I observed everyone in those tiny moments, something that has never gone away, this curiosity that I have inside of me to see people when they do not know they are being seen — these moments alone in the house before the sunrise were the beginnings of the me I have turned out to be.

I remember quietly pulling myself up and onto the counter where the sink was, and then watching as the sky changed colors outside. From the darkest sky to a slow bruise to a low simmer to rays coming through the blinds. I waited until I couldn’t really sit on the counter anymore because it was starting to hurt, and then I went and got back into bed, falling fast asleep.

I still love the stillness and solitude of watching the sun rise. It might be my favorite part of the day.

*****

The first girl I ever kissed was a friend of my sister’s, Suzanne Lewis. It was her birthday, and she cornered me and told me I wasn’t allowed to leave without giving her a birthday kiss.

I never saw her again, but I used to walk by her house all the time, wondering how many other boys at the party she did that to.

*****

I think it was probably the second or third week I was using the bathroom at the Starbucks on 16th Street and Camelback as my personal shower/get-yourself-cleaned-the-fuck-on-up-so-nobody-knows-you’re-homeless center of operations when one the girls that worked there knocked on the door. It was maybe ten minutes after six in the morning.

“Hey — when you come out we need to talk to you, okay?”

I was stripped all the way down, scrubbing out my white t-shirt in the sink with a bar of Dr. Bronner’s while my socks and underwear were hanging off of the safety railing for the toilet, dripping onto the floor. I had already washed myself down and brushed my teeth and all of that. I figured that they would eventually get wise to my routine and ask me not to come back.

This was the routine I was doing to keep me from losing my mind: I would get there right as they opened, order a coffee with a bunch of change, and then go into the bathroom. Once inside, I would strip down, wash out my underwear, socks, and t-shirt — being sure to wring them out as best as I could before putting them into a large ziplock baggie to put into my satchel. I had the clothing I had washed the previous morning, and swapped them out. Then I would go back out into the Starbucks, grab my coffee from the girls and then go sit outside on the patio, drinking coffee and reading the paper while I rolled a bunch of cigarettes from the halfsies I pulled out of the sand ashtrays at all of the grocery stores in the neighborhood.

The moment I walked out of the bathroom, one of the girls was standing outside of the door, holding out an envelope toward me.

“We know that you’re homeless. We also know you probably won’t take anything for free from us, so we’ve been pooling our tips together for the last couple of days and want you to have this. Please take it — we can’t keep watching you roll all of those cigarettes.”

Not really knowing what to say, I just shook my head at her, smiled, and went about my regular routine. As I was sitting at the table rolling up all the smokes, the other girl came outside, put her hand on my shoulder, and then shoved the envelope in my satchel. The moment I started to make even the slightest sound of protest, she shot me a really awful look and said —

“Fuck you, man. You know what really sucks about this? We actually feel safe here in the mornings with you here now. Before? There were always these creepy fucking joggers and suits making gross eyes at us and shit. Take the fucking money and don’t be a dick about it.”

I quietly thanked her, and as she went back inside I couldn’t hold back the tears that were welling up as soon as I came out of the bathroom.

*****

I was working at the Swensen’s Ice Cream Parlor at the Paradise Valley Mall the first time anyone ever put a loaded gun to my head. It was a Friday night, and we had been pretty busy. I was making my last rounds through the restaurant while the other busboy/dishwasher was finishing up the last of the dishes so we could split. I was concentrating on finding all of the shit that kids typically threw on the floor underneath the booths, so the sounds I heard coming from the kitchen area were pretty garbled and didn’t register at first.

It totally registered when I looked up and saw the crazed-looking guy with the gun pointing at me while he had one of the waiters in a chokehold.

“ARE YOU FUCKING DEAF? GET YOUR ASS IN THE BACK OF THIS MOTHERFUCKER RIGHT NOW, BEFORE I FUCKING SHOOT YOU!”

He stood there at the double-doors leading into the kitchen and waited for me to walk by him until he followed, kicking me full-on in the ass and knocking me to the ground. This guy was out of his mind — he told everybody to lay down on the floor and not to look at him, all while he was screaming at the manager to open up the safe. I was sitting on an empty pickle bucket when he realized I was watching him and studying his face.

“MOTHERFUCKER — WHAT IS IT WITH YOU AND NOT LISTENING? I AM GOING TO SHOOT YOU IN THE FUCKING FACE. GET OFF THAT BUCKET ON YOUR BELLY ON THIS MOTHERFUCKING FLOOR, NOW!”

For a really brief second I actually thought I might be able to knock the gun out of his hand with a sheet pan or something, but then realized if I was wrong he was going to shoot at least a few people. As I was getting down onto my belly on the floor, he threw an empty glass jar that shattered on the ground right next to my face, some of the glass hitting one of the waitresses in the face.

“Asshole, stop fucking throwing shit — you cut her face, and you‘re scaring everyone.”

As soon as I said it, he leapt over the top of everyone who was laying on the floor between us, shoving the barrel of the gun into the back of my head so hard that my teeth crunched into the tile floor. I saw stars and heard nothing but a torrent of screaming and yelling about how fucking stupid I was for messing with him, and about how he “FEELS LIKE KILLING A WHITEBOY TONIGHT,” and about how I “JUST MIGHT BE THAT MOTHERFUCKING WHITEBOY.” Then he hit me across the top of my head with the gun, and I do not remember anything until I heard one of the waitresses screaming from outside the back door.

When the police came, I found out that after he hit me, he got the manager to open the safe, took the money, and then grabbed one of the waitresses to make sure nobody tried to stop him on his way out. When he got her outside, her took her engagement ring and her other jewelry, and then ran to a waiting car. The police had all of us separated throughout the dining room, but I could overhear everyone saying that I almost got everyone killed by acting like an asshole. The policeman that was asking me questions asked me to describe the guy as best as I could, since I was really the only person other than the now shell-shocked waitress who got a good look at his face.

“He was black. His eyes were black and glossy, like they were filled with gasoline. He was wearing a green baseball hat. The gun was black with a brown handle. He was wearing work boots. He smelled like alcohol.”

The other busboy/dishwasher looked the policeman dead in the eye, and then said “Sean is just being polite — he looked like a typical nigger high on PCP, that’s what he looked like.”

I watched the policeman’s face change when the other busboy/dishwasher said that. It was like seeing my father when he got angry. The policeman then asked us a few more questions, took down all of our information, and asked us if we would be available to pick the robber out of a line-up if the need ever came about.

Later on, I was sitting in Denny’s with the other busboy/dishwasher. We smoked a joint in his car, so we were pretty high, enjoying plates of fries with ranch dressing and bottomless coffees. I asked him why he said that, why he said what he did about the robber.

“I said it because it was the truth. And everyone is right — you could’ve gotten all of us killed.”

He was probably right, I wasn’t thinking about ramifications at that point. What nobody else noticed, was that the robber didn’t touch any of our tips that had been stuck to the order wheel on top of the counter at the ice cream bar. When everyone was still freaking out waiting for the police to show up, I went out front into the dining area to make sure nobody else was around. When I saw that money on that spinner, I just casually walked over and put it all into my pocket.

Fuck it — it’s not like anyone else got hit in the head.

*****

When I ran out of couches to sleep on and people started backing away from me a bit, and after that period of time in the vacant apartment was through, I slept in a city park, Los Olivos Park, on 28th Street and Glenrosa. The park was pretty quiet most of the time — I think the first four or five nights I was there I didn’t see another stray at all, mostly drunks in cars coming to the park to make out or fool around. Every now and then I would see a crew of teens hanging out on the fringe areas of the park, passing bowls back and forth, which made me feel really nostalgic — my friends and I used to do the same shit.

Because it was Summer, the park would sometimes get irrigation — water flowing freely into the park, creating a grassy lake between small berms. I remember one night watching as the water slowly crept its way through the park, almost like time-lapse. I had scrounged up enough change from all of the church fountains to buy myself some granola bars, a bottle of red wine, a hunk of mozzarella and some dried pineapple, so I was enjoying my little feast at a picnic table while I watched everything become submerged. I kept the wine in a paper bag to not draw any attention to myself, and was scribbling in my notebook when a police car drove right through the water in the middle of the park to the bench I was sitting at.

“Please step away from the bench and get down on your stomach with your hands to your sides.”

The police hadn’t even left the car — this was the voice coming out of the speakers. I was already embarrassed enough as it was about being homeless, or a “vagrant,” so I felt really awful that this was happening. It was so loud. I was afraid that the people in the houses and apartments that lined the park had heard them, and I was going to get run out of the safest place I had been able to find for me to sleep.

I stepped back from the picnic table and got down into the grass. The water level was rising, so I was completely soaked. I felt scared and angry at the same time. One of the police officers, the male, came over and was shining his flashlight in my face. He asked me for identification, and I told him my wallet was in my back pocket. As he took it out, the female police officer came over and stood to the side of me, talking into her radio.

“You know this park closes at 10PM, right?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Why are you here, then?”

“I don’t have anywhere else to go — I’m homeless.”

“You could go to a shelter.”

“Have you been to one lately? I don’t think so.”

Her partner called her over to the car and she told me not to move as she walked away. I could hear them talking quietly, and then I could hear them walking back toward me again, their boots sloshing in the water that I was craning my neck to keep out of my face. The male officer told me that I didn’t have any warrants, and then started asking me really personal questions about why I was homeless.

“Are you a drug addict?”

“No.”

“I ran your Social — you’ve never been in jail. Wife kick you out?”

“Not married.”

“Are you a Veteran?”

“Yes.”

As soon as I said that, they changed the way they were dealing with me. They told me to get up and sit at the bench again, and actually the both of them sat down as well. I kept on hoping that neither one of them would be able to sniff out the tiny bits of marijuana I had in my satchel. I realized I had a dry shirt and socks in my bag, but wasn’t about to open it up and change in front of them. The female officer asked me if I had looked into the homeless shelter they had over at the VA Hospital, but again I told her I wasn’t going to go to a shelter — I was better off on my own.

“Well, you can’t stay here in this park. It’s either let us drive you to the VA, or you go to jail. You choose.”

In the car on the way to the VA, the female officer asked me if I had any family I could call, or if there was anyone they could call for me. I told them that I didn’t have any family anymore, and that anyone they would call would probably not know what to do — I had already slept on every couch available.

When they dropped me off at the VA, the female officer asked me again if there was anyone they could call. I just smiled at her, and politely thanked them for being kind enough to drive me to the shelter, and thanked them for not taking me to jail. They seemed pleased with themselves, like they had done something nice for someone, and I wanted them to know that I genuinely appreciated their concern.

I waited a good ten minutes after they drove away to start walking away from the VA.

*****

Sometimes when I am staring off into space, I am not really staring off into space at all. The inside of my head is like my very own movie theater, full of recollections and faded Super-8 footage that spins around with no real purpose. I could be sitting at a table outside of a coffeehouse sipping on a latte, but in my head I might be on the beach in Pattaya, watching the way the sun reflects off of the Gulf of Thailand. I might be sitting on a crowded L Train with a book in my lap, but in my head I am crawling into some Oleander bushes to try and go to sleep during the hottest part of a Summer day in Phoenix. I could be waiting for the guy at the deli counter to take my order, but in my head I am standing in my parents’ walk-in closet, taking money out of the secret place they stashed it, so I could go buy a bag of pot.

I know a lot of people who tell me that my memory, or my ability to remember details of my life is something they wish they had. I’m not so sure if that’s what I would wish for if a genie popped out of a bottle in front of me. Sometimes it can drive you closer to the edge of what you would call sane. I think that my memory is why I tried to destroy myself with drugs and alcohol for so many years — to try and use the chemicals to blast myself free of the ghosts of who I used to be, of the things I had seen.

Now that I am clean, I embrace these memories. They make me who I am. I’m no longer afraid of who I have been, because without being that person, I would not be the person that I am right now.

I don’t know if this is how it works for anyone else.

I just know that this is how it works for me.

*****

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Filed under nuggets of infinite wisdom, who is sean?

Excitable Boy, or, “One Of These Things Is Not Like The Others”

You wake up to a strange voice asking you if you’d like to take a shower before breakfast. As much as you want to open your eyes, the fluorescent canopy overhead stings them, making it hard to make out the blurred form that is speaking to you. Mumbling incoherently, you say something about a cigarette, and the strange voice clucks in disapproval.

“You need to get some food in your belly so we can give you your first round of meds, buddy.”

You sit up a bit and try to focus on your surroundings — two bed room, other bed currently unoccupied. The room has dorm furniture. Your right wrist has one of those plastic hospital bands wrapped around it, name, date of birth and allergies listed in smudged black ink. Looking toward the disembodied voice that is now telling you where you are, you realize where you are.

“West Valley Camelback Hospital. You and your mother admitted you last night, saying you were going to hurt yourself. You did the right thing, buddy. We’re going to help you get well, don’t you worry.”

You worry.

You worry when you head toward the bathroom, and the voice that now belongs to a six foot seven inch black man informs you that he has to shadow your every move.

“I know it seems awkward, but we have to take precautions, buddy. You’re here because you felt like you were going to hurt yourself, so I have to shadow you for the first seventy-two hours to make sure that you don’t.”

You put some toothpaste onto a brush that you’ve just pulled out of a plastic wrapper. You run some cold water over the brush, and then step into the bathroom to piss — your shadow leaning against the door jamb. Your shadow hands you a plastic reservoir to piss into, because they need to run a tox-screen, even though they have already taken pints of blood from you after they sedated you the night before.

“They just want to be sure, buddy. No need getting your meds all messed up and having it interact poorly if you’re already on something.”

You remember the look on your mother’s face again, the look she gave you as they were taking your blood. You remember holding her hand and telling her everything was going to be okay, that this was the right thing to do.

*****

Your shadow is sitting with you while you eat your breakfast. There is nobody else in the cafeteria, because everyone else is off doing their thing. Your shadow has a name, Darrell. Your shadow used to play basketball at Wake Forest. You tell him that you watched him play on television once, against Ralph Sampson. Your shadow laughs at you.

“You like basketball, buddy? I’d have picked you for one of those skateboarding types.”

This will not be the first time something you say surprises people in this place.

*****

You are sitting in a plush leather chair in the office of the psychiatrist assigned to you. The plastic cup in your hand had just held within it three pills. You asked your shadow what they were, and he just told you to take them because they will help you relax so you can talk to the doctor. You try to figure out a way to keep your sneakers from flopping around, as they have taken away your shoelaces. To protect you from yourself. They have also taken away your belt. Your shadow was kind enough to take you outside to smoke half of a cigarette before bringing you in to see this doctor who is running late.

You look at the framed diplomas on his walls. There is an American flag stuck into a little plastic replica of Plymouth Rock on his desk. There is a painting that depicts a tiger being brought down by savages in loin cloths. There is the slightest musky smell in the room — almost like pipe smoke or cloves. The door opens.

“Sorry to have kept you waiting, I’m Dr. D’Javadi, I’ll be your primary physician here.”

You shake his hand, which feels calloused and dry. You introduce yourself, and the doctor then goes through a rambling mess of treatment plans. All of this is happening as he reads your intake folder without asking you a single question about your current state of mind or feelings. Twice you ask him about the medication you have been given. Twice he raised his hand up off of the folder he is holding to give you the stop sign.

You begin to feel furious.

When the doctor finally engages you about your feelings, you take your time with the opportunity to speak. You explain to him that you do not, under any circumstances, want to see your father. You tell him that as a voluntary patient, you understand you have rights, even as a minor. You express to him repeatedly that the crux of your depression and desire to hurt yourself is due to the fact that you feel like you have driven a wedge between the members of your family with your bullshit, and that by allowing your father to visit you, you will do nothing but submarine any progress you might be able to make.

His fingers are tented from the tip of his nose across his mouth. The doctor takes a moment, and then tells you that he will do the best he possibly can to honor your request. He then asks you if there are certain people that you would be willing to see, so you tell him that your mother and sister, your personal psychologist — whom you have known since you are fourteen — and your English teacher are the only people you want to see. He scribbles into the manilla folder. He asks you questions about your relationship with your psychologist and your English teacher and scribbles some more.

You ask him again about the medications they are giving you, because you do not want to take Prozac. The doctor laughs audibly at this, and then finally relents.

“I have prescribed Imipramine, which is a mild anti-depressant. I have also prescribed you, for the first few days that you are here, with Lorazepam, a benzodiazepine that will help you with the anxieties of adjusting to being in a new place. These medications will also help you to adjust to the intensive talk therapy that you will be participating in. There is no smoking in the building, and because some of the other patients do not have parental permission to smoke, your cigarettes will be kept by the nurses and rationed out to you throughout the day.”

You shake his hand and go back out into the hallway, where your shadow is waiting for you.

*****

That whole first week is now a dull blur. Your shadow is gone, replaced by a nurse named Sarah. Sarah works the night shift and took a shine to you the night you were admitted. She was charged with going through your personal belongings, and tells you repeatedly that she had to fight really hard to get the administration to let you keep your tattered copy of The Hotel New Hampshire. She tells you that John Irving is her favorite writer, and that you have excellent taste.

You have asked multiple administrators repeatedly if it would be okay if your mother brought you your guitar. You have expressed to them all that it would be therapeutic for you to be able to play, and have explained that if it is a distraction to other patients, you have a headphone amplifier you can play through.

The administrators say no.

Sarah tells you that they had to lock up a lot of the cassette tapes you brought with you to listen to on your Walkman, because as they listened to them, the music felt violent — not to mention the lyrical content. Sarah also explains to you that the reason why they would not let you keep your Jimi Hendrix tapes or shirt was because he “died of a drug overdose, and that is not what we’re all about here.” You calmly try to explain to her that Hendrix died because the woman who was with him at the time was an idiot and watched him choke on his own vomit instead of doing anything to help him, but Sarah isn’t buying it.

“We’re all a little bit older than you — I think we know what really happened.”

You wonder to yourself why it is they will let you keep a book that has incest in it, but won’t let you play your guitar or listen to Jimi Hendrix. You look in the plastic bag that has your approved items, and find an unmarked cassette tape. You smile, because if they had really listened to everything, they would know what was on this tape. You realize that you now possess something they would not want you to have, and you fill up with warm blood for the first time in over a week.

Sarah asks you a series of questions about your current mental state while she takes your vitals. Her hands feel warm and kind, unlike your psychiatrist. She seems to genuinely care about your well-being. Sarah tells you that she speaks to your mother every night, letting her know how you are doing. Sarah also tells you that tomorrow, you will be switching rooms and will now have a roommate.

After Sarah has turned out the lights and left, you masturbate, thinking about how soft her hands are, and about how you will have to share a room with some other fucked up kid.

*****

You are sitting in a room with twelve other patients. They have seated you boy/girl in a big circle. There is a counselor speaking about the rules of the group. Nobody is allowed to talk over anyone else. If someone feels as though they cannot participate, that is fine, but you must not become a distraction to the people who do choose to participate. You feel uneasy, because the girl on your left is attractive. You also feel uneasy because your new roommate, Raymond, is making faces at you from across the circle.

The counselor asks you if you would like to tell everyone why you are there with them.

Instead of just speaking up, you look down at your feet for a moment. The counselor takes this as a sign, and starts to speak again. You put up your hand to stop him, and he, like so many other adults in your life up to this point, exhales forcefully.

“I’m here because I felt like I was going to hurt myself. I bought a gun, and was planning on killing myself.”

One of the other guys in the circle coughs. A girl sighs. The counselor, his name is Richard, asks you to continue. You then spend a few moments explaining the reasons why you wanted to hurt yourself. You realize, as you are speaking, that these reasons are no different than anyone else’s, that this thing you have felt afflicted with is the same thing that each one of these children are afflicted with — a lack of self-understanding. A lack of self-love. A hole in the heart where joy should live.

This was the moment that you realized you did not belong in this place.

You finish speaking, going through the motions. Richard thanks you for sharing why you are there, and then asks the group if they have any questions for you. The girl to your left, the cute one, raises her hand slightly. Richard acknowledges her, and then she beings to speak.

“Do you have a girlfriend?”

Everyone bursts into laughter. Well, not everyone — you feel paralyzed by the question. Richard gets red-faced and angry. Raymond shouts from across the circle that he thinks you are a faggot. Another girl asks if you are a faggot. Richard’s face reddens, and he starts to raise his voice to quiet everyone down. The girl next to you who asked the question slyly grazes your shoe with her own, causing you to start to get an erection.

“Do you have a drinking problem? Do you use drugs every day? Are you violent? Do you cut yourself? Have you ever hurt an animal?”

All of those questions come flying out of Richard, spitting venom as he asks. You respond to each question calmly. You shrug your shoulders about the drugs and alcohol questions, because you’ve already witnessed how they march all of the other kids off to twelve-step meetings three times per day, and you’d rather not do all of that talking — this group session was more than hard enough as it was. You explain to the group that you grew up with violence, and that you yourself were only violent if you felt the need to protect yourself. You explained to them that you had a bad habit of bullying your little sister, because your father bullied you. You make it perfectly clear that you value the lives of animals over those of other humans.

Richard moves on to the rest of the group, but throughout the session he makes sure that you see him watching you.

*****

Richard corners you after the group is over. He has red hair, and resembles Cousin Oliver from “The Brady Bunch.” He makes you feel uneasy even though he is supposedly there to help you. Your palms start to sweat and your tongue feels fat in your mouth.

“Let’s go outside and smoke and talk, okay?”

Richard goes over to the nurse’s station and gets your cigarettes for you as you wait for him by the door to the patio area. As he walks back toward you, you see that he has a slight limp and that he tries to conceal it. He puts his key into the lock for the door, and you hold it open for him to go outside before you.

You are sitting at a picnic bench with Richard, smoking, as he tells you how much you remind him of himself when he was a kid. You’ve heard this rap before from plenty of people — each one of them more sincere than the next. You try to act as though you are truly listening, but each word he utters distorts and becomes a part of the previous stream of words now echoing in your head.

“I’m here to help you. If you ever need anything, just ask, okay?”

*****

Raymond will not stop. He does the same thing over and over again, and each time he does it he howls like a wolf at the top of his lungs.

The windows in this place are three inches thick. Unbreakable. Raymond will back all the way up to the door of the room, plant one foot on the back of the door like a sprinter, and then he takes off — full speed, head lowered like a ram, right into the window.

BANG.

“If you weren’t such a faggot, you’d be trying to break this glass, too.”

*****

The Imipramine causes you to have dreams that scare you. You keep on picturing that last night, when you were sitting outside in the gravel with the gun. The clouds are scattered and the moon is bright. You can smell the sulfur and gunpowder. You are slumped against the wall outside of your window, blood streaming from the wound on your head. You should be dead, but you are still alive, slowly bleeding out. Your hands are numb and you feel cold. You can hear your mother calling your name from inside the house, behind your locked bedroom door.

You wake up calling her name, but the only thing you hear is Raymond calling you a faggot and telling you to go back to sleep.

*****

You are sitting in Dr. D’Javadi’s office, waiting for your mother to arrive to talk about how you’ve been doing. You feel anxious. Your head feels muddy from the medications they have been giving you. You’ve felt for a while like you should be able to go home, because you’ve been playing the game in Richard’s group sessions and he’s been telling you that you’re getting better.

You worry about the incident, though.

There was an incident with Raymond that caused you to get put into a solitary room for twenty-four hours. You’d had more than enough of being called a faggot, so you purposely low-bridged him on the basketball court, causing him to fall and hit his head. When Raymond tried to get back up and in your face, you punched him in the face repeatedly until your former shadow pulled you off of him, muttering “Goddamn, son. Goddamn” as he did so.

You felt like your mother would understand. There was only so much someone could call you a faggot before you retaliated in some way.

Dr. D’Javadi comes in and sits at his desk, smiling. You still feel anxious, but make small talk with him about how things have been going. He appears to be proud of you for your progress, and his tone of voice seems warmer than before. He mentions that Richard is very fond of you, and that a lot of the staff is very impressed with your demeanor.

As the door opens, you immediately feel betrayed.

Your mother comes through the door with your father in tow. Everyone sees you shift awkwardly in your seat. You ask the doctor if you can smoke in his office, and he hands you an ashtray, a lighter and a pack of Winstons from a desk drawer. You refuse to look at your father, who is sitting on the small couch with your mother who will not meet your eyes. You hear a lot of words coming out of the mouths of adults who you felt had your best interests at heart. You hear tell of your father moving back home. You hear your mother telling you that she is proud of you. You hear the doctor expressing to your father your concerns about him being able to visit you, and watch as your father looks shocked.

Everyone sounds like they are underwater to you. Every syllable is muffled, garbled. Your hands start to shake. You fidget in your seat. You can hear your heartbeat in your ears and the light in the room feels dimmer.

*****

You wake up in a very bright room, strapped down on a gurney. Your cheeks are raw from chewing holes in them, and your tongue feels rug-burned. You can barely lift your head to see the heavy door, but you know it is there. You try to speak, to cry out — but you are too sluggish to make your voice work. You can crane your neck and see that you have been injected with something, because of the cotton and the band-aid on your arm.

“You really did a number on Dr. D’Javadi, buddy.”

Your former shadow, now your shadow in this room, slowly tells you the tale. You flipped out, launching yourself across the desk at the doctor, grabbing him with both hands around his throat. Your father tried to pull you off of him, but you were determined to take care of each one of them at your own pace. Dr. D’Javadi hit the panic button as you grabbed him, and your mother ran out into the hallway screaming for help. Your shadow and four other staff members rushed in to try and pry you off of the doctor, but you put up a pretty good fight.

“You broke Richard’s nose, buddy. Pretty badly, too — he’s going to need to have surgery.”

Your shadow tries not to laugh when he sees the smirk come across your face.

*****

Your new doctor, Dr. Phillips, meets with you openly in the cafeteria. Dr. Phillips is asking you about your aftercare program, because you are going home at the end of the week. You tell Dr. Phillips that you would like for your personal psychologist to administer your aftercare, and he agrees to that. Dr. Phillips then tells you that Dr. D’Javadi will be coming back to work the next day, and that it would be best for everyone on the staff if you apologized to him in front of the staff and the other patients.

You agree.

*****

You are packing your belongings in a room you have all to yourself again. Sarah is sitting on a chair talking to you about the things that have happened with the rest of the patients that you have been kept from. She tells you that Richard explained to the group that his getting hurt was not your fault, as he was dumb enough to try and grab you forcefully in the middle of the violence. Sarah also tells you that the cute girl, Maureen, has been passing her notes for the past ten days that were meant for you.

“That girl has it bad for you, kiddo. Real bad.”

You don’t really have much to say, so you give Sarah the same smirk you gave to your shadow in the lock-down room. Sarah laughs and reaches into her pocket, taking out a fistful of notes and shoving them into your bag of stuff. She hugs you, warmly, and kisses you on the cheek.

“You be good to you, okay?”

*****

You are in a car with your mother, on the way home. Your mother keeps asking you about school, and about what your plans are. You’ve missed almost ninety days, and you have a lot of catching up to do. You tell her that you will work something out with the school, and that you did plenty of work there in the facility that should apply in some way.

Your mother apologizes for blind-siding you with your father, and you tell her how sorry you are for everything. You tell her how you realized very quickly that you did not belong in this place — that this place was for kids who were far more fucked up than you were, and that you feel like you wasted everyone’s time. You tell her how sorry you are that your depression and your inability to get along with your father has ruined the family. You cry. Your mother begins to cry.

The both of you spend the rest of the ride in silence.

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