by Michael Ryerson
I parked the truck far out in the parking lot surrounded by a couple of hundred empty spaces. This was a habit of mine. It made some sense when I was protecting a nice car from door dings but absolutely no sense other times. The truck couldn’t be protected further, it had already accumulated a lifetime of bruising, but I parked it out there and walked away from it. I had a paperback in my hand which had slid out from under the seat as I jerked into the space. I don’t remember the title. I do remember thinking it’s good not to show up empty handed. I didn’t know what I was going to say when I got inside…’I’ve come to the end of my rope’ occurred to me, or maybe a simple ‘here I am’ but I didn’t hesitate, my feet kept moving, I didn’t think about what I was going to say very long. I somehow decided that I would say something when the time came and whatever it was would have to do.
I have no clear memory of the guy at the front desk except that he was young and I posed a problem for him. It being late afternoon, there was no one who could properly check me in, as though propriety played a part in it. I waited while he shuffled some paperwork, asked a few questions, the answers to which created more discomfort and I was walked into a locked ward. Again there didn’t seem to be anybody prepared to deal with me and that was fine by me, I wasn’t all that interested. What difference does it make anyway, people don’t want to hear the truth, maybe they don’t want to hear it because if they hear it they may have to do something about it. The other thing is you get tired of speaking the truth. It’s hard work and it leads nowhere. In fact, I had finally come to a place where I just didn’t have answers anymore even to the simplest questions. What difference does the answer make anyways? If it’s a simple question, they know the answer already and if it’s a hard question, they’re just looking for a way to trip you up. No, if you kept your mouth shut you could save your energy and they could think whatever the fuck they wanted to think and you could think of other stuff. Remember what Rod said, ‘Be careful when they ask you what you like, they hold it against you.’ Better to just stop talking. Somewhere along in here they took my shoes, I remember being barefoot on the linoleum. I suppose they took everything else I had too but I have no memory of it, only of being barefoot.
Now this second guy, the guy inside the ward, stared at my paperwork and all the empty, unchecked boxes because the first guy wasn’t really qualified to fill out the paperwork and then he stared at me. Finally he says, ‘How did you get here?’ I blinked and narrowed my eyes, the answer to this question was why I was standing here in the first place, then he said, ‘How do you feel?’ This was another hard question, it had an almost limitless number of possible answers, I wasn’t sure what he wanted to know, I didn’t want to make trouble for him or for myself but I was afraid I was about to give him a bad answer. So I said, ‘My feet are cold.’
They gave me some slippers and walked me down a corridor, it was kind of dimly lit, and into a room with three empty beds and told me to lay down for a while. I stretched out and looked over at the two empty beds. They didn’t appear to have been used in a while. They were crisp and tight. The room was cold. I looked at the ceiling tiles, they had those little holes in them, in that seemingly random pattern, not the one with the nice straight rows but the seemingly random pattern that wasn’t random at all. Outside in the corridor I had seen a couple of guys strapped down to gurneys, just kind of parked there. There was a guy propped up in a wheelchair leaning forward holding his hand over his eyes. This guy only had one arm. His torso was strapped into the wheelchair and he was leaning on his one hand and covering his eyes. When we passed this guy, the orderly said to him, ‘How ya doin’ today, Bill?’ in this real jocular, offhanded tone, like they were old buddies from way back. The one armed guy didn’t move. I wondered if they were pals or if the orderly was just punching his ticket, like how the fuck do you think he’s doing today, ya fuck.
I don’t remember eating that first night. I’m sure we must have but I don’t remember it. I remember lining up for ‘meds’ before lights out. When I got to the head of the line two things struck me as hilarious, first I was barefoot again, I don’t know what happened to the slippers and two, the little paper cups they gave us were the tiniest little papercups you’d ever seen. Dollhouse papercups. One had two pills in it, the other had some water, maybe like a thimble full to wash down the pills. When I put the two pills in my mouth I realised there was an orderly standing nearby who was looking intently at my mouth, I mean really fixated on my mouth. It was his job to see that no one faked taking the pills. They never told me what I was taking. And, to be fair, I never asked.
At night, after lights out, someone cried pretty much the whole night. The one-armed guy with no legs? Sobbing. Then quiet for a minute or two, then more sobbing. At first they sounded far away, down the hall, maybe even in another room but then they sounded like they were right outside my door and at four a.m. it sounded like somehow they were right in the room with me. Somewhere around the middle of the night someone shouted at the crying voice to ‘shut the fuck up!’ They gave us more meds in the morning.
It didn’t last long, a few days maybe, three or four at the most. “You’re not crazy enough, ” he said or words to that effect and he decided to take off the training wheels and push me out. He was right, of course, but I wondered if he was ever wrong. At some point, he said something like, ‘Desolation is not psychosis,’ of course, it took him the better part of half an hour to say it and he said it in the most round-about way imaginable but that’s what it boiled down to, ‘Desolation is not psychosis.’ Could be a song title. There was an impromptu staff meeting in the corridor. The body language told me some voting ‘crazy’ and another contingent standing firm with ‘but not crazy enough.’ They pushed my stuff back across the counter, my clothes, my shoes and a brown envelope with whatever had been in my pockets, some change, a couple of tens, a single. Also the paperback but now with a bookmark in it as though someone had decided to grab a quick read. They hit page 134. I left it in. Thought it would be funny later whenever I looked at that book. It would have been funny too but I don’t think I ever saw it again. It would have been funny.
I walked out into a foreboding sun and stood for a long minute on the front steps as a trickle of staff and visitor traffic eddied around me. I had no keys. I thought about that. Should I walk out and look in the truck or should I just turn around and go back in now. I walked out into the parking lot. They were hanging in the ignition. The windows were down and it had rained. I would have expected no less.