07 February 2011

Goodnight Loon

Just when I thought I was nearing The Throwing In Of The Towel, I have another string of Rock Star Nights. That, combined with the awesome comments and messages you guys have sent me, allows me to soldier on through this landscape of madness (oh, bad word choice, oh).

So the other night, Rizzo hated me again. Bad. The only solution was to transfer me to yet another Unit, which—Oh My Goodness, Guys—was absolutely insane (oh, another bad word choice, oh).

Apparently, my normal ward is the Parent-Killer Ward, where the majority of the patients have killed their parents, but are now stabilized and generally remorseful… I hear stories… stories that involve point blank shots and axes.
AXES.
But this is NOTHING compared to where I worked the other night. I’m not really sure what the grouping is over there, but it was majority men, all of whom were under 35, except for Hermit Guy who looked remarkably like Willie Nelson-meets-Andre The Giant.

Another guy looks IDENTICAL to Scott Stapp from Creed, and was quick to tell me about all the various celebrities who have given him STDs.
When I first got there, I was like chum thrown off the back of a fishing boat. They were circling around, making the usual Creepy Psych Ward Guy Comments:
“You smell goooood, is that Cool Water?”
“I like your bracelets, are they real gold?”
I like your haaaaaiiiiiiiiirrrrrrrrrAAAaaarRRRggghhhhh”
“Can I touch your tattoos?”
“That’s a real nice watch, how much it cost you?”
And then, of course, because I am new, I need to hear all their Origin Stories.
Gilbert quickly begins a shouting lecture about how to wire a house.
"AND THEN YOU TAKE 20 BLACK WIRES AND THAT’S HOW MANY YOU CAN HAVE COMIN’ OUT OF ONE OF THEM BLACK BOXES, AND YOU YOU—WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU WOULD DO IF YOU WERE DRIVIN’ A BIG RIG AND YOU STARTED JACK KNIFIN’?"
“I, uh, what, I don’t know, what would I do?”
"COME ON TEST YOUR KNOWLEDGE, TEST YOUR KNOWLEDGE, YOU GOTTA KNOW THIS STUFF!"
“Uh, I think I’d probably start freaking out, wondering why I’m driving a big rig?”
"OH COME ON NOW, TEST YOUR KNOWLEDGE TEST YOUR KNOWLEDGE, WHAT WOULD YOU DO? YOU’RE GOIN’ ALONG THE HIGHWAY—he puts his arms up and mimics the casual steering of a happy trucker—AND THEN, OUT OF NO WHERE—his arms fly in the air—YOU’RE JACK-KNIFIN’ OUT OF CONTROL, WHAT’RE YOU GONNA DO?—hands splayed to either side in bewilderment—WHAT’RE YOU GONNA DO?"
I’m still shrugging, so he approaches from another angle:

“I gotta wash my jacket, it’s got the poison in it, and you—you don’t know my family, they’ll leave you twitchin’ in the field then get back to playin’ Nintendo 64 like back in the day.”
He ends abruptly and walks away, glancing back for a moment at my customary Face-Of-Blankness, then gives a high pitched cackle, “That’s Funny Stuff!”
Another guy starts telling me about how he used to sell drugs and pimp girls out to pay his bills,
Pimp: I don’t know what I’m gonna do when I get out of here, probably sell babies on the black market or something.
Me: I think that is a very bad idea.
Pimp: Well, I mean, next thing you know, my roommate’ll be eatin’ my tray and there’s blood coming under the door, Mamacita! Dolla Dolla- Uno! Is that three, or four? All kinds of drugs is what I sold, and I could cook anything, with Sudafed, I was a chemist with an ice chest of 300lbs of ecstasy and a pistol in my bed, that’s $200 million on the street, and I even had me a limousine.”
Next, I encounter Donnie, sitting off to the side, reaching and grasping at the air.
Donnie: Can you see them?
Me: What am I looking for?
He keeps grasping the air, like he is overzealously weeding a garden.
Donnie: The rabbits, they’re everywhere!
I look around, not for the rabbits, but for Ashton Kutcher, popping out from behind a wall with a boom mic and a camera crew, laughing “You’ve Been Punk’d!”

But there is no Ashton, and there are most definitely no Rabbits.
Donnie: Here, if I can just catch one and squish it, you’ll see the smoke.
The Hermit sits off to the side, watching with what I choose to believe is a very well hidden look of amusement. When I meet his gaze he looks away and down his silver Santa-Beard, folding his ring-covered hands in his lap.

A few minutes later, The Hermit walks by the desk, just after my coworker Brad has come to rescue me from CREEPTASTIC GUY who came over to stand close, saying many things, the least vulgar of which was that he wanted to get a good look at me before he took a shower. Brad runs him off, then inclines his dreadlocked head ever-so-slightly towards The Hermit, whispering covertly.
“Gandalf The Grey.”
For the rest of the night, I am more terrified than normal of falling asleep, for fear that I will wake to Gandalf standing over me, peering down and lit from behind, hoarsely interrogating:
“Is It Secret, Is It Safe?!”
For Super Bowl Night, I am back to my own ward because Rizzo has, at least for now, forgotten that she hates me.

The night commences in all sorts of fabulous spectacles. First, “Angelique,” the alter-ego of Rocky, is no where to be found, which means Rocky and I are battling it out over a wildly close game of Rocky-Flips-The-Cards-Over while also watching the Halftime Show.

As the Black Eyed Peas take the stage, I see the Fruits of Providence, because there is finally a reason for me to (kind of,sort of,not really) know the lyrics to all of their songs. Rocky and I jam out, throwing our hands in the air—
“Monday-Tuesday-WednesdayAndThursday-Friday-Saturday-SaturdayAndSunday-GiGiGiGiGiGi We Uh Party Everyday, WHA-WHA-WHAT- Party EVERYDAY! Yeah, I got a Feeeelin’ Woooo OOOooOOOOoo!”
We are practically climbing on the tables. Rocky smiles at me:
“I liiiiiiike thiiiiiiis!”
We play another round, which she lets me win, but then she stops in the middle of shuffling to look at me.
Rocky: You look like someone I seen before.
Me: Yeah? She funny looking?
Rocky: Auuuuh now, no. I didn’t get yo name?
Me: Lauren.
Rocky: Well that’s pretty, why’s that your name?
Me: Uh, you know who Ralph Lauren is? I was named after him.
Rocky: Auh you’re just a funny girl—OH! You got a Man Watch on!
Me: Yeah… yeah I do.
Rocky: That there’s a man watch, you get it from a man?
Me: Uh... yeah.
Rocky: Who he be? He here? --She looks around, then starts laughing again-- You got a Man, and you got a watch! That is some GOOOOD stuff!
After the game comes back on, the women start falling asleep in the chairs, slumping over with jaws dropping and chins resting on chests. We wakeful Non-Footie-Fans try to quietly switch over to Pretty Woman, which, coincidentally, seems to be the one thing able to awaken the sleepers.
“Hey—it was just startin’ to get exciting!”
“Green Bay Packers! Packers! Green Packers! PACKER BAYS!"
Roots has been unconscious most of my shift, slumped across two chairs. I kneel down in front of her.
“Roots, do you want to go to bed?”
She shakes herself awake, faking interest.
“Whaaaaaat’s The Scooooore?” She intones, like Dracula.
Nanny, who is doing MONUMENTALLY better is swinging her legs back and forth, singing, “I wish we had some popcorn! I wish we had some popcorn! I wish we had some popcorn!” And laughs as I shake my head in defeat.

“I’m ready to gain back all that weight I lost!” She pipes out, a far cry from the frail, suicidal woman I met only two weeks ago, who had been trying to starve herself to death. She jumps up from the row of sleeping women, holding her arms out in front of her, “I’m sleepwalking!”

Rocky, meanwhile, is putting all her Unintelligible-Yelling-Skills into good use by directing it at the Super Bowl. It still doesn’t make any sense, but she is looking at the screen and timing her outbursts with the cheering on TV.
“I AM BE SURE YOU KEEP THAT GIRL IN ITS NOT UH UH, I TELL YOU! SHE THAT ONE THERE, HMMM, NOT ANY BOYS IN THERE, NO.”
We finish watching the game—with Nanny giving a loud “Whoop!” when the coach gets Gatoraded— And still manage to flip back with enough time to see Richard Gere pull up in his sexy white Limo, scale the fire escape and embrace the shoulder-padded Julia Roberts.

Nights like this, we are like a girls dorm at summer camp, bumming sticks of gum and brushing each other’s hair. No, we are the Walden’s, calling out our Goodnights from behind a ward of open and closed doors. Yeah, for an hour, maybe two, we are almost like a family.
For now.

05 February 2011

Lauren, Interrupted

Obama and the Governor say we are in a State Of Emergency. I say my job is in a State Of Emergency. That is… I have employment bi-polar. One moment, everything is great. The next… the cuss hits the fan.
I suppose that’s just the nature of the job?
The night the blizzard hit, things were a little… off. There was Roots, a new admin, (so named for the EPIC five or so inches of jet black growing from the top of her head, above her platinum waist-length locks. Roots was pacing… for about 9 hours… with a cup of coffee, which she kept refilling, despite the fact she never drank from it but kept it just tilted enough that she splashed little puddles all over the ward, like Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumbs, though her splashes would only lead you in a wall to wall loop if you were to follow them.
Roots has a bit of a thing for the words “Thank You.”
She wanders from patient to staff to patient, asking them to tell her “Thank You,” and when she hears it, her face floods with euphoria and she moves on to the next grateful person she can find. By 3am, everyone else has been sleeping for hours, but Roots is still pacing, when she suddenly sees the mass amounts of snow blowing in the yard outside.
“It’s Snoooow!”
“Yeah, it is.”
“Goodness Gracious, It’s Snowing!”
“Yeah.”
“Snow! Look! It’s Snow!”
“mmhmmm.”
“Goodness Gracious, My Goodness! Gracious! Snow!”
This goes on for about half an hour, until she remembers her need to water the tile with coffee. The nurse comes in, shaking her head at the drifts building against the windows, and shares some cheery news with the staff.
“Looks like you’ll all be stuck here for a few days. But we’ve made up some beds for you in the Old House, which they say is haunted. So… that should be nice.”
(It’s worth mentioning that I have walked to and from work everyday, as well as accepted rides from two strangers, so as to avoid actually sleeping here… this place often feels like a movie, but I am not quite willing to embrace the Shutter Island plot.)
Roots decides to sit down in the middle of the room and tell a story to the air, only part of which I am able to hear:
“My feet were so sunburned, and the guy said ‘You can take your shoes off, you’re in America, and I was so happy I could’ve hugged him, saying Thank Yooouuuuu, Thank Yooouuuuu, Thank Yoooouuuuuuuuu.”
Snow Day 2 rocked my face off. I felt like a shining star, things were going so great.
Rocky, who never answers anyone’s questions, was having full-blown conversations with me, actually engaging to the point where she was asking questions back.
Rocky: Whatchu readin’ about in that book?
Me: Uh, a guy who killed a lot of people.
Rocky: Well, was he in the right? Or was he wrong?
Me: Wrong, very wrong.
Rocky then reaches into one of her pockets—she has about a dozen stashed here and there throughout her massive denim jacket—and pulls out a deck of cards. You never know what Rocky might produce from her pockets, and I am pretty sure she carries an extra 50 pounds from the numerous card decks she keeps on her at all times. She also has an affinity for glasses—switching out different pairs throughout the day.

We play a game of War—which she somehow always manages to win. But, because we are now BFF, she tries to help me cheat. I fake cry over my losses, so she cuts her deck and gives me half her cards. Somehow, a few minutes later I am losing even worse. Eventually, she makes up a nonsense game where we flip cards over and she decides who wins based on some Internal-Rocky-Discretion scale. It’s like Christmas everytime she pushes the cards my direction and says “That’s you, you win,” looking like a generous host at a party.
Even Rizzo was in high spirits, telling me stories and letting me know how awesome she thinks I am:
“Thank you Alice, I love you Alice!”
We played a game of bingo in the common room, and I sat there drinking coffee and air drumming to Phil Collins' “In The Air Tonight,” provoking laughter, while having conversations I absolutely cannot follow, that usually start like this:
“You know, I can understand anything someone says to me, I speak every language, it always makes the Chinese so happy to have someone who they can talk to and I can tell everything they say.”
I go to stand by the battery powered radio (no chords= no strangling) and Roots joins me, doing a strange slow-motion trance dance to John Mayer’s “Bigger Than My Body,” I join in, until a guy shouts from across the room:
“SHAKE WHAT YOUR MOMMA GAVE YOU, SHAKE IT DON’T BREAK IT, TOOK HER NINE MONTHS TO BAKE IT!”
But then, there was Snow Day 3.
*Cue the Creepy Music From
One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest.*
I’m two steps in the door, and Rizzo is screaming.
“I DON’T LIKE YOU ALICE! YOU’RE ARROGANT, YOU’RE A FRAUD! YOU TAKE ADVANTAGE WITH YOUR LONG RED HAIR!”
A few minutes later, Rocky, my BFF from the night before comes and sits down next to me with a serious look on her face. She just stares into my eyes. Finally, I speak.
“Hey Rocky.”
“THAT. IS. NOT. MY NAME.”
“Oh, okay. What’s your name?”
“MY. NAME. IS. ANGELIQUE.”
“Oh. Hey Angelique.”
“I DON’T LIKE YOU. I DO NOT LIKE YOUR PERSONALITY.”
Awesome.
For the next five hours, Rizzo yells at me at least every 10 minutes or so. I walk by and she starts screaming, for the entire room:
“I HATE THAT RED HEADED BITCH!”
At one point, she comes over faking to be her sweet self
“Miss Alice, do you have any trash for me to take?”
She always loves throwing stuff away for people, so I try to keep a little pile going for anytime she asks. I point at a few old medical gloves I had already used, and some tissues. She picks them up, wads them into a ball, then shoves them in her mouth. I jump up.
“Rizzo!”
She spits them out at my face, then hobbles off.
10 minutes later, she is back.
“Miss Alice, do you go to church?”
“Yes…”
“Do you take your little baby to church?”
“Uh, yeah…”
“I HATE YOU ALICE! YOU’RE ARROGANT, WITH YOUR SEXY ASS WALKIN’ AROUND HERE!”
Another woman paces in circles around me, muttering to herself over and over, “She says her name is Lauren…” then mimics my bent over scribbling in my notebook.
By the end of the night, I am transferred to work in the Men’s Ward, away from Rizzo, who had decided to pull the flat screen TV down and throw it at me. I rescued the TV but managed to get hit, scratched, and spit on, with a little “You’re the most despicable Bitch I’ve ever known!”
You would think the Men’s Ward would be scarier, and it definitely has a much scarier worst-case-scenario, but for the most part, the men are cake to work with. Unlike the women, who are constantly needing things and bickering and being catty with each other, the men are much more chill.
We watched Die Hard together, and when I had to turn the TV off, with my usual “I Hate To Be The Bad Guy,” they all just got up, said “That’s fine,” and “Goodnight,” and went to their rooms.
Unbelievable.
I had charming conversations, like:
Pacer: I don’t know why, but a peanut butter jelly sandwich sounds really good right now.
Me: That’s what I had for lunch!
Pacer: But... you don’t look poor.
Me: Oh… I just don’t like to cook… Do you like Ramen?
Pacer laughs: Yeah, I eat it a lot.
Me: Me too, me too…
There is also a guy who looks remarkably like Johann and doesn’t speak, but lopes around tall and bald with a mauve bedspread wrapped around him like a hooded monk.
One man looks so incredibly “normal,” and when I stalked his chart, I saw that he had once been an attorney. He approaches me politely and asks if I will get a stapler and hang up the picture he has just drawn. He is so proud of the deranged pastel landscape he has sketched, and wants a minimum of 8 staples to hold it up.
Another guy apparently told Rizzo earlier that he was going to kill her, something the Nurse found alarming, “since, you know, he actually is a killer, and all.”
And All?!
After a stretch of nights like this, I wonder sometimes whether I will actually make it long enough here to take full advantage of the health coverage…
I just don’t like getting medical bills like this:
At times, it’s fun. But when it’s not fun, you’re getting TVs thrown at you… Who knows.
What I do know, is I am ready for the snow to melt.

29 January 2011

The Shout Heard Round The Ward


So, I work in a Psychiatric Hospital.

It’s so weird. I just hang out with them… my first night there, we watched Cinderella, which seemed strangely ironic, because as poor Little Cinders “Wished To Go To The Ball,” I couldn’t help but see the strange correlation between the patient’s own wishes. Most of them seem okay with being there… but some of them like to sit and talk for hours about how they are NOT CRAZY and NEED TO GO HOME. One poor lady, let’s call her Dot, is always looking for her purse or her keys, so she can go home.
Dot: Honey, I can’t seem to find my keys, and I’m about ready to go home.
(WHAT DO I DO I HAVE NO FRAMEWORK FOR THIS WHAT DO I SAY)
Me: Oh, well, we’re taking care of your keys while you’re here, but we’ll get them back to you when you leave.
Dot: Well, I think I’m ready to go home now, it’s been a fine party and I’ve enjoyed catching up with old acquaintances, but I’m ready to get back on the road.
Me: Yeah, it’s just kind of dark outside, maybe you should go ahead and stay here tonight.
Dot: Oh is it dark outside? It’s only 7:30…
Me: Yeah, and it’s pretty cold, I—
Dot: There’s not a lock on my door, is that safe? Will somebody get me?
Me: No, no, I won’t let anyone get you.
Dot: Okay, goodnight Honey!
Me: Night…
Dot is one of the sweet patients. You quickly learn who is sweet, and who might just haul off and punch you in the face, or try to grab a fist of your hair.

Like, Rocky.
Oh, Rocky… My first night, Rocky just kept to the side of the wall, glaring at me and periodically yelling offensive things in my direction, while accusing me of going into her room. Rocky has been in the hospital for years, and is incredibly low functioning. She hardly socializes, can’t be compelled to wear shoes, and spends most of her day yelling to the air and making beaded necklaces, which she refuses to take off. After about six hours, she finally came over and sat beside me.

Rocky: Hey how you doin’.
Me: I’m tired, but I like it here. 
She just stares...
OH PLEASE DON’T HIT ME.
Rocky: Wanna Play Cards?
 Me: Uh, yeah. Yeah.
We play a game of War, and it goes well, as I put on my signature face-of-blankness, keeping my cool as she periodically gets mad and starts yelling at my deck.
Rocky: DON’T YOU DO THAT, I SEE YOU! 
Halfway through, she grabs my wrist, turns my hand over, and inspects my cloth bracelets, which are the only one's I am allowed to wear to work.
Rocky: What’s that, where’d you get that?
UH IT’S A CLOTH WATCH, FROM LAOS, I THINK IT’S MAKING A STATEMENT ABOUT THE LOW IMPORTANCE OF TIME IN THEIR CULTURE, UH.
Me: It’s a bracelet, do you like it?
Rocky: I can make stuff like that.
Me: You can? … You should make something for me.
Rocky: You want one of my necklaces?
HOLY CUSS, NO WAY!
Me: Wow, I uh.. are you sure?
She pulls one of her dozen strands of beads from around her neck, hands it to me.
Rocky: Here. Put it on. Around your neck.
Me: Wow, thanks.
Rocky: I have a watch too.
She proudly shoves her wrist in my face.
Me: I think we call that bling.
She actually LAUGHS.
Rocky: Well, it’s not real bling.
Then she gets up abruptly, walks to her room, shuts the door, and spends the rest of the night shouting incomprehensible things to the empty room.

That’s like, the thing to do.

That is, when you’re not randomly singing to the walls.

Which is what Louise* likes to do, in her room, curled on the bed with her small radio pressed to her ear.  It'll be 2 o'clock in the morning, relatively quiet, and all of a sudden she'll start singing an off-key rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, mixed in with America The Beautiful, Two Octaves Too High.  In the same breath, she serves up a helping of what we like to call Word Salad:
“THAT PERSON IS TRYING TO HURT ME, AT THE END OF THE AUTOBAUHN, THERE WONT BE ANYMORE. MAY FAIR!”
Louise likes to saddle up really close behind me when she wants something. Right in my ear, harmless but terrifying with her Bilbo Baggins voice—“Can I have some juice? I’ll do you a favor!”

She’s harmless, but probably best suited in a single. And yet, the powers that be—those who do bed assignments—clearly don’t think so, because they put a new admission in her room…

The Preacher Lady.

Oh, Preacher Lady.

She shuffles across the floor in her clogs, with a Guttenberg sized Bible, peacefully blessing everyone she passes.
Preacher Lady: I am not crazy.
I nod. I am an expert in nodding. And mmhmmming.

Preacher Lady begins to sing the Hallelujah Chorus, gliding around the room with her hands held high. She enters her room, meets her new roomie, and within minutes has offered to cast out all of her unclean spirits. Holding her down on the bed, she shouts things like “Abomination!” and “Repent!” and “Legions Of Angels Are Surrounding Us!”

Louise seems to like this strange new game, and plays along for about a half hour, rocking back and forth, singing a strange pseudo-harmony of “Blessed Be The Name,” until she decides to mix in a bit of her own delusion.
Louise: Here, they want to take our picture!
Preacher Lady looks around, politely confused.
Preacher Lady: Who? Who does?
Louise: The walls! -she points-The people in the walls!
Preacher Lady: Oh, okay…
Louise jumps up from the bed, drags Preacher Lady with her.
Louise: Here, stand here, now, raise your arms, like the shape of the cross.
Preacher Lady does so, a euphoric, though slightly disturbed, look on her face.
Louise: Now, bow.
Their arms entwined, they bow low, to the wall, which is apparently taking their photo.
Preacher Lady: Well hallelujah, God bless you, Amen.
But Louise is ready for a new game.
Louise: Can you count to 100?
Preacher Lady: Well, yes.
Louise: Can you count to 200?
Preacher Lady: Yes.
Louise: Can you count to 300?
Preacher Lady: Yes…
Louise: Can you count to 400?
Preacher Lady: Yes…….
Louise: Can you count to 500?
Preacher Lady: ……Yes……………….
Louise: Can you count to 600?
Preacher Lady begins to answer, but Louise lunges forward, getting as close to her face as possible.
Louise: HOW LONG DO YOU THINK YOU’RE GONNA LIVE?!?!?!
Preacher Lady rears back in terror, and flees to the common room, while Louise falls back on her bed, laughing and reciting the Lord’s Prayer maniacally. Preacher Lady rushes to me, rubbing her hands anxiously as she hunches forward to whisper in my ear.
Preacher Lady: I don’t want to be mean, but I could feel The Spirit moving, and she found a little boy and she, she flushed him down the toilet, and I said I don’t like that, because I—I drowned before!
She turns, bolts back into the room, and stands over Louise.
Preacher Lady: Why did you ask me how long I was gonna live?
Louise: Because I want you to live to be a thousand years old!
Preacher Lady: Well it just made me feel like you was threatenin’ me…
Louise: I… I am the devil… and you—YOU ARE JESUS!
Preacher Lady bolts out of the room, grabbing her pillow on the way, so she can sleep on the couch, “away from the devil.”
Preacher Lady: So help me God, it’s true, I’m scared to even go to the bathroom in there, she’s possessed by the Big Boy, I tell you what, I’d take a lie detector test.
Preacher Lady proceeds to spend most of the night detailing her paranoid theories, breaking in occasionally with strange questions like “Where were you when Kennedy was assassinated? They say everyone remembers where they were when they heard the news.” It’s these sorts of comments that make me realize how out of touch some of the patients really are, even when they’re functioning at a somewhat normal level… I mean, I was Negative 23 Years Old when Kennedy was assassinated, and I think that should be pretty obvious by looking at me, but something about the way she views the world and reality prevents her from putting that together.

My first night, I was a little put off by how much the workers sort of laughed at what was going on… I was all Compassion and Business and thought it seemed a little insensitive, but honestly… a lot of it IS funny… I’m sitting there and a lady… let’s call her Sparkles (because she always wears a sequined beanie) walks across the room, doing a sort of dance, because she only steps on the blue tiles.
Sparkles: Hey uh, why’s uh that lady wearin’ a diaper, huh?
A Nurse: She has a medical condition, it prevents her from having accidents.
Sparkles: Maybe she uh gots a monkey up in her pants, and it does her peein’ for her.
How can you not find that hilarious?!

You really never know what to expect. All of the patients wear ID bracelets with their photos. I like to point at them and ask “Who is that? Is that you?”
Rizzo: That was me when I was 17.
Nanny: That’s not me, that’s my father.
And then of course there is always Rocky, with her Treasure Troll hairstyle, trying to pick fights with the other patients.
Me: Rocky, why’d you throw that piece of cake?
Rocky: That wasn’t me. That was just someone who looked like me.
One patient believes she is in a POW camp. Another thinks she is at daycare-- which isn’t that far of a leap since I’m always fetching coloring sheets and juice boxes for her. And Nanny, well, when I first started, I was told she never talked. But when she was going to sleep last night she asked me if “the party is over.”
Me: Yes, the party is over.
Nanny: Did everybody go home?
Me: Yeah, they all went home.
Doesn’t talk? Ha. A few nights before, she’d been asking over and over for a snack, which I—monster of the year—had to refuse, because her blood sugar was dangerously high. I was trying to distract her. I was desperate. I was coming up with anything…
Me: Nanny, the President is about to come on TV, do you want to watch him?
Nanny just stares at me, like always. But then--
Nanny: I don’t know anything about that.
I nearly fall over. She Speaks!
Me: Well, I don’t either, actually…
But she went with me, and we sat there, watching the State of the Union address while everyone else ate their 9 o’clock cake. I peppered the speech with bits of commentary, pointing out the First Lady and Hilary Clinton and various other notables. After that, we watched several episodes of an absolutely terrible reality show about weddings. A couple hours in, I turned to her.
Me: Do you like this show?
Nanny just stares at me, hard. Then there is the flicker of an almost desperate smile.
Nanny: No, not really.
That’s funny.

But then, a lot of it’s really not funny.

Rizzo, who looks like a little girl melted into someone’s sweet Granny, is infamous in all of the wards for her violence, despite being barely 5 feet tall with a cute little ponytail and a shaky voice. Half the time, she is nearly singing, her eyes bright and happy as she makes polite requests. She likes to call me Alice.
Rizzo: Alice? Can I get my pad and paper and write about you?
Rizzo will sit for hours writing in her legal pad. 

Sometimes, it is a detailed sketch about Paris.
 Sometimes, it is a well written narrative of a story she once heard.
 Sometimes, it is a list, like “Reasons I Like Black Men.”

 So, she asks to write about me, and she has that I’m-About-To-Start-Throwing-Tables look in her eye, and even though we can’t share personal details, I’m ready to do anything to keep her from getting upset.

She holds her hand out. I take it, and we begin to walk to her room.

Her jaw juts out and her eyes go cold. She begins pulling on my hand, weighing me down to the side.

We reach her room.
Rizzo: Alice, is it Friday?
Me: No Rizzo, it’s Thursday.
Rizzo: G-D DAMN YOU ALICE! I HATE YOU, EVERYONE KNOWS YOU HAVE A HARD ON FOR JEFF!
Me: Rizzo, I am a happily married woman, that’s not nice.
She pulls my arm as hard as she can, trying to knock me off balance.
Rizzo: I F---KING HATE YOU, ALICE!
Me: That’s fine. Go to bed.
Rizzo: Alice, is it Friday?
She is back to her sweet voice, sweet face.
Me: No Rizzo, it’s Thursday.
Rizzo: Okay, thank you Alice. I’ll go to bed now.
It’s hard to imagine their realities. A lot of the women who come through here believe they are pregnant, by their dead husbands, or immaculately. They have strange habits of behavior that they can’t seem to control, clapping their hands together, beckoning to the air, or flipping manically through the pages of a magazine. Some are paranoid, refusing to drink out of containers, and insisting they see their water straight out of the faucet before they will drink it.

Some of them, you can only guess at their full pasts. I’m addicted to stalking their charts, reading every single entry and trying to piece together whatever I can about who they are and how they might have come to be like this, but other information is just pieced together, by noticing whether they sleep with the door shut or open, the light on or off.

Preacher Lady, who gives me equal mixtures of alarm and amusement, is certainly fun to write about. When she is awake, I am constantly grabbing my little notebook and my pen, quoting her. But the other morning she came out early, because she couldn’t sleep, and started listing off the birthdays and weights of all her children, long grown and with families of their own.

Listening to her, I couldn’t help but picture her as a mother, sacrificing for her kids, cooking their meals, and driving them places. I saw her celebrating their birthdays and buying new dresses for their weddings… By 5:45 she had given me a Brief History of Preacher Lady’s Life—starting when she was 15 years old, on the bus to church camp—and ending earlier this winter, when her husband died, and she wasn’t there to say goodbye. She was crying, hugging me.

It’s serious stuff sometimes, and it’s hard. I have to say it though: I love my job. So far. And yet, I’m a little scared to admit it, because I also feel like I might decide to quit at any moment.

Did I ever, EVER think I would want to work at a Psychiatric Hospital? No. But it seems like most of the things that take hold and change my life for the amazing are things I never planned on, never expected. So for now, this is what I do. My goal, when I came back to this land of the free and home of the brave, was to keep my life as unaffected as possible, to not regress into the mundane, humdrum, unsatisfying life I had so willingly created before I left. I think, so far, I am fulfilling that goal. ( I also think that I might be addicted to terrifying myself. )

*If it isn’t obvious, I’m making sure to not use the patient’s actual names, or any identifying information. Creating new names for them equals my new favorite game. Like, Lucy, who I named after the Peanuts character, because of the DOUBLE STACKED BLACK WIGS she wears every single day. Sweet as can be, the combined mass of her wigs is about three times the size of her tiny white face, billowing out around her like she is growing Lord Voldemort within the curls. Everyone stops dead in their tracks the first time they see her, then devises subtle plans for how they can sneak up behind her and lean in for a closer look.

Unless, of course, you are Sparkles, who just cackles, waving her hands over the wigs like she is trying to put out a fire, and shouts, for all the ward to hear: “WHY ARE YOU TRYING TO ENTER IN A RECEIPT AGAIN THE!”

And I just nod, and say “Mmmhm, Sparkles.”

21 January 2011

American Culture Shock?

Okay, I am now sitting at six weeks back... and I think maybe I'm in culture shock? Or life shock? Or something... I don't know.

Why now, when life is supposedly starting to Make Sense? I actually cried the other night... on the phone, and the talker tried to comfort me by saying that "Everything Is Falling Into Place."

What does that even mean? Everything... Falling Into Place.

I guess it would appear that way... things have been looking pretty good... I've gotten an incredibly interesting and challenging job that fits in with what I studied, and is a stepping stone to what I hope to eventually be involved with...

And I've been pining after my bed and my French press and walls on which to hang my tapestries, but now that I've moved into my new house... cute as it is... I just feel... odd about all of it.

I'm almost entirely moved in, to the point where I'm actually pulling clothes out of storage bins and putting them on hangers. This is a big deal for me. This is what Sars would call a bedframe, a.k.a. Something Lauren WIll Never Get Around To Doing, based on my inability to complete basic life tasks like putting my bed on its frame for the first year we lived together.

But now I am actually tackling my Life Bedframes with gusto. I'm making Get-Done Lists and I AM GETTING IT ALL DONE. I am actually functioning like a normal, stable adult.
(well, mostly.)

But still, as I'm de-bedframing my life, hanging up my clothes and dusting the top of the mailbox, this strange thought keeps pushing its way in, unbidden and not entirely welcome...

"Don't Get Too Comfortable..."

WHAT?!

Don't get comfortable?! I haven't had a "home" in 10 months! Isn't it time for a little comfortableness? And yet, as I unpack and arrange all my shiz to perfection, hoping to showcase my awesomeness to the world, I don't feel all the elation I was expecting... Mostly what I feel is this bleak sort of desperation... A fear that, if I am not careful, my life will go back to exactly what it was before... Maybe I'm not meant to live a life of stability? Maybe I just can't handle options when it comes to footwear, and maybe there is no unlearning the habit of re-stowing your toothbrush in a backpack after every use? Is it possible that I am just meant to always be living on the brink of chaos?

Maybe it's culture shock?
Hopefully it will pass.
Right?
Is that something I should hope for?
Or am I right... should I not get too comfortable?
Is having “everything fall into place” the exact opposite of what I want?

I’m really hoping this is a premature freakout, for me to look back on and be like “OH! Look at all my panic and angst, little did I know how wonderful everything was about to get, and how much I would grow as a person!!!!!!”

I hope I don’t sound like I’m whining about privilege and opportunity and good things in life… I don’t mean to. I’m ABSOLUTELY TERRIFIED of my job, now that I’ve actually seen a little more of what it’s like (More on that later, oh so so so much more on that) but I’m still pretty excited about it, and everything I will learn from it. I’m also plugging away at revising ze big hunk of crap I like to call “my writing,” and have scheduled my rewrites out so that I will hopefully finish the first round by the end of April (because I measure my life in April's, and veer to the side of cheesy when it comes to setting goals).

Speaking of goals, I was asked yesterday what my "TEN YEAR PLAN" is...

I mean, what?

To her credit, she didn’t just pop it on me, I sort of forced her hand, by being generally vague and unresponsive.

“You majored in African American Studies? Oh, what do you plan on doing with that?
“Oh, you know…”
“Well, what are your larger goals? Where do you see yourself ten years from now?”
*UNINTELLIGIBLE BOUTS OF LAUGHTER AND HYSTERIA*
“What would you say your ten year plan is?”
“I don’t even have a ten WEEK plan!

We were having lunch, and it was about to get awkward if I didn’t pony up some sort of answer. So I rambled on something about how there wasn’t any one THING I wanted to devote my life to, that I would work towards and sacrifice for, intent on achieving it. I can’t be the only person who wants to live, who is ambitious, and yet has no perfectly measured end in sight, right? All I could tell her was that in ten years, I will be happy if I can look back on a decade where most days I was able to fall asleep and wake up, knowing that I hadn’t compromised any aspect of myself, that I had stayed out of debt, and thus free of consumerism and empty pursuits, that I had filled my life with the things I love—writing, people (specific ones, and ones that catch me off guard as I go), art, good books, good conversation, and an unceasing pursuit of new experiences, new places and new situations that make me have HOLY CRAP WHAT HAVE I GOTTEN MYSELF INTO?! Moments.

That’s all I can come up with, and I’m pretty sure I’m okay with that.

My biggest fear, my biggest conceivable failure would be to look back on any stretch of days and feel nothing but regret or confusion over how I’ve come to be where I am. I’ve already been there, I’ve already done that.

So I suppose the next question is whether whatever I’m doing with my life right now, falls in line with that larger “goal?” I guess this is yet to be determined… I definitely feel like this new job will be comprised almost entirely with HOLY CRAP WHAT HAVE I GOTTEN MYSELF INTO?! Moments, so that’s something… I’ve got a decent number of my favorite people nearby, though some pretty important ones are scattered a few hundred and a few thousand miles away… I’m still pretending to be writing a book, which as my Bio defines means I drink a LOT of coffee… I could go on, but already the writing of this has made me feel quite a bit better… It may have put you to sleep, but there’s something about putting everything into words that helps me realize exactly what it is I am feeling… It’s empowering and crippling all in one blow, but I’d rather feel everything within me than find myself ignoring it, or—even worse—feeling nothing.

Okay, there is a rather fabulous “Shower” playlist waiting for me, so I must close for now, and go sing loudly and proudly to the paper thin walls, which do little to keep the heat in, but are plastered with tapestries, and a part of this place I have CHOSEN to consider my home.
At least for now.
Don’t get too comfortable?
Maybe.
Maybe not.
We’ll see.