Abbington Psych Hospital, Constance CT
Friday, February 28, 1997 – Concerned that I’m rising too quickly—up the “status ladder.” I entered this place on Maximum Observation: a staff member with me always, even during sleep; then Peer Escort: could go almost anywhere on the unit so long as a fellow nut came along; and Full Unit: could go almost anywhere by myself. Now I’m on Full Unit With Privileges, which means that every two hours I can go out on Smoke Steps. Soon I’ll be on Full Unit with Privileges and Activities, so I’ll be able to go to the Cafeteria, the gym, art therapy, etc. It concerns me that I am going to fly out of this place, poorly healed.
Saturday, March 1, 1997– The new patient, Shelly, just eloped. As we were being lead to the Courtyard for smokes, she slipped past Mental Health Worker Billie Jean who was guarding the unlocked fire safety door. End of the line as I was, I didn’t see anything until alarms went off and extra staff came rushing in, as they do, like apparitions through walls. We were corralled back onto the unit without our only butt opportunity of the afternoon
She was on 3-North for only a few days, transferred from 4-North. With short red hair and no visible secondary sexual characteristics, she looked like a freckle-faced, pre-pubescent boy. All I knew about her was that she interrupted every group in order to go pee. I mean every group. She must have gone forty times a day.
The consensus is that Shelly has killed herself by now. It was all she spoke of.
Paris, the unit gossip, filled us in on Shelly’s story. “She told me last night,” Paris said. “Everything is fucked up inside. It’s like hamburger; the worst is her bladder, so she has to pee, like, every twenty minutes.”
“We already know about her peeing,” I said. “But why?”
“Last year, on her birthday, when she turned sixteen,” Paris continued, adjusting, of course, her mammoth mammaries while she spoke. “She told me she was writing in her journal, and the more she wrote about her boyfriend and the way he treats her, and her dad and the stuff he did to her, and about…just about her life…”
“Yeah, we understand: Journal!”
“The more she wrote the more she got sad. And the angrier she got. She said she started writing about all that Sweet Sixteen shit, and that’s when she got the idea.”
“The Journal!” Paris said. “She ate it!”
“She ate her journal?” I said.
“The whole fucking thing! Page after page.”
“Okay” I said, picturing it for a moment. “But I’ve eaten paper before; I mean maybe not fifty pages worth, but I don’t think even that much would hurt you. Hell, it’s probably good for you…fiber and all.”
“Yeah, but when the insides were gone,” Paris continued, “and the cardboard covers, there was that other thing…. It was one of those curly notebooks.”
“Yeah, spiral binder. And she stretched out that wire part, and she cut it into, like, twenty pieces…and she swallowed ‘em.”
“Ouch! Man!” I said.
“Then,” Paris continued, “she started doing sit-ups! All those little bent-up wires poked her all up inside. Her boyfriend found her passed out on the bedroom floor. The doctors said if she hadn’t eaten the paper first she’d be dead for sure. All that mush kinda got in the way. Still, she’s had, like, five operations to put her back together and plug-up all the holes.”
I can’t get to sleep. Thinking of Shelly. I didn’t know her, really. And from what I gather, she was no great joy to be around. But…
Is there some intricate design I don’t understand, some system in which it makes clear, complete sense that a tortured little girl should become a tortured teen, and end there? Is it possible?
Sunday, March 2, 1997 – They called a special Sunday Unit Meeting after breakfast to inform us that Shelly was found. Dead. Hit by a train as it approached the Constance Station. The police haven’t ruled it a suicide, Dr. Dole told us with an emphasis that belied his discomfort and self-doubt. But, come on, are we to believe she lost her footing and fell across the tracks?
It’s over for her, and I don’t know what to make of it. I mean, from what I’ve heard, she grew up ugly, poor, and stupid in an ugly, poor, and stupid family—mistreated emotionally and sexually as she figured out this life business, and then again when she hooked up with that boyfriend. Now it’s over. And in one respect I am happy—inasmuch as there is no more pain to wade through. But, was there a point to it? To her seventeen years on the planet? Am I misunderstanding something? Or is this not stunningly inequitable…and heartbreaking.
Monday, March 3, 1997 – Today is not going well. Chrissy’s dad is visiting again. I want to destroy him—down him with a body check and pound the teeth right out of his goddamn mouth; make him bite off the tongue that licked his daughter’s twat; knee him in his putrid balls until they’re liquefied, so he’ll never again mangle the spirit of a little girl.
Was she the only one? Does he stop at incest, or is he the well-loved, gentle old grandpa of the neighborhood—the one who fingers the crotches of little girls, the assholes of little boys as they sit on his lap in the park?
Why is he free to come and go as he likes. Where does he get off playing the part of the well-meaning dad who, like clockwork, even though it’s terribly inconvenient, visits his sick little girl, all the while looking as if to say, “Oh, it’s ever so sad…my confused child…. So ill”?
The staff treat him with respect, smile when they unlock the unit door for him. Do they know that he is innocent? Is there some professional yardstick by which they measure guilt and insanity; and have they proof that Chrissy is making it all up? And me? Am I making it up? Is what I remember, what I dream about almost every night, nothing but fantasy? Do the doctors and staff know this? Is that how they can remain so stoic toward us while they smile at him and say, “Hello, Mr. _________. How are you today”?
Well, my status has been lowered: I’m now on Staff Escort, so I can’t leave this chair in front of the nursing station unaccompanied by a staff member. I’m considering running full-speed down the hallway and smashing myself into the window at the end of it. Damn Plexiglas.
Nurse Whatsherface is already at the terminal explaining in my patient notes how I walked up to the door of the nurses’ station and yelled, loud enough for Chrissy’s dad to hear from where he sat in the hallway with her, “I don’t want to be around that child-fucker!”
“Jon, stop yelling,” Nurse Whatsherface said back to me.
“Stop yelling? Stop yelling! Everyone smiles and makes small talk with that pervert, acting like Grandpa Walton just walked onto the fucking unit, and you want me to stop yelling? He raped her!”
“Jon, this is unacceptable. You are behaving inappropriately!”
“No! What’s unacceptable is to have that pedophile twenty feet away from me! What’s inappropriate is expecting me to sit with him without saying this,” which is when I turned to him and yelled, “Nice to see you again, Mr. Daddydick! Got any pre-pubescent pussy today?”
Cam got into the picture, rushing from the end of the hallway where he was doing checks. “Jon,” he said, “you have to stop this!”
He kind of crowded me into the doorway of the nurses’ station and said, “I understand you’re angry and upset, but you can’t act like this on the unit unless you want to be put into the Quiet Room.”
“I don’t give a shit about the Quiet Room! Put me in the Quiet Room, but you’re gonna have to put me in there every time that degenerate comes around here with his caring daddy act; because if that sick old fart is here when I get out, if you ever force me to be in the same room with him again, I’ll break his fucking neck.”
Nurse Whatsherface was walking the guy to the exit by then, and I yelled over Cam’s shoulder, “Hey, grandpa, you want to go in the Quiet Room with me? I promise to be gentle.” But the door closed before I got an answer.
I was in there for half an hour. No restraints or anything, since I wasn’t violent…just loud. I’ll be on Staff Escort at least until the end of this nursing shift.
I haven’t seen Chrissy since. I think I upset her. With all the scurrying to remove her dad, I couldn’t get a good sense, but I think she was crying. So, who’s the bad guy here? Is it her dad, or I, for bringing into the open what everyone wanted, perhaps needed, to keep under wraps?
Tuesday, March 4, 1997 – Chrissy stayed in her room, avoiding me I assume, all of last evening and all of today, until our group with Dr. Dole. He brought up “the business of Jon’s behavior toward Mr. ________.” Chrissy sat, tight-lipped, as Marcia, Paris, and Darryl talked about how it made them feel unsafe: “All Jon’s screams and threats.” Dr. Dole talked about it in terms of violence: “That type of behavior is destructive, and in a real sense, suicidal.”
I stayed out of the conversation for most of the group. Until Chrissy turned and asked, “Why did you do that to me, Jon?” which I thought was a reasonable question. But before I could attempt an answer she continued, “You don’t freak out at Marcia’s or Darryl’s or Paris’s visitors.” This, I thought, was odd. I mean, she wasn’t angry that I’d yelled at her dad in front of everyone, but that I’d done it to him alone. It wasn’t that I’d said the unspeakable –“We all know you raped that girl you’re sitting with”—but that I’d somehow singled out her and her dad to be put under the spotlight.
I don’t think I could have answered the first part of the question, because it was
unconscionable to have splattered her issues all over the unit walls like that, out of my own rage. So I took a shot at the second. The words were coming from my mouth before I had completely formulated the thought: “Your dad is the only perpetrator who visits the unit.”
Dr. Dole cut in to correct me, “Jon, you don’t know that to be true.”
“Yes I do.”
“Jon, all twenty people here have visitors from time to time, and you can’t know which of them are possibly, as you say, ‘perpetrators.’”
“Exactly!” I said. “That’s the damn point! The only people on the unit whose history I know well are these four in this group. If Darryl, Paris, Marcia, or I have visitors, they are either friends or siblings.”
“Marcia’s ex-husband visits her,” he said. “And Darryl’s mother has visited him.”
“Jesus, Lurch!” It slipped out just like that, my nasty nickname for our 6’6” shrink. Paris and Marcia let out quickly stifled cackles, and Darryl looked annoyed, while Lurch didn’t react at all. Blank Slate.
“Sorry about that,” I continued. “What I mean is, Darryl’s mom didn’t diddle him, his grandfather did; Marcia’s husband didn’t beat the shit out of her, her mom did. But when Chrissy’s dad is here, I know I’m with the one. The one who did it!”
“But that doesn’t make it okay to disrupt the unit, not to mention how it might have effected Chrissy.”
“I know, and I’m sorry for that. But watching everyone…watching me…go about business as usual while he’s here…. It feels like, maybe you, I mean you professionals, the staff…it feels like maybe you think Chrissy’s making it up. And if you think she’s making it up, maybe you think I am. Do you?”
“Jon, what I think isn’t the issue. What’s important is what you think.”
“Yeah, well, thanks for nothin’,” I said. “The only thing I need, the only fucking thing I need from this place, is for you to say, ‘Yes, Jon, it is my professional opinion, and the opinion of Dr. Koin that you were sexually abused as a boy.’ If you could say that, and if I could believe it, I’d leave this hole tonight. No problem. But all you have for me is, ‘Jon, our $200,000 worth of education allows us to say…Hmmm, well, we don’t know. Hey, wadda you think?’”
The group ended with that note still floating in the air.
Thinking and thinking about this insurance situation, and I am ready to explode! I won’t allow those money-grubbing bureaucratic fuck-wads to rob me of my chance to get well—again! They happily receive their exorbitant fee every month, but now that I actually need what I’ve been paying for…. Every single day I spend here, every session with Dr. Koin, every group with Dr. Dole has their fingernail scratches ripping through it!
I just called the insurance company: “Okay, so you don’t think I’m suicidal; you think I should be sent home? Here’s the deal: You can kick me out of here on Friday, just as you plan. But on Monday morning I’ll be at your offices, and when the press arrives to film the guy with the gun, I’ll splatter my brains all over your goddamn corporate logo! And you get to explain why it is, exactly, that you denied my coverage—again!
Wednesday, March 5– Individual session with Dr. Dole. The insurance company called him. “Jon,” he asked, “did you threaten the woman at your insurance carrier’s offices?”
“No. I threatened to kill myself…at their offices. And it isn’t an idle threat.”
Evidently the woman was pretty shaken by my call. Maybe I should have gone higher up the ladder before letting fly my “threats.” On which rung, I wonder, stood the person who kicked me out of McLean Hospital?
Dr. Dole pointed out several times that making the phone call was indicative of my “pathology.” If it is sick to kill myself, and sick to fight for life, then what the hell am I to do? How fortunate he is to see so clearly, to have an unquestioning understanding of what I should do. No…he doesn’t even have that…or he’d offer me some direction. What he has is the singularly unimpressive ability to categorize, to label what I have done. Eight years of post-fucking-graduate work went into determining that my phone call was…rude. I wonder, if Lurch were in my position…No!… If his son were locked in here where he’ll be kept safe, like it or not, long enough to discover and perhaps correct what it is that makes living unbearable to him…then what actions would Lurch take? Would he call them and say, “My boy has tried to kill himself four or five times, and he wants to get to the bottom of this behavior so he might rectify it. Would you mind, terribly, if he stays in the Abbington Hospital?… Oh, I see…. You’d prefer that he leave. You appreciate my business, but all things considered, you would really rather just keep the money? Oh, well…I guess you know best.”
Anyway, after making clear how inappropriate my behavior was (clear to him that is…I was just acting in order to get on with things), he did say, “Well…uh…hmmm… well, it seems to have…uh…in this case…worked: they’ve agreed to release your entire allotment of psychiatric coverage.”
Jon Read is 44, a bit intense, lives in NYC, was expected to die two decades ago, and doesn’t really care what’s written about him here.