Here’s Crisis – Part 1
The following took place January 2008.
I’m amongst the crazies. The nurse gently grabs my arm, guiding me, telling me, “It’s going to be okay.” It’s what Jess said after she found me on the floor. She scooped me up, got me in the car, and dropped me here. Now she’s gone, and I’m surrounded by lunatics. They’re everywhere, picking, scratching, wandering the halls, shuffling in these half-dead steps. This isn’t a state-run facility. This isn’t Cuckoo’s Nest. This is Culver City, and the crisis center looks more like an office, only instead of desks and cubicles, there are Barcaloungers lining the walls. Most of the patients stare at the soundless TV.
The nurse walks me past the front desk. She asks, “You got any jewelry?”
“What about your backpack? You got anything valuable?”
“No, just a book and some clothes.”
“Well, watch your stuff. Some people like to get handsy.”
I still can’t believe Jess is gone. I wonder if she’s heading back to our apartment, or if she’s just going to keep going.
The nurse points out a little break room with a vending machine, payphone, and Kleenex boxes stacked to the ceiling.
I hear a growl, and I turn. A man with half his head shaved is coming at me. His eyes are wild. He wants to know why he can’t have more fucking water. I back up against the wall.
The nurse steps in. Her voice is soft and calm. She’s looking him straight in the eye.
“Charles, you need to stop right there.”
“This is bullshit.”
“What’s the problem, Charles?”
“I want my goddamn water!”
A few patients inch closer. They’re almost licking their lips.
“Charles, you can go to the drinking fountain,” the nurse says. “No one’s stopping you. You just have to walk over there if you like.”
“Yeah, well…I just…” he trails off, suddenly confused.
“It’s okay. You’re alright.” Gently, the nurse touches his arm – the same way she touched mine. Is this what I am? Am I Charles?
I see two huge patients sizing me up. My heart’s pounding. I realize the irony. An hour ago, I was ready to step off a skyscraper. Now, I’m afraid to die.
The security guard comes out of the restroom. He’s on his cell asking someone what she wants to do for dinner. Earlier, when he said to give him my belt, I handed it over because I was scared shitless. I realize now he’s just a rent-a-cop. He doesn’t even have a gun. If these lunatics wanted to, they could rip out his throat and take back our pencils. The only thing preventing a full-out riot is the nurses. They’re so calm. They listen to every concern and request. They never raise their voices. It’s all about de-escalation, diffusion. If one patient goes off, they need to put out the fire quickly before the rest ignite.
I ask the nurse, “Is it always like this?”
“Nah, this is slow. Weather’s nice. Most of these folk just came in here for prescriptions. Some of the others like to get out of the sun.”
I realize I’m basically at a homeless shelter.
When we get to an open door, the nurse stops and says, “I need to ask you something, okay?”
I’m ready for her to question how a guy like me ended up here. I have a master’s degree, all my teeth, and I don’t smell like pee.
She says, “Are you going to hurt anyone?”
“I need to know you’re not going to get violent. I’m putting you in the side room with some very sweet people, and you won’t be in our direct eye-line, and I need to know I can trust you’re not going to do anything.”
“No, I wouldn’t…no. I’d never…”
“What about yourself? You gonna hurt yourself?”
“Hey, it’s okay. No reason to cry. I just gotta ask, that’s all.”
“I know, I’m sorry.”
“It’s all fine. Come on.”
The side room is more like a conference room. There’s a long table and a huge dry erase board. Two heavyset women in their forties are at one end of the table gabbing. A guy wearing a green cellophane visor is at the other end.
He’s flipping through a stack of legal pads. Next to him is a man with a bulging torso and painfully skinny arms.
“Everyone, this is Anthony.”
The two women nod and smile. The guy with the huge torso blows his nose. Green visor keeps staring at his legal pads.
“Alright, you just sit tight,” the nurse says. “Someone will be back to get you when the doctor’s available.”
“So I just wait here?” I ask.
“Yeah, unless you need to use the restroom. It’s across the hall.”
One of the women asks, “Can I go out and have a smoke?”
“There’s a group going in about ten minutes, just wait here.”
The women go back to gabbing. The nurse leaves. I take a seat in the corner, clutch my backpack to my chest. I can hardly breathe. This is it. I’ve been caught. All I have to do now is come clean to the doctor, tell him everything.
It’s what I should’ve done years ago.
Two months before I met Jess I went to see a psychiatrist at Columbia. I’d spent that morning standing on the bridge connecting the main campus to the Law School. I was leaning against the railing over Amsterdam Blvd. Cars and trucks passed underneath. I tried to guess what type of automobile would crunch my skull. Finally, I got the courage, started to climb over when a Chinese delivery guy zipped out on a bicycle. I pulled back, realizing I could’ve killed us both, or worse, just him. I walked straight to the mental health department and sat down with a serious German doctor. I didn’t mention the bridge, only the paralyzing sadness I’d been feeling. I told him about a recent breakup. He asked a few more questions. I told him I could barely get out of bed most mornings. He said I had acute depression and prescribed me Zoloft, which made everything numb, mainly my dick.
If I’d told him the truth about the bridge, he might have had me committed. I might never have met Jess. She’d still be in New York pursuing her playwriting dreams, instead of following me to L.A.
“That guy’s an asshole,” one of the middle-aged women says. They’re back from their smoke break. Earlier they were talking about automotive parts. One of them works at Pep Boys. She apparently hates her boss.
Green cellophane visor man is pacing, mumbling something about twelve million dollars. He goes over to the dry erase board and pulls out a marker. They took my pencil, and this guy gets a marker? He starts scribbling numbers, calculations. It’s memorizing. He says, “How can you keep twelve million dollars, if you already owe someone twelve million dollars?”
For a second, I start thinking I might be witnessing brilliance, a genuine savant in action, but I’m distracted by the man with the skinny arms and huge torso as he peels off his Polo shirt. There’s a t-shirt underneath. He takes that off, too. There’s a yellow t-shirt under that. Off it goes. Then a blue one. A green one. It’s like a magician’s scarf trick, only with filthy shirts.
I close my eyes, start humming. Suddenly, the room’s quiet. I open my eyes and see everyone staring at me. My humming must have been really loud.
I can’t help but laugh. I’ve lost my fucking mind. The foursome doesn’t care. They go back to drawing, ripping off t-shirts, talking about windshield wipers.
I look up at the clock. The second hand barely ticks by. I look again and two hours have passed. The automotive ladies have been released with new prescriptions. T-shirt guy is gone, too. It’s just me and green visor man. He’s sitting at the end of the table like he’s Chairman of the Board.
I don’t want to be a part of this company, so I get up and head for the front desk. There’s a different nurse. She has long, red hair, like my mother’s.
“I’m sorry,” I say. ”I think someone was supposed to come and get me…Is there a doctor I can see? I’ve been waiting for awhile and—”
She flips through a stack of papers, finds my file. “It says you left.”
“So you didn’t leave?”
“And you haven’t seen a doctor?”
“No, the nurse told me to wait…”
“Well they should’ve gotten you. You’ve been here the entire time?”
“Yeah, I’ve been waiting two hours!” I catch her eyes searching for the security guard. “Look, it’s, uh-uh-uh, okay,” I stammer. I just…I just want to be seen, that’s all.”
She looks me over.
I say, “Sorry. Really. I’m just tired, and I just want to talk to someone.” I just want to come clean.
“Alright, just take a seat in there, okay?” She points towards small room with half-dozen recliners. A few homeless men are covered in blankets. I see their dirty socks poking out from the quilts. I try not to breathe and take a seat. A huge black guy is sitting across from me. One of his eyes is completely bloodshot. A nurse pulls up a stool next to him. She has a clipboard. She’s asking him questions, but he just stares at me. I look at my fingers, pretend to clean my nails. I tell myself this will all be over soon enough.
The nurse says to him, “What are you hearing in your head, Randolph?”
“I just want…”
“I just want to kill someone.”
I can’t tell if he’s looking at me or through me. Jess is going to feel guilty when she has to identify my head and body separately.
Another nurse walks in. “Anthony?”
I nod, wipe the tears.
“Dr. Marcos is ready to see you.”
I follow her through the main area and towards a little office. Dr. Marcos is filling out forms. His desk is piled with cases. It looks like he hasn’t slept in years. The nurse points me to the seat and closes the door behind her. Dr. Marcos keeps writing. He says, “Just be a minute.”
I close my eyes, try to formulate how to start my confession when he says, “Says here you were on Zoloft?”
“Yeah, I was, but…” I trail off. I don’t remember writing that down. “That was a couple of years ago.”
“Uh-huh.” More scribbling.
“I didn’t like it. I couldn’t function. I just felt like I was in a fog.”
“I see. Well, sometimes it’s a little bit of trial and error. Have you ever tried Wellbutrin?” He starts writing on a pad of blank scripts.
“No, but I’m not really… I thought this would be more… I thought there’d be more talking?”
“Well…there can be, but that’s not really what we do here. We deal more with refills on prescriptions. This is urgent care.” He looks at my file. “You mentioned that suicide runs in your family, yes?”
Again, I don’t remember writing that, but I must of. “My aunt did,” I say, “but that was a long time ago.”
“Have you ever had suicidal thoughts yourself?”
Just tell him. Say you were going to kill yourself this afternoon. You were going to ride the subway downtown, take the elevator to the roof and jump off the fucking ledge.
DO IT! JUST FUCKING DO IT! “No,” I say. ”I mean, in the general sense, sure. But mostly I’m just sad, you know?”
“Yeah. It comes and goes. I already feel better just being here. I think I just needed a break.”
“And you have no specific plans to kill yourself?”
One foot over the four-foot barrier. Then the other. Lean forward. Let gravity take hold. It’s only 700 feet to concrete.
“Yeah, I swear. Really.”
He stares at me for less than a second. “Alright, I’m going to write you a prescription for Wellbutrin, and I’ll let you go. But I want you to speak with someone at one of other facilities. They have great doctors and group sessions. I can make a call to get you an appointment. Sometimes it takes a while to get one otherwise. Will you do that?”
“And you’re okay?”
“Yeah, I’m alright. I’m fine.”
I’m a fucking coward.
“Okay, then take this form with you to the front desk and they’ll finish up the paperwork. And here’s the info about the other facility.”
I take the paperwork, thank him for everything. The nurse checks me out. I’ve never walked so fast in my life. I cross the street and realize I don’t have a way home. I’m at least ten miles from our apartment. I turn back to the crisis center, wondering if I should go back to use the payphone when I see our car down the block. Jess is inside. My knock scares her half to death. I get in. We hug. She won’t let go.
“I love you,” she says and finally pulls back. “So how, uh…?”
“It’s fine, they cleared me to go home. It’s all okay.”
“Are you…disappointed?” I laugh.
“No, of course not. I just…how are you?”
“I’m…” One step. 700 feet.
“Can we just go home?”
“No, please talk to me…”
“I’m…I’m not alright.”
End of Part 2
I’ll be posting the final installment in the next couple of days. If you or anyone you know needs help, please don’t hesitate to call 1-800-273-8255
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