I’ve told y’all a little bit about the Parrots’ leftfielder, Travis. He’s the younger brother of our captain Josh’s best friend Dylan, born and bred in San Marino, a very wealthy community just south of Pasadena. He’s 22…and, to all our surprise and shock, he tried to kill himself over Labor Day weekend. He said it was ok for me to write his story, so here it is. It makes for a big ole post, but it’s pretty serious stuff, so I decided not to break it up like I do most of the other longer things I’ve written.
I always thought that Travis was this cool young guy with a great throwing arm who liked strip clubs like every other outfielder I’ve ever played with. He’s never missed a game, and not for one minute gave me the idea that he had any kind of mental problems.
That’s until last weekend, when he drove himself to the Colorado Street Bridge (it’s famous as a ‘suicide bridge’) and started climbing up so he could jump off. Lucky for everyone a cop car was driving by and saw him…and they picked him up.
They didn’t just stop him from jumping, though. They put him in handcuffs and drove him to the emergency room at Huntington Hospital (the same place me and Keaton took the dude Keaton KOd a while back)…and the hospital admitted him to their psych ward.
I found all this out from Josh when Travis didn’t come to the last game of the season and we had to play with 3 outfielders. (We lost, too.)
I asked Josh where Travis was, and Josh answered that he was in the hospital. I asked where, and he said Huntington. Meemaw taught me that, when you have a friend in the hospital, you go and visit them, mostly because being in the hospital is so boringass. So I asked Josh about visiting hours and Travis’ room number.
Josh got a little uneasy like he wanted to avoid the question. While he was hemming and hawing, Keaton came over and asked what we were talking about.
“Travis is in the hospital and I want to go visit him.”
“I’ll come with you, bubba.” Keaton turned to Josh. “When’s a good time to visit?”
Josh dropped his voice some and said: “I’m gonna tell you guys this, but don’t let the word get around. Travis’ parents want it kept as quiet as possible. He’s not exactly in the main part of the hospital. He’s in the psych ward. He tried to kill himself over Labor Day weekend.”
“Holy shit. Is he ok?,” I asked after I got over my surprise.
“Physically he’s fine. But they’re keeping him there because…well…because they think he may want to try again. I don’t want to give you all the details. Let’s just say that Travis has had psychological issues nearly all his life, and I guess they just got out of hand.” (Because him and Travis’ brother Dylan have been friends for so long, Josh has known Travis since he was a baby.)
“Can we still go and see him?,” I asked. It sounded like he could use his friends.
Josh then gave us a crash course in how they handle people who attempt suicide in California. Turns out they have something called a 5150 (that’s pronounced “fifty one fifty”)…which is a 72 hour ‘hold’. Hold basically means you get locked up in a psych ward and can’t leave. Not even if you want to go home. Then there’s what they call a 5250. If they think you’re still a danger to yourself after those first 3 days, they can keep you up to another 14 days, until they decide you’d be safe if they let you out.
When Josh told us about Travis they’d that day decided to hold him for 14 more days on a 5250..
“They don’t usually keep people all 14 days…but it’s up to the doctors. I think you can get a court order to be let out, but I think everyone feels Travis is better in there for the time being. His parents are pretty freaked out by the whole thing.”
“So when are visiting hours? Bubba and me can go see him tomorrow if we can.”
“They’re pretty strict. They only let you have visitors from 5:30 to 7…and they only allow 2 visitors at a time. So we gotta arrange it with Travis’ parents so no one else will be there when you go to see him.”
“Make the phone call, man,” said Keaton.
Josh did, and he arranged for us to go see Travis at 6:15 the next evening. I wondered if Travis’ parents were annoyed that Josh had told us about him, but I didn’t much care: a friend’s a friend and a teammate’s a teammate, and, when you have a friend or a teammate in trouble, you do what you can to help him.
Josh explained that they have rules for everything where Travis was, so there wasn’t a whole lot we could bring to give him. They don’t allow flowers, for example, and, well, flowers are usually what you bring to the hospital. Even to a dude. They do allow food if it’s factory sealed, and we know Travis loves York peppermint patties. (I’ve seen him leave silver wrappers behind him in the outfield.) So we got him a couple of those along with the new Sports Illustrated. It was the best me and Keaton could think of.
So we drove to Huntington Memorial, Keaton got the truck parked in the hospital garage and we found the place where they had Travis. There was a security guy at the door, and then someone came from inside the hospital with two people we guessed were Travis’ parents. The worker – I reckon she was one of what we called ‘Patient Care Partners’ in the hospital back home where I used to volunteer – saw us and asked who we were there to see. We told her, and she said to follow her.
We did, until we got to a big double door with a sign that read “high elopement risk” on it. Even I could figure out that it was a lameass way of saying that people might try to escape. When the woman opened the door using her big nametag as a key, we were in a hallway. It couldn’t have been much more than 100’ long, and there was another set of doors on the other side. I noticed a lot of doors on either side, but no windows.
Ok, so when you visit people in regular hospitals, you visit them in their rooms. They might have roommates, but they still have their part of the room where they have their stuff and can see people. That’s not what it’s like in the place Travis is: visitors meet patients in what I reckon is the dining room. It’s got three sets of tables and chairs (all connected to the floor); you sit on one side of the table and the patient sits on the other.
I’ve never visited anyone in jail, but stop me when this starts to sound like that’s where we were visiting Travis.
They even searched the bag that we brought the peppermint patties and the magazine in…and took the bag away before Travis came out. I think I get it…it was a plastic bag and people can try and suffocate themselves using one and there must be a lot of suicidal people there…but the way the patient care partner did it really made it seem like a jail. As though me and Keaton stashed a file or something in one of the peppermint patties. (Come to think of it, if the place had bars, Keaton probably would have stashed a file in one of them lol.)
Besides those three tables, the only other furniture in the room was a couch and a chair, both facing a TV on one of the walls. No windows. Bright fluorescent lights. Even I was getting depressed.
When he came out to meet us, Travis was wearing sweats and a plain grey vneck, but the thing I noticed most was that he had blue slipper socks on. I noticed them on a couple people who were in the hallway too. I know it’s a hospital thing, but it made an impression on me, especially since the two care partners there were wearing shoes. Travis hadn’t shaved in a while, so he had the beginnings of a beard. He’s a little taller than I am and around 175 pounds. He’s got blue eyes and blond hair he wears long in the front so it covers all of his forehead. We’ve given him shit for having Justin Bieber hair lol. It’s the kind of hair that a ball cap makes a total mess of, and that’s how he looked: like he just took off his ball cap…although I’m sure they don’t allow hats in that place. He didn’t exactly appear shrunken when we first saw him, but he wasn’t standing up straight and you could tell he’d been under fluorescent lights for several days; I’m used to seeing Travis outside and running to catch fly balls.
“I must look like shit,” he said to us after we’d shaken hands. “One of the many things they don’t have here is mirrors. It’s way beyond just not having belts and shoelaces. They take our toothbrushes away as soon as we’ve finished using them…because some idiot tried to kill himself using one. Don’t ask me how. Have a seat. The chairs aren’t as uncomfortable as they look. They even swivel some.”
So we sat down and I got a good look at Travis. What struck me right away was how sad he looked. I don’t know if that means he was officially depressed as far as the doctors and nurses were concerned, but he probably was. I reckon he had a lot to be unhappy about. He must have been unhappy about whatever it was that made him try to kill himself…and he must have been unhappy about being in that place. I sure as heck would be.
But he did seem pleased to see us, and he told us he was glad we brought him the magazine. He said it’s super boring in there and he’s been sleeping most of the time. He really wanted something to read, but the book and magazine cart they have didn’t have anything interesting to him.
Then we gave Travis the peppermint patties. He said he was only going to eat one (he just had dinner), and we told him he should save the other one for later. That’s when one of the workers came over and told us that the patients aren’t allowed to keep food in their rooms. Then Keaton suggested me and him split the other one so it wouldn’t go to waste, to which the lameass worker told us that visitors weren’t allowed to eat the food they brought…only the patients.
I sure hope no one has to have a birthday in there, since that would seriously fuck up birthday cake plans.
(The second peppermint patty didn’t end up going to waste. Travis broke it open as soon as he finished the first one and ate it while we were talking.)
When you go to visit someone in the hospital, you usually ask them how they’re feeling and they give you a report on what’s happening to them. Some people go on about that a long time, some just give you a quick update and want to talk about something else. Besides baseball, my main extracurricular activity in high school was volunteering at the hospital in Maryville, so I’ve got some experience when it comes to visiting people.
Ok, so what do you ask someone who just tried to kill himself and has been locked up in a psych ward? That’s a pretty big elephant in the room.
No elephant is too big for Keaton Penner. He just asked straight out:
“Why’d you try to do it, man?”
I should have expected Keaton would get straight to the point like that. I wasn’t sure what Travis’ reaction would be. I certainly wasn’t expecting for him to look as glad as he did that Keaton asked him. Like it was a big relief.
“I so fuckin need to tell my story,” he said, “and no one here wants to hear it. “They say it’s an acute care facility…and there are no therapists on staff. So there’s no chance to talk about what you’ve been through.”
“Can’t you talk to the other patients at least?”
“Have a look around,” said Travis. So we did. There was one dude who looked like he was homeless wandering up and down in the hallway outside the dining room. He was talking a lot, but I couldn’t make out a word of what he was saying and it didn’t seem like he was talking to anyone. I feel sorry for people like that, don’t get me wrong, and, if I passed this dude on the street, I’d of given him a dollar…but it was kinda shocking to see that they had Travis locked up with people like that.
“There are a couple what they call high-functioning guys here,” Travis continued, “and we’ve been hanging out. One of them is like me and just tried to kill himself, but he doesn’t want to talk about it. And all I want to do is fuckin talk about it. Even my parents haven’t asked…they’re both totally freaked out about my being in a place like this, especially Mom. Dylan’s protective of me like he always is, but he hasn’t asked about what got me here. I guess he thinks it’s just because I’m his crazy little brother…and I’ve always been his crazy little brother…so it was only a matter of time before crazy little brother ended up in the loony bin.”
“You’re not fuckin crazy, man,” Keaton interrupted. “Maybe that dude in the hallway is crazy, but you sure as fuck ain’t. I reckon you’ve got issues and shit, and maybe your issues are bigger than most people’s, but you’re crazy if you think you’re fuckin crazy.”
“I hide it well,” Travis said, looking down. “But I probably do belong here. The law says they can hold you if you’re a danger to yourself or others. I’m not a danger to others, but I definitely was a danger to myself last weekend.”
“Are you still thinking about doing it?,” I asked.
“Yeah…no….I don’t know. I don’t want to get caught saying that I’m having suicidal thoughts or I’ll never get outta here. You know they’re constantly watching us. They write reports on each of us every fifteen minutes. They even come into our rooms and check, all night long.”
All I could think to say was “dang”. I probably should have said more, but what do you say to something like that?
“Don’t get freaked out by this place like my mother,” Travis said. “I mean, it’s pretty bad…but it’s not like I’m going to be here forever. They told me they don’t usually keep people like me the whole 14 days. The fucked up part is that I’ll be able to take better care of myself outside – where I can at least see my own therapist and psychiatrist. And sleep in my own bed. And, oh yeah,” he said with the first smile I saw from him, “eat hot food.”
“Yeah, man, how is the food?”
“It’s shit. Cold shit by the time it reaches us. You should of seen what they sent me for a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch today. One side of the bread wasn’t even toasted, and the cheese had recongealed.”
“Ew is fuckin right. But I don’t want to complain too much. I figure that they’ll let me go home sooner if I’m a model citizen. I’d rather just sleep until it’s over, but that’s not going to convince them that I’m not a danger to myself.”
“Are you?,” asked Keaton.
“I don’t think so. Not now, at least. I’m not even sure I would have jumped if the cops hadn’t stopped me. I got to thinking I might hurt someone when I landed: there are houses and shit below.” He paused for the last bite of the first patty. “People who haven’t tried it don’t realize that it’s not so easy to kill yourself. There aren’t too many sure-fire ways to do it. The one thing that does work is a gun…but we don’t have one in the house. I think they used to…but they got rid of it when it became clear that their son was crazy.”
“So what made you want to do it?,” Keaton asked again. “You said you wanted to talk about it, man. Talk..”
“I have bipolar disorder,” Travis explained. “They first sent me to a therapist when I was 9, since I was already having problems. I first saw a psychiatrist when I was 13, and he made the diagnosis and put me on medication. I’ve been on meds since then, but it’s fuckin hard to find a combination that works.”
I didn’t know anything about bipolar disorder, so I asked about it. “You mean some days you’re real happy and some days you’re real depressed…and it just kinda happens? ”
“Pretty much…only mania isn’t the same as being happy. It’s pretty scary when it hits. It’s like your motor is racing and you do a whole mess of real stupid shit, like you can’t stop talking and you drive too fast. I scared away two different girlfriends like that. The medication’s supposed to keep my mood steady, and sometimes it helps, but they haven’t found anything that’s worked long term. They had me on something that made me into a total zombie when I was 15. I flunked half my classes because I kept falling asleep. They’re always changing my meds. It’s so fuckin frustrating.”
“So you got real depressed a couple weeks ago?,” I asked.
“I was depressed all summer long, but it kept getting worse. I got the feeling that my parents were tired of me and my problems and just wanted me out of the way so I could stop fucking up their lives. They were going to go on a trip to Europe in July, but they cancelled it because they didn’t want to leave me alone. You can’t imagine how bad that made me feel. Then…”
“Friend trouble in general. But, yeah, my girlfriend broke up with me at the beginning of August. I probably wasn’t much of a boyfriend since I was so depressed, but I still thought she liked me. Then my best friend from high school dropped me too.”
“The guy I was best friends with all the way through high school told me he didn’t want to be my friend anymore. He sent me an email saying that I was a nut job and all I was doing was using him as a psych nurse. He wrote we couldn’t be friends until I was well. He ended a friendship of 8 years in a fuckin email.”
“What a motherfuckin dick,” said Keaton.
“If he’d of had the courage to face me, I think I could have made it right, and we could have gone on being friends. But, without him and my girlfriend, I didn’t have a social life anymore. The only thing that was keeping me halfway sane was going to games. It was the only time I went out of the house all week. You guys didn’t know it, but you were practically my whole support system.”
“Then you should have let us know before it got so bad you went and did what you did,” I said.
“When I was working offshore in Alaska,” Keaton said, “we had a man kill himself. You get pretty close with the guys you’re living with in such a small space; it was a huge fuckin shock when he did it. I don’t want that happening to another friend of mine.”
“Teammates are there for each other,” I said. I know the Parrots only play one game a week and we don’t practice much, but we’re still a close group of guys. Of really good guys. Maybe if Travis had opened up to one of us…but I don’t reckon even Josh knew how bad things were for him.
“It was pretty surreal the night I went out to the bridge. I checked the place out the week before, so I knew when it would be quiet and where I could leave my car. I guess I could have ubered – someone in here told me a story that some chick had had an uber drive her to the bridge and leave her there. I think she was going to jump, but she changed her mind…and then sued the uber driver for negligence or something.”
“The fuck??” was my response this time, maybe a little too loud for where we were.
“So if you left your car by the bridge, what happened to it?”
“’The cops had it towed and impounded. Dylan got it out yesterday.”
“That’s at least good,” I said.
“So what happened after you left your car?”
“I walked to the middle of the bridge and started climbing up. I was never such a great climber. I figured once I got to the top of the fencing, I’d just jump off. But then I saw that there were houses underneath the bridge. I didn’t realize it was developed down there…and I didn’t want to hurt anyone when I landed. So that kinda got me thinking twice. I was real calm, though. Calm and quiet and just doing what I decided to do. It probably sounds weird, but it felt kinda natural and easy.”
“What happened then?”
“A Pasadena Police car drove by,” he said. His tone changed completely when he said that. It got totally matter of fact. “They told me to climb back down, and I did. You kinda just do what the cops tell you to do. Although I don’t know what they’d have done if I hadn’t climbed down. Not like they’d have shot me or anything.” He laughed a not very happy laugh.
“Were they at least nice?,” I asked.
“Yeah, they were. One especially. He apologized for having to put handcuffs on me…but that’s the procedure. At least he didn’t put my hands behind my back. Then they got me into their car. Did you know that cop cars don’t have handles on the back doors? I guess that’s pretty obvious, but I didn’t realize it until I was being driven away in one. I kept focusing on where the handle should have been on the inside of the door.
“They didn’t tell me where they were taking me until we got here. I thought they were taking me to jail. I felt relieved as fuck when I saw it was the hospital. Then they took me in through the ER. They did a whole bunch of tests on me, but there wasn’t anything physically wrong. I was there for 12 hours before they brought me here.
“Then some pretty demeaning shit started. They took away my wallet and keys and my phone, and I had to give up my belt and shoelaces. That really made me feel like I was being stuck in an institution – which is what was happening to me, although I didn’t fully realize it then. There was all kinds of shit to sign and a nurse talked to me for a while. I guess she was nice enough, but she wasn’t really helpful. She didn’t really want to hear about what I’d been through. I guess they see attempted suicide cases in here every day. Maybe they get bored of us or something. Still, you’d think a psych nurse would be more compassionate.
“Some of them are better than that, and there’s one who’s really nice and helpful. She’s very pretty too…a petite Philipina…”
“Your type,” I said, jokingly to Keaton.
That got a nicer kind of smile out of Travis.
“It’s so fuckin awful here,” he said. “You guys got no idea.”
I really didn’t. This was the first time I was in any kind of a psych ward. I’ve had friends with issues before, but, I’ll admit, no one with problems that were as severe as what Travis was going through. He’s the first friend I’ve had who tried to kill himself. It’s real disturbing when you find something like that out. Maybe I’m lucky, but I don’t think I’ve ever thought about killing myself. Sure, I’ve had problems and shit, and I get depressed sometimes, but that’s never led me to thinking about jumping off a bridge or shooting myself. I don’t think I’d have a gun in the house if I had thoughts like that. But don’t think I ever wanted to be dead. So I don’t reckon I could completely get what Travis was going through. I just wished I could do something more for him than bring him a magazine and some candy bars.
“You know you guys are the only people besides my family and Josh who’ve come to see me. My mom doesn’t want people knowing where I am or what I did. Does the rest of the team know what happened?”
“We kinda had to work at getting it out of Josh,” I said. “He didn’t want to tell us at first…”
“But bubba insisted he wanted to visit you.”
“I just don’t want everyone to start thinking of me as the crazy leftfielder. It was nice just being one of the guys.”
“That’s what you are,” I said. “A friend of mine who plays in the pros told me that, after the 2nd baseman, the other person a shortstop needs to make friends with is the dude back in left. You’re my leftfielder and my friend. It’s a good feeling knowing it’s you back there. This” I wasn’t sure what to point at “won’t change that.”
“Besides,” said Keaton, “what you’re going to find out is that people are just glad you’re ok.”
“I’m not so sure. Now the State of California thinks I’m officially crazy. That’s a real bad feeling.”
“Fuck the State of California.” That was obviously Keaton. The way he said it got another smile out of Travis. Then his face fell and he looked depressed all over again.
“Any idea when you’re getting out?,” I asked. “Or shouldn’t I have asked?”
Travis made kind of a disgusted face. One of the guys pacing the halls suddenly got a little loud. The care partner who was watching us went out to quiet him down. She did it like she was talking to a dog. Then she brought him into the dining room and gave him graham crackers and peanut butter, again like she was talking to a dog.
“It’s up to the doctors. That means the psychiatrist who’s in charge of my case, and, if you ask me, the dude is a fuckin sadist. But they’re keeping me here until they’re sure I’ll be safe, whatever the fuck that means. They keep on asking me the same 3 questions: am I having thoughts of harming myself, do I have a plan for harming myself…and am I hearing voices. I keep on answering no. The only voices I hear are the nurses asking me if I’m hearing voices, and I’m not lying here planning new ways to kill myself.
“Plus being cooped up in this place isn’t exactly giving me a new reason for living. More and more it just feels like I’m being punished. There’s one nurse here who even told me I was here to think about my mistakes and what I did wrong.” (Keaton: “fuck that [bitch].”) “I’m surprised she didn’t make me write ‘I will not try to kill myself’ 500 times on the whiteboard.”
Then the woman working there came around and told us – not very nicely – that visiting hours were over and we had to leave. Both me and Keaton would gladly have stayed, but they got rules for rules in that place, so we had to clear out. We both gave Travis a big hug when we left (Keaton’s not usually the hugging type); there was something real sad about the way he held onto me. For a couple seconds in there, I thought he was fixin to cry.
“What are you gonna do for the rest of the night?,” I asked.
“Nothing. There’s nothing to do. Read, I guess. Maybe watch some TV in here if they’ll put on a channel I like. Oh yeah, and at 8 o’clock we get our last snack of the day. Half a dry sandwich and some canned fruit.”
“You’re fuckin kidding, man.”
“Nope,” said Travis, nodding. “Don’t knock the dry sandwich: it’s usually better than dinner. So at least we don’t go to bed hungry.”
“What time do y’all go to bed?”
“Lights out at 10.”
I was about to say something about that, but then I realized it would only make Travis feel worse, and I wanted to leave him with something of a smile on his face.
“Get outta here soon, man. The new season starts 2 weeks from Tuesday, and I don’t want no ringer left fielder behind me.”
That got something of the something of a smile I wanted to leave him with.
It felt dang good to be back outside in the fresh air. It was a real hot day, but it was starting to cool off as it was getting dark, the way it does up here in Pasadena. Keaton and I didn’t say anything until we got to his truck in the garage. (It took us a while to find the lameass garage again. They need better signs at that hospital.)
“How come I feel like we just visited someone in jail?”
“Because we just did, bubba. That boy’s a prisoner in there. Yeah, they call it a hospital and say it’s for his own good…but they’ve got him locked up until they decide they want to let him out. That’s jail…and I know a thing or two about jails.”
I didn’t realize it in quite those terms until Keaton said it. I was also curious to know how come Keaton knew about jails, but I knew he probably wouldn’t tell me if I asked him outright. I was more concerned about Travis anyway.
“If they don’t let him out in the next couple days we should go see him again,” I said. “He looked like he was glad to see us.”
“Wouldn’t you be?”
“Here’s an idea: we should take him to a Dodger game as soon as he gets out and before the season ends. I know they’ve clinched already…but, if nothing else, Travis needs the fresh air. Do you think they let them outside at all while they’re in there?”
“Probably for some bullshit like 15 minutes a day.”
That only made me feel worse for Travis . It was gonna take a lot of fresh air…and ice cream, probably…to get Travis back to normal. I’m sure they were giving him all kinds of drugs and shit to help him, but having to take a whole mess of pills probably wasn’t going to help make him feel normal.
“I’ve never had a friend try to commit suicide,” I said. “I’m not sure what we should be doing.”
Keaton shrugged while we were stopped at the light at California and Arroyo.
“Not a whole lot we can do,” he said. “At least he knows he’s got friends.”
“Hospitals are lonely and boringass when they’ve got you in a nice room on a regular floor with your own TV and shit. It sucks that they only have visitors an hour and a half a day in that place.”
“He sure made it sound like he could use some friends. I can’t believe that his best friend would go and drop him like that.”
“There are jerkoffs in this world, bubba.”
I needed a beer when we got back to Keaton’s place. Y’all probably know that I don’t get depressed too often, but visiting Travis really got to me.
Once I was settled in the bean bag and Keaton had taken a few bareknuckle swings at the bag, I asked: “when do you think they’re going to let him out? We definitely should go back if it’s gonna be more than another couple days. Maybe over the weekend.”
“I’m down,” said Keaton, opening a Lagunitas IPA for himself and taking a seat on the couch.
“Do you think he really would have jumped?”
“He certainly got way too close to it. Part of him may still want to. Mostly I just want to get him out of that place. It’s worse than fuckin jail.”
“Are you going to suggest we break him out of there?,” I asked with a laugh.
“We probably could,” Keaton said, entirely seriously. “The security guard on the way in wasn’t armed. But,” he continued, “that would only get him in worse trouble.”
Then my phone rang. It was Dylan, asking if we had a good visit with his brother. I said we did, but that we felt bad for him being there. I didn’t want to say too much more, since I didn’t want to be telling tales behind Travis’ back. Travis is more my friend than Dylan is, and he has a right to a private visit with his friends.
It was a really tiring visit, though. I’m glad we went, and I feel incredibly bad that Travis has to be going through shit like this.
And one thing was for sure: we’re definitely taking him to that Dodger game.