Over Labor Day weekend, our friend and teammate Travis attempted to kill himself and was taken by the cops to the psych ward at Huntington Hospital. He’s been ok since then, but, at his brother’s wedding on Christmas Day, he got severely depressed again, couldn’t handle it, and hid out in the men’s room. From there, he called me and Keaton for help: he wanted to go back to the hospital and wanted us to drive him there. The last we saw of him on Christmas night, he was being led into the ER. Before he left us, he asked for us to visit him in two days; since Christmas day was on a Wednesday, that meant Friday the 27th.
So me and Keaton headed over to the hospital Friday afternoon. Visiting hours are very short, just from 5:30 to 7, and Travis told us that he’d keep the whole time open for us. We stopped at the Rite Aid on the way there to pick up a couple of those peppermint patties he likes as well as the new Sports Illustrated. That’s what we brought him the last time, but neither of us could think of anything better to bring.
The way into the psych ward at Huntington when you’re visiting someone isn’t through the front of the hospital, but through an entrance around the corner on Pasadena Avenue. There’s a gate and a walk with hedges and benches on either side. It makes the place look nice. The place they have you wait before they take you back to where the patients are locked up has comfortable chairs and still looks nice. It doesn’t give you an idea of what you’re in for when they come get you and show you into the psych ward.
A latino Patient Care Partner (I’m just going to keep calling them what we called them in the hospital in Maryville, since I’m not sure what they’re officially called out here) came out to take us back to Travis. He was a big guy, not big like Miguel at the Volcano, but still pretty big, and he seemed like the kind of dude you could have a conversation about the Dodgers with…assuming he wasn’t still too disgusted with the team to want to talk about them lol.
With him was a security guard who was very nice to us, but, dang did she ever look like a lesbian. They led us back to the unit. It’s not a long walk before you get to the double doors with the warning about the ‘high elopement risk’ that lead into the psych unit.
When we got there, the place looked familiar and not familiar, like I was remembering it wrong. Ok, I was only there for half an hour last time, so I might have forgotten the details, but I was sure that, at the other end of the hallway from where you come in was another set of double doors. This time, there was just a wall with a phone. But the rest was largely the same: one wide hallway, around 100’ long, with a pattern of different colored woods on the floor and a lot of doors on each side. Practically nothing on the walls, no windows, and a lot of fluorescent light. The other weird thing is that I could have sworn that the dining room was right on the left when you came in; it wasn’t this time. Maybe, I thought, there was more than one psych unit and we were in one of the other ones. I reckon that made sense: it’s a big hospital, and I don’t see how there could have been much more than 10 patients in the place me and Keaton visited Travis in in September.
The other difference – it was impossible not to notice it – was that this time there were more people wandering in the hallway, people who clearly had mental problems way worse than Travis’. There were two people like that when we got there: a black woman who was probably a little younger than me, with long braided hair in two colors. I hate writing something like this, but, if she’d been normal, she’d have been pretty, if not my type. She was just walking up and down, not very fast, not saying anything; she certainly didn’t make eye contact with either me or Keaton. Or anyone, for that matter.
The other guy walking around was this little Asian dude. He was walking faster, but the same thing, back to the wall with the phone and then back again to where the doors you come in are. He was talking with his hands and muttering to himself the whole time. The first time he passed us, I heard him say “how do you compare Miley Cyrus to Tom Cruise?,” and I thought he was asking me. So I tried to come up with an answer, but he’d already moved on and I realized he wasn’t looking for one.
Both of these were people you would think about crossing the street to avoid. I didn’t know if they were actually homeless, but I thought back our pastor’s sermon on Christmas day and about how we should smile at people like that. I didn’t think there was much chance of getting through to them, even just with “how are you doing?”, but I wanted not to treat them like they were scary or bad people, just because, like Meemaw would put it, they weren’t right. So I tried to smile when we passed the Asian dude the second time. I don’t think it was much of a smile, and it didn’t get any response. , when the latino patient care partner was leading us to the end of the hall, where the dining room was this time.
The dining room in this unit was at the far end from where you come in. The latino patient care partner was leading us back, but, before we got there, we got stopped by another Patient Care Partner, this time an older black woman who I could already tell wasn’t as nice as the latino dude. She was yelling something at the black girl who was going up and down when we came in…and the next people she yelled at was us.
“How come they let you in here with that bag?,” she asked, pointing to the Rite Aid bag Keaton was carrying with Travis’ magazine and candy bars. “No plastic bags allowed. Give it to me so I can see what’s in it.”
She said it in a tone that Keaton would have answered “fuck you” to if she’d been a dude and younger. But respect is respect, so Keaton just said “yes, ma’am” and handed over the bag. The woman looked at the three items carefully and said:
“You can’t have that magazine in here.”
“What?,” I asked, very surprised. “We brought one to our friend the last time he was in here.”
“Beg pardon, ma’am?”
“The magazine has staples. Not allowed.”
“Then we’ll take the staples out,” said Keaton, pulling out his penknife to do the surgery only to realize what he’d just done.
“You can’t have one of those in here either,” the woman said. “You’ll have to give it to me while you’re here.”
I caught a flash of the dangerous look in Keaton’s eyes, although he quickly got it under control. The woman did have a reason for what she said: one of the people in the psych ward could get hold of the knife and do something bad with it, although, if y’all have ever had a penknife, you know that they’re not exactly useful as weapons.
I could tell from the way his eyes shifted back from what Joyce calls ‘piercing’ to normal that Keaton was going to give the woman his knife…but not until he’d gotten the staples out of the magazine. He took the SI back from the woman before she could stop him, and, then, in a matter of seconds, he had the staples out and dropped those and the penknife into the woman’s outstretched hand. You could tell he thought it was fucking stupid, but we were here for Travis, and, because of that, Keaton managed to contain his rebel side. And I don’t mean ‘rebel’ in the same sense as the Maryville Rebels in high school lol.
“I reckon you should have mine too,” I said, taking Keaton’s Christmas present from my pocket.
“Yes, I should,” said the woman, practically grabbing it from me.
At least the peppermint patties were okay.
“No food allowed in the patients’ rooms,” she told us, like we didn’t know that already. “So your brother will have to eat these while you’re visiting him. Both of them: there’s no saving food.” We knew that already too.
“He’s our friend,” I answered. “Not our brother.” I guess me, Keaton and Travis do all have blue eyes and lightish hair, but I don’t reckon we look any more alike than that. Maybe it’s just that it’s mostly relatives who come to visit and they weren’t expecting a couple friends. But the mistake wasn’t making us like that woman any better.
“Here, bubba,” said Keaton, handing me the magazine, “you hold onto this.”
“And don’t let it fall apart and have the pages all over the floor.”
I kinda had to force myself to say “yes ma’am” to that.
The latino dude took over again at that point and showed us into the dining room, which definitely wasn’t the dining room we were in before: there was a window. It wasn’t open of course, and I was sure it didn’t open, but at least it must have let in some daylight during the day.
“I’ll get your buddy,” he said to us. “Grab a seat.”
We sat down at one of the three Burger King tables. There wasn’t much else in the room, just a TV on one of the walls in some kind of protective plastic box and two couches that looked super uncomfortable. Although they were red and not black, they kinda gave me the impression that they were made from old tires. There were no other visitors, so it was just me and Keaton in that room with the two patients walking up and down the hallway; we could see them each time they passed the dining room doors.
Then we heard this knock from the hallway and the latino dude said real loud: “visitors, Travis!”, like maybe Travis was asleep, although, if he was, I don’t think he’d like being woken up like that. Still, Travis was here because he wanted to be, and I guess he knew he had to put up with shit like having his door pounded on.
He came in a few minutes later, wearing light colored sweats and a Parrots tshirt, not one of our new green ones, but one of the purple ones from when I first joined the team. Once again I noticed he had dark blue slipper socks on, just like all the other patients there. They have white treads on the bottom, I reckon so you don’t slip. The weird thing is that the Asian dude walking up and down the hall and talking to himself had his on upside down. You’d think one of the patient care partners would have gotten them turned around. What’s weirder is that I keep noticing the slipper socks. When I mentioned them to Keaton on the way home he said he hadn’t noticed them at all (“who studies fuckin slipper socks? – I worry about you sometimes, bubba” lol).
“Like my loony bin outfit?,” Travis asked, sitting down. “I asked Mom to bring it especially. These are my drawstring-less sweats I got here last time, and I thought seeing myself in a Parrots shirt would make me feel better. Then, when I went to put the shirt on, I remembered there were no mirrors.”
“Still, you know you have it on – and that there’s a whole softball team that cares about you a lot.”
“Did you tell anyone that I was here?”
“Just Josh, and only because we needed him to help contact your parents. As for the rest of the guys, we don’t have practice until after New Year’s, and you’ll by out by then. You can decide who you tell.”
“It is your fuckin business,” said Keaton. “You don’t need to tell fuckin everyone.”
“Or anyone,” I added.
“I know. You have no idea how much it meant to me that you two would cut your Christmas short to come and deal with your crazy leftfielder.” He continued quickly, too fast for Keaton to interrupt. “I know: I’m not fuckin crazy. But look where I am.”
Y’all know how people write “as though on cue” when something happens that illustrates what someone’s said? Ok, this was one of those times when that really happened. Suddenly there was a huge ruckus in the hallway. We couldn’t help but run to the door of the dining room to see what was happening.