I wakened to sunlight streaming in through the window. It took me a minute to clear enough cobwebs from my head to recall the previous day. It had been just before dinner time when I had arrived at the sanitarium, so whatever they gave me to relax with was pretty strong. I hung my feet over the edge of the bed and stood up. I wavered a bit, still woozy. Stepping to the window afforded me a view of the huge lawn fronting the property and reminded me that there were heavy steel bars on the windows. I crossed the room and tried my door. It was unlocked and so I ventured out into the open area, what they called the dayroom. Mrs Hill walked in through the locking door from the entryway and the corridor to the offices.
“Bob, you’re awake. Good. Come with me and let me explain what’s going on. I’m sure you’re curious.” She could say that again. I was also pretty pissed off at my father. I followed her out of the locked are and down the corridor to her office. A frosted glass window made up the top half of a solid oak door. Her name was painted on the glass and beneath it the words ‘Facility Director.’ She went behind her desk and sat down and pointed to a comfortable overstuffed char that faced her desk. I sat down.
“What’s happening here, Mrs. Hill?” I asked.
“Your father believes that you are suffering from a mental illness. He has had you committed to our care.”
“For how long?”
“So far, indefinitely. But we do have a say in that and we’re going to be giving you some tests and have you speak with a number of our staff psychologists and psychiatrists. I’ve known you a long time, and I find it difficult to believe that you’re in need of commitment, but we’re going to do as your father has asked. Do you mind talking to me or the other members of the staff?”
I told her no, I didn’t have a problem with that. She smiled widely and told me not to worry, that things would work out for the best. worse come to worse, in a year I would be 18 and could choose to leave. She sent me back to my room after explaining the rules, where I was allowed to be, and a few tips in getting along with the others who were confined as I was. She reminded me that most of them needed to be at the institution.
I admit that I had always been highly strung and independent. I got on just fine with my mother, my friends, and usually my sister -although she often took dad’s side in any disputes. I had been expelled from three schools for violating rules repeatedly, but they were rules like reading after lights out, leaving the school grounds without permission, and for being kind of a wise guy with people in authority. I wasn’t a thief, I didn’t vandalize property or things of that nature. I tended to have disagreements that resulted in trading blows with fellow students, but it was reticently admitted that I never through the first punch. I usually just got on someone’s last nerve until a battle broke out. For the most part, I got on well with other students, of course having a core group. A posse or a clique of friends I hung with. I wasn’t a liar, when confronted with a perceived misdeed I wouldn’t deny it but often had a ‘so what’ attitude attached.
Back in my room an orderly strolled in and gave me another shot. He said it was vitamins, but the way I seemed to drift into the Twilight Zone shortly after inoculation indicated maybe it wasn’t vitamins. In fact, it was Thorazine. It was given to all patients as a matter of course. The food they served was about as good as I got at the school, maybe a step up. But it still was mass produced and seemed to be mostly meatloaf, pork chops, and fried chicken with sides of vegetables, a piece of white bread and a pat of butter. They gave me a number of models and the tools to make them. A week later I had eight model airplanes festooning the horizontal surfaces in my room. Other than that I watched television. Mornings and afternoons offered little I was interested in, mostly soap operas and game shows. When the afternoon came, so did the cartoons and sitcoms. Thanks to the drugs, time seemed to just slip by. There were a number of fellow patients in with me. None of us was interested in making friends, but neither were we adverse to talking. Conversations tended to relate to television. “James Arness does a good job as Marshal Dillon but the fella that plays Chester, well, I think they should have gotten Jack Benny.”
“Jack Benny?” I repeated.
“Yeah. He’s a riot.”
“I’m going to go read.”
I did have sessions with Mrs. Hill, Dr. Brunner, a psychologist, and Dr. pained who was a psychiatrist and MD. He signed off on everyone’s prescriptions for zombie juice. I was neither happy to be there or unhappy. I was just sort of idling. A lot of that thanks to Mr. Thorazine. When three weeks had passed, Mrs. Hill sent for me and I met her in her office.
“There’s nothing wrong with you.” she said. “You’re an intelligent but spirited young man with a streak of independence a mile wide. But you aren’t mentally ill and my personal belief is that you don’t belong here. In fact, I think it would damage you in the long run if you stayed. I explained this to your father but he insisted that I and the staff should take more time and test you further. He is convinced there’s something wrong with you. I asked him and your mother to participate in family sessions. I think if we can get a good dialog going that we can get everyone to see the value in each of you. Your father, however, refused saying that he wasn’t crazy and didn’t need a psychiatrist probing his mind. Your mother was happy to participate, but you already get along with her wonderfully and so I don’t feel there would be much point.”
“So, you’re telling me that even though I’m not a looney, I have to stay here because my father doesn’t like me.”
She looked sad. “That’s a way of putting it.”
“There’s nothing I can do?”
“Well, no. In my professional capacity I cannot suggest that you fight with the therapists or get your hopes up to be released. In a personal capacity though, I thought I’d mention that maintenance is washing windows this afternoon and all of the restraint grilles will be hinged open so the washers can reach the windows to clean them. You can go back to your room now.”
What did she just say? And was she grinning at me when she passed along that tidbit? Is this a trap? I jump out a window and run and that proves that I’m unstable and should be locked up? I went to my room and sat there thinking. The orderly should be by shortly to give me my Thorazine shot so I waited for him. I saw him with his try of vials and syringes, but he walked past my room, giving me a smile and a wink as he passed. I went over and shut my door and stepped to the window. Sure enough the bars were hinged wide open. I tried the window and it was unlocked and slid up quite easily. I stuck my head out and looked all around. I saw no one, not even the window washers. Being on the ground floor, it was nothing to swing my legs over the sill and then hop down to the ground. I ran hard straight across the huge lawn, making for the gate. No sirens erupted, no dogs or technicians were chasing me and I made it to the gate and jogged down the street towards freedom. At the end of the block I heard my name called. Katy, Mrs. Hill’s 18 year old daughter was standing next to her parked Volkswagen bug.
“Get in.” she said.
“Right about now my mom is talking to your mom, apologizing that you managed to slip away and that she has NO idea where you’ve gone off to, and wondered aloud if I would head to New York City. I’m taking you to our house. You can stay there while we all work up a plan for you.”
“Wow.” I said. “This is exciting.” Katy laughed as she drove. I watcher her a while, check out her pretty face, long brown hair that hung to her shoulder blades, and her deep blue eyes. “So, um, are you seeing anyone?” She laughed again.
“Mom said you had a lot of spirit.”
“So, are you?”
“Not at the moment.”
to be continued …