James Conner looked out the window of the fifth floor of the Michael E. Debakey Veterans center. It was raining outside. The rain made his wrists ache under the bandages. He shuffled around in his medically issued pajamas, and wondered what else would happen today.
There were two halves of the mental health wing in the Veterans Center, the open ward and the closed ward.
The closed ward was esentially a hallway, with a locked door on each end. There was one TV room, and many other residential rooms besides. There was a nurses station, where a bored looking orderly stood and read the newspaper. On the desks was a sign
Effective July 15,
All VA facilities will be
This was a big deal to the long-term residents. The smoke break was a sort of sanctuary for them. Conner imagined that all other hospitals, including mental-health hospitals, had been non-smoking long before this. But that was apparently one of the benefits of being crazy and also a Veteran, you could find solace in nicotine, while others couldnt.
The shambler bumped into the sign and knocked it down. The orderly sighed and straightened it back up. The shambler walked a circuit all day every day. A short circuit, like the one in his head, to one end of the hall, and then the other. He wore the little non-skid socks that were fashionable in hospitals, and the crazy persons bathrobe. He was gaunt and his hair was stark grey, and the shamblers expression was totally vacant. Whatever was wrong with him, he wasnt faking it. An announcement came over the intercom, "Group therapy in the closed ward, in the tv room. Group therapy in the tv room."
Having nothing better to do, Conner went into the tv room. There was a somewhat attractive woman there in semi-business attire tapping at a notebook computer. She wore a identification badge, which meant that she wasnt crazy, and thin glasses. Based on her age Conner guessed that she was either a student, or just out of grad school. On her face was the sort of oblivious expression of someone trying to care, but not sure just what is going on.
"Good morning!" She said.
"Revielle!" Mr. Sanders replied.
From the three group therapy sessions Conner had attended thus far, no one spoke besides Mr. Sanders. Sanders was a portly black man, with salt and pepper sideburns in the style of the X-Man Wolverine over a combination of razor bumps and acne. He had his own jaunty style additions to the ward's uniform of bathrobe and pajamas. Sanders wore no shoes or socks, displaying yellowed, corn-chipped toenails, and on his head he wore a Navy dress cap, like a sailor in formation, or Donald Duck.
"Can anyone tell me what day it is?" She asked.
"Tuesday!" Mr. Sanders replied.
"Close!" She smiled. "Its actually monday."
"Tuesday!" Mr. Sanders insisted.
"So." The young woman continued. "Can anyone tell me where we are, right now?"
"The ship!" Mr. Sanders said.
"Well, no." The girl-woman frowned. "Thats not quite correct, Sanders.."
"Thats MISTER Sanders."
"On board the USS Shreveport."
"The ship goes up, and the bodies come down."
"The ship goes up.." Sanders curls over, and unleashes a bracking sob, "And the bodies..dey come right...back...down."
At this point in time the shambler comes into the doorway of the television room and unleashed a tirade of what may be either profanity or gibberish. The orderly comes up to take the shambler by the hand, and ends up restraining him and trying to cajole him into taking his medication. The young grad student dismisses the group, who shuffle around, or go nowhere, or, in the case of Mr. Sanders, noisely start to fart. Conner wonders, is Sanders faking it? Was there a USS Shreveport, that suffered some sort of calamity, some sort of mind ending calamity? He takes a minute to think on the events that brought him here.
He had been drinking. He had been drinking and fighting with Jo, and he hit her, and he took the entirety of his pills, all three bottles. After that he went and dug the Gerber knife into his wrist, not just across his wrist but down, good, severing cuts, that make a mess and bled everywhere. Jo had called Dr. Robinson instead of nine-one-one, but it didnt matter, because Dr. Robinson had gone ahead and called an ambulance anyway. He had done a good job on his wrists, and spent a few hours on the first floor of the VA center getting bandaged up. They gave him meds to conteract the meds he had tried to overdose on, which wouldnt kill him, but did make him shudder and grind his teeth.
All throughout it, the face of Caleb ran in his mind. His one year old baby. What was wrong with him that he would do this? Which was a rhetorical question, anyway. When you had a diagnosis you knew exactly what was wrong with you. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder with Depression and Psychotic Episodes. He didnt function well with other people, or by himself.
At least work was taken care of. Dr. Robinson had called them and told them that Conner had had a allergic reaction to his medication and would need to spend the week in the hospital. It was not very close to the truth, but it didnt matter. The Lt. had swallowed it and he was on sick leave for the time being.
On the smoke breaks the big bald-headed black orderly in purple scrubs handed out cigarettes to everyone that didnt have a pack themselves. The smoke area was a sort of patio, with iron bars to prevent anyone from jumping over the edge. You could stare down at the parking lot if you wanted, or look around at the rest of Houston. Houston was a spread-out city. There was a downtown area with high-rises, of course, but not that many of them. Still, it looked better than Browning. He would have lived here, instead of Browning, given half a chance, not in this psych ward, of course, but in the city, one of the surrounding suburbs. The mood here was much more lively than the group therapy abortion. The veterans chatted to each other. Many of them spoke to the big orderly, who was clearly the favorite. They talked about their life and their condition. Relatives. Branches of service. Conner found a young soldier to chat with.
"Whats your diagnosis?"
"Thats what I got."
"What branch were you in?"
"Im in the Army."
"When did you get out?"
"No, I'm in the Army right now. fifth mountain."
"And they sent you here."
"For PTSD. Damn! That bitch is fine."
"I wouldnt mind taking her out."
"I'm going to show her some of this dick."
The were standing next to the full length glass of the door at the end of the closed ward, and the soldier took out his pecker and started to masturbate. This troubled Conner, who could see a parallel between it and the detainees at the prison, who would frequently jack off in front of an attractive female staff member, or even the occasional gorilla. There was a report that had to be filled out, whenever the incident happened. The detainee was charged with engaging in a sexual act. There was some talk of a push going on with the union to have these masturbators charged with sexual assault, and placing them under the stigma of sex offenders. But what usually happened is the detainee lost his telephone and commissary privileges, and continued his period of indefinite confinement, unless he was put on the bus ride back to Mexico.
No one seemed to notice the soldier. Conner got a look at the nurse. She was attractive, one of those off-white girls that might be black, or black-and-white, or Latino, Dominican, Cuban, unknown. She was different than Jo. He felt numb even thinking about it, what was Jo even doing, right now? Would she be there when he got out? The two instances he had called her cell she had not responded.
Lunch was served and the veterans ate in the tv room. The conversation was not forthcoming. Outside rain pattered down the window-panes, and Conner thought what might happen if he were to somehow break the window, and jump, and if the picture of his body would make it to the internet or the five o' clock news. But the glass was thick and he was tired of the closed ward already. He went back to his room and sat on his bed, quite bored, and wondered what in his life was going to happen next.