The open ward was significantly better than the closed ward.
Once he moved over Conner was given back the clothing that had been taken from him on admission, minus his shoelaces and belt. There was an open question as to whether or not he would hang himself.
He was feeling better. The docs had got him evened out on his meds again. During group therapy sessions in the open ward, the patients actually talked, about their problems, their diagnosis, and sometimes even the future.
Most of the patients had PTSD. The most frequent combination was PTSD and schizophrenia. None of them were as young as he was, in his twenties, but few of them seemed as old as the men in the closed ward, the majority of which seemed to peek north of fifty. These were the Desert Storm veterans. Conner was very young during that conflict, and from what he remembered, the entire thing was over quickly, and concluded with overwhelming success. A chill went through his heart, when he thought about it. If that war, being so small, could fracture so many lives, what would the ones he went through do?
He was given the freedom to walk around the hospital, for a period of time, if he signed out in a book. He went down to the first floor and bought a digital camouflage hat that said MARINES IRAQ WAR VETERAN. It had a large double embossed Eagle, Globe, and Anchor in the sort of fashionable way that New Era might have presented itself. It was the hat that brought the urge to him, when he asked the orderly for pen and paper.
"I cant give you a pen." The orderly said, "But here's a marker. And I only have printer paper."
"That's fine." Conner told him.
He ended up using both sides of each page, writing as small as he could while still being legible with a purple marker. The words poured out of him. All of it, Iraq and Afghanistan, and more, Camp Lejuene, the USS Bataan. All the people he had known, John Odle and Sgt. White, dead or alive, that he had not seen since getting out of the service. He wrote about the good times, the boring periods, and even the nightmares. When it was finished he was covered in a fine sheen of sweat. His heart was pounding as if he had been exerting himself. Then he went back to the orderly desk, got ten more pieces of blank printer paper, and did the same thing all over again.
The doctor was young, with a Jewish name Conner was soon to forget. He told him the writing was good, and smiled when he said it. He scheduled Conner for several follow up appointments with Dr. Robinson, and some sort of anger management classes. He recommended a book called Achilles in Vietnam, which Conner thought, if nothing else, bore a fine title. He had read the Iliad years ago, and remembered the way Achilles rode on his chariot, dragging the body of his fallen enemy behind him. A Marine thing to do. Suddenly, he remembered the sign they had left, on Blackwater Bridge, all those years ago, written on a trestle
THIS IS FOR THE AMERICANS
THAT WERE MURDERED HERE
That was what they had done. On rode Achilles, and on they road, on Strikers and tanks and AMRAP's, going house to house and killing. How was it so real to him, now, years in the future? Maybe there was no future, and no past. Everything was simply happening all at once, and we percieved it linearally.
On the night he was released it was his wedding anniversary. He plucked a rose from a bush that grew out front, and presented it to Jo. They drove around Houston looking for a restuarant that was still open, finally settling on Vietnamese food. The taste was new and different to him, and Caleb happily babbled in his booster seat and spooned noodles into his face. Maybe at last things would settle down, into a sort of equilibrium. Maybe he would find peace.