Ward

The two delusional schizophrenics, sipping orange juice, are positioned in front of me. To my left is a bruised and balding woman whom I would later learn suffered from epileptic seizures. The alcohol and drug abusers recline on the couch and look bored. On the piano bench is a girl who had coughed up seventeen pills during the night and was still feeling woozy. The bipolar manic-depressives had taken the table next to the water jug and coffee machine, but I was refraining from conversing with them because they were grizzled and smelled of the poorly taken-care-of elderly.

This is group therapy session. Warden Jacob is the grinning idiot who leads us and he does so with the feigned and understanding enthusiasm of a middle school sex educationalist. He was having us, or the majority of us, talk about feelings and understandings and prejudices and strategies for coping with the hardships of life. I was in the room only because my supper of Ambien and twenty minutes of sleep had given me the manic visage of a deeply disturbed and brooding genius, for which the Warden had insisted that I join the rest of the group.

I had hated this man immediately.

"And why do you think it's important to have goals?" he was addressing his audience. I was too engrossed in the Soviet Labor camps of Ivan Denisovich to pay him his due, but the query was being currently undertaken by the grizzled bipolars and I felt that my contribution was not wholly necessary.

As far as I can tell, I have already participated more than I should have for the day. The Warden had had us fill out these absurd goal sheets at the start of the session as some perverse means to gauge our current life enjoyment. In precise cursive I had splotched three of the five blanks:

1: Finish Ivan Denisovich.

2: Master the chromatic scale.

3: Get the fuck out of this place.

The section that inquired how I would go about fulfilling these goals I left blank, and with several quick verses of Poe for the admiration of my own hand and for boredom's sake, I had extracted the sheet to the Warden before reacquainting myself with my literature. Even knowledgeable of my sanity, the Warden, I knew, must have been impressed with my efficacy.

"Focus," he says. "We are more driven and more caring when we are focused. And if we set our goals for the day high enough, then we will be focused for that day. Now long-term goals are important to keep in mind, too, but if you set them too high and too soon then you'll be more likely to step back into old habits. It's important to be reasonable about long-term goals and not to get carried away."

The audience is held rapt by this declaration.

"We practice keeping short term goals because it is a healthy habit to keep and it helps us to achieve our long-term goals in the future."

The Warden lets his eyes traverse the room with demanding invitation for comment. I hesitate away from my reading to notice the flagrant boredom in those half-closed orbs. The notation of hypocrisy, I must admit, is one of my more preferred aspects of humanity, and coincidentally the most readily available. I have met few who would willingly combat me in this opinion and this I have attributed to the simple fact that most of humanity finds the same enjoyment. And how could they not when half the world was delusional and desperately critical of everyone's faults but their own? It's called sucking the core of the apple and chastising the woman who has taken only one bite.

I suppose I would hate the rest of the world too if only their vices weren't such fun.

My glance in his direction has at this point given Warden Jacob plentiful provocation. I'm too slow to avert my eyes.

"Patient 1336654, can you give us an example of a reasonable long term goal?"

In the unspoken doctrine of respectable patient treatment, one never approaches the sane man with such impetuous questioning when the schizoids and the BPDs are awaiting such an interrogation in the wings. It is derogatory insult to my very expensive education and to my innate and sprawling intelligence to be vocally placed on par with such people.

My hatred is now twice validated.

Needless to say, I am cooperative when I am disadvantaged. It is one of my more endearing traits. Stubbornness with reserve, and I am very proud of because it demonstrates my two admirable qualities of moral uprightness and self-discipline.

When I do answer I choose to be deliberate. Were I to recognize the wanted immediacy of an answer and proffer mine under such circumstance, it would be detrimental in my goal to keep the Warden from thinking he has the upper hand on me. One must never let these hospital types dwell on feelings of power.

"Goals," I say. He over-exaggerates a nod. "Accepting a Pulitzer," I say. The Warden is off-put. "That is an excellent goal, but we're examining more realistic goals right now and how we could achieve those goals by making daily goals. That's the purpose of those goal sheets."

"Realistic," and again with the nod. "Well," I say, "You could keep yourself from ending up here."

I know that the Warden's first reaction is to laugh and to reprimand me lightly, so to put him on edge I focus in on his cockroach brown eyes and stare blankly. My eyes are dark and my hair distressed like an expressionist painting and my chin and sideburns wired with contorting fuzz. This is a disturbing impression and one that satisfies me.

"I think that's all of our goals, and that's why you're here right now. But what you will have to decide is what you're going to do to get out of here."

I smile putridly and cross my legs as if we are polite gentlemen and it was I who am entreating him to speak. "I think then," I say, "I'd avoid the chicken knife." The Warden frowns. The rest of the audience eyes me with suspicion and I think to myself that this is the attention that I like. Real human response aside from facsimile laughter and tear-choking confession and the bullshit professional pleads for healthy activity.

Before the Warden can vociferate his confusion I prop open my place in the Solzhenitsyn with the goal-sheet pen and proffer my wrists. I make sure that he could see the furious red scissorings, and let him indulge in the rawness for a brief moment, flickering a smile for his discomfort.

Yet to my childishness there was no annoyance or even much of a reaction at all on his unremarkable but distinctively ugly face. I am at once both supremely disappointed and supremely relieved; the former for the reasons that I had voluntarily subjected myself to his whims for the product of a mere glance, and the latter being that my display had secured the remainder of my inactivity in this horrid discussion.

The overtly sweet voice of the receptionist cracks suddenly over the intercom and shatters the lingering silence like a shivered mug.

"Patient 1336654 to see Doctor Isaac. Patient 1336654 to see Doctor Isaac, please."

I rise with too little hesitation. Black-lipped eyes, red veined eyes, bored eyes, tender pitiable eyes all follow me. I suppose that I can be thankful for my pensiveness as it had now become my want to pay little more than a perfunctory courtesy to these self-immolators and abusers.

Pitiable was the word. Pitiable my regard. Pitiable their allowance. Pitiable my maxim.

What motto proceeded pity was a very appropriate and very judicious distrust and one that some might gainsay as misanthropy. Perhaps there is truth to this. I distrust and dislike a great many people, doctors and Wardens and patients not least of these. This can come from many reasons; the theft of a book or a chair or a bit of coffee when one alights to a therapy session, or the abject lethargy of modern generations that has led to the ignorance of even the most basic of expected responsibilities, such as self-cleanliness.

Admittedly, I state this with more than a bit of passing resentment. To return eleven hours previous, I can divine twenty five minutes of passing silence as my deep blood welled and clotted with my right still clutching a very glistening Gerber Paraframe, that is, my wrist-cutting hunting knife. Twenty five minutes and with three passing acquaintances, all of whom paid me due attention and assuredly witnessed my stillness and opened wrists wrapped in a very focused and intense self-reflection to the backdrop of Sonata Pathétique, Liszt, and Ravel.

I lead myself through cream colored hallways that smell mildly of Providone Iodine Topical or some such antiseptic that as wafted here whether from administered pharmaceutics or from elsewhere in this cavernous place of health. Alongside the hallway are rooms of sanctimony where one can reflect or administer their spare time towards the lavish readings of donated People Magazine or off-brand manga. The rooms boast two chairs yet only in sessions with therapists or doctors were both chairs occupied. It in in one such gully that I come upon Doctor Isaac.

Doctor Isaac is a man who gives every impression of youth without actually possessing it. By quick surmise I have him at or around six foot and three to six inches, healthily although modestly built and with firm features that dictated natural, versus practiced, professionalism. He wears his light hair short and in a militaristically disciplined style. When he talks he does so with precision and speed and more than a bit of sarcasm. There is no deliberation in his voice but rather a firm exactitude. He interrupts often but listens well and when something needs to be said, it is done so with the inclusion of all crucial detail.

"Morning, Patient 1336654," he says when I enter. He holds a clipboard and chews his tongue. These are gestures comfortable enough for me to immediately approve his doctoral authority.

"Morning," I return.

"So what do you think you are in here for."

I proffer my wrists for the second time although with much less enthusiasm. "They say I tried to off myself."

He takes my hands without prelude, for which I am grateful. One day with all these psychotics and I have already had the displeasure of dealing with more therapists and counsellors who would hesitate to so much as enter the room without my permission than a sane man can bear.

"Yes," he says, "that's usually the occasion for slicing your wrists. But it's actually quite a lot more difficult than most people think."

"Yes, I'd come to that realization myself, sir."

"You said that they said that you tried to kill yourself. Were you?"

"No sir."

"What would you call it then?"

He releases my wrists. I instinctively run my forefinger down the furious indentions.

"Well it will sound rather strange to you, sir."

"I've heard strange. Say it anyway."

I resettle my legs and lace my fingers into a bunch. These actions aren't performed for comfort. They are done for the reemphasis of my already-practiced glibness and to put on the pretenses of professionalism. What I would now say had already been said four times prior so I felt that I had to appear masterful in both speech and conduct.

"Well you see sir, I'm a writer."

I let this sink in, but before long I continue because Doctor Isaac is less than comprehending.

"What I told the therapists and the nurses and that less-than-jovial Nurse Esau last night is true: yes I was in a low place but it wasn't too terribly low and yes I was having issues with the lady friend although this was not the prevalent reasoning for my little endeavor. They were not issues that I have not come across before and that I could not have worked my way through. I had gotten some sleep but no, not enough, and I had taken a nap that afternoon and woken up a little apathetic. If you're going to ask, I was reading A Tale of Two Cities and listening to Les Miserables and Ludwig van. Nothing very horribly depressing or demonic, sir.

"I suppose you could say the reason for this was in part to the apathy thing and to boredom. I'm too comfortable. And when I think of great writers, I see alcoholism and drugs and poverty and lack of social acceptance, and suicide. I'm too comfortable and I am well liked and so in a moment of irrationality brought about by apathy and some issues, I thought I'd get as close to snuffing it as possible to provoke a kind of emotional catharsis, sir."

I end my spiel by letting my eyes wander across the imperfections of Doctor Isaac's face. I am careful to keep my body postured and upright, figuring that I had to keep some part of me wandering or at least moving so that Doctor Isaac would judge the mobility as a sign of restless genius, rather than the contrasting immobility as the mark of laziness. I am careful not to remain too mobile however so that he can be aware of my calmly maintained self-discipline.

"So you sliced yourself for a catharsis?" he gathers.

I nod and suck my tooth.

"Had you thought that this might be achieved in a different way other than slicing yourself?"

"Well you think of Hemingway and you think of Plath. You think of very emotionally charged works; the kind of stuff you don't glean from a life of financial stability and the like. And then you think how they achieve, maybe it's because they faced adversity and they overcame it, and that's when they and their works became stronger."

I take a breath.

"I'm a bit of an advocate for that whole philosophy, if you hadn't gathered, sir. And in a moment of irrationality I wanted that kind of inspiration and didn't really give a hell how I would get it. All I thought was that this kind of self-immolation was the answer."

I can tell that he is listening because he isn't nodding. The unceasing bop of the head is the tell-tale sign of the purveyor of words who understands nothing. It's because when one nods one is not paying due attention to what is being said; one is making sure that his nods correspond to what might be appropriate to agree upon. A listener looks distracted because he is thinking and considering. He'll tilt his head and bite his lower lip without realizing it, and this is what Doctor Isaac was doing.

When he ceases his lip chewing he looks at me and I tell him that it was in fact a rational thought process if one thinks about it.

"Yes," he says, "but it's morbid. Normal people don't think that way."

"Yes sir, but I pride myself in being somewhat abnormal."

"Don't be cute, and I know you do. But let me tell you something else. This was a rational thought process that led to an irrational decision. Which means somewhere over the line you crossed from thinking like a normal person to thinking like an unhealthy one. And that's what I'm concerned with."

"I understand," I empathize, "why there would be concern, sir. But the fact of the matter is that not only do I not want to do it again, I don't need to do it again. The Warden had us talking all about coping strategies and all of that, but this wasn't coping. When things get bad I read or write or run because I know how to cope. Things weren't bad. They were boring. I killed my boredom by experimenting and the product of my experimenting is my time here."

"But there's no guarantee that you'll end here."

"There is a bit of a guarantee. No offense to you sir, but this place is hell. If I want boredom and drudgery and the kind of stuff that leads to serious psychosis then this is where I'll go."

"No offense taken. This place is awful. But what I'm saying is that you'll get bored of what you're doing down the line. And because you've already cut yourself, was it twice?"

"Twice is what I told the therapists, sir."

"Because you've already cut yourself twice you're now doubly likely to do it again. And that's what they mean by a coping strategy. When things get bad or boring you are now more likely to deal with the situation by doing what you did."

"I'll deal with things with how I've always dealt with them, sir. If I know that trying to snuff it again will land me here then I'm doubly likely to never touch myself with that wretched knife again."

"Listen to what I'm saying. You won't want to end up back here but because you're curious and you may end up trying it again just to see what comes of it. I'm only talking hypothetically here but I'd like you to be no-risk."

"Fair enough."

Doctor Isaac makes a move to get up. "Have you ever seen anyone like me before, sir?" I say as he gathers his clipboard. "Self-immolation for this kind of reasoning, provided that you could call it a reasoning."

"Actually no. You're telling me you just did it. I've never really heard of that before."

"I suppose that I can pride myself on that."

He catches the sarcasm. This is out of character for hospital types,who can't catch anything but the most shallow of elucidations. Doctor Isaac gives a grunting sort of laugh and says some sort of joke before I suddenly remember what I have needed to ask him during the course of the entire interview.

"And just as an estimate," I say, "how much do you think it is going to cost? I'll be paying for this alone because I'm less than eager for my parents to find out."

Doctor Isaac purses. "Doubt it. Unless you can afford about nine hundred a night. But you refused the ambulance on the way over, which was good."

"Nine hundred," I breath. "Isn't there financial assistance? Some way of lessening the blow? Any way of keeping this rather secretive from parents and the like?"

"You can talk to our financial representative later today about it although I'm not sure what she can tell you."

In a mental hospital, the word 'later' fast becomes script for hell. The more the 'laters' one hears the more one's sanity melts away into the sterilized air.

"Later," I say. This doesn't bode well for my plans to escape by noon. And I can feel the madness already encroaching from the haunting eyes of the schizoids; from the weak recirculated coffee; from the abominable books donated by the frowsty seventies and the promise of afternoon Matlock. I suppress the anxiety in my voice and muster forth. "How late am I expected to stay sir? I do have class and I need to get out as soon as possible."

Doctor Isaac rises again and chuckles rather malevolently. "You, Patient 1336654, won't be out of here until tomorrow afternoon, and that's at the very earliest. I need more time to work on you."

"More time, sir? I am surely not professional, but I don't think I'm a candidate for serious mental health issues. Irrationality, to be sure, but nothing more than that."

He laughs again and I think for the briefest moment that it would be very lovely to bash his face with that clipboard until his very elegant note-taking becomes bespattered in doctor-blood. Then I realize that he has taken my wrists without question and let me talk unhindered by all that mindless therapeutic bullshit of feelings and psychosis and the possibilities of my future harmful behavior.

I settle quickly and even chuckle along with Doctor Isaac although I have not heard what he has said. "What was that, sir?"

"I said if you want to be an artist, you could have just cut off your ear and mailed that to your girlfriend. Nurse Esau, from when you came in last night, told me that you said she's already heard all about this."

"For which I feel horribly guilty. I never meant for her to take responsibility about this the way that she did. As for the ear—" I gave a tug on my lobule "—I think I enjoy music too much, sir. And I believe that I'm better than Van Gogh anyway," I conclude with facetiousness.

I should realize that I have said something wrong as Doctor Isaac withdraws himself with all immediacy from the room and into the hallway, saying little beyond a promise for a follow-up tomorrow morning. This might have, I think, just cost my future dearly.

***

There is a connection between artwork and self-harm, they tell us, having to do something with the utilization of hands and mind towards productivity as opposed to destructivity. Had I wanted to be a smart ass I would have argued that self-harm and destruction were forms of art, but instead I choose to remain innocuous and silent as I line up behind my other compatriots and two interns: Leah and Rachel, to enter the art room.

The room has a smell of stale paper and lingering pastel and pungent glue that reminds me of the first grade. I realize instantly how much I hate the receptionist who suggested I spend my time in the creation of worthless nothings instead of in my room with Ivan and the Soviets. And I had only gone along with the idea too because she hadn't had that stern practiced understanding look on her face when she had asked to see my handiwork.

Before the art-making could commence, we're briefed with painstaking exactitude on safety precautions. Real scissors, as opposed to those damned plastic tissue-cutters, would be distributed for allotted timespans to cautious users; the choosing of music would be left to a unanimous group decision; bathroom breaks were to be monitored and taken without regularity. I ask the Warden once if I could go back to my room but he replies in the cold negative. This is retribution for what I had written on the morning's handout, and I make a mental note to think of something positively vile for the bastard to read on the next day's goal sheet.

I resign myself to the completion of my morning verses on a sheet of very pure sketching paper while Bob Marley's reggae chastises us endlessly for trying to, or considering to, snuff it. The horrible positivity makes me run Poe down my sheet in an angry, precise column:

'Prophet!' said I, 'thing of evil!' - prophet still, if bird or devil! -

Whether tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,

Desolate yet all undaunted--

"Hey bud, watcha writing?"

I face the inquirer and make sure that my face voices my annoyance and disdain. I read his name tag. Patient 6655321.

"Poe," I say quickly and without eye contact.

"The who?"

"Poe. The Raven. 1845. You have heard of it."

"Did you write that?"

"This. You mean? Yes sir, I wrote this."

"Really? Can I read wha' you wrote?"

"Sir."

My initial gesturing to the paper at his first query and my acquiescing follow-up sarcasm does me little good and I realize that I am now under the pretense of poetic genius. Explaining oneself out of situations such as this was never a prime idea, as I had come to realize through many months of practiced lying.

6655321 is on the third verse once he declares my writing too 'neat' to read. His follow-up declaration is publicized and it was that I should recite my genius aloud to the gathered audience, which includes a lanky fellow with burn marks and a nicotine patch, a powerful gentleman in mufti sporting matching bull rings in his nostrils and a fading Sigil of Baphomet on his forearm, and the two interns Leah and Rachel, accompanied by the Warden.

"I would not want to," I say in a weak yet earnest plea to be left to my own devices, "interrupt the creation of your bead necklaces."

I'm smiled upon and told not to worry and that they would love to hear what I had written despite the blaring Marley who is, it seems, attempting to make conversation as difficult as possible. Regardless, I begin softly and swiftly although I vocalize at my slowest capacity in order to achieve what I imagine to be a passionate rendition.

Eighteen verses later and my audience reels for what I assume to be the fact that I possess the ability for five minutes of uninterrupted and somewhat discernible speech, rather than for any amount of poetic genius. But the recitation, or more aptly my 'original work', has earned me credit. 6655321 is in friendly awe and regarding my need for silence. The Warden does not accompany me to the dilapidated bookshelf as I go to withdraw a Latin play for casual reading. I even end up replacing the Bob Marley CD without so much as a protestation with an old classical recording of O Mio Babbino Caro that I had found.

"This is Hannibal Lecter," says the man with the Sigil once the wavering soprano sounds her first note in the aria.

Certainly not Anna Netrebko or Renee Fleming, I think, but Hannibal was much further out of the question.

"It's Puccini," I say. "It's beautiful music."

"He sings this when he eats them. This is Hannibal."

Despite his stupid grin and the fact that the interns were laughing I decide that I won't hate the man because, after all, Hannibal Lecter is a genius and a very cultured one at that as well. Far worse comparisons had been made. I reason that I should even be, quite appropriately, flattered that our music tastes are comparable. And a sudden thought passes over me: that fat Sigil man; what would his liver with fava beans taste like? Like Bloom's inner organs of beasts and fowls: smoother and warmer than uncooked salmon with a lingering hint of finely scented urine? Or like cooked meat; the well-done Buddhist scraped brittle from a street corner where in placid nirvana he has alighted himself to his Creator. Even with weak coffee the meals sound more appetizing than chewy chicken with gluey cheese.

I make sure that I take the CD and pinch it securely against my chest and scrubs when we are ushered out of the art room. I walk as casually as I can, cross-armed, back to my quarters, and I settle myself into tedium with nothing save Denisovich and the unfulfilled promise of fourteen wonderful classic charts.

I ignore all by the iced tea of lunch and the pudding at dinner. To eat hospital food seems horribly demeaning and unnecessary when the idea of prolonged fast does not scare me. And the more I eat, I think, the more they'll start to think that I have accepted the idea of my own psychosis.

Tedium is the worst pain. That came from that brutish Cain-spawn bane of the Danes, Grendel. But he at least had plenty of havoc to cause and men to eat. I think about this in the dark silence for an hour, after having contemplated reopening my wounds with my teeth or with the broken plastic of the CD case. Denisovich is on the bookshelf and safe from arm's reach. I soon shrug off my already formulated plan I of rising from bed and turning on the lights for a quick read when suddenly two day's excess energy and malnourishment fells me like timber.

A damned forty five minutes later and I'm awoken sweating to be moved from my single to a double where I'm told I would eventually have a roommate. The attempt to recover sleep is futile, so I think with much sarcasm instead that the roommate would at least be a change of pace from dorm life, although I secretly hope that I draw a delusional schizophrenic so that I can make a story of it later. The possibility of a serious and potentially harmful psychosis is hardly frightening to me. I'm physically adept and a firm believer in my teenager immortality with two unbruised veins as my proof.

Not to my surprise, I don't sleep for the remainder of the night. My heart sounds off in dactyls and aside from this I'm covered in a greasy cloak of sweat that sticks me to wakefulness. Religiously, a nurse pokes her head into my room at fifteen minute intervals to make sure that I'm still breathing. The first time she does this she leaves the door partially open, and I can see one or two patients, mostly the old or the dilapidated, in quiet and contemplative stroll.

The effect becomes gradually more terrifying as the hours creep by. Three and four in the morning saw the appearance of the grizzled manics shuffling and scuffling as slow as zombies. There's a lethargic intensity focused into every soft step. It gives the appearance of unutterable thought channelled through minimal movement; a serial killer's thoughts of murder as he filed tax reports. My imagination becomes filled with Mansons and Dahmers and Gacys. All these mental bastards need now are dinner knives to be properly equipped for a butchering.

Unable to bear the routine silhouettes of the figures who cross and cross across my door, I gather paper from the weathered night receptionist at the front desk and set myself to writing with a halfway hacked away pen that blots often.

It's slow going. I write for three hours before boredom sets in and number the pages one through four. It's a letter, addressed My Dearest with a simple signature in place of the fancy squiggles at the end. I fold the pages into thirds and set them atop my book and quite literally twiddle my thumbs until the sun rose. I squeeze my eyes closed and think about the fun that awaited the inevitable interviews between myself and the Warden and Doctor Isaac, and the phone call to my parents. The whole conversation played itself out: Yes Mom the wrists. No, I didn't want to end it and I never have wanted to and it's not yours or the school's or society's fault. No, I still don't want to end myself right now.

A man's irrational thought will lend him poor decision-making advice. This is no groundbreaking philosophy, and yet it is a profound truth neglected to the point where one begins to live one's life in a pattern of sleepless nights as if he were trying to approve the rationality of the day's actions.

This I discover when I find myself borrowing the receptionist's phone minutes later and dialing my home phone number. It's all a half-conscious effort, of course. Had I not been zombified by these incessant manics there could be no possibility of me doing something of such stupidity. Two rings go by by before I realize what I have done. A third is cut short by my mother's always friendly and inquiring "hello?" My point of no return is marked.

"Hey, Mom. It's your son." My voice trembles. To my shame I whimper pathetically and scrub at my eyes. I make sure to do it angrily and deep enough so that they bear the raw redness of chastisement. I deserve nothing less for breaking down because of my own stupidity.

"Sweetheart?"

"Mom, hey. So I'm going to give you a number to call me at because I can't talk long." I retrieve a scrap of paper before she says anything else and enunciate the number to her.

"What? Sweetheart, what? What are you even talking about?"

"Just call me back on this number because I have to get off soon or they'll get mad."

"Who, son? What are you talking about?"

"I'll tell you later, Mom. Do you have it?"

"Okay. Okay I got it, sweetheart. Are you in trouble? What did you do? Can you please tell me?"

"Mom."

"Sweetheart, what did you do?"

"Mom. By Christ, Mom."

"What, son?"

"It's a bit difficult to say."

"Just say it son. What is going on?

For a moment there is silence.

"Mom, your son is in the goddamned mental hospital."

***

The eggshell white of mental hospital walls is a common misconception and one that plagues the minds of those not affiliated with the standards of the Behavioral Health Ward. No architect or interior designer or moral human being would intentionally subject patients to the mind-numbing and starkness of pure whiteness unless the principal intention was to torture. Because, or so I've been told but led to disbelieve, the main aspect of the Behavioral Health Ward is the preservation of sanity instead of the accruement of insanity, certain basics are taken in order that this might be the result. Notwithstanding book selection, food/ diet, patient-to-patient and patient-to-professional interaction, and art time, the hospital had one thing right: there were no stark anythings. Color or taste or sound. Soft and bland and muffled.

Nothing is everything; [so] everything is permitted.

This is the maxim of the hospital: the distinct lack of everything's somethingness: Conspicuously reclined therapeutic chairs that were not colored red or maroon but a very watery salmon. Elastic scrubs like a midway between bleu de France and azure. A commingling of fallow and beige to produce the dirtied tan of the Novaplus sock-slippers that had replaced my shoes.

It is because of this lack of significance, or flavor, in the atmosphere that one never truly awakes when one drowses in the hospital. The sound and the walls, the color and the food; all combine to create an ethereal and intangible state of setting wherein lurks a promise of reality. But because everything is so intangible, everything takes upon itself the surreal form of a self-perpetuating dream feeding upon its own abstraction.

This is the equivalent of a lobotomy performer by the most heinous of evil masterminds. However, patients are not even given the grace to be rendered mindless tomatoes. They become, instead, duped and disillusioned to the point of clockwork oranges, as that great author once said. Beings externally sweet and flavorful with ripe mental patient juice; but comprised of inward gears and wheels and possessed of only enough comprehension to register The Young and the Restless and Divorce Court.

True wakefulness in a hospital is thereby impossible without insomnia.

I limp back to my double room after the conversation with the parents and collapse as if in a stupor. Spent very much beyond my means I am even able to drowse for an hour before the streaming sunlight causes my unpleasant wakefulness. For what must have been a hundredth time I trace my scars and admire their depth and pick at the flaking flesh, and contemplate rewetting them again by digging my fingernail into the indentions.

There's a pastel impressionist painting that hung opposite my bed that I had hated at once when I first stepped into this new room because of its sickly harbor and sallow lighthouse. I glance up at it and find myself in a state of semi-consciousness and apathy. My feelings towards the lighthouse are none. It's an obstruction of disgustingly mild wall, a blatant attempt at calming my incorrigible madness. I find it's existence petty and laughable but uninspiring of hate. So this dehumanizing hospital hallucinogen has infected me too. Nothing to be done about it except to get less sleep and less food.

Conforming is on my mental goal list for the day when I realize that there was still a phone call I have neglected to make the night before. I wander into the main hallway and to the tiny alcove where there are two myrtle colored chairs, a coloring book on a table, and the public phone on which I dial Collect. Immediately there is standard voicemail and I hang up. It was, with the time difference taken into account, 7:30 in the morning and so I figure I'll give several more hours for response before I resort to desperation.

After all, I wouldn't want to miss group therapy for the sake of a phone call.

As if to remind me, the loudspeakers announce the five minute prelude for the morning's inspirational pep talk and suicidal prevention methodologies. Although I have already determined that I would be committing the gravest of hypocrisies to enter back into that world of pain, my one-a-day chitchats with Doctor Isaac won't, I realize, garner enough progress towards the hospital's approval of my sanity. The road to freedom will be fraught with peril, and my participation with this man the Warden is crucial to insure that I never drink the same blasted weak coffee as long as I lived. Things, they seemed, must get worse before they could get better.

"Patient 1336654," the Warden says congenially when I enter. "Are you feeling good?"

"Well and proper, sir. Extraordinary sleep last night."

"Glad to hear that. Did you have a good breakfast?"

"No, sir."

I must have sounded a bit harsher than intended here because I seem to prompt both him and the group into silence. This could also be due in part to sanitary issues. Up to this point I have refused shower, toothpaste and even contact solution. Some facet of my subconscious demands that I look the part of a mentally ill and brooding genius and I play the part with Daniel Day-Lewis intensity. Greasy untamed hair and bagged eyelids and sideburns that looked to have been crozzled are my fixtures. It goes without saying again that I am deeply proud of my troubled visage.

As the Warden begins to talk and refresh the group on what invaluable subjects were covered the day previous, I feel immensely and suddenly disturbed and vulnerable. Something very important is missing and I can feel my body's panic in my quivering leg. When I quiver it is nothing like a seizure or convulsion because I have complete control over my limbs and my appendages. I tap my heel and quiver my thigh and sometimes force iambs with both my hands because I feel that if I didn't channel some part of this frantic motion my heart would burst its own aorta.

"Patient 1336654," says the Warden. I wheel around and cross my legs and stare him down in the hope that he could see my desperation and leave me to my silence, but he is smirking and so I know that my discomfort is a pleasure that he has every intention to enjoy. The sadistic fiend.

"Oh, what?" I say.

The Warden ignores my harshness, or maybe he relishes in it, and assumes that I am going to be compliant, saying: "can you offer us your definition of happiness?"

"Happiness," I say and nudge thoughts of his homicide away. "Happiness happiness happiness. Happiness is a term used to reference the state or quality of being comfortable and appeased in one's surroundings. Sort of a love-child to the term insouciance, from a personal perspective."

My very adequate Miriam-Webster knowledge serves me well. The Warden must feel that there was little he can do to add or emendate my answer because he complies with a knowing nod of his head, as if I had taken the words verbatim from his mouth and that he was pleased that at least someone understood the response that he had wanted. 6655321 looks at me and says: "That's pretty good. Did you get that from the dictionary or somethin'?"

I don't pretend that I have heard the query because my desperate state prevents me from so much as putting forward the pretenses of caring. I am indulging in the process of an inexplicable reasoning as to why my state of being was so distorted. Within moments my conclusion is unalterable: some very malevolent hospital employee had acted under scrutiny of the Warden and Doctor Isaac; carefully lacing my morning coffee with crushed benzedrine tablets while concentrating the superior force of uppers and downers into my orange juice. These would most likely be a combination of Ritalin and amphetamines although I did not possess enough carnal drug knowledge to know whether the hospitals possessed something more potent.

The imminent drug-induced episode that would ensue could be provoked by anything so simple as a disdainful look from the Warden, and then I would be up and ripping skin like a spooked badger because I would know what he knew, about the tablets. But this would be exactly what they wanted. A hospital strong-arm, maybe two, would subdue me easily on account of my poor diet and I'd be incarcerated in Ward 2, the serious psychosis Ward, to await the final verdict. I'd be interviewed by smiling hospital officials pretending to act on the side of justice. It didn't matter who their bosses were because I would know. But I'd divulge my Benzedrine Theory anyway, and with little effect, to the scribbled-on clipboards. They'd ask why any official would deliberately act in this manner. Because, I'd say, my recent episode would dictate maybe an average eight months of incarceration, fourteen months being more likely because that damned Warden had it out for me, and not just because I attempted to tear his damned face off. It's monetary reasoning foremost: keep a patient in this town's finest Mental Institution for a week and that averages to $5600; let him fester a year and then they're billing almost three hundred grand. Then they'll strap on some kind of a diagnosis involving medication: delusional schizophrenia with a treatment of daily Risperidone (for my own comfort): another twenty grand.

Doctors and orderlies and nurses would hardly see any of that money, they would say. Exactly, I would return. They're morbid, twisted, sadistic bastards; the lot of them. Now writers; we exact the truth. They're afraid of what I might find in here the longer they keep me rooted in; that's why their diagnosis trigger-finger would be so quick to exact the schizophrenia. They want me to be medically proven a liar; and then everything I spout would be verification of this blasted sickness. Entrapment; the abandonment of human decency; subjection to the forced consort with the mental underworld; the very advocacy of cruelty: all of it for their own damned professional protection, the bastards.

"Patient 1336654 to see Doctor Isaac. Patient 1336654 to see Doctor Isaac, please."

The announcement has me stunned and almost to the point of breathlessness. Somehow, he must already know what I knew. Things now would be difficult: he would attempt to slip me the drugs anytime I was vulnerable, and he obviously knew that I wasn't eating so no doubt he had already abandoned the idea of drugged meatloaf. Or perhaps the drugs had already become filtered into the air. Yes, these other patients are mere fodder; feeding stuffs; lives to be expended; insignificant in the face of what I can reveal.

When I leave the Warden is talking about our plans of action we will undertake once we have been released from the hospital. I can feel the tilt of the conversation moving on to coping strategies and I'm glad to leave when I do. On the way down the hall I check my room to make sure the CD case is sitll there and instantly notice the copy of Denisovich sitting on the windowsill. So this is what had been missing! Sudden realism seems to flood into my brain once I reacquire the literature. The things one would cling to when one has so little. Like Ivan and his spoon. Perhaps I had even vested my sanity into this damned book. I did feel as if I could go no longer at peace without it.

I hurry into the alcove with Dr Isaac for my rendezvous.

"Morning, Patient 1336654," he says once I enter.

"Morning," I return.

"So I've been working on you."

"Exciting job, sir?"

"Oh, very."

"Anything that will help get me out of here sooner, sir"

"Well we have a certain protocol for situations such as these, Patient 1336654. As far as getting patients out. It's actually something I meant to tell you about yesterday."

"Protocol, sir?"

I'm deeply intrigued. Protocol means a standard form of doing; a preset list of codes whose application had worked in the past with enough regularity to dictate their future and continuous usage. I am wary, however I'm inclined to play the optimist at this point, if only because the Doctor's 'protocol' is giving me the hope that I might be able to finally improve my situation and move myself closer to freedom.

"Protocol, Patient 1336654. Let me tell you the way that this works. In cases such as yours, when the patient is not exhibiting any seriously detrimental psychiatric symptom; and I don't believe you are, Patient 1336654—"

"Thank you, sir."

"—is that we will have a safe source: family member, close relative, very dear friend, etcetera come in to the hospital—"

"And verify the sanity, sir?"

"—to sign the release forms, and to stay with the patient over the next few days or weeks. A sort of comfortable acquaintance who will be there for the patient when he needs them. They'll stay in town and help the patient sort of regain his balance."

"So a crutch, sir."

"Well, yes."

I ponder. My legs cross in entreatment, as they did yesterday, and I purposefully fold my hands behind my head so that my scars show for a minute in their brilliant red contrast to the whitening flesh. For some reason, I like showing them off.

"You're saying, sir, that the sooner I have someone dear to me, such as my Mother, fly up here to verify my leave and to stay with me the next couple of days, the sooner I'll be released into the world?"

"Absolutely."

This is the verification I have been waiting for. I stroll out the door with Doctor Isaac, still making notes, and head at once to the public patient pay phone to Collect Call my Mother.

"Hey Mom it's your son."

"Sweetheart?"

"Yes, yeah, it's me. So I told you yesterday that I don't need you to fly up, but that was a lie. Doctor says that my release depends on your being here. As soon as possible."

"Why did you tell me yesterday not to come then?"

"Well I didn't want to be any more burdensome then I had already been."

"Okay."

"So can you come, as soon as possible?"

"I'll tell Dad to get the tickets. Do you want your Father up there too? He can take off work; it's no trouble to him."

"I'd prefer not. Burdensome, as I said. Just you, as soon as possible. Okay?"

"Okay sweetheart. Call you when I'm leaving."

"Love you Mom."

"Love you too, sweetheart."

The realization that I only have a few more hours in this horrible place, this horrible loneliness, is enough to make me giddy. Now there is only the matter of how to deal with the time, which I think for an instant I can defeat by one very prolonged nap. Very quickly I dismiss this idea as pure and simple rubbish: my sleep schedule was one that had become so hopelessly screwed that I would be lucky to garner even three hours before I awoke in an insomniac sweat. Aside from this, I simply didn't want to become accustomed and zombified as a result of the bland, somethingless interior of the hospital.

There were, I soon realize, things one could do to overcome this problem. Art class and Ambien, namely. There is also the TV, but the prospect of spending hours with my eyes hooked open and intent on MTV and All My Children is one that makes me want to disgorge two day's worth of my orange juice and coffee.

I ponder my boredom throughout the entirety of my stroll back to my room, where I find a patient awaiting my return.

"Yes?"

"4431665," he says. "I'm your roommate."

This is interesting. The man before me must be at least fifty years young with good hair and four days of beard, with narrowed eyes like Kurt Russell's. He has a grand beer gut, so I immediately attribute his being here for a problematic dipsomania. I notice too that from my pile of newly delivered clothes on the bed, the pair of Nike socks are gone and on his feet. I liked this 4431665, despite his Manson beard. He looks sane.

"Matlock?" I say once I shake his hand and notice our in-room TV.

"Yeah," he says, and proceeds to mutter something incomprehensible which he suffixes with a grimace and a "fucking counsellors."

"Certified starch-necked prison bastards," I say to conform to his pessimism, and he grins toothlessly.

With the possibility of escape over my shoulder and the abandonment of my scrubs for civilian garb, nothing appears lucid or significant. I have been promised secure escape and am awaiting my redemption dressed as a shoeless civilian. I answer the public telephone for my third call and talk a hushed conversation with an exhausted girlfriend an hour over the courtesy limit:

"You're doing better?" she reaffirms after an hour.

"Yes, sweetheart. Feeling great, except they keep us stifled like damned prisoners here."

"But as long as you're safe?"

"From whom? I'm bordered by psychotics and drunkards who are perfectly capable of handling our plastic supper knives."

"You know what I mean."

"Yes, sweetheart. No, I have no desires of offing myself or reopening myself."

"...Okay..."

"Must retire for the time sweetheart; art class beckons."

"I love you."

"Love you, too."

In art class, during the Slavic Philharmonic's Rhapsody in Blue, a heavyset woman falls writhing and foaming next to a man who had lacerated his arms with a meat cleaver and bears flaming cuts two inches thick. The incidences pass like foam on a wave. I am to finally leave these mental proletariat for blessed normality and forsake this horrible place for an eternity; how can I not help but grin at it all. Everything has become a source of enjoyment and I am the lucky spectator witnessing an introspective peek into the heart of psychosis. Nothing more. The orderlies, the doctor, the therapists, patient 6655321 and my roommate: all of them were now apart of something I was not, something permanent that I was observing from the standpoint of visitation and sole visitation. My reality had become a one-day field trip.

***

When my Mother arrived she did so with much grandeur, smelling exquisitely of ladies perfume and natural air, and attempted to whisk me away that very evening, much to the disapproval of the reigning staff. It was soon decided that the essential success of my sanity, once I was unfettered and alone, depended on Doctor Isaac's follow-up approval which could only be given subsequent to his 9:00 morning arrival. My Mother resolved to accompany me as I toured her through the waiting room and the pathetic library and introduced her to the charming Patients 6655321 and 4431665 before visiting hours closed. She kissed me hurriedly and told me to expect her in the morning.

I refuse to eat anything again and retire for the silent hours offered only by reading alcoves with Denisovich and a John Grisham novel tucked beneath my arm. Sleep was once again evading me. As three in the morning approached I am confronted with the same heavyset woman who had collapsed during art time earlier. She is smiling the happy-exuding, wide-lipped smile of a woman prepared to say something very uncomfortably touching.

"Your mother is so adorable and so skinny," she says.

"Well, thank you, ma'am" I return and exude all visible energies into my literature. It isn't convincing enough for her to believe that I am preoccupied.

"You're very adorable and cute, too. I kept thinking that you looked like someone I know. Have you seen the Karate Kid? You look like the kid from the Karate Kid."

"I have not seen it in quite some time, ma'am," I say, "although I have been compared to Johnny on multiple occasions, from the Outsiders. Multiple-felon suits my particular palette, I suppose. Although I always thought I was a bit more Ponyboy myself." I realize at this point that my talking was counter-productive to getting the woman away from me.

Yet talking doesn't matter I learn suddenly as she seizes my arms in motherly sausage-fingers and peers at my wrists. Her little red wristband marked DANGER scrapes against me in ominous warning. Oh Christ and Christ here's when it comes. She's going to kiss the bloody slices and try and suck the bugs out, or she'll squeeze them until they pop and then she'll seizure and I'll have a thrashing one hundred and sixty plus pounds on my crippled hands.

To my disappointment, she only examines them with all the attentive gentleness of a therapist. "You don't need to do this," she tells me.

"Poor rationale for a boring life," I say. "I know I won't be doing it again, ma'am."

"You don't need to be doing this," she repeats.

"Yes."

She loosens my hands but begins to stare intently at me. God in Heaven, I think, that's a tear. Don't let this woman begin crying on me.

"You're a very beautiful person," she says with a sniffle.

All one can do in a situation such as this is to smile despondently and avoid eye contact. Conversation, or anything resembling human to human interaction with a therapist or someone playing the therapist is impossible. No one is comfortable around this kind of talk.

"You're a very beautiful person. And I care about you. I don't even know you, but I care about you. Because you are a beautiful person."

"Thank you, ma'am," I muster.

"And if you were to kill yourself, I know that I'd be sad. And I know that you're a beautiful person, and lots of other people would be sad too."

"Yes, ma'am, I realize. I won't kill myself."

This is, blessedly, sufficient. She gives me a reassuring smile and shuffles out of the room in her slipper-socks, to await her next three months in blissful captivity. Wonderful spirit. With those seizures, and those on the forearm bruises, I wager a schizophrenic. The kind who would later drown her children in the kitchen sink under voiceless orders, and who would throw plates and kitchen knives at the garbage men because she thought they were government correspondents intent on lobotomization and scientific dissection.

I wonder if I had perhaps just dodged my own murdering. Maybe she had been hearing voices, the kinds that rationalized and told her I was the Devil, or the incarnated spirit of her abusive father. She might have tried to squeeze me to death and eaten my remains in an attempt to dissolve the voices in her own corrosive lactic acids before leaping to her escape out her bedroom window. "Mental Patient Murders and Cannibalizes Fellow Patient, on the Run," the newspapers would herald with promises of the next Ed Gein or Albert Fish. We've gone too long without a good serial killer, after all.

We're all beautiful people, I think. Maybe she's an artist. Maybe she loves to read.

There is an hour's wait the next morning before my meeting with Dr Isaac and my Mother. I am made to browse twenty pages of bipolar syndrome information, coupled with an addendum of manic-depression, for my reading pleasure. By the time I'm led into the alcove for the diagnosis talk, I have halved the coffee in my mug and scrubbed my fingers through my hair at least five times in an attempt at stylization. Propriety, in the external sense, was a necessity in the garnering of one's freedom. I simply must look presentable in order to be acquitted.

6655321 had huh-huh-huhed and wished me well after I had told him, in response to his question, that my release was coming within hours. My roommate had been cursing at the nurses for his medication and was just quick enough to wish me luck before I left him to his devices and met Dr Isaac and my Mother. When I meet them, I make sure to be carrying Denisovich. The CD case is already tucked into my pocket.

"Morning, Patient 1336654."

"Morning," I return.

"Do you have to call him that?" my Mother asks.

"Protocol, Mrs."

"It's the backbone of the hospital, Mom. Dehumanization until curation. That way the reacquired name sounds more like a term of endearment rather than a label. Or something like that, right?"

"Something like that."

"Okay," said my Mother.

"Well now, shall we get down to it?"

"Oh, god yes," I say.

"Should I assume that you've already read the bipolar packet?"

"Yes, in full, sir. Grand beach reading."

"Do you mind if I have a look at that? I was doing research on it last night, and I'd like to see what matches."

"Not a problem." Dr Isaac hands her the packet and my Mother flips curiously through the symptom pages.

"Well, in honesty, from what you read, do you think any of the symptoms of manic-depression pertain to you?"

I had committed the symptoms to memory and can not disagree.

"Absolutely," I say, "but at the same time a huge resounding no. I understand the symptoms in full and I understand what involvement I have in said symptoms but I don't believe I'm involved to the point of mania."

"Well, let's take a look." Doctor Isaac reacquires the symptoms from my Mother and goes through them, periodically, to my dismay:

An elated, happy mood or an irritable, angry, unpleasant mood

Increased physical and mental activity and energy

Racing thoughts and flight of ideas

Increased talking, more rapid speech than normal

Ambitious, often grandiose plans

Risk taking

Impulsive activity

Decreased sleep without experiencing fatigue

"It's hardly fair to do this," I say.

"What do you mean?"

"I'm ambitious and I speak fast and I've jumped off bridges and cliffs. You're sticking a diagnosis due to the simple facts that I don't conform to vegetative lethargy."

"First of all," says Doctor Isaac, "I don't diagnosis manic-depression as if I were throwing out Dum Dums. You know the total per cent of the America populous who is medically diagnosed with bipolar manic-depression: less than one per cent. I won't throw out a diagnosis like some of these doctors down a couple miles; you show them a driver's license and they're only too happy to do it. What I'm saying though is that I don't plan on diagnosing you with anything. I will, however, say that this is the age where things of this sort come up, and you could be a candidate later on."

"Needless to say, sir," I persist, "I'm not going to believe that these things that I do should be put under a sickness. Things like lofty ambition: that's not mental disorder, that's lofty ambition."

"You say so, but I have your comments about Van Gogh down. The one's you've made the last two days."

"Van Gogh? And two days?" I say.

"That you're better than Van Gogh. You told me twice. And that's what would qualify as egomania; not just lofty ambition. That's what made me stop."

"Once, not twice, and it was in complete sarcasm. I wouldn't actually believe that."

"Something that I've always noticed," rescues me up-to-this-point-silent Mother, "is that he's always been a bit quirky; that's just his personality. And I've known my son long enough to know that he wouldn't say something like the Van Gogh thing. He's got a very dry since of humor; I'm sure it was just miscommunication."

"It's intentional perjury, Mom. It's what they do to you. They're all Nurse Ratcheds trying to validate nonexistent sickness."

"Some of the nurses probably, but not all of us. But I have it written, and you did say it twice."

"Regardless," says my Mother, "I think what he's saying is that he doesn't think his personality is abnormal enough to qualify as mental illness, or that he doesn't want to just be dismissed as mentally ill."

"No, his personality has nothing to do with this. And that's not what we're saying. What we're saying is that it goes into the abnormal when he starts taking things too far. Cutting your wrists, for example."

I can't help but grin. "Fair enough," I say.

"Well, if what you're saying about the possibility of manic-depression, what can you suggest that doesn't involve drugs or medication? Lithium, and all that?"

"Oh, we wouldn't waste him on any medication," says Doctor Isaac. "You've been talking about coping strategies in group therapy, weren't you?"

"Oh, yes," I say. "Nothing but the damned coping strategies."

"Well I'd bore you with all the studies but I don't have time enough for that and you don't want to hear it. Statistics will tell you though that once you've done it once, the wrists, you're twice likely to do it again. Again, and you're twice as likely to do it the third time. After that, you're pretty damned guaranteed. Now you've already told me that this is the second—"

"—second time is what I told the therapists, sir."

"—second time you've done it, got it. Frankly, I don't need to or really want to know why you did it the first time. But the fact that you've done it twice now means trouble. Third time means hell. So we will work on your coping strategies instead of pumping you full of Depakote."

"But I can cope. I cope marvelously. I read or I write or I run and I even hurl. The seldom-known sport, by which I mean hurl. I know how to cope. Coping is not outside of my limitations."

"So you've told me, but it sounds like you have a handle on things. I'm just trying to make sure that once you get out of here you won't be trying to cut yourself in the hallway because then I'll get sued and things won't be fun. What it sounds like to me is that this time you got yourself into a bit of a patch, and now you've got your very lovely Mom here to make sure that you'll be alright the next couple of days."

"Oh, well I'm feeling positively copesettic now, if that means much."

"No, it doesn't."

My Mother intervenes, exhausted by banter. "So when can I get him out of here."

With a grimace Doctor Isaac rises and says "not for awhile. If we're lucky you can have him out by dinnertime. But you're quite free to stay and roam the lovely hospital, or get a nice lunch like a normal person."

"Dinnertime? But I can take him out with me, for lunch at least?"

"No, I said you can go. He has to stay here."

Doctor Isaac is crossing the threshold and ushering in a firm-breasted woman with curled hair; his accomplice, I presume.

"Said the same thing to my roommate," I tell my Mother. "I think he's just trying to be an asshole. Paperwork couldn't possibly take seven hours."

I am proven correct. Paperwork is signed, release forms initialed, phone calls made, bills billed, and my last-minute suicide prevention chat undergone in no more than twenty minutes.

Doctor Isaac feigns surprise when he sees us en route to leave. "Already done? Horrible misjudgment on my part."

"Very much so," I say.

"Remember one more thing," he says to me. "We've had writers in here before, and I always find it interesting to see how they write about us. So when you do write about this you must be sure to include me."

"Now that," I say, "could get me in trouble with libel. And I'd prefer to stay out of the trouble pot for awhile."

"Oh, shut up. You know you will," he says. "And when you do write about me, you can make sure I realize that it's me by giving me the title:" he opened his arms and stared at the blank space with superiority, "the nicest Doctor you've ever met."

"But I'm not one for outright lies, sir."

He frowns, purses, and lifts his clipboard in agitation before stalking off. "Don't come back," came the denouement, and then he was gone.

No, I saw, not gone. Merely transported behind the receptionist desk of smiling clerks in a room of white machinery and assorted papers. There is a convention of them there: the nurses, the therapists, Doctor Isaac and even the Warden. All of them blending, in their minimalist professionalism: their drab wardrobe of near-whites and soft colors and the women's pantsuits carefully chosen to accentuate all aspects of latent masculinity. I am reminded once again of the sickeningly sterile air. Oh God, there are still the damned drugs. How much have I filtered through these last three days?

The Warden talks to my roommate while Patient 6655321 waits aside, looking hopeful. I surreptitiously attempt to take his hand with a minimal exchange of I hope you do betters, but he snatches me into a hug and promises me that things will get better. At least he doesn't call me a beautiful person. My roommate notices the exchange and settles for a handshake, slipping his number into my hand, telling me that I'd call him if things got horrible.

But things never were horrible.

False diagnosis brought about by experimental action. It's the reason I ever ended up in this damned place. These things could be explained, and my inclusion into Behavioral Health was, if anything, a mistake. I had suffered for my work, as had many before me, and as many still would. Nurse Ratcheds, I thought, the lot of them. They'd convince themselves of my insanity and anything I say, any denial or approval of the opposite, is just their evidence to how far I've succumbed to my mental ailment.

It was at this moment that my hand was suddenly seized by the smiling Warden, and shaken firmly and with enthusiasm. I look at his eyes; no longer bored, but still half-open and slanted, almost malevolently. "Now you can't very well be taking that with you. Wouldn't want to deprive another patient, would you," he says, gesturing Denisovich. I had damn nearly forgotten the thing. "Keepsake, sir," I say and smile. "You have charged me enough for my time here anyways, sir."

"Can't let you do it, I'm afraid," he says, too simply. My Mother is eyeing me, questing the delay with concern plastered over her face. Christ, don't let him do this. There's too much of me vested between that damned spine.

But the Warden staring at me with his wicked grin is holding out his hand. I drop the book into it heavily; feel myself drop with it. "Take care bud. Real glad to have met you," he says cheerfully.

The remainder of the doctors and my nurses and therapists are waving in the same fashion. I'm not surprised at the conviviality, this transition from abhorrence to warmth. This is the delusion of the hospital, the very infrastructure of the Behavioral Health Ward: the appearance of answer; the promise that change will come to those who abstain and to those who cope. They don't offer anything but false promise because they don't have anything else aside from tablets and liquids. Falsity is freely given and taken with much more assurance. That pastiche of professionals reeking of recirculated freshness is there for their pretty talk, for their starched collars that grin like Cheshire cats.

"Curiouser and curiouser," the collars seem to say when they see my flaming wrists. Yes, perhaps I am. Perhaps it was all nothing more than a failed savage experiment, a brutal quest for catharsis and self that led me down and down and down for three days of wild madness. But always curiouser and curiouser; perhaps I wasn't really leaving at all. Perhaps it was a reprieve or a deep breath before the real plunge.

I cross the carpeted threshold to the real world but I can feel the collars grinning their starched white pearls all my way to the elevator. The nurse beside us is obese and smiling and talking as she escorts us into the elevator, but the words that I hear are not coming from her but from the collars. The doors shut but I can still hear them. "We'll see you real soon," they say before the elevator descends.