Sunday, February 27, 2011

RAYMOND by Neil O'Brien

Raymond is a tall, thin man of about twenty-seven. His head is clean shaven and shines. I wish to Christ he would grow his damn hair again. With his shaven head he reminds me of the guy who shot all the people in Tucson. From across the table his intense, brown eyes meet mine. He cries. Big tears roll down his cheeks. I want to cry but don’t. I’m not supposed to. I’m his “practitioner. That’s what they call me, a practitioner. My job is to take care of Raymond and others like him. Really, I’m his father and mother and his family. I’m here at the behavioral health unit to visit him. He is here after a severe panic attack caused him to pass out. The EMT’s had to break down his door to get him out of his apartment. He looks at me, cries, and then hangs his head. He shakes and touches his forehead and face over and over again. He’s decided he has OCD and ADD. I guess these are acceptable. “But I’m not mentally ill,” he says, “and I’ll sue anyone who says that for defamation of character.” At this moment he is very mentally ill but I don’t say that. He looks at me and runs his hands over his bald, shaven head. It has cuts in it from the razor. He tells me he’s never speaking to his mother again. “They hate me” he says of his mom and step-father. “They don’t hate you Raymond,” I say. “They’re concerned for you, worried about you.” As true as that is it is sometimes difficult to defend the actions of some people. She wants him to be in a place where he can be supervised twenty-four hours a day. He wants to be in his own apartment. She tells him constantly that he will fail, that he is incapable of living by himself. We give him a chance to live by himself. She hates us for that. Raymond won’t speak to her anymore. Now he has pulled his authorization for me to speak with her. She’s infuriated with him and me and everyone. I know how she feels because I’m the parent of two mentally ill children. I guess at 37 and 35, they’re not children anymore. Raymond gets up from the table and walks around to me. He drapes himself over me in a big hug. He is a big guy and squeezes me hard. “I love you,” he says. “I love you too Raymond,” I say in a whisper. I shouldn’t say that. I’m not supposed to love my clients. It’s not therapeutic. It crosses a line that shouldn’t be crossed, or so they say. But at this moment I do love him. At this moment he’s ripping my heart out. Why can’t I ever get used to this, harden up, not feel that damn knot in my stomach. It’s the same knot I felt for years and years with my own kids, and still do if I let myself.

This whole episode is driving me to a place where I don’t want to be, a place where I never want to go again. I look at him crying and rubbing his face and head and the cuts in his shiny scalp. First the Tucson guy comes to mind again. Yes that certainly could happen, I think. Am I enabling possible mass murder? It’s not so farfetched, happens all the time. Is his mother right? Maybe he should be locked up. Maybe that would be better for him and for society. Then I’m driven back in to my life. As I watch him hang his head and cry some more I see my daughter. I remember, for some reason, how she used to cut her face and arms up, scratch herself until she bled. I remember sitting in the hospital, this very same hospital, with her and asking to have her admitted. I remember having to tell the doctor right in front of her everything that was wrong with her. I remember the hurt look on her face as she listened. Most of all I remember leaving her here for the first time. It is a feeling that literally sickens me all these years later. It is a feeling that is being resurrected by this experience, by Raymond and all the others that I must work with on a daily basis. I remember how much I hated the mental health system and how I thought and still think that it helped destroy both of my children. “Christ!” I think, now I am the system. I still hate the system. I’m here to protect people like Raymond from the system I work for. Sometimes it’s just all too damn much. I want to sit down in my chair and write books and poems and get paid for it. That doesn’t seem to be happening. And who in the hell is going to protect Raymond if I’m not here? That’s pretty egotistical I guess, but that’s what I think. After all these years my brain doesn’t work right either.

Raymond came home to his apartment today. I’m not sure he will be all right. It’s a chance that has to be taken. He deserves a chance to have a life, even if mom doesn’t think so. It is six o’clock and I have to go home now to my own life. “You going to be all right for the weekend? I ask him as I open the door to leave. “Sure Buddy, I’ll be fine,” he answers. He likes me to be his buddy rather than his mental health worker. It’s OK with me if that makes him feel better. As I leave and close the door behind me, the knot in my stomach returns in full force. I hear the phone ring, though there is no phone here in the parking lot of Raymond’s development.

“It’s Shawn. I’m on the train Dad.”

“What train?” I say in my daydream.

“I’m on the train. I ran away and I’m lost. I think I’m in Philadelphia. Can you help me?"

Thursday, February 10, 2011

I WAS GOING TO STAY by Jennifer Greenhalgh

I was going to stay. I really was. But I can’t stand to be put up against a wall. That crazy woman wanted to play hardball and I definitely won’t be the one crying in the end. Yes, two and a half months is a long period of time, and yes, this place did essentially get me to stop a very destructive pattern of behavior, but come on, to ask me to leave the facility for the weekend? Ridiculous. All because I was caught giving a guy my phone number? Even more ridiculous.

I was accused of flirting and defocusing off of what I’m here for- I’m so insulted. Especially because I wouldn’t even call it flirting. Or defocusing. I’d call it talking to a person. Who happens to be male. And happens to have the bluest eyes that I’ve ever seen. I can’t imagine that would warrant asking me to leave for the weekend though, and now I have to find a fucking place to stay.

I feel like they want me to go stay with him; just another ‘tough love’ tactic to manipulate me to follow their way. It doesn’t feel right to me. And the blue-eyed boy is seeming like a viable option to me now. He told me he was leaving on Friday and had found a room with a guy near the Ihop. I have no idea where the Ihop is. I have no idea about anything in south Florida and this was pretty much the worst non-decision of my lifetime to come here. I say that because I didn’t really participate in the recruitment process. I was forced by the almighty powers of parents in fear coupled with ‘experts’ collecting large sums of money. I guess I can’t really fault them anymore though, I certainly have realized that I’ve completely done this to myself. I was the one who drank to the degree that I did. I knew I passed the point of function; I knew where I was going. I can pretend that I didn’t, but I did. Deep down inside I knew that I was crossing into that abyss where it went from being mental into something physical. I just didn’t care. First I took the drink, then the drink took me. Classic. I needed it. Well, what could I do? I had nothing else. I still don’t, but at least now I have the blue-eyed boy beside me.

I guess my decision to leave was made. I couldn’t go back now. Plus, the blue-eyed boy was putting the pressure on. I had just entered into the vocational aspect of the program, so prior to this incident, I was actively looking for a job. It’s basically been pure hell. I’ve been going to the library each day and putting together my ridiculously doctored resume. I don’t have much, but at least I still have my college degree and I see no reason that I shouldn’t use it. The staff, however, feels very differently. They believe that I need to work at the local CVS or Publix grocery store in order to humble myself, and ultimately never drink again. A long stretch indeed, but an argument I was definitely losing. As was the case with most arguments with these people. The pressure for a CVS interview is this week and I just can’t bring myself to pick up an application. So this was my way out, now I can do what I want. Screw these people and screw CVS- the decision was made, I’m not going back.

It’s been extremely hot here in south Florida, not the optimal weather when you’re running away from your rehab. Today, I had to wait for the bus in the blazing sun with the rest of society’s rejects, carrying everything I own on my back while I situate myself at the rented room with the blue-eyed boy. My backpack must weigh at least 70 pounds. I remember hiking through Europe and my sack was 52 pounds, and this was definitely heavier. This was a far cry from the days of French bread and wine, traveling through the Alps, with my whole life ahead of me. I can’t believe what I’m doing here. It seems like I just woke up from a dream and ended up on the streets of Delray Beach, Florida. Where are my cats? Just a mere 3 months ago, I was living in a one-bedroom apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. I even had a jeep, and a boyfriend. His name was William and he was from Ireland. An aspiring writer who worked carpentry and could make magic with his hands. William told me stories and I believed him; I believed in love and in us. And then it all changed. My demons had come back; I felt them creeping up on me and my urge to drink was returning. I thought love could stop them, but it couldn’t. Nothing was strong enough, I was na├»ve to the depth of my disorder, and one afternoon, I broke down. I was drunk at his apartment when he came home from work and he wanted nothing further to do with me. I didn’t really blame him, although I wished he would have put up more of a fight for me. He didn’t and I was in rehab within the week.

My intention was for this to be the time that changes my life. I really wanted to show William that I could stop this; I could be the woman that he thought I was, the woman that we created together. And my chance had finally come. It was after about two and a half months of thoroughly following the program that I finally got access to my cell phone and to William’s number. My heart raced as I dialed the number, I couldn’t wait to talk to him and tell him about all these changes that I had made, all the progress. How I no longer hated myself and how I finally found some peace through sobriety. I could finally take him on drives to the country and cook homemade meals fresh from the garden. And how he can rely on me to be the same girl when he came home from work that he left earlier that morning. I was done with all of it. Yes, this was it, the new me. And now we can start our life together. As I listened to the phone ring, my heart began to race. What would I say? So many words running through my head, my nervousness became palpable.


“Yes… William, it’s finally me.”

“Are you alright?”

“I think so, well, now I am. Oh my god, where do I start? I’ve missed you. Well, I guess I can start there. God, I missed you. And I’m sorry, I never…”

“Well, before you finish, I’m sorry too. Jen, so sorry. Listen, there’s no easy way to say this, I’ve met someone… I wasn’t sure how to tell you, and we’re getting married…… hello?”

It was right then that I hung up the phone. Very calmly, very gently. But it felt like my knees were buckling. All that time, all our dreams… and he’s marrying someone else? I guess he really didn’t love me; I was right. Jesus, if I ever wanted a drink it was right at that moment but I didn’t have that option standing in my rehab room. I decided to do the next best thing and went to my notebook and tore out a page. I wrote down my number to give to the blue-eyed boy. I was done with William and ready for the next chapter… God only knows where this one will bring me.

Monday, February 7, 2011

THE HOME STRETCH by Cheryl Corson

After the hospice nurse and social worker leave on the Monday after Christmas, Sadia, our first private nurse, arrives at 4pm. It’s been a long three days to get to this point.

There is a drug changing-of-the-guard as my Dad will no longer need most of his drugs, and morphine will take the place of oxycodone, docusate, losartan, and others too hard to pronounce, like ketoconazole. Except my father doesn’t like morphine any more than he liked the other pills, which means when I put all the plastic pill bottles the V.A. Hospital gave him into a plastic bag to take home, it seems to weigh several pounds.

After Dad dies, hospice will come and remove their drugs – morphine, halperidol, larazapan, senna – the extra- large diapers, the plastic pads called “chucks,” surgical gloves, catheter bags, and the hospital bed.

I ask what to do with the pills. The hospice nurse says the CDC says to flush them down the toilet, but there’s no fucking way I’m going to do that. There are enough bi-sexual fish in the Chesapeake Bay. I could sell them to Marion Barry, I guess, but when I have the energy, I’ll empty the bottles, destroy the labels with my father’s name on them, hammer the pills to pieces, and mix the dust with used kitty litter, then take it to the dump. It’s something to do.

Jenny, the hospice social worker stopped by today. She said goodbye to my Dad. He gave her a high-five. We all know that after the week-long vacation she’ll start tomorrow he’ll be gone. And so it is that people do their jobs, and come and go while other people lay in bed dying. And for some, dying takes a while. I’d say my father is in extra innings, and while he’s not eaten any food for about two weeks, his new favorite dish is crushed ice with a few teaspoons of grape juice over it. We call them “slurpies.”

He’s being a good sport. Now that it’s hard for him to talk, he moved his index finger around in a circle last night, pantomiming a request. I was there with Sadia. I guess, “Turn the thermostat up?” No. “Turn the light up?” No. “Raise the bed?” No. He finally laughs a silent laugh and we join him, losing this round of charades. Then Sadia gets it: “Turn on the fan?” Yes! That’s it.
I draw up a menu of common commands he can point to. Now he has a hand bell he can ring so he won’t strain himself calling to us in the next room. We adjust. Each day is different.

His eyes and his heart are wide open, more so than any other time in his life. It’s the home stretch and he’s teaching me the biggest lesson there is – how to face death – how to be fully present, how to lie in bed and shit in a diaper, and be a gentleman to the nurses who change him.

He was holding out on me, but how happy I will always be to have spent these days with him. Never until now would I have called him my hero.

Friday, February 4, 2011


I was almost convinced that they would come, Martin’s people had said they would, 500 ministers from all over the US, to defend our non violent protest of the inequities in our society. The Quakers, ladies in skirts and hats and white gloves from the Midwest, older graying men and women from the Philadelphia group, we young organizers who had rounded them all up in Cape May at the religious conference and bussed them down to DC with our high flying dreams and our guitars and songs of protest….We shall overcome…overcome the narrowness of human beings in this sea of prejudice and democracy…. The sun beat down on us as we milled around with thousands of others of all colors, from everywhere, and we planted our nonviolent feet on the Capitol steps….

How many years ago had I met him at that church in South Philly, when I went with my friend Christina and her parents, just back from Quaker service in India where they had met him…I was only 14, but had been marching around City Hall, picketing Woolworths, studying Ghandi and nonviolent protest for at least three years. My father’s civil rights activities had already impacted my family from my early childhood. It was always a part of our family life to defend civil rights and to reach out to others, from the Fresh Air kids that came from NYC each summer, to the Levittown family that sold their house to the first AfroAmerican family with cross burning on lawns and threats of the same to us…

Yes Martin, that proud and dark complected man at the pulpit with the mellifluous voice had won me over that day, he seemed like a living Jesus, a person who lived the message of all religions, that God is Love, that human beings can tolerate differences and respect and honor each other….his words were so powerful…
Shaking his hand after the service and meeting him at the Church after his visit to India to learn about nonviolent protest, sealed my fate….

I too had gone on Quaker service with my family, but to Africa. I too had imbibed Martin’s version of Ghandi in my activities, heart and thinking. And now he was no more….and we were here…Carrying on for him, towards
living his Dream…

The numbers of people never came, or at least I didn’t see them, before the police arrived…no dogs like in the South, no suffering like Martin and his people, but we were his people. They roped us off and headed us off for detainment. Martin was with us, and somehow today, I still see him, remember him, his guidance and noble words…his example. Martin, you are with us every day.

We shall overcome despite slow slow progress, and human nature…

Thank you, Martin Luther King.