When you are deemed a danger to yourself, and taken by ambulance to a psychiatric facility to be watched, the first thing they take from you is your shoe laces. This is so that you cannot hang yourself in your bedroom at night between 15 minute checks.
They give you a list of possessions you are not allowed to have. For example, they prohibit bringing in fruit in case the fruit has previously been infused with vodka.
At each meal you will be served food that serves the purpose of providing sustenance while denying one to choke on said sustenance.
There are suicide-proof bathrooms and suicide-proof bedrooms. Each edge of each piece of furniture is rounded. There is a Recreational Room with a piano but no sheet music. There is also, always, a Jonathon.
My Jonathon had fragile, brown wrists and baby lips. He wore those generic, white t-shirts you can buy in bulk at a Walmart. He avoided the no laces policy by using duct tape to keep his ragged converse on his feet.
The first day I arrived, he ripped a coloring page from his coloring book, handing it to me without lifting his head from his drawing. His hands shook violently from the drugs he had been prescribed and I could tell that he was ashamed of his own drawing that was almost complete but had been filled in as if by a child unable to stay within the lines. After some time, Jonathon glanced in my direction and, seeing that I was confused, shoved a box of broken crayons across the table to me.
The crayons, I could tell, were new but had been snapped in half by hospital staff, leaving only the dull butts, in order to remove any sharp edge that may have previously existed.
The picture that Jonathon had assigned me was of a princess sitting alone in a carriage pulled by horses. She peered out of the carriage’s window, wearing a tiara but not smiling. I began coloring the carriage black and the princess blue. Jonathon pointed at my princess, “don’t you wish that you were her?” I did.
I sat with Jonathon for five hours. Coloring was the only stimulating exercise that we were allowed. Jonathon talked to me about a girl he loved name Sarah who had a boyfriend with a job. Jonathon had tried to get a job as well and after some time had gotten hired, but it was too much, he said, the pushing of the shopping carts, the endless wrangling of the shopping carts left around the massive parking lot by careless shoppers. I pictured Jonathon, with his fragile, trembling body pushing rows and rows of shopping carts for a girl who did not love him back.
Jonathon’s hand shook violently from the drugs the hospital had prescribed to him.
During our Goal Group, I helped him fill out the sheet we were all required to complete. I asked him what his goal for the day was and after much thought he said it was to be happy. I asked him to provide practical steps to take to help him achieve this goal and he pulled the sheet from my hand, scrawling, “don’t let non-scary things scare me because I am brave.”
Our drugs were administered to us at each meal. Take the paper cup with the pills, take the paper cup with the water, put the pills in your mouth and, sipping the water, swallow. Lift your tongue, no hiding the drugs. Good.
This was a routine in which Jonathon refused willing participation.
With the help of two large orderlies, he participated.
Jonathon sat some days, all day, in the rec room, trying to remember a song he had learned as a child. After hours of coaxing, I identified the song as Edelweiss – the Sound of Music was his favorite movie, he said, except for the mountains because he knew he would never go to Austria to see them.
Sometimes Jonathon, enraged or bored or trying not to be scared by non-scary things, would pound his fist four, five, six times on to the piano. The pounding would continue until, inevitably, a nurse would enter the room with a syringe, an orderly trailing behind her with a wheelchair. The first time this happened I followed behind, confused, watching Jonathon punching the piano and the nurse administering the drug and a halt. And then there was Jonathon, for a split moment, at peace, and then, moments later, asleep, hands resting on the black and white keys.
I left the room before the orderly could pick up his small body and wheel him back to his room.
In the hospital there was a group – five of us – who were, self declared, “not crazy-crazy” and we stuck together. We sat together in positive thinking groups, goal setting groups, told the crazies they weren’t allowed to eat by us. The hospital was very much like high school.
But we worried about Jonathon because he was slipping and we could feel it. His parents, each day, came in through the doors marked “warning: high flight risk” and gave permission for his meds to be increased. Jonathon stopped leaving his room except to watch tv. He stopped reading books that didn’t include pictures. He couldn’t follow the plot line of the Nutty Professor, which he asked to watch 5 times.
When I left the hospital, the rest of my group had already gone, and as I walked past the rec. room, it was just Jonathon, sitting in front of the piano trying to play Edelweiss.
Afterwards, my parents took me out to dinner and I tried to tell them about Jonathon and make them understand why he was important. I left the restaurant crying. I moved my bed to my living room because enclosed spaces disturbed me. I began dreaming about Jonathon fading to nothing.
My mother was concerned, she said, you’re obsessed, she said.
Obsessed. Crazy. But not crazy, crazy.
But what I know, because I have had my laces taken from my shoes and I have seen women pulled screaming in to a room where they were bound for hours in order to be prevented from beating their own foreheads in with a Bible, is that Jonathon will be drugged until he is a non-combative disappearance. He will sit, days and days, at a piano, not remembering, until he is wheeled, unconscious, on to a bed and forgotten.
And there is guilt, because I also know that those, such as myself, who are obsessed and broken and crazy but “not crazy, crazy” will move on, get jobs, visit Austria to see the mountains, lacing their shoes before they go.
My mother promised me I would not forget. Guaranteed that Jonathon would not be nothing. That he wouldn’t disappear.
But I was called, two months later, by my roommate at the facility called who told me that Jonathon was still there. And we both pictured him at the piano, hands on the keys, but neither of us could remember his name, which is not, in fact, Jonathon.