World Mental Health Day — A Novel Excerpt
World Mental Health Day coincides with our Thanksgiving. Très à propos, as I have lots to be thankful for! My contribution, for what it’s worth, is a short but rollicking excerpt from DIY, a novel in progress. I read bits of this picaresque tale of a very angry punk grrrl this past Saturday at my very first headline gig at our SOUNDS reading series. Enjoy!
And what bleakness it is. Medieval cloisters had better Feng shui. Not a poster or a print, of course, because picture frames can be broken into weaponry—but damn it all, could they not have got some second-graders to come around and splatter a few clumsy murals of rainbows and daisies? Here the dominant theme, with no variation, is beige. The walls are beige, the floors are beige, the ceiling is beige. It wears on you, this beige, for as I’ve heard it sung, beige is the colour of resignation. Here and there I note the odd change. Faceplates are missing from thermostats, so that now there’s exposed metal plaques and tangs: perfect for fucking yourself up righteous when you’re inclined to headbutt some hardare. And they still have acoustic drop-ceilings, with acrylic lenses and fluorescent tubes. Wheel your pallet under the light, hop on up, and voilà! More blades than a Gypsy wedding. They really don’t think this shit through.
Wonder of wonders, today I get a vegetarian meal. They’ve taken the chicken breast off the plate and doubled me up on ball bearing peas and overcooked rice. Swimming in chicken gravy. Sweet Christ, I’d hate to ask for kosher.
I try to make conversation with Colonel Kilgore.
“You know, you’ve been here too long when you start to like the coffee.”
He ignores me loudly.
The lounge used to have a nice table and four captain’s chairs, a dusty rose formica cylinder piled high with Chatelaines and Motor Trends, and some comfy plush chairs for reading. I also remember a plastic tub of Michael Chrichtons, Maeve Binchys and dog-eared sudokus. I tell you this because the beigeness has taken over. There’s no longer even the vine pattern of the upholstered reading chairs to mitigate the beige, for they’ve taken everything away. Everything. Because they determined that our grubby little crazy person mitts have turned the ratty old Yosemite Sam puzzle with the missing pieces into a vector for hoof-and-mouth. So there’s nothing at all now but four vinyl waiting room chairs surrounding the bare cylinder like a plastic camp fire. As a result, there’s nothing to do now but try to tune out the TV, barely audible, Aldous Huxleying us from its bracket on high.
That, or saunter over to the open linen closet and get some bedsheets to rip into strips for self-garroting. Like I said, they don’t think this shit through.
Gomer Pyle is hovering over his platter. We have them on our laps, as the cylinder is barely big enough for a single tray. I’m trying to be sympathetic. I remember my days as a chainsmoker and beer swiller. Nic fits command respect. But there must be something wrong if after this time they haven’t allowed him 10 escorted minutes in the courtyard. It’s not all me here. He really does have this negative charisma that could harsh San Francisco’s mellow.
I’m about to leave him to shovel home his Sodexho goodness when Nurse Face walks in with the kid.
“Buenos tardes, homeskillets!”
And realize that I totally misread it. My usual precious bubbliness didn’t just bounce off, it impacted. Face is holding him by the hand, giving him that barely perceptible, fully unauthorized human contact, rubbing the back of his bone-white hand with her warm dark thumb.
I’m fighting several urges, for I am my brother’s keeper.
The kid is choking back tears. He’s so pale he’s bluish.
And all I can think of, is what the fuck did they say to him? Do to him?
Do you know what happens to kids when they get exposed to shrinks? Damned if they don’t tell him he’s got both ADHD and Autism. Then, when he’s a teen, they will say he’s Bipolar to boot. And that’s what will screw him up, because he’s really just weird. But he will become sick because the whole damn world will be fussing over him, incapable of letting him go, simultaneously pussy-footing around him and stomping on his face, jack-booted, forever. And the more meds he takes, the more meds he needs; and the more meds he needs, the more meds he takes, until his neurochemistry is Love Canal and he’s insulin dependent and his liver turns into a hackey sack and he has permanent shakes and has 19 nervous breakdowns and he becomes a lush and everybody he will have ever known will treat him like a walking Chernobyl and eventually, after due consideration and the weighing of all the options and with the analytical indifference of an accountant, he determines that suicide would, indeed, be a positive lifestyle enhancement.
And I have nothing to offer.
Because I am just as fucked as he is, in here, desperate to be held by my mother Gaia.
I want the earth so bad.
And I want to get together with him and Face and even Sgt. Slaughter, and just hold hands, on our backs, head to head like petals radiating from the centre of a daisy. On the earth, of the earth. And with eyes fully open to take in all of the sky. I want him to be the child he is, so he can point to the swaying branches and rustling leaves and tell us that the trees are dancing. I want to return to him an innocence that they’re taking surreptitiously, restoring it before he even suspects it’s missing.