Memoir: The First Breakdown (Con't)

So at least in the old days, you couldn’t just take a person who’d never been a resident in a psyche ward to the hospital and drop him off. Not that that’s what I wanted to do with Ian: What I wanted to do was have someone evaluate him, and tell me what to do next. Back in those days, though, if someone needed this kind of overnight psyche consultation, you had to have the cops bring him in. Even now, just thinking about these events takes my breath away.

After I got the requisite letters of recommendation (so to speak) from two psychotherapists Ian had known, and a letter from our mother (don’t ask), I went to the local police precinct to have a chat with the cops. I looked, physically, how you might imagine a wild teenage girl would in 1974 (long crazy hair, jeans, boots, tee-shirt): I looked, that is, like the enemy. Needless to say, they were not happy to see me.

What I remember most about the conversation between me and the Jerk In Blue at the desk was that he kept calling my brother “a mental”:

“What’s wrong with your brother?”

“He’s having some trouble, and I need a doctor at the hospital to check him out.”

“We don’t chauffeur people to their doctor’s appointments.”

“No, I know, but he’s sick—he’s having psychological problems.”

“Oh! Well! If he’s a mental then that’s another story.”

“He’s not ‘a mental.'”

“Well, then we can’t pick him up.”

There’s something about me that attracts sadists like this; that is, this was not the last time I was toyed with by a guy who had something I needed. As fumed outside, Geoff took over and somehow managed to arrange with the cop to have Ian picked up and taken to Bellevue, a terrible place.

I wasn’t at the boarding house when the cops picked Ian up. But the male nurse with the snake told me later that Ian was sitting at the kitchen table when the cops rang the bell. He was eating a hamburger. They came in and told him to come with them, and Ian asked if he could finish his lunch first. They were kind enough to say yes. So while he sat there slowly, gingerly eating his burger, three cops stood around him, watching without speaking.

See this break in my heart—this one here; the big one?—that’s from that story alone.

After hours at Bellevue, a doctor came out and told me that Ian was going to stay for three days. That was the way it was done: voluntary-style. After three days, they’d decide a course of action. I remember standing there, waiting, when he said, “O.K.?”

“Well, I guess,” I said, “But do you have any idea what’s going on with him?”

“Yes,” the doctor said, nonchalantly.

“What is it?” I said.

“He’s a paranoid schizophrenic.”

Have you had the experience of hearing some news that is just too big and bad that it doesn’t fit in your head? It’s like it floats outside your ears, wanting to get in, and you’re doing everything you can to will it to go away? That’s what this was like. I probably said, “That’s not true,” but all I really remember is the feeling, rising from my feet and up through my stomach and throat, of being mugged by hot, black, unbearable—unbearable—sadness. That’s something to contemplate: bearing the unbearable. For awhile, this feeling would be the air that I breathed and the food that I ate. There would be nothing else.

I left Ian, that night, without saying goodbye.

(image by Curious Expeditions/CC: A-NC-SA)


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