Life is different in a mental institution. It is a place formed by its own unique hierachy–the pecking order comprised variously and in no particular order here of pendulum-like bipolars, disconnected schitzophrenics, rigid obsessives, unpredictable borderlines, and like me, garden-variety alcoholics. Bipolar and Borderline personality disorder are considered trendy diagnoses, I learned. There is a certain cachet.
My own group is here because we drank or used drugs obsessively, suicidally. We had a lot of close calls.
The hospital’s organizational chart seems framed by the example of other more common fringe populations. For instance, consider the pocket protector crowd, whose entry-level geeks skulk and lurch about with scratchy laptops, role-playing games at the ready.Middle-tier nerds are outwardly more normal than geeks, except when gazing with unrequited longing toward the dorks. Having attained the penultimate, dorks cling to the superlative with both fingernails and silent scorn.
Dorks, I learned in treatment, were actually whale penises. See? The benefits of listening.
The otherwise calming grounds are overrun with wildlife. At night, skunks and what I imagine are radiation exposed beavers nose cautiously through the trash. Canadian Geese terrorize the various populations, themselves gaggles, as they are led single file about the lawn’s periphery for daily exercise. Bets of no consequence are placed as to the derivation of each unit. As they line past us, each member’s eyes are trained to the ground, alert for the ubiquitous presence of droppings. Obsessives are easy to spot, I discovered, a pair of arms swinging in wild, sputterring arcs, while still others display random, jittering tics. The droppings are purported to be slick, but I didn’t learn that here. Anyway, it is something to do.
A couple of nights ago, a thunderstorm blew through and soaked the place. Some of us burrowed in our rooms, while others stood on the back porch, howling at the wind and smoking. I’m a smoker.
In the morning, the grounds are festooned with giant puddles. I hardly glance at them. They are simply obstacles to be avoided on the way to the cafeteria. The next day I notice they are shrinking. There is one shaped like a dog, another like a malformed map of Canada. But they are undeniably diminished, healing, returning to the earth. And there is something about that.
There is the blatantly apparent comparison, I suppose, life is like, recovery is like, but that’s not it. I’m pretty sure it is something more.
All this was a couple of days ago. Now I stand smoking on the second floor porch of a cheap motel. It’s night. The wind blows through the tops of the trees and I am content to listen to it. Six Mexicans stand around the back end of a beat up Ford truck, drinking beer and listening to music. I don’t know, they seem pretty happy. There is a wonderful slowness to it all.
I think again of puddles. How they form and shrink in unobserved cycles. How they grow on bad ground. They are a nuisance; something to avoid lest the bus splash your new coat. To paraphrase the senior President Bush, puddles are bad.
The old me, the three weeks ago me, would have thought “I probably am a puddle. No, I definitely am. In fact, born of a pothole, I am King Puddle the 1st, formerly mayor of Puddletown.” And so on.
But not now. I think and reason differently. I’m also not drinking. Those people at the mental instituion really know what they’re doing. I have to concede: I have puddles. Perhaps shaped like a dog, perhaps not. I haven’t gotten that far. But they are not all of me, just as they are also not the rain or the sky.
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