A man paces up and down the room stopping every now and then to glance at the window, a big smile displayed across his rugged face. He is only a young man but his brown eyes, when they occasionally fix onto something, look old and wise. Suddenly he sits at the end of a small bed, his legs furiously bobbing up and down as if he is trying to run while he remains seated. You grip your standard issue clip board, the cool plastic smooth against your fingers. The pen you would normally hold in your hand is tucked tightly under the metal clip, you are here simply as an observer; no analysis is needed at this time. He opens his mouth and begins to speak:
“Once, when I was a child, I thought God spoke to me. He told me that I was going to go to hell. Later I found out that it wasn’t God, it was my older brother talking to me through the air conditioning ducts that ran throughout our old house. Those ducts were so helpful to me growing up; sitting in bed with the Spiderman blanket up to my chin listening to mum and dad fight about me and my brothers. I miss those ducts”
He turns and smiles in your direction; another broad smile that lights up his fair face. You realise this is the first time he has even acknowledged your presence. You place the clipboard on your lap and fold your hands neatly on top of it; your right leg blances on top of your left knee:
“Can you imagine my surprise, when I was 25, and God spoke to me again? This time he told me to collect packets of sugar from McDonalds. You know those handy single serves of sweetness. It had to be God, my brother didn’t live with me and there was no air-conditioning ducts. It had to be. Turns out it wasn’t God this time either, it was my own mind.”
He turns away from you again and stares at a spot on the wall across from him, a spot that stands out to him only on the light blue washed wall.
“You don’t know you’re crazy, not even when God gives you a secret mission to collect sugar. In case you are wondering, I don’t know why it was sugar. I never asked either; who in their right mind questions God? What I do know is that when they came to get me I had over ten thousand little packets of sugar in my room. You may not have seen ten thousand packets of sugar before, but it is a lot.
“The most amusing part of it all is that I don’t use sugar. Not in tea, not in coffee. I still can’t figure that out. Why little packets of sugar?? Why not the big two kilo bags? I don’t know, but I do know that the lunch guy at work knew there was something wrong with me when I included ten sealed packets of sugar with my order of a cheeseburger and a coke. It wasn’t long after that that things got a lot worse for me.
“On a crazy scale of one to ten, I am about 5. I know people a lot worse, like Tasha in room 42B. She thinks she is her dead dog and only speaks canine. You should see her, crawling down the hall on all fours, draft stopper stuck down the back of her pajama pants for a tail, pretending to pee on the walls and barking at everyone. It is amusing, but it’s also sad. She only responds to ‘Pickle’. Tasha is one of the youngest people here, she is only 23. She has been here for a year and has made no progress. With her short black curly hair she reminds me of a poodle, but I don’t know what kind of dog Pickle really was.”
He grasps the end of the bed with both hands and leans back until his arms are rigid then quickly slumps forward again. You notice that his feet aren’t bouncing anymore but that he is rolling them from one side to the other repeatedly. You grasp the clip board again and you notice that your fingers have left sweat marks on it’s surface:
“So here I sit, semi recovered in a mental institution, awaiting release. There is more to my tale than the sugar. Gradually, over a period of time, I began to hear other voices as well. I became convinced that I had some kind of implant in my brain that allowed me to hear what people were thinking. Unfortunately for me it so happened that my next door neighbour wasn’t actually thinking it would be good if the wall dividing us was torn down. Neither was the super. Needless to say I lost my apartment.
“When I moved back into my parents’ house I started to talk to my brother through the vents again, though my brother no longer lived at home. At this time I was still collecting sugar, and I still heard everyone’s thoughts. I heard my mother thinking how better her lounge room would look painted baby-shit green, boy was she surprised when she came home to me painting in my underpants. She took me to the doctors not long after that.
“It’s all funny now, when I say it aloud to myself. It seemed normal at the time. Then again my current room mate Norman thinks it is normal to eat his own arm pit hair. Norman is 6ft tall, weighs about 150 kilos and is of Italian decent. He started eating his armpit hair when he was 28, he is now 32. It’s gross to watch, but I am used to it now. He’s a really great guy, he just can’t stop eating his hair.
He gets up again and begins to pace back and forth slowly, eyes trained on the floor. Every now and then he stops walking for a second and looks at the roof then he continues on his path. You uncross your legs and place the clip board on the floor out of reach, no more distractions:
“Every Wednesday is group day. God, I hate therapy, but it’s worse in the group. Terry, Norman, Jacky and Louise are in my small group. It can be rather amusing at times. I usually don’t say much, but Terry, Terry does nothing but speak. Yesterday he was complaining about Tash, ‘Oh, she’s so crazy, she thinks she is a dog. Why can’t she be moved to a different area, I don’t like her,’ he said. I turned to him and replied, ‘You think you’re a werewolf, so I suppose you should be moved as well?’ I was the one who got in trouble. Terry started yelling, ‘I am a werewolf, I am. I’m not crazy like her, I can’t help it,’ then the therapist turns to me and says, ‘Adam, you know Terry is suffering from a form of lycanthropy.’ Terry turns to me and tells me that next time he ‘turns’ he will escape his room and bite me. Lovely.
“Then there is Jacky. Jacky has border line personality disorder and is in here because she burnt down her parents’ house. It’s hard to be around Jacky, one day she loves you and will do anything for you, the next she is calling you an asshole and throws her dinner in your face. It makes therapy hard as well, sometimes she will share everything with us, other times she just abuses us all and makes fun of our problems.
“I like Louise most of all, she has Schizophrenia as well. She has only been here for about six months and has only started group work in the last two months. She had things worse than I did, suffering from hallucinations and delusions. She believed that people were following her all the time, talking about her and planning to get rid of her. She started to speak in her own language and would get upset when her parents would ask her what she was talking about. The final straw came for them when she locked herself in the bathroom wielding a kitchen knife and threatening to hurt anyone who came near her. She has improved greatly since then; she may even go home soon. She takes her meds every day, I think I may be resistant.”
He sits once again on the end of his bed and then lies back staring at the ceiling. He lets out a long sigh and rolls to face the wall:
“Our room is utterly depressing. It has been painted this light blue – supposedly to calm us down, instead it gives me a headache. I worry though, because a headache can mean other things as well. It could mean that the voices are coming back, not that I would mind. I have been so lonely since they stopped; I hardly ever talk to anyone anyway. I get scared now, because I don’t know if God is real anymore. When he talked to me, I knew he was there, but now I worry. What if the pills they give me don’t fix me but make it so I can’t hear him anymore, and slowly, ever so slowly, God is getting irritated at my non responsiveness. It could happen…….
“There are two cots in our room, a table and a bathroom with a toilet, a sink and a shower. It’s like a cross between a prison cell and a cheap hotel room. There is one window, but to look out of it I have to stand up. It’s worth standing up though; it looks out over the bay. I usually only stand up twice a day, dawn and dusk. I like to watch the sun sparkling off the water like thousands of diamonds, the fish jump every now and then to catch the bugs that buzz low to the surface. Sometimes, if you are lucky, you can watch people having fun on boats or jet skies, hear them laugh. I get depressed a lot as well.
“At night it’s like being in a haunted house. Many of the people here suffer from night terrors. There is a lot of moaning, screaming and pacing. When there is a full moon it is worse. People pace the halls muttering to themselves, and next door Terry snarls and howls because he thinks he is a werewolf. This sets Tasha off into a howling frenzy, and all night they howl to each other down the hall way. A deranged version of Romeo and Juliet.”
He stops in his tracks, rolls onto his back and looks at the ceiling again. His face takes on a new softer light, his eyes almost sparkle, and his voice becomes quieter.
“I had a Juliet once, the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. At first, I thought she was just another product of my afflicted mind. My mum met her though, and she assures me she was indeed real. She was a patient here as well, Eve. It was the most perfect name in the world, like a message from God and not just in my head, for you see I am Adam. She was in the same room as Tasha, and the thing I loved most about her was that she never ever complained, but just helped Tasha as best she could.
“I was fairly crazy at that point, it was not long after I had moved in that she did, and I was trying to get people to give me their sugar. I remember I was trying to steal the sugar from Gerald’s plate, Gerald is extremely violent and can no longer socialise with us anymore. He was about to beat my head in when Eve came over and she spoke.
“Her voice was so sweet, like music, ‘Here have mine, I don’t like sugar anyway,’ she said to me, handing me the little packet. I looked at her and I couldn’t speak. Her eyes sea green, blonde hair to her shoulders like spun gold, skin like the finest china. She stared at me. I stared back. She walked away.
“Months went by and I found out that she was an agoraphobic. She never left her house for anything, so her parents sent her here. They had sedated her for the trip and she woke up in a room with Tasha. She was here for under a year before she went away, and she told me she loved me. They won’t tell me where she went, she’s just gone.
“One day I will be gone as well. I will find her and we will live together by a bay and own a boat. Then we will be the ones who have fun, and laugh and live. This place will be like some kind of dream, and I won’t need to tell you anything ever again.”
He stops talking and rolls face down on his bed. As you stand up from your chair it makes a creaking noise but he doesn’t seem to notice at all. You bend to pick up your abandoned clip board and are left wondering if he was talking to you or just simply talking.