Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Visit to Palo Verde Mental Hospital

I was kind of nervous, I guess. I had been to that kind of place before, anyhow, when my grandma got Alzheimers and couldn't remember who I was, but for some reason could remember how to play Scott Joplin perfectly on the piano. I didn't feel like I was in a strange place until I sat down and looked at everyone else who was there for visiting hour. There was a middle-aged couple, the woman was crying and the man was trying to comfort her, sitting at the table in the cafeteria. There was a family with two teenagers sitting at the table next to mine, the dude was wearing an Interpol shirt and stole a chair from my table, and said "Well now I don't feel bad for being late," when he sat down.

I don't think I've ever been friends with a true schizophrenic before. Besides Fernando at the Ranch, I guess, who was so brainfried I couldn't tell whether he was psychotic or if the holes in his brain had finally taken their toll. Oversized and awkward, stupid and harmless, and unaware that being twenty-two years old he was legally allowed to leave the Ranch at any time. I remember him pacing in circles in the room, repeating to himself, "The devil is chasing me, Dave... the devil... the devil..." as I wrote letters to friends I'd never send. It was frightening at the time, but it was Fernando, and it was controlled craziness, and that's just the way Fernando always was to me.

I visited Neil yesterday, who had always been crazy - crazy like me - and who I had always loved for it. He wasn't crazy crazy, I mean. He was eccentric. We'd hung out a few times. He worked the same schedule as me at Oracle, and we talked on the phone every day to keep ourselves entertained. It's not that Neil and I have ever been good friends or anything, but there was some strange way we connected. We understood each other. Maybe that's why I decided to visit him, because I knew I would want him to visit me. I'm still not exactly sure why I went, and maybe that's why the last thing he said to me keeps reverberating in my mind. The converstaion started off with me, and I talked about Jessi, and how I had just gotten off the phone with her, again...

"i'm so stupid, neil. i dont know... i guess it's better than being alone."

"dave - dave! dave. listen: i had a girl like that up in flag."


"yep. her name... was kayla. and the night before i came home, dave - the night before i came home - she left my house and the door just went WSHHHH," and he imitated falling back into his seat.

I laughed, "what, so you, like, realized you liked her or something?"

"no, dave! i had liked her the whole time!"


"it is just like the battle of los angeles, do you know what I'm talking about?"


"the battle of los angeles came out ten years ago, dave, and i have had no idea what to do with my life ever since."

I laughed again. It was a funny way to measure the length of life: Rage Against the Machine albums. It was funny because it made sense to me.

"dave," he said demandingly, "rage: evil empire."

"yes: i get you. rage against the machine."

The crying woman in the dining room, I noticed, had composed herself...

"no, dave. you don't. rage: evil empire. i have been listening to it here. and you know what? it's AMAZING. i had heard it before, but i hadn't absorbed it, do you know what i mean?"

"yeah," I chuckled, "i think so."

"i have listened to the battle of los angeles so many times, dave, so many times! and thats when Y2K came, and i think something snapped. something snapped, dave, in my brain. you know, i tried to put a key in the wall socket to try and start my living
room? like it was a car."

Next to me, the teenager family's grandma finally came out, and I saw their faces go from cynical to sad in a heartbeat as the nurse helped sit her down.

"that's pretty crazy, neil," i said.

"i know! but i have been listening to evil empire, dave, and that's their middle album. and the battle of los angeles was nearly their last. and when i was up in flag... i was listening to self-titled - nineteen ninety-two, their first album, self-titled - the whole time. for like two months straight, dave. i had never heard it before. and when she closed the door and i went WSHHHHH," and he fell back again, "that's when i realized she had LOVED me the entire time."

I laughed again, "and the door was like..." and I imitated a door descending down a hallway with my hands.

Neil laughed, "exactly, dave! you see, that's why you're here! you GET me, dave, like no one else does!"

I sat there, and I hadn't realized it until then, but I was trying to decipher who was the Neil I knew and the Neil who hadn't taken his medication, and somehow ended up here after tearing up Nate's mail and placing it in patterns on the porch and calling the police on himself. It wasn't like Fernando, because there was no other Fernando to me besides the one who would stare blankly into nowhere. I wondered what Fernando was like as a kid, suddenly, if he had ever had written a story in school, and what he was like before the holes in his brain had...

"dave," he said seriously. "i had never listened to evil empire. did you know that? evil empire, dave! it came out between self-titled and battle of los angeles."


"SO! we both start at the end, dave, go back to the beggining, and have to..."

"connect the pieces in the middle?" I felt guilty for not knowing whether I finished his sentence out of empathy or obviousness.

"yes! connect the pieces in the middle! that's why you get me, dave. it was the door slamming, and me going 'WSHHH' and the door," he imitated me, "floating down the hallway, when i realized she had loved me, LOVED ME, dave, for the six months i had been there. she left for colorado. and now here i am.."

"here we both are."

"exactly! here we both are, peicing together everything in the middle, at last."

"you're crazy, neil."

"yes! yes, i am. but you are, too. i just started listening to evil empire, dave. i mean, really listening. absorbing. and it is AMAZING."

We sat for a second, and the visiting hour ended. I made my way with Neil, talking about Rage, to leave with the crying couple and teenage family, and all the other sad, confused faces sitting in the dining room..

"dave, thank you so much for coming."

"of course, neil."

He looked at me strangely, "you know why you came."

"because you're my friend?"

"no, dave - you know why you came."

I stopped to absorb the thought.

"why's that, neil?"

"you know why, dave."

And walked away. That's the last thing he said to me. I'm not sure if he was being crazy or being Neil, but the more I have thought about it, the less I knew why I did go and visit him. Maybe it's because I'm a "good guy," as Neil told me, and as Jessi told me only minutes before that. Maybe I'm a little crazy, too. But it just keeps reverberating... I wonder what Neil thought.


Molly said...

This was like Girl, Interrupted except more like Dave, Interrupted, and I liked it a lot.

I'm wondering what he meant, too.

Keep writing! I love your stuff. i think you're kind of gifted.

M. Wahl said...

sigh. it's just one heartbreak after another.