SMILE (Part 8) – or Little Shock Shop of Horrors

Vintage Shock Machine

Vintage Shock Machine

ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy) – 

My roommate Miranda has an annoying habit of sitting far too close when she talks, bits of spit flying. “Shit, you know what happened in that room? This guy named Danny was holed up there for months.  Going to get electrified down in the basement by Dr. Frankenstein.  I am fucking glad I’m done with all that shit.  Anyway, he was like a weeping mess most of the time, except the day after his treatment.  He’d wake up all smiling and joking.  It was real weird.  He’d be real friendly but confused, wondering why he was here.  As soon as he remembered, he’d start sobbing until they fried him again.  Guy had it real bad.”

I know why the doctor’s call it electro-shock therapy, but it is the shocked expression on the patient’s face when wheeled back from the basement that explains the name.  A slack-jawed, blank look like the one my grandfather used to have while his brain was slowly eaten away by Alzheimer’s.

Dinah slides over next to Miranda, silent like a ghost until her low voice breaks free, “Telling her ‘bout the old men, eh? Don’t go scaring her.” Dinah reaches out and pats my hand gently, an odd motherly gesture that makes me queasy.  She has a sick habit of picking her cuticles when she’s nervous.  The skin around her fingernails is cracked and raw, all red like lines on a road-map.

“Screw off, Dinah,” Miranda smiles and leans in.  “So one day Danny was smiling again and this irritating crackhead schizo had just been admitted.  God, those damn druggies are so whiny! So the schizo didn’t know that the rest of us stopped telling Danny why he was here when he was smiling.  We just let him play chess and Othello and the crossword until he figured it out on his own.  But that schizo was an ass, a real strung-out ass.  When Danny started asking questions, the guy was like – your fucking in the looney bin, old man.  The nuthouse.  Cuckoo-ville.  Where the fuck do you think you are? Disneyland? – and Danny just stopped smiling.”

Her hands wave madly in the air. The yellow glitter she spreads on her eyelids falls onto the table.  I stare at the shiny, reflective pieces, rub my fingers over the table gently, try to collect them on my fingertips.  Miranda keeps jabbering, an auctioneer on uppers and her warm breath feels wet against my face.

“So Danny went back to his room and flung himself against those cement walls.  There was fucking blood splatter all over, a total mess.  I don’t how you can smash your skull into a wall without anyone hearing, ya know? But that isn’t the best part,” Miranda’s eyes grow wide like a creepy baby doll with false lashes and glass eyes.

“Damn Miranda, you are being real uncool,” Dinah says and slips away towards the front desk for her afternoon downers.

Miranda’s rant quickens, barely breathing between sentences. “He tore his sheets into strips and tied them together.  Hanged himself.  Must have been a boy scout or something, knowing how to tie a perfect knot outta those starchy, cheap sheets.” Miranda sighs.  Danny has become her hero, a man who achieved the final destination she has been trying for most of her life.

OT – 

We go to occupational therapy, a backroom with a thick wooden table and cheap stools spilled with paint and ink.  Unlike the day-room and counselor’s offices, this place has life in it.  It’s exciting to see color and movement, the traces of former patients’ boredom or desperation in water colors and scribbles.

There are crayons and markers, plastic paint brushes and toxic free paints and stains.  The lucky patients get grout and tile, make trivets for pots and pans they might get to use again.  There are plastic aprons and newspapers and paste, two pairs of safety scissors kept safely in the staff’s smock.

I make a sun catcher with stains and a plastic form of a hummingbird hovering near a morning-glory.  My hands shake, but I color the vines evergreen and celery, the petals violet and jasmine.  I ask Dinah and Miranda what color a hummingbird is.  They shrug.  So I stain him a brilliant blue and gold.

In the morning, it’s dry but the stains have spilled into one another all swirling and twisted like marbles.  I give it to my kids during visiting hours, a grade school art project forged from hospital donations and time.

Years later, I will fall in love with another bipolar, Derek.  He will visit Fairview Psych ward annually, like stable people take vacations.  I will sit across from him during visiting hours, bring him fattening snacks and crosswords, tell him it’s over, that I hate him, that I love him.  He’ll give me a gift he made in OT – the same hummingbird sun catcher with a lavender bird, magenta flowers and shaking green leaves.


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