Upon my admittance to the loony bin, I’m briefly examined, then heavily medicated. When I come to, in my hospital room, I find, inches away from my face, another face; sweaty and fleshy, a thoroughly chewed cigar stub sticking out of his mouth. This is my roommate, Eugene, who, without introduction, asks me to be his vice-presidential running mate in the upcoming election. I shrug. Eugene takes that as a commitment.
On election night, all twenty-eight patients on the unit gather to watch the returns. At some point, it hits Eugene that he’s not going to win, he will be soundly beaten by Richard Nixon. Eugene lifts his bloated body off the couch, and shuffles silently from the TV room. Moments later, a huge crash is heard. Eugene is found sitting in his (and my) bathroom sink, which crashed to the floor when he sat in it. Eugene is weeping, and threatens to eat anyone who comes near him.
I am given a private room, a real perk in a place like this, but not enough to prevent an act of desperation. One night, I step up onto a spindly chair, then I tie my belt, dangling from the ceiling, around my neck. The chair teeters. The belt tightens. I prepare to kick the chair away, when a vivid image enters my mind – my mother’s face, and how beside herself she would be if I was found with poop in my pants. The thought is simply unbearable. I give myself a raincheck, and come down from the precarious perch.
I continue a life of semi-nonexistence; eighteen hours a day of sleep, some mandatory arts and crafts, and hospital food. Finally, after weeks of monitoring, the institution’s head shrink comes up with a diagnosis for me: ”Temporary Loss of Self”. Not exactly actionable intelligence.
I don’t find myself again until four months later, when I wake up one morning in the bin, in a totally manic state. It’s better than the best cocaine. I can’t stop talking, thinking, moving, doing. Working at a furious pace, I create artwork; I paint, make prints, and try to sketch the feet of women on the unit. It’s hard to find an attractive foot to draw, but at least all are definitely captive. Unable to control my impulses, I steal a wheelchair from an old psychotic patient, and I rampage on wheels through the unit, threatening everyone with a broken plastic soda bottle. My libido returns in full force, I hit on patients, nurses and social workers. I manage to have sex with a woman on the unit, an older (25) schizophrenic who can tie a shoe with her toes.
I wind up missing my senior year in high school, but I do have to attend daily classes in the loony bin, where I am the star pupil, mostly because my fellow “students” are drugged and drooling adolescents. Amazingly, I graduate, and am given a diploma, from “Spaulding School for the Handicapped”. I am also given a lithium prescription for manic depression, which I don’t take consistently, as it makes me feel too stable. And after almost eight months in captivity, I am released back into the world.