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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Duck Dynasty

Here's what it is like to go in just before visiting hours: there's a lobby. And it is like every lobby you've ever been in, with people sitting in chairs, and a desk, and more people sitting in chairs behind the desk.

The people sitting in chairs on one side of the desk are poorly dressed. They are wearing clothes they threw on at the last minute and both the people and the clothes seem anxious, full of angles and baggage.

The people behind the desk are more organized. They have on clothes that are neat and organized. Uniform. Uniforms.

And you meet with the Uniforms for a moment. You explain why you are there, and hope the Uniforms don't comment on your angular clothing and your baggage. You are told to come back in 15 minutes because no one with angular clothing is allowed in until 6pm, which is odd because just last night--and for most nights for nearly a decade--there have been no time constraints. You've been with him whenever you wanted. "He's just right there," you want to say. "Behind those doors at the end of the hallway." But you turn from the desk and from the Uniforms, and find a seat with the other angular clothes. You find a discarded AM New York, and pretend to read it. The clock moves. You don't.

When 15 minutes pass, exactly 15 minutes, you get up and do as instructed: go to the guard, show your ID, explain you're there to visit.

And the guard doesn't look at you at first. He tells you to sign in, and gestures to the paper clipped to a board on his podium. When you reach for the board, you notice a pack of Crystal Light beside the guard's Walkie-Talkie and computer. You say this: "I haven't done this before." That becomes a mantra to you in the next 10 minutes, as you pass through security. "Here's my ID," you say. "I'm new at this. I don't know what to do."

Also, you say this, to the guard: "You don't look like the Crystal Light kind." You say this while scribbling your name onto the sheet that makes you a valid visitor. You say it because you need to be more than valid, more than a visitor. You say it because you not only want yourself to be more, but you want [Person] to be more.

The guard looks up. Looks at you. Then looks down at the packet of Crystal Light. "That shit is awful," he says. "I don't know who that thing belongs to."

Then he does a kindness, and shows you where to go. Then he does more kindness, and leads you on a short cut. "See, you normally would have to go all the fuck around there to get to where you need to go," he says, "but really, you just need to go through here." And he walks you through the doors behind him, and into a hallway. He points generally to the left. "Go over there."

You go over there. Over there is another set of doors. You'll notice the sign over the door when you leave an hour later, and you probably notice the sign now but can't process the words. Spoiler: You won't remember what the words on the sign say. You'll just know what they mean: Emergency Psych Ward.

And you'll think of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." And before you notice the sign or after, you'll be scared shitless of what you will see when you go in, go out, go in.

You go in. Another lobby, much smaller, no waiting. Rather than wait, you're asked by a Uniform--who is sitting behind bank-teller glass-- for your reason for being there. "Why are you here?" Uniform asks, and you think how loaded a question that is, and wonder if there is a couch to lay upon to answer the question. Instead you mutter a name, show your ID, and are buzzed into another room where you are stripped of your precious iPad, phone, keys, and your signature. Again.

And you say, again: "I am new to this. Just tell me what I should do."

"The thing you can do is give me anything sharp in your pockets," Uniform says. Then Uniform hands you off to Nurse, who leads you past another desk housing more Uniforms, and past an alcove of Others who are now your brothers.

The brothers are sitting around a television. They are wearing angular clothing, and teal socks with white spots along the soles.  They all have angular hair. One of them acknowledges you as the Nurse leads you around the desk. "We don't get visitors," Nurse tells you. "Go into the waiting room and I'll send [Person] out." Then Nurse is gone. There is the desk. There is the alcove of brothers with angular hair matching your angular clothes. There is 'Duck Dynasty' on the television.

There are two bathrooms.

One bathroom is labeled 'Patients Only,' and one is labeled, 'Men Only.' You err on the side of caution, and go into the Men Only.

There is no lock on the door where you'd expect to see a lock.

There is some graffiti.  Scrawled in what you hope is a brown Crayon is, "Didn't do it." As you pee into the toilet, you reflect on the many things you didn't do, 'it' being the most not-done thing of all. And when you emerge from the bathroom, Nurse is there. "THERE you are," she says.

"I went to the bathroom."

"You're not supposed to go to the bathroom."

Then, you think, don't label the bathrooms as "Patients Only" or "Men Only". Also, where are women supposed to not go?

Nurse leads you into a room, and there is a television, and there are tables, and eventually [Person] joins you. You hug [Person,] who is also wearing angular clothing, and teal socks with white nubbins on the sole, and looks as if he's been on a terrible sea voyage captained by William Bligh's second cousin.

[Person] says this: "Why did you come here?"

And you say this: "Why ask me that?"

And Nurse says this: "I don't have food for both of you."

And at the desk, a Uniform says this: "Just stay calm. 'Duck Dynasty' will be over in a bit and we'll change the channel."

You say to [Person]: "It's okay."

After a while, [Person] agrees. "I was close. All of this could've been over, and I was so close. It has to get better."

[Person] puts his head on your shoulder, while you sit in a plastic chair that is facing a television. 'Duck Dynasty.' And there is another person sitting in the room, an angularly-dressed man in teal socks with white nubbins on the sole, and that man--his hair ragged--suddenly shouts, "It gets better!" Then he says, "That's the punchline, right?"

Dan Savage would weep.

You remain with [Person] until well after visitation, and then the Uniform at the bank-teller window expresses surprise that you are still in the Ward, even though the Uniform has your bag full of iPad and phone and sharp objects. You kiss [Person] as you leave, and say to Uniform, "Take good care of him."

Uniform replies, "You too."

"You too" is, of course, not the proper response. But the doors have shut, and [Person] is now away from you, and there's nothing to do but go back through the lobby full of angular-clad persons and out into the night. There's a dog to hug. There's a life, etc. etc.

Another spoiler: You get [Person] back. But you also get kind of scared.

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