The best two weeks of my life was spent sitting with the “crazies”. We would talk about our lives and what it meant to be alive and about why we were here. The universe. God or lack there of. We had group session in the morning and in the afternoon. We were taken for walks after lunch around the hospital like pets. Sometimes they would take us out to play basketball. We were so medicated usually it never really amounted to one drop of sweat.
The airman in the room next to me was a pilot. He flew A-10 Warthogs and had recently become a Buddhist and a pacifist. I would walk by his room in the morning on the way to breakfast and he would be practicing yoga. He was caught crossing the border into North Korea. Legend has it he was caught hugging North Koreans telling them that Americans really love them. I’m not sure if I believe that. I believe he would have been shot on sight.
We were both allowed to bring our palm pilots into the hospital ward. He shared Thoreau’s Walden with me. I’ll never forget that moment in the hallway with him as he bluetoothed over such a symbolic book into my now worthless Sony Palm Pilot. That book kept me sane among the supposedly insane. We are all isolated in a little cabin in the woods. Most just don’t know it yet. Our pajamas were blue. Our slippers too. Most of us were there on our own accord. Of course we were coached to submit ourselves. There are repercussions for being mentally ill in the military. You are given a chance to get better or else. Most prefer or else.
The basic premise of therapy was to get everyone back on a regular schedule. Early to rise. Early to bed. We were all fed. Group session was a joke as we usually ended up telling jokes. A person in the group would take turns fighting the system. Usually it was the pilot. He was our self-appointed leader and was seemingly leading an uprising. From what I’m still unclear. He wanted us all to take off our watches and we did. One day he took his shirt off in the day room and covered the clock on the wall. Time does not exist he announced. We are all slaves to something that we invented. Time is like the Tooth Fairy. The nurses quickly took the shirt off the clock. The pilot went on a one week hunger strike.
Another airman thought he was Jesus and he heard voices. He was found in the air bay not answering to his name. He only answered to Jesus for weeks. He loaded planes with ammunitions. I think Jesus would have been a good airman. Everyone was kind to each other. We all sat quietly and told stories of the military and how we had all gotten screwed over. We listened to a one week series on tape by Tony Robins about healthy living. The pilot always made us learn while we drooled in the day room. He wanted us to all become vegetarians. We listened as we dozed in and out of consciousness. It takes a couple of weeks usually to adjust one’s meds.
The food would come in like clockwork on trays. We would circle what we wanted to eat early in the morning on little pieces of paper with little pencils that could harm no one. We were asked daily how our pain was. On a scale of one to ten how do you……. feel in the blanks. The scale became maddening as we were subject to it once in the morning and once at night. Each number had a smiley face attached to it. 1 was extremely happy. 10 was frowning, almost crying. Life was bad for number 10. I felt like a 10 when I went in.
When I got my turn I would speak with my mother on the phone in the hallway. My father had passed away suddenly so we had a lot to talk about. I spoke about how cut off from the world I felt. How I didn’t feel like I would ever belong. I still feel that way. She promised to help me start a business when I got out. Promises are nothing if you don’t follow through with them. It’s interesting what you will promise someone who is in a psyche ward. The psyche ward was number 13. I felt that was either just a silly mistake or a dirty trick by the psychologists. The doors were locked all day and night. We were trapped by our own accord.
On the second week a vietnam vet was brought in. He was manic and had been up for three weeks without sleep. It was truly terrible to watch. He was brought in late at night on a stretcher kicking and screaming. It’s hard to hear a full grown man scream. It was more of a yell. He was tied down and under 24 hour supervision in a padded room. Two days later he was sitting in the day room with everyone else happy as a lark. He quit taking his meds and he lost it for a bit. Nothing he hasn’t done before from the looks of it. Thank goodness for medication.
Another airman was admitted the second week as well. The day before he was having a barbecue at his home. All his friends were over. The story goes that he silently cut his wrist. He then taped them up and laid in his bed to slowly bleed to death. He was always super happy. I saw no signs of depression. I liked him. He drew on the dry eraser board all day making funky tribal designs. They would have made nice tattoos. I have a picture of him somewhere. I really enjoyed talking to him. I was depressed myself and saw no signs of depression in this man. I had no idea how someone could just cut their wrists and lay down to die and be happy doing it. I asked him why he did it and he would say it just felt like the right time to go. I was intrigued.
The pilot was absolutely brilliant. He had a real magnetism to him. The kind of magnetic attraction I’ve heard that leaders of cults sometimes have, like Jim Jones maybe. He wrote down all the statistics of the GAU-8 Avenger gun that is on the Wart Hog and how many people it could kill and how quickly. His knowledge was encyclopedic. He shared how he was sickend by the killing mantras that the Air Force had taught him. He grew up in Colorado and had wanted to be a pilot his entire life. He had smuggled in his Statement of Conscientious Objection on a 64 megabyte thumb drive. He gave it to me. I promised to change his name if I ever published it.
One day I was told I could go home. That the experiment was over. I didn’t know what the future held. Things seemed better. I wasn’t drooling anymore in the day room. I was now circling happy faces although I’ve never circled number 1. I had become a vegetarian thanks to Tony Robbins and the pilot. I still had no idea why the other airman slit his wrist so we talked once more before I left.
He opened up to me because I wasn’t a nurse. Because I hurt too. At the barbecue he hit his daughter in the face. His daughter was three. He felt so ashamed. He felt so much pain from that. His father had hit him often while growing up and he had promised himself that if he ever hit his children that he would kill himself, in order to end the cycle of violence. He never wanted to inflict that type of pain on someone else. He was only following through with a lifetime promise. I was amazed by the calmness in which he made the decision. He was in tears while telling me the truth that he had been dodging for days. I was moved as well. I still am.
Hours later I was released into the wild. I was brought back to active duty for a few months. I did mostly guard duty. I never had another open conversation about the meaning of life while in the military. The only people I could share so deeply with were considered insane. I feel that made me sane. I miss Ward 13 and especially the pilot. We had grown close. All of us had.
I called the ward a month later to check on the pilot. The nurses still remembered me. I missed them as well. It would seem the pilot was sent back to active duty after being forced to take a months leave back home in Colorado. Instead of going home he purchased a one way ticket to South Korea. He was planning on going back across the border. He was detained at the airport and soon after discharged. There is something impressive about a man on a mission. I’m glad he was not shot. I still think of Ward 13 and the lessons learned and the stories told there. I can still see myself sitting in that day room listening to Tony Robins. I can still see the clock with the shirt over it. I believe the pilot was right. Time does not exist and if it does we are definitely its slaves.