Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Institution: Proving My Sanity

(Cherokee, Iowa)

March 1969

Staff meeting today. About 30 or so doctors and nurses sit in on this gala affair. More like the gallows. I’m not sure why they have these meetings--I feel like a bug stuck on a pin, struggling for life.

When Carrie had her staff meeting a few months ago, she ran out in the middle of it, and ended up on locked ward for two months.

Dr. Kirkus will be here--that dude scares the shit out of me.

And he’s late. This session is supposed to start at 9:45 a.m., Kirkus rolls in at 10:10.

I swear, he does it just to make me sweat.

A nurse I don’t know calls me into a room designated “Group Therapy I,” where I face an audience of unfamiliar and familiar faces, all watching, waiting to see if I trip up.

Maintain, Jennifer, maintain.

I assume a pose of certainty, but I feel dizzy and lopsided. I take my place up front, in a chair, positioned exactly in the middle. I smile at the audience as if I were going on a picnic instead of a grilling.

Dr. Brooks introduces himself and begins questioning me.

I answer truthfully, and to my surprise, quite calmly. Everything about my past six months: job, drugs, sex, boyfriends, family fights, all laid out on the table. None of it looks ugly anymore because it’s past, I can’t change it, and I’m ready to move forward. I’m well prepared for this battery, which surprises me--I thought I’d be tripping all over my tongue, but I’m not.

I like Dr. Brooks--he asks questions in a way that encourages.

I don’t feel like hiding anymore.

Dr. Favis, today an observer, peeks around another doctor, smiling--I’ve never seen him yet when he wasn’t smiling. He nods his encouragement to me, I nod back.

Dr. Brooks announces that the floor is open for questions from other doctors, and I just know whose hand will pop up.

I’m right.

Dr. Kirkus, smirk on his face, slowly raises his hand. It seems as if everyone else in the room has vanished, and it’s Dr. Kirkus and me facing off in a duel. He stares me down; I stare back. He smiles sweetly, a sarcastic “I gotcha!” smile.

“What states would you have to pass through to get to Pennsylvania?” he asks.

The very same question asked at my bogus hearing! A snap!

I nearly blurt out, “That’s a dumb question,” but I hold my tongue.

I gather my thoughts. “You would go straight west to east,” I say. “You would start out in Iowa, from Cherokee or Sioux City, cross the Iowa border into Illinois, pass through Illinois into Indiana, from Indiana to Ohio, and, finally, into Pennsylvania, where you would travel about 225 miles southeast to York.”

I have memorized the route to Pennsylvania.

As the meeting breaks up, I know I have won--I have proven my sanity, once again. I’m all smiles when, a few minutes later, Mr. Benson, my social worker, confirms I have won my case--I’ll be released in two weeks--though I haven’t quite won because I will need to stay in a foster home for a few months and work for a while to earn some bread.

We’ll see.

I applied for a town pass for Saturday. Cherokee’s nothing but a hick town, but it’s an escape from the nuthouse.

I’ll grab whatever I can.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated.

Memoir Madness Excerpts: Table of Contents


Before the Institution

Prologue: Caged

Chapter One: The Crystal Ship

Chapter One: Blue Moons

Chapter Two: Dark Side

Chapter Two: Flying Solo

Chapter Two: Weed and Seeds

Chapter Two: Funny Little Naked Clowns

Chapter Two: Decision Time

Chapter Two: Thirteen Tabs

Chapter Three: Wallich's Music City and Eleanor's Radio

Chapters Four and Six: New Year's Eve, 1968--Fire

Chapter Eight: Rudy

Chapter Ten: Cops

Chapter Eleven: The Luckiest Hand

Chapter Twelve: Downers

Chapter Twenty Three: Sioux City Blues

Chapter Twenty Four: ..."While I Kiss the Sky"

Chapter Twenty six: The Miracle of Google

Chapter Thirty: There Must be Some Way Outta Here

Chapter Thirty Eight: What to Do With My Life?

Chapter Forty One: My Country 'Tis of Thee, Sweet Land of Tyranny

Chapter Fifty One: Nabbed at the Bus Station

Chapter Fifty Three: "Let's See What the Police Have to Say"

Chapter Fifty Four: A Possible Scenario at the Police Station

Chapter Fifty Six: Driven

Chapter Fifty Eight: Driven 2

Memoir Madness Excerpts: The Institution

The First Five Days

The Other Patients: Perky Penny

The Other Patients: Carrie the Cutter

The Other Patients: Joyce

The Other Patients: D.J., The Mighty Sage

The Other Patients: Anna on the Lam

Proving My Sanity

Memoir Madness Excerpts: After the Institution

Denise's Tips

Leaving Sioux City: Dee Dee

Epilogue: A Short History of the Cherokee Mental Health Institute

Memoir Madness Excerpts: Flashbacks (Fall 1968)

October 1968: Rev. Arthur Blessitt and His Place

October 12, 1968: A Mother's Warning

October 12, 1968: The Birthday Party

October 1968: Wild Man Fischer's Merry-go-round

A media-rich version of these excerpts (with photos, artwork, videos, out takes, essays, etc.,) can be accessed here.


About Memoir Madness...

Memoir Madness: Driven to Involuntary Commitment (Amazon)

About Memoir Madness: Driven to Involuntary Commitment...

Christmas Eve, 1968: history is made as Apollo 8 astronauts deliver their Christmas message from orbit around the moon.

On earth, at The Crystal Ship, a rock and head shop near Hollywood, California, Jennifer Semple listens to the iconic broadcast and, through the fog of drugs, ponders the future.

In the ensuing days, the 18-year-old girl experiments with LSD and other drugs; juggles a crumbling relationship with a notorious drug dealer; and tries to make sense of life at 2001 Ivar Street, a Hollywood, California, apartment complex where hippies, drug dealers, freaks, strippers, groupies, college students, Jesus Freaks, counterculture gurus, drag queens, rock stars and wannabe rocksters, svengalis, and con artists converge during one of the most volatile periods in history.

Then her grandfather finds the girl and coaxes her into returning to her Iowa hometown, where, unknown to her, she is still considered a minor.

After a series of events and blowups with her grandparents, she is dragged into the Iowa court system and involuntarily committed to the Cherokee Mental Institute in Cherokee, Iowa.

While incarcerated, she corresponds with Jeff, a new boyfriend, and also interacts with other patients: Wolfie, a psychopath who preys on other patients; Penny, a 17-year-old unwed mother; Carrie, a teen cutter with strange obsessions about rats; Joyce, a young married mother enthralled with “10 ways of suicide”; Drew, a young man facing a stiff prison sentence for possession of marijuana; and D.J., a 42-year-old mentally challenged man and 25-year resident of Cherokee, among others.

Finally released from the institution, Jennifer flees Iowa and settles in Pennsylvania, where she still lives today.

As young Jennifer narrates her late 1960’s memoir, how will the older and wiser Jennifer, now voluntarily returning to Cherokee as a visitor, reconcile that painful time in her history with her current ordinary life as a wife, mother, grandmother, and teacher?