Five years ago today, I awoke to find myself in what had basically become my home away from home–the psych ward in yet another New York City hospital. I lay shivering in the fetal position on top of an over-sized Lazy Boy recliner coated in plastic wearing nothing but my skivvies, suicide socks, and a hospital issue gown. As my body shifted in its state of semi-consciousness, I realized there was something stuffed in my drawers. “Ahh, my BlackBerry.” I’d outsmarted yet another intake team, and managed to sneak my cellular salvation into the observation room. “I’ll have myself out of here in no time,” I thought.
I pushed myself off of the chair gently in order to make sure the device didn’t find its way to the floor with a crash that would most certainly alert the gentleman seated on the other side of the plexiglass window to my possession of it. Success! The phone stayed neatly snug between the thin cotton layer of my over-worn Hanes and my lilly white cheeks. I shuffled like a crippled sloth, past the third of three occupants sharing the room with me that morning, and into the attached bathroom without making anyone the wiser.
Surprisingly, that restroom had a door you could shut for privacy. And once I’d closed it, I reached into my underwear to retrieve the phone so that I could go about the business of texting friends and family with a familiar refrain: “I need help, but I don’t need to be in this hospital.” Followed by what I’m sure would have been desperate digital pleas to my locals to come and pick my sorry ass up. I held the BlackBerry up, in, and around every square inch of that bathroom–no luck though–like a stranded honeymooner desperately fighting their way out of The Grand Canyon, I was teased with the occasional single bar indicating that just enough reception would soon be mine. And then, the track ball popped out of the phone and into the toilet itself. Did I fish it out? Hell yes. Did it matter? Not one bit.
Later in the day I would attempt for the third time in as many years to convince the doctor and or shrink that I had no business being there–that I’d simply had too much to drink the night before and that my friends mistook my mention of committing suicide as the truth. Had I been sitting on the floor of my apartment with a knife, pushing it into my wrist to test out the idea? My memory seems to suggest that was the case. Either way–I had no intention of staying put and the way out was simple. Twice before I’d managed to get myself out two Manhattan psych wards, my spiel was well rehearsed, and so I sat shivery in wait for my opportunity to speak to the next city rube who’d decide to allow a mad man back out onto the streets in order to make room for the real head cases.
I’ll never remember the doctor’s name, and while my brain can sometimes reconstruct hints of his thick accent, I’d only be guessing when I say that I believe he was from some part of Africa. He was kind, patient, and relentless. No amount of bullshit I shoveled his way could penetrate his firm belief that I was in need of help, and despite what seemed like an hour’s worth of cleverly constructed pleas made by me, he finished our meeting by simply stating, “You aren’t going anywhere.” I had finally been defeated. Bested by a stranger who didn’t care about the threats I’d made of lawsuits, powerful friends–who ignored the typical city protocol of making a quick assessment and just sending another citizen back out into the world to fend for himself.
24 hours later, you’d have found me on a flight from NYC to SF in order to attend my second rehab. And while my successful sobriety is the complex creation of many many things, to this day I hold that stranger who looked me in the eyes and said, “I believe you are lying” in very high regard.
And yes, when he was finished, I did go right back to the bathroom and try to put that little poo-pee-covered track ball back into my phone in order to find the signal that had previously eluded me.