The human mind is a chaotic chamber populated by demons, devils, gargoyles, satyrs, hobgoblins, gremlins and imps waiting to do battle; a murky desolate place filled with shifting alleyways, bends in the road, amorphous figures emerging from hairy teacups, sailing ships in a continuous thick enveloping fog sounding Mayday horns but with no hope of imminent rescue and wormholes an exodus into our deepest fears and lucid nightmares.
It was the antiseptic bleached clean smell mixed with liberal doses of urine, feces and vomit with a subtle hint of unwashed flesh that almost got to me and made me question my resolve to work at this privately run mental facility which housed both the very poor and the wealthy albeit it on opposite sides of the edifice. What a name! What a joke! The gleaming white immaculate hallways, corridors and common rooms belied a facility where all manner of human corruption political, medical, physical and mental blossomed reigned supreme. The Colony. The Founders thought they were doing the patients and perhaps their families a favor by giving in a New Agey name like the Colony.
My name is Doctor Brynham, I’m a visiting neurologist at what the patients have dubbed The Colony aka The Hotel California, a place where guests frequently check-in but rarely check out alive, that is.
A self-serving self-efficient facility so far removed from human civilization, transportation and general society that most physicians decline all invitations and incentives like excellent pay, free meals, free parking and locker rooms complete with showers to work at the facility because of its isolation. But I took the challenge not for the money for the opportunity to work with patients suffering from the deepest psychoses, catatonia and complex brain disorders known to mankind.
When I entered the dayroom with Nurse Richards the patients were scattered all over the room in various poses. The only voices heard were ours and mine only in response to Nurse Richards’ synopses of each patient’s history. Our isolated voices and the TV tuned into CNN made it seem almost as though we were in cathedral during an extended moment of silence.
After hearing the patient reviews I set forth on my mission to evaluate each client using various types of external stimuli. I turned off the television which elicited no response whatsoever from the room’s inhabitants. My goal as a Psychiatric Intern was to study these poor unfortunates who had not responded to traditional medications or therapies. Previous physicians had tried administering Zolpidem with limited results. The Zolpidem treatments worked in the short term, however the afflicted quickly returned to their alternate states of subconscious dementia.
I couldn’t build a proper tree house. Too high up and anyway I’m afraid of heights, so instead I built this little fort of sorts as a place to gather my thoughts after a hectic day. Made my best efforts with whatever materials the forest floor offered up as building materials. There were enough twigs and branches to construct more ground level tree houses or make my current enclosure larger but I chose to save some for kindling for warmth against the chill night air and the rest I kept stacked as a type of cord-wood in a womb like nook Mother Nature had carved into a tree that had been struck by lightning. Eventually I decided to construct another Tipii twig abode to store my few belongings I had gradually begun to sneak away from The Family Residence.
These Tree/Tepee/Tipii/Twig aka T3 structures became my holy sanctuaries and safe havens I return to again and again to re-connect with Mother Earth and nature. Too small to stand upright clicking my heels together three times was not an option so I was forced to remain seated. With some degree of discomfort I could lay down in a fetal position while I imagined myself re-entering an alternate womb to be reborn into better circumstances. Mine were a tepee shelters without the buffalo skin covering all exposed bones and framework.
Patient M. Bugiardo was once a vibrant, lively young woman married with three children who played the role of busy body and nosy parker on her part-time job. Mrs. Bugiardo managed to insert herself into every perceived or known relationship in the office. Gradually more and more of her co-workers alienated her except Sienna.
Sienna was the one Mrs. Bugiardo had hurt the most. Her words had destroyed a promising relationship between Sienna and a potential suitor. After the Sienna’s initial shock and disgust at confidences betrayed, gradually over a period of time Sienna showed something like forgiveness towards Mrs. Bugiardo. Their relationship appeared to return to its former intimacies. Only what Mrs. Bugiardo failed to notice was that Sienna never again shared any further details regarding her personal life although she enthusiastically welcomed details regarding Mrs. Bugiardo’s private life.
Ms. Bugiardo in her early 30s always seemed to be battling headaches, colds, and allergies, especially in the winter and spring times. Sienna knew this and convinced Mrs. Bugiardo to partake of a special herbal capsule guaranteed to cure all three afflictions. Ms. Bugiardo having complete and total trust in her friend consumed the capsules with dire effects. She was rushed to the hospital, her stomach pumped but by then it was too late the infected capsules had already induced a specific brain illness despite not causing death renders its victims with incurable brain damage.
Most of the time Ms. Bugiardo was in a stupor, completely oblivious and nonreactive to most external stimuli, however the patient exhibits moments of lucidity allowing the care takers enough generous mobility on her part to allow them to easily wash, dress, and feed her. At times her condition would go from being totally limp like a ragdoll to complete bodily rigidity. One morning in a complete remarkable display of unexpected semi-lucidity Ms. Bugiardo made the following comment, not so much to the others at table around her as to the cereal itself, “What if the sound Rice Krispies make when you pour milk on them is actually all their little screams for help because they are drowning and crunchy sounds as we enjoy the crispiness are their bones breaking?? Poor little fellows!”
Nurse Richards had informed me that over the period of time Ms. Bugiardo had been at the institution her husband’s visits had lessened. Eventually he told their young children mommy had passed away. Mr. Bugiardo had contacted a lawyer and was in the processing of divorcing his once beautiful wife. In fact during his last visit to his wife he had brought along his fiancé who just happened to be Sienna and made a somewhat vain, weak-willed attempt to explain to his mostly nonresponsive wife what the future held for all three of them. At one point I was told by the attendants that after he left Ms. Bugiardo seemed to gaze longingly at door he had just passed through as though briefly contemplating what this might mean to her.
You see our house, The Family Home if you could call it that is a ramshackle structure; a hodgepodge mixture of stone, wood and stucco additions and afterthoughts as different parts of the building were constructed at different times upon the whims the directors and caretakers.
I was forced to share this mishmash cottage with twelve other inmates, bordered on this expanse of woods providing me a refuge from leaky roofs, busted walls, peeling wallpaper, lukewarm baths, moldy musty scented showers, not to mention all the yelling, screaming, arguments, fights, thefts of food and personal belongings and constant disagreements of a house too small to accommodate the number of people residing within its creaky ramparts. The Family nicknamed it the Hotel California. You know the place where you check in but never check out. The nails across chalkboard voices of The Family were constant knife thrusts to my brain making daily life a constant battle that did not end even has the diurnal gave up residence to the nocturnal for they all snored, wheezed and gasped through the night abyss. The utter desolation of the place crept into your bones and took root nourished by hopelessness.
The Family on my ward consisted of Tianna who was a cutter and a licker. Meaning she cut herself licking her cuts like a wounded dog and drinking not only her the blood of any other cutters who allowed her. The Colony was like a second home to me but more like a revolving hotel of guests who continuously checked in and out. The men were housed in a gated and supposedly locked wing of the facility but obviously those locks weren’t so sturdy or security as one time I walked in on Tianna giving head to Penthouse a beaten down alcoholic in his late 50s who in a happier life had been a Master Locksmith. Obviously he had not forgotten his craft and regularly honed his instrument within the crevices of desperate drug addled stoner hipster trust fund baby girls who were regular off and on guests at the Colony.
In fact sucking dick and eating coochie goes far in a place like this. An even exchange from inmates who have contraband to those who need and want said contraband. Penthouse when he wasn’t suffering from the DT’s was really good at connecting his steel rod with many a female orifice. Uh, huh, Uhh, uhh could be heard from behind a partly open Penthouse piercing to the quick a line of white rabbits in need of ciggies, booze and whatever meds Trust Fund dudes bribe from underpaid orderlies. Penthouse commands of “Suck my dick you blonde junkie bitch” could be heard even in the dreary monotonous afternoons. Or for variety he would recite passages of Shakespeare as he rhythmically fucked his way through Cell Block 9 which held the worst but most privileged cases.
Penthouse was a rake, a wastrel and not above forcing the skinny wasted young male patients to sample his wares in exchange smuggled cold medicine.
Penthouse cock held up pretty good for a long time drunk but perhaps a dick pickled in vermouth, martinis and High Society Champagne did better than one whose brine consisted of Mad Dog 20/20 or a 40 ounce.
He used to bug me all the time waving his dick in the air saying I need to sample his fine vintage. Well one day he made the mistake of taking Jenny a particularly nervous high-strung junkie for a wine sampling in my suite. Little did he know that I had snuck my digital camera and a small notebook in my room which was set to record. Unbeknownst to Penthouse he was captured forever in all his glory reciting soliloquies from Hamlet as he penetrated Jenny both orally and anally finally spewing his essence across her face and genetically enhance breasts. Later when he started his dick waving again I should him the footage and noted a copy had went to my caretakers. No more problems. In fact after that I now had the upper hand and I had him at my beck and call. Just for the hell of it when I heard his sounds of ecstasy I burst into his hidden chamber effectively scaring the hell out of he and his victim and leaving him with blue dick syndrome.
Then there was Alice and yes she was a reject from Wonderland. Detoxing from benzos, drugs that are an oxymoron within themselves. Xanax, valium, ativan, and klonopin all used to treat anxiety caused more and increased anxiety than they ever cured. You never want to be in the room or anywhere around a Benzo Detoxer. Alice had to be restrained by the nurses and orderlies when she attacked other residents which was often, ran up and down the corridors usually followed by medical staff in hot pursuit, flew into fits of rage when her demands were not instantly met or outright refused and laughed uncontrollably after she had pushed a fellow resident down a flight of concrete steps resulting in a cracked profusely bleeding cranium for the unfortunate victim. She often smeared her feces on the walls and floors, refused to bathe because she had seen mermaid sharks coming out of the shower drains. Alice had fallen far down the rabbit hole and one night after Penthouse had managed to break the seal on a door leading to the outside Alice in an unprovoked hostile rage smashed through said door out into the cold chill night, blinding running toward a low hanging cliff leading to fast moving stream. Her body was found about a week later washed up caught among the rocks, branches and garbage that clogged the filthy swift moving body of water. The woman who abhorred baths drowned. We at the Colony applauded Penthouse mercy towards us. I was so happy I toasted her demise with a hidden stash of Robitussin.
Patient N. Corretto was a former financial adviser and self-professed ladies man who muteness was also categorized by nearly non-existent motor activity. Mr. Corretto would be mute and rigid for hours at a time, holding a specific pose as though engaged or about to try to sell one of his many fake investments that indirectly led to his present condition. The direct care workers would leave him in the day room in one static pose then a few hours later his arms and legs moved ever so slightly like a melancholy mime into another position.
It seems that once his female friends all realized that they were not the one and only lady in his life they all got together and elected Bernadene to seduce him with sex and a doctored drink. Once he was asleep Bernadene discovered his Ponzi and foreclosure fixing schemes all detailed in note books and on his laptop. Bernadene stole both and turned over the evidence to the authorities. Naturally the jig was up. Mr. Corretto had tried to reason with Bernadene even to the point of threatening her with retribution from the big boss. However life has its own vengeance. The big boss, whom Mr. Corretto admired, respected and loved with a passion left him holding the bag by blowing her brains out right in front of him. Faced with the loss of dignity, respect, his money and his lovers he regressed into himself. The judge seeing that judgment had already been rendered by a higher authority remanded him to a hospital for the criminally insane for six months with the rest of his time to be a study subject at the sanitarium.
The Family’s house sits on an oddly place piece of land, our house gives way to forest which in turn after several miles gives way to craggy, rocky shores of a steep cliff, where if one sits perfectly still you can hear the violent waves crashing against rough jagged rock formations that looked as though they were designed by the devil himself. It is said that in olden times there used to be many shipwrecks where sailors were either impaled on the razor sharp Stalagmites. Sometimes you can even hear the shrieks, moans, cries and groans of the unfortunate wretches mixed in with the howling winds. The few who weren’t dashed to pieces by the razor sharp jagged rock formations tried to climb up to safety but were thwarted by the steep incline.
So I periodically retreated to my exoskeleton asylums as a sentry medium between earth and sky. I can never turn my mind off completely but within my secret hiding place the voices were kept to a low roar and bid to change direction and pace.
Patients M. Attuatore and H. Smith seemed to be in constant synchronized states of rigidity and purposeless agitation. The nurses’ aides often sat them across from each other in the day-room so they could watch the two men engage in extreme hyperactivity seemingly matching each other in a morbid chaotic dance macabre. I couldn’t judge whether the hospitals workers had a real interest in seeing if they could stimulate each other back to reality or the just had a sick sense of humor and wished to liven up a boring repetitive job. I think the latter. Smith and Attuatore’s frenzied movements were a dyslexic sign language not to communicate with each other but since they lost voice, perhaps to battle the demons tormenting them. Messer’s. Attuatore and Smith were both serial adulterers whose respective spouses exacted vengeance upon them in the most vile of manners. These scorned women proved to be modern day Medeas. After being abandoned by their cheating husbands for what proved to be a younger hipper version of them, these women whose pain was deeper than any driven sword proceeded with a plan so heinous that it was major news in the papers, magazines and television for nearly a year after the crimes. Both Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Attuatore each had two children for their amoral husbands.
Together the cast aside sisters concocted a plan to soothe their no-good men into thinking they accepted being cast aside. They made friends with their replacements and one evening offered to babysit the children for the following weekend. To further placate their soon to be ex-husband’s fears the disrespected ladies baked cookies and cakes to be given to the young home wreckers. They gave specific instructions to their exes that the baked goodies were a special treat for the young women and they should have first dibs on them. Little did any of the parties know that all the cakes and cookies were laced with poison, specifically cyanide. As soon as they took a few bites the cyanide took effect and their paramours watched them writhe in agony upon the kitchen floor.
Even though the men frantically called 911 it was already too late. Both young women lay contorted on the floor in their final death agony. It occurred to the men that the children were with their mothers. The men’s blood ran cold and simultaneously knew what was taking place. Immediately they called their wives only to hear them cackle that the children were already dead, stabbed to death by their loving moms, then the spurned women calmly stated they were about to eat the remainder of the sweets and joined their beloved children in death. The cuckoldry rushed to their spouses homes reaching only in time to find their children impaled with steak knives lying upon the kitchen floor and the women also dead with their arms peacefully wrapped around the murdered innocents.
Often these men resisted efforts by staff to redirect or move them into more favorable positions when it was bath or meal time. It was said by many of the clinic staff that Messer’s Attuatore and Smiths agitated movements accompanied by inappropriate or peculiar postures were silent arguments that at times asked for mercy, forgiveness or long grimaces that expressed the pain of losing everything that mattered in life due to your own stupidity and lust.
And then there was Cassandra, she of the tight corkscrew fire engine slinky-like coils that rose upward as an ever ascending mountain framing a tiny oval shaped face making a protective hedge guarding Athena’s fortress. Cassandra though clearly exhibiting all the symptoms of bi-polar, psychotic and sociopathic personality disorders including delusions of grandeur, persecution complex plus auditory and visual hallucinations was a semi-part-time staff/patient courtesy of her father Carl Verity, one of the richest most powerful men in the county and possibly in the state of West Virginia.
Cassandra had that sociopathic ability to be popular, personable and off-putting all at the same time. Cassandra was a walking talking enigma wrapped inside a conundrum. I always knew when she was in the vicinity because I could hear the jangle of that large set of storage room and cleaning closet keys that bounced off her narrow hips as alternately strutted, glided and slinked along the Colony’s grey grim hallways. Ill-advised but because of her father’s government position she was given the part-time job of Assistant Janitorial Services Manager during her “vacations”.
I harbored secret fears and reservations that it was only a matter of time before the ticking time bomb she was would explode any minute taking the lives of some innocents but leaving her completely intact and blameless for future mayhem.
The last straw that broke the camel’s back came when my moronic addled brained cell-mate Pearl kept throwing her nasty, dirty towels, underwear and flip-flops over to my side of the room. When I returned from the canteen or our common dining area there were moldy wet towels plastered to the floor like throw rugs that accosted the dividing line between our two living areas. Pearl was known as the filthiest female in our wing tossing food and drink to and fro fully expecting that a squad of personal maids and sweepers were following in her wake. One night after I returned from my many woodland sojourns I decided that I had, had enough and soaked all her grimy towels in gasoline and lighter fluid obtained from an unlocked supply closet near the motor pool. Pearl had a tendency to drink like sailor on shore leave and sleep just as soundly so she never had an inkling as I piled the towels around her bed, built a kindling fort for good measure and added effect, led a fuse from a doorway to an open window, climbed out and lit said fuse.
The ensuing conflagration was the largest most expansive Davy County had seen in decades. The flames licked the sky while engulfing quickly engulfing the older wings blocking all doors, windows and exits with a fury and vengeance turning building into a gigantic crematorium.
The Kindling delivered me from The Family’s vocalizations. I tried to warn them before. I tried to silence the voices through escape, but it was not working so I had to try another plan. The crackles and pops of my campfire seem to be in sync with the screams and cries for rescue from the patients locked inside their rooms but eventually those voices will die out also, and then sleep. Blessed sleep.
The Vanities of Aging
Confronting Our Mid-Life Challenges
Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.
Three years ago I experienced the thrill of turning 50. For me any birthday with a zero behind it was a special occasion. Each new decade signaled a new chapter in my life, a new beginning of sorts. I remembered when I turned 40 my Aunt Helen lovingly expressing to me the old adage, “Life begins at 40!” For me it really did. My 40s were a decade of singular accomplishments. I earned my B.A. at age 43; I reached a high level on the earning ladder at my then workplace; I was at my physical and sexual peak as a woman; and I had a new sassiness and vibe that enabled me to reach new heights on that climb to success.
My 50th birthday was exciting with friends taking me out to dinner, a beautiful birthday cake, balloons, flowers; but after the celebration was over a certain uneasiness set in. “Wow. I’ve lived over half my life.” The career I had carefully developed had hit a brick wall. In fact I seemed to hit a plateau in terms of career success. Then came “The Change”. I was not prepared. For puberty my mother and I had “The Talk”. However as I entered menopause my mother was long since gone on to her Heavenly reward and during this frightening period of my life my last link to the past, my beloved Aunt Helen passed away. I missed my Mom and my aunts terribly. Then horrible things were happening to my body that I did not understand. I sought explanations and some assistance from various GYNs. Their answers usually involved some sort of hormonal treatments which I instantly rejected since both my parents died from cancer. I decided I would just endure the deluge of sweat that engulfed my body day and night, drenching my clothes and making sleep impossible.
Of course I tried all types of holistic treatments. I do believe I’ve been through every herb and natural juices offered in the health food store. Nothing. No effect at all. I’ve decided it’s best to stay near the A.C., turn the fan on at night and keep bottled water with me at all times.
Menopause is an evil creature. She brought along her friends high blood pressure and arthritis to add to my daily pain and discomfort. Yes, this certainly was a ‘Change of Life’. Everything changed in my life, my diet, my ability to go up and down stairs without stopping for breath, the increased popping and cracking in my joints. I kind of felt like a human Rice Krispies, “Snap, Crackle, & Pop.” My mind was just as sharp and creative as it was at age 25 but I could not get my body in agreement with my mental desires.
But I told myself that I still had my good looks. Thanks to a fantastic gene pool and being a dark skinned African American Woman the saying, “Black don’t crack” is really true. Mind you this proverb only works if you took care of yourself when you were in your 20s, 30s and early 40s. I never smoked, did not do drugs, and only drank socially. I also exercised albeit moderately which kept me in fairly good physical condition. I’m also lucky that most of my family tend to be small people so I’ll never gain an extreme amount of weight.
However specific physical changes cannot be avoided. By the time I was 52 all my hair had turned white, seemingly overnight. Finally one day when I overheard a co-worker described me as the African-American lady with the white hair I knew I had to do something. The bubble burst. Reality set in. Oh My God! I look old! This would never do.
After conferencing with several women co-workers I decided upon L’Oreal Feria. First I started out brown because I had read that going back to my original color of black would just make me look hard and emphasize any lines my face might have. Finally I went red, no not Kool-Aid red like some of the pop stars but a spicy Fire Engine Red that matched my fiery personality. This was the time of my life to really experiment. After 40 more of the free spirit in me came out. I got tattoos on a yearly basis. Sometime after I turned fifty I had my belly button pierced but then my belly played a trick on me and I developed that menopausal belly bulge that comes to nearly all 50+ women.
Was this a chase after lost youth? No because I’ve always been a non-conformist. My parents were Free-Thinkers and they brought me up to be my own person. I remember when I decided to spike my hair back when I was in my 20s. My Dad thought I looked so wonderful that he took pictures of me and had them blown up to poster size. My parents support and encouragement fostered in me a self confidence that has enabled me to survive a multitude of challenges. It has given me a sustaining power. My mother and father always encouraged my creativity and insisted that I think for myself not just follow the script handed to us by society in general.
For me the next 50 years will be a celebration of maturity and individuality with lots of creativity and a little bit of insanity thrown in for good measure.
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- Sexy Smiley