A Major Misstep

Old Farmhouse Porch

Old Farmhouse Porch (Photo credit: k9mq)

Certain events can change a life in an instant.  On the other hand, some things take place over time.  Many tiny miscalculations or silly decisions create a chain of events, and suddenly you find yourself staring in the mirror at someone you no longer recognize.

I had fled the chaotic confines of Norwalk State Mental Hospital and planted a mattress on the floor in the spare bedroom of my parent’s apartment, a fresh start of sorts.  I tried to make myself useful to my mother, so she wouldn’t kick us out.  This time I was going to make it work for me and my sweet little boy.

My mom was one who liked to go to the grocery store daily, as if she were one of those lucky European women who stopped at the bakery each day for a fresh loaf of rye. She may have imagined herself lazily plucking through mounds of fresh vegetables and fruit from street vendors…everything freshly baked and harvested.  On this particular day, she needed a fresh bottle of vodka, so we climbed into the old Ford Fairlane and drove down to the local Food Giant Supermarket.

As soon as we stepped onto the rubberized mat and the automatic glass door swung open, I saw him.  Within two skipped heartbeats I had sized up all six foot two of one of the cutest guys I had ever seen.  He had wide shoulders and wavy golden hair down to the green apron pocket of his supermarket uniform.  The way he placed the milk into the bag first before adding the bread was downright genius!  A bag of oranges went in next.  Our eyes met.  My cheeks flushed and I turned away. I grabbed a shopping cart and walked into the nearest aisle, almost knocking a box of Cocoa Puffs off of the end cap.

I was standing with one foot on the bottom rung of the cart waiting for my mom to decide between a quart and a fifth when I felt a tap on my shoulder.  A conversation ensued and plans were made for this gorgeous hunk of a box boy to pick me up on Friday night.  Once my mom paid for her precious cargo, I jumped onto the back of the cart and let it take me down the slight incline to the car.  Whee!  I was already imagining my happily-ever-after with a new husband and a loving dad for my little son.

Sometimes something catastrophic can occur in a split second that changes a person’s life forever; other times one minor incident can lead to another and then another and another, eventually setting off just as big a change in a body’s life. – Jeannette Walls, Half Broken Horses

On Friday afternoon I changed in and out of several different blouses and made sure my jeans had the least amount of holes and stains.  Finally Sir Galahad arrived in his souped up Corvette and we were on our way.  Were we going out to dinner?  To a movie?  I may not be able to eat tonight anyway!

He turned up the car stereo and reached over to open the ashtray underneath the dash.  “Do you want to get high?” He reached in and grabbed two pink capsules.  “Oh!”  I wasn’t expecting that but I was game.  After all, pink was lighter than red, so therefore, these pills must be milder than the red ones I have taken before.  No harm to come from this. My chin jutted forward. “Sure!”

Instead of a dinner and a movie, I found myself sitting on the couch in his rented farmhouse, which seemed to have landed in the middle of a few acres of packed dirt underneath a freeway overpass.  The farmer must have stood his ground for decades while progress grew up around him and the government waited until he ceased to be an obstacle to their plans to get folks from here to there as quickly as possible.

I very soon realized that “pink” did not mean “less.”  My muscles felt like overcooked spaghetti, my head, the size and weight of a watermelon.  I thought we were alone in the house, but suddenly there was another young man there.  My date introduced me to his roommate.  “Nice to meet you…hey, do you want to see the art work in the other room?”  “OK.” I got up and tried to walk.  “You bastard!” muttered my date.

Art work? Can’t walk. Bastard? Why did he say that? Is he mad? Should I not go? What should I do? What is this room? Why are we going in here? Where is the art work? What is happening? Should I run? I can’t run! Slow motion…It’s too late. Fear.

I was pushed to the bed and my clothes quickly removed.  I looked towards the door, wishing myself there, not here.  My date peered in and quickly turned away.  I heard him making phone calls, and I hoped he was calling the police.

My arms were lead, my lungs hollow.  My date came back in, then another, then another, then another, then another.  One, very heavy, apologized.  “It’s all right,” I mumbled.  It’s all right?  It’s all right!!??

 Much later I stumbled up the stairs to my parent’s apartment, trying to quiet my steps so as not to wake the neighbors. For a moment I thought about calling the police.  I pictured the interview.  “Why did you date someone you didn’t even know?  What were you wearing?  Why did you take the drugs?  Why did you go follow the roommate into the bedroom?  Yes, this was my fault.  I deserved this. I’m a stupid girl.  Worth nothing to anyone.  I’m giving up.  No one will ever know.  No one but me will ever know.

Looney Toons

Billy Bibitt and Nurse Ratched

Billy Bibitt and Nurse Ratched (Photo credit: Portland Center Stage)

Playing dress-up with my new hippie  friends was lots of fun and all that, but on the inside I was unraveling. Peace and love, along with rock and roll, just wasn’t cutting it for me.  It all seemed like a counterfeit for something else, something more authentic.  I just couldn’t quite put my finger on it.  I needed help, but I was a child trying to live a grown-up life.  My problem-solving skills didn’t quite live up to expectations.

I had made an attempt to get someone’s (anyone’s) attention a couple times before, and this time, right in the middle of a loud party with lots of people around, I snuck off into my bedroom and took an entire bottle of tranquilizers.  I went to bed, thinking someone looking in would just figure I went to bed early, but no, something about that scene didn’t look quite right to one of my friends, and after shaking me enough to scramble my brains and getting no response, I was scooped up and taken to the emergency room of the nearest hospital.

I remember a police officer sitting down beside me.  “I went through a divorce,” he said.  “It’s tough.  But you’ll get through it, I promise.”  I stared at him through glazed eyes, wondering why he would care about some 18-year-old hippie freak chick like me.  I didn’t even like police officers and if he knew what I called them in private he wouldn’t have been offering much in the way of consolation.  Later, my new friends, realizing I was more then they bargained for, called my father to pick me up.  I remember him being particularly irritated.  The next thing I knew, I was being admitted to Norwalk State Mental Hospital in Norwalk, California.

My therapist told me that I over-analyze everything. I explained to him that he only thinks this because of his unhappy relationship with his mother.”
― Michel Templet

I was one of the youngest patients, and they weren’t sure what to do with me, so they decided they would admit me to their drug rehab unit, which was coed and full of other teenagers.  “Cool,” I thought.  But before the transfer, I had to go through the usual process of being evaluated and getting a chest x-ray.  I say “usual,” but it was one of the strangest experiences of my life.  One of the very first things they do to a person entering the Norwalk State Mental Hospital is to make sure the patient will be compliant.  Just to guarantee this, every patient is administered Thorzine, whether they need it or not.

I sat in the day room, drooling and barely able to hold my head up.  I kept thinking I had dropped a cigarette and would jump up and look around the floor for it.  One of the older male patients shuffled over in his bathrobe to help.  I told him I dropped a cigarette and he said, “oh, no you didn’t, that’s the Thorzine.”  The next day about thirty of us had to wait in line for a chest x-ray.  I had to crawl along on the floor, just to keep my place in line.  Somewhere in there I knew I was being overdosed, especially since I noticed that the “real” mental patients didn’t seem drugged at all.

Even after getting on the unit, the staff continued to make me take the Thorzine, threatening to hold me down and shoot me up with the stuff if I didn’t swallow it like a nice young lady.  It was better in drug rehab, of course, with lots of fellow hippies and other colorful folk, like “Wizard,” who had fried his brains with LSD.  Nothing he said made sense and we all loved him for it, watching over him like a baby chick.  The unit psychologist was our version of Nurse Ratched.  Every day at around 4:00 PM we would be forced to sit in a circle while he picked out his next victim.  Psychodrama was his favorite form of therapy.  He loved the empty chair routine.  We didn’t.  One evening it was my turn.  “Well, Linda, you don’t talk much.  I suppose you think you don’t need to be here.  What do you think would happen to you on the “outs?”

“I think I would be fine,” I answered meekly.


I felt so insulted.  The guy didn’t even know me.  We had never even had a “session.”  I was blowing this joint…

But not before our field trip to the beach on Friday!  We all piled into the bus and headed down to the Newport Beach, California.  Wizard was in an exceptionally great mood, even for him.  Once out of the bus, we all dropped some blotter acid that someone had scored “on the outs,” where I was never going to make it.  We split up into several groups with a direct care staff with each group.  I felt like I was on a carousel ride and the painted pony I was on was about to jump off and fly away.

We all trooped back for our ride home at around 4:30 PM.  As I climbed into the bus, I saw that Wizard was sitting on one of the bench seats with his wrists tied to the metal bar above the seat in front of him.   Apparently, Wizard’s mind was too blown to handle the acid trip.  Amazingly, the rest of us feigned sobriety enough to pass inspection and rode back to the funny farm with our wrists unfettered.

The next week I signed myself out of the Norwalk State Mental Hospital.  They tried to talk me out of it.  I guess they thought they were really helping me.  Funny.  I had to sign out “AMA,” or, Against Medical Advice.  I could so make it on the outs.  Or at least, that’s what I thought at the time.