Authors: Jennifer Sowle
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2010 by Jennifer J. Sowle
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Arbutus Press, Traverse City, Michigan.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Sowle, Jennifer J.
Admissions / Jennifer J. Sowle. -- 1st ed.
ISBN 978-1-933926-24-7 (alk. paper)
1. Psychiatric hospital patients--Fiction. 2. Depression--Fiction. 3. Loss (Psychology)--Fiction. 4. Psychiatric hospitals--Fiction. 5. Mentally ill--Rehabilitation--Fiction. 6. Michigan--Fiction. 7. Psychological fiction. I. Title.
Printed in the United States of America
GRATEFUL APPRECIATION GOES TO
My supportive family who are all fabulous story-tellers in their own right.
Doreen, especially, who accepted endless hours of my nose against the computer screen with grace and encouragement.
My writing group. Especially Trudy Carpenter and Marilyn Zimmerman who endured the earliest drafts of this novel and helped mold it into a novel. David Marshall and KC Thompson who came late, but left their mark. And, of course, our mentor Steve Lewis, who guided the process with candor and good humor.
Finally, to Susan Bays, editor and Gail Schneider of Arbutus Press.
or my two sons
raverse State Hospital is stark, the glossy linoleum tiles yellow from years of waxing. I expect Jeff to follow the attendant to the tiny room, but I’m alone. Did he ask to come with me and they turned him down? I close my eyes as I wait for the doctor. My chest compresses like an accordion; reminds me of the time I was twelve and tried water skiing—the time I almost drowned in Coldwater Lake. My brother-in-law took off his shirt and stood on the diving platform when I surfaced, no doubt contemplating if I was worth a rescue. Ready to explode, I gulped air like a perch flapping in the bottom of a boat. I want that relief now, but no matter how many deep breaths I take, my lungs feel flattened. My mind a beehive, thoughts buzz, circle, but never come in for a landing.
I try to take hold, pluck a string of reason and unravel the tangle inside my head. Monitors blipping and bleeping in my ear. Jeff crying into the edge of the mattress. Mom helping me to the window, the frosty city tiny and far away, as if I were looking through the wrong end of binoculars. What happened? The medication pulls down a curtain. The questions terrify me. Over and over, I ask Jeff what happened.
My breathing becomes so shallow, I think I might suffocate right here in this plastic chair. Another hospital. My face twitches. Visions of Alexander riding his red tricycle back and forth in front of the house, the back wheels tipping up over the broken sidewalk. Alexander waves, smiles at us. Our hands fly up as if connected by an invisible string. I wiggle my fingers, Jeff waves his hand. Alexander cranks his tiny legs on the pedals, his head turns toward us until Jeff says, “Howdy little buddy” at each passing.
Something familiar clicks inside my head. Stepping into a mental file room, I scan rows of cabinets reaching out to forever. I inch slowly down the aisle; my mind’s eye scans the silver label windows on the drawers.
Then I see it. A file drawer labeled
I finger the folder in my hand that says
Alexander riding his bike.
I open the drawer and slide it in among the others, watch the drawer roll shut, ending in a crisp snap.
My breathing begins to slow. Turning back, I balance on a tightrope. I feel my jaw loosen, my throat opens. In my mind, I see a door marked
the maze of file cabinets falls behind me with each careful step. The door swings open at my approach, closes as I pass through. I feel calm, open my eyes.
“Mrs. Kilpi? I’m Dr. Nielsen.” A round man in a white medical jacket extends his pudgy hand. He slides out a chair and sits down. As he crosses his legs, his pants strain across his thighs, pull at the inseams. A tiny foot in a black oxford dangles from the end of his brown knit pant leg.
“Where’s my husband?”
“Filling out forms. You won’t have visitors for a while,” he says.
“I want to talk to him, say goodbye.”
“I have some questions.” He moves quickly through the forms as I fill in my history and symptoms—like reading a script. He closes the file, leans back, and taps his pen on the desk. “Now, why are you here?”
I feel as if I should make something up to make the doctor happy. I smile at him, get no response. “I don’t really remember what happened.”
“Oh?” He pauses, looks directly into my eyes. “You are admitting yourself to the hospital voluntarily?”
I really don’t know why I’m here, I can’t remember back to I’m not sure when. “Yes, I’m here voluntarily.”
He points to the form and hands me a pen. “Please sign here. And here.” He stands up and shakes his leg to release his pant leg. “The attendant will be right in.” As the door clicks shut, I feel like I just signed a confession to a horrible crime. All I have to do now is wait for execution.
The door opens. “I’ll be showing you to your room. Will you come with me, please?”
I blink. “Daddy?” His clear blue eyes crinkle at the corners; his white hair is carefully swept back from his ruddy forehead.
I clear my throat, find my voice. “I need to say goodbye to Jeff. Dad, do you know where Jeff is?”
He smiles, his eyes connect with mine as if we share a secret. “I’m assigned to get you settled in, ma’am. You can ask the nurse in
about that. I know there’s no visitation on Mondays.”
“This is Monday?” I press the heels of my hands against my forehead, try to squeeze out a memory.
“My name is Carl. I’ll help you get checked in.”
My mind feels numb, broken … “No, you’re not. At least, I don’t think…”
“Okay. Right this way, ma’am.”
He reaches down for me, holds me by the arm as he leads me from the room. He smells familiar. Old Spice after shave and the faint scent of cherry blend pipe tobacco. He holds my arm firmly as he guides me down the hallway, stops at a door.
Exit. Receiving. Staff Only.
I lean into his shoulder. “Thanks for being here.” My hip jangles a large key ring hung from a fob attached to his belt loop. Wide as his hand, it holds a bunch of dark metal skeleton keys, some regulars, and two metal discs. He wears his work uniform. But the key chain is new. He hadn’t worn a key chain. It swings and jingles when he walks.
The skeleton key turns in the lock as he leans his weight against the thick metal door to the outside. A white van idles in the driveway. He helps me into the rear, slides in beside the driver, then glances back through the iron mesh. “It’s just a short ride, Mrs. Kilpi.” He sounds so formal.
“Are you mad at me?”
He turns. “What’s that?” His voice sounds strange. “Mrs. Kilpi? Okay back there?”
I stare at the back of his head. He stares straight ahead as the van turns onto
. The street signs are painted the color of the name, goofy looking, like they belong in a cartoon. We drive down
. Maybe if I squint I can bring something into focus. Trees soar high, naked branches like horny fingers. The dim silhouette of the State Hospital, towers and spires looming high above the trees.
“Oh my god.” I know my lips move, but I can barely hear my voice. It sounds like my words are coming from somebody else. Somebody far away.
We pull up in front of a small courtyard surrounded by an ornate fence. He opens the van door. Gingerbread trim,small peaked attic windows, wooden balusters and railings, like the large summer homes on Grand Traverse Bay. Quaint visions of women sitting pleasantly on porches enjoying a summer afternoon are marred by the thick yellow iron mesh wrapped around each porch, looking like giant two-story cages hung on the back of the building. Saliva dries to a sticky paste inside my mouth.
“Right this way, ma’am.” The attendant touches my hand. As I turn toward him, I feel the panic rise in my chest, my vision collapses in, like the lens of a camera. At the end of a dark tunnel, I see him pull up his key ring, struggle with the padlock on the gate. The key hits home, the lock swings free.
He tugs gently on my arm as he unlocks the front door. It opens into a large foyer, polished wooden floors, potted ferns. A nurse, starched hat perched on her sprayed hair, sits behind a desk,
Mrs. Cassidy, RN.
I sit next to him to wait. My thoughts skip across my mind like a stone over water.
“Mrs. Kilpi?” The nurse doesn’t wait for an answer. “Come with me.” The attendant hands her my file.
Patient Name: Luanne S. Kilpi
DOB: 1/19/1944 Age: 24
Date of Admission: 11/18/1968
Diagnosis: Depression with psychotic features.
Notes: Attempted suicide on 11/16. Psychogenic Amnesia. Pt. on Valium 20m qid. Rule out acute grief reaction. Rule out Schizophrenia. Rule out Psychosis: unclassified. Rule out Depersonalization Disorder. Evaluate for medication.
November 18, 1968
Angeline Dowd, Alpena, Michigan
Randal Kilbourn, Clare, Michigan
Luanne Kilpi, Saginaw, Michigan
Marilyn Street, St. Johns, Michigan
Blanche Foley, Ludington, Michigan
Bernard Peltier, Reese, Michigan
’m Mrs. Cassidy. I’ll be getting you settled in. Please follow me.” She turns the lock. I follow her down a long hallway of red and cream linoleum squares. “All of our admissions go to the infirmary for a day or two. We like to make sure you’re healthy.”
“I’d like to see my husband.”
“He’s gone home. You can see him when you’re ready for visitors.” She takes me to a small room, pulls a sheet from a cabinet, and spreads it out on the floor. “Remove your clothes and put them right here on this sheet.”
“I have to take my clothes off?”
“We need to label them.”
“Is there a robe?”
“No. That isn’t necessary. It’s a short walk to the showers.”
I take off my desert boots, set them aside; pull my sweater over my head, toss it onto the sheet. I unzip my jeans. They drop straight to the floor. Standing in my underwear, I look at the nurse.
“Everything off,” she says.
A shade pulls down inside my mind. I see myself toss my bra, panties, socks on the heap. The nurse grabs the corners of the sheet, ties it, and makes a hobo bag around my clothes. She pins a piece of paper to the knot—
Luanne Kilpi 11-18-1968.
“This is a hospital. We see naked women all the time.”
I step out into the cold hallway, glance around and bring my arm across my chest to cover my breasts, tuck my right hand under my armpit. I spread my left hand over my pubic hair. An attendant approaches.
“Hello, Bruce.” The nurse nods.
I look up and see him run his eyes over my body. I follow the nurse into a large bathroom with a dozen or so sinks along one wall, no mirrors. Toilets, like porcelain toadstools, sit out in the room in rows. Two have wooden partitions between them, but no doors. She steers me through a doorway marked
, a firm hand on my back.