golden age sci fi paperbacks, novels.
i send him cards and letters and strange and interesting leaves or flowers i find.
he never writes me back.
once, when i realized i was letting all my correspondence slack, i consulted misstrish and then sent him a gift subscription to asimov's science fiction magazine. thus i was assured he's always have something to read each month, even if i wasn't sending him anything.
we met in high school. well, my last year. he's a bit younger than i am. we ran in the same circle of odd outcasts, punkers, druggies and weirdos. we got to know each other over the next few years. then one night, he was out at a big field party and he took acid. he never really returned from that trip.
he writes painful, poignant, crazy, beautiful, weird and desperate entries in his LJ once in a while. whenever he has internet privileges.
he calls me 3 or 4 times a year from the hospital institution. neither of us are very good on the phone.
he always thanks me for the letters and books, he always wants me to come visit him.
he was institutionalized in a small town outside of guelph. it might as well have been on the moon. i don't have a car, don't drive, and don't know many people who do. if you consider people who know/knew AS and are willing to be in contact with him, the number rapidly approaches zero.
he suggests one of his old teachers. i know the guy, not through school, but awkwardly through a flophouse and series of old drug connections. i decline. AS suggests an old friend of ours, but i've had a sort of falling out with him. i send a FaceBook message, but never hear back. i don't visit AS.
last spring, AS says they've upped his meds, and he can't read novels anymore. he gets too confused. he can't keep anything straight. it all bleeds into dreams and into waking and out of books and all over the table and onto the floor. it's all intersecting at new points, it's not the old axis anymore. euclid was somewhere else but not here. and the doctors are out to get him, and the nurses all whisper behind his back. the Forces of Evil are at work. i cut pictures out of national geographics and send those. i send a collection of very very short stories. i send postcards.
i hear from AS in october. he is hoping to get moved into a sort of half-way house nearer toronto. he says all i need is a police check and a meeting with his social worker to get approval, then we can hang out in the real world again. they are going to move him out. he's going to live in a house on a street, in an assisted care facility.
in january, asimov's sends me notices to renew his subscription. i hold off, wondering if he is getting moved. wondering if he is too drugged up to read. wondering if he is better or worse.
then he called me last saturday night. he was in whitby, in the big institution there. it was wonderful there, he assured me. it was way nicer there. he says i should come visit.
whitby? sure. it's on the train line. how about next week? i'm not working, so i have lots of time. he's not sure what day is best for visiting. he'll call me back. i get the address.
i begin to get scared. it's only because i myself am toeing the line between crazy and sane. i fear they are going to keep me, too. that if i step in the door of the facility they'll notice that i'm a crazy and not let me leave. i try and shrug it off.
AS calls me again on monday. i can visit anytime! we hmm and haw, and then i decide on a whim. i let him know, i'll be there thursday 2 pm.
i have extrated a solemn oath from ni that he won't let them keep me. he'll tell them i am sane. he'll bust me out. he promises, as someone who once got locked in a psych ward while visiting and had to prove his sanity, that it's not all that hard.
i find reasons to text mostly-harmless while i am on the train. i don't tell him it's because i am trying to secure my place in the land of the sane and am terrified i won't have enough ties here to prevent myself from disappearing. the comforting buzz of my cellphone makes me feel safe.
i wander in the front doors and head down the corridor. i have no idea who AS put on the phone to give me directions, she said i just had to go to "building 6" and look for ward "FGHA" she said it like it was the easiest thing. the deeper into the building i get the less easy it seems. someone stops me. i have a map and the instructions in my hand. "just visiting!" i say. i hold out my props. i get directions.
i find a huge metal door. it seems to be impenetrable, and i don't know how to get in. i wander about and ask someone. he points out the button to call security to the door.
security peeks through the slot, and her voice booms through a hidden speaker.
i try to sound casual.
i answer her questions.
she lets me in.
in the heavily secured anteroom, she has me sign in, sign some forms and then she searches me. thoroughly. she is the sort who don't take no crap from nobody (no way). it's first a weapons search, with a metal detector, and then a drug search. she goes through every page in my book, every card in my wallet, every scrap of paper and every item in my purse. then she set it all aside and told me i couldn't take it in. she goes into my shopping bag and retrieves the box of danishes i brought for AS.
"well missy, you sure have got some FANCY DONUTS here DON'T YA?" she spits it out in an accusation. she opens up the box and takes each danish out and sniffs them, inspecting each one and squeezing it slightly.
"oh, i just brought those to share with my friend, i thought it would me nice." i'm terrified, but locked in with her, so i try to make the best of it. "those are called 'Fruit Danishes'" i smile. lots. i'm terrified and alone. i might crack and confess to anything under the scrutiny.
she takes apart my camera, and then my cellphone and tells me i can't bring them in. she indicates a locker where all my possessions will be deposited. i have stripped off my coat, boots, sweater, hat, scarf, and had the intimate contents of my purse sniffed and scoffed at.
"am i not allowed to bring pastry in?" i feel timid. "i am sorry for all your trouble, i didn't know i wasn't alowed to bring him anything"
"oh no! no no no. it's not like THAT here!" she gets defensive. and then suddenly matronly. "we just have to check everything FOR SAFETY! i'm just being CAREFUL! of course, you can bring your friend whatever you like! that's so nice, bringing donuts!" she clucks. she pats my coat gently and tucks it all lovingly inside the safe.
my possessions are locked away. she gives me back my boots and the pastries she manhandled.
she hands me a ticket. it is my sane ticket that lets me back out.
i get let into the ward. a nurse meets me and escorts me into a tiny room. she introduces herself and says she'll send the social worker right in. she shuts the heavy door behind her.
the meeting is brief, and the social worker sort of skips over all the parts about what i am not allowed to bring in, and that i will be subject to search and inspection. she says she guesses that i figured that out for myself already.
she very seriously asks me if i have any questions about anything. she asked so particularly i feel like i am obigated to ask something. so i ask her what has been on my mind.
"does AS still have a beard?"
she stares at me like i'm an idiot.
"uh, i haven't seen him in a while. i don't know if i will recognize him if he's shaved off his beard..." i chuckle. i smile.
she gives me a look like she's so disappointed.
"right. ok, i'll tell him he can come in then. you can stay as long as you like and visit all you want, but you CANNOT LEAVE THIS ROOM. you may share the treats with him or play cards. send for a nurse to escort you out to security when you are done." briskly, she leaves me alone in the tiny room.
he comes in.
AS looks just like i remember.
he's bright and cheerful. we both pour out vast swaths of conversation, it's so good to talk to friends who you haven't seen in a long time.
a nurse pops her head in, asks him a casual question, but the way she asks it and the heaviness with which she speaks makes me suspect it's a sort of code. AS nods, answers affirmatively, pats his tummy and then gives her the thumbs up.
"meds?" i ask when she's gone
"yeah." he sighs. "they're way better here though, the doctors are not going to force me to take anything. not like before. as long as i am being monitored, i hardly take anything. i can think again! i just have to show them that i've reached a new understanding of myself, and of reality. they won't force me to remain incapacitated, zombified -lobotomized, by the meds anymore."
we talked and talked and laughed for several hours.
it was wonderful.
it was getting late so i had to go. we embrace tightly. he feels so real. so solid. as tangible as anyone else. i got escorted out by a nurse, and i was re-processed by security.
yet somehow he's not as real as other people. somehow he's less of a person - unable to see his friends, or live where he wants, or go outside, or decide on his doctor or treatment.
i call ni, let him know that i made it out and will be on the next train home.
i hope AS's other old friends will make the trip to see him. i hope he stays tangible and real and together. i hope he remains firmly in this plane of existence. i hope his tenuous hold on this reality remains firm.
i'll take the asimov renewal form to the post office tomorrow. i'll bring AS some books next time i visit. and i hope i never have to stay in an institution like that.
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