Windy Hill

Chapter 1
I examined the Drano-o label closely to see if it would kill me.  It wouldn't, and it would make a terrible mess so I abandoned that idea.  I thought about jumping off the terrace, but we lived on the sixth floor which may or may not have have been high enough to do the job, and I was too chicken to actually climb over the fence and jump.  The way I was staring over the edge scared me, though, and I called my friend Mary who is a Social Worker.  I asked if I should be concerned about these thoughts.
The answer was yes.
A couple of weeks earlier, I had been to see a psychiatrist from my insurance company's list of network providers.  We had a fifteen minute conversation about my suicidal ideations before he said I probably Premenstrual.  When I told him that I was frazzled and needed a quiet place to rest, he said that a psycho ward would not be my best choice.  He gave me a prescription for Zoloft and one for a few Xanax and sent me on my way.  I stopped to sit on a bench in Central Park even though it was raining, crying because I felt like I should kill myself to spite that son of a bitch. 
When I officially went over the edge, I called every doctor I had heard of except him.  Saturday morning, I called my internist -- he was out of town so I called the endocrinologist who was covering for him.  I called a psychiatrist that I liked.  He had given me a psychiatric evaluation when I was having suicidal tendencies the previous year.  I called my therapist, who started looking for a nice quiet place in the country.  And my husband called the emergency line at the insurance company.  Everyone agreed that I better get into a mental hospital.  Gracie Park was on my insurance company's list of approved facilities.
By this time I was spending most of my time in the closet.  I had shoved my big box of shoes out of the way and brought in a pillow and a blanket.  I couldn't let go of the idea that I was Bad -- A bad mother, a bad daughter, a bad wife, bad sister, bad everything.  If I let go of being bad, I would sink into a tar pit of nothingness, and being Nothing was much worse than being Bad.   I hid in the close, black space with a silk scarf over my face pretending it was a dry cleaning bag.  And I wasn't going anywhere my insurance company recommended.
My husband, who was terrified to the core, called a psychologist friend of ours, Claudio, and brought the cordless phone into the closet for me.  Claudio said that Gracie Park was a nice place and that I should go.
"What I want," I said," is a mental health spa. Somewhere I can get a lot of shrinking, a facial and maybe do some Yoga.  Somewhere in the Mountains."  He didn't know of a mental heath spa, but he knew some people who had gone to Gracie Park for drug treatment, and it had been fine.  So my five year old went on a playdate for the afternoon, and my husband took me over to Gracie Park.
I was scared to be going to a mental hospital mainly because I didn't want to be locked up someplace where people thought shock treatments were a good idea.  Granny's third husband had her locked up in the mental hospital because he couldn't believe she'd prefer another man's company to his, and they gave her 23 shock treatments.  There may be a little more to the story than that, but that's the way Granny told it.  According to my mother, those shock treatments were to blame for everything from my horrifying breech birth to Granny’s moving into our basement 14 years later when she’d got tired of boyfriends. So there I was with my husband, and even though I hadn't been adulterous, I was afraid that I'd be locked up since he didn't know what else to do with me.
I'm not sure how we came to be walking across Park Avenue on that sunny afternoon with the tulips blooming, but I started wondering just how fast a taxi would have to be going to kill you if you stepped in front of one.  Central Park West would probably be the best place for trying this plan since the taxis go into warp speed when the lights all turn green, but Park Avenue looked promising.  I wasn't taking any chances with failure, however, because the last thing I wanted to do was try and fail.  Then everyone would say I was just trying to get attention which was not the case at all.  The good thing about the taxi idea was that it would look like an accident.  If I were going to do a respectable job of killing myself, I had to make it look like an accident so that my son would never know that I had committed suicide.  I mulled all this over as we walked the last few blocks to Gracie Park.
We walked into the beige plastic lobby and the first thing I saw were brochures on shock treatments printed on calming buff paper in turquoise ink.  I was ready to leave right then, but Rick said we had to stay to see the doctor.  I paced and sweated and bounced up and down on the balls of my feet.  A patient came through the lobby and tried to convince the receptionist to unlock the door and let him out.
Then the doctor came.  As we walked down the hall, I showed him a brochure and asked, "What about these shock treatments?"   He said that most people don’t get them right away and took Rick and me to a conference room where he asked me some questions and took notes.  He thought it would be a good idea if I took a look at the ward, so he took us upstairs to the recreation room where the lunatics were playing cards.  There was one old lady actually drooling onto her blue hospital gown.
When the doctor had taken us back to the conference room I explained that he was very nice, but that I had to get out of here because of the shock treatments and because it was ugly and because there was nowhere that I could visit with my son.  I was crying pretty hard, with my feet pulled up into the chair, but I promised to be happy.  I turned a big shining smile on my husband that scared the living shit out of him.  The doctor said that of course no one would keep me there against my will, so I grabbed my purse and ran out the door. 
Rick shouted at me to slow down, and since I had promised good behavior, I let him catch up.  For that moment he was my friend since he hadn't tried to talk me into staying in Gracie Square.  By the time we got home, though, I was solid pissed because I didn't want to go to Gracie Square in the first place and he made me because of the insurance.  So I packed my Guatemalan duffel bag, grabbed the credit cards and was heading out to the airport. 
It was a very noisy good-bye with a lot of loud accusations on my part.  We were in the entry hall when Rick hoisted me into the air and refused to let me down until I swore I wouldn't leave the apartment.  He was a bit alarming, so I submitted to his superior strength and went back into the cool darkness of my closet.
I supposed people loved me and I loved them so far as I was capable of that emotion.  Love wasn’t exactly in my repetoir.  Rage, wrapped in despair, trapped in worthlessness - that was me.  Rick called my therapist who told him not to let me out of his sight and hide the knives.   She had made an appointment for me then next morning at Windy Hill, a private hospital in Westchester County.  Rick brought the cordless into the closet again so I could promise her and Rick that I would call her before I hurt myself.
The psychiatrist I like called to check on me at 10:30.  He was glad to hear I was going to Windy Hill in the morning and made me promise to call him if I was thinking of hurting myself.  Shrinks always make you promise to call them before you hurt yourself.  I took a Xanax and went to bed.
I woke up with the perfect plan.  I would sneak out for an early morning run and find a homicidal maniac in Central Park.  I was vibrating with excitement because I had finally figured it out.  My death would be an urban tragedy, and my son would never know I had planned it.   It was barely light when I slipped out of bed.  If Rick hadn’t have heard me stirring, who knows what could have happened?  I doubt I would have gotten killed, but my long suffering husband would certainly have called the police, and I would have wound up in a squad car going to Bellevue.
After preventing me from leaving, Rick called my therapist.  She and I had a long talk. 
“What about your son?” she asked. “You know that he needs you.”
 “He will get along fine.  Rick will get a new and better wife who will be nicer.  Besides, it would have looked like an accident and he wouldn’t have to know that I killed myself.”
“He will know, and he will be devastated,” she said.  No asking me to try to hang on for his sake or anything sappy, just “he will be devastated.”   
I called my parents to see if they would give me money so that I wouldn't have to go to
Bellevue.  I was assured that Daddy would always take care of his little girl.  I called my boss to tell her I was being committed and didn't know when I'd be back to work.  She didn’t seem particularly surprised, but then just a few days earlier she had to talk me out of the stock room where I’d been hysterical over a mailing that didn’t go out on time and a phone call that had never been returned.  She had that sympathetic tremor in her voice that people get when you’re going crazy, and I suspected she was a little afraid she might be next.
I packed my Guatemalan duffel bag again, and told my son I was going away to school for a while.  My husband and I dropped him at his Grandma's and went on to the train station.  It wasn't a long ride to Katonah. I clung to my husband and watched the overcast suburbs, imagining myself hanging dead from the bare branches.

Chapter 2, Welcome to Windy Hill

Windy Hill was a mental hospital masquerading as a ski village except there were no mountains in Westchester County, New York.  The shrinks’ offices were in cottages with little gardens out front, and the patients lived in big houses called units.  There were playgrounds for the kids who had to be locked up. The taxi driver who drove us from the train station easily knew his way through the winding driveways to the Admissions Office.
Rick and I were quickly ushered into the psychiatrist’s office for my intake interview.  Rick sat quietly while the doctor asked about my attempt to run away to the airport -- Where did I think I would go and what would I do when I got there?  I told him I was going somewhere tropical and to hide.  I would be a hooker and live in a trash pile.  "Hhmmm . . . " he said.   He wanted to know all about my suicide plans, too, and why they were so messy and violent.  Those questions were interspersed with questions to make sure that I knew what day it was and that I could explain what people meant when they said, "People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones."  He said it was a pleasure to talk with someone who could abstract since many people that he sees say that it means not to throw rocks through the window.
Despite my powers of abstraction, there seemed to be no doubt that I needed to be in a mental hospital, so I signed off on all the paperwork.  The doctor explained that once you checked yourself in, you couldn’t leave for seventy-two hours unless a lawyer arranged it.  I wasn’t paying attention.  I was too surprised to find myself checking into a mental institution.  The doctor escorted Rick and me to my unit.
It was Sunday, so there weren't any activities or group therapies to go attend.  Rick waited in the sunroom while a nurse asked me some more questions -- mostly about what kind of drugs I’d been doing and when.  I told her I had done mountains of crystal meth in my twenties because cocaine was for pussies unless you had psilocybin mushrooms with it. Qualudes only if guys gave them to me.  A little PCP, a little acid and as much pot as I could find, but I hadn’t done any of that shit for years.  My body was a temple unless you counted the coffee – which they did -- all seven cups per day.
     I had to hand over my "sharps" -- manicure kit and razor -- and any toiletries that have alcohol as a component since people in mental hospitals will eat deodorant trying to get high if you leave it lying around.  The nurse, or maybe she was a social worker, wanted to know about abuse in my background – which did not seem considerable to me – just the one instance of sex with my uncle with I was a teenager.  It could be worse.  Mom and Dad had been noisy and volatile, but lots of kids got the belt back then.  It’s not like I had strap marks or bruises, but I did admit they were scary from time to time.
Rick stayed with me the rest of the day to make sure I was all right.  The unit was not shabby, but the major colors were brown and gold with cedar walls – very seventies.  The carpet in the bedrooms was a new gray and the bathrooms had been well maintained. Visitors could visit in the little sunroom, on the deck or in the kitchen or the living room or the game room – but not in the bedrooms.  Since there were a lot of visitors that Sunday afternoon there weren't many places to hang out.  We sat in the sunroom listening to a fat old man and a brunette young woman trying to convince an older woman to take her medication.  "Do you still hear the voices, Mamma?" the young woman was saying, "the pills will make the voices go away."  The mother sat in silence.  I later learned that this was Lenora and she was paralyzed by rage at her husband and her family.  Once they were gone, she had a lot to say. 
Rick went back to the city around dark.  I think that a taxi picked him up at the unit, but I never knew for sure because I had to stay in sight of the mental health workers and couldn’t go past the edge of the deck.  I don’t know if it was hard for him to leave me.  I never asked.  I stood alone on the deck in the cold clear night, looking up at all the stars you can never see in the city.  A few of the young patients came out to smoke cigarettes.  I always like to be popular whatever the circumstances, so I set proceeded to make friends.
Right off, Krystle and Angela started explaining the lay of the land.  No smoking inside, for starters—but that didn’t apply to me since I didn’t smoke anymore.  I couldn’t bring myself to ask what everyone was in for, and no one ever asked me that night.  It was generally assumed that if you were there, you had “Made an Attempt” – a heavy day in anyone’s life, so there was no need for me to be lively.  It was easy enough just to listen to them discuss their visitors.
Krystle had seen her parents and was thoroughly disgusted with them.  They were coming back later in the week for a family session with Krystle’s shrink – who Krystle considered an idiot.  She sounded like other 18-year-olds I had known except that the topics were medication and depression.  She said her dad had been pretty cool when the neighbor boys had raped her when she was 5, but her parents sucked now because they had not gotten her brother in trouble for fucking her a couple of years ago.  Frankly, I could see why she’d be pissed. Recently, she had run away to live with her boyfriend, and her parents deposited her in Windy Hill.
     Angela’s husband and parents had come out from Long Island with her baby.  She was manic-depressive and post-partum.  When she’d had the baby three weeks earlier, she’d lost her mind.  It wasn’t the first time she went nuts, so everyone had known what to do.  Angela had a high forced laugh that you could hear all over the house and a tendency to burst into tears.  She only quit talking long enough to eat, and she was on Depakote, Thorazine and who knows what else.  All I can say is that the poor woman was Not Well.
Of course, I was Not Well either, but at least I was not annoying.  I was compliant, friendly and pleasant in the morning.  At the moment, though, I couldn't sort people out very clearly, but my roommate was nice enough.  She was about 20, with long beautiful dark hair.  She said that she had Narcissistic personality disorder, was manipulative and considered herself Wiccan.  She listened to David Bowie sing “Rock and Roll Suicide,” over and over and  over.
We went into the main living room where the boys were playing video games on the only TV.  The electronic tune repeated in a way that would surely lead to violence, but no one seemed to mind.  Lenore was curled up quietly in the corner of one of the sofas.  She was on a room plan, my two new friends explained.  She was only allowed in her room for 15 minutes every couple of hours.  The room plans were to prevent us from “isolating” a fancy word for hiding under the covers, which as everyone knows, is what depressed people like to do best.    
Krystle introduced me to the boys – all 18 years old or close enough.  Robert was painfully thin, painfully shy and acutely acned.   Brian big, brawny and shaved bald.  Javier was baldheaded also because earlier that week Krystle had shaved both him and Brian for kicks.  They must have done this barbering with kiddie scissors and an electric razor because no responsible individual would let them have real razor blades.
I certainly would have tried to avoid Javier if I’d seen him on the street with the sleeves cut off his tee shirt, long muscles and armpit hair showing, a frizzy little mustache and goatee, and bandana.  He took his big portable CD player out on the deck to play Salsa music while he smoked cigarettes with Hector – another young Latino.  Hector could only come out of his room for 15 minutes out of every hour.  I supposed he was unruly, but he was kind of cute with loose dark curls, a sedated smile and well defined muscles all over his torso.  He wore gray drawstring sweatpants and saggy white socks and that’s about all.  Once I learned that he had two kids by different women and wasn’t even 20 years old yet, I figured house arrest was probably a good idea.
Everyone seemed willing to welcome me, but I was alarmed to find myself in a mental hospital.  I didn’t want to feel like I belonged, even though I had to admit that I was more comfortable with the conversation here than at Mothers’ Group in somebody’s freshly cleaned prewar apartment.  Besides, what could I say about myself? That I had been possessed by Donna Reed and a frenzied raging creature who lives inside me had been trying to kill her off?  I couldn’t explain it so easily then.  It takes years to explain your neurosis in 25 words or less, and it’s awkward to talk about why you were committed – even in front of people who have been committed for similar reasons.  I wasn’t in a little ski lodge full of anorexics chewing ice.  They had their own unit somewhere else on the grounds.  We were depressed – suicidal, self-medicating souls with a tendency toward violent self expression.
       After a couple of hours, two of the female mental health workers took me into my room to do a modified strip search.  It was pretty stupid because by that time I could have stashed any amount of drugs in my room.  All I had to do was shake my brassiere out, but I asked if I should remove my Tampax.  They were horrified that I should think such a thing.  But to me, it seemed perfectly natural because if I wanted to sneak drugs into the mental hospital, I’d put a vial in my vagina.
        I cried that night before I went to sleep.  Even though it was a relief to be safe – it’s a hell of a day when you’re so out of control that you have to get locked up so nobody gets hurt.  I worried about my son and not just because no one could say when I would get out.  That very morning I believed in the depth of my existential being that he was better off without me.  Over the last couple of years our home had been tense on the good days, roaring with anger on others, and the worst were filled with quiet desperation:  Mommy’s hiding in the closet again -- that sort of thing.  He’d even brought me a flashlight and graham crackers one day.  It was a problem for a little kid.  And when I got out (if I got out) God only knew what amount of damage I would have to repair with him and with my husband – if he didn’t leave me for a thin woman, get sole custody of our child and send me packing back to my parents in Texas.
          My roommate -- whatever her name was -- pretended not to hear my sniffling.  All during the night, one of the psychiatric nurses would poke her head in the door every 15 minutes to make sure we hadn't figured out a way to kill ourselves.  My new friends had informed me that compared to other psychiatric hospitals, Windy Hill treats the patients with dignity, but lights out was midnight and we had to be up with our beds made by 9:00.  This may sound like a cakewalk, but since most of us were sleep disordered, it was hard -- particularly since the hospital used plastic mattress covers and every time you turned over the bed crinkled like a Pamper.  If you wake up at 5:00am, you can't read your book.  You can't take a shower until 7:00 and you certainly can't go for a brisk morning walk until your suicidal ideations are under control.
           At 9:00am, all the patients and staff gathered in the living room for the unit meeting -- except for Jean, a skinny old woman who had recently needed four mental health workers to hold her down and was in a room at the back of the house under constant observation.  The head nurse told Hector to sit up since he was stretched out across the whole sofa.  He dozed sitting up instead.   The purpose of the meeting was to go over the progress of each patient, and to give us our chores.  Somebody had to put the fresh linens in the cupboard; somebody clean the kitchen; somebody straighten the living room.  Then, we went to the group therapies and shrink appointments designated on the big wipe-off board in the hallway by the nurses’ station.  I felt left out and uncool since I wasn’t scheduled for Co-Dependents like everyone else, but overall I had a pretty full day.  My nameless roommate went home and everyone signed her journal like it was a high school yearbook.
I met all the patients and I met all the shrinks.  The general consensus was that I certainly didn't look or behave like I was suicidal.   I made pancakes for everybody because Hector wanted pancakes and wasn't allowed to cook.  The mental health worker on duty said that I shouldn’t be trying to make other people happy – that I was there for myself.  Obviously, he didn’t know anything about good mothers.  Pancakes and suicidal urges were not mutually exclusive. 
In the session with my personal psychologist, I outlined the pertinent information uncovered in three years of psychotherapy:  Criticality and corporal punishment from both parents; The Lecherous Uncle; Constructing personas to fit other peoples’ ideas of what makes a good daughter, a good employee, a good fuck, a good wife – Good, good, good, good, good.  Pretty common stuff that doesn’t take a Ph.D. to analyze.  She was surprised. “You understand it so clearly, but it hasn’t helped,” she sighed.
As I understand it, Freud thought that once you understood the source of your neurosis, you would be free of it.  What those Windy Hill shrinks didn’t see was that my neurosis went much deeper than the level one distress that landed me in the hospital.  Certainly I understood all that shit – It was living with the repercussions that caused problems.  Finding myself unable to drink a simple Cabernet without imagining that I smash the glass and gash my wrists with the jagged stem.  Or maybe jab it into the neck of my husband the innocent bystander who triggers fits of rage so all consuming and unacceptable that I don’t even know I’m angry – all just by asking how my day was.
Of course, I didn’t elaborate on that theme on Monday.  I didn’t want to seem rude or ungrateful.

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