November 30, 1947

[Continued from the previous entry]

The Eloise Psychiatric Hospital is into making things festive, and they got to work as soon as Thanksgiving festivities were done.  And what a festive environment it was last Thursday, with turkey and thick brown gravy doled out to all. I haven’t devoured food that heartily since my time slip.

Today a haphazardly decorated Christmas tree stands along one of the hallways, flanked by tinsel, garland and stockings hanging from walls. A plastic Santa head watches over us by the window.  Just outside in the chilly air, a music therapist is leading Eloise choir members in song who are, of course, patients here.

This place feels like its own incorporated city. It has a farm, cannery, bakery, and onsite police officers and firefighters. Its property covers fifty acres. I wonder when it closes and what becomes of this property in the future, because I’ve never even heard of this sprawling compound until now.

I had just finished my first art class, led by an African-American woman as our quasi-instructor. Using something like chalk pencils, about a dozen of us stood by makeshift easels – basically a large sheet of paper draped over those wooden chairs from the lobby – and drew things like fruit, vases, tables, plants, and so on. A woman next to me named Helen wearing a polka dotted skirt mumbled to herself as she quickly constructed a brilliant drawing of a poodle.

A hundred feet down the hall from the warm and upbeat art class is a creepy-looking surgical room, as if to remind you that this ain’t a hotel. A flat steel “bed” rests in the middle with large alien lights hovering over it. A series of trays, cabinets and odd-looking devices encircle that bed. The waning sun casts eerie shadows on the wall. Maybe I’ve been in here sprawled out a few times while unconscious. I wonder what they’ve prodded me with.

Both staff and patients are friendly enough, even the odd ones. But I hear the stories, and I try to separate folklore from reality. A couple years ago an inmate named Casmir shot an officer, a child drowned somewhere in this place a decade ago, a laundryman was clubbed by a woman off her meds, and an employee was shot down this hall by her enraged husband a few years ago in 1945.

The stories go on. I guess I am in a mental facility, after all. People snap.

Yet I also hear the endearing stories. Apparently, a woman by the name of Sallie, known as the “Sunshine Lady” in this building, died back in 1943 after seventeen years here. She is still talked about by those who knew her. Sallie would be the party-pleaser, always arranging birthday celebrations for workers and fellow patients, bringing rays of joy to their days. Someone who was always lending an ear, so I’m told. I wonder if there’s a new Sunshine Lady roaming the halls here.

Life could fall quickly into a routine in this complex. Draw some artwork, play cards, listen to the radio, watch television with fifteen others, stroll around the grounds, take a baking class, perhaps join the Christmas caroling group. Lest I say it has the feel of a modest resort. The activities and distractions are key in occupying my mind. And in some respects, these haphazardly decorated walls already feel like my 1947 home away from 2018 home.

I’m damaged goods, just like everyone else. It’s easy to slip into a level of malaise.

Sometimes I’ll run into Ted and we’ll listen to another radio show together. I found out yesterday that he’s also from Rochester. Hearing him talk about my town from the perspective of decades prior my own time blows my mind.

I’ll sit in the Men’s Day Room and hum a tune that’s over sixty years beyond today’s date. In some ways, humming a future song keeps my mind in line. It continually convinces the rest of my body that, no, I’m not crazy. The songs whispering from my mouth are from songwriters and musicians who have yet to be born.

I carry with me some guitar-strumming skills.  Perhaps one day I’ll get my hands on one, and sing a few bars of U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name.”  At least a decade before the author of that song – Bono – is even born somewhere in Ireland. 

I will greet familiar faces with a smile and hello. I probably know about ten fellow patients by name at this point. I feed off the camaraderie.

Still, my pain persistently runs deep, I still sob at night once rooms go dark. I’m continually frustrated that no one understands me, that I’m really not insane. Not that I can blame them. Yet my darkest, craziest episodes have at least been dormant these past few weeks. I hope I can come to terms with whatever happened to me. I’m still unsure I can win this fight, and if I can’t, I’ll be taking up residence here for a long while.

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