Welcome Home (Sanitarium)

Welcome Home (Sanitarium)

Locked away with love and lust.

Sanatorium.jpeg

By the time I was twelve, I’d spent years hating myself and the world. My ability to control the growing rage within me had been lessening for years. A few months before my thirteenth birthday, it failed one too many times. A hurled chair and a broken teacher’s arm forced a judge’s hand.

He committed me to the Wichita Falls State Mental Hospital.

The drive up was tortuous, both for me and my father. He spent the first half hour trying to talk. He was as unsure how to handle this as I was. I didn’t listen or care. It was the biggest betrayal I’d ever known. My dad was taking me to away. I was going to be locked up with crazies. Or rather, the other crazies, since I was one. We had no idea for how long.

Never mind that it had been my own choices, not his, that put me there.

Never mind that he had as little choice as I did.

Never mind that if he hadn’t taken me I’d have spent the ride in the back of a police car with a stranger at the wheel.

All I knew was that it was clear to me that what I’d always believed was actually true. Faggots had no place in this world.

Intake was a blur. I sat in a nondescript chair in front of a nondescript desk. A nondescript man glanced through my papers, mostly ignoring me. He finished, then finally looked up and spoke. The litany of rules was pretty straightforward: bedtimes, mealtimes, and behavior standards. They weren’t all that different from my days in juvie.

The basic idea? “Don’t do anything fun or exciting.”

I told my dad bye. The bureaucrat handed me off to an orderly. The orderly drove me across the grounds to a pair of small buildings. Those fenced-off grounds would be my home.

He handed me off to another orderly who in turn passed the buck again. I sat in a room by myself for a while as they got a bunk ready for me. The tiny space belonged to the orderlies. From the safety and comfort of their chairs, they could watch us. The large plexiglass window let me see the other kids. It also let them eyeball me.

I didn’t know them, but life had taught me to expect the worst. I glared back at some, shrunk from others. One kid smiled and I surprised myself by smiling back.

Eventually I was taken out and introduced, then shown to my room. It was at the farthest end of its halway, which I didn’t mind. I liked it when people had to work a little more if they wanted to bother me.

It also already had one other occupant and two beds waiting for whoever might arrive after me. I didn’t like that one bit. I hadn’t shared a lot of rooms with people. I’d had some sleepovers with a boy whom I’d discovered my budding sexuality with. I’d shared a room with my sister off and on.

I’d never even thought about sharing one with a stranger. It didn’t go well.

One thing I inherited from my father was snoring. We were both buzz saws. We used to go camping a lot and whenever we did there was a race to see who would fall asleep first. The other person was out of luck.

The other kid in the room, Aaron, was alright at first. We started off OK, the standard “why are you here and for how long” stuff. Then he had to sleep in the same room as me for the night.

He didn’t like it. Who can blame him?

Since I was keeping him up, he kept me up, too. Every time I would start to doze off he’d say something. Usually it was something like “hey, stop snoring.”

I’ve always been a super deep sleeper. Once when I was about 20 I slept through our home being burglarized. The security system’s alarm was a klaxon outside of my room. They even fired my dad’s gun in the kitchen, twenty feet from my bed. It wasn’t enough to stir me, though I remember having rough dreams.

Needless to say, Aaron’s talking didn’t always do the trick. By “didn’t always” I mean “it might have worked once or twice.”

He escalated to having to come over and jostle me. Then shove. Then hit.

After a week of that the staff had hit their limit in the annoying kids who won’t sleep department. There wasn’t another room open in that building, so they put me in the one next door. I was the only kid over there, which was both ostracizing and a relief. I wasn’t comfortable around the other kids, so I stayed in my own private building most of the time. The guy in charge of watching over me would sometimes let the lights out hour slip by and so I could read longer.

They had allowed us to bring some personal effects from home. I chose Dungeons and Dragons. It was still my escape, and I needed it more than ever. I filled my nights with monsters and a compendium of mythological figures. I built worlds and adventures in my mind. I also masterbated to a demoness’s crudely drawn breasts. It helped distract my brain from the empty halls and rooms.

School was an exercise in futile tedium. It was like the special ed classes I’d been in before. The desks were side by side and had tall walls between them. The curriculum was designed for any age kid, so most of it I already knew. Anything I didn’t was breezed past.

Days stretched out. Wake up at 7:00. Shower. Brush teeth. Breakfast. School. Snack. School. Lunch. School. Play time outside. TV. Dinner. TV. Bed. Wake up at 7:00. Shower. Brush teeth.

You get the idea.

The guy whose room I shared was younger but bigger than me, and quite a lot more aggressively confident. He latched onto me as his victim and harassed me every chance he got. We were under constant supervision, so actual violence was hard to pull off. That didn’t stop him from knocking stuff out of my hands, calling me names, and telling other kids lies about me.

One of those “lies” was that I was gay. Of course, it wasn’t a lie but he couldn’t have known that. That got the other kids in on the “fun” and life settled back into the same old routine as it had been at home. Sleep the sleep. Eat the edibles. Dodge the assholes. Rinse. Lather. Repeat.

Self loathing settled back into its comfortable hole and my rage returned full force. I lashed out at others, both staff and kids. Mostly it was staff, because I knew they weren’t allowed to hit back. The seated bear hugs they used to restrain me were the same ones my dad had used before, so it was familiar territory.

They also had another weapon in their arsenal.

Some days I would screech, wail, kick, and spit until they had no choice but to put me in the quiet room. Its padded walls were great for banging my head against. It let me express my inner hatred without risk of permanent damage.

Some days were even worse. I’d refuse to calm down at all and eventually a nurse would be called in. Thorazine gave me the peace that my heart couldn’t find on its own.

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I’m sure the one they used wasn’t this scary, but it felt like it.

It wasn’t all bad.

I found one of the most amazing cartoons my young mind could imagine: Our Star Blazers. It aired every afternoon. We’d all gather around the TV to watch the brave crew travel across the light years. The best episodes were the ones which ended with them firing up the “wave motion cannon” to annihilate some enemies. This Americanized anime was vastly different than anything else on television back then.

There was also G-Force, another redubbed and edited anime. The team defeated enemy after enemy with style, panache, and funny quips. The baddest of the asses was dirk and his perfectly aimed darts.

Both were more adult than anything I’d seen before. They would become the backbone of my lifelong love of animation and comics.

A few weeks in to my wonderful exile another kid, Jason, came to my building. He was assigned a room across the hall. We talked some, and since we were the only ones in our dorm we often ended up watching evening TV together. I liked him, but had no idea what to do. Unfortunately, I somehow gathered up the courage to ask him if he wanted to kiss me.

He recoiled. He told the staff. They questioned me and of course I denied everything, but the damage had been done.

The next week he stole one of my books. I noticed that a copy of Dragon magazine was missing and told a staff member. They ignored it, so I did some digging on my own. I snuck back into our dorm and poked around Jason’s room. I found the magazine and another book hidden behind his nightstand.

My anger got me another brief stay in the quiet room, with a n injected pharmaceutical chaser.

It wasn’t all bad.

I met a girl, Jessica. She had long black hair and always wore t-shirts from concerts she was too young to have seen. She was also almost 13, which made us the two oldest kids there. That gave us some camaraderie. Even though it was just a few months’ difference, we were the “mature” ones. Everyone else got lumped together as the “little kids.”

We clicked quickly and became inseperable.

She was in to some of the same music as me: Mötley Crüe, Ratt, and other hair bands. She also dug classic rock and some newer metal, which she happily introduced me to. Her personal effects included a tape player and some cassettes. We listened to them so much I’m surprised they never gave out completely.

Through her I met Judas Priest, W.A.S.P., Ozzy, and Metallica.

She was a satanist, which was all the rage with edgy kids back then. I pretended to be one too, but really didn’t give a shit. I just wanted her to like me more.

The staff was extremely negligent. Probably criminal.

She and I would stay holed up in the laundry room talking, listening to music, and avoiding the world for hours at a time. We were both pubescent and could easily have had a “jail house baby” if that had been the nature of our relationship. But I was way too afraid of losing her friendship to ever try and move it to the next level. That would turn out to be a pattern throughout my life.

She could play a couple of minor songs on the piano, and she taught me. Not that I could remember them today.

When the music got stale we’d make up our own. The only song I remember was a parody of Hotel California.

Hospital Wichita Falls

Walls that are peeling
Hair brushes with lice
We are all just prisoners here Of our own device

Relax said the night nurse
We are programmed to receive.
You can check out any time you like But you can never leave

There were a few more , equally silly, verses but the years have stripped them from my brain.

One chilly evening we heard scratching and a squeak from behind the snack fridge. We all gathered around curiously as an orderly peered behind it with a flashlight.

It was a mouse that came in to escape the cold.

He grabbed a broom, and I assumed he was going to try and shoo the critter out of a door. Instead, he turned it upside down and began slamming the handle to the floor. The refrigerator blocked our view, but after ten or so strikes he stopped. With a nurse’s help to move the fridge, and pulled the carcass out.

I was appalled. I know now that it was a health hazard. Back then I could only picture Fievel and The Chipmunks. Most of us were completely shocked by the brutality. A few of the scarier patients were smiling.

I made a mental note to avoid them for the rest of my stay.

After two months, my friend Jessica left. She turned thirteen and transferred to the adolescent ward. The days’ light grew shorter, but the tedium became much longer as I sat back and awaited my transfer. It was early October and I would turn thirteen on the 23rd.

I was pretty scared. I was about to go from the oldest fish in a tiny pond to being the youngest in a lake. I’d already been targeted for bullying there. What would it be like with much bigger kids? At least I had a reunion with Jess to look forward to.

Thankfully, I was spared having to find out exactly what the teenage ward was like. The hospital decided that I was no longer a danger and wouldn’t need to be transferred. I got a late birthday present on the 24th, as my dad showed up to take me home.

As they were drawing up my discharge papers, I was given the opportunity to go say goodbye to my friends. Not that I had made any.

Instead I walked out to the small playground. I scanned the yard quickly for primary tormentor, Aaron. He was hanging out with a couple of other boys by the chain fence. Without a thought, I charged straight at him. I didn’t get to see his face as I slammed into his back, driving it into the steel links.

I’ve never been much of a fighter, but I did what I could. The shock and awe of my initial assault left him completely stunned as I rained down blows and kicks. It seemed like forever before the orderlies pulled me off of him.

I can only assume they knew what our relationship had been like and decided to give me a little payback before doing their job.

As the adrenaline wore off, I became frightened and anxious. What if this made them decide to keep me after all? But it didn’t.

I went home, relieved to be out of that hellhole. It would turn out to not be the last time I exacted revenge with a surprise rear attack. We were about to move again, and a new middle school was coming.

It was going to hit hard.

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Read more of Ginger McMurray here: Medium - Ginger McMurray