We pulled up to an old iron gate that looked like it belonged in a creepy cemetery somewhere. Dead vines wrapped around the rusted black paint that read: “Brattleboro Retreat”. The feeling in the car was mutual: fear. My parents must have been scared to let their golden boy child be handed over to this foreboding and freaky place. I was the one who had to go into this “retreat”. We all knew what it truly was, and it was not called a retreat. It was called loony bin for a reason. Only crazy, psycho, lost, failures belonged here. The message was loud and clear. I was one of them.
Still no talking. Silence hung in the air like a noose. What is there to talk about when a child is getting dropped off by the parents at a psych ward?
We walked in and sat in the waiting room. The building was really old and it smelled funny. After a while a lady came in gave us paperwork to fill out. She explained the process of admission and what I was allowed to have with me in my possession. No razors, no scissors, no sharp objects of any kind, no cosmetics containing alcohol. My parents asked a dozen questions about safety and how long I would be there, and the lady answered them like a robot, she must have been doing this work for a long time. She said the units are locked down, that meant there is no getting in or out. She also said that the unit I was going into was the young adult ward, where there was not that much violence and was safer than the other units. I remember my parents looking at each other, then looking at me, trying to decide what to do. Do they say no thanks and pick me up and carry me away back home to safety? Or do they hug me goodbye and drive away in tears? I never saw them cry, I never knew they cared so much, all I saw was my own self and that is all I cared about.
At that moment, for the first time in my life, I was left alone away from home in a foreign place with no one around to save me or get me out of this one.
An orderly came down to the waiting room in a white suit and carried my stuff off, and ushered me to follow him to Unit 4. I obeyed. We went up this old, creaking, slow elevator to the 4th floor. Ahead of us was a lime green door that looked C4 proof. Nobody was escaping through that door. He flashed pulled out a big roll of keys and picked one out, inserted it into the keyhole, and with a huge click the door opened. We passed a number of doors on both sides of the linoleum hallway. I peered in and saw kids younger than me sitting at their desks or lying in bed. I was careful not to look for too long, because I knew I would be in trouble if I did. I knew enough not to EVER look a crazy person in the eyes, or else suffer the consequences. I didn’t know what the consequences were but somehow I knew they wouldn’t be good.
The orderly dropped my bag off at the front desk that was situated behind a big glass shield. He spoke into the metal voice box to someone behind the wall of protection and gave her my name. She looked at a clipboard and nodded her head. She looked at me and instructed me to sit over by that chair until they were ready to take me in. I thought I was already in. Apparently not. The orderly disappeared and for a moment I was alone in the hallway. I listened to hear anything strange, anything wrong, anything bad happening like screams or shouts or fights or voices that were crazy…nothing. It was dead quiet. As I was peering into what looked like a group room with chairs all around it the orderly reappeared out of no where and told me to follow him to the bathroom. I would need to be strip searched to make sure I was not carrying any contraband.
I was brought into a big tiled room with a drain, a huge showerhead above us, and nothing else. He told me to take off my clothes one article at a time and hand it over to him. I was a little shaky at this point and slowly starting taking off my clothes. When I got down to my underwear I felt so vulnerable, so naked and afraid. There is a distinct feeling one gets at this point where you are naked in front of another person. It feels like they can see everything you have ever done, and are judging you. I gave him my boxers and stood there with my arms crossed, trying to hide but there was no place for that, only the bright light reflecting off the white tile and this guy who was sifting through my clothes looking for something I was potentially smuggling in. He looked at me and instructed me by showing me with his hands what I was to do. Raise my arms, run my fingers through my hair, open my mouth, pull down the lips, stick out the tongue, bend over, cough…louder…louder…
Okay. Get dressed. The orderly left the room. I picked up my clothes off the floor and slowly put my clothes back on, wondering what my life had become.