leon and i are driving along I95 in connecticut and we begin
arguing about his attitude. he's abnormally hostile to the other drivers. he's
usually very cool and laid back. he usually doesn't mind moving over when some big
ass truck starts barrelling up from behind. today he's stubborn and refusing to
get out of the way. it's scary. he gets angry with me for talking about it. and
his anger is so unusual. he exits the highway and we pull into a bank parking lot
in new haven. he pounds the steering wheel and i just shut up. i've never seen
him so angry.
we're at my sister's house. we're visiting for the weekend. my sister and my brother-in-law go out and leave leon and i to watch my nephews. we go for a walk to the creek. it's cold out and there is snow on the ground. we walk single file through the trees and down the enbankment. he brings up the rear. i expect him to help my younger nephew through deep snow and over big branches. he doesn't. he's eating snow. he's talking about how white everything is. at the creek he gets lost in looking at the patterns in the ice. he laughs with my nephews about slipping on the log, but he doesn't help keep them from falling into the creek. i'm all alone watching three kids, and one of them has a big black hairy beard.
we return home and i confide in my roommate that i think leon is acting weird. would he please let me know what he thinks? i feel tired and i feel confused. what is normal behavior?
i go to work and i come home and find leon sitting in a chair by the window in the living room. he sits me on his lap and tells me he's been looking out the window figuring out what love is. what is love? he talks and talks and i don't understand what he is saying.
i go to work and i come home and find leon under the kitchen table gluing his hat together. in the bathroom in the tub is a bottle of shampoo wrapped in a towel. leon says that it's his dad. he sits me at the kitchen table and begins a long explanation of his new language and how he has a special mission to accomplish to save the world with this language. i try to understand everything. if i can make sense of it i can understand what he's going through. he asks for scissors to cut some pieces of paper. the only scissors we own have very sharp points. i feel scared to give him the scissors. he insists and keeps asking. i find them and hover over him while he cuts the paper. when he glues the pieces together i hide the scissors. when he finishes he asks me to do a favor. he takes the film cannister in which we keep the pot and tells me to put it away.
it's time to go to sleep. it's late. i feel scared to go to sleep, and yet i'm so tired. he finally falls off and i call my sister. what should i do? somehow we decide i should call his parents and talk about sending him home. i do this.
the next day we go to pc richards and buy a walkman. he has a lot of fun playing with the equalizers. he says he has to go to the bathroom. he's in there a long time. i finally have to open the door and tell him to come out. we leave the store and i feel like everyone is looking at us. i speak to him in such a calm, patient voice. i'm his caretaker. tomorrow he is going to get on a plane and fly home.
that night he can't stop talking and he cannot fall asleep. my roommate finally comes home. i feel he's been avoiding us. i don't blame him. the situation is definitely weird. aidan and i talk and decide leon is too far gone to do a plane ride. i call my sister and brother-in-law again. what hospital should we take him to? they don't know the hospitals in the area. they suggest the county hospital. aidan and leon and i get in the gray toyota celica. it's dark and early morning by now. the streets are so quiet. the lights are so bright and reflect off the rainy streets. white, red, green and yellow. aidan is driving and we follow the map to kings county hospital. we park the car and slowly walk through the cold dark night into a huge dimly lit room. there are many people seated in chairs in rows on the left. on the right are two desks. there are people seated by the desks. no one looks like an employee to me, but i ask the desk people how long it would take to have leon evaluated. how do i know to ask this? i suppose my brother-in-law must have told me. they say five hours. five hours. i can't imagine hanging out in this dingy depressing room with leon talking about a special language and playing with the walkman's equalizers for five hours. i ask for a payphone and leave leon and aidan by the desks while i go and call st. vincent's hospital. they say there would be about a one hour wait. i don't understand how anyone could wait even a minute to deal with this situation but one hour is certainly a helluva lot better than five.
we leave and get in the car and drive through the glassy rainy streets and over the manhattan bridge to saint vincent's. we park the car and walk the quiet block to the emergency room door. i walk up to the desk and say i have someone that needs to be evaluated. evaluated for what? they must know what i'm talking about because they usher us to a back room. it's brightly lit and they bring some chairs. outside in the hallway is a security guard. leon and i sit in the chairs. they're the brown metal folding kind. they have a wooden seat. aidan stays in the hallway. he reads a book. he remembered to bring his book?
leon's face looks so different. it's like the bones have moved around and acquired an aggressive energy. the room is so bright and the walls are yellow. he's tall sitting in the chair. his eyes are brown. his beard is very dark. his hair is very long. his eyebrows are thick. his skin is heavy. he's talking and i don't understand what he's saying. he feels violent.
i run out of the room and through the swinging doors to the emergency waiting room. i hide my face in my hands and just cry. i'm loud and i feel the presence of all the other waiting people. then i dry my eyes with the sleeve of my black sweater and i get up and i think i make a phone call. i think i call my sister. and then i start walking to see leon again. but a guard stops me at the swinging doors. i look at him with the blankest expression. and then the guard watching leon calls from his position down the hall, let her in, she's with the psycho.
i stand in the hallway and lean against the wall next to aidan. he reads his book and i close my eyes.
in the room leon stands up and holds his lit cigarette to the wall making little round burn marks.
the guard tells him to QUIT doing that.
i want to say to the guard. fuck you. leave him alone. but i don't. i sit down on the floor with my back against the wall.
after a long time we're told to move to another room. it's directly next door. it's small and pale yellow with lots of smears on the wall. there is one bare metal desk and three metal chairs with gray cushions on them.
we wait. we smoke a million cigarettes. it hurts for me to breathe. i spread leon's coat on the floor and have him lie down. he plays with the equalizers on the walkman. i watch his lips move. he talks to himself. we change the music from jim morrison to eddie grant. from little red rooster to walking on sunshine.
aidan has to leave to catch his plane home to california. i call my friend athena and ask her if she can come sit with me. so aidan leaves and i sit in the chair in the room with leon and wait for athena.
i sit with my arms wrapped around my knees and after about an hour or so, athena arrives. we smoke a bunch of cigarettes.
all this time, leon is never still. he twitches. he paces. he sits. he gets up and rearranges his coat and turns the tape player off and on and takes the tape out and puts it in and smokes a cigarette and lies down and closes his eyes and then starts all over again.
a woman finally comes in. she talks with us awhile. she talks with leon. she asks leon to go out of the room into the hallway while she talks with me for minute. she says that if leon doesn't sign himself in, she will have to do it. she'll have to commit him. i say i'm worried what they will do to him. this isn't snake pit, she says. i'm pretty sure she mentions this olivia de haviland movie. yes. i've seen this movie and it's what i think the hospital floor is like. no, she says. it's 1988. the world of psycho therapy is very different. i believe her. i don't have much choice. but she is very reassuring and her voice is kind. i tell her i don't think he'll sign himself in. try it, she says. he might surprise you.
i remember a few years back when leon and i had a conversation about fears. we were lying on the couch in my graduate housing apartment in santa barbara. he asked, what do you fear? i wasn't sure. he said, don't ever let them put me away.
i go out into the hallway and say that they can help him here. he just has to sign his name on a piece of paper. yes. he says. i know. i'm doing this for us.
he sits down on a chair beside me. the woman is across from us. he signs a sideways numeral 8. you know what, says the woman, i need you to sign your everyday name. oh. of course, he says, and writes his full name.
she speaks with him so easily. i'm smoking and shaking and a mess.
she disappears for awhile and then comes back.
we'll go upstairs now, she says.
i help leon get his coat and tapes and tape player. again he says to me, don't forget that i'm doing this for us.
i watch his back and long dark hair disappear around the corner.