Returning to the Crazy Ward

by Elizabeth Kirschner

I enter a psych ward, one of the ones I’m so good at staying out of these days and cross the red line. The walls are yellow, like old cellophane, and the floor tiles are gray as dull nail heads. The air smells of old tears, tears that have scabbed over. I walk into the community room to do art therapy. There, the staticky TV is on and the inmates are scattered on chairs and the sofa like crash dummies. Pinned to the community board is a quote from Goethe, the one I had copied, years before when in the lock-up, to paste onto a journal full of inspiring pictures and sayings that I made for my son, Dylan.

I read it aloud, “Whatever you do, or dream you can, BEGIN IT NOW, boldness has genius, power and magic in it: BEGIN IT NOW.” I look around the room in this holding tank for the damned and don’t see a whole lot of boldness or genius before me. Instead, I’m thinking that if fish could be depressed, then I’m in a dime store bowl full of depressed fish. Faces bob, go under, bob, go under again.

“Time to sit in a circle and hold hands,” I say to my unhappy campers while wishing I had a plastic sit-upon for each one. I look at them–poor and heavy as gravestones–but in the lock-up, you do what you are told. Not doing so can isolate you in your room, or worse, it can mean having an armed guard outside your door, so down go the rumps–big ones, scrawny ones, old ones, young ones.

The ward is a true democracy–we are equals in that the Screamer is equal to the Pacer who is equal to the Cutter. The keepers, however, are dictators. No sharps or cords, room checks every ten minutes all night long and the door is always left open.

“Now hold hands.” I say, as though we’re in Romper Room. Fingers lace together like gnarly daisy chains.

“Do you remember the song I taught you?” I go on and receive slow, dopey nods. “Okay, let’s sing it.”

I start up, “Boom, boom,” and a few crackly voices join in–these inmates really do remember.

“Boom, boom,” we all start to chime, “Boom, boom, ain’t it great to be crazy?” We pause, as if to place an exclamation point in a word bubble in the air between us. “Boom, boom,” we begin, again, “Boom, boom, ain’t it great to be crazy, boom, boom ain’t it great to be nuts like us,” I hold my hand, like a baton, for an emphatic moment, then resume, “to be silly and foolish all day long, boom, boom, ain’t it great to be crazy?” We sound pretty good, even though we are starkly off-key. “Again,” I say and the faces of these depressed fish start to lighten, even brighten. We sing the same verse over and over. “Boom, boom ain’t it great to be crazy?” Smiles appear on the blank chasms of the faces around me. “Boom, boom ain’t it great to be nuts like us?” The community room is now afloat with a noisy luminosity; “to be silly and foolish all day long,” a spittle of laughter comes out. “Boom, boom, ain’t it great to be crazy?” A few tooted guffaws. By the end of the next round, we’re all cracking up.

Suddenly, it’s incredibly funny to be crazy. Yes, it’s stupidly funny to be crazy and nuts like us. It’s even loonier to sing about how great it is to be silly and foolish all day long. Maybe, laughing about being crazy has genius and power and magic in it. Surely, it is bold.

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