The sheriff’s deputy put me in the back of his cruiser. I was surprised at how little leg room there was. It was fairly uncomfortable, and would have been all the more so had I been handcuffed like a criminal and forced to sit with my arms behind my back. I was kind of intrigued – this was my first time riding in a squad car.
We were on the way to Georgia Regional Hospital. Earlier, my friend from AA and church, Sherry, had assured me, Don’t worry, it will be all right. In her 40s, Sherry was a large woman whose aging Chevrolet would shudder violently as she wedged herself behind the steering wheel. She was collecting social security and disability, lived in public housing in Jonesboro, and seemed to always have something wrong with either her health or her washing machine. She had been married, and I seemed to recall that her husband was on death row or already had been executed by the state. One of the two. She had faith like a rock.
I didn’t know until later that Georgia Regional was touted as a rough place. I might be the institution’s token WASP patient. The hospital was probably 30 minutes or so from the private institution where I’d been the first time, not two weeks earlier. Apparently, there was no room for me there, so I was being transported.
The deputy was polite enough. I have no idea what we talked about. In this psychotic condition, no doubt I was talking him up about who-knows-what-all. I do recall asking him how fast he could go. He said 100. So as he sped up to indulge my curiosity, he grabbed a foot-long black metal flashlight that he flickered toward the drivers who were blocking our way in the fast lane. They moved to the right, and we zipped past them. I laughed. After a minute or less, he said we were going 103.
Once I got to GRH, I was deposited into the small waiting room, which probably sat no more than seven, and it must have been near midnight. I was offered some food – peanut butter & jelly sandwich, crackers, or something like that. Waiting there as well, I saw a guy who had sold Electrolux vacuum cleaners the year before with me. We exchanged stares, neither saying anything. Both of us must have wondered, “What does this mean?”
It came my turn to be interviewed and admitted, though I didn’t know that was the process. I thought this was all a test of where I would spend eternity. A gentle white woman in her 30s interviewed me, and I thought she was the devil, or at least one of his helpers, who was trying to catch me off guard. I fended her off by ignoring her questions or answering obliquely. A black woman, apparently the supervisor, came by and tried to coax me into answering. After she left, I started furiously signing the white woman’s papers with an “X” on the signature line, like – “This will show you, Devil!” The woman seemed flustered, and soon had finished with me.
But the process wasn’t completed. The black supervisor had to take over and finish what her subordinate could not. She sat me down and told me with a smile that she was my Fairy Godmother. I believed her. Didn’t know that that’s what they looked like, but at long last I did. She told me that this place was the end of the line. If I didn’t cooperate, they’d have no choice but to commit me to… and she named some other place, and all I knew was that I didn’t want to go there.
I apparently signed the necessary papers and was escorted through the brisk early March air across a courtyard and then into a locked brick building. Down a hall, through a locked door, and into a common room, about 50 feet by 25 feet. It was well past midnight, and three black men were watching TV under fluorescent ceiling lights. It was quiet. And peaceful. The couches were arranged in an L-shape and covered in cheap plastic of pastel pink and blue. The coffee table was a worn wood laminate. The linoleum tile floors were clean but 1950s-era.
I looked at the men, one of whom was eating a sandwich, and they looked at me.
I announced seriously, “This sure doesn’t look like heaven.”
The man eating the sandwich choked as he spewed part of it out laughing.
I sat down and we talked.