May 24, 1985I shuttered as I heard the muffled din of voices that grew louder as the door opened and a cool breeze wafted through the room. I opened my eyes. My room mate Eric, a skinny kid with dark and messy hair, strolled into the room, and slammed the door, muffling the conversation in the hall, perhaps among patient and nurse. He had a blank expression on. I didn’t move, hoping he would simply think I was asleep.
Eric was a melancholy, laconic kid. Well, he was sort of like me in this way. The only difference
was he was dark, and I was bright. Well, despite what my psychologist wrote about me a few days earlier (and I would eventually read 24 years later), there was a chance of having an intelligent discussion with me.
I was blonde, and he had dark hair. Sure, my hair may have been too long and unkempt as his at this time, considering I spent the last few weeks in depression mode; not caring mode. Eric, on the other hand, probably spent his whole life in that mode. And while he prevented the bigger kids from pushing him around by playing it tough, by doing evil deeds, the Catholic voice, the niche in the back of my head, prevented me from doing anything evil. Bullies, I believe, do not pick on dark, evil people. Even when bully is good in his heart, he will never bother an evil person. Eric, in my view, was such a kid. Now he may have changed since the days I knew him, but I will never, ever know. So the Eric in my memory is a dark Eric.
The light flicked on. I closed my eyes. I heard the sound of something moving across the carpet. I opened my eyes just enough so I could make out the shadow of his head above the wardrobe that he positioned diagonally across the middle of the room. He was stepping on something, a chair perhaps. He stretched his body, leaned against the front side of the wardrobe, and appeared to barely finger whatever he was hanging on the ceiling beam. What the heck? Was this kid nuts? What a weirdo?
Did he have this spot on the hard plaster pre-prepared? I wasn't sure. Although he must have worked long and hard before I arrived, when he had the room to himself. When he was stoned perhaps. Allthough the 15-year-old Rick Frea had no concept of stoned. His parents had miraculously kept him sheltered from this darker, real part of the world. I bet they had no clue one trip to the asthma hospital, one agreement to have their son sent to 2-May, would reveal their son to this dark side of life.
I watched as he played with this thing on the ceiling for quite a time. At first I thought it was a dream catcher, but then I wasn’t sure. I heard a thump as his head disappeared. Now he was in his closet, and I had a clear view of him as he pulled a book from the closet. He opened it and snapped it shut, holding it up in such a way I could see it was a Bible.
After staring blankly at the bible, he turned and walked past the wardrobe (yes, it was awkwardly placed right in the middle of the room, and to his desk on the western wall). Now, holding the Bible in his left hand, he cleared a spot on his bedside stand, the junk spattering to the floor with a clang and a pang, and he clapped the book on the newly cleared night-side stand.
I close my eyes as he turned my way. Just go away you ass! Let me take my nap!
“Do you have any scissors?” You certainly aren’t talking to me. “Rick, do you have any scissors?” Well, I guess you are talking to me. How unlucky could I get.
“Who? Me?” I played dumb.
“Rick, you’re the only one in the room.”
“Oh! Yeah. I… I... I was just sleeping.”
“Do you have any scissors?”
"Yeah, scissors. I need them for a project I'm working on."
"Well, I... just might," I rummaged through my nightstand, "Yeah, I guess... right here." I tossed the pair across the room. Eric made like he was going to make a good catch, then awkwardly fumbled them. He had a confused look on his face as they clattered on the floor, almost as though he didn't know what had happened.
After what seemed an eternity, “Thanks,” he said.
I pretended to close my eyes again, and watched as he opened the Bible and proceeded to cut inside it- slit, slit, slit. Okay, fine! So he's cutting out the pages of a book.
Then he held it up, almost preferring it to me. "There!" he said. He was looking at me with blood, red eyes. His look distant. "Doesn't that look great?"
"Um.... yeah. What is it for." Dumb question! I knew quite well what it was for. Mom visited a week earlier and gave me a large bag of sugar. She did this because I loved sugar on my cereal in the morning, and the staff of 2-May do not allow us to have sugar. So I hid this in my locker. And, in the wee hours of the morning, just before breakfast, I put a spoonful into a little baggy. I imagined, naively perhaps, that Eric had something he needed to hide.
"I can hide stuff in here, and the counselors will never find it." He continued to hold the Bible open, turning it ever so slightly this way and that. He appeared to be quite pleased with his work. Quite frankly, I was likewise impressed. Now I was sitting on the edge of my bed. Perhaps there was hope for this relationship. Perhaps Eric wasn't the pin headed, prick face, moron he presented to be the past three months.
On second thought, yes he was. He was busted three times already smoking weed in the tunnels between the Goodman building and the Kunsberg school. Each time he was busted with a different girl. Eric was the only one with the smarts enough to keep getting caught. By the way he appeared this particular day, I was not surprised at this. He presented with a jittery, fragile, surreptitious disposition. Yet, while I thought this, the ulterior motive of his project at the moment slipped me then.
"Genius!" I said.
“No one will ever know.” He smirked, setting the Bible respectfully -- although not with the same respect of you and I --on top the clutter that was in his closet, gently clicked the closet shut, looked blankly in my direction, and left the room.
I set my head on the cold pillow, closed my eyes, and felt a draft as the door opened again. What now! I felt the presence enter. I opened my eyes ever so slightly, and saw no one. Whomever it -- my dim headed room mate I presumed -- was was hidden behind the wardrobe, opening and closing drawers, shifting through contents, and breathing heavily.
Wally Lead, my counselor then appeared in the middle of the room. He shifted Eric's blankets, lifted the mattress, looked under the bed, and checked in the pillow cases, no only as though he were looking for something, but as though he had done this before. I imagine, as there were many dark teens passing through the halls of 2-May over the years, he wasn't the first to become suspicious over the behavior of someone like Eric. The question that remained was: was he suspicious of me too. For it was me who was the fool the past two weeks. It was me who was the idiot. Or, in my selfish rants, had I missed something?
He moved fast -- with a purpose, from the bed to the closet, through the contents of the closet, and then he stood in the middle of the room scratching his head.
"You looking for something?" It was a dumb question, I know. But that's all I could think of to say.
"Well, yes," Wally said.
My eyes widened, and I sat up on the edge of the bed.
He said, "Eric is in trouble."
"What did he do?" I knew Eric was a pinhead, but I had no clue he'd do something THAT bad.
"He is on drugs today, and now he's in the yellow room."
"Whaaa!!" My surprise feigned. If I was surprised, it was that Wally was revealing so much to me. Wasn't there a code of silence between counselor-nurse and patient? Or, was Wally confiding in me as though I were another Chum. As, in fact as my counselor Ric on 7-Goodman, Wally was more of a chum than a counselor.
"You know. That's the room with the padding." The ultimate punishment. The fear of all 2-May residents was the yellow room. That was the #1 best incentive for the counselors, the nurses, the aides of 2-May, to get residents, the boys of East May and the girls of West May, to be good; to move up from level 2 to level 4. And, quite frankly, Wally -- my own personal counselor as well as Eric's -- knew as well as anyone I was very familiar with the yellow room. I wasn't an evil kid, but my noncompliance the past week landed me in that room three or four times.
"Yeah, I know."
"Eric is in big trouble." Wally was a big buy, balding, with a deep voice. Although his demeanor was as fluffy as a big Teddy bear. Seriously. He was that nice. So, while he initially intimidated me when I met him two weeks earlier, I soon learned he was the perfect counselor for me. Besides, because he was so huge, he could deal with the bullies. Yet, the bullies never showed their evil ways around the staff.
What? What did he do? I knew better than to ask.
"Do you know where he might hide things?" It came out more like a statement than a question. "Eric has done things that aren't good. I don't know what I'm gonna do." Likewise, Wally also knew quite well I didn't like Eric as my room mate, nor as a person. By his discussions with me in his quaint, bricked office, I'm sure he had a good glimpse at the kind of person I was -- am.
"He's in big trouble," he continued, panting, although his demeanor of equanimity still shining through.
Taking a risk, a big risk, I said, "He was playing with that thing there on the ceiling. He was also playing with that bible in his closet. It looks like an ordinary bible at first, but if you open it up you'll see it's hallowed out." My heart jumped. I knew I was breaking the kid code. However, I had a feeling, a good feeling, my "slip-up" would be kept a secret by Wally. I thought this even while he was breaking his bond with Eric.
However, I had suspected he was breaking his bond with Eric due to desperation.
Wally's eyes lit up like my 1-year-old when given a candy cane. He looked up, and without using Eric's chair, reached above his head and took down whatever Eric had been playing with. If he found what he was looking there I would never know, because his expression never changed.
"Which one's Eric's?" He was looking at the closets.
"The one on the left," I said. "If you look right on top of his stuff," his junk, his trash, "you'll see it."
I watched as he reached into the locker, grabbed the goodies, turned to me, "Thanks," he said, and left the room, closing the door gently behind him.
I never saw Eric again. In fact, I never heard about what happened to him, nor did I ever hear the other kids talking about Eric. So, besides from me, I imagine the other kids assumed his release was due to good behavior.
Three days later, when I returned from school, all of Eric's belongings were gone. The room, in a sense, was still quite trashy looking. By the wisdom I now have, having been to some of my dad's apartment homes where drug addicts were busted, it still looked like a druggy home.
Wally entered. "Still pretty bad, hey." He was looking around the room with me. "It looks like a battle zone."
"Yeah," I said. Not really knowing what to add to it, I said nothing more. Wally and I continued looking around, from the wardrobe, to the little cobwebs connecting the top of the wardrobe to the ceiling, the lint on the floor. He looked beyond me, toward my neatly made bed, and then to Eric's empty bed. Then he walked to my bed and peered over it, out the window. The sun was now peering through a slit in the clouds, and it was now radiating across the room.
"The sun shines bright upon our heads," he said, then pausing a minute, he squeezed his large frame between the wall and the end of my bed, moved the curtain, and looked down at the courtyard. He turned, walked to the middle of the room where I was still standing, past me, to the door, and, just before he turned to open it he smiled and said, "I bet you can fix up this room real nice."
He knew it. That weekend, after the Saturday morning field trip to the mall with the occupational therapy instructors, I cleaned and polished my room. The halls of 2-May were pretty much empty the rest of the day as the other kids went out on passes, and later went to a movie and to the mall. Since I was still on level 2, I was not allowed to go. After getting permission from the nurses, I moved all the unwanted and un-needed furniture out of my room, so all that was left was my bed, a nightstand and a dresser for my clothes. I moved me bed to a little cubby in the corner, and placed posters all over my walls. Then I remade my bed, opened the curtains, opened the window so the sun was now leaving its imprint across the floor, a perfect compliment to the cool, spring breeze, and I sat on my bed, enjoying the moment of peace and comfort. And, yes, my baseball card collection made an appearance, and later my Frankenstein book.
I never saw Eric again. And this moment was the first in what was a chair reaction of good events on 2-May.
2-May victory #1 for Rick Frea!
To be continued January 17...