Unlocked Ward


Eight days later they transfer him to the unlocked ward, he has improved. They put him on liquid lithium because he has been cheeking his pills. I can’t believe it. I check his mouth every time. The nurses chuckle softly and tell me how clever, how adept, the patients are at this. My son, the mental patient.

 So when you enter a psychiatric hospital, at the desk where your sign in, there is a bowl filled with padlocks and keys. You get your own lock and key so that you can put your purse, phone, anything of value or potential harm into your own, high school style, locker. I enter the facility holding only a tiny key to go see the person that I grew in my own body, all by myself, with all my cells and love. Walking down the super bright, clean hallway the hard metal dances in my palm, making me sweat. Walking with only a key, the thing that opens other things and secures those of value, I am a breathing, blood pumping metaphor.

 My craydar goes into overdrive as soon as I enter the Community Room, in the unlocked ward they are allowed to congregate. Good looking Latino guy making large, unwieldy origami birds out of heavy construction paper. For God’s sake, everyone knows there is special paper for origami. Those birds will never fly. Several women sit at a long table coloring in coloring books. One of them looks really normal. This cheers me up. A small man with only one eye (really?) is talking to the wall in an adjacent room. Origami Guy is now circling the room twirling the broom like a baton. My son sits, like Buddha in a Barcalounger, off to the side. He is doing nothing. 

 “Hey, Nickboy, how are you doing?” I ask.

 We have an impossible conversation in which I attempt to address the medication issue. He strongly denies any cheeking. I tell him what the doctor told me: the blood doesn’t lie. He smiles broadly as he informs me that he likes the liquid lithium, “It tastes like Tang!”

 As I open my metal locker I consider the histories of the mentally ill. So often they are artists, with a sensitivity to see beauty and connectedness in the world that the rest of us don’t have. Perhaps that heightened sensitivity makes them more susceptible to these illnesses. Their gentle brains are easy targets, like little bunnies, so vulnerable. As I walk out into the rain, I imagine the stone building behind me as a warren of rabbits, safe from the cold uncaring world.