There was a rhythm to each day in the Nut and if you didn’t fall into it quickly you were pushed by a couple of big burly guys who prowled the ward in royal blue scrubs looking for shirkers and deadbeats like you who hadn’t gotten with the program in which case they made a note in your file and the next morning the shrink on duty adjusted your meds so they got you to a place where you picked up the rhythm until you were nice and comfortable and warm and fuzzy with an emphasis on the fuzzy.
The rhythm of the Nut didn’t include spending much time by yourself, which is why they had you and the other nuts scheduled all day long doing stuff like two hours of group in the morning and an hour for lunch and two hours of group in the afternoon followed by an hour of rest period followed by supper which was followed by something called goals group where you were supposed to discuss if you met your goals for that day. Which you did if you had caught onto the rhythm and gotten with the program and gobbled down your adjusted meds like a good little nut.
There was a quiet time hour after goals group when they turned off the regular big-screen TV and instead showed videos of waterfalls and gently waving fields of grain and huge puffy cloud formations floating by and they played music that you might associate with peaceful feelings and circles of love. Some of the nuts sat there staring at the clouds and spotted fawns nibbling at budding leaves in the leafy spring and they had fuzzy blankets wrapped around them and they wore what they called house shoes on their feet. Other nuts paced the floor and interrupted the guys in the blue scrubs making their rounds and asked if it was snack time yet which it wasn’t because quiet time came first and then snack time which was followed quickly by a dimming of the overhead ward lights and bed time. Understand now about the importance of rhythm? You stepped outside the rhythm and not only were the guys in the blue scrubs right there on you but the fear was on you too alongside that drifting sense that your thoughts were not completely under your control which you knew was true because when you woke up in the middle of last night you had this image running in your dream of carving up a piece of meat, slice after slice after slice and when all the slices were done you turned them around and cut them the other way chopping and chopping until there was a big pile of chunks of bleeding meat under the knife…
Every time you woke up and it didn’t matter if it was at daybreak or after a nap or in the middle of the night you were confronted by the same four absolutely bare green walls of a room that was devoid of every single thing that had comprised your life: TV, no WiFi, no bedside table, no prints of cottages in a glade, no photos of ducklings splashing in a puddle in the middle of a dirt road not even so much as a curtain on the narrow window giving you a view of yet another wing of the nuthouse or even a closet. All that protruded into the room was a small wardrobe like an open-faced armoire that was bolted to the floor and wall with more steel than you’d find in your average Hyundai coupe. Exactly one bullet-proof fluorescent light fixture was sunk into the ceiling overhead. There was a holding tank down in the Criminal Courts building in Lower Manhattan you spent a few hours in that had more décor than your room in the Nut.
Now a room in the Nut was never supposed to be homey. They didn’t want you getting too comfortable because you might decide to set up camp and stay awhile and they had a waiting list of nuts out there like the place was a motel turning over beds faster than a hot-sheet joint next to a truck stop off the interstate.
One thing was for sure: everybody’s heart was broken in the Nut and crashed on the rocky shore and shattered like a dropped whiskey glass and crunched to half its size like a Honda Civic in head-on collision. You could see it in their eyes and in their shuffling gate in their house shoes as they wandered the ward stopping here at the table with the 1000 piece jig saw puzzle and there at the craft table with the paperback crossword puzzles and colorful construction paper and big green and yellow boxes of crayons.
Their eyes, dufus? Our eyes. Every pair of them swam with pain and longing. It was painful for your eyes to look into their eyes. It was painful to hear the soft shuffle of the house shoes across the linoleum. It was painful to watch the nodding head of graying hair in the chair over there by the nurse’s station. It was painful to walk back into your room and see the same four green walls and med-bed and virtually nothing else that would indicate the room was intended for human occupation. It was just wall to damn wall painful is what it was.
Getting the rhythm of the place helped. Rhythm always helps. There was something about picking up on the feel of a thing that adjusts your rhibonucleaic acid or some shit and changes your attitude. Rhythm isn’t magic. It’s in us. We all march to the beat of drummers, different or otherwise. We love songs with that chunka-chunka…chunka-chunka railroad workingman beat like “Folsom Prison Blues.”
I hear the train a comin’
It’s rollin’ ‘round the bend
And I ain’t seen the sunshine
Since, I don’t know when
I’m stuck in Folsom Prison
And time keeps draggin’ on
Stuck? You don’t know stuck Johnny until you arrive in a joint with no charm, no room service, no décor, and you find you actually like it there. You want to stay. As for time draggin’ on it comes to a slow-rolling halt all by its own self when the drugs start working. Ativan Zoloft Risperdal getting all buddy-buddy up there…you may as well pull off the road. It wasn’t rest period and you weren’t ensconced in the old med-bed but you were just grooving on the rhythm up there digging everything and the other nuts were digging the same thing.
Tennessee being the Volunteer State we’d all volunteered ourselves into the Nut and about half of the nuts were there because they had either attempted suicide or credibly threatened to kill themselves like standing in a kitchen waving a .357 around and screaming nobody loves me nobody understands me nobody cares about me.
There are a bunch of guys in Tennessee with names that begin with “J” like Jerry and Jason and Jerome and Jake and Jed and Junior and one of them called Jessie was one of the nuts in the Nut who had what can only be described as this haunted look about him like he expected someone to tap him on the shoulder and give him The Signal You Can’t Brush Off. It wasn’t in his eyes as much as in his shoulders. They were permanently pitched forward like he was headed someplace he’d been before and didn’t want to go back to but he was bound there anyway. Jessie had his own sad story like all the nuts in the Nut but you could tell he had been thinking about it a lot longer than we had. Most of us nuts ended up there because we hadn’t been thinking about the shit going bad in our lives and then one day the lack of thoughts turned bad. With Jessie it was just the opposite. He’d been thinking way too much.
One afternoon we were in an arts group where we were supposed to express our feelings visually by drawing and coloring stuff. The therapist giving the group handed out paper and colored pencils and we were supposed to draw how we felt about ourselves at that moment. Jessie went right to work and in a few moments had created an enormous sun-like flaming circle in bright reds yellows and oranges with an oval black hole in the center…black black black, blacker than black against the bright reds and yellows. Jessie didn’t tell the therapist what it meant. He just held it up when he was called on. We took our drawings back to our rooms for rest period. Jessie walked out in the ward and sat down to work on a 1000 piece table-top puzzle. When you make a friend out of a guy like Jessie you take on all of the stuff that drove his wife away from him and that drove him away from her and from his kids and into the Nut. After all, we were the ones who ended up in the Nut, not them, right? A big order you might say. Not with him. First thing Jessie did when he got out was call. Say what? You call one of the other nuts before you even saddle up and get a drink to put an edge off the meds? Huh?
Jessie worked in a lumber mill someplace up near the Kentucky border doing repetitive stuff that was so boring it almost made him cry but said a week in the Nut had him actually looking forward to getting back to work when he got out. It was the rhythm of working he liked there…big machines and motors moving conveyor belts…Chunka-chunk…chunka-chunk…making saws go round…Chunka-chunk… chunka-chunk. What could be better than that man? Noise and sweat and grease and sawdust and chunka-chunk.
Which rhythm worked for you didn’t matter in the Nut. So what if everyone wanted to watch Dancing With the Stars instead of Monday Night Football or Fox News rather than MSNBC? Who cared? Certainly not the drugs, which were working their own foot-tapping wonders upstairs. Jessie understood something about rhythm most of the rest of us didn’t. We’ve all got a heart beat regulated by weird rhythmic electrical impulses. The rhythm of each had better work for you or a day comes when it doesn’t and that’s when you’d better wake up and pay attention or you die.