Where to begin?
I guess you could say it “began” with a phone call on Friday but that wouldn’t be entirely accurate. Friday was only the culmination of a storm that had been brewing for months only he was blind to the circumstances.
The voice on the other end tells him that his daughter has been hospitalized on Thursday. It appears she tried to do herself some harm and she is now confined to the children’s psychiatric ward at the local hospital. The news hits him like a blow to the stomach and he feels the bile rise up in his throat. It’s all he can do to keep himself from puking at his desk. The call comes around 9:30 AM and he won’t be able to visit or speak with her until 6:00 PM. Thus begins the longest nine hours of his life.
He goes home and tries to pass the hours by thinking off all the mistakes he made along the way. How selfish he had become when it came to such simple matters such as having phone calls returned and visits that didn’t go as smoothly as he liked. He always feels the need to place blame and the hardest person in the world to blame is himself. His ego has got the better of him. In the meantime he bakes some blueberry cheesecake muffins as a sort of peace offering and to provide a snack or two while she is confined to the ward.
He arrives early and talks briefly with her mom in the waiting area. He can see the strain etched on her face and he mentally kicks himself in the ass for playing a role in his daughter’s pain. They discuss what to say and more importantly, what not to say. Now is not the time for the pointing of fingers or placing of blame. Now is the time for healing.
His visit lasts about an hour. In comparison to the longest nine hours of his life this one is over way too quickly. Hug and tears are exchanged without regard to who is watching or listening. He whispers “I’m so sorry” over and over and over again. He tells her that no matter what it takes, “We will fix this”.
That evening sleep seems impossible. His mind won’t shut itself off and he dwells on all the mistakes he made. Hindsight is a bitch.
The next day visiting hours are from 2:00 to 5:00 PM. He arrives around 2:45 and waits outside while her mom has some private time. Once she leaves he goes in and they begin talking. She wants to go home and he can see why. The ward is a depressing place. Most of the children there are a bit younger than her and some of them have been here multiple times. A couple of them have “watchers” assigned to them. The “watchers” linger five or six feet away from their assigned patient. He thinks to himself that at least his daughter doesn’t have to personally experience that. It’s only a few minutes into the visit when security has been called to the floor for reason unknown, An announcement is made for the patients and visitors to return to their room. The doors are closed behind them and they are left to wonder what’s going on. After a few moments they are opened and life inside the ward returns to what is the ward’s version of normal. She keeps a constant lookout for the man in the white shirt. He is the doctor and she wants to tell him that she is ready to go home.
He spies a ping pong table on the other side of the room and asks her if she wants to play. She offers up a non-committal nod of acceptance and they gather the tools of the trade from the nurses station.
The table and the paddles have obviously seen better days. There is no net and the rubber on the paddles is torn and frayed. The table itself abuts a wall. Those combined circumstances eliminate any prospect for serious play and no score is kept. He begins to notice that every now and then a smile creeps across her face and that she seems happy to be doing “something” to keep her out of the sterility that comprises her room. Every few minutes she checks to see if the doctor is ready to see her.
After about an hour and a half of volleying the ball back and forth he asks is she wants to quit. Her mom has been in the waiting room the entire time and he wonders if she wants to spend some time with her before visiting hours are over. She replies that she’d rather just keep on playing and states that this is the most fun she’s had in the three days she’s been there.
For a few seconds, that statement alone has validated his self worth and they continue playing until it is time to leave. As they say their goodbyes the doctor advises that he’s ready to see her. He goes out the door to the waiting room and tells her mom what has transpired.
The next round of visiting of hours is from 6:00 to 7:30. There’s no sense in leaving the hospital so he passes the time by going outside to smoke and thumbing through the local paper. He watches the movement of the second hand and counts the minutes as they go by.
Once the appointed time arrives both he and her mom make their way inside. She grabs the paddles and the ball and they make their way to the table. Her mom vanishes behind closed doors to speak with the doctor.
The “game” resumes as if it had never stopped. Out of the corner of her eye she keeps glancing towards the closed doors. She wants to hear the news that she can go home and will be devastated by nothing short. After about forty five minutes the doors open and her mom gives the thumbs up. The paddles and the ball are discarded and the ping pong table is abandoned. They all make their way to her room and pack what few belongings she was allowed to bring. They are advised that the dispatch process will take about an hour.
During this hour he has time to think and take notice of the surroundings. Of the forty or so “residents” of the ward at least thirty seem to be girls. He takes particular notice of one girl hooked up to an IV as she paces back and forth in what might be deemed a Thorazine shuffle. Her “watcher” follows close behind. He thinks to himself “What is happening to our children?”
Word soon gets out that she is being discharged. What few friends she has made over the last three days start giving her hugs until a nurse comes along and tell them that there is no touching allowed between patients. She relates a story that only in this day and age can the words “Fuckin’ bitch” be considered a compliment. They are taken in the context of “Yo, fuckin’ bitch is outta here” and her fellow patients are happy for her.
The hour takes forever. Release forms are signed and during the interim her mom reveals some of what went on behind the closed doors. She’s an attorney and can be quite adamant and persuasive when she has to.
The time has come for them to leave. Her personal belongings that she wasn’t allowed to have while she was there are returned to her. Waves and smiles of envy are exchanged with the other patients who are less fortunate than her and are forced to remain where they are until they are deemed fit enough to be released. He wonders how long some of them will be there.
They make their way to the parking lot. Along the way she relates how good it feels to be outside and feel the wind on her face. Extended hugs are exchanged and she piles into her moms car and they make their way home.
Over the next couple of days he has time to think of what an asshole he had become. He had made all of this about himself and put his wants and needs ahead of everybody else’s. He vows to become a better, more understanding father.
He once again vows to her that “We will fix this”. Only this time he realizes what’s at stake and isn’t about his ego or his sense of self worth. It runs much deeper than that.
In the meantime, he’s wondering if he’s got enough room to install a ping pong table somewhere at his place.
He needs to see that smile and hear that laugh again.
Only next time, he vows that the circumstances will be different.