It was hard to sleep in Glen Grove because the nurses kept our room doors open all the time and one of them walked in every fifteen minutes to make sure you hadn’t killed yourself. On my sixth night there, they brought in a new roommate around 4 but I wasn’t really sleeping too well so I heard him take all the same tests I did. I tried to sleep, but these doctors just kept coming in and asking the questions he’d probably been hearing all night.
Do you do drugs?
Loud. And blow. He mumbled.
Loud. Blow. He said them louder.
I don’t know w-
You’d think by now there’d be enough kids who smoked loud and did blow that they’d know what it meant. Especially if they’re shrinks. I guess these guys were just triage who took notes and we never saw again so I’ll give them a break. This one left and I dozed off until homeboy with four syringes came to take his blood four times. The new kid slept through it except when he was asked more questions.
Are you sexually active?
Do you use any form of contraception?
By the time they were finished with him it was six and I was trying to get some sleep before we had to wake up for group. It was quiet for a while but I got woken up by weirdly regular exhales and grunts from his side of the room. He was masturbating. I rolled around in the covers and tried to pretend like I was waking up, but he didn’t stop. He grunted louder.
I turned over to tell him to fucking chill out but he wasn’t in his cot. I stood up and walked to the foot of his bed. He was on his chest parallel to the windowless grey wall, palms flat on the similarly grey carpet and elbows flared out. Dude was doing push ups. There was a small G tattooed on his left shoulder blade, D on his right, both stick and poked black on his dark brown skin.
I realized I was just standing there and hadn’t said anything so I cleared my throat and said, “Yo. I’m Rolland.”
He finished four more and rolled over on his back to look at me. “Yo.” Breath. “Jonathan.” He put his feet flat on the floor and started a sit up. He wore grey boxers under blue athletic shorts that slid down his thighs.
“With a G?”
“No.” Breath. “With a J.” Crunch. “I couldn’t sleep, man. I can never sleep in these places on the first night. Sorry if I woke you up.”
“Oh. Yeah, man, no worries.”
“Who spells Jonathan with a G?” He kept doing sit ups and I could tell he did this a lot.
“No, I just thought… I mean, who’s G.D.?”
Jonathan let out a Ha and finished his set. He reached to his bed and grabbed the white undershirt he had taken off to work out and wiped across his forehead and the back of his neck. Our eyes didn’t meet and when he stood up I noticed that he was taller than I expected, a couple inches over six feet. The whites of his eyes had yellowed and he had acne scars on his temples up to his short, scruffy hair. “Gangsta Disciple,” he said, rubbing the stubble forming on his cheek and chin with his knuckles.
“Right.” I nodded and Jonathan turned around and sat on the bed. He’s in a gang. I’ve never roomed in a psych ward with a dude in a gang. “Where do you stay?” I asked, sitting against the wall with my knees crunched towards to my chest.
“North 24th. By the Cherry Court homes, couple miles uptown of Miller Park. You been?”
I shook my head no. “Seen the Brewers play. Love the Brewers. But I don’t go up by Cherry Court much.”
“Most people don’t.”
I just nodded again and licked my lips.
I told him I was going to try to get another hour of sleep and he told me he was going to shower. I lay down and the nurse named Cassandra that I liked walked into the room. She saw the light on in the bathroom and I gave a little wave and she walked back out into the hallway. I fell asleep listening to the shower water.
Jonathan took long and by the time he walked out it was 6:30. The door woke me up and I told him we had breakfast at 7 and group at 8. He said he knew and walked towards the plastic grocery bag he had brought in with him during the night and sat next to the desk. He put his gym shorts back on and pulled the pale blue hospital scrub pants out of the bag and over the shorts. I sat up in my bed and went to grab a pair of boxers that my mom had dropped off the other day for me to change into. It didn’t look like Jonathan had many changes of clothes. It didn’t really look like he had brought anything beside the hospital scrubs in the bag and he probably has a toothbrush at the front desk like I do. I wondered if his family knew where he was.
“Yo, why are you here?” I asked him.
Jonathan folded the blue gown top and moved it to the corner of the desk. “The police told me to come.”
“Like, they came to your house and said “Jonathan, you gotta go to Glen Grove”?”
“Something like that.”
“That’s crazy. Me too.”
I didn’t talk much about why I was here either. The weird night nurse in the screening room had looked at me over his thin-rimmed square glasses when I first arrived and told me that no one was supposed to ask you about it. No one, he said, or we’ll just fucking call the cops and you’ll be fucking outta here. But that’s basically the first question the kids ask when the nurses weren’t around. Name, where you’re from, why you’re here. Some people were up front and just told you without being asked. Hi I’m Eleanor what’s your name oh cool I ate all of my sleeping pills because I wanted to sleep forever. Hi I’m Keisha I tried to stab my teacher with a pencil but that was my bad. Hi I’m Maggie I’m not crazy I’m just sad.
“Where you stay?” he asked me.
“South of downtown. By the lake.”
“South side, yeah, right,” he murmured. “Never been there either. That’s just down the way though.”
“Yeah. It’s nice. The lake is nice in the summer.”
Jonathan didn’t say anything.
I picked up a piece of paper I’d been scribbling on with crayons I had pocketed from the art room. The teacher thought I drew some good shit and I can’t listen to music or do anything else here so all I do is color. Yesterday she told us to draw a place that we’d most like to be and gave us crayons and water colors and kind of ugly, pale brown paper. I drew a little island with a jungle on top of it and a tiny man standing on the beach. I tried to use water colors for the oceans but I messed up, so the guy standing admiring the sea is actually halfway under a watercolor wave that surprised him on the low tide. A quiet girl named Ebe sitting next to me looked over and giggled when I splashed and said “Damn it”. I’m not really an artist.
“I drank a lot,” Jonathan said. I looked up from my island. “I drank a lot and tried to hang myself in my closet but I was so fucked up that I made too much noise for my little house and my aunt came in and found me.”
I put down a crayon. “Shit.”
“She started to smack me in the face as hard as she could, and then called the police. They brought me to the station but then decided to bring me to the hospital. And the doctor in the ER-”
“The ER sent you to Glen Grove. Yeah, me, too.”
He started to laugh, dryly. “She hit me hard as fuck, man; that shit had a better chance of killing me than my busted-ass closet rod.” I tried to smile with him but I couldn’t really.
“Why?” I asked.
“It’s metal and real skinny so it probably would’ve just bent an-”
“No, like, why did you want to hang yourself?”
Jonathan sat on his bed with his legs spread out over the thin white sheets and his back against the wall. His socks were old and white, no brand tubes that bunched low on his sinewy calves. He smiled and the corners of his eyes tightened and he looked down at his hands folded in his lap. “It’s the third time I’ve tried to kill myself and this is my second time at Glen Grove.” He shrugged his shoulders. “These not new thoughts. I just don’t have shit to look forward to, you know.”
He looked up at me with the same tight smile and then looked back down. “You’re gonna graduate high school in a year or whatever and then go to college, right?” I started to open my mouth but then just nodded. I could have told him about how I was thinking about taking time off or moving in with my relatives in another country and waiting tables but I think that was kind of his point. “My teachers don’t know my name. I don’t know theirs. I been in and out of school since I was 14. In the 7th my brother took me into GD and I been covering his block since he got killed when I was in the 9th.”
His brother. “Your brother?” I looked down at my hands too. “I’m sorry.” I meant it but I don’t know if he knew that. “Were you guys close? Did the, uh, did GD shit make you guys close?”
“My brother told me I’d do some growing up hanging ‘round the old heads that ran with him by Lynden Hill and I did. I did.” He opened his eyes a little wider towards me and I thought he was going to yell. “But he’s dead and now the ministers just want cake and we gotta do dirt with the Latinos round the way and First Demetrius talking that ‘set is everything’ refrain but it really ain’t shit to me anymore and that’s all I really had.” He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand then looked away. “Plus doctors in middle school told me I got anxiety and depression shit, and beating the fuck out of some Dominicans doesn’t really do much for that.” Jonathan pursed his lips and bobbed his head and looked down towards his cot.
I looked at him blankly. Fuck. “Fuck.” I looked at my palms again. “Losing your brother — from that shit sounds like — I mean, it’s like…” I paused to figure out what I was trying to tell him, and couldn’t. “I’m sorry.”
“Yeah.” He said it without resignation, like I had just reworded a point he’d made and he was satisfied with my interpretation of it.
“You ever take any pills for it — any meds?”
“No.” He cleared his throat. “No.”
I wish I could have told Rosa. The day before I ended up in Glen Grove, I was in the passenger seat while she and I were getting food after school. We were driving in her car, and she started talking about when she stopped by the doctor earlier, and I was watching the different storefront signs pass by my window and reading them all and then I realized Rosa was yelling and said it’s so fucked up man everybody is fucking depressed everyone is crunching on Paxil and Zoloft and Xan to make them feel better but it just ends up making them feel worse because that shit fucks with you man. Then she smacked the wheel and the horn honked a little, and the singer on the radio started singing about love and trust and she made affirmative murmuring sounds and I asked her if she was okay and she said yeah Rolland I’m okay.
I looked up. “What?”
“Rosa. Who’s this girl who was driving and talking about pills?”
“What do you mean?”
He looked towards the door and then looked back at me and squinted. “You just said, ‘I wish I could tell Rosa’ and then talked about what she told you in the car the other day.”
“Right.” I needed to stop doing that. “Right, right. She’s just a girl I see sometimes.”
He smiled. “Main girl Rosa?”
“Side girl Rosa?”
“No.” This guy. “I mean, not really, but it’s compl—”
“Last time we were in here, man,” he clapped his hands together, “Last time we were in here, there was this fine girl who was always touching up my thigh during group.” He smiled, his teeth shining in the light from the bathroom. “One of these days after gym — you still got gym, right?”
“After gym when we’re all supposed to take showers, my roommate — his name was Greg — this dude Greg covered for me and turned on the water and he waited on the bed so when Terry came in to check on us, he just said I was in the bathroom. But I snuck out into fine girl’s room and hit it in the shower.” He clapped his hands again and smiled. “Those were some fun times, man.”
“Why were you in here that time?”
“That time? It was last year. I was late on the block. First Demetrius came to the crib and found me hitting rock in my room and he pushed me down the stairs. I woke up in the ambulance with a broken cheek and still zoning.”
“Who is Demetrius?”
“First Demetrius. A First Demetrius just a soldier with a little more responsibility. My brother was a First Demetrius; that’s why he had his own block, and why they let him bring me in, and First Demetrius is what I would have been if I didn’t start hitting our own shit and coming to Glen Grove.”
“Right.” I nodded like it made sense.
Jonathan slid off the desk and onto his feet. “Breakfast coming up soon, yeah?” He walked to the doorway and leaned out into the hall, left hand gripping onto the frame as he looked down towards the nurse’s station. Above their desk was a big whiteboard with all sixteen of our names. Next to each they had our age and the date we arrived and we used it like a scoreboard. We come, we go, and cats like Jonathan come back.
Jonathan turned back towards me. “Scoreboard,” he said, “I like that.”