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  • Author’s Note: While the story is based on a factual event, the characters and events are purely fiction. This story captures how strangers can provide healing and solace during difficult times, and how our faith, whether recognized or not, helps us find balance to make sense of the crazy things that happen in life.

     

     

    Spa-cation

    Funny farm, the loony bin, and the nut house, are commonterms used to describe a place or an institution, remotely removed from civilization, full of people who have literally lost their shit.  But it’s a completely different story when one of your own is living this nightmare, wearing a wristband, stamped with a medical number, and a cop watching her every move.

    The text read IT’S CHAR – URGENT! My gut immediately told me that Violet was in trouble. She had a mean case of the reds and I knew she had done the unthinkable. I called Char and told her to call Violet’s mom.  Char, pulled over on the side of the road in Van Nuys, screamed hysterically, “I already did and Magda’s clueless.” Her voice was muffled against the traffic raging by. “Said I was exaggerating. Hello, she emailed me a suicide letter. Who’s the fuckin’ parent here?” 

                Char emailed me the suicide letter and it was like one of those reading tests you see online. Breaking the Code: Why Yuor Barin Can Raed Tihs

    i dunno if u tank can, listen or email back  Yssterday was hadesy doydays of my life  i contmplemtlaed suiced ALL day long- playing out fdfferent cenarious,which wu;d hurt less which woeful be  traumatic to find or should I wait intl she’s t summer accent,  Don’t thinkI dan hl out hat long,  BTW,.  I am took.  8 avians, 4 K  xana ( & counting)m a tytleno  pm while sipping on s triple vodka lemonade _ don’t mow how my scense Im makin

    DONT DONT WANNA ANONE HUSRT ABYONE BIT I AM TITED OF HURTUG NSIDEi, I AM tried of hurting =,.  I’ve reached outQ F3LK=IMTYGEIND

     

    jumped on the 405 freeway to Violet’s house.  It was for once, empty and oddly soothing. On the way, I called Magda and she answered, “Aquí estoy.” I heard her heart beating a million beats per minute as she tiptoed toward her forty-two year old daughter’s bedroom, not quite sure what she would find.  “Magda, what’s happening?”  “She’s sleeping,” answered Magda’s somber voice on the other end of the line.

                 “Violeta, despierta,” cooed Magda as she gently tried to wake her daughter, as if Violet were a baby waking from a nap. “Wake her up and get her to the emergency room,” I insisted. “¿No crees que necesita comida?” “No Magda, she tried to kill herself. THIS IS AN EMERGENCY!”

                I rerouted and raced to the hospital. In desperation I said a mangled version of a Catholic prayer from my school days, long ago:

     

    Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned through my own fault. Our father who aren’t in heaven, hollowed be thy name, full of grace the Lord is we thee, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do. Blessed O’Lord and these thy gifts and I ask blessed Mary, ever virgin, all the angels and saints, and to you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.

     

    Why was I proclaiming to be a sinner? So I kept quiet and continued on the soothing 405, as it cradled me in its expansive twists and turns, rocking me left to right.

    When I entered the crowded emergency room, I noticed most of the people waiting were wearing paper facemasks. I paused and wondered if Ebola was still an issue, since there was an Ebola epidemic earlier in the year. I heard on NPR that a Liberian woman died on account of her boyfriend. Apparently, her boyfriend had Ebola symptoms back in September. Tragically, they found the Ebola virus alive and kicking in his semen, even though the man had been deemed Ebola free. You’d think one wouldn’t want to have sex with someone who might be infected with Ebola. But then again, how many idiots had I dated who suffered from our current female social epidemic: Willnotcomitis.

    My iPhone was not getting reception in the dungeon of dread, and I felt like chucking it at a face masked stranger. Fortunately, Magda came out to get me and signaled, “She’s in here. La atendieron rápido.”  Magda said this as if we were at a restaurant and I eyed her incredulously. I would hope they would have called her in quickly, considering she swallowed a shitload of pills chased with vodka.

    The ER doctor was shining a small flashlight in Violet’s pupils and asking her a series of questions. I noticed the array of hospital beds with patients in the hallway. Were we in a third world hospital?  Violet slurred, “Stoooop, I just wanna sleeeeep a loooong tiiiiime.” I kissed her forehead and in her hazy eyes, saw the slippery slope she’d been trying to tread. The doctor started what he called a “line”.  I looked at the doctor’s profile, brown curly hair, blue scrubs and thought he looked familiar. I went through my rolodex’s of loves and couldn’t remember ever dating a doctor, especially a short one. “Hey, is Violet going to be OK,” I asked casually, as if to say, “Where do we know each other from?” Without turning he asked, “Your sister?” “No, best friend.” “You’re a good friend,” said the short, curly haired doctor. But was I? Didn’t Violet tell me last Saturday that I was a lifesaver? But that’s not how she meant “lifesaver”, not at all. She would have pulled this shit on Saturday had I not been there.  Fuck. I should have called her mom.

    Even in this tragic state, you could see what a pretty woman she was; her stylish short brown hair, with purple and gold thin highlights.  She had an urban, cool sense of fashion, even though she wasn’t living out her dream of designing. She was in sales and I could only imagine how lame that career must be. I noticed the doctor’s nose had begun to perspire with tiny beads of sweat, when Violet started to scream and writhe in pain, “Ouch, stooop, my aaarm, my GOD, my aaarm, this hurts.” Violet’s arm was squirting blood from the IV he was putting in.  He nervously said to me, “She’s going to be OK.” Magda, aware of the nonverbal exchange between us, said under her breath, “Lo pusistes nervioso que casi mata la Violeta.”

    But she didn’t die. She lived. And for the next seventy-two hours, Violet was placed on a psychiatric hold, or as it’s called on the streets when someone goes crazy: 5150.  Violet was hawked like an eagle by an attitude filled security guard, and an elderly black male police officer, whose tired eyes watched over Violet with worry, because she reminded him of his grandbaby.  During the holidays, his grandbaby had also tried to take her life, in her college dorm. Nevertheless, not all was lost on hope. Violet lucked out and got a private room in the ER.

    A young Asian nurse walked in as she tied her long and silky black hair in a bun. “Hi Violet, I’m Juno.” “I just wanted to sleep,” moaned Violet. Juno noticed that Violet’s arm and fingers were swollen.  The young nurse got frustrated because in her estimation, doctors didn’t know how to do the simplest of medical tasks. “Violet, I’m so sorry, but I’m going to have to redo your IV on your other arm.” The IV went in easily and Juno said, “If you need anything, please let me know. I want to make your stay here as comfortable as possible.” “I would like a merlot, cheese, crackers and some prosciutto.”  Juno looked at me in disbelief.  “I’m kidding,” I said dryly. A slow and crooked line crept on Violet’s lips, “Astrid, I love you.” “I love you too.” “A glass of wine doesn’t sound so bad,” Violet concluded. “Juno, could we have the best merlot in the house?”  Juno replied cautiously, “Pretty soon you can have that glass of wine.” Magda, who sat in the corner, praying in silence that her daughter find the will to live proposed, “Violeta, this probably happened porque no estás comiendo bien.”

    Violet rolled onto her side and dropped a loud bomb of resentment, “No mom, I’m just tired. Tired of it all. I’m not living the life I planned for myself. I’m not the mother I thought I was going to be, baking cookies with my daughter, teaching her how to sew. I’m not designing clothes, or getting deals with my movie scripts or living in the house I dreamed of. I’m living in the same apartment when I left David five years ago. That apartment was supposed to be my “in the meantime house”.  I’ve read all the books, The Power of Now, Think and Grow Rich, and In the Meantime. I’m tired of being in the goddamned meantime. I’m so mad at God. He has forgotten me.” “No digas eso Violeta, God never forgets us, nunca. Don’t give up. That’s all you have to tell yourself, don’t give up.”

    I sat back and saw snakes slithering up and down Violet’s legs, coiling themselves around her limbs, adding to her despair. Violet put her hands on her chest and started to hyperventilate. “Oh my gosh, I can’t breathe.” I got up from the chair and rubbed her back. I waited to see if Magda would give her a hug, say I love you, say I’m sorry, say any kind of comforting words. But she didn’t. She didn’t know what to say. It must be a generational thing because my mom never says the right things, or at least what I’d like to hear from her. Magda stared blankly, “No entiendo.” And I didn’t either. I know rough times, but not so much you’d want to take your own life.  But then again, lifelong depression hasn’t made its way into my life. Infertility I have met, but not depression, although the two must be related.

    Hours later, when Juno’s shift was up, a new nurse walked in. His good looks got us to sit up a little taller. Even Violet bloomed. He was about six feet tall, brawny in stature, and a little thick in the middle. He picked up the chart and coolly said, “Hello ladies, I’m Enrique.” I smiled, “I’m Astrid and this is Violet’s mom, Magda. Welcome to Violet’s spa-cation.”  Enrique studied me and inquired, “Spa-cation?” “Yes, spa-cation. A place to relax and unwind.”

    Magda uttered, “Hola.”  Enrique walked to her side and said, “Mi nombre es Enrique y no se preocupe Señora. Su hija, Violet está en buenas manos.” En-rrrrrique, roll those r’s good looking, roll those r’s, I thought. I cocked my head back, adding the extra rolling r’s as I said his name, “En-rrrrrique, nice name. I have an En-rrrrrique of my very own at home.” “Pero el tuyo no es cómo él,” shot Magda, as if she were a placeholder for my very own mother.  Violet caught the backhanded comment and admonished, “¡Mamá!”

    Enrique, chuckled and lightened the mood by asking Violet, “So how’s my favorite patient?” “I just wanted to get some sleep and everything’s gotten blown out of proportion.” He reread the chart and said, “It says attempted suicide, overdose on prescription drugs, with alcoholic beverage.” I blurted, “Vodka to be exact. And can we just tell it like it is. It’s an attempted suicide Violet, not a nap.” Everyone’s eyes went to Violet as we heard the air sucked out of her lungs. “But that sounds so morbid, so final,” she pleaded. “It wasn’t like that at all. It’s not like I was slitting my wrists or hanging myself.” Enrique noted the denial and said with care, “The sooner you come to grips with that reality, the sooner you will realize you need help.”

    I was transfixed by his smooth voice. Does he have a ring? I checked and he didn’t. The possibility of Violet finding a galán like En-rrrrrique gave me hope. “Where are you from?” asked Magda, suddenly awake and peppy herself.  Enrique, aware that he was in the presence of schoolgirls, said in his best telenovela voice, “Soy de Colombia.” In jest, I sang the lyrics of an old Colombian salsa song, “Cali pachanguero, Cali luz de un nuevo cielo.” Surprisingly, Enrique sang back, “Que todo el mundo te cante, que todo el mundo te mime, celoso estoy pa’ que mires, no me voy más ni por miles.” Enrique then said, Buenas noches ladies. Violet, get some rest.”  When Enrique left Violet and I broke out in giggles. Magda, flustered and smiling as well said, “Bien lindo el Enrique, bien lindo.”

    Magda looked at her watch and realized it was almost midnight. She got up and said, “I better be going.” Violet, thinking of her ten-year-old daughter, begged, “Please don’t tell my baby anything. Tell her I got the stomach flu, but not this.” Magda, still reeling from this disaster sighed, “Sí, sí, I know. Duerma y nos vemos mañana.” I stayed on the hard plastic chair as Violet finally fell asleep and snored loudly.  Violet was sprawled out, like a crazy Z, and her snores reverberated the room, no longer having the appeal of a spa.

    I left the hospital after two in the morning. Once home, I went straight to the shower and scrubbed every last part of me raw. Beyond exhausted, I slipped into bed with my very own Enrique and fell dead asleep.

    A few hours later, I headed back to the hospital. I found Violet sitting on a chair. “Good morning,” I greeted, surprised she was up so early.  “Hi,” she answered coyly. “My breath smells and my chonies smell.”  I thought about not having freshly brushed teeth or clean underwear and winced.  I looked at Violet and joked, “Girl, no one here is trying to get in your pants, so don’t worry. Unless Enrrrrrique is making your Virginia throb and you’d like for him to visit your personal southern state.” Violet’s eyes bugged out and her face got a bright pink. She bent her head down, unable to keep eye contact with me, or my finger that I jabbed in and out of my crotch as I simulated a dog humping someone’s leg. “Astrid, the police officer is staring at you through the door!”  My face got a bright pink and I stopped my charade. Violet contemplated, “You make me happy. Why can’t I feel this good on my own?” At the risk of sounding trite, I answered, “You have to work at being happy.” Violet withered. Hadn’t she stopped designing, sewing and writing?

    I got up and displayed the items from my bag. “I was going to smuggle in some vino in a water canister, but I thought that might be too crazy.”  Still sorting through her troubled thoughts, Violet sighed, “Thank you.” I heard the slithering snakes, but I couldn’t figure out where they were hiding.  I wished I had brought a machete in my bag, and vino, so I could relax and not feel so uneasy.

    Enrique stopped by when he saw me waving at him, a bit too enthusiastically I realized, after I practically jumped out the door to get his attention. “Good morning, you’re here early.”  “I came to spend the day with Violet, if that’s OK.”  “No problem. By the way, Violet, a social worker will be here around ten this morning to discuss your treatment plan.” Violet cringed. “Violet, this is a good thing. They’re going to give you the help you need.” Embarrassed, Violet blushed while she tripped on her words. “OK, the throb is coming to check out my Virginia at ten, I mean therapist.”  I burst out in laughter and smiled brazenly. Enrique, knowing he missed something really good, clarified, “Yes, the therapist or social worker will be here at ten.” Violet shrunk. 

    I wrapped my arm around Enrique’s and asked, “Have you traveled to Virginia or any other southern states? I heard it’s really hot over there.”  Mortified, Violet crawled on the bed and hid underneath the sheets. “Enrrrrrique, I was telling Violet that once she gets her head on straight, it would be nice for her to go on a date with a galán like yourself.” Enrique, tenderly responded, “Violet, I’m certain there will be a line of eligible bachelors waiting to go out with you.”  5150 cop gave Enrique a sly smile.  Enrique figured he had spent too much time with us.  Some of the ER staff had begun to raise their eyebrows at how fond he was becoming of the two ladies in the spa-cation.  The truth was, Enrique had said a mangled version of, El Padre Nuestro, while Violet slept, hoping she’d find her way to happiness. “Violet, I’ll check on you later. Astrid, behave.”

    I hopped on the hospital bed and scooted next to Violet.  The hospital bed faced the glass double doors that led to the hallway full of crazies.  5150 cop waved hello and we both waved back. “Violet, do you really think God forgot you? That’s what you said last night.” “I said that?” her dark secret exposed. Violet began to slowly evaporate. “You still here?” I asked. “Barely.” I leaned back and tried to get as comfortable as possible, considering the hospital bed called for party of one, not two. I pulled the book, Love Wins by Rob Bell, from my bag. Violet recognized it and said, “That’s my book. Where’d you get it?” “You lent it to me last Saturday.” Violet, realizing last Saturday was a blur, shuddered to think that she was planning on “going to sleep” that day. I opened to a random part of the book, and began to read aloud.

    Jesus teaches us to pursue the life of heaven now and also then, anticipating the day when earth and heaven are one. Honest business, redemptive art, honorable law, sustainable living, medicine, education, making a home, tending a home, tending a garden – they’re all sacred tasks to be done in partnership with God now, because they will go on in the age to come. In heaven, on earth.

    Shortly after I finished reading, 5150 dude, who was in a hospital bed in the hallway to the right of our door, popped in and asked, “So, have you found a resolution to your problem?” He was clearly agitated and looked like he was strung out on drugs. 5150 cop rushed in and pulled him out of the spa. 5150 dude tried to break free of his hold. He turned back and said something about the right of all people in the lost garden of doom. Unsettled, I grabbed my computer and offered, “I think we need a romantic comedy.”

    We watched the movie, Just Go With It, and I commented to Violet that she reminded me of a Mexican Jennifer Aniston.  “You guys have the same mannerisms.”  Enrique popped his head in during my favorite scene, when Dave Matthews picks up the coconut with his butt. “Sounds like you two are having fun. This is an emergency room,” he teased. No, we hadn’t forgotten. But for the moment, we had found a bit of heaven on earth.

    The next day, I headed to Bridges, the psychiatric hospital where Violet was transferred. Ironically, I had to cross the green colored Vincent Thomas Bridge that reminded me of the snakes, to get to San Pedro. I gripped the steering wheel, feeling as if I were about to go over the edge into the harbor. I didn’t know if the psych wing was attached to the main hospital or in another location, so I parked the car outside of the emergency room and walked in. 

    This emergency room was a lot smaller than the other, and not one person here wore a paper facemask.  I asked the attending nurse where the psych ward was. “Are you visiting a family member?” she asked, in the most sympathetic of tones. “Yes, my sister,” I lied. “Her name is Violet Terríquez.” “Give me a minute honey. I’ll call security and they’ll escort you.” Escort me? I felt a rush of heat flood through my body. I felt like swallowing and I couldn’t, and then I realized the snakes were wrapped around my throat, heckling and jeering. “Are you OK, honey?” she asked as she peered from under the service window.  “Water please.”  She got up and filled a styrofoam cup from the water dispenser behind her.  I drank it in three huge gulps, the snakes unwrapping themselves and slithering down my body, moving on to others in despair.

    I stood by the service window, not wanting to sit. A young security guard named Miguel came to get me. He also gave me a sympathetic smile. “Here to see your sister,” more an observation than a question. “Follow me.” I passed through the security door, where Miguel punched in a secret code. We walked through the long and stale corridor, made a left and got into the elevator. He then swiped his badge, before pressing the number four. Fourth floor to the funny farm, I thought. When we stepped off, we walked toward another double security door. He spoke into the intercom and a male nurse met us on the other side. The male nurse opened the door and asked for my ID. I gave him my driver’s license and signed a log.  I looked back at Miguel, unsure of this place. He grabbed a hold of my clammy hand, and like a toddler being passed from one relative to another, the male nurse reached his hand for mine. In slow motion, I crossed the security door and entered the psych ward.

    The psych ward was dreary and had a derelict feel to it. I waited a few minutes, when I saw Violet float down the hallway, in the same blue hospital gown, chards of her spirit haphazardly taped together. We sat in the drab dining commons, with five round tables and old chairs.  “This room looks like an abandoned café,” I remarked. “Coffee sounds good,” lamented Violet. “Did you ever get a chance to brush your teeth or change your underwear?” I asked. “No.” “Gross. How is Enrique ever going to visit your personal southern state if it’s smelly?”  Violet smiled and murmured, “Thank you for coming.” I reached over the table and grabbed her hand. A family of birds chirped outside the window.  Maybe they were praying for Violet too.

    “Some of the people here are normal, everyday people. There’s a lawyer who said it was too much for her, when her fourth child was born.  And there’s another guy, about fifty, who’s a police officer. One day he just snapped.” Violet rattled on, trying to get all of the words out. “And then there’s my roommate, Ruthie. She’s a character. Teeny-tiny lady in her sixties, I figure.  She says she’s the youngest daughter of the mafia. She told me not to take the drugs the male nurse gives at night, because they knock you out, and he rapes you.” I couldn’t imagine the same male nurse who grabbed my hand, be capable of such a horrific thing, or could he?  The words exploding out of Violet’s mouth were too jarring and bizarre. “While Ruthie’s talking, she stops mid sentence to telepathically communicate with her fiancé, who’s holding the ten million dollars her mafia dad hid, before he got put in jail.”  I put my hands on my ears to say enough. I was now on the slippery slope and I couldn’t find a way to get off.

    Violet stopped and the words crashed and tumbled around her. I got up and looked out the window, noting that this old port town and its hills had a quaint vibe to it.  “Pedro reminds me of the Bay Area,” I said softly, trying to bridge a hurt. A female nurse came in and said that we had to move to the living room. We walked to the living room, Violet following the nurse, me following Violet and the snakes lingering not to far behind.

    In the living room, I surveyed people of varying ages talking and mumbling to themselves.  But as soon as they saw Violet, everyone’s demeanor changed. “Hi Violet! You look so pretty Violet!” Violet was the most popular girl in school and they were desperate to be her friend.  A small framed woman with grey wiry hair came up to me and said, “Hi, I’m Ruthie, Violet’s best friend.” “Hi, Ruthie, good to meet you. I’m Astrid,” I said as I shook her dry and calloused hand.  Then another guy came and asked, “Hi Violet, is this your friend?” Ruthie interjected, “No, that’s not her friend. She’s with the CIA. They sent her through the portal to return my money.” She looked at me in all seriousness and warned, “Don’t mess it up dear.” Curious, Violet asked, “Ruthie, I thought your fiancé is holding your money.” “This is another stash. The CIA and Reagan were extorting money from my dad.” Dumbfounded, the only thing I could say was, “Right,” like Hugh Grant says over and over again in his romantic comedies.  Ruthie continued, “But before you go back through the portal, Astrid, let’s celebrate.”

    I didn’t understand what the hell she was talking about, but apparently everyone else did. The room gathered about to see Violet as she took center stage. She wore the blue hospital gown, a sash that read HOMECOMING QUEEN, and held a bouquet of red roses.  Ruthie proudly walked on stage and adorned Violet’s head with a plastic Barbie crown. Violet, not in the habit of being the center of attention, shied away. I whispered, “Wow, you’re the prom queen. You need to start showing up to your own party.” The celebration was interrupted, when a tall red headed man in his late twenties pushed through the crowd, and said in a monotonous voice, “Hi Violet, I’m Kevin. You have a call.”  Puzzled, Violet looked to the nurses and staff for direction. “Phone call?” she asked surprised. “Yes, from the payphone.”  The nurses and staff nodded their heads and one said, “Go on, follow him. You got a phone call.” “Oh, OK. I got a call,” said Violet.

    The two of us followed Kevin down the hall.  And to the right, tucked in a corner, was an old fashioned pay phone. Violet shrugged her shoulders and picked up the receiver. With trepidation, Violet said, “Hello.”  Her face quickly relaxed, nodding yes to everything the mystery caller said. A few minutes later she hung up the receiver, and I asked, “Who was that?”  “David.” “Your ex-husband? How’d he find out you’re staying at the Ritz?”  “Char called him.”  “How’d David know about the bat mobile phone?” Violet giggled, “Not sure, but he told me he’s rooting for me.” “Of course he is Violet, everyone is. You’re the prom queen.”

    A nurse walked up to us saying visitor hours were over. We walked down the hall, where Miguel, the security guard met me. “Am I the only one?” I asked. “Yes, not too many visitors around here.” I turned around and said my goodbyes to Violet’s prom court. Ruthie whispered to me, “Don’t let the snakes get to you dear.” “You see them?” I asked in disbelief.  “I see lots of things, but I ignored them, and they got the better of me. But you’re different. You see the other side.” Miguel hurried me along and said, “Mam, we have to go.”

    Miguel walked me out of the emergency room entrance and asked if I was okay. I nodded yes, even though in my mind I was screaming, “WHAT-THE-FUCK!” I walked to my car and got in, enjoying the warmth and security of it. I grimaced that I referred to this place as the funny farm, the loony bin, and the nut house. They weren’t full of people who had literally lost their shit. They were simply forgotten. I saw the red book, Love Wins, on the passenger seat. I flipped to the last page, wanting to know how it ends, namely, this movie I was a part of.

     

    May you experience this vast, expansive, infinite, indestructible love that has been yours all along. May you discover that this love is as wide as the sky and as small as the cracks in your heart no one else knows about. And may you know deep in your bones that love wins.

     

    I closed the book and felt an indescribable presence of calm. I turned the car on and looked in the rearview mirror to reverse. But when I did, I saw Miguel standing on the curb, watching me. Was this a form of love? I’d say yes. This entire, nutty, spa-cation mess was a form of love. I reversed and pulled alongside Miguel. I rolled the window down and asked him to relay a message to Violet. “Please tell her I know how this movie ends. Tell her love wins.”

    About The Author

    Gladys Barbieri

    Gladys is an award winning bilingual children’s author and first grade teacher in Los Angeles. Her mother is from El Salvador and she makes the best pupusas. Her father is from Nicaragua, and is a lover of Latin American literature. She is also a community yoga instructor where she offers affordable classes to the comadres in the neighborhood. Spanglish and Spanish songs create the ambiance in her yoga classes to move, stretch and renew. On her blog: Gladys Elizabeth, (gebarbieri.wordpress.com), she writes about picture books, education and yoga. Gladys graduated from the University of San Francisco with a B.A. in Communications and obtained an M.A. in Elementary Education from Loyola Marymount University.