I picked up the phone and gave my name to the nurse/guard on duty at the front desk. I was buzzed into the locked psychiatric facility. It was a better place than "Center", down the hall and around the corner. I could keep my purse with me. I could wear a belt. I was still deeply frightened and uneasy about this place. My beautiful daughter was here, locked in with many people from all walks of life but a large number from straight off of the streets. I was terrified when we started this journey and never stopped worrying about Linea's safety. Although the nurses were always caring and respectful there were many more of "them" than of staff. I had spent my life working in the field of disabilities. I was comfortable around children and adults with the most significant disabilities. I had worked in the trenches with adolescents with severe behavior and mental health problems. I had heard all the language howled out in fury and madness. I had witnessed the aggression of human beings unable to hold back their fear and anger at the world. Yet in this place I was deeply frightened for the safety of my daughter. I had preconceived and deeply held notions of the type of people who were incarcerated (sorry, hospitalized!) with my daughter. I wanted her daddy to stay with her at night, sleeping beside her bed, keeping her safe from someone...words I couldn't say even to myself. The crazies. The ranting and raving lunatics who were years older, bigger and with much worst pasts than hers. Don't get near my baby! I couldn't say it aloud because I am educated, open-minded and very loving of the world at large. But here I was and I was completely terrified.
We were allowed to see my daughter for 30 minutes at a time and I didn't miss those times. I finally asked the nurses if we came to see her too often. I was told that the more time families spent with their loved ones the better and quicker the recovery. "Why aren't there any other families here?" I asked. They just don't come, I was told. Or there is no one. I was even more anxious about leaving her alone in this place.
After my visit I left the unit and got into the elevator. The door closed. I was standing in this small space with one other person. A very tall, large man from the unit who had "earned" a fifteen minute smoke break, alone, without the posse tagging along. Here we stood waiting for the elevator to drop us down to the first floor. I do not want to admit this but I will. My heart was pounding and I was considering stabbing a button and getting out on the next floor. And then he spoke to me. "How is your daughter doing?" he asked, in a thick Eastern European accent. (Why do you want to know? How do you know her?) "She is doing better," I said, the pounding of my heart increasing.
"It seems not so fair for the young ones here," he said. "Her, I pray for. Me, I have some trouble with the drink and come in here to try to get well." (I am so, so sorry I was judgmental. I am so sorry I was frightened of you. I am so sorry I did not look at you, at your face, into your eyes. Forgive me.) "Thank you," I said. "I hope that you are feeling better very soon." (Thank you for teaching me. Thank you for looking at me. Thank you for treating me like a fellow human being. Thank you for being a better person than me and helping me to take a step forward.) The door opened and I headed back to my university and he to the small terrace for his fifteen minutes of time alone.