Turning Seventeen

I remember the LA Riots as the thing that was happening when I was locked up.

I only recall the newspaper headline, and half a photo, seen through the grill of a vending machine outside the mental hospital, a Meier-affiliated Christian mental hospital my adoptive parents had driven me to in Plano, Texas.

I was sixteen, nearly seventeen, and they were frightened out of their minds. I was signed over to the institution, and that was it for a while. I was alone. They came to see me twice while I was there, then came to get me upon my release.

My sister was never brought to see me, and my correspondence was limited. My supposed best friend never tried to write or call, and my social sphere withered after the hospitalization.

The trauma of disappearing… of forgetting and pretending to forget, of savage and indecisive ignorances, it all becomes a memory of pain, of loss, but without signifiers. I only know that the promise of making a play for college was evaporated with this institutionalization. All of the funds my parents had set aside for my education were eliminated by the costs they incurred in locking me up against my will. My slow descent into resentment began then, in that hospital bed in Plano.

It’s hard to remember the specifics of that stay.

I don’t have anything written from the stay, everything I wrote was kept by the institution.

I remember being promised that the writing I gave the therapist, mostly poetry, would be returned. It was not returned.

My need for documentation – to have a record of an event, the way I neurotically acquire receipts, as if I am paranoid about proof, about providing perfect accounting.

I never need the things I find myself saving, but I am driven to gather… this hoarding is neurotic.

I am paralyzed by a kind of terror-soaked nostalgia – the identity I construct is these remnants, easily destroyed by wind, rain or fire.

I stay awake late into th enight, worried about what may happen in the morning.

Every day the screens bring more terror.

I remember going into a mental hospital and never really being sure I left, watching movies like “In the Mouth of Madness” (1994), and feeling like there was a deeper message within the film for me, that John Carpenter’s work was meant to warn me, or perhaps empower me, to rewrite the world as I understood it.

Later on, the film “The Truman Show” (1998) would hit even more closely, but I think it was “Northern Exposure: The Big Kiss” (#2.2) (1991), a multiple Peabody Award-winning program, that pushed me to deepen my interest in my search for my biological parents.

I believe I saw this episode when it first aired. I know I saw it again when I was freshly aware of my biological mother’s true name and home address.

I made the awkward initial contact, and through the miracle of email I have a good deal of that correspondence to review. In it, I am reminded of this very “Northern Exposure” episode, and the impact it had on my decision to move forward with contact.

My referencing of movies and film is done so that I have a cultural touchstone for you, if you are familiar with a film or television show, then it eases the narrative burden I have in creating associations and understandings. If you aren’t familiar, most films and television have convienant touchstones, if not complete streaming availability, in today’s media saturated environment.

My references are there to give a context to how I saw the world, as well as a timeline for experiences, against a memory that is somewhat brutalized by trauma.

Turning seventeen in a mental hospital left me pivoting into a future I never planned, had no roadmap for, and left me vacillating between class and passions, somehow landing on my feet after years destitute.

The hospital introduced me to an approach to therapy that seemed shockingly hands-off, overly reliant on students leading ‘occupational therapy’ – usually playing cards with other patients, and group therapy sessions led by a probing, disinterested secretary of sorts. I remember disconnected, seemingly remedial classwork that was barely graded, and literally no reading materials of any kind. I was in the hospital for at least five, but possibly seven or eight weeks. My memory is complicated by an unwillingness to speak with my adoptive parents for checking dates in their recollections, and the fact that my sister, with whom I do speak, is four years younger than me, and has an even more unreliable memory of this time in our family.