The crazy meet the lazy
The Book Club
It all started when Bert's dad decided that 23 year olds ought to be doing something with their lives.
The problem was, Bert hadn't done much of anything before. His resume was a sorry thing, devoid of any experience and filled with cliché skills like 'hard worker' and 'very motivated'. It was no surprise, as Bert had put it together for a school assignment almost two years back. It had been hastily typed thirty minutes before class time, and had been collecting dust ever since.
On top of this, the younger adults of the day and age faced something of a conundrum. Anyone who went on a job postings website, or looked at the local ads, would notice that to get even an entry level job, you often had to have one years experience in that field. ...But how was one expected to have so much experience, when no one would give them the experience to begin with? The truth was that if you hadn't been lucky enough to snatch a job when times were easier, you were going to have a hell of a time trying to find one then.
Bert explained this to his father, and his father answered with the solution that many young adults had been forced into as a result of the situation:
"You gotta volunteer." , he said.
Lucky for Bert, and also to his dismay, his father worked at a psychiatric hospital that happened to be incredibly understaffed. Of course, he couldn't get him in as anything more than a member of cleaning services -- but it was something. And by Bert's age, his father asserted, he had to be doing something.
The South Hills psychiatric facility served as both a healing place for patients with mental disorders, as well as patients who were addicted to any kind of substance abuse. It was a relatively high end place, made to look like a peaceful haven for the inwardly disturbed. It featured green fields and colorful gardens, willow trees and butterflies. Best of all, the perfection of these meadows would always be preserved, as no patients were allowed to linger on them.
The comforting scenery was meant to be observed from the inside out, through glass windows which could never be broken.
On his first day as a volunteer, human resources assigned Bert a small number of select rooms to clean out. If he did a good job, they would give him more later on. He supposed this was their version of a thirty day trial. He had been given sky blue scrubs to wear, and a small name tag that hung from his breast pocket.
His duties were relatively simple: Clean the closet sized bathroom inside each unit, replace the bed sheets on a routinely basis, remove all trash, clean up any spills, remove anything suspicious, and finally, make sure the patient is doing okay if he encountered them. Bert knew that human resources knew that any idiot could handle such tasks just fine. The trail must have just been so they could make sure he wasn't going to rob patients blind.
He arrived at his first unit tired and counting the seconds on the clock. He knocked on the brown door twice. The woman who had led him through orientation said that the patients should be going into their morning groups by this time, but he should knock just to be sure.
Bert almost reached for the knob when a muffled "Yes?" emanated from the other side of the wall.
"Room service." Bert responded, not sure what else to say. It might as well be, anyway.
There was a pause before the same muffled voice said, "Come in."
Bert turned the silver knob, holding the door open with his side as he pulled in his cart of cleaning supplies with the other.
The inside of the units were much smaller than he had expected. He would have thought such an expensive facility would elicit suite-like rooms. Yet what Bert found himself standing in actually much smaller than his own bedroom at home, and could probably fit no more than two people.
This forced him to be in very closed quarters with the patient, who had until then been identified as GWAY8214924. They were lying on a narrow bed that connected with the left white colored wall, a thick looking book open on their lap.
At first, Bert wasn't entirely sure if GWAY8214924 was a boy or a girl. GWAY8214924 had rather long black hair, which, not unlike his own, appeared to be very greasy. They were very pale in complexion, bringing out the soft pink of their lips. But it was the delicate features of their face, the big hazel eyes that threw him off.
"I haven't seen you before." GWAY8214924 remarked, breaking the silence that Bert hadn't been aware of until it was broken.
"I'm new. Bert McCracken." Bert explained, while holding out his hand for shaking. "I'm just a volunteer with housekeeping services."
"Oh. Well, my names Gerard." Gerard grabbed the hand and shook it, while Bert wondered awkwardly if this was proper protocol. Human Resources never really explained how he was supposed to introduce himself, and he had never seen any maids shake hands with the person whose room they were cleaning.
Nonetheless, he seemed to be getting off to a good start with his first patient --- and although he would never admit it, Bert was happy about that.
"Aren't you supposed to be in group?" Bert asked, trying to further conversation.
"Fuck that." Gerard scoffed. "I never really go, at least not in the morning. I might go to the afternoon groups, if they say something."
"Don't you get in trouble?" Bert asked as he began to dust things off, picking up gum wrappers off the floor.
"Yeah, I get a lecture." Gerard shrugged slightly, "But what are they going to do? Lock me up?"
Gerard gestured around the room, and Bert could not help but laugh. Replacing the empty tissue box, he came closer to Gerard, and craned his neck to glimpse what he was reading.
"Stephen King." Gerard acknowledged the obvious gesture. "One of the few decent books they have around here. Even still, they don't have any of his really good stuff."
"Aw, that sucks." Bert remarked, "Who do you usually like?"
"Chuck Palahniuk, Bret Easton Ellis."
"Really? I just finished Glamorama."
Gerard perked up. They began delve into feverent conversation about the works of their shared favorite authors, from the bigger concepts to the more trivial topics. Gerard explained how the hospital staff wouldn't allow them to have any books that could be considered "disturbing" or "inappropriate" due to the history of some patients. By the end of Bert's cleaning regiment, he was offering to sneak Gerard some books from home. Gerard was delighted to hear it, and promised Bert that he would find some way to pay him back.
And so it was.
Seeing Gerard each morning made Bert feel less obliged to go to work, and Gerard had clearly been deprived of a good friend for some time.
The first book Bert slipped him was The 120 Days of Sodom by Marquis De Sade, by Gerard's request. He was a fast reader, and finished it quickly. They then moved onto Thirty Strange Stories by H.G. Wells. Then to Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk.
When he got in trouble for spending too much time in one room, Bert began to slip letters into the books he would give Gerard. Through these letters, he was able to go into much more detail about how his week had been, or elaborate more on the subjects they had little time to talk about face to face.
Yet Bert could not help but notice that Gerard seemed more confined than many of the other patients. Many patients got free time between meetings and psychologist visits to walk around or do puzzles and activities. Gerard only stayed in his little room. Which was particularly odd, because to him, Gerard seemed more normal than most of the people there --- staff included.
Finally there came a day when Gerard was talked into attending the afternoon group, and Bert had to clean his room alone. He came in with his supplies, and noticed there was a manila colored folder on the counter next to the door. He saw the medical number written on it in permanent marker, and knew exactly what it was. First checking to see how long it would be before group was over, Bert flipped the folder open.
He immediately landed on the H&P (History and Physical) and saw under the bold faced term 'diagnosis':
295.32 Paranoid type schizophrenia, chronic state
At this, Bert could not help but notice his heart beat pick up speed. The truth was that he had not asked Gerard what he was doing here, as he felt it could have struck a nerve or have been a sensitive topic -- and he did not want to lose his only friend here. But he hadn't imagined schizophrenia. Sure, Gerard was a bit quirky sometimes... but nothing that would warrant being confined to a nut house.
His eyes scrolled down further until he saw a long paragraph of the chicken scratch commonly referred to as physician handwriting. Still, he was able to comprehend one sentence that was on the first line of the summary:
...murdered his father.
Bert made an odd noise. He thought about how he had been rambling on about his own life for the past few weeks, through his letters and visits. Suddenly he was thinking that he should have stopped and gotten to know Gerard a bit better too.