I walk into the room with my hands shoved into my black puffy coat pockets, and I scan the thirty or so faces huddled in corners throughout the small cafeteria. Yellow lights blare off of the glossy, fake-wood counter tops. My head quickly turns back and forth, but I do not see him. I find an empty bench and sit down. Two more women shuffle in from the door I just passed through–they are wearing expensive clothes and heeled boots, and I catch a glimpse of a “Kate Spade” label. A woman around their age limps up to them; her hair has not been combed and she wears a loose-fitting, biker looking t-shirt. The Kate Spade lady hugs her, and then the other.
Pulling my hands out of my pockets and bringing them together, I look to my left. A girl with fake red hair and heavy black eyeliner sits across from a dark-haired, stocky boy her our–or rather, our age. He talks through thick emotion. She grabs his hand and looks so intently in his eyes that I feel like an intruder. My hands sweat, and I wring them together. I don’t know why I’m so nervous.
It might be that he stopped eating or drinking, and I feel personally responsible to bring him light in this sterile, bleak-looking place. It might be that no one has been allowed to visit him. I am the first.
I sit there for too long, and bored looking nurses shift uncomfortably and whisper to each other. “Who is she here to see?” I hear. “Joseph, I think.”
Actually, he goes by Kay.
After ten minutes, a tall man in scrubs wheels him backwards through the door. His eyes are scrunched shut and he drags his feet from the wheelchair where he sits. One of his arms is through a cardigan; the other is free. The man apologizes quickly. “He wouldn’t let me put his other arm through.”
I ignore him and grab my grandfather’s hand. “Grandpa, it’s me.”
His eyes flutter open and he smiles faintly. “Hello, Beautiful.” Tears fill my eyes; he talked to me, and he called me Beautiful. I take both of his hands in mine and although blurry, see bruises where they have stuck him with IVs for hydration and nutrition. We sit there holding hands in this moment for me frozen in time, and now everyone else is intruding. I see the nurses look down, embarrassed to be a part of this intimate interaction. “Grandpa, how are you? How are they treating you here? You know that I love you?”
His moment of lucidity has passed, and he mumbles a non-coherent response.
After a few more exchanges, he tries to stand up. I put my arm around him, still holding one of his hands, and we begin to walk. “Wow, that’s the most active he has been this entire week,” one of the nurses say. He tries to take grandpa’s hand, and grandpa pushes him away.
Throughout the next thirty minutes, we walk back and forth across the cafeteria. He leans on me heavily and I tell him about Charlee’s upcoming birthday party, about Branden’s PA school, and about how much we miss him at home. Responses are muddy–he doesn’t know Charlotte, or Branden, me, or himself. “Grandpa, you know that I love you?”
“Yes, I do. It’s apparent.” Another tiny burst of Grandpa.
We walk to the soda machine, and he asks me for a drink. We share Diet Cokes and talk some more. He is so drugged that he hangs his head, falling in and out of the disorienting conversation.
He drinks something, and I feel hope.
He gnaws on his hand and I ask him why. “I’m hungry.”
They ask me to come back into the psychiatric ward, to stay longer than visiting hours, and to feed him. We wait in a small room together and he falls into sleep. I bring a spoon to his mouth and he refuses.
He is a giant of a man trapped in a decaying mind. He is literally a giant among men, with an ability to love so purely I can only dream and aspire to feel a fraction of that someday. I miss him so much as I kiss his cheek good-bye that later that night, after Branden is in bed, I sit on the linoleum floor in my kitchen and cry. I pray, “Just please, let this end.” We have lived with him and my grandma for over two years, and we have literally watched the most painful moments of his life and my grandmother’s. We have watched him digress from slight recognition to confusion to anger, blackness. I think back to mere hours before, walking with him and talking with him, seeing the bruises on his hands and his scruffy cheeks and his sunken, fallow eyes still in his pajamas, drugged and hardly responsive, with less than 1% of his brain functioning at any level, and I feel everything. I did not want to leave. I pray, “God, take Him home to you and God, let him be whole.”
The psychiatric hospital was a sacred place, and the memory will forever hold a sacred space in my mind, because it was the Atonement of Jesus Christ in action. It was broken people, who needed each other and who have struggled and who were trying and more times than not failing. It was my grandpa, saying “Hello Beautiful” like some sign from God that he was still within himself somewhere deep and mostly hidden, and that angels were around him always, the ones that we can and cannot see. It was a woman with a Kate Spade bag taking time to visit a friend in an uninviting, prison-like place, and it was a twentysomething girl extending her arm to her boyfriend, unafraid to love him. It was brokenness, but it was also this blinding light shining through the cracks of all the hurting people and connecting us with each other. It was a symbol of humanity to me, and of sacrifice and failing and one day hopefully overcoming. It was the closest I have felt to God in a long time, because scriptures and prayer do it for me sometimes, but sometimes I forget to really study and to really converse, and the connection comes in waves and bursts, sometimes too far apart. It was God in that room.