Short Story by Jack Bragen
My body ached after three solid hours of sitting in group, where I attended West Street Outpatient. Lunch was brought in and it tended to put almost everyone to sleep.
I grabbed my lunch and told staff I would eat my lunch outside. The counselor of the day, Geoff, a heavy-set, middle-aged, blonde-haired man who wore his baggy, khaki-colored pants high on his waist, begrudgingly conceded that it wasn’t against the rules to do so.
I sat in my hiding place, beneath a stairwell and behind a giant fern. The two-story building had a lot of ornamental gardening, and even a fishpond with koi.
I was well within earshot of the wooden deck frequented by staff, and I had surreptitiously overheard a number of their conversations.
A woman said, “This is the perfect additive for managing mentally ill patients, the more alert ones that would otherwise create problems.”
“Is it a hypnotic? Because we’re already giving them hypnotics.” Brad, who was head of staff, had a detectable wobbliness in his voice. Was it too much caffeine, or did I detect sexual tension?
“Let me ask you this. Do you give it to them in their water supply? Or how is it administered?” The woman I overheard, presumably a drug sales rep, spoke just so, her voice seductive as much as it could be while maintaining the pretense that it was a normal conversational tone.
“We give it to them in their desserts,” Brad said.
“And it works?”
“It makes them very suggestible, pliable, and malleable.”
“But are there one or two smartasses?”
“There always are.”
The two shared a giggle. Brad’s giggle was nerdy, and he was becoming flustered. Brad had no chance of dating the drug rep, and it was equally obvious that a sale was to be made.
There was a pause. Then the sales representative said, “What I’ve got will put a damper on those smart ones who create most of the stickier problems.”
“Of course we know they’re not actually people.”
“We are on the same page.” She paused and added, “This is absorbed via the skin, and there is an antidote. The practitioner coats the skin of their hand with the antidote and then hands one of these pens to the mental health client. As soon as the client holds the pen, which has our stuff permanently embedded in the plastic, they will absorb the substance. This is a neurotoxin that takes effect over a period of weeks, and it will take the edge off their intelligence.”
“Then this formula, or whatever, was mixed in with the plastic when the plastic was cast?”
She must have nodded her head. “We manufacture this in San Jose, and we’ve been awarded about a dozen patents for this product alone. If you want to think about it, we offer a full line of other products.”
“What price are we looking at?”
“About fifteen, give or take.”
“Come inside to my office and we’ll do the paperwork.”
“Thank you for your business.”
I walked away as quickly and quietly as I could, and got to the “smoking permitted” area. I realized that I kept a pen in my pocket, unusual for a mental health consumer, but that was my habit. I was in a state of shock, and I was uncertain as to what I would do next.
I sat on the bench thinking, while pretending to be doing stuff with my smartphone. I looked up, and I saw a woman who could have been the drug rep I’d overheard walking toward her sleek black Mercedes.
She glanced at me over her shoulder and had a giant grin that revealed perfect teeth, on a perfect face, atop a perfect figure adorned by a perfect blue, short, business dress.
I got in my car and left the premises, not knowing what else to do. I drove home, and in the process nearly got into a wreck when a driver in the lane next to me abruptly cut in front of my car, and, for no apparent reason, slammed on his brakes.
I got home, closed all the mini blinds, shut off all the lights, and, not knowing how else to deal with my predicament, I took medication.
The phone rang, and it was a call from the treatment center. I did not pick it up.
“Kevin, you hallucinated the conversation you think you overheard.”
I had been taken to the hospital against my wishes, and was on a fourteen-day hold. I sat facing Doctor Michaels.
I replied, “Bunk if I hallucinated it.”
The psychiatrist took on a very serious yet subdued tone. “You’re not rational right now. I may need to give you more medication. You may need to stay here awhile.”
“You’re not going to force your lies down my throat.”
“I have a court order.”
“What if I demand a writ?”
“You’ll lose. We have a lot of evidence.”
“I demand use of a phone.”
The psychiatrist reached in a drawer and put a landline cordless phone in front of me. I picked it up. He had not anticipated that I had a number memorized for the California BAR Association. He likely assumed I wouldn’t know what number I could call — with no phone directory or computer to look up numbers.
I reached a staff member and began to explain my circumstances. When I was at the point of giving a spelling of my name, the line was cut off. I looked and I saw that the psychiatrist had unhooked the phone line from the wall.
“We cannot allow our delusional patients to confuse attorneys. They might think what you’re telling them is real.”
“We both know the truth,” I said.
“You have a very sophisticated delusional system, and that is dangerous. We’ll have to try an increased dosage.”
I stood. Abruptly, two beefy psych technicians entered the room and grabbed me.
“We’re here to help you because we care,” the psychiatrist said. “I hope you are better as soon as possible.” He looked at the psychiatric technicians and gave a hand signal that indicated I was to be taken out of the room.
“This is supposed to be a hospital, not Gitmo.” The nurse was irate.
I was semiconscious because I had developed a lot of tolerance for all the sleeping pills and heavy tranquilizers I’d been fed for six months.
“I am the doctor and it is up to me how to help patients get well.”
“You’ve had no results,” the nurse said. “You’re using extreme methods, and it is clear that you’re trying to destroy him.”
The psychiatrist paused. “I suppose it would be safe to let him out. After all, no one is going to believe him.”
“Believe him when he says what?”
“You’re pushing the envelope.”
“You’re a thug. Let him go home or I’ll report you.”
“Okay, I’ll let what’s left of him go home. And, by the way, you’re fired.”
It took three years for the fog in my head to clear up. I had been seeing a private psychiatrist for medication and counseling, and had not gone back to the treatment center that was using the neurotoxin in the pens. Numerous times, I had contemplated going to the authorities to tell my story, but repeatedly had concluded that I would never be believed.
Soon, I might look for a part-time job, look for a girlfriend, and move on with my life. I had no means of seeking retribution. I would carry the outrage as long as I lived.