I entered the room with no idea what to expect. I had been in a psychiatric ward before. Maybe 20 years earlier to visit someone. Scared the hell out of me. I had been in a hospital much more recently. Could never stand them. I had even held a job that required regular visits to a local detention center and watched plenty of movies or shows involving prisons.
In other words, my mind had plenty of memorized context for the sensory input it was about to receive. Which may or may not be helpful considering I was only barely able to hold myself up at this point due to the combination of my peaked physical exhaustion and complete emotional meltdown.
The nurse opened the door, reached inside, turned on a light and I shuffled in behind wearing my stunning ensemble of matching hospital gowns with tan slipper-socks trimmed those indiscriminate white rubber zig-zags to keep my feet from sliding out from under me.
To my right the wall stretched the entire length of the room. This was the wall that the headboard of the bed rested up against. A much simpler bed for a hospital. Lacking all the up and down incline gizmos and buttons. Just a simple headboard and footboard with a typical twin size, blue plastic lined box spring and mattress. It was unmade with two pillows, folded sheets and a blanket laying on top of it. On the wall was also a dry erase board. Not like a typical 2 x 2 one that I was used to seeing in a hospital declaring who my doctor and nurse for the day were. No, this one was large. Very large. Maybe more like 5 feet tall by 4 feet wide. While it did list the medical professionals on shift, the majority of it was designed to provide a morning to evening schedule for my day. Most of which was blank. Made sense for a new arrival at this time of day.
Straight across from the doorway was a wall that primarily consisted of three components. On the right side in the corner, joining up with the fairly plain wall I just described was a floor to ceiling wooden shelf unit. Sort of a closet with a door, but instead of a bar for hangers (or as I would later put together…for hanging myself) it simply had spaced shelves for folding my belongings and placing them in the closet. It was only 18″ or two feet wide, and then met a window that covered the entirety of the remainder of the wall. From desk height to ceiling. Looking out over the Chicago night. It was double-paned with the blind actually enclosed between the glasses. On the opposite wall was a switch that provided electronic control of the blinds. The panes looked extremely thick, which I am sure was also protective as in the days to come I would ponder throwing my desk chair through them and plunging myself to my death on the sidewalk below.
From the closet to the far wall was a single piece of marble or some stone. Interior design has never been my thing. It started about a foot lower than desk height and ran for about three feet as a sort of window seat. Over the next eight days, it would become one of my favorite places in the hospital. Then it rose to desk height and ran the remainder of the wall. There was a simple chair under the desk.
After a brief wall starting just to the left of the doorway was another doorway. This led to the bathroom. Similar to a handicap accessible bathroom at any other facility, this one was designed to provide everything in a single, undisturbed flow. As I discovered with the closet, this had to be very purposeful. No way to hang myself. No way to even harm myself. Even the toilet was of a very strange, almost indescribable form including a massive ring that would make it nearly impossible to even significantly harm myself with in any manner. If one wanted to hurt themselves in here, the primary choice would be bashing your head against the wall with whatever will you could muster. Otherwise, you were out of luck. No shower curtain. No hand rails. Even the place for soap or shampoo was a natural cut out of the material which the walls were made of.
The same held true for the sink, mirror, and beauty area outside the bathroom that consumed most of the rest of the remaining wall to the left of the door. Like the shower and toilet, no faucets or handles. Just small silver push buttons to provide the desired effect.
Strangely enough, there was an air of “nice” to it all at the same time. The subway tile in the bathroom, the small floor tiles, the marble (or psuedo-marble) material used for the desk, the electronic blinds with some amazing views of one of America’s largest cities. Yes, it was institutional…and clearly a hospital…but at the same time, I couldn’t help think a few days later that it was a few tweaks or modifications away from a reasonably impressive studio apartment. One not that much smaller than I had inhabited for 13 months of my life not that long ago. One that could probably fetch a pretty penny at this height in the sky and with these views in a city such as this.
All those thoughts would come at a later hour. At this hour the thoughts were simpler. More primal:
“I’m so tired.”
“How long will I be here?”
“What will tomorrow look like?”
…and the main one…
“No one here knows me. I don’t have to ‘be’ anyone in particular. Tomorrow morning, I get to define who I am and what I look like to these people. That seems very freeing.”
My mind has an amazing ability to be rational while behaving completely illogically all at the same time. Maybe it is that tug-of-war previously described. The battle between an emotional desire for death and a natural wiring for self-preservation. And maybe exemplified as powerfully as ever the morning when my thinking seemed to come completely unhinged.
I was ready to run. But how?
The simplest option was my vehicle though this carried a couple immediate downsides. First, highly traceable were anyone to actually start looking for me. Second, I didn’t trust myself. My most common form of suicide ideation has always involved a death while driving. Head on into a tree. Or the cement post holding up an overpass. Or maybe even other traffic. The problem being I wasn’t ready to die. Not just yet. I had some things I still needed to take care of. Important things. I needed more time.
Commercial flight was another option. With an active passport even flight out of the country. I knew this would cover the most distance the quickest. There is an airport in my hometown, and two larger ones roughly an hour away. Again, immediate downsides. In today’s age everyone would know when I got on, where I got on, and where I was getting off. I could run, but I couldn’t hide. And things would move way too fast. My plan was still unfolding.
Then it hit me. A train. Trains move slower. However, here was the greatest benefit…they stop. A lot. And as far as I knew, there would be no record of when I got off and didn’t get back on. Disappearance was totally within my grasp. So I got online and bought a train ticket. From the nearest Amtrak station, roughly 70 miles away, to somewhere in the state of Washington more than 2,000 miles away. I can’t even remember where.
I do remember that it would not leave until roughly 1:30 in the morning on Thursday (more than 14 hours later), would require one train transfer in Chicago, Il, and a second in Sacramento, CA far from where anyone would be looking for me. If I found the stamina and willpower to stay alive, I would be buying almost 60 hours to tie up loose ends, finalize any communications that were important to my peace of mind (an ironic thought, I know), and finally have achieved the isolation and distance necessary to end my life.
I purchased the ticket on a credit card that I was confident my wife had forgotten about, and even more confident she lacked the information to access online. I would later learn I was wrong on both accounts.
Almost three months later, the processing and logic seems all so clear. As if it was yesterday. It has not always been so. It wasn’t that day. It was almost as if all these thoughts took place in a hidden part of my mind and the actions simply followed. As if my desire to die couldn’t shut down the natural wiring to keep me alive. To buy time.
Getting on the train gave me a 12 hour goal to stay alive for. Being on the train gave me a 48 hour window of anonymity. The self-preservation part of my brain won this tug of the rope. And in many ways pulled me into an almost trance like state that would dominate my psyche for the following day and a half.
He said my name. My legal name. A name I have never truly gone by for any extended period of time, but that doesn’t really matter. It’s still my name. So the natural reflex was to turn towards him. To make eye contact. It was a quick glance. I immediately turned back away. And immediately regretted having every looked.
I had seen him a few moments earlier. As I came off the Amtrak platform into Union Station he stood in the middle of three uniformed officers. They had an appearance that they were waiting for someone. For whatever reason, it never crossed my mind that I could be that someone. I was multiple states from home. I am a nobody. What could they possibly want with me. I merely kept my place in the masses, made the turn into Union Station, and headed to my left.
That is when I heard my name. That is when I made the turn. The glance. That is when my plan came to an end.
He called my name out a second time and I knew my options were few. I could run. I had more or less been running for the better part of 24 hours. However, the lack of food, liquids or sleep were clearly taking a toll on me. I could just act like I wasn’t the guy. Like I had just turned out of curiosity. But something told me they had already seen it in my eyes. That these were professionals, and they knew I was their man.
So instead, I turned to them and pleaded, “Seriously? Here? In front of everyone? You’re just going to embarrass me like this?” As if there was some form of embarrassment taking place in front of the passing throngs of people who wouldn’t know me from Adam…less a person or two who had been with me on that god forsaken train for the past 9 hours and might recognize and gawk.
“No. We don’t want to embarrass you. We just want to talk to you. We can go in here.” And they led me through some glass doors clearly etched with the words Amtrak Police Department. With full uniforms including badges, tasers and guns, they were daunting enough. Amtrak police have the full authority of local police. I was more or less dealing with Chicago Police officers. Chicago. Not Po-Dunk USA. Real cops in a major US city. And the only real thought going through my head was, “How am I ever going to kill myself now?”
They asked if I had any weapons on me. They asked if they could search my duffel bag. They asked if it was okay to contact my wife and let her know they had found me. They asked if I needed anything to eat…maybe some McDonald’s. I just stared. Stared off to nowhere. Because all I wanted was to go to sleep. And to never, ever wake up.