Two Corners of a Continuum

The psychiatric hospital is far away from the regular hospital, far away from the center of town and far away from the wealthy. It’s close to the major highway into town, but far enough away that a visitor would never be bothered by it. A bus stop that serves one line sits on smooth, new pavement. Regularly changed trash bags, lack of cigarette butts, and a two-way bike path–all luxuries in this city–are found in front of this hospital. On the other side of the street, a humped, dark, metal fence defends the slums from the true outcasts of the city. White-painted tin sheets re-enforce the five-foot fence.  Behind the double-fenced reinforcement is a steep drop so that the scattered hot water heaters, mismatched roofs, and patches of tarp are not visible from the bus stop. Only an expensive apartment building and distant trees building can be see in the distance, as if one of the wealthy could simply trip off his balcony and be engulfed by the deep abyss of poverty.

The hospital campus lies low to the ground, and slinks down into a valley so only the one-story entrance is visible. The front of the hospital looks like an elementary school. White walls are spaced between white columns, and between the columns are clay sculptures of people in windows. A religious man with his book, a couple, and a woman hanging clothes with her breasts resting on the clay windowsill–each one has an appeasing smile, as screws digging into their hands imprisoning them to the wall. The suffering clay people lead you to an equally low, open white hallway. It’s littered with twisted feminine clay figures with big hips, eccentric skin, and roses covering their groins. The only benches are occupied by troupes of  well-endowed clay women. I guess they’re the only ones allowed to rest.

In the very back corner of the psychiatric maze, a one story building looks particularly insignificant. It’s the library. No, it’s heaven. Unlimited access to the bathroom which is always locked in the hospital, unlimited coffee and left over cake, a sweet librarian who unlocks the door for you from her adjustable cushion throne and the soft blowing of the beach, I mean, air conditioning are just a few of the delights. The back wall of the library is lined with  floor-to-ceiling windows. When I arrive, I alleviate my shoulder from its cargo and place a water bottle and chilled contents on the frosted glass table. I pull a plump orange felt chair next to a yellow one and curl up into a kitten-ball. As my eyes blink with fatigue, the windows welcome my gaze. Tall and thin trees grasp their fern-feathers between the fingers of their branch-fists, like a young child with aeronautical dreams. With each gust of wind, ambitious trees ache for to aviation. These, other desert trees and a final fence provide a protection from the wilderness where tufts of dry grass and choking bush cling to dusty earth. Even the outcasts want a barrier between them and the natural desolation our ancestors endured.

Psychiatric patients did not chose to have a metal illness, but rich and poor alike were delirious enough to voluntarily live in one of the least sustainable climates for human civilization. Isn’t that madness?

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