On the train, I saw a family of four who seemed to be going on vacation. The mother was talking on the phone loudly to someone named Simon. The father was typing on his laptop and the oldest son was listening to music. The youngest son was playing with a large screen-like object.
When I was four years old, my parents took me on a vacation to visit relatives. I was so excited, I could not stop looking at the window and pointing at the scenery around me. I’d ask my parents what each thing was. Nothing could sate my curiosity.
Everything seemed so different now. I bought my train ticket from a machine instead of a person. The people waiting behind me were growing impatient at my slow movement. Life had somehow become more cold, and unfeeling. Have I really been removed from society for that long? I feel like an alien in my own country. It’s been thirteen years since I was out and about in the world. Could life have changed this much? It seemed so unreal.
“We will be arriving in Los Angeles shortly,” said a mechanical voice from above. That’s my stop. I better get my stuff together. I get off the train and take a deep breath. A new life, huh? I breathe in some fresh city air and – cough. I just inhaled a fresh puff of cigarette smoke. I turn to see that next to me is an old woman smoking through a hole in her neck. We make eye contact for a brief moment and she glares at me. I immediately look down and the ground and start walking away.
As I started walking I see some kids pushing around an old man that seemed to be homeless. “Stupid schizoid! Hey, guys maybe we should lock him up somewhere he can’t hurt anyone. They might give us a medal!” they laughed. I wondered how often I’ve seen the same scene, I continued to walk away as I heard laughter in the distance. There was nothing I could do, I convinced myself. After all, one person cannot change the views of the world.
Walking along, I happened upon a flyer on an electrical post. it was a flyer for some appartments near the area. “No children, No pets.” I do need a place to live. I take out my phone and use the GPS application. I had gotten quite good at using my phone now. I had quite a bit of time to waste while waiting for my release papers to go through.
Finally, I had made it to the appartment complex. I found a man sweeping near the area. He appeared to be the landlord. “You here to rent an appartment?” he inquired.
“Yes, that is correct,” I replied.
He motioned for me to come inside and sit down. He sat down at a desk and the chair made an audible squeak. He turned on his desktop computer and began by asking all the usual pleasantries, my name and such. When I told him my previous residence, he looked up from the monitor. He asked me to repeat the name once again.
“Sunshine Institution,” I said. He looked at my face, as if he were trying to size me up. “Is there a problem?” I asked shortly, slightly annoyed.
He seemed to ponder something and replied, “Nah,” whilst shaking his head. “Everything seems to be in order here. Here are your keys. Your room is 203 on the second floor,” he added.
I thanked him and went up to my room. Fumbling with the keys, I saw some of the residents talking with the landlord and looking at me. Probably just my imagination. I did not care to dwell on it an entered the room.
It was a decent sized three-room appartment. It had a small kitchen and a bathroom. But that wasn’t the first thing I noticed. The first thing I noticed was a putrid stench in the room. I could not bear it. I started to gag and my eyes started to water. Maybe this is what the landlord and the other resident were talking about. Was there a dead body here? I bravely went over to where the stench stemmed, the closet. I opened it — Nope. Just a bunch of dead rats. Lovely.
Filled with unease, I looked for the pills in my bag. Empty again. I don’t exactly have any insurance. I lost my parents and I have been holed up in a psychiatric hospital for god knows how long. Thinking back, I kind of miss those days. It wasn’t exactly freedom, but it was easy. Besides, going out was stressful at times. Our group of misfits was always treated like a pariah out in the world of “normals.” Pretty hard not to stick out with that group. The burns and self-inflicted injuries didn’t help. But we weren’t alone, and we were safe.
I needed to support myself now. I couldn’t live off my inheritance forever. Other than that, I had nothing. Just a few sets of clothes and books I’d gathered over the years. I had to get a job. I left the appartment and used the few pocket change that I had to buy a newspaper. I opened the job section and circled a few nearby. I set off and started at the top.
My first stop was an office to do some basic clerical work. I spoke to the secretary and she pointed me to the manager. I walked through the aisles of cubicles, passing by a few idle workers, two of which were masterfully monitoring their computer screens with their eyes shut. I announced my intentions to take the job offer and introduced myself. I handed over a filled out application form.
“It says here you volunteered to do some clerical work at a mental institution. Why is that? Surely you could have chosen another place.” she asked. I paused, unsure of what to say. “I see,” she said. “I’m not sure we have a place here for someone of your experience level.”
“Well, can I leave my name and number in case you change your mind?” I asked meekly.
“No, I don’t think that will be necessary. Security can show you the way out,”she said with a smile.
“No thanks, I think i remember the way. Thank you for your time,” I replied dejectedly. As I left, something hit me like a truck. I looked behind me. I saw some heavy set man and what I assumed to be his friend on rolling chairs.
“Whoa. Sorry, about that, dude,” said the heavy man. I sighed, and continued to walk.
It’s pretty late now. I think I should just go back and try again tomorrow morning for a fresh start. I slowly made my way back to the appartment complex. I looked down at the ground, trying not to meet the eyes of any passer-bys. Being so completely rejected, I silently cried and no one was the wiser. I made it back to my room and just collapsed face down on my bed, hoping I could at least find it in me to try again tomorrow.
A short story about the stigma of mental illness