Just Like Jesus, Part Three: “Just Say No”

Keith Brumley

Keith Brumley

“Just say no,” she said. The nurse was watching the video monitor. The guy who’d called for my police entourage to the psych ward at Avera McKennan was making his way out. He’d attempted to persuade me to sign over access to my hospital records.

We’d visited several times during my “vacation” there. To his credit, he’d disclosed personal information I’d not been aware of. He seemed sincere. He’d also left the release form resting on the counter of the nurse’s station, telling that he was now going to visit one of his students who worked the youth unit.

“He looks lost,” another nurse observed.

“Did he visit the youth unit?” I was just wondering.

She shook her head. “He said he was going to visit one of his former students.”

One of the nurses looked up, raised her eyebrows, tilted her head, and shrugged her shoulders as if to say, “What do I know?”

I’d believed this guy was my friend. He was also a buddy of the newly appointed Bishop’s Assistant. We’d reconnected the year before when I was wrangling dudes at the Church Camp in Custer, S.D. We’d had some further discourse the following seasons. He’d given me his cell phone number, saying he was going to be staying at the Rapid City Microtel that summer for a few days and invited me to give him a call. After being transferred to the camp north of Isabel, S.D., things went south for me. I took him at his word and called.

“You need a cleansing,” he commented and added that I had “anger issues.” I can’t remember which of these remarks held priority.

But I had more pressing issues, among them recurring olfactory phenomena. During that summer, I’d often smell a stench in my quarters that bordered on a combination of rotting flesh and human excrement. It occurred most often in the pre-dawn hours. Sometimes, it was in the dead of night, and the “cleansing” remark wasn’t at all helpful. The best I can make of it these days is that my unconscious was telling me that I was getting a really filthy deal.

Remember, I wasn’t sleeping well-if at all. I’d also been visiting a psychiatrist. He told me that if he had to give a diagnosis, it would be “chronic depression with psychotic features,” adding that he sometimes wondered if people who were not doing well were more apt to be touched with “something else.” Philosopher/psychologist Rollo May thought along the same lines.

My depression came from despair and sleeplessness. It was a matter of which came first, the chicken or the egg? The psychosis stuff had to do with the stench thing.

So I called one of the previous members of the Christian Camping organization’s board of directors, telling him of my circumstances-as well as the phenomenological stuff. He advised me to stay on board, saying that at the very least, I’d feel better to have lasted the season. I listened to him and was the last staff member to leave the field.

Then I was at Avera. The meds were taking hold and I was feeling better.

There, I had a chat with the Bishop’s Assistant. At my request, he and my “acquaintance” had the goodwill to move my car to the hospital parking lot after the IHOP manager threatened to have it towed. I talked about all of it: the contempt, the horses, my relationship, the sleep deprivation as well as the stench stuff. The “BA” asked if I thought my olfactory experiences might have been “spiritual.”

“Maybe ? . ” I couldn’t say for sure. They certainly seemed real enough.

It might have been rotting mouse and rat carcasses. The place had been crawling with them before I set poison, but it didn’t explain the odd times when I smelled it. In any event, I was in the psych ward. I’d been put through the washer and was now going through the wringer. Maybe that’s what “needing a cleansing” meant.

Later, as I was preparing to leave the hospital, my long-term acquaintance visited me again. He juggled his hands up and down, as if weighing the pros and cons.

“Hmm ? ” he said. “Spiritual experience or farts? Which is it?”

I smiled-just like Jesus.

The guy stood up.

“Yes, sir, yes, sir, three bags full,” I thought.

I escorted him to the door. That’s when the nurse said: “Just say no.”

Shit happens, you know. Sometimes it smells stronger than other times.

I didn’t sign the release.

Keith Brumley is an SDSU alumnus and current journalism graduate student at SDSU.