Just Like Jesus, Part Two: Down and Out in Avera

Keith Brumley

Keith Brumley

I was “on the floor” and watching the other patients in “Ward A.” One stood motionless at one end. After a quarter hour or so, he’d run headlong to the other end, stopping short of slamming into the wall. Another was sitting in a corner deliberating the important questions with someone only he could hear. When he stopped to say hello, I asked what brought him here.

“I’m schizophrenic,” he said. There was no self-consciousness or embarrassment about the deal. It was the truth, and that was that.

Sleep deprivation induces an almost hallucinogenic buzzing in the background of your thoughts, accompanied by a bizarre type of tunnel-vision enhanced with auras around everything you see. Over time, it encourages a surreal, half-smoked haze of mental exhaustion and emotional despair. The neurons and synapses no longer function and anything seems normal. I felt right at home.

The running man stopped dead in the middle of one of his sprints, stood motionless for a moment and collapsed on the floor beside me. He wasn’t in the mood for a chat, and since the hospital staff didn’t seem much concerned, neither was I. I refocused my attention toward a man who seemed catatonic.

The previous days were lurid. Camping season ended. The Camp Director at Custer, S.D., said there was no more room for me there. I was on my own. One of my friends knew of a family in Larchwood, Iowa, who needed help with their horses. It was that or nothing.

The wife guided me to their home where they welcomed me like family. It was getting dark. They showed me to my quarters: an ancient but well-kept Mallard motor home. I didn’t sleep.

The next morning I was shown the facilities: two rows of two-by-fours crazily zig-zagged together on the outside of a lopsided circle of three-inch posts. In the center was a hitching rail. It was an ideal setup … for broken backs and injured horses.

I looked at the horses: two quarter horses and a three-year-old Belgian mare standing more than six feet at the withers.

The wife sat beside me. Her husband, she explained, had been an investment broker for one of the big banks, but the mare had kicked him in the head. He’d become forgetful, lost his job and was now teaching part-time at a community college. These people were in as tough shape as I was.

The only difference was that they had more credit, and though the wife said she’d build better facilities the following day, it was clear they could not afford this project. They were mortgaged to the hilt and pressed by all sides to deliver. I nevertheless went to work with the Belgian mare as well as the quarter horses. Another sleepless night.

The following morning the husband asked why I hadn’t started riding the horses.

“They’re not ready.”

“You have an opportunity to lead a very simple life here …” he said. I didn’t know what that had to do with the task at hand, but it sounded like the wide-open doors were quickly closing shut.

That afternoon I asked the wife why she wanted to ride the Belgian. She’d told me the person she’d bought the mare from had advised her to choose another.

“This horse is beautiful,” she said. “I want to ride it. I don’t care whether it’s you. I’ll send it to another trainer. I’m going to do what I want and I’m not letting anyone lead me away.”

I did what I could. At dusk she stopped by the Mallard.

“My daughter was just called to do some spontaneous synchronized swimming,” she said. “I don’t know when we’ll be back.”

She drove away. I looked at the sky. This wasn’t a hallucination. A storm-front was moving in. It began to rain. Then it poured. I went to the house; a brand-new antebellum-style home. It was locked.

It was past midnight and no one was coming back. After outside consultation, I figured this was their invitation for me to leave. I threw all my training gear in the car and pulled out, disoriented and not knowing where to go or what to do.

By the following afternoon, I’d advanced to “Ward B” at Avera McKennan. I was getting loaded up on Zoloft, Seroquel and Klonopin and still terrified about my future.

An orderly handed me a paper cup containing a pill.

“This is a one-time deal,” he said. I didn’t know if he was talking about the medication or my life. I took the pill.

Within half an hour a wave of universal love and compassion swept through the inner core of my being. I felt just like Jesus and, for the first time in months, slept well.

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