I drove all the way to Anderson before I got tired.
I stopped at a motel by the road and slept there for the night.
I woke up to Fidelio; my father called me once again.
"Johnson! Where are you?"
"Umm. I don't know."
I forgot much of my escapade. I remembered stopping at Waffle House on the way to the motel. And that was all, really.
"Are you sure?"
I pondered. "No. I'm far away."
"You know what.. I'll drive straight there and get you. And you, mister, leave your car there. You leave everything else in that car there. When we get home, we're going to have a talk."
Again, the line goes silent. This time, it was my father's fault.
"He expects me to wait for him. And guess what? He's going to drive an hour and a half and find nothing. I'm going home myself."
I walked to the counter and gave the clerk my key. Luckily, it was checkout time.
"Thank you for staying with us!"
I nodded my head at the clerk before walking out to leave.
"Blue is the warmest color, faggot!" A teenage boy, one about my age, seventeen screeched as I walked past.
"Come here, faggot!"
Contrary to their beliefs that I would go and screech back at them I did something I never did ever in my seventeen years of life.
I raised my left hand and flipped the bird at him. Never in my life had I felt so strong and validated with my emotions.
I had the right to feel that way, and nothing would take me out of that state of mind. Nothing.
I stood up to someone. And if I could stand up to him, I could stand up to anyone.
The drive home was once again full of Fidelio.
My eyes were on the road, but my heart was elsewhere.
Pity for Ronnie Bachman was still something I felt.
I wished I could feel like I was taking my luxury for granted.
Then, I thought of myself.
For being the heir of a millionaire's company, I was pretty miserable. In terms of looks, attitude, and as I realized the day before, emotion.
I looked like a monster every day I walked into school and every day when I was at home or at location openings for the company.
I acted lethargically and was barely passionate for anything. Except orchestra. I excelled in the class, but I had no friends in the violin group. Or in any category, really.
And I figured out that I was depressed. I hated myself with a burning passion. I hated my family as well. I hated my fate and despite all she had done for me, I hated Zwigy.
When I arrived by Northrop on Highway 69, I went up the ramp and turned to get it the Randalia District.
I saw Ronnie Bachman's car and I knew where to go.
I decided to go to the hospital. I don't know what dragged me there, but I was levitated. It was like I was a moth to a flame. There was no other way to approach my problem, really.
I parked my car next to Ronnie's and walked in the door. A metal detector awaited me right at the entrance.
I placed my cell phone, keys, and wallet in the box they provided and took a step through. They found nothing and let me move on.
I walked up to the cubby where a nurse was sitting. It took a knock on her little window to get an answer.
"Hello... Sir. How may I help you? Do you have a code? Do you want to visit anyone?"
"No. I'd like to be admitted."
The words I said then changed my life forever.
"Nonsense! You can't just ask to stay here!"
"No. I'm serious. I hate myself."
"It takes more than that, buddy. I'll see what I can do for you. Sit in the waiting room."
I huffed and took a seat on one of the most uncomfortable chairs ever. Hospital chairs were always uncomfortable, no matter how nice or fancy they happened to be.
A woman beside me was in even worse shape. Her eyes were almost glazed. A child was skipping around the room, as if they were waiting for a parent.
"Mister! I like your hair!" The little boy smiled and whizzed around with a toy airplane.
Even that couldn't make me laugh.
Fidelio played from the cubby and the woman picked up the phone. She was frightened by the voice on the other end.
"He's not in Anderson, sir. He's at the hospital... Parkview Behavioral Health."
More cringing was given as a result of the next few words.
"Sir, maybe he didn't want to disappoint you. I can understand what he's-" She was interrupted. Then, she continued again.
"Sir, I think he wants to be admitted. I'll have the staff evaluate him and see. Yes, I'll let you know. Thank you, sir. Goodbye, sir."
"Umm... Johnson Hawkins, a doctor will see you in room three, please. Room three."
She pressed a button and the two wide, metal doors opened. I walked inside and saw a long hallway leading to another door and two other hallways.
Walking into room three, I had a feeling of nostalgia. As if I sat there years before.
It was just me, a chair, a phone, and a security camera to watch me
I was sure people had flipped out in that room before. Why else would they put a camera in there? Really.
I heard a few knocks on the door just as I was looking around. A tall, young indian man stood in front of me.
"I'm going to have to ask you a few questions... Mister Hawkins."
He gave me a strange look of dislike. I thought it was my about hair. I had plenty of feedback about that during that day in particular.
"In the past seven days, have you felt suicidal?"
I honestly had no answer. I needed to think about it. But I was sitting there in that little room and I had to open my mouth somehow.
Seven days prior, I was fine. What I thought was fine, anyway. I was self-loathing, crabby, and irritable with my stepmother and got my computer privileges revoked.
The next day, Sunday, we woke up early to go to service and mass. I wasn't ever pleased with church and I hated it with a more than burning passion. I tried to fake sick, but my father never fell for it. So, my small futile effort was wasted.
It was my cousin's first communion and I stuck by the food counter the whole time. I came home with my parents, BJ, and a lecture about being sociable.
On Monday, we did locker cleanup and had a party to celebrate the senior's graduation. I lingered by the Swedish meatballs and the artichoke dip. Even Zwigy wasn't there. She had strep, as she had every year at the senior party.
Tuesday was the beginning of finals. My English and Orchestra finals were that day. Both of which I passed with solid As. I remembered worrying about playing my Bach piece at lunch but not much else was even thought about.
On Wednesday, I lost two of my credits and cried because I knew for a fact that I lost them. Even before the report cards came in. That night, I stayed in my room for dinner and refused to look at my father. I knew he would feel shame that I didn't do my best.
On Wednesday, yes, I did feel suicidal. I admit it.
Thursday was not that much different. I failed the Anatomy final and barely skidded it in Spanish. I hated Spanish almost as much as calculus. One reason was that I was jealous, yes, jealous, that Ronnie Bachman and few others got into the French program. I thought it'd be a better place for me.
I signed up on a whim to get in. Seniors usually never took French 1, but that wasn't a concern. Maybe, my father would be okay with it. The next Spanish class, Spanish 5, was dual credit anyway. I had no desire to drive to community college to take a class I hated .
The first half of Friday, the one I did not narrate, was a little different. I tiredly took my final in Woodshop, which I miraculously aced. My grandfather clock wasn't too bad.
After that, we had to spend the rest of the day roaming the halls. We had no permission to leave until the actual school day officially ended. I spent the first half with Zwigy before she went to her "gothic" friends. I spent the rest walking past the displays and the glass hallway and up and down the stairs until I couldn't anymore.
Then, you know the rest. I didn't just drive to Anderson because I wanted to live. That thought might sound skewed, but it's true. I wanted to leave but I had no perception of reality. I thought there was no way to leave permanently.
But there was, and deep down, that was what I wanted.
"Did you have any homicidal thoughts as well?"
"No." I did want to strangle BJ a few times but never did I really want to harm him. It was only a joke I had with myself.
"Good. Good. Rate your stress on a one to ten scale."
"What about your pain?"
"Maybe a three."
"Why did you decide to come here and admit yourself?"
I took a deep breath and described what happened to my hair, my drive to Anderson, and my father. Then, the doctor laughed in his thick, Indian accent.
"Johnson Hawkins, the Johnson Hawkins, huh?"
"I'm the only Johnson Hawkins I know... Yeah."
"You're the Richie Rich of this town. No matter how gross you are, every girl here says they want to marry you for your money."
I said nothing. I listened to him jabber for a while longer. He thought he was the messiah who was going to help me by pestering me with all of those insults.
"And do you think this hospital is your resort hotel? That your father's going to punish you unless you fake depression and come in here?"
"No.. It never really occurred to me to come here before. Do kids do that?"
"Yes. Poorer kids sometimes leave and come back the next day. No kidding. And you, I assume you'll stay here forever. You'll revel in being with the crazies like you."
"I'm not here for that. Maybe I want help. Before it gets worse."
"What prompted you to come here?"
"My friend Ronnie."
Another grin went across the doctor's face. "So you came here for your girlfriend, huh?"
"No.. I saw her here... And.."
"I'll see what the head psychiatrist thinks. Then, you can see your fate."
I sat in the room for a much longer period of time. At least an hour. The doctor came back in the room along with a shorter and stouter woman who wore huge, plastic glasses.
"Johnson Hawkins... I personally think that you should be admitted. By account of your statements by both yourself and Doctor Stein. Follow me and I'll show you to the teens section. Your mother will be arriving later to bring you toiletries."
"My stepmother, you mean. I haven't seen my real mother since..."
I really had no clue when I saw her last. My real mother, anyway. She wasn't dead. Just... Detached. And if I was correct about my father, not by choice.
"No, no. Your real mother. She was the only one we could reach."
"Surely that can't be..."
"It is. Come on, we have to show you for adolescent unit. Let's go, Ludwig!"
I gave the woman, the head, a smile.
"How do you know about Beethoven?"
I remembered Zwigy saying the same thing. It still was an enigma to me. I couldn't understand it. It was a strange concept. I didn't really think blue and Beethoven were connected. I just didn't get it.
We walked down the hallways, past offices and doors to the outside world. When we got to the adolescent unit, a wide desk and reception area divided the children and the teenagers.
She took me to the doors to the left; a group of six other teens beckoned me.
Most of them I did not know, but then, there was Ronnie.
A group of two girls were working on a puzzle.
Another group, of three, one boy and two girls, were coloring.
And Ronnie was alone on the couch, which was pushed aside the right wall of the small recreation room, which was then another hallway full of rooms, for us, I assumed.
Ronnie's hair and bangs were covering her face. She was reading To Kill a Mockingbird. I knew that since she finished her sophomore year, she had read it before. I also noticed that she was one of Mrs. Bontrager's star students because she read it twice. One during the school year, like all of us, and again in the psych ward.
I dared not to approach her.
I stood inelegantly in front of the room until the group of three called me out.
"Blue! Join us! You're new here, aren't you?"
All of them looked normal. The boy who called me, the only other boy in the whole unit, had black hair, the foil of my pale blond from before. He had it almost halfway as long as mine. To me, he seemed pretty gothic. Just like Zwigy's bathroom. Despite that, he wore brightly colored sweatpants and a red t-shirt, which were completely mismatched.
I looked back at the nurses behind me and of course, Ronnie. When she saw me walk that way, she chuckled a little.
I thought her smile was beautiful. Especially for someone I despised.
"What are you here for?" He asked, while twirling a crayon between his fingers.
For a while, I had to ponder about it. Then, I came to a conclusion. A completely basic one.
"I'm depressed. Yeah. I'm depressed."
"Okay, let's start from the beginning. First, Trisha."
One of two girls in the group, the girl with the pixie cut sighed.
"I'm a pyromaniac. And Libby, the Dalmatian, is here because she tried to stab her mom with a fork. And Vlad won't say anything. His real name's-"
"No! We don't talk about it. And we were supposed to be like an AA group. You're all pretentious. Disgusting."
Libby, the other girl, had her hair dyed halfway white at the edge of her straight part. I was beginning to see a connection with goths, hipsters, and spoiled kids like me with mental illness.
Vlad looked at his hands and then at me.
"First thing's first, you know I'm black. I'm half black. My dad's black. And my real name's LeBron. It's an abomination. I don't look like some star basketball player, do I?"
"No, Vlad. You don't. And where do you all go to school?"
"I go to Leo. Lion pride's a bunch of bullshit. There's this one girl who's just like Ronnie over there at my school. She's depressed and she's obsessed with those dumb 'classic' books and she's a suck up to the English department. She's a senior next year and my God, I can't wait until we see her go! She was the intern for my English teacher and she read us that whole damn Mockingbird thing front to back. What a psycho, man."
I saw Ronnie out of the corner of my eye. She huffed and a piece of paper slid across the floor.
"And Ronnie gave me another note about being 'sophomoric'. Gross."
I realized that maybe Vlad was the one person in the world who I thought was more conceited than me. By more than a billion.
"Forget it. I think Mockingbird was a good book. What about the rest of you? Libby, Trisha. Do you want to say anything?"
"I go to Homestead." Trisha peeped.
"Snider. You?" Libby twirled a pen in her hands, as if she held a switchblade. Her drawing was a red splatter.
Oh, I'm with the loonies. Yes, sir, those movies don't tell lies.
"Northrop. I go to school with..."
"Ronnie." Vlad concluded. "I think you've got a thing for her."
"No. She's kind of annoying. Whoever wants her can have her."
I said it with kind of snarled tone. I wondered if I actually felt that way anymore.
"What were you coloring anyway?"
"My dark, wretched soul."
I looked at the blank paper in front of me and the crayons sprawled across the table.
"What about you, blue?"
I picked up a brown crayon and started to scribble on the bottom. The green on top of that, and blue over that and I left space for the clouds.
Then, the sun.
Suddenly, I grabbed black and scratched over it. All over, as it was cracked in the middle, at the seams, and out of the surface.
Even Vlad looked appalled upon seeing my finished drawing.
"Vlad, you came here because you're conceited. That's what. I don't think you came because you hate yourself or anything. You love yourself too much and it's apparent."
"It's about time someone told him that!"
I was confused because Libby and Trisha said nothing. The puzzle kids, both girls and almost twinlike, said zilch too.
It was Ronnie.
"You were brave. And you haven't even known him for twenty minutes. I like that. J'aime tu, Blue."
She put a bookmark in her spot.
"Oh, Boo, what other gifts will you bring me?"
She then walked down the hall and into one of the rooms.
"Get out of my table, Blue."
"It's not your table, it's the hospital's table. I can sit here if I want to."
I was really in no mood for standing up. I was tired and wanted to stay seated.
"Get. Away. From. My. Table."
"At least let me gather my crayons first, LeBron."
Vlad, or LeBron, as we call him, stared deep into my eyes. It was as if I was black hole. Either that or he was.
He smacked me across the face to start off the 'fight.'
"Nobody calls me LeBron, okay? Nobody."
I tried to back away with my cracked nature scene. But had nowhere to run. I had no room from what I knew. No nothing.
"The table is mine. The crayons are mine. The chairs are mine. And you, Blue, will be mine too if you keep this shit up."
What? I didn't mean to do anything!
"And to prove it's my table, I'll do anything I want with it. Anything. And those ladies over there are going to clean up my mess... No, you will."
As Vlad LeBron put his sweaty hands on the table, the world went into slow motion.
Libby and Trisha evacuated at the speed of cheetahs, but in my mind, they slowly ran towards the exit. The two peaceful teens working on the puzzle scrammed in the same fashion. The table, crayons, and drawings spun in the air in what looked like a complete circle before clanking loudly on the ground.
Nurses ran and restrained LeBron before taking him into a separate corridor.
I heard his shouts of frustration as the nurse left the room without him.
"He's just in the solitary rooms. Don't worry about it."
One of the nurses told me, seeing the distressed look on my face.
"You're the newbie, right?"
"I'll show you your room. Rest if you like. Lunch isn't for another half hour."
I shrugged my shoulders.
"It's not crowded right now. You get your own room. Right there. The first one on the left."
She let me pick my bed. I wanted the one closest to the window. Outside of that was a playground for the children and benches for the nurses and doctors.
I laid down and looked up at the ceiling. I didn't bother to see the cabinets or the bathroom. I had none of my belongings; there was nothing to go into those drawers.
I let myself drift off, only to be interrupted a few minutes later. The same nurse who had guided me there knocked on my door.
"Time for lunch, Hawkins!"
Following the rest of the group in a line, we walked out of the unit, past the empty senior unit, the gym, and almost straight to the doors to the real world.
Then, all of the others sharply turned left to the cafeteria.
To my dismay, it was just as it was at Northrop. Despite that, it was much more condensed.
The food was smelly; we had two choices. A tuna sandwich or chicken rings. Both seemed equally appealing, but I concurred that the chicken rings were the better bet.
The soda machine wasn't on for dinner, I was told. They shut it down after four. Unlike Northrop, they served Pepsi instead of Coke.
Vlad looked at the menu in disgust. His two friends, Libby and Trisha exaggerated the gesture as well. Being the first three in line, it was clogged. They wanted nothing.
"Just go to salad bar! For the love of God!"
The group walked off. Ronnie was behind them, holding copies of both Mockingbird and A Separate Peace.
She took the tuna sandwich and every fruit option. It was the exact opposite of my plate. I reluctantly put broccoli and mandarin oranges on my tray.
The other two patients were almost as lethargic as I was. Their eyes were tired and they said nothing to anyone but each other. They say together at a table as they had before.
The groups seemed pretty segregated. I was alone, being the last one out of the line.
I held my Pepsi in one hand supported my meal in another.
It felt like a long while before two things happened.
I was walking towards one table; I was called to another.
"Sit with me!"
It was Ronnie. And since I had nowhere else to go, being branded a criminal by Vlad and unapproachable by the mysterious almost twin-like other group, I took a seat across from the girl I hated most at Northrop High School.
"Out of all the people who could have come here... You show up." She whispers.
"Yeah. You're right about that. Aren't you?'
"Well, you have everything. At least that's what Zwigy tells me. And Mrs. Bontrager."
I felt that sinking feeling again. I felt it when I got my final grades; I felt it when I woke up on Mondays; I felt it when I merely looked at my father, or anyone from school, really. I felt it every day quite a few times.
"Not really. Material things."
She put down Mockingbird and picked up her sandwich. She bit into it and placed it back on her tray again.
"You're saying that you have no friends?"
"Pretty much. I certainly never thought you were someone I'd consider a friend. I still hate you a little."
Ronnie looked like she had been pierced too.
"Everyone hates me. I have friends but they're not really my friends. I just read all the time."
I knew Zwigy was like that with me. We only hung out all the time because we both wanted to look halfway stable. She was close enough to me to press concern and get me to try new things.
That all ended terribly.
"Yeah. I think she's too outlandish for me. She likes that one band that... I try to. Because everyone else does but I just don't. It's not my forte. I had my 'emo' phase in fifth grade. I don't know how some people have it still. Now."
"What band?" I asked.
"I'm not sure... I see clones of them all the time because she shows me. The names are all similar and I get them all jumbled up."
I sighed. She was right. One day it was one and the next it was another and it was on intervals. I only knew when I heard them on the stereo. That was all, really.
She ate the rest of her sandwich and began reading the book out loud.
"We know all men are not created equal in the sense some people would have us believe- some people are smarter than others, some people have more opportunity because they're born with it, some men make more money than others, some ladies make better cakes than others- some people are born gifted beyond the normal scope of men."
She coughed and silenced for a few seconds. She knew I was listening while I picked at my chicken rings.
"But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal- there is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of an Einstein, and the ignorant man the equal of any college president. That institution, gentlemen, is a court."
She shut her book.
"Bontrager taught us some good stuff, didn't she?"
I shrugged my shoulders.
"Don't lie. It's a good book. It just won't come out, will it?"
"Maybe you liked that one time with Bontrager."
I frowned and ate a chicken ring.
"I don't know. I might have liked that book more than the others. It's been almost two years." I refused to let her win. It was just that I wanted to be left alone, never to be spoken with at all. Again.
It was different than having conversations with other people. She was someone new to me, in a good way.
"I'll let you borrow it when I'm done. That was part of the closing argument."
"Okay. Thanks." After that last statement, I did exactly opposite of what I wanted to. Let her win.
I felt more ready to take on Ronnie's copy of To Kill a Mockingbird than I was ready to take on my own life, for whatever reason it was. At the time, I had no idea.
"And... What's up with Vlad?" I was curious. The incident had brought many questions up, and I was wanting to know exactly what happened for sure.
"Oh... LeBron, right?"
I felt his glare at Ronnie through the back of my own head. "Yeah... Tell me."
"Well, I don't really know myself. The only way to find out something like that is to observe him. See who visits him, if he ever gets a visitor, and find out how they act and how he acts."
"Whatever you say. You want my chicken rings?"
Ronnie smiled and took one.
"Maybe you're not as bad as I thought, Johnson Harper Hawkins. Not at all."
"How do you know my middle name? Only I know that!"
"Everyone has secrets, even the ones you despise most."
She gave me a wink and a grin.
"You'll see. You have to."
And like many more things in my life, she was correct.