(Picture by Ilkka Kallio)
I thought I’d start a new series within this blog, dedicated to the 80 days I spent at the ward (and then the name all of a sudden makes sense!) and the people I met there.
I’m doing this because I feel like that the people who I encountered get pushed aside in the society and their stories don’t get told. Which is a shame, because they deserve to be.
I never met an unkind person at the ward. Not one. But they are out of sight of the mainstream society, what is considered normal and proper, confined in hospitals and units, out of peripheral vision.
They deserve recognition.
I would like to start with a man who became my best friend at the ward. Obviously John isn’t called John and neither is Jonathan, even though John said he would be honoured if his story was published in written form. Jonathan’s agreement is harder to come by but I’ll trust he must be cool with it too.
John came to the ward quite soon after me. He was obviously out of it, wandering around aimlessly and always trying to get to the ladies’ side of the ward. Not that he would do anything there, he’d just wander about until nurses would move him elsewhere.
That’s why I was surprised to meet a witty and well-spoken man in the canteen a couple of days later. Taking his meds had absolutely transformed him.
John was in his sixties, a short man with several thick rings on his fingers. He had lived a fascinating life as a professional gambler, travelled all over the world. He would openly admit that his schizophrenia was the result of 50 years of smoking pot.
Still what amazed me about John was how accepting he was. He wasn’t bitter or remorseful. He had accepted his circumstances and the role he had played in creating them. So many people go about life blaming everyone else but themselves, so I can’t help but raise my proverbial hat out to John.
But I can’t talk about John without introducing Jonathan. Jonathan was a man who lived in John’s head. Apparently he was the head of the FBI and married to a woman named Alice. John never heard any other voices. Only Jonathan’s.
“The problem is,” John would explain while we were having dinner one day. “That Jonathan wants to kill me, and I want to kill him. But by killing him I kill myself and if Jonathan kills me, he will die.”
“That sounds like a right pickle.”
“Yes, we have spent the past twenty years trying to solve it.”
Not that he was sitting there twiddling his thumbs. John had tried taking his life seven times and something had always failed: the rope had ripped, people in the opposite building had seen him and called the cops.
Jonathan would always play part in these plans, and mock him when they’d fail.
One of John’s stories still makes me cry with laughter, and that was a time when he had tried my method of choice, a train. He was under strict instructions by Jonathan.
“He told me to go to the railway bridge at 3.20am, exactly at 3.20am and jump. So I did.”
The thing is, he didn’t die. He just lost multiple teeth and traumatised his neighbours by leaving a trail of blood behind him as he went home.
That’s not the funny part. The funny part is this.
“The bastard lied,” John would say, still clearly miffed. “The last train was at midnight.”
After I had stopped laughing about twenty minutes later, I asked what Jonathan had had to say for himself.
“He just said ‘well you fucked that one up.'”
“That’s a bit rich, taking into account it was his plan all along. Has he ever said anything supportive?”
He thought for a moment.
“Once. After this latest time. He said ‘better luck next time.'”
His latest attempt had landed him into the ward, he had tried crashing his car.
“If you don’t mind me saying this John, you’re terrible at killing yourself,” I said to him one day. “You’re a religious man. Isn’t eight times enough to show you should live?”
That’s a question he pondered too. As well as Jonathan. John had gotten poorly and tried to crash his car because he hadn’t been taking his medication. Now he didn’t hear Jonathan anymore when he was back on them.
Maybe it’s because of my grandmother but I couldn’t help but take him seriously. To him Jonathan clearly existed. They had a complex relationship, which had lasted several decades. And I’m a person who had tried to embrace a moving train. Who am I, or anyone else for that matter, to say that Jonathan wasn’t real?
“Jonathan doesn’t seem like a very nice person,” I told him one time. “Isn’t it better when he’s gone? Just stay on your meds, then he will lose and you still get to live.”
John thought about it.
“I would like to have it out with him. Ask him why does he torment me,” he said. “And I’m also thinking am I going to miss him when I don’t hear him anymore.”
I guess it’s understandable after twenty-odd years.
John had his discharge date earlier than I did. I knew the date. But a couple of days earlier than that he was already gone. Like always, the nurses wouldn’t tell me anything. I felt sad. I had wanted to say goodbye.
John, if you by some miracle read this and recognise yourself, I’m sorry I didn’t say goodbye. I didn’t know you were going. I haven’t found an obituary in your name, so I hope you have still failed to kill yourself. I hope you’re happy, have stayed on your meds and that Jonathan is gone. I think it’s for the best. You are a good man, and a good friend, and I miss you.
About two weeks before he was discharged John gave me a book. He was very interested in organised crime, and the book was an autobiography of a drug lord.
The inscription will be one reason why I will keep that book for as long as I live.
from John and Jonathan.’