I told a friend about this very short story I wrote. She said she knows a psych nurse who has meet quite a few Jesus wannabes in psych wards. The story is about rehab, and the intersection between religion and mental health:
He told us his name was Jesus. He actually told us he was Jesus – the Second Coming, the Son of God, the whole nine yards. In reality, his name was Mark, and he was a homeless man with schizophrenia. But it was pretty hard to break that news to him.
“I must get out of this place,” Mark, or Jesus, told us. “You have to help me.”
We were sitting in the rec room of the treatment center. We had a short break until the next group therapy session, and we were killing time. One of the counselors put on a Joel Osteen DVD called Become a Better You. I wanted to smash the TV into pieces, but I kept my cool.
“You don’t understand,” Mark pleaded. “I have a ministry in the streets. The people need me. Tonight. Tonight you must help me escape.”
I sat silently, trying not to grin. My friend, another patient who called himself “Billyboy,” listened to Mark intently, though. Billyboy believed Mark’s claims. Billyboy had a vicious heroin problem, and he now considered himself a born-again Christian. He thought it would free him of his addiction.
“Sure, sure, man,” Billyboy said. “We can do that. Right, Frank?”
I nodded. “Yeah, why the hell not?”
Mark, or Jesus, seemed relieved. The funny thing about Mark is that he looked nothing like the historical depictions of Jesus. He was a balding, middle-aged man with a five o’clock shadow. He also had what you would call a “skullet” – no hair on top and a flowing waterfall in the back.
“Thank you, my sons,” Mark said, as he put his hand on Billyboy’s shoulder. “You will be rewarded for this. I will see to it that my Father will reward you.”
“Oh, thanks, man,” Billyboy said, smiling and revealing his snaggletooth. “But it’s no problem, really. I know how important your work is.”
Mark stood up without a word and walked toward the window. He stared at the trees over the field silently, looking like he was in deep thought. Then he ripped a fart like a sonic wave.
“Excuse me,” Mark said.
“No problem, man,” Billyboy said. Then he leaned over to me and said, “See, even Jesus farts sometimes.”
Mark refused to draw a pretty picture during art therapy. Susan, the art therapist, urged him to express his inner hurt by using the crayons to draw a traumatic scene from his childhood. She said it would be cathartic, but I don’t think Mark understood the word.
“This is a waste of my time,” Mark said, his arms folded. “I shouldn’t be in this place.”
“You have to feel your feelings, Mark,” Susan said. “No one is going to laugh at you.”
I listened as I drew a pretty picture of my alcoholic father passed out on the living room floor. In the background, my mother was dialing 911.
“I am the Son of Man!” Mark yelled. “And you have me playing with crayons and markers? I have a following in the streets. This is beneath me!”
Mark stood up and flipped the table we were drawing on. Susan looked terrified as she evaded the table falling on of her. I was generally used to these things. I was a seasoned veteran of psychiatric wards and treatment centers.
“I must leave!” Mark yelled louder. “The people need me!”
Two male counselors rushed into the room and grabbed Mark, who kicked and flailed his legs. The other patients watched in a mixture of shock and amusement. This was our entertainment for the day.
Billyboy ran to the door and watched them drag Mark to his room. They were certainly going to dope him up so he would pass out. I helped Susan up from the ground.
“They’re not going to hurt him, right?” Billyboy asked.
“They should,” I said. “But no, he’ll be OK.”
“Good,” Billyboy replied. “They’d be in a world of trouble if they fucked with Jesus.”
There were a few patients wandering around the nurses’ station causing trouble. It was the usual stuff: Complaining about other patients, repeatedly asking for smoke breaks, etc.
Billyboy and I snuck into Mark’s room and found him snoring like a grizzly bear. Billyboy shook him and he sprung from the bed. “What is it?” Mark shouted.
“Shhh,” Billyboy said. “We’re busting you out, big man. Stay cool.”
Here was the plan: Billyboy was going to start a fight with a patient, distracting the nurses. Then I would sneak Mark through the unlocked exit behind the nurses’ station.
We had rehearsed it several times in our room, like we were planning a bank heist. It really wasn’t that complicated, though.
Mark was in a hospital gown and no socks, and we slinked out of his room and stayed closed to the wall. Billyboy walked toward the nurses’ station to pick a fight.
The only patient left by the nurses’ station was Juan, which was a tough break for Billyboy. Juan was about six-foot-three, 230 pounds, with a solid muscular frame and a teardrop tattoo under his left eye. He looked like he could crush a Budweiser can on his head.
“Hey, Juan,” Billyboy said. “Why don’t you leave the nurses alone?”
Juan looked stunned. “You talking to me, white boy?” He stepped away from the station and toward Billyboy, his fists clenched.
In addition to being built like a linebacker, Juan had a well-documented anger problem. He often stalked the hallways of the treatment center seemingly wishing someone would look at him sideways.
“You heard me,” Billyboy said, stepping up to him. “Stop being a prick.”
The nurses moved out of the station and toward the action. That was our cue to sneak closer to the exit. However, I was riveted by the tension between Juan and Billyboy.
“Break it up, fellas … “
Before the nurses could separate them, Juan swung a right hook that caught Billyboy on the jaw. Juan’s powerful, muscular arm nearly ripped Billyboy’s head off his neck.
“Oh, shit!” I whispered.
Billyboy crumpled to the floor like a rag doll. For a moment, I thought he was dead.
Then, incredibly, Mark took off and ran to the exit. The nurses saw him fly by the scene of the fight, his hospital gown and skullet flowing in the wind.
“Hey!” a nurse yelled.
I ran behind Mark, trying to keep up with him. I saw him push open the door and sprint through the parking lot to the field. That last vision I had of him was his bare ass showing through his hospital gown.
A nurse grabbed me to make sure I didn’t escape, too, and another one got on a walkie-talkie to alert security. Mark was 302’d, after all. He couldn’t leave without doctor’s orders.
I looked back and saw Billyboy lying on the tile floor. A nurse was holding his head up, making sure he was still conscious. I asked if I could check on him before they questioned me.
“You OK, buddy?” I asked Billyboy.
“Oww, that hurt,” he said. “Did Mark get away?”
“Yeah,” I said, knowing the nurse was listening. “He did.”
“Good,” Billyboy mumbled, a little blood on his lip. “He’s gonna reward us, you know? I know he will.”
“You betcha,” I said. The nurses wanted to ask me questions. So I patted Billyboy on the arm and said, “Hang in there, pal.”
As the nurses took me to another room, I thought it must be nice to be delusional. You wouldn’t have a care in the world. It must be nice.
What’s your take on “Jesus Freak?” Let me know in the comments section.