Back to the Funny Farm
PRESS TRIP | CHAPTER 3
Riding up that long, oak-lined drive sent a chill up my spine. It had been months since I’d been back to Oakbrook and I wasn’t looking forward to it. A wicker basket full of fresh daisies rested on the passenger seat next to a box of neatly wrapped Whitman’s Sampler chocolates. Daisies were Shamiqua’s favorites but I wasn’t sure they’d let her have the chocolates. It all depended on her state of mind and what medication she was choking down that week.
For some inexplicable reason, Shamiqua drove to Oakbrook one day and checked herself in. She’d been depressed over a couple of bad relationships but nothing millions of us hadn’t been through before. The difference was her Hollywood lifestyle. Over the past few years she’d gone from an obscure LA nightclub act to a wildly successful singer with a future shinier than the two gold records on her wall. But the pressure and sour romances paved her road to Oakbrook.
The staff agreed to take her for a few days, keep the press at bay and help her recover. They fed her plenty of attention and hot food to put some meat back on her skin-and-bones. That along with some mild sedatives and counseling seemed to perk her up, at first. After about a week, something went terribly wrong. Shamiqua stopped eating again, hidden voices commanded her to kill herself and she tried several times. She went classic psychotic. All her attempts were right out of the text books – sleeping pills, slit wrists in a warm bath, hanging by belt. She was out of control.
Her setback didn’t do me a lot of good either. From the first time we met there were sparks. We hit it off like old friends and I truly believed she had been sent by angels to help me recover. Sure, it was screwy thinking but hell, I was in a nut house. Lots of crazy ideas made sense to me. I think she felt the same about me, I don’t know. But when she lost it, my progress slid back to square one.
It took months of confinement and experimenting with various medications before she finally saw a sliver of light. Slowly her old personality emerged and we rekindled our friendship. We’d meet outside on the grounds – we called it our sandbox because we felt like capricious children – and talk about getting our lives back. Every day after lunch, I’d go to the same bench and wait. Sometimes she wouldn’t show up for days. But I’d always hope. Then one day she’d amble outside, dark circles under her eyes and looking like hell, and come sit with me. Somehow, she’d manage to smile and we’d talk for as long as they’d let us.
When I finally got my walking papers Shamiqua was still struggling. The day before I left, I waited in the sandbox until dark but she never came. There could have been a million reasons why but I’m sure she was mad at me for abandoning her. At some point you have to take care of your own business and that’s what I did. My time had come and I just hoped hers would too, soon.
The head nurse, Mrs. Proctor, who never really liked me, surprised me. When I called, she told me a visit might do Shamiqua some good. So with my basket of daisies I sat on our bench at the sandbox and waited. I was just about to dig into the chocolates when I felt a hand on my shoulder.
“Hi Jack, I’m glad you’re back,” she said. “I mean, not back, as in back back, here at Oakbrook. God forbid that. I mean, it’s great to see you.”
“It’s okay, I know what you mean. It’s great to see you too. Come and sit,” I said, patting the bench. “I’ve got something for you.”
“Ah, daisies! You’re a wonderful man. And what’s that gift-wrapped package? Let me guess. It’s a magic box to take me away from here forever.”
“Well, I was going to get you one of those but Wal-Mart ran out. So I got you some. .. “
“Whitman’s Samplers!” she said excitedly as she ripped off the paper. “These are my favorites. They remind me so much of Christmas. We used to get those little boxes in our stockings and I always loved the caramel ones. Jack, that’s so nice. Daisies, chocolates and a visit from an old friend, what more could a girl want?”
“That magic box sounded pretty good,” I said.
“Yeah, I’ll take one when you find it.”
“So how are you doing? You’re looking well,” I said. “Are you feeling as good as you look?”
“Jack, you’re just being nice. I know I don’t look good.”
“But you do,” I said sincerely. “I’m being straight with you.”
“Well that’s good. Thanks. I guess I’m still having good days and bad. Just hearing that you were coming to see me made this a good day.”
“Good. When I get back, I’ll come more often.”
“Where are you going?” she said grabbing my hands. Suddenly she went ashen as if she were staring at the grim reaper himself.
“Shamiqua, it’s all right. I’m only going away for a week. I’m going on assignment to the Cayman Islands.”
“Oh good,” she smiled and quickly regained her composure. “I thought you were going to tell me you had a new job in France or something and I’d never see you again.”
“France. No,” I said, “but think of the food! No, this is just a little writing job. I’ll be back before you know it.”
“That’s great. Well Jack, the Cayman Islands. I’m happy for you. It sounds like you’re really doing well. I’m so glad.”
“I’m okay Shamiqua. But I’m not going to lie to you. It can be hard out there. I’m getting by day to day. And you could too. You just have to take it slow. Don’t pile too much crap onto your life. You know, keep it simple.”
“I think you’re right Jack,” she said.
“I know I’m right on this Shamiqua. And I’m hoping this trip will take me up another notch, get my feet on solid ground.”
“I’m sure it will Jack. I’m sure it will.”
“Then I can come out and see you more. Before now, I haven’t had the strength to come back here. Part of me is still terrified of this place. It’s like if I come back I’ll never leave again.”
“Like me,” she said lowering her head.
“I didn’t mean it like that. You’ll get out of here. You will. And I’ll help you. When I get back, I’ll come to see you every day until that day when you just check out, sign the bill and go with me, like you’ve been staying at a fancy resort all this time.”
As I was pouring this out to her, I wasn’t even sure I could hold up my end of the bargain. My life wasn’t all that together yet either and I didn’t know if I’d be able to visit her at all. But I knew it made her feel good and in a great way, it made me feel good too.
“Anyway,” I said. “I wanted to see you before I left and see how you were doing.”
“I’m glad you wanted that Jack. That makes me happy. I’ll make it one of these days. Really I will. I promise. We’ll go sailing like we talked about or go see the Grand Canyon. That’s what I want to do. See that wide open landscape and breathe all that fresh air. Will you take me there, Jack? Promise me you’ll do that for me.”
“I promise. I’d like nothing more. And when I get back, I’ll bring some more Whitman’s and we’ll eat chocolate until we’re sick and start planning the whole thing. How’s that?”
“Perfect. Absolutely perfect,” she said leaning in and squeezing me tight.
For the next two hours we talked about freedom, traveling the world and just existing. No obligations, no record deals, no singing engagements, just go where the wind blew us. As we talked she became vibrant. For the first time since those early days, I saw a sparkle in her eyes. As we walked hand in hand to say goodbye she turned, smiled and gave me a peck on the check.
“Thank you for coming, my friend,” she said. “I’ll hold on to this day until you return.”
“I’ll send you a post card,” I said.
“That would be nice.”
“Now, take care of yourself, okay?”
“I will Jack. I will.”