September 11, 2001. I was standing watching the TV in the smoking room of ward 10-2 in Alberta Hospital, not really believing what was happening. I had just finished up nearly 6 months of being in a locked ward, not able to leave for any more than half an hour. I was drugged, I was way out of shape, and I was about to go through a very long period of adjusting again to life on the outside of an institution. Before I had got to the TV room, one plane had already hit a tower and it was smoking. Then, right in front of my eyes the second plane hit and the announcer had a fit, he couldn’t believe what was happening. There were reports of another plane hitting the Pentagon and somehow I think I knew it wouldn’t escalate more than that. One guy, a very distasteful young man actually laughed and cheered as the towers fell after watching people jumping to their deaths rather than be burned by the fire that was climbing the tower. When the towers collapsed, he said it was good for whoever had done the thing. I told him to shut up or something and went on watching in silence. Everything was a bit surreal, we were very protected in that place. The next night some people that wanted to were allowed to join in a candlelight vigil on the front steps of the hospital. I didn’t know what to feel, what to say but I joined them.
One of the things that was really odd for me was that for a long time, please forgive my youthful ignorance, I didn’t like America. It wasn’t that I didn’t like Americans, the people in the Country, I often disliked the foreign and domestic policies of the US government. Add this to the fact that I was in a mental hospital and you have one very confused psychiatric patient. Some years ago I had traveled through the South-Western US, mostly California, Oregon and Washington, and for a time I was homeless, for a time I was a victim of a con artist who took every last cent I had and even left me in debt from helping him and nearly died in the middle of the Mojave Desert, alone and far from home. Still, I found that there were Americans who were incredible to me. There was one man, Dennis Boucher in Cerritos, California who met me in a truck stop, talked to me for half an hour then drove me to his home and let me sleep on his couch, he washed my clothes, and he even said he would lend me the money to get home. I declined the money because I was already $2,000.00 in debt on my credit card that only had a $500 limit and I knew my parents couldn’t cover either the debt or the bus ticket he was offering me. I almost wanted to stay there, California was in many ways beautiful, and in many more ways Dennis was an incredibly kind person. He ended up driving me to a busier truck stop than the one he had met me at and I was left permanently changed as to my opinion of people in the US. Everywhere I went though, kind people would give me rides, give me $5 for something to eat, even at one point I was sleeping in a ditch with some Mexican immigrants who literally had nothing, and they gave me a half a pack of cigarettes before someone gave me a ride.
That was a long and difficult trip, and I didn’t have 100% mental health on my side. Now, 24 years later I have seen more and done more, but just about all of my learning was based on that trip. I don’t really know what to think of 9/11, to be honest I am still a little confused as to why planes piloted by what I heard were Saudis caused the US to start a war in Afghanistan and Iraq in order to kill Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Husein. Now with this whole ISIS/ISIL situation I am even more confused. It hurts in some ways that I can’t offer anything to help or make changes, I am too old for the military and too mentally ill to be a war reporter. The world keeps turning and the only thing that regularly seems to get turned in me is my stomach. It all seems like such a huge and difficult problem to me. When I think of the Vietnam War years I think about a lot of poor kids, a large percentage of black kids who were mostly high school dropouts being sent off to fight a war they didn’t understand while those who were able to go to College had lives of drink and debauchery. I guess a lot of the people that went to Vietnam were into drink and debauchery as well, I just have a thing in me that kind of hates the elitism that dominated America in those years and most likely still does. I find myself to be very lucky, especially right at this time in my life. So much good has been happening. I have been having job offers, writing opportunities, book sales opportunities and a closeness with my extended family that for a long time I thought I would never have again. And by some miracle I have been able to break my chain of bad habits. No gambling, no drinking, no use of drugs or cigarettes. And that is gaining me a lot of trust and respect from a lot of people. I don’t know what the key to the whole thing is, but I suppose a good deal of it had to do with a decision I made a long time ago to break the cycle of alcoholism that had dominated the lives of men in my family for possibly dozens of generations.
I guess I don’t really know much more of what to say. I hope and I pray that someone can read this and see some of the things I have done, going from a mental patient 14 years ago to someone with three jobs, a great deal of respect in his community, a bit of notoriety in newspapers, radio and television with regards to being an advocate of mental health awareness and see something in themselves. See a part of them that has long been forgotten, a ‘kindness muscle’ that may have atrophied, but is still there to be exercised and brought back to full strength. As usual, anyone who reads this blog is free to contact me, my personal email is firstname.lastname@example.org
I apologize that I don’t have the presence of mind to write a poem today. If anyone would like a free look at my poetry, just about everything I have written is archived at my Facebook page, Valhalla Books. All the best to you Dear readers!