-Excerpt V: Hyena Subpoena, cd/book (2014)

  1. The Trial Cat Kidd

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THE TRIAL

It’s not quite like you were raised in a refrigerator crate, 
fed on fossil cubes of crusty bread, cheddar cheese and grapes 
left over from your best friend Molly’s father’s trade conventions, 
with not a stitch to wear but that hideous pair of blue & yellow 
striped institution pyjamas. You weren’t brought up in a box 
like Caspar Hauser or B.F. Skinner’s daughter, set loose on 
the world like the sole surviving member of your own species,
though these scenarios come pretty close to describing the time 
you went AWOL from Cedar Grove, that damn psych unit which 
took huge bites out of your so-called formative years.

It’s a wonder you even got as far as Molly’s bedroom closet 
without getting caught and brought back to Cedar Grove, 
but back in the early eighties there was nothing so strange 
about pale-faced fifteen-year-olds with hacked-up hair, 
wearing hideous pyjamas and stolen bowling shoes, hanging 
around Kootenay Loop in the wee hours, trying to conceal 
what resembles a series of festival passes, or hospital bracelets.

But just five days later, Molly’s father detects your presence 
in his daughter’s closet, but only because it’s very difficult to 
piss silently in his missing roast pan. You’re found crouching 
over it when he goes to investigate the source of the sound, 
like rain on a hot tin roof – and is lead to Molly’s bedroom closet, 
where he opens the door and looks down. 

Too soon you’re picked up in that crummy white van 
and carried back to Cedar Grove, where it’s noted in your 
Treatment Plan that you’re a “runner” which really sucks 
because you’d much rather have been a “sneaker”.

**

The name “Cedar Grove” makes it sound like the most charming 
place on earth, while the names of the individual units are similarly 
misleading. “Cottage Three” at Cedar Grove is also known as the 
“Locked Unit”, intended for the violently disturbed, kids who pull 
knives on other kids or teachers. They don’t put you in there. 

Cottage Two is for the behaviourally impaired, 
maybe they refuse to eat, bathe, or get out of bed. 
You’re not put there, either. You’re assigned to Cottage One, 
instead, which appears to be the unit for the true blue loonies. 
You soon feel fairly at home, if one’s sense of home includes 
severe perpetual embarrassment and a paranoid sense of being 
watched at every moment. 

The characters who people your life in Cedar Grove 
are characters indeed. Running down the hall just now 
is Pamela, who’s plump and pink and dashes about barking 
like a dog. Once, when men come to fix the vents, Pamela 
spreads a rumour they’re planning to gas us all to death, 
claims it’s some new provincial policy regarding the mentally ill. 
She whispers this to each of us by turn – about half, believing it, 
begin to wail endlessly.

Another Cottage Oner, call him Ned, has an alleged 
group of little men living in his closet. According to Ned, 
the men resemble jawas in brown burlap robes, about two 
feet tall with red eyes. Ned tries to provide the little men 
with a reasonable quality of life. He brings them half his 
dinner every night, sausages and potatoes in the pockets 
of his robe, and he sings to them. Their favourite song 
seems to be Friends of Mr. Cairo by Jon and Vangelis, 
a 30’s-gangster-fantasy about the chase to find the 
Maltese Falcon, which Ned knows by rote, word for word 
and note for note, with sound effects, machine gun fire and 
reasonably fair impressions of Peter Lorre and James Cagney. 

Ned also involves himself in clandestine sexual 
experimentation with another patient named Kyle, 
who styles himself after Freddy Mercury and claims 
to have been sent Cedar Grove because he’s able to 
fellate himself and just won’t stop doing it. Kyle is kept 
on community confinement, meaning he’s not allowed 
to leave the common areas. Not that it makes any much 
difference, he isn’t particularly modest and always finds 
his opportunity. Once, they caught him doing it behind 
the Christmas tree.

Then there’s the new guy, whose name is Steven King. 
Steven King is the most depressing person you’ve ever met 
in your life. He’s in Cedar Grove because he jumped off the 
Lion’s Gate Bridge and survived. Someone saw him do it 
and called 911, then a rescue craft dragged him out of 
the water, sobbing and trying to bite the rescue workers. 
So they brought him here, where he says he’s even more 
depressed, which he seems to hold against all of us. 

Then there’s Vanessa, who’s curvy and pretty, 
thrown in here for being a rock’n’roll groupie 
to whom Tom Petty is sending naughty messages 
through the airwaves. And Parvati, who’s madly 
in love with her boyfriend Aamir, but her parents 
have chosen someone else for her, so on her wedding 
day she collapses in a heap in her red & gold sari 
and starts banging her head against the sidewalk. 
Parvati writes a poem entitled My Life is a Ruined City 
and tapes it to the plastic bathroom mirror. 

Then there’s Donovan, who’s tall and thin, 
the spittin’ image of Tim Curry’s Frank-N-Furter, 
which resemblance he enhances whenever he 
can get the face paint. Whenever Donovan’s 
forbidden to wear make-up to Group, he sits there 
holding a newspaper in front of his face and refuses 
to participate. And those are just the staff. Ha ha.

**

Seriously though, it’s no joke that certain staff members 
are just as bizarre as the patients, which is a source of 
frustration because any one of them can write whatever 
they want in that big book in the nurses’ station known as 
your Treatment Plan. One staff member writes you have 
the habit of hiding behind your hair, after which the entire 
staff harass you about it so much, you have one of them 
hack it all off. It looks awful. Your mother doesn’t even 
want to look at you when she comes to visit and that’s 
how you know.

Then your case worker, whose name is Andre, 
catches you coming out of your room one day, 
and stops you with the comment, Oh, come now. 
As in, Let’s be reasonable, here. It’s apparent he 
has some new problem with your appearance, 
but as usual you’ve got no clue what it is. 

Oh, come now. Why don’t you go take a look at yourself?” 
says Andre, pointing toward the plastic mirror in the hallway. 
You already know you’re a lot bigger than when you 
first got here, with pale spotty skin and hacked up hair. 
You’re wearing a floppy green t-shirt of Molly’s, with 
your blue & yellow striped institution pyjama bottoms. 
You’ve got one pierced ear from which dangles a clear 
plastic earring resembling a fishing lure or an Astropop. 
You reckon it must be the earring Andre has a problem 
with, because nothing else is your fault. 

“Is it the earring? I can take it out,” you say.            
Andre makes an incredulous sound like deflating 
a cushion. This is when he tells you maybe you’re being 
deliberately obtuse. That he’s obviously referring to the 
strip of cloth missing from the bottom hem of your floppy 
green t-shirt. And he’s right, a strip is gone from there, 
not so as most would ever notice. 
It was Molly who’d cut off a strip of the hem, 
to make ears for this bunny-rabbit sock-puppet 
she’d made for your birthday. Andre, however, 
thinks you should start taking better care of your 
appearance, and should not pretend not to know 
what he’s talking about – 
so he writes down in your Treatment Plan 
that you’ve got a tendency to be “deliberately obtuse” – 
after which, you can no longer get away with not knowing 
anything. Any time you even try to say, “I don’t know”, 
the staff eye you suspiciously and state that maybe 
you do know perfectly well. And so you do know, 
that you are in hell. 

It becomes as alienating as deep space 
to be stuck away in a place where you’re 
put on drugs which make you sluggish 
and slow your gait to a pitiful shuffle 
as though you’re suddenly ninety-seven 
instead of only fifteen. 

You’re just lucky to have been deathly allergic to Haldol 
or who knows how you might’ve ended up. Initially this is 
the drug they prescribe, until one day when you’re sitting 
with Pamela the barking girl, eating popcorn and staring up 
at news on television, which is suspended from the ceiling 
like Arrivals and Departures. You have fairly departed, 
are largely concentrating on closing your fist around the 
popcorn in such a way as would enable you to actually 
pick it up and lift it to your mouth. The tricky parts are 
picking up the popcorn and chewing with your mouth closed. 
On the tv is something about soup. It’s increasingly difficult 
to pick up any popcorn, you notice, because your fingers 
are curling up like fiddleheads, and you can no longer open 
them. Soon your neck and head take on the same motion, 
a compulsive curling up as though a fractal equation were 
curdling your bloodstream. 

Pamela stops watching the soup and is now watching 
you, because your head’s bobbing back and forth like 
you’re sneezing repeatedly. It’s not until your eyes and 
tongue roll back as well, that Pamela realizes something’s 
wrong, because now you look quite frightening, eyes and 
tongue rolling back, crooked limbs and thrashing. 
She starts flapping her arms and pointing at you, making 
noises of general distress. With difficulty, she gets up from 
the couch and starts barking, running and barking toward 
the Nurses’ station. Now two nurses run over to you, 
one kneels on your arm and sticks her fingers in your 
mouth to move your tongue, while the other flips you 
on your side and pulls down your pyjama bottoms. 
Sharp jab in the butt and your body quickly goes limp. 
After that, they don’t give you Haldol anymore.

You wonder what good came of it in the end. 
At times there seemed ample evidence maybe you 
were better off to have spent some time in captivity,
rather than out in the wilds of East Van in 1983 
where so many school-mates and acquaintances 
were experiencing violent nose-dives in their young 
lives. Maybe being put away saved you from worse 
fates such as those preying on some your peers, 
like that childhood friend whose brain got fried from 
solvents, now sits glassy-eyed in a vegetative state 
with who knows what kind of inner life. 

But on the other hand, it was a year after 
you were released, you ran into Donovan, 
downtown on Robson, doing a lot worse than 
he was before, working the street and so thin 
you could scarcely see him anymore. 

Even your best friend Molly, for the longest time 
things didn’t turn out that great for her. Ironic it was 
you who got put in a mental institution way back then, 
while Molly just got transferred to another school in 
a so-called better neighbourhood, when it would be 
Molly who’d wind up developing schizophrenia plus 
a crack addiction, who’d spend lost years in Lock-Up 
before being turfed out on the street again, by order 
of the provincial government. 

Proximity to these stories used to be a source of 
something like survivor’s guilt but now just makes 
you grateful it was not the fate you met with, when 
you could quote chapter and verse at least a half-dozen 
stories that turned out so much worse for the person.