72 Hour Hold
By Bebe Moore Campbell
Trina gave me a kiss when i dropped her off at the Weitz Center two weeks later, on a Wednesday morning. Watching her as she ran up the stairway to the five-story building, I didn't drive off until the thick glass door closed behind her. The Weitz Center was part of Beth Israel hospital, the Beverly Hills medical behemoth, renowned for innovative patient care and VIP rooms. In another wing I'd had my uterus and two useless ovaries removed when Trina was nine, which didn't end my yearning to bear another child, only the possibility. An ER doctor had stitched up Trina s bleeding foot after a bicycle accident when she was fifteen. In that case, I'd passed by two other hospitals on the way to Beth Israel, which was, in my estimation, one of the finest.
In those early years I'd thought of hospitals as places to mend bodies. But that was before a broken mind had rampaged through my life. The Weitz Center was a place to heal brains. From nine to three, Monday through Friday, Trina had group sessions and individual counseling on the first floor. She'd been attending the partial program, outpatient therapy for people with psychiatric disorders, ever since her third hospitalization, almost six months ago. Her three hospitalizations had run together during the previous summer and fall after Trina had graduated from high school just after her seventeenth birthday. Graduation summer, her teenage rebellion had exploded into one manic episode after another, a nightmare summer of long nights, smashed glass, and broken dreams.
In the beginning, it was like being suspicious of a husband. Those little pinprick inklings tickled the inside of my skull. I explained everything away until I couldn't. The reason he was gone all the time was because he was working; the reason she talked so fast was because she was excitable, emotional. The reason he didn't reach for me at night was because he was tired from working so hard. The reason she couldn't sleep at night was because she was so wound up from studying. None of her old friends came around anymore because-well, people outgrow each other. The silence at the dinner table, the quiet in our bedroom-he was preoccupied with his work. All the speeding tickets? Didn't all young people speed? The spending sprees? That was my fault. I never should have let Trina have a credit card. But then she cursed at me. His silences grew deeper. How could she say those things? Baby, what's going on? Trina, what's wrong?
Years before, Clyde had told me, "There's nobody else; there's just no us."
With Trina I drew my own conclusions: My child is sick.
I waded through quicksand to get to those words. It was up to my neck when I finally spoke them aloud.
"Your daughter is bipolar, also known as manic-depressive," the doctor at the second hospital had told me. That was at UCLA last August, a week before she was scheduled to leave for Brown University. I had taken her there after Trina began telling me that I was a devil who had stolen her from her real mother. I sat with her in admittance and told the clerk that my child needed psychiatric care. I whispered the words, but they came out of my mouth all the same.
"Are you her mother?" the clerk asked.
"Is she under eighteen?"
She looked up from the paper she was filling out. "That's good."
The woman checked our insurance, and then she found a bed for Trina in the psychiatric ward on the nonacute side. When I returned the next clay, I demanded a psychological evaluation. When she'd been sent to the Weitz Center for her first hospitalization in June, the psychiatrist had told me it was too early to tell what was wrong with her. But this was the second time. I had to know. The UCLA doctor was Russian, his accent thick. His words bewildered me. I asked him to repeat what he'd said.
"Ms. Whitmore, your daughter is bipolar."
That was the scariest part, the way he said it. She is bipolar, not she has bipolar disorder. You are cancer. You are AIDS. Nobody ever said that.
"How long before she gets better?"
"Woman," the doctor said, not unkindly, "don't set your clock."
I'd almost had her hospitalized during the Christmas break when she was in eleventh grade -but for drugs, not psychosis. My ex-boyfriend and I had returned from the movies. When we drove up to my house, every light was turned on and music was blaring. Inside I found 'Irina wearing one of my cocktail dresses. Her face was a garish rainbow: silver eye shadow, red lips, pink cheeks. She was heading for the door.
"Whoa," I said. "Where do you think you're going?"
"You can't stop me, Demon Queen."
She began screaming, and when I listened to what she was saying-calling me a devil, accusing me of killing her real mother, themes she would return to again and again -I became alarmed. My ex-boyfriend and I tried to settle her down.
"What are you on?" I asked her over and over. Her answer was more screaming and cursing.
Ex-boyfriend and I drove straight to the hospital, but when the attendant suggested that her problem might be mental, I balked.
"My daughter doesn't have a mental problem." I told him.
By that time, Trina had calmed down so much that when the emergency room physician said he didn't see anything wrong, I was ready to believe him. Keep an eye on her for the next forty-eight hours, he told me. On the way back, Trina apologized for her outburst, swore she hadn't taken anything, explained she hadn't been sleeping well because she was studying so hard for midterms. It was a plausible excuse; that's what I told myself.
This junior year holiday episode was but a shadow of the post-high school graduation episode that landed her in UCLA. That night in August she seemed to be floating on a jet stream of hallucinatory energy that punctuated her every word. Around four o'clock that morning I awoke to her footsteps, kitchen cabinet doors slamming shut, music playing in her room, television voices that were way too loud. She began calling people on the telephone and had dozens of disjointed conversations, one right after another, as though she were frightened of being without a connection. Later, there were soft thuds as she ran down the back stairs into the kitchen, then more slamming, shutting, opening of drawers, cabinets, the refrigerator. After a while I smelled food. When I came downstairs, I found ten cold pancakes, lopsided from syrup and butter, piled on a plate.
Days before, I'd pulled two joints from her purse. I had screamed at her then, a frantic tirade; she cursed me. By that time, most of our conversations had deteriorated into verbal beat-downs, Thrillas in Manilas, with Trina as Ali to my tongue-tied Frazier. So I already knew something was terribly wrong. For the rest of the day, she stayed in her room. For at least eight hours, the light on her phone didn't go out for more than two minutes. That light mesmerized and terrorized, like a whip dangling from ol' massa's hand.