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Started out at ringing rocks. . .

October 29, 2019
P. is hammering on the ringing rocks. . .

October 28, 2019

I’ve been to visit Mark in Warm Springs three times, now.  I am discouraged.  Once, forty years ago, Mark told me not to get disco-uraged, in the Portable Wall probably back in 1976.  Now I am discouraged.  Down.  Got the blues.  Don’t know what to do.  Hey!

It’s fun to travel in Montana, if the weather is fair.  When it’s foul it’s fun to travel in Montana. You might die, though.

Thursday, we went to Norris Hot Springs.  Spent the night at a gas station parking lot.  Slept really well after bathing, despite the intense wind.  

Friday, went to the ringing rocks close to I-90 on the Homestake pass into Butte.  You take the Pipestone exit and drive on about 3-3/4 miles on dirt roads.  We had to park our RV and walk about half a mile up a rough road.  I recommend it, depending on how dry the road is.

P. and I visited Warm Springs State Hospital.  I went in to see Mark for about two and a half hours, while she took Gunther to a nearby fishing access at Warm Springs Ponds.  That was Friday, while the storm was brewing.

Surprise, a nurse brought Mark into a hallway announcing he had a 30-minute pass to go outdoors.  We made our way past a secure door, then through the dining area, to the vending machines, around to the long hallway with pictures all along, to the front desk.  Two workers sat behind the deskworks.  Mark’s patient ID had a circle with “1/2” written.  I figured that meant 1/2 hour.  They smiled and gestured toward the front door.  We went through and Mark told me this was the first time he had not been under constant surveillance, his every move and speech being recorded.  I looked at his face.  It looked drawn, deeply creased.  Intensely sad.  Mark’s words chilled me. When I tried to pooh-pooh his fears, he said, “Listen! I’m telling you!”

Mark told me things “couldn’t be worse.”  He said “they either hate me or they will soon hate me.”  He said the patients and staff have almost nothing.  No financial assets.  Not much money.  They are all poor and barely scraping by.  He told me the patients are destitute.  The Warm Springs Hospital is so poorly funded they can hardly afford to feed the patients and staff.  He said the staff eat the same tiny portions as the patients.  Breakfast is a tiny amount of oatmeal, he said, making his hands into a small amount.  Snacks are a banana, maybe, or a tiny container of fruit sauce.  He described inmates having to wait in a long line for a tiny container of some sort of snack.  He said he heard the staff shouting at a man who was going through the trash looking for something to eat.  Mark said he was scared.  His friends had sent him snacks and food.  One of the employees told him he could get the food “discreetly,” but Mark said he couldn’t get the extra food at all.  “Once they find out I have money and friends and food, they will jump me,” he said.

Our friend Kim Thompson Irons and I went to a Rescue Mission Bargain Center and bought Mark some used cold weather clothing for like a dollar each, including socks, a jacket, and a hat.  We placed all of those things in a red gym bag for Mark.  He was horrified.  “Once they see me with that ritzy North Face jacket and Woolrich socks they will think I’m wealthy,” he said.  “They will know I have assets.”  That’s why Mark said he thinks the others, including the staff, will hate him.

That’s why I feel blue.  I don’t know what to do for Mark.  I said as much to him, and he agreed that he doesn’t know what his friends can do for him.

I kept telling myself that I could listen to his sad opinions, perhaps they would lose their power over his thinking.  No satisfaction there, though.  Eventually we used up our half-hour.  We returned to the building and checked back in.  He and I sat in the little room off the hallway.  The two tissue boxes were on the table, same as I left them a few days earlier when I picked them up off the floor.

Perhaps because Mark believed his behavior and speech were under recorded surveillance, he became softer-spoken.  He even smiled a few times.  He told me that his brother was not my best fan.  

This brought up a letter Steve had asked me to deliver to Mark.  I didn’t deliver it.  I told Mark I had read the letter, one that urged Mark to “pull his head out of his ass” and to give getting well his best shot.  Or words to that effect.  Anyway, I told Mark that I could not possibly deliver the letter to him because I didn’t agree with the premise:  that depression was a weakness or a problem of attitude.  “I couldn’t possibly give you that letter,” I said to Mark.

Mark smiled and said he understood.  (Smiles from Mark were rare that day!)  I had to allow that Steve might be right and I might be wrong.  I believed in depression being a sort of “chemical imbalance” that was amenable to medication therapy, rather than “pulling oneself up by the bootstraps in a macho manner.”  We agreed that Steve was the sort of person who could navigate the world with his incredibly strong personality and will to succeed.  Mark was a different sort, a couple years older.  I am confused, but . . . 

I suggested that Mark should have slapped Steve around a bit when he was a kid.  I quickly regretted that.

Mark replied that he had hurt Steve when they were children, punching and breaking Steve’s nose on two occasions.  Wow!  I had touched on a brutal moment in their lives.  Mark said Steve has a disfigured nose to this day.  I was sorry I said anything.  I could see the regret on Mark’s face.  Mark acknowledged that Steve loved him strongly despite that.  He admitted he didn’t know why his brother loved him so much.

He said when he got the four-hour-long van ride from Billings to Warm Springs, in chains and handcuffs, the driver did not stop to allow the two mental patients to use the toilet or to eat or drink. The other guy had to pee behind the seat, Mark said. Mark said he was so dehydrated he fainted when they arrived at Warm Springs and they had him walk from the van to the hospital building. They made him stand up and he fainted again, he said. Then Mark showed me his ID tag with his picture. He looked goofy. He said he had just recovered from fainting when they took the picture.

I promised Mark I’d visit him the next day.  Only I had to phone him later to renege on that promise.  P. and I were headed Friday to White Sulphur Springs to the spa.  I called Mark, who sounded quiet and sad.  Mark admitted to being paranoid before. He said he was no longer paranoid.

The White Sulphur Springs spa was fantastic.  People throughout that part of the state were friendly.  I could not help thinking “because we’re white.”

After swimming and soaking we drove toward Harlowton.  I turned off at a Forest Service sign that promised National Forest land.  Only we turned off the main road quite a few miles later to camp for the night, near a gate leading to private land.  We let Gunther out to pee and poop.  I thought we were well off the beaten track.

After our dog was back inside our van a bright blue spotlight shown through the blinds.  That’s when I realized, we were out on the evening before the start of hunting season.  I jumped back into the driver’s seat and we ended up in a park in Harlowton.  

Then a snowy drive back the 91 miles to Billings on Saturday.

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