The Thirty Jesuses (and Other Bedlam Stories)
Every year around Christmas time, the Jesuses would begin to arrive. On Ward E-what we called the Asshole to Hell-at New Mexico State Mental Institution, we'd have about thirty Jesuses by Christmas Eve. I worked there at NMSMI for 27 years as a registered nurse and let me tell you I saw and heard some crazy shit. That's not a word I use lightly.
I was the batty nurse, the patients would call me Crazy Colleen. I always told my staff that the only thing separating them from the patients were their key rings. I was the only nurse who lasted any length of time on E Ward; most of them were afraid of the patients they were charged to care for. I found a sort of beauty in their madnesses, the way they lived in their own worlds and made it work or not work, according to their own designs. Don't get me wrong. They suffered, oh how they suffered. Every one of them was locked away in prisons of the own minds, their rebellions as pathetic as they were lovely in their grand illusions, tragic and flawed. I did what I could to make their lives easier.
The District is what we called the higher ups in hospital administration. At that time, for example, young women could be lobotomized for sneaking out at night, if their parents wished it so, and the District would authorize the surgery. They'd have the poor unfortunate wretch transferred, scared and shaking, to one of the other wards. A doctor would show up with his ice picks and mallets, and a few moments later, Ward E would have a new patient. We were not huge fans of the district on Ward E, let me tell you. The District would hand down notice, often merely hours in advance, that they would be touring the facility with some bleeding heart types. These were the cash cows, the ones whose rich donations salved their consciences for several months before guilt crept back in. They would tour the facility, clucking their tongues, thinking how fortunate they were that such craziness had not touched their lives, yet quick to come up with stories of a mad aunt or uncle way back in the genealogy. To make the patients feel that they had something in common, you see.
I was often in trouble with the swells, because I treated the patients as if they were humans rather than animals, people who needed help rather than inmates. The District didn't dare get rid of me though; E Ward was where they sent the worst of the worst and I was the only one who could handle them and the staff. Plus, I was stubborn, you see. I liked to stick it out.
Disruptions, like the bleeding heart tours, often upset some of the patients and they'd have to be buckled down to beds in the restraint rooms. The District people and their lackeys would despair the poor things, lashed down and foaming with their madnesses, and beseech me to let them free. My response that their presence was to inform them that they were the reason these people were locked down in the first place was met with stony silences and the cold shoulder. I didn't care. I didn't want these people here upsetting my patients and I made no bones about it.
So, back to the Jesuses. As soon as December began, and the snow flakes would swirl on the wind to be swept away by the cold winter desert, I would begin to prepare for the arrival of numerous messiahs. They would emerge from sandstorms with the lower half of their faces covered, long wild hair and beards matted with debris. They would come stamping and rubbing their arms, cluttering up my receiving area and tracking mud and god knows what else in with them. Without fail, they would each claim, in some form or another that they were Jesus, son of God, and they required asylum from the Philistines who persecuted them. Some of them were very good, quoting Bible verses that supposedly hadn't been written in Jesus' time yet but well versed in the good book anyway.
The day after Christmas, I would gather these Jesuses together in the common room and line them up along the back wall. Then I would drag a couple of my more damaged patients into the room, and demand a healing. The reactions to my prayer were invariably humorous.
"MaryMotherFullofGrace,Hallowedbythyname,thyKingdomcomethywillbedoneAMEN!" one particularly scruffy specimen intoned in a voice that was surprisingly deep and resonant. Other Jesuses followed suit, invoking the Holy Spirit and the Father and the Son-forgetting for the moment that they were supposed to be the Son.
Several Jesuses just grinned sheepishly at me, and slunk away to gather their things. We called these the modern day hoboes. These guys would travel the country, bouncing from institution to institution with a well-worn patter of crazy to see them through. In the winter months, they headed for warm climates like Texas and the South. In summer months, they sought balmy weather like Wyoming and Montana, where the food was good and the people were sparse. But for some reason, rain, sun, snow, or shine, a large population of hobo Jesuses would come to me, knowing I wouldn't kick them out in the cold. They could count on three hots and a cot, and company during lonely holidays. And always, there would be entertainment.
On this day, when the false Jesuses were weeded out and the hobo Jesuses had departed, I turned to my regular patients and thanked them for their help in getting rid of the imposters. See, the truly mentally ill don't like people who play games at being mentally ill. It's like an insult or something. I divided the group into two sections, and placed half of them on the left of the common room, and half on the right. With the help of Vincent, a very large black man with schizophrenia and a penchant for crushing skulls, and Marge, the supposed mobster's moll with the severe OCD and the voice of an angel, we took all the chairs and turned them over so that their legs stuck up in the air and formed a long double line down the center of the room. Positioning my troops on either side of these makeshift barracks, I handed out several bags of marshmallows down the ranks and ordered my soldiers to arm themselves.
Grinning like fools, even the most disturbed and dangerous patients grabbed handfuls of the fluffy white treats. Several troops ate their ammunition but that was ok. Fun was what I was after, to lighten the mood after the false messiahs had turned the day sour.
"ON MY COUNT!" I screamed at the top of my lungs, a little unhinged myself. "ONE...TWO...THREE! FIRE!!!!!!"
They let loose with a volley of marshmallows back and forth across the upturned chairs. Drifts of sugary confections gathered in the legs and crannies of the chairs, and several patients got down on their bellies, crawling commando-style across the floor, to retrieve these fallen treats only to pop back up with several in their mouths and several more to fling at the "enemy" on the other side. Curtis Eldridge, a young man who was there for killing his parents after they'd kept him tied to his bed until the day they forgot, was singing jingles to commercials at the top of his lungs in a surprisingly wonderful alto voice. Vinnie and Marge were feeding each other marshmallows and then spitting them back at each other, using their hands to clap distended cheeks and force the sugary projectiles out at top speed.
I watched with a sense of satisfaction. These damaged people, who came to me broken and unable in many cases to communicate with any "normal" people always seemed to do best when under my care. I loved them all, the crazy bastards, and many years after they came, stayed or went, and even died under my watch, I can still hear them laughing and singing and waltzing around the room, slipping on marshmallows and crawling on the floor like children, without a care in the world or a Jesus in sight.