Welcome to the cupboard of broken toys — Part 9
SPOILER ALERT — This has been, far-and-away, the hardest to write.
THE BROKEN TOYS
Most of the patients on Ward 9 are only in for assessment and just stay for a couple of weeks. I never find out their stories and cannot even guess. Some are obviously depressed while others seem fine to me. Then there are the poor teenage schizophrenics.
Those, such as myself, Joe, and two or three others are longer-stay patients. I have been here for nearly 4 months!
Another patient has been admitted for assessment. He is playing a mix-tape of corny American country songs. One in particular jars on my nerves. It is a song titled “Honey” by Bobby Goldsboro. I hate it more than any other piece of music I have ever known. I really, really hate it. I hate it.
The new patient is even more annoying than the song. “This is just how I feel,” he never tires of informing us and re-winds the tape to play it again. And again. And again. And again. And now I hate him. I would like to drill a hole in the side of his head to let all the sap out.
I hate the song first time I hear it but by the 30th or 40th replay I have to think of a new word. Abhor? Detest? Loath? Abominate? I retreat to my bed-space to try and get away from it. But it is no use. The strains of that soggy vocal whining about ‘how much he misses her’ drives a red-hot spike into my brain.
“But Honey I miss you, and I’m being goo-oo-ood. I’ll always be with you…”
“This is exactly how I feel,” comes the inevitable commentary.
“What’s the matter,” asks Mulholland.
“You know how I’m always saying I’m not suicidal,” I say, “Well, can I change that please. If I hear that fucking awful song one more time, I swear to God, I am going find an imaginative way to do myself in.”
The new bloke was one of the large number of patients who were judged not to be vulnerable and were allowed out, unescorted, on day-passes. The first time he went into Woolwich he was brought back, drunk, passed out on a stretcher. The Ward Sister was not amused. Then, the second time he went out, he was also returned in a comatose, drunken condition. Very soon, he was transferred to the alcoholic unit. But not soon enough for me. I killed myself. No I didn’t. But it came very close. I heard that one of the other patients on the alcoholic unit tried to shove the cassette up his arse.
A young lad is admitted who changes my life forever. He is about 17, a Boy Soldier. A skinny, soft-featured Northern lad. He had tried to kill himself and has bandaged wrists. That makes me quite sad. His story comes out. He is gay and has been horribly bullied in his training-regiment. He had been savagely beaten up on several occasions and his Sergeant turned a blind eye. Finally, the stress was too much for him to bear and he tried to take his own life. Someone found him before he lost too much blood and he was immediately hospitalised.
One morning he asks me: “Are you gay?”
I mumble something but can’t look him in the eye.
I look at myself in the mirror.
“You useless fucking coward!”
I have been keeping my journal notebook. Some of the entries are evasive, some are profound and insightful. My entry on this day is angry. I am angry. I am angry with whoever has tormented this poor kid to the end of his rope and I am angry with myself for my gutlessness, uselessness and dishonesty. I determine there will be no more lies and hypocrisy.
At the next Wednesday ward meeting they ask if anyone has anything to say, expecting the usual sullen silence. Instead, I put my hand up.
“Bombardier Lamb. What would you like to share?”
“I want to tell everyone I am gay.” I say it slightly too loudly.
The world doesn’t cease rotating. The nursing staff and doctors all nod and give each other significant looks.
I am called in to Captain Hardy’s office after the meeting.
“That’s quite a secret you’ve been keeping from yourself,” he says.
“I’ve always known,” I reply, “But I’m hung-up, repressed and terrified that I will end up like that Junior Private out there.”
“Things aren’t that bad, are they?” he asks, blandly.
I remind him about the tabloid headline “20 ways to tell if your neighbour is a screaming queer”. I remind him about the Metropolitan Police strategy of sending young, plain-clothed officers to gay haunts with a view to entrapping men and prosecuting them for gross indecency. I remind him that homosexuality is a crime in the Army and that I could be imprisoned and dishonourably discharged. My life would be ruined. He claims things aren’t so bad.
A couple of weeks later one of the medics is caught fooling around with a patient in one of the side rooms. He is immediately suspended from work and arraigned for court-martial. Things obviously aren’t so bad, are they?