I visit The Child that evening. I bring her clothes, but am not allowed to give them to her: Everything must be given to the front desk, where it is labeled, then inspected by the staff, and only then, turned over to the patients. I think I am being prudent, leaving behind the psychology book she has requested, but I’ve overlooked the string in the waistband of her sweatpants, so I have to bring her more pants the following evening.
I have to know a code word, and show ID, and be photographed, and put my handbag into a locker, and then be escorted by a guard to the East Wing, where the teen psychiatric patients are.
It is extraordinarily noisy, and institutional, and in need of fresh paint. The Child sits on a ledge in the back of a room full of teens and as she walks over to me, she looks dazed, shell shocked, exhausted.
I ask, How’s it going?
How long do I have to stay here?
That’s beyond my control, I tell her.
I don’t belong here, she says: These people have real problems.
We talk for a few more minutes, about how she was awakened at 4am for a blood draw, how the blood draw went wrong and now her arm is bruised and hurts, how her phone was confiscated on her arrival. She wants to see her boyfriend, but I’ve been told no one under 18 is allowed in.
She insists I am wrong, that he can visit if he comes with me, so I question the nurse on duty amidst the noisy throng of teens, and she is firm: No one under 18 is allowed to visit.
The Child argues for a few moments, and I start to tell her I’ll ask again tomorrow, but before I can finish she turns away and walks down the battered hallway to her dormitory.
I’m not worried when I leave; she can’t hurt herself here.