H-O-R-S-E

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December 22, 2021 by The Citron Review

by Charles Michael Fischer

 

My first time shooting hoops at Dorothea Dix Hospital is with Mr. Reed, a young Williams Building tech from Kentucky who always wears Kentucky Wildcat gear. I don’t know it yet, but I’ll be here a year-and-a-half, living in three buildings before I’m discharged in May, 1994: Williams, short-term, locked adolescent; Cherry, long-term, locked adolescent; and Ashby, long-term, unlocked adolescent. I spent my first night in a Quiet Room, aka solitary confinement. “Quiet” is a cruel contradiction, since you must be disturbed, agitated, or a threat to yourself and others to be in a Quiet Room. “Quiet” only turns the heat up, only magnifies the “loud,” psychotic frequencies in your fractured brain. I’m still new—less than a week—and have only been outside to play dodgeball during rec with rec staff. We used a heavy kickball that echoed when it hit a leg or arm. I was out quick because I was more focused on the empty basketball court across the yard. 

“Got him!” someone said.

Good, I thought.

If we couldn’t play basketball, I’d pretend. I leaned against the chain link fence to face the small, weathered court and goal with a frayed net. I’d seen the court from the wire-mesh window beside the payphone. I’d daydreamed myself swishing threes and dribbling behind my back and between my legs like Raleigh’s own Pistol Pete. Basketball is freedom when you’re a sports-obsessed Bipolar kid.

“Get ready,” Reed says.

“Okay!” I say.

As I change, I remember shooting on my backyard goal, getting hot like Michael Jordan. Announcers call it the zone, when the rim’s wider than the Atlantic, or for me, when I don’t want to blow my brains out or lie on the train tracks behind my house. Reed knocks on my door. 

“Ready?” 

“Yeah.” 

I wear blue sweatpants and Reebok trainers. My Nike high tops are back home. Reed wears stonewashed jeans, Reebok high tops, and a gray sweatshirt with a brown wildcat baring its teeth behind the blue UK. He holds a worn basketball under his arm.

“I’m Carolina,” I say.

He laughs.

“You know who I am.”

Outside, he flips me the ball. I run to the court like a kindergartner at recess. I dribble through my legs—like I imagined during dodgeball—then behind my back before gliding to the rim for a finger roll.

“There you go,” Reed says.

I pass him the ball.

He swishes a three. 

I pass him the ball. 

He swishes another three. 

I pass him the ball. 

Swish.

When he finally misses, I dribble to the foul line and shoot a jumper that clanks rim. I’m rusty. He passes me the ball.     

“Shoot,” he says.I miss, but he passes me the ball again. Reed’s cool. 

I finally hit one, but it’s a bank. 

“They count the same,” he says.

After shooting around, we play H-O-R-S-E. The sky’s gray like the court, and the courtyard’s grass is a ratty mixture of weeds, dandelions, and crabgrass. The chain link fence seems easy to hop, but if you do hop it, you’ll be running—in any direction—toward another campus building. Cherry has a fenced courtyard too, and Ashby’s goal is out in the open, bordering a jagged parking lot. Dix is a huge campus—not a college campus—but a campus where dreams die, where patients are only tested to see what’s wrong with them. I’ve never taken a college tour or the PSAT. I don’t have college dreams because I can’t see tomorrow. Reed bounces me the ball. I stand behind the goal. I won’t make this trick shot, but that’s okay.

“H,” I say. 

Decades later, Bipolar and now PTSD ravage my life. At night, my bedroom becomes a trash compactor. I try to scream, but my voice is caught in my throat. I’m paralyzed and haunted. Faces of patients and staff flash through my mind. Reed is one of those faces. He and other techs hand out donated Christmas gifts to squealing kids, kids guaranteed three hot meals a day for the first time ever, kids who could be dead, in jail, or on the street today. Reed rebounds my missed shot and does a skyhook from the corner like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.   

“H,” he says. 

I can still hear his shot swishing through the net.

 

Charles Michael Fischer’s writing has appeared in The Rumpus, Los Angeles Review, Beloit Fiction Journal, Green Mountains Review, and many other places.

 

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