In my second year as a University undergrad, I was informed of a classmate who'd just suffered some bi-polar woes. I took the bus to the hospital to see how he was doing, and to collect a library book he'd taken out on my card (he'd never have revealed his troubles if it hadn't been for that damn book). I asked the receptionist if she could direct me to the psychiatric ward, and she pointed to a doorway. “Just go to the end of the corridor,” she said.
The corridor was very long, all white (natch) and entirely without windows or doors. I was the only one in it, and I walked its length at a very brisk pace. When I finally reached the door, it dawned on me why the corridor was such a strange bit of business: the psych ward was actually a building separate from the rest of the hospital.
The place had blue carpet on the walls and was suffocatingly warm. An orderly directed me to my friend, and we chatted for a bit. “C'mon,” he said. “Lemme show you the lounge.”
“The lounge” was brightly lit and much cooler than the rest of the ward. There was a universal gym in one corner, a stationary bicycle and a bunch of couches lining the walls. A blonde kid, aged about 15 or 16, was sitting on one of the couches with an orderly. The kid had a boom box on his lap and he was playing Pink Floyd's The Final Cut.
My friend made the introductions. “That's ___,” he said. “He tried to commit suicide.”
I waved. “Hey.”
He nodded back, then turned up the stereo. “This is great music,” he said to the orderly. “I played it when I needed the strength to finally go ahead and kill myself.”
The orderly gave him a pleasant smile. “Is that right, eh?”
My friend and I left the room. “Man,” he said, “that kid is smart as a whip, got everything going for him. Makes you wonder what's the matter.”
We walked back down the long corridor to the hospital, and my friend took me up to the incubator room to look at the babies. They cheered him up and gave him hope, he said. I thought about the guy I'd just met, someone who'd once been a baby that brought smiles to the faces of the elderly and infirm. I was certainly in no position to say what was “the matter” — God knows something was. But I couldn't help wondering if a voluntary change in soundtrack mightn't have given him a different kind of strength, the kind to hold on for just a little longer.