A few of us came voluntarily but most were coerced. My wife and parents cornered me the night after the second debate. They told me that I was obsessed. I didn’t know the date or my children’s names. They kept at it long enough to convince me that I was in trouble. I’d neglected my health and hygiene. I was taking meals sporadically, they said, confronting me with piles of half-eaten sandwiches that were rotting on my desk; coffee cups stacked up in the car console. I was sleeping two hours at a time, awake through most nights, afraid to close my eyes. The kids were terrified, asking my wife what was wrong with me.
That did it. I broke down, babbling uncontrollably. My wife calmed me until an SUV arrived. Two EMTs extracted me from the house, with nothing but an overnight bag my wife had packed. I was given some kind of sedative and fell dead away.
I awoke, still goofy, afloat on a sea of identical beds in a barn-like, white room. The room I later learned was previously occupied by a drug store chain. It was flooded with artificial light and silent though full of people. I recognized the hum of white noise, an ambient background, all but blotting out the random car horn blaring outside.
I sat up and looked around. I was in a ward of fifty or so beds, scattered through the store. My bed was in the row where magazines used to be kept . I stood up slowly, relieved that I was not under restraint. As I walked around, I noticed that the ward was filled with political junkies. They looked zonked out. Some I recognized: reporters, commentators and analysts, but also people like me. I haven’t seen any anchors here yet. But they just read the news, they don’t have to understand it. We’re all under observation for post-traumatic stress disorder. This is what my old counselor calls election fatigue. In his day this wasn’t considered an illness. Now it’s PTSD, DSM 309.81. I once was a concerned citizen. Now I’m a diagnosis.
We’re free to walk around and talk about anything but the election. Bailey is in the bed next to me, with the covers pulled up. He’s been under there for hours. I suspect he’s writing: journaling or taking notes. It’s forbidden, and he doesn’t want to get caught because he’ll be forced to leave. This is his second stint, and his insurance won’t pay for another. He’d had a meltdown when Kerry was swift-boated. Don’t misunderstand. He would be happy to leave but his family won’t take him back unless he can stay clean.
Galt is walking up and down the aisles of beds. It seems like she’s talking to herself, saying the same thing over and over. Galt’s really gone, I think, until I realize that she’s memorizing a column. She’s been mumbling the same thing all day. Then she moves on to new rantings. Two orderlies return her to bed. She sobs that she’s on deadline. Poor soul.
Each day brings the possibility of a new patient and with it news of the campaigns. There are no phones, television or newspapers and definitely no internet. We are locked away without the faintest sense of what has happened since we were extracted. When somebody new arrives, the rest of us gather around until a guard disperses us. They try to minimize the private discussions between patients. It doesn’t matter. One newbie says he’s up by a point, and another says that he’s down by five. One says New Hampshire’s a lock but at the same time another says it’s in play. Too much conflicting information is like no information at all.
We have group meetings once a day. The idea is so we don’t think it’s just us who are suffering. There is a new patient with us. Her name is Derry, and she was hosting Talk Radio. At first, she was a casual listener, but she couldn’t take the nonsense she was hearing and became a caller. Soon she was a regular — “Derry from Winston-Salem” — phoning in to argue. She started making things up: Hillary is having closed-door meetings with John Kasich…Trump took an option on the U.N…All Chrysler 300 owners are forming a voting bloc. The audience loved it, so the station put her on the air. Then she spun completely out of control. When she accused the network of funding the Militia Movement, it was over for her.
Every day I meet individually with Andrew, my counselor. The point is to help me figure out what made me go haywire. I have a vivid recollection of the intervention but the campaign is a blur. I could remember many events and sound bytes, but I cannot put them in order or make sense of them. Andrew is an elderly African-American man. He’s great at therapy talk — “When I say that, how does that make you feel?” — but he’s a good guy. He seems to be a little jangly himself. I wonder if he’ll end up in one of the beds at some point.
I ask Andrew how long I will be here, and he says that I can walk out any time I want. I realize, though, that I don’t want to leave. It’s quiet and orderly and safe. I’m at peace here, and frankly, I’m scared to go back out there. Andrew says that the ward will shut down after the votes are counted and a winner is declared.
Bailey and Galt are talking. They’re scared too and don’t want to leave.
“Even after the election?” I ask.
“Especially after the election,” they say.
© 2016 The Revolted Colonies