TRAP DOOR TO THE BOOBY HATCH
By Don Kenton Henry
The black Ford Fairlane pulled away from my mother’s house in the pre-dawn hours that Monday morning in the late fall of 1969 during my sophomore year of high school. The Finn’s Landing Chief of Police had the courtesy to ride with the principal of my school in order to spare my mother the further embarrassment of having yet another patrol car parked in front of our home. The purpose of the joint house call the two of them made to her could not have been more clear, “Kenton will no longer be attending school at Finn’s Landing High,” said principal Swihart.
“Get him out of town before sun up,” quickly added Chief Yoder. “We fear for his safety and that of his fellow students. Things are out of control at the school. It’s a powder keg ready to blow. We don’t care where you take him–just get him out of town! In return, no charges will be pressed. There is only one contingency for this arrangement . . .”
My mother was seated on the ottoman at the base of our brown vinyl recliner. Her hand shook as she dabbed her eyes with a tissue. “What is that Mr. Yoder?”
He must be subjected to a complete psychiatric evaluation by a court appointed mental health facility and undergo a minimum of six months counseling or whatever course of treatment the professionals deem appropriate. In anticipating you will be accepting the agreement we have prepared for your signature, Mrs. Henry, we have already scheduled his first appointment this Thursday evening with an out-patient clinic which is an adjunct of the Logansport State Mental Hospital in Logansport.
“A court appointed psychologist?” my mother clarified.
“At the very least,” said the Chief.
As I watched that Ford disappear down the street, my mother was already on the phone to my grandfather in Rensselaer, a corn town even smaller than our own and some seventy miles away. As promised–before the sun came up–I was out of town and on my way to live there with my maternal grandparents.
That Thursday evening my grandfather drove us to Finn’s Landing to pick up my mother, then back tracked fifteen miles to Logansport. The clinic was no modern brick and glass facility but rather an old brick home whose prime must have been the early 18th century. It bore more a resemblance to the Adam’s family mansion or a haunted house than a treatment facility. My mother and grandparents remained seated on a straight back sofa in what was once a parlor in someone’s home as I followed the caseworker up the steep wooden stairs for the evaluation or “risk assessment” portion of my intervention.
“Now, Mr. Henry … My name is Mr. Thompson. Should I address you as Ken or Kent or do you prefer, Kenton?”
“My friends just call me Henry.”
“Very well, Kenton. I am going to ask you a series of questions and try to answer them in as short and honest a fashion as possible. Agreed?”
“Yeah … ok.”
He began with standard questions such as what is your full name, when were you born, who are your parents – the answers to which were most surely in the manila folder he had on his desk. My answers were recorded on a form attached to the clinician’s clip board he propped against one knee of his crossed legs and with the pen he took from a pocket of his white lab coat.
Gradually they evolved into those designed to delve into my psyche and assist in establishing a diagnosis. “We are going to continue with a series of incomplete sentences in which I will provide the first half and you will complete it. Understood?
“Yeah,” I answered, looking at the floor, beginning to be bored with the process. Already my mind was developing a strategy to make it more interesting for him and a lot more entertaining for myself.
He began with, “If only I could ….”
” … invite you in.” I answered. He paused, but did not look up at this point, then recorded my response. On his desk, a reel to reel tape with an attached microphone quietly recorded all.
“My father could always …”
“Shoot best when he was drunk.” Another pause, then his pen moved across the page.
“I can talk best …”
“In the dark …” I told him. He continued …
“My biggest fear is …”
“not being remembered.”
“People I know are often …”
“Dead,” I said.
At this point he looked up and made eye contact with me. I met his gaze and did not blink, betraying no sense of emotion. He maintained this but put aside the clip board and form and picked up a yellow legal pad. “Kenton, do you ever hear things you believe may not be real?”
He scribbled across the pad. “Do you ever see things you believe may not really exist?”
He then completed the remaining twenty or so incomplete sentences and moved on to the “Rorschach” Test. This was a common psychiatric diagnostic tool prior to the development of more specialized tests. It began with the test taker or subject being shown what, on the surface, are abstract black ink blots on white paper and asked what he or she saw. The theory behind the test is that the test taker’s spontaneous or unrehearsed responses reveal deep secrets or significant information about the taker’s personality or innermost thoughts.
The clinician presented the first. He slid it my direction on his desk and I leaned forward to scrutinize it. Without hesitation, I proclaimed, “Uncle Waldo”.
“Who is Uncle Waldo?” Mr. Thompson asked.
“He is my dead uncle.”
“When did you last see your Uncle Waldo, Kenton.”
“I thought you told me you did not see things you thought did not exist?”
“I don’t.” My eye contact with him unwavering so far, I thought this a good point to affect a tick with which to punctuate my answers. This manifested itself in a quick jerk of my head to the right while my eyes remained transfixed on him. After a lag of a micro second my eyes would then dart to the upper right corner of the room in front of me before returning to the caseworker.
His scribbling continued at a more rapid pace. “Do you speak to him?” he asked.
“He speaks to me,” I replied.
Mr. Thompson’s note taking continued at a more rapid pace then he paused to check the controls on the reel to reel before proceeding.
“Where is he when he speaks to you?”
“In the upper right corner of my bedroom. Each night about 1:30.”
“The tick came over me again and my eyes darted.”
Mr. Thompson stirred in his chair and looked over his left shoulder into the corner of the room. Almost instantly, he caught himself and his eyes returned to me.
“What does Uncle Waldo say to you?”
“He tells me what to do.”
“Like what, Kenton? Like the things which have caused concern with your school and the police? The things which bring you here?”
Mr. Thompson put down his pen and consulted the contents of the manila folder.
“I see your last six months have been quite eventful. It says here that this May, still in your freshman year of high school, you were arrested for grave robbing. Is that correct?
“And in September you were arrested for disturbing the peace and criminal mischief for putting a bomb in a dead cat and detonating it on a Senator’s front porch. Is that correct?”
“No. It was a burglar alarm. Not a bomb.”
“A burglar alarm? And the alarm went off?”
“Yes … and they thought it was a bomb.”
“The senator and his family.”
“A burglar alarm … but they thought it was a bomb about to go off. Is that what happened?”
“Oh … I see. Then … in the first week of October you shot one of your best friends in the ankle with a sawed off 22 rifle, is that correct?”
“Why did you do that?”
“Because he told me to.”
“Why would your friend tell you to shoot him?”
“Because he didn’t think I would do it.”
“So why would you?”
“Because I got tired of him telling me to.”
Mr. Thompson raised his eyebrows. This was the first physical reaction I saw from him. He then took a good half minute to make more notes on the legal pad.
“That brings us to your most recent event, let’s just say, which was–and permit me to read verbatim from the record–‘Kenton Henry formed a posse of sophomore football players who stalked and ambushed a group of senior football players riding in the back of a pick-up truck, pelted said seniors with rotten tomatoes, eggs and a baked pumpkin. Ambush resulted in a melee in which Henry ended up on the bottom of the pile with a broken nose, broken collar bone and his front teeth knocked loose.’ So this is why your eyes are still black and your right arm is in a sling?”
“Now why would sophomores football players attack senior football players?”, Mr. Thompson asked with a most quizzical expression.
“I’m wasn’t on the football team.”
“You were not? It says here you were.”
“I was on the speech team. The rest of the sophomores were on the football team.”
“But it says here you were the leader of the sophomore group.”
“Hmmm …”, said Mr. Thompson as his note taking became profuse.
He stopped, then proceeded with his questions. “So why would a group of sophomore football players led by one sophomore speech team member attack a group of senior football players?”
“Because they stole our wood, our women and knocked Tom Maverick from the back of a pickup truck after hitting him in the head with an apple.”
“Your wood? What do you mean by, your ‘wood’?”
“The wood the sophomores collected for our homecoming bonfire. They stole it and added it to their own.”
“I see,” said Mr. Thompson. “So your attack was in retaliation?”
“So permit me to review in order to be certain I have it correctly. In the course of six months you were arrested for grave robbing; disturbing the peace with a dead cat containing a surgically implanted burglar alarm; shot a best friend with an illegal weapon and mounted an insurrection against upper classmen which resulted in your beating, injury and near riot conditions in your high school.
Do I have it all down or did I miss something?”
“No. I’d say that covers it for the most part.”
“The most part? … Kenton … do you understand why you are here?”
At this point, he put down his notes, closed the folder and escorted me downstairs where I took my mother’s place on the sofa. She and my grandfather then followed the caseworker up the stairs for their own interview and briefing. I was told they would be only ten or fifteen minutes. Ten or fifteen turned into over an hour and by then it was past nine p.m.
I heard the large oak door to the upstairs office open and the wooden floor boards creak as my mother and grandfather walked across them to the top of the stairs. My mother was sobbing. “There, there, Marietta … it will be all right,” my grandfather said as he put his arm around her to steady her as they begin their descent.
The ride to return my mother to her home began in total silence with the exception of sounds she made as she continued to cry, her face pressed into a handkerchief. I sat in alone in the back seat of my grandfather’s Buick Electra somewhat alarmed as he wove back and forth across the white line of the winding road in his attempts to drive and comfort my mother at the same time.
Finally, I could take no more of what I perceived to be her histrionic lamentations.
“Ahhh c’mon, mom! Quit your crying. It can’t be that bad!”
There was a long silence, then she said, “It is. It is, Donnie. (Donnie is the nickname for Donald – which is my real first name. I hate it and since I was about nine years of age had insisted I be called my middle name – Kenton. She did her best and only addressed me as Donnie when she was distressed and seeing me as the small child she once held on her lap. It meant she must be in denial … but of what? I knew it was not a good omen. I knew I was in deep shit.)
“The caseworker says it is far worse then we believed. He says … he says …” She paused again, unable to continue.
“C’mon mom. Just get it out. What did he say?”
“He … he says you may have to be institutionalized. You may have to spend time as an in-patient in the Logansport mental hospital.”
(“Oh, fuck!”, I said to myself. “Your big mouth has really gotten your ass in a jam now! How are you going to get out of this one?)
My grandfather walked my mother into the house then returned and we made the long ride back to Rensselaer, arriving just after midnight. The next day, I attended high school as expected. All through the day I contemplated what life would be like in a mental institution and flinched any time someone entered my classroom after the bell, certain it was an authority with a mental health warrant. That never happened, but that evening at my grandparent’s dinner table, my grandfather told me no decision had yet been made about my ultimate course of treatment. He went on to say I had been assigned a psychiatrist and not the usual psychologist or mental health social worker. My instinct was to say, “Well that’s proof I’m special!” But I stifled that and, without looking up, simply probed my potatoes au gratin with my fork.
So! They think my condition is serious enough it warrants someone with a medical license, I thought. That shows they are taking me pretty seriously. I had visions of myself in a straight jacket, my meals being passed through a slot at the base of the door to my padded cell. This would not be cool. This could really interfere with my getting a driver’s license or a girlfriend. I would certainly have to reverse course and do it quickly!
My plan of action was firmly laid out in my mind as we drove to my next session the following Thursday evening. I rehearsed all the way there as I had done through each of my six periods that day in school.
My mother was already seated in the waiting room when my grandfather arrived. He signed me in at the counter and we waited for someone to come down the stairs to greet us. I heard the oaken door, or perhaps another, open on the second floor followed by footsteps across the wood floor. A man appeared in a corduroy sport coat at the top of the stairs. Medium height and thick about the waistline, he appeared to be in his mid to late forties with black hair graying at his temples and over his ears. It was slicked back over his head and he wore black square framed glasses. These were supported by a rugged looking nose above a square jaw. He paused and studied us, me in particular, before making his way down the stairs. He stopped in front of me, looked me in the eyes then turned his attention to my mom and grandfather. Extending his hand, he said, “Hello, Mrs. Henry … Mr. Felder. I am Dr. Petrosky. Then he turned to me and paused again for several seconds before again extending his hand. “Kenton. Dr. Petrosky. I will be working closely with you. For now I am going to speak briefly with your mother and grandfather then I will have them send you to my office.” I nodded in agreement and the three of them went up the stairs and disappeared. As he promised, it was not more than five minutes later they came down and told me to go the second floor, second door on the right.
My strategy was simple and I thought quite brilliant. While on the previous visit, I presented all the behavior characteristic of some delusional delinquent separated from reality, on this visit, I would present myself as an “Eagle Scout”. I would be a model of politeness and responsibility anxious to honor my parents, community and country–thoroughly committed to pleasing them and acquiring their acceptance. I would convince Dr. Petrosky I was driven to achieve academic success in order to gain a scholarship to Purdue University where I would obtain an aeronautical engineering degree resulting in my inevitable recruitment by N.A.S.A. for purposes of becoming an astronaut. This behavior would be certain to ease their concerns, warrant minimal intervention and assure my course of treatment would remain on an outpatient basis. My six months treatment would consist of nothing but weekly counseling sessions and I would remain a functioning member of society at large. In less time than that, I would have my driver’s license and be cruising the Dog ‘N Suds root beer stand in my own car and going to the drive-in movie with some cute cheerleader I just knew I was going to meet.
Dr. Petrosky had my file open on his desk as I entered his office. He did not rise or speak but merely pointed with his open hand to the chair in front of him. It was made of hard wood with a padded mahogany leather seat and back. I took my seat; found it not terribly comfortable or uncomfortable and pulled myself straight as I could. I placed my open hands on my legs just above my knees and looked straight at the doctor. I tried to assume a look of pleasantness, but not to the point it might appear contrived, while I waited for him to speak. He did not, but met my gaze while remaining expressionless. He picked up the folder and with his hands still resting on the desk, angled it toward him. He adjusted his glasses as he appeared to read. Finally he looked up and addressed me.
“Kenton, do you recall the exercise you engaged in with Mr. Thompson last week where you completed incomplete sentences he provided you?”
I cleared my throat, then said, “Yes, sir.”
He turned on a reel to reel tape recorder on his desk identical to Mr. Thompson’s. “Good. Then we’ll get right to it. Remember not to pause or think too much about what you are going to say. As was Mr. Thompson, I am interested in the first response which comes to mind.”
Remaining expressionless he said, “We begin.
“The one thing I want most in my life is …”
“to make it meaningful.”
“If only I could …”
“end human suffering”, I replied.
He recorded my responses with pen and paper.
“The difference in animals and humans is …”
“animals cannot talk about their feelings.”
“My father was best at …”
“making me feel good about myself.”
Dr. Petrosky looked over his glasses at me as he wrote and I met his eyes and smiled slightly again attempting to maintain my look of pleasantness.
He continued. “I can talk best …”
“after listening.” Then hastily and enthusiastically added–“and about my favorite things which are dogs and children … and, uh … science!”
Again he raised his eyes. “I am interested in only your first response, Kenton”, he reminded me.
“Yes, sir.” I said.
“People I know are often …”
“My biggest fear is …”
“dying without world peace.”
He looked up and at me and simply stared. Then he put his pen down and adjusted his glasses on his nose. “Kenton. Do you ever hear or see things you feel may not really exist?”
“Oh, no sir. That would be quite a problem wouldn’t it?” I said with a deadpan expression.
He reached in the folder and produced another ink blot and asked what I saw when I looked at it.
“It looks pretty much like an ink blot somebody made on a piece of paper. Have you seen the water paintings chimpanzees make? It kind of looks like one of those. Except–of course–this one is black and white!” For the first time I saw his expression change, though it was so subtle I wasn’t certain what to make of it. “I guess a table lamp if it looks like anything!” I added. With that Dr. Petrosky turned off the recorder and told me to return downstairs and ask my mother and grandfather to come to his office.
I did so and, once again, the two of them were in the office for what seemed an incredibly long time. When the door creaked open, I expected to see them again at the top of the stairs but that was not the case. Instead, the doctor appeared and called to me, “Kenton, would you join us please?” As I ascended the stairs, I could again hear my mother sobbing. As I reached the door, I heard her say, “I can’t do it daddy. I just can’t do it! He’s my oldest child.”
I took the empty seat to the right of theirs, both of which faced Dr. Petrosky who assumed his position behind his desk. All became quite as he again switched on the reel to reel audio recorder and dictated the time and date.
It was my mother who choose to speak, “Donnie … Donnie …” (Uh oh! Here we go again, I thought. More bad news to come.) “Donnie, it is even worse than we thought a week ago. Dr. Petrosky is a very accomplished psychiatrist. He obtained his degree at NYU and was a psychiatrist at Attica Prison in New York before becoming the head of psychiatry at Bellevue.”
My first instinct was to blurt out, “Well what the hell are you doing in Logansport, Indiana working in this dump! Did you lose your medical license or something!” Instead I said, “It’s an honor to make your professional acquaintance, Dr. Petrosky.” All three of them turned in their chairs in unison and simply stared at me for a long moment. It seems there is an awful lot of staring going on in this meeting, I thought, as I stared back, maintaining that slightly pleasant countenance.
It ended when my mother turned in the other direction to her father and said, “Daddy, daddy – I just can’t do it!”
“Come now, Marietta. It is as Dr. Petrosky says, ‘it just has to be done’.” he answered.
I looked at Dr. Petrosky who was focused on the two of them as he nodded in agreement.
“Donnie, Donnie,” she continued in a mournful tone more a moan than a anything.
Placing his hand on her shoulder, my grandfather said, “Go ahead, Marietta”.
She took a long deep breath and sat up straight. She could not look at me but instead down at her hands which extended out and rested on her knees. “The doctor says he has seen many cases like yours both at Attica and Bellevue. He says you present all the symptoms of someone with a multiple personality disorder.” I looked over my shoulder to see if there was anyone else in the room.
Dr. Petrosky directed his attention to me and said, “Dissociative Identity Disorder. As classic a case as I have seen in all my years of practice. Because it is manifested in delusions and auditory hallucinations which have already, in my opinion, resulted in the shooting and injury of one friend–it is my recommendation you be admitted to the Logansport State Mental Hospital for stabilization and an appropriate course of treatment indeterminate in duration.” The blood ran from my head like the last drop of water from Niagra Falls to my feet resting on the oaken floor below.
My mother said, “And if you do not agree to this, Donnie, Dr. Petrosky wants me to sign a mental health warrant and you will be taken for admission”. With that she collapsed in her chair in a broken, sobbing heap.
I felt the trap door to the booby hatch drop out beneath me. Down a dark and stairless well I fell.