Two hours earlier I had been tip-toeing through the pitch black side yard, wrought iron fence on my left, homemade beans and rice through the window to my right, dodging ill-woven Black Widow webs in front of me. My nightly sojourn from the front gate to my front door.
Two hours later I stood with Josh in front of a podium. Behind the podium was a security guard. A big man with pitch black skin, he demanded we sign our names before we entered through the sliding glass doors. He asked to see identification. As I printed my name I noticed the metal detectors.
“Why are you here?” he asked us. Josh was frozen.
“To visit a friend,” I replied.
“What?” he asked. I knew he heard me.
“We’re here to visit a friend who was admitted,” I said.
He squinted at me. Then he squinted at our identification and at our names on the paper.
“What’s the name?” he asked.
“What?” I responded.
“Your friend’s name,” he said. I told him her name. He nodded toward the door.
Gracie had knocked on my front door as soon as I arrived home. My book-bags barely on the floor, I heard the sound of her tiny knuckles. She asked if I knew what happened. I did not. She told me the ambulance had come for Faith.
The hospital doors slid shut behind us. We took three steps forward, Josh and I. We stopped. The emergency room was full. Jerry Springer played on the televisions hung from the ceiling. Televisions I knew were old with their fake wood laminate. The pile of the carpet had long ago been crushed. Crushed, stained, cut, melted. An old man with a crusty nose slept at the end of a row of seats. A heavyset woman yelled at her child, as he crawled half-naked on the ground. Another woman fed her children McDonald’s. The clamor in the room was deafening. Arguing. Yelling.
Josh and I stared. Our feet stuck. I was glad for the metal detectors.
A few of them stared back at us. These two white kids, Josh and I.
Stiffly, silently, we walked to the counter. We told them we were there to see our friend.
“Are you sure?” the male Asian nurse asked. “Are you from USC?”
We nodded. He tried to tell us we were in the wrong place. We insisted we were not. Finally he found her name.
“Why did they bring her here?” he asked. They never bring students here.
“Why did they bring her here?” he asked again. We did not know why.
He told us we would not be allowed to see her. We were not family. They were still waiting for the psychiatric evaluation.
Gracie had told me they took her. That Faith had called the ambulance. That something had happened. They took her to California Hospital, Gracie told me. She had taken too many of her pills. I knew she was struggling with her dosage, I told Gracie.
“No,” said Gracie. “On purpose.”
The Asian nurse stared at us.
“Well, maybe one of you,” he said. He would let Josh enter. He was her best friend, after all.
He told us to wait in the chairs until we were called. We stood in the corner and tried not to make eye contact with the room full of why-are-you-here stares. We did not even speak to each other, Josh and I.
The Asian nurse came for Josh. He glanced over his shoulder at me as they shuffled away. At least I was used to hospitals. None of this was for Josh. He followed the nurse through the security door, through to the exam rooms, leaving me alone, locked out, or in.
When Gracie told me, Josh was the first person I called. He was her best friend, after all. He had been scared to drive through the neighborhood. Scared to park. Intimidated by the security guard. He was as sure as them that we did not belong here.
As the minutes passed, I slowly maneuvered myself sideways, nearer and nearer to the security door. I pretended to watch Jerry Springer. The door swung open slightly. I slid sideways through it and flattened myself against the inner wall. To my right was Josh. I could see his chest pumping.
“How is she?” I whispered. He had not seen her yet, but they had told her we were here. The psychiatrist was with her. We put our heads down and walked through the hallway to her room. We stopped at her door, but we could not see through the yellowed glass of her window, through the yellow curtain inside.
We flattened ourselves against the wall and waited. We stared at our shoes, the molding, the edges of the linoleum. The walls were yellow. The curtains were yellow. The edges of the linoleum were yellow.
The door suddenly opened and the doctors told us to go in. They did not know we were not supposed to be here. I let Josh go first.
She looked embarrassed, Faith did. I let Josh do the talking, let him do the asking, as we waited for her explanation. As her lips moved, a trail of charcoal leaked from the side of her mouth.
A copy of the psychiatric evaluation form lay discarded on her lap. She seemed not to notice it there. She began to tell Josh what happened. She did not know how she was going to pay for this, she said. Insurance does not cover this.
I glanced at the form between exchanges of dialogue, stealing one sentence at a time, so she would not notice me reading.
She was going to have to call her parents, she said. Her family would be disappointed.
Had she meant to harm herself? My eyes glanced at the check box marked, yes.
They would be disappointed because she had done this before.
Would she harm herself again? The form asked.
They were going to take her to Northridge, she said. Seventy-two hours.
The check box marked, yes.