On the Friday before my husband came home from work to say “Something bad has happened,” he and I went out out for a date night. We started at one of our favorite restaurants, a cozy little restaurant a few blocks from Arcata’s main downtown square and just over the freeway, 101, from campus.
Although at least a six-hour drive and seemingly remote from Bay Area life and culture, Arcata and Eureka were not cultural backwaters. Like other coastal towns up and down California, they attracted their fair share of artists, free-thinkers, intellectuals, and entrepreneurs. Arcata also had the advantage of being a university town, so there were a number of PhDs among the population. Among those migrated north to escape the expense and crowds of city life were foodies. When we lived in Arcata, we ate well: a Spanish tapas retaurant, great sushi, decent Mexican, and a white-table-cloth hotel restaurant in Eureka that won raves in Wine Spectator magazine.
This restaurant my husband and I went to on our last date night before his crisis was small and bistro-like with a wood-fired oven, an open kitchen and soft candlelight on the tables. We both were in good moods, I remember, feeling a bit sentimental that we’d be leaving Arcata, appreciating our last dinner here, and talking optimistically about our future. I don’t know why but our conversation also turned to our lasting devotion to each other. Perhaps we were talking about friends contemplating divorce, and we agreed that we would never do such a thing, we would never leave each other. We wouldn’t do that to our child. We would grow old together. Maybe after our son was up and out of high school, we’d think about living overseas again.
The future seemed so full of possibilities. My husband was bright, successful. And once our son was started kindergarten, I could get back to devoting myself to writing that novel that was sitting in the drawer.
After dinner, we went to campus, to hear a touring performance of the St. Lawrence String Quartet, a internationally acclaimed group of Canadian musicians now based at Stanford University. I’ve always liked going to listen to chamber ensembles rather than full symphonies. The sound seems so much more pure, and the audience’s proximity to the musicians is more intimate. You can see the individual artistry blending together into such precise harmony. I wish I could remember what the group played that night. Probably something by Beethoven, Bach, Haydn, Ravel, Dvorak, or Schubert–some of the usual suspects. They also played something very modern and atonal, which was just breathtaking in its inventiveness. They definitely deserved the accolades they would receive in a New Yorker magazine profile I came across a few months later.
Six days later, on Thursday, March 22, 2001, I was writing in my journal, but my thoughts were scattered. It was the day I had to call the ambulance to have my husband 5150’ed because he was considered a danger to himself–he was threatening suicide.
After a visit by a police detective who was investigating allegations against my husband of misconduct at this job, I found a friend who could look after our toddler, so I could drive over to the hospital emergency room and see if my husband was there.
Mad River Community Hospital is a 78-bed facility that always looked as though it had been built out of portables. It served Arcata, which has a population of around 17,000.
The hospital staff let me into the emergency area, where I found my husband sitting, in the sweat pants and jeans he had dressed himself in. He had wrapped one of those thin hospital blankets around him. He looked up at me with this pleasant smile on his face.
“I think we live together,” he said to me. “I think I’m supposed to ask how you are.”
“I think this is a hospital,” he added. “I don’t know how I got here.”
He also said something about odd about clocks or watching, something that made my mind flick to something out of a Salvador Dali painting. In another hour or so, he would be transferred to the county hospital, where he’d stay for a six-day evaluation.
Those are the only semi-coherent things I wrote later that day. The rest of it was all over the place:
He’s in the hospital. Mental collapse. He didn’t know who I am. What is this? Life turned upside down? What’s going to happen to my husband? He’s detached himself from reality. I’ve lost him.
Not that I ever had him, and now I’m in the position to be the rock. The man who handles things. Takes cares of things. It’s so unreal.