I recently had dinner with some very dear friends whom I have known since high school. It is always a lot of laughs, sometimes at things past, and mostly because we find comfort in one another without pretense and without judgement. This takes years to cultivate, to be able to pick up right where you leave off regardless of actual time spent between visits, and is something that anyone who has it in their lives truly appreciates.
In our conversations we started talking about the program 3 of us were in during high school. A little preface here, looking around our group, we all are in some type of healthcare. We have a doctor, a pharmacist, a social worker, a stay at home mom (who is all of these 3 throughout her day to her family of course), and myself in pharmaceuticals. I guess that is why while 3 of this group of 5 were doing the Advance Psych class junior year the other 2 were probably taking advanced chem and could not join us. I thought of this little fact only as I was thinking of writing this blog. We are all fiercely independent women, who are smarter than our active social lives during that time would make you think, and who somehow found a way to channel our abilities to be good friends into professional roles of good helpers.
Our class was very interesting because though we learned psychology we had an assignment for most of the year that placed us within a mental health facility. Gerarda, Margaret and I chose Creedmore Hospital as our collective assignment, deciding it would be quite a fun adventure, a day out of school and that travelling together would be better than doing it alone. The trip took us Astoria girls about 1 1/2 - 2 hours of trains and bus changes. The place itself was tall concrete buildings, bars on the windows, that awful greenish tile and paint that smelled of either disinfectant (if you were lucky) or the nasty smells and spills the disinfectant was supposed to clean up. It was imposing and intimidating but we were not deterred. We were also not deterred that on floors above the ones we were on, which by the way a nurse at the front desk sent you to on an elevator where you did not really pick the floor, there were criminally insane adults.
We were assigned to be classroom helpers to three different classrooms. Gerarda and I had kids who were at most 2 years younger than us, they had to call us Miss before our names to differentiate that we were not peers, Margaret the younger kids. These kids, our peers in real life but not within the confines of this place, were full of issues our teenage angst could not have imagined. They were often medicated, told you they needed a time out (first time I learned that term) which involved a white padded room (it was frightening to watch their rage in there), learned almost nothing because they were either being told to be good or medicated and came mostly from homes that seemed like bad TV. We loved them all and each week come rain, snow, and many bus rides we went back. We had of course "favorites" there was Dallas (who was an arsonist at 16 and did not know his father and could not remember a mother..I don't remember who he lived with) he was witty and funny and made you forget that he was there because he could be destructive. I know Gerarda and Margaret (before you say it) I was the object of his affections...though to his credit they never got beyond the walk to the bus stop and the occasional asking if I would come to his house for a party. There was another young boy who we actually took the bus with, he was incredibly bright and had violent rages. There was a girl who had 5 siblings they all shared a mother but all had separate fathers. There were the kids who maybe with better parenting may overcome their delays but were not getting that anywhere. There were autistic kids, still kind of shocks me to remember them with their football helmets on ....even more shocking that they were in a mental institution.
I am a self admitted dork who loves learning but this may be the favorite experience of my educational life. It is possibly also the saddest, both then and now, as those kids really did not have a chance. We were good to them the 3 of us, the teachers were kind and patient but in the year I spent there I saw no progress, it was like they were in the same place in time that we left them every week. I do not know if that program still exists at Creedmore and if it does I hope that it has evolved though I am not that much of an optimist. It made my friendship with Margaret and Gerarda a bond that we have beyond the wonderful friendship we already share. Those kids may not have been changed by the environment but for a moment I hope they were impacted by the way we treated them...like they were just kids. I am not sure what, if any, difference we made on the place but I do know that Creedmore left it's mark on me.