I swear to God, a fourth of all of the inmates in the psych ward are some sort of protestant preacher. Each one has a story about how the path of righteousness will blaze a path to the Almighty. The reverend reads straight from his good book to a nearly empty cafeteria at midnight, "For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind."

Who is he kidding? A sound mind? Which one of these guys were given a sound mind? It'd be easier to find a fashionable hospital robe at fashion week.

The Sprit of Fear is a good friend. Him, I understand. Power, too. I'm in the grip of it. But love … and sound minds are sorely lacking in my daily scripture … replaced by pain and exhaustion. I'm tired of being tired.

I'm sitting on a tortuous plastic chair with no idea what to do aside from listening to Preacher Man. Just past midnight, young man in green scrubs, had unlocked the outer door and collected me from the security guard. A gentle push guided my exhausted, vacuous shell through the series of locked doors into a cafeteria – my new home.

I'm sure that Greenscrubs spoke to me. I'm sure that he introduced himself and welcomed me to the hospital wing. I may have even responded. I can't say for certain. I am numb.

Greenscrub leaves me to listen to the Preacherman's rambling sermon while he buzzes at the locked control center next to the cafeteria. My hospital gown - a stylish, one and a half-wrap of dyed single-ply toilet paper - rises up just enough in the back to allow my nuts to stick the plastic seat. I press down on the precious little remaining cloth between my legs. I hope they clean these chairs before breakfast.

Like the song says, no matter what they take from me, they can't take away my dignity.

It's dark. Most of the overhead fluorescent overhead lights have been extinguished for the night. There are maybe nine square tables, each with four rotating plastic chairs, and a couple with an extension for wheel chairs. It's almost empty, outside of Preacher man and people in scrubs.

Preacher man catches my attention. "I know you've been brought low. We all have. It seems hopeless." He rotates around on his one good leg and settles into his wheelchair. "But never forget that God has a plan for you."

This was his plan? Shit. He's a worse planner than I am. It's not that I don't want to believe the reverend. I'm just a little bit … skeptical.

A tattooed man stirs at one of the nearby tables. I had barely seen him when I arrived, but now I can't miss him. Sitting in one of the cafeteria chairs, he's covered in tattoos. His muscles are pretty impressive. He lies on his outstretched bicep, a multi-colored relief map of Colorado, and drools on the table.

He's in the second fourth of all people in the cuckoo kennel - true sociopaths with barely repressed anger control issues. It's almost cliché. You can imagine that it's a load of fun when you encapsulate a few of these guys together in a cramped space.

I don't know anything about psychiatric medicine, but I don't want to be anywhere near Tattooman when his meds wear off.

I have no idea what to expect. I'm not even sure where I am. The fourth floor of some hospital in the city.

"Can I have something to drink?" I ask. After the day I've had, I'm thirsty. I'm not apologizing for it.

"In a minute," Greenscrubs says. He wraps a nametag around my wrist and wheels over the blood pressure cuff.

An African American nurse in blue scrubs sits at the table across from me. She's about four feet tall and shuffles her Danskos when she walks. Her hair is pulled back a mottled display of individuality which adds about a foot to her height. She's all business. She begins the litany of questions:

"Have you considered harming yourself in the last twenty-four hours?"

Should I lie? Does she know why I'm here? "Yes."

"Have you considered harming anyone else in the last twenty-four hours?"

"No." I already hate this question. In the last day, I've been asked it four or five times. At my lowest, I couldn't hurt anyone. I couldn't even double-park when I went to buy the gun.

Greenscrubs wipes some frigid metal wand across my forehead and places a clip on my finger. He wraps a sleeve around my elbow and pressurizes the cuff.

My eyes follow a young kid, maybe twenty wandering the circuit around the cafeteria and the control center. Unlike Tattooman and me, he is not wearing the prescribed hospital gown. He has short-cropped blond hair and wears athletic pants cut to knee length shorts and a towel around his neck. He's a toe walker. About the worst I've ever seen. With each step, he bounces like a drum pedal adjusted too tight.

Tigger belongs to another fourth of the tenants – someone who has no business being in a short-term mental facility. You know the type. Twelve Monkeys called them "mentally divergent". He has no idea where he is.

Of course, neither do I. I'm in a hospital, but I can't be sure which one. At least I'm aware that I don't know which hospital I'm in. So, I got that going for me.

"Have you experienced any hallucinations?"

I realize this is the second time Bluescrubs has asked the question. "No."

"Is this your first time in a place like this, Sweety?"

"Yes." Is that uncommon? How many times do people come here? I finally realize that I am shivering. "It's really cold here."

"Uh huh," Bluescrubs says. "They like to keep it cold here. How much sleep have you had in the last twenty-four hours?"


"When was your last bowel movement?"

How the hell should I know? I haven't really been thinking about it. "Maybe two days." I dosed myself with Imodium a couple days ago. I'm not sure if it would help, but I was hoping it would plug me up enough to prevent a mess.

"How do you feel?"

"Thirsty," I said truthfully, "and I have a headache. Can I have some … " What is it called? "Ibuprofen?"

"Tylenol?" she asks.

"No, it doesn't work."

"I'll have to check with the doctor," she says. "What other medications do you need?"

"Metformin," I say. "About five hundred milligrams and ten milligrams of Ambien. If you expect me to sleep, I'll need that." I'm sure there is something else, but I can't remember. "Simvastatin," I add.

She asks about medical conditions which should be obvious enough at this point. "I really need water," I say.

"Just a minute, Sweety," she says. "Do you need a special diet?"

"Low carbs," I say straining to be polite. After the Metformin, she has to know what I can and can't eat, "… and no milk."

"No cream with your coffee then."

"I don't drink coffee. I like tea."

"I think the kitchen can make tea for you," she lies.

She asks about my medical conditions. I am sure to list them all – chronic pain in my left shoulder and ribs from an old injury, diabetes, and, of course, chronic, incessant insomnia.

I need her to understand how debilitating this is without sounding … you know … crazy. I don't hate being tired. I fear it. "I won't sleep without the Ambien," I say.

She nods. That's not enough. I want to grab her by the collar and shake her. After one night of sleeplessness I can't think, clearly. After two, I'm a shell of a person. Hollow and incomplete. Grumpy, grouchy but otherwise emotionless. I can't even concentrate on a simple task like reading or binging Netflix. After three nights, everything hurts. Real and imagined injuries from my past haunt me. I hallucinate … mostly light and sounds. I've never gone longer than that, but I'm sure if I don't get the Ambien, I will die.

Preacherman is gone. He was just curious about the new inmate.

Tattoo man stands against the control room wall and twitches like a race horse dying to burst out of the starting gate. He drops down to the ground and starts pumping out a series of pushups. The staff ignores him.

Greenscrubs returns with a stapled paper bag and a handful of supplies. He wears a stylish, cropped beard and a perpetual smirk like he finds us all amusing. I agree with him.

He sets the bag on the table and tears it open. "These are your belongings," he says. Clothes ... outstanding. "We're going to inventory these now, but I can't give them to you until after we've completed admission."

"Shorts," he says pulling a pair of my red shorts out of the bag. He tugs on the string and it is sewed in. "You can have these while you are here, but I have to remove the string."

I nod and Greenscrubs cuts the strings off with a pair of scissors. He writes "shorts" on the inventory. I wonder if I can grab those scissors, but I don't move.

Tattooman crawls under one of the tables, grabs hold of the bottom. He pumps off a dozen pull ups with loud breaths in between.

"Book … one, two pairs of underwear … socks … t-shirt … Oxford." That's more than I had when I checked in. I had been dressed for bed in shorts when they picked me up. My wife must have dropped something off. "… tablet … glasses," he says one after the other. "You can't keep the tablet while you're here. I'll lock it up for you."

I nod, but I'm irritated. I'm not surprised that they won't let me keep it, but I wanted that tablet for reading and e-mail. They have me for at least seventy-two hours. My book may not last through the entire stay.

He shows me the empty bag and places it all back in the bag. I sign the inventory. I can't be certain, but I think some things are missing.

"One more thing," Greenscrubs says, "we have to inspect you for bruises and open sores." He gets up from the table and says, "Follow me."

I'm sure my nuts make an audible ripping sound followed by a thwack as I peel them away from the plastic chair. No matter what they take from me

We arrive at the examination room. Bluescrubs is already there waiting for us. Greenscrubs closes the door behind me and says, "You have to disrobe so that we can inspect you."

So much for my dignity.

When we're done, he hands me my belongings minus the tablet and strings. I hope I don't lose weight while I'm here. I dress quickly. I feel just a hair more human.

Greenscrubs leads me out of the room and down the hall giving me a quick guided tour of the hospital wing. The area is shaped like an 'H'. Medications are dispensed in wing which includes the examination room. The opposite wing contains the television lounge, group activity rooms, and a locked door to the outside. The third wing contains two phones to the outside, one of which is working, and a "quiet room" where you go if you need a place alone. I'm pretty sure there are few volunteers. The fourth wing has only rooms, but there is a large, plate glass window with a brilliant view of night time Tampa.

The final stop is my room. My roommate is crashed is the fetal position with his back facing the door and his sheets pulled around his head. "He's pretty quiet," Greenscrubs says. "I don't think he'll bother you."

Bluescrubs meets us there and says, "The doctor approved your medications. She hands me a cup with one pill in it and a styrofoam cup of water."

Only one? It's the ibuprofen. I guess I'm not getting the Ambien tonight. I swallow the pill and the entire cup of water.

My bed is a thin mattress with hospital controls. Recessed UFO lights radiate out from the bottom. I don't know how to turn them off.

I place my few belongings on a shelf and try to lie down. I have to lay down on my right shoulder to avoid pressure on my bad left one.

I breathe in and out a few times, trying to quiet my mind. All I have is a thin sheet. We're in Florida and it is still freezing in here. I wasn't prepared for that. Hell, I wasn't prepared to be committed.

My mind races trying to understand the myriad of mistakes it took to get here. I roll around between my back and shoulder trying to find a comfortable position before I settle on the shoulder. I wait maybe ten or fifteen minutes before I give up. I grab my book and glasses and head back out to the cafeteria.

Greenscrubs is meeting with a new person at the same table across from the control room. The resident has scrapes and bruises along his arms and face. "I have brain damage," he says to Greenscrubs. "I just need to get my meds checked by the doctor."

"You can talk to the doctor tomorrow," Greenscrubs answers. He wraps the blood pressure cuff around his elbow. "I need to check your vitals."

A strikingly beautiful black girl roams the hall with a blank expression on her face. She is wearing a sorority sweatshirt and black yoga pants. Sudden awareness crosses her face when she sees Tattooman who is back to drooling on his biceps. Yogapants makes a beeline and sits across from him. Tattoman is unaware of her attention.

I tease myself wondering why she chose his table over mine. Heck, I'm a jobless fifty-year-old muddled lump of an engineer who was fired for cause. I'm not just a loser, I'm unemployable. Like George Bailey, I'm worth more dead than alive.

I choose a table under one of the few working fluorescent lights and open my book – The Riddlemaster of Hed. It's my favorite book. Tonight it serves as an escape. A Campbell-style mythic journey fantasy about a young man trying to understand the riddle of meaning in his life. It's a simple read that I can handle without a lot of thought.

A different man in green scrubs strolls down the hall. This is bad. Why can't they all wear different colors? I may need to learn some names. Outside of wardrobe, Greenscrubs2 looks nothing like Greenscrubs1. He's a six foot black guy with short graying hair and drooping eyelids. I call him Droopy Greenscrubs who is different from Smirk.

He stops at each room, opens the door, and makes notes in his notebook. After he finishes in one room, the door breaks open and a woman bursts with waist length, straight dark hair. "I was fucking talking to you!" she screams.

Droopy doesn't even turn around.

"Listen shithead," she says shaking like she doesn't have the strength to complete the sentence. She gathers her strength and says, "I've been asking for a shower for two days. Don't you have the common fucking decency to do your job?"

"I'm doing bedchecks," Droopy says as thought that answers anything. He turns and goes to the next room.

Angry woman gags and vomits something which looks just like syrupy water. She goes into her bathroom and finishes. I hear the toilet flush.

When she comes back out, she belches a few more epithets at Droopy. Then she returns to bed, satisfied that she had been heard. She'll be back.

Angry is the other fourth of the residents. She has your simple, every day average substance addiction, probably alcohol.

I know what you're thinking. That's everyone, right? Which one am I?

This is one of those mathematical trick questions. Some inmates, like Preacherman, fit into more than one category. The rest of us, those who don't fit into any of these categories, are normal.

Who am I kidding? I am too smart to be so stupid. I'm just like everyone else here. I'm locked up for a reason. I just don't understand why. Like Morgan of Hed, I need to solve the riddle of my life.

After a few hours of reading, I decide that I'm tired of being tired. I head into my room and lie down on the mattress. This time, when I close my eyes, I actually fall asleep.