Grow­ing Up Next to the Men­tal

The Aurora (Labrador City) - - -classified- - Harold Wal­ters Harold Wal­ters lives in Dunville, New­found­land, do­ing his damnedest to live Hap­pily Ever Af­ter. Reach him at gh­wal­

In the 1970s, when Wish Mooney was grow­ing up next to the Men­tal, I was a fully-grownup bay-boy who had been to Bowring Park and — in bay-boy awe, I s’pose — had walked the banks of the Water­ford River. Un­like Wish, I didn’t dis­cover a corpse in the river.

Brian Cal­la­han’s novel “Grow­ing Up Next To The Men­tal” [Flanker Press] opens with Wish Mooney stand­ing be­side a body in the Water­ford River, its “face down, and limbs splayed like a sky­diver be­fore he opens the chute.”

Find­ing the body of a pa­tient of the Water­ford Hospi­tal — the Men­tal — is Wish’s first mem­ory. It is his first con­scious aware­ness of the dis­turbed peo­ple con­fined inside the men­tal health in­sti­tu­tion be­yond his own back­yard.

Part of Wish’s mem­ory is also his first sight of a man stand­ing inside the hospi­tal fence, a man with a “bad brown com­bover” car­ry­ing a “Union Jack at­tached to a blade-less Sherwood hockey shaft that rested on his right shoul­der.”

Wish and the man with the bad brown comb-over are fated to share se­crets and in­sights for decades, un­til Wish is a grown man, in fact.

There is a se­cret about a fire and a se­cret about a cub­by­hole inside a wall. For Wish, there is in­sight into the man­i­fes­ta­tions of madness and nor­malcy.

At age 12, Wish learns some­thing about the na­ture of men­tal ill­ness from his PB — his per­sonal bully, Rod­ney Carter. As a re­sult of a mis­cal­cu­la­tion re­gard­ing pre­scrip­tion medicine, Rod­ney is ad­mit­ted to the Janeway Chil­dren’s Hospi­tal. As a re­sult of poor oral hy­giene, Wish winds up hav­ing half a dozen teeth ex­tracted at the Janeway …

… and thanks to their mothers, who are un­ware of their sons’ PB re­la­tion­ship, Wish is co­erced into re­turn­ing to the hospi­tal to visit Rod­ney, as a friend — kinda.

Dur­ing the visit, Wish sizes Rod­ney up and says, “You don’t look sick at all.”

Ticked-off, Rod­ney replies, “You don’t have to look sick to be sick.”

Ah, there’s in­sight for Wish, eh b’ys?

An anec­do­tal aside: While Wish was grow­ing up next to the Men­tal, I once vis­ited the Water­ford Hospi­tal for rea­sons you don’t need to know. As I walked a cor­ri­dor in search of a room num­ber I met a wo­man wear­ing one of those doc­tors’ lab coats. Think­ing she was staff, I said, “Ex­cuse me,” and asked about the room num­ber.

Nod­ding pleas­antly, she gave me di­rec­tions and, as nor­mal folks do, we chit-chat­ted about the mis­er­able weather for a minute or two.

At the time, I wore a jacket with a braided cord belt, the ends of which — be­cause it made me feel cool as Clint — I let dan­gle.

As our weather chat waned, the wo­man in the pro­fes­sion­al­look­ing lab coat reached out and com­menced toy­ing with the ends of my jacket’s belt.

Smil­ing coyly … well, yes, coyly — re­mem­ber I was feel­ing cool as Clint — she see-sawed the belt in its loops and said, “I bet you could hang your­self with this.”

For frig sake! You don’t have to look sick to be sick, eh b’ys?

Okay, back to Wish grow­ing up next to the men­tal, all the while keep­ing mum about a grass fire on the Water­ford grounds that “one of the pa­tients burned his foot try­ing to stamp it out.”

The truth about the fire fes­ters in Wish his life­time un­til his men­tor — Cap’n Mike of the fire depart­ment — of­fers sen­si­ble ad­vice: “At some point you gotta let stuff go, or it’ll beat you up inside … you’ll be your own bully.”

Good ad­vice, eh b’ys?

Wish’s fa­ther is a news­pa­per man. Au­thor, Brian Cal­la­han was a news­pa­per man. It isn’t a sur­prise then, that Mr. Cal­la­han, by means of Mr. Mooney, throws a few barbs at tele­vi­sion jour­nal­ists who blithely em­ploy clichés — “Dra­matic tes­ti­mony” and “tense mo­ments”, for ex­am­ple.

Such was the prac­tice when Wish grew up next door to the Men­tal. Such is still the prac­tice.

Now and again, a news an­chor’s pen­chant for speak­ing in clichés drives Mis­sus to pluck­ing at her curls and de­mand­ing that I lis­ten to what the an­chor al­ready has said!

“It’s time for (and here’s the bit that irks Mis­sus) a short break.”

Short break!

Short break!

Apolo­gies, if I’ve spo­ken in clichés above.

On a fi­nal note, “Grow­ing Up Next To The Men­tal” doesn’t end on a fi­nal note. It ends with this prom­ise — to be con­tin­ued.

Thank you for read­ing. Short break!

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