sitting ominously atop a grassy hill, and sprawling across the street stood the northampton lunatic asylum. this building was designed brick by brick upon the model of the infamous bedlam asylum, from where we derive the term "sheer bedlam." it had opened sometime in the mid 1800's and closed sometime around the early 1990's, when the last remaining inmates (about 30) were ejected out into the world to become the insane street people dotting every corner of the quaint pioneer valley town.
in the heyday of "modern psychology" people were sent to this place for everything from schizophrenia to masturbation. here they experienced abysmal conditions, green walls, electro-corrective therapy and shock baths. i once saw a photograph taken in the basement of a dungeonlike door, about four inches thick. the window looking into the cell was cut into the shape of a heart, and bars set inside of it separating captor and captive.
when i moved to town it seemed like just about everyone i'd met had broken into the now-defunct nuthouse, and frankly i was a little jealous.
a friend of mine had broken into this place so many times since it's closing that he had mapped the entire place out, and was more than happy to take a few people for a little day trip. i was psyched and at the same time a little scared. i could feel my adrenaline pumping through my veins as he regaled me with stories of what waited inside. a basketball court. a morgue. an amphitheater. a network of tunnels underneath the complex. cells. double locking gates. rubber rooms.
it did not take too long (a few minutes) to get two more interested individuals in on the excursion. on a cold and icy winter day, i filled a backpack with supplies: flashlights, extra batteries, water, handkerchiefs for our faces, trash bags to tie around our feet, a screwdriver, a hammer, a crowbar, a knife and some gloves. the four of us met in front of a popular burrito restaurant around four and walked up the street past the campus and across the athletic field where a small path into the woods appeared. my friend warned us about security guards and the possibility of getting arrested. we rolled the dice.
we made our way up the path, towards the central building. it was here that the most volatile patients were kept. the criminally insane. shit-throwers. hair-pullers. night-screamers. high-risk types. suicide watch. we waited in the brush for a security car. it was as dead calm as the sargasso sea. when it seemed that the coast was clear we dashed between two buildings and found what seemed to be a blind corner. i opened my bag and got to work on the thick piece of wood bolted over an entrance. after a few genuinely strenuous efforts with the crowbar, the bolts whined as the barrier began to pull away revealing an open door just out of our reach.
and then we heard the car. i threw my bag against the building and laid flat on my back in the grass. the rest of the gang began to walk away from me, distracting the attention of the security guard who was just rolling up in her patrol car. i could hear her mumbling something to the other three. they nodded and began to walk back in the direction we had come. she told them to leave. once the guard drove off, i grabbed my pack and slipped back between the two buildings, hoping to rejoin my friends. they were walking about thirty feet in front of me. as i stepped out into the opening, the security guard came around the corner, spotted me and swung the front end of her car directly in front of me. she rolled down her window and said the stupidest thing that, to this day anyone has ever said to me.
she said; "stay right here, i'm calling the police."
i stood looking dumbfounded and said; "okay." as she pulled out and headed in the opposite direction to the security kiosk, it was at this point that two things happened, one after the other: the 20 milligrams of speed that i had taken kicked into roaring life, and then i began to run like hell. i slipped over the ice and crashed through the snow, i ran through briars and brush, barrelling past my friends shouting to them; "she's calling the cops on me! i'll meet you back in town!" i can think of other times that i've had to run as though my ass depended on it, but i induct this into the hall of fame. i was BOOKING, not looking over my shoulder, treading sheer ice.
and then suddenly i heard the sound of a speeding car behind me. she was chasing me down. later, friends would tell me that she was flying after me like a bat out of hell. there was a direct right angle in the service road ahead. if she kept speeding after me, she'd crash into the woods. she'd have to brake, because there was no way that she could take such a sharp turn at the speed she was going. i decided i'd run into the woods ahead and try to escape into the underbrush. i was close to the athletic field from where we came in. my adrenaline buzzed in my ears and my heart felt like it was ready to explode. at the last second, i jumped into the woods to realize that i had, in fact, just jumped down a very steep embankment. i had no time to gasp, as i had to focus on how i was going to land. i hit the slope with the balls of my feet and went head over heels, landing on my back and rolling towards the bottom on my side. i swear i must have rolled through six briar patches before finally hitting a tree. i used this painfully sudden stop of momentum to gasp for air and try to get back on my feet. i was scratched up, and knew that the warm drip coming from my nose was blood. i could hear the patrol car at the top of the embankment. i took the two liter bottle of water out of my bag and tossed the knapsack, tools included, into the woods. i heard the car door slam. she was getting out to look for me. i tried to stop gasping, and laid flat on my stomach against the leaves and snow, the hood of my dirty army jacket pulled up over my head. for about ten minutes, she paced. and i waited, too. eventually she got back in her car and drove away, but i didn't trust the path when this woman was looking for me. i stayed close to the bottom of the embankment, always looking up as i trod the edge of a frozen pond. once i reached the field i collapsed on a bench and drank about two thirds of the water and lit a cigarette. my muscles felt like they were on fire, speed was rocketing through my system thanks to an overworked circulation and i was covered in snow, dirt and scratches. as i stumbled back into town, mild amphetamine psychosis set in and i was looking everywhere for cops. they never came. i met up with the other three and we laughed about it all, smoking pot and drinking black label. about a year or so after all of this, i did finally succeed in two explorations of the state hospital, but that's another story. catch me if you can.