Why cage a songbird? My time in a psychiatric unit.


Art by Lily Lefevre

"Why cage a songbird?  Why did you choose that bird?  Why that pet store? Why did it end up at that store?  Why does a songbird sing at all?" -TJ Ruzicka

By TJ Ruzicka, Londonderry High School

I’ve spent the past few days cooped up in a room at Walden Behavioral Care, wallowing in my own sadness.  Letting my angst and despair fester and metastasize. Yet, the other night I genuinely smiled for the first time in a while.

Coming from the shared rec room space that my room flanked was a familiar tune.  John Lennon’s “Imagine” was being sung ever so softly. An angelic voice was being accompanied by artful plucking of a ukulele.  Like sirens to sailors on a ship, I was lured in towards the requiem for the melancholy.

After leaving the darkness of my room, I stepped into the morosely illuminated rec hall.  There sat two girls, one singing, one strumming away on ukulele. Together they were art; separately they were two stories that should have never ended in the same book.

Evelyn, ukulele player, was born and raised in Lawrence, Massachusetts.  She was always deemed a lost, inner-city kid before she ever had a chance to prove people wrong.  What those who predetermined her destiny didn’t know, was Evelyn’s incredible musical talent, specifically the ukulele.

Evelyn ended up at Walden through the same path as most of the other patients: a warm, innocent, maybe even borderline naive heart, broken down by the cruel reality we live in.

Then, there was Aria, a frontier girl who spent her whole life in Missouri.  She recently moved to Massachusetts to pursue a career in music recording. She always wanted to be a singer, but never felt that she had what it took.

This perpetual self doubt is what lead her to Walden.  After years of telling herself ‘No you can’t’ she finally decided to check herself in and look to get better.  She knew that her time at Walden would be long, uneventful, and at times boring. So, she brought an instrument she had always wanted to learn.

‘What instrument?’ You may ask.

Well, a ukulele of course.

The pair were total foils of each other.  Yet, they ended up as roommates, and soon as friends.  After getting to know each other better through group sessions, leisurely arts and crafts, and frivolous small talk, they finally realized their ukulele connection.

That night was the first time they played together.  For me, that night was one of the most impactful of my life.  For you, probably a night similar to a favorite childhood book: to be fondly forgotten in time.

After they finished serenading the desolate hall, I was the sole applauder.  A resounding ovation of one was all they needed for an encore. For the rest of that night, the next night, and the night after that, they played, and I listened.

After all their concerts had been played, they were discharged.  As they left I said goodbye to two people that had such a major impact on my life, that I’ll never see again.  And as they walked down the hall, they said goodbye to each other. Knowing that the person they were bidding farewell, was a best friend, a heart that truly loved the other, and as they parted ways, a fleeting memory to smile about.

For the rest of my time I’ve been here, I’ve thought about that night.

Why did Aria want to learn ukulele?  Why, of all the facilities in the country, did we all end up at the same one?  Why, of all the nights to sing, did they choose that one?

In my existential crisis, I think deeper.

Why cage a songbird?  Why did you choose that bird?  Why that pet store? Why did it end up at that store?  Why does a songbird sing at all?

At risk of sounding too philosophical or overly trite, I wonder: whether it be fate, God, or a random series of events, it happened.  And every night I look out my window, and look at the stars and ponder the universe, and ask why.

The most frustrating part, is that there’s never an answer.  As a society we overanalyze everything, and need everything we do to be structured, scheduled, and concrete.  Despite this, we live in a world with no answers.

Sitting here nihilistically questioning my value in the cosmos has lead me to one conclusion: Shit happens.  And sometimes you just have to sit back and appreciate when you hear a good song.

This story was originally published on The Lancer Spirit on September 26, 2019.