Of all the kooky Coo-Coo's in the nest, Charlene by far was my favorite. Poor Charlene had virtually lost her mind after the sudden tragic death of her son, and because of that, and in addition to her hilarious antics, we were all quite fond of Charlene.
She was an African-American woman, somewhere in her sixties I supposed. Hoary, snow white hair, diminutive in stature, not lean but not heavy, and entirely unpredictable. A fellow smoker, she would always accompany the rest of us out onto the patio where we all grumbled about our mental problems, b!tched about the staff and exchanged war stories. This was always my favorite time to share with Charlene because, without warning, she would often suddenly break out singing gospel songs as if we were in church and not the loony bin. Charlene would sing her heart out, and though not the best singer in the world, I found this erratic behavior endearing, because she would often not only carol "negro spirituals" but also many songs I knew by heart since I also grew up in church. And this was not just singing; it was like she was in actual church, arms waving and dancing around, as if the spirit of the Lord had abruptly invaded her animated body. Stomping, stamping, wailing, flailing: singing her little heart out for us. It was an awesome spectacle to watch, to say the least.
I clearly and vividly recall the day my parents and best friend came to visit me. As I was showing them around the place, which was actually very resort-like for a mental hospital, and introducing them to my new crazy friends, out from nowhere came Charlene with a paper cup in hand. She was "vroom-vrooming" all over the place like she was driving and steering a car. She even made screeching brake noises as she rounded corners, frightening the more sensitive patients in her wake. My parents and best friend, and those of us on "the mend", could not restrain our laughter. While Charlene "vroomed" past us, I yelled at her over the car noises and said, "Hey, Charlene; whatcha doin'?" and, without skipping a beat, she yelled back, "Can't you see? I'm driving my new Porsche!". Needless to say, we were all doubled over with laughter.
In all my time spent in mental wards, this is by far my favorite and most cherished memory. It turned out that Charlene actually lived in the same town as me, and I would often see her in the grocery store where I worked (after I was "all better"). I always said Hi to her and called her by name, and she would just look at me in bafflement and hurry on with her buggy. One day she finally asked me how I knew her, and I whispered in her ear (as not to embarrass her), how we had met in the hospital, and she took me aside and whispered in a conspiratorial way, "Oh, honey; that was a baaaaaaad time!". I just gave her a friendly, reassuring pat on the back and smiled, to signify that for the time being, we both were better, and that's all that mattered. Al Fin.