By Debbie Collins
The chalky protein shakes, pink or chocolate, tasted like failure to me. The shakes came in little pint-sized cartons like we had for milk in elementary school. I knew I was too thin but didn’t really care. I sloughed the shakes off on the other patients, bartering an apple for a shake, some carrots for another, and ate in tiny bites, tiny bits. The nurses threatened to take my smokes away if I didn’t eat. I remember you brought me some, not the brand I typically smoked, but I was touched. We sat on my bed to talk on the rough white sheets, institutional and reeking of bleach. They were an affront to me. So clean.
Some kid walked in with an Anne Sexton biography one morning, a huge book with her smiling black and white face on the cover. He bragged about the ECT he would be receiving soon (we had an unofficial contest to see who was worse off). I didn’t know they still did that. Also, there was an honest-to-god padded room on the ward. I didn’t know they had those anymore either. It had a big thick door with a tiny window and a bare mattress on the floor. I peeked in there in awe and dismay.
We don’t talk much about it. When I came to in the emergency room, I had charcoal on my shirt. You told me they found me with sand in my hair, sand in my mouth, on the beach. In the emergency room, my face was on fire with what I thought was a sort of brilliance but was really madness. I was fierce. The first in a long line of nurses came by to put a sedative in my arm, and I held your hand and cried.
In the following months, there was drinking and vowing to quit and arguments with a ferocity that stunned us silent. I refused to take my meds until you started measuring them out for me, and then watched me choke each one down like poison. I exhausted both of us into a stupor.
So here I am now, with the lunatic fringe, slowly disintegrating. Two residents are fighting over the TV remote control, and I’m wondering how long it’ll take a nurse to respond to this minor emergency. I’ve been here for two weeks, during which time I’ve begun to eat more, so now I have the privilege of taking a walk around the hospital grounds with the special others. The doctors have told me it seems I am no longer a threat to myself. Small victories.
They’ll let me go soon, a new me, a bright and shiny medicated me. Time to move on. I’ll set this world on fire in beautifully unexpected ways if you let me. Let’s try again.