“Do you know where you are?”
I am in New Jersey. I am in a hospital room, propped on a lumpy mattress. I am in restraints.
“I don’t know.”
“You’re at Overlook Hospital. Do you know why you’re here?”
I swallowed a handful of Ativan.
“I tried to kill myself.”
The woman’s face doesn’t change. She knows the answers, I’m just reciting them.
“Do you remember how much you took?”
Enough that I shouldn’t be alive.
“How are you feeling now?” She leaves the question open.
I’m sick; my stomach is an aching vortex, wanting to consume and repel at the same time. The foul, familiar, charcoal taste has dried to my throat. My limbs and groin ache from when they pressed me to the floor and forced 30 milligrams of near-death out of me.
My mind feels relaxed. A cool stream of neurons are lighting up, splashing down, down down, to my temples, then disappearing into joyful oblivion. I am high as a kite. Not happy. Maybe at peace.
“Would you be willing to spend some time at Six West?”
The woman knows the answer to that question. Why is she asking me that?
“I know I have to go to the psych ward.”
“It’s easier for us if we know you’re compliant.”
“I’ll agree to whatever, I’ll sign whatever.”
“That’s all I need to know, someone will take you where you need to go in a couple of hours. That should be enough time.” She flips through my chart one last time. She leaves and I watch the clock.
I play a game. Every two minutes, I hold my breath for the third. The drugs add to the usual lightheadedness so I stop at the sixth round. I notice rumbles and bumbles of daily hospital life. There is an endless parade of rolling patients. Some are in wheelchairs, others are on beds. I see them being shuffled around like a bureaucratic game of Solitaire.
I wouldn’t like to be the one to decide whose situation is more urgent. I’m not urgent, pumped up with drugs and all tied up. I wonder if Caitlin would find this sexy. It combines her favorite things.
A nurse checks on me. “How’s it going in here?”
“Press the button if you need me.” She leaves.
Where’s the button? I look around and cannot see it. I search and search, thinking of all that could go wrong. I could suffocate. I could dehydrate. I could piss my bed.
I need to go to the bathroom. A dull ache forms, becoming more and more serious. I look around frantically, finally slamming my hands down in defeat.
A nurse comes in, “Is everything alright?”
“Thank you so much. I need to use the bathroom.”
“Is it number one or number two?”
“I need to pee.”
“Do I have your assurance that you will be safe if I take you out of the gear.”
“Do you think you can walk?”
“Ok, lets get this show on the road.”
She unvelcros me from the bed and helps me to the bathroom. I can walk but my center of gravity fluctuates. The world tilts suddenly and I fall onto the white tiled floor of the bathroom. I like the pain I feel from the fall. I feel my bladder’s pulsing ache and I crawl towards the toilet.
“Let me help you!”
She was trying to help me stand. I didn’t notice before. I help her stand me up. I make it just in time. She helps me up, and we wash our hands together. She leads me out of the bathroom, and a wheelchair is waiting to take me away.
I glide down the hall, only faintly feeling the orderly’s measured pushes and the smooth tiles beneath me. We enter an elevator and a woman inside smiles at me. We get off on the same floor, but she turns left and we turn right.
We arrive at a door, wooden and industrial, with a slit like window to peak through.
“I’m just going to ring the doorbell.” He says. He’s smiling at his joke, everyone is smiling. I notice I’m smiling. I wasn’t aware of it before. The woman in the elevator must have seen it. ‘You smile at the world, the world smiles back.’ More like, ‘you get sedated, the world finds it funny.’ The drugs retreat enough for me to paste on a halfhearted scowl. I want to look the way I usually feel.
A woman with gray hair fashioned in tight uniform curls opens the door.
“Hello, won’t you come in.”
Again, another joke. The orderly pushes me in and signs a clipboard. The floor is laminated lighter wood broken up by tile patterns. The unit has an open floor plan; only a pane of glass separates the living room and dining room.
“My names Kathy, I’ll forgive you if you forget it. They really did a number on you. Look at these doses.” She furrows her brow looking at my chart.
“I think I’m coming to, but I’m bad with names to begin with.” I say.
“Well, I won’t hold it against you either way. But how about this, we’ll make a goal that by this evening you’ll remember three names of people on the unit. They could be staff or patients. Do you think that’s asking too much?”
I hate this woman. Remember three peoples names isn’t asking too much of a dog. She’s prompting my answer. I just couldn’t give a shit.
“No, of course not.”
“Good, we’ll write it on the goal board.”
Great. The whole unit will think remembering three names is a reach for me. They’ll all want to introduce themselves to me. They will all want to be the one of the three I remember. How will I choose which ones I say when they ask me about my goal?
“Okay, that’s wonderful. Well, if you feel up to it, we have a group going on right now in the rec room. Do you think you can go?”
I don’t want to go. But they’ll hold me here longer if I don’t have a productive first day. I’ll blame it on the drugs. Then it’s their fault.
“I don’t feel up to it, you know, the drugs,”
“Okay I’ll show you to your room.”
She walks me down the hall. There are rooms on the left, all of them slightly open. The rec room is at the end of the hall, and we make our way closer and closer. I told her I didn’t want to go to group, didn’t I? But she’s taking me there anyways. Soon the entire group can see me, and a few stare at me curiously. Finally, we turn left. My room is directly across from the rec room. I hate Kathy.
“You’re on fifteen minute checks, okay? Rest up, so you can go to pet therapy.”
I thought pet therapy was on Friday. Today’s Wednesday.
“I thought pet therapy was on Fridays.”
“Hun, todays Friday. Do you know the date?”
I took the pills Wednesday, was I in the hospital that long? No, I must have taken them Thursday.
“We’re in mid-October. I was just confused.”
“Okay, get some rest.”
I don’t fall asleep. I’ve slept enough. I might have slept 36 hours. When did I take those pills? I play my breathing game for a while, but I have no clock. I stop short in frustration. I pace the room making different shapes with my paths, a game I play at home, but there’s not enough room and I get bored quickly. I hear laughter from the group through the vents and it makes me angry. They have no right to be happy. They shouldn’t be allowed to laugh like that. I leave my room and in a few short steps I’m outside the rec room. I walk in and the room quiets down, but they all grin at me.
“Join us.” The group leader says. “We’re just wrapping up process group.”
They all seem very happy I’m here. I smile unintentionally. I can’t help being engulfed in this warm energy. It’s similar to the drugs I was given. I find a seat.
“How long were you in the emergency room?” A younger woman asks.
“I overdosed so I don’t know. I thought I did it on Wednesday, but now I’m thinking it was yesterday.”
They all quiet down, and their smiles recede. None of them really attempted it. That’s why they are so happy. It must be like summer camp for them. I am with a bunch of lightweights.
The group leader is unfazed. “Casey asked because a lot of them came through the emergency room and were kept waiting for a long time.”
“It was forever, I was waiting seven hours! Seven! Can you believe that?”
“I was there 10 hours!”
They go through the number of hours they were left waiting one by one. I try to look interested but it’s difficult. They all seem like excited school children looking for my approval. An older man toward the corner doesn’t chime in and seems mildly entertained. He makes no attempt to hide the bandages on his wrists. I like him immediately.
“Great Group, I think we’ll end there. We have pet therapy at six after dinner, until then the rec room will be open. I hear that some of you are going to pick out a movie, so you can enjoy that in the living room. You are all free to leave.”
I go back to my room. I want to be alone. I don’t belong with these happy people.
The old man with wrist bandages walks in. He must be my roommate. He starts putting his clothes and things in a large paper bag.
“Are you being discharged?”
I’m usually against stating the obvious but I want to talk to someone.
“Yes. My cab comes in an hour.”
“You’re leaving in a cab?”
“Well my cat certainly can’t pick me up.”
Shouldn’t he have a wife? Or children?
“Don’t you have someone to take you home?”
He looks at me with serious, yet soft eyes.
“I lost my ride home three weeks ago.”
I fucked up. I’m such an idiot. He should have kids picking him up though. I feel a need to ask.
“Where are your kids?”
“We never had any. She wanted to have the freedom to live our lives unencumbered by the weight of little rascals. Now it seems like a mistake.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever have kids.”
“Why’s that?” He picks up a small stack of books and stores them in the bag.
“Maybe it’s some type of self loathing. I just don’t want another me out there. My child wouldn’t deserve the genetic package I’d give him. I’d hate that.” It feels good saying this. I feel genuine for once in my life.
“That’s a mistake.” He doesn’t look up. I don’t know what to say. But he knows better then me at this point. Maybe in forty years I’ll come back with a few zingers on procreation. I sit for a while. Just thinking about death. I miss my mom.
“What was she like?” I don’t know why I’m asking him about his wife. He must be so alone in the world, he’s here after all.
He continues to pack his things but he slows down. He lingers by the desk and taps on it a few times.
“Everything she did was extraordinary. Every trip we took, every museum we went to, every food we ate, she thought, was the best there ever was. I didn’t remember it that way, so I learned quickly I wasn’t the storyteller of the relationship. I couldn’t think the way she could, no one could. She saw the most wonderful world. I was so lucky she picked me to share it with.” He moved back to the bed and sat down across from me. “She smiled more than anyone I’ve every known, but if she didn’t get her way she had a scowl waiting for you so severe you’d wet yourself.” He chuckles at the floor.
I don’t think about love very often. Caitlin probably never thinks about it. I bet she’s on to the next fuck-up by now.
“Do you think everyone has a chance at what you had?”
“No, not everyone. But I have a feeling you do.”
We sit in silence for a minute.
I stand up. “Do you want to go to the rec room?”
“No, I need to finish up packing. But you go ahead.”
“You’ll warn me when you’re about to leave?”
I walk across the hall and sit in the rec room. Time passes slowly in the hospital. Time turns to molasses, moments advancing forward on the shallow decline of space. Each second is being checked and rechecked by the DMV of the heavens. I may never be able to drive my life forward. Just stuck in this moment. Trapped in my sick body. Trapped in my depression.
That’s what it is really. Trapped in depression.
“Hey, do you want to play ping pong?” a girl asks.
I shrug and give a nod. We start to play. She isn’t well coordinated, and has the frazzled, lethargic signs of ECT treatment. I can see she’s trying to retain something of her old self, or trying to find it again. It’s all fake. She looks like she could fall asleep on her feet. I can see the misery behind her eyes. Why try so hard. Give up.
“I’m a little…” she doesn’t know how to finish the sentence.
“It’s okay, lets go to the living room.”
“Why don’t we draw for a while?” She points to a table with Crayola products and stacks of colored paper.
I don’t want to draw, but she looks like she’s about to fall apart.
She stumbles on the leg of a chair as she finds her seat. I sit across from her and I look at the paper, unsure of what I should do. I don’t want to draw.
“Come on, just pick a marker and draw something.”
“I don’t know what to draw.”
“You’ll think of something.”
I pick up white sheet and black marker. I stare at the paper. I can’t think of anything I want to draw.
“I don’t know what to draw.”
“Draw me.” She smiles.
Her eyes are a light color, it’s sharpness fading in and out. Her round face is hollow and pale, hair matted in odd places. I can see something pure about her, not innocent, but good, beautiful. She’s something worth drawing.
“Okay.” I release my hand to do what it wants. I look at her, I study her, I see her story and I draw her story. I never draw; I doodle often, but never a real thing. She looks up occasionally and our eyes meet and she looks down again. I keep staring. I am an artist, I’m allowed to be creepy.
My hand stops and I look down. I can’t believe I drew it. I begin to fold the picture.
“Wait, let me see it!”
I give it her.
“Oh my god, you’re an artist. Why didn’t you tell me you were this good? This looks… it looks the way I feel when I see myself in the mirror. You’re amazing you know that.” Tears are rolling down her face. I can’t tell if she wants the picture, if she was glad I drew it.
“How do you see it?”
“You see right through me.”
“I’m sensitive.” I say and I can’t help smiling. She smiles too. We’re all sensitive to the outside world.
The girl I drew looks at her picture. She has a horrible, sad smile on her face. Her eyes are teary and she makes no attempt to wipe them. She stays that way for a while.
I get up and go back to my room. She doesn’t notice me leave. I made a mistake.
My room is empty. The sheets and blankets on the other bed are gone. The old man is gone. I must have missed it.
I start my breathing game again, but I think of my old roommate and I stop. I walk to my desk and sit down. I open the top drawer and there is a red composition book inside. ‘To be read with love,’ is written in block letters on the front cover.
The notebook has the feel of an old friend. It wants to be opened.
I open to the first page and begin to read.
Watch the day
Sanguine movement of the sun from side to side, pleasantly burning the my worries and skin
Make no attempt to stop the unstoppable
The sun will always shine
The earth will always turn
Time never falters, only becomes longer and longer
Time grows old with me
One day I will die with time
Embraced like worn lovers
Soon, soon, soon will come.
I can’t forget.
The notebook is filled with poetry. I become lost in the notebook, falling through the looking glass into his world, his mind. I forget myself until the poetry ends. Halfway through the notebook the writing stops and an empty feeling fills me. I fell in love with the writer. I flip through the rest of the pages searching for the poet’s scrawl. I find his final bit of writing on the last page.
To my roommate,
I hope you will enjoy these poems. I am an amateur, but my wife loved them. I can’t write anymore. Nothing comes to me as a stare at a page. I see only unbearable whiteness. Blank. Nothingness.
I have no one to give the poems to. Please keep them safe.
You will understand my decision, I know you will. This existence has no meaning without my love, my wife. This time I will succeed, and I will be happy. I am tired and I need rest.
But you are young. Don’t take my death as permission to take yours.
You have a long, happy life ahead of you.
The date on the note is today. I read the suicide note again, and again, and again. I stare at the page for a while. The old man left this for me. He wants me to know. I don’t want the staff to find this. I rip out his final writing and rip it to pieces. I throw the suicide confetti in the garbage. Then I realize that they’re probably looking through our trash, and if they see these ripped up pieces of paper they’ll be suspicious. I take the paper out of the trash and rip them up some more and flush them down the toilet.
There is a call for us to go to dinner. I walk out of my room and start down the hall for dinner.
“Hey da Vinci.”
The girl I drew is in the hall smiling. I smile back. She looks healthy.
“Hi Mona Lisa.”
She is walking with another girl.
“My friend Casey here would like a portrait.”
“Mona, I’m don’t think I can do that again.”
“How can you ever be sure if you don’t try.”
We go into the dining room and we get our food. Mona takes out a pen and paper and places them in front of me. I don’t want to draw Casey. I look at Mona Lisa and I realize she’s the only one I’ll ever want to draw.
“Hey Mona, I don’t think I got your good side. Would you mind Casey?”
“No problem. But I expect a drawing by Sunday!”
Mona smiles again.
“I was hoping for another one. What’s this about my good side?” She said.
I laugh. I haven’t laughed in such a long time. I stop short just listening to the alien sound.
“All your sides are good.”
“Then why send Casey away?”
“You’re the only person I want to draw.”
She studies my face for a moment. Then pushes the pen and paper towards me.
“Well you’re the only person I want to draw me.”
We smile at each other.
The dying rays of sunlight soar through the Plexiglas windows, painting my Mona Lisa in oranges and reds. Just for this moment, we are not the sad, helpless, drugged up, electro shocked patients. We are an artist and a model. And in this moment we feel happy.
Jared Stein is a emerging writer and former literary journal editor. He is currently a University student and is based out of south Florida.