***Please note that the story below has some foul language and sensitive content.
I was always cold. They told me it was because I had nothing left, and I wasn’t sure if I believed that or not. Maybe deep down in my heart I knew it was true, but I would never admit that to myself. I had something to hold on to, even if it was just one small thing. Denying myself was what I had left, the only thing I knew how to do. But to me it didn’t seem like I was denying myself. I was just giving my body what it deserved: nothing.
The room they stuck me in was atrocious. It was an ugly off-white color with a bed that I swear was made out of cardboard and a TV that only got soap operas. I was trapped in this box because my mother didn’t think that I was healthy which was ridiculous. I was healthy; she just didn’t understand the complexities of my situation. It wasn’t easy being a high school girl.
Focus, focus, I thought. Paradiddle, paradiddle, double paradiddle, paradiddle, double paradiddle, paradiddle, paradiddle, double paradiddle, double paradiddle, paradiddle, paradiddle, stop. I sighed. Close. Paradiddle, paradiddle, double paradiddle…fuck. I need my sticks and pad.
The nurse came in startling me from practicing. Her black hair was up in a ponytail behind her. She was short, skinny, and beautiful. Every time she walked in I wondered how many doctors she was having affairs with. With such gorgeous brown eyes, I’m sure there were plenty.
I immediately stopped what I was doing and watched her move over to my bed. She sat a tray of food in front of me. “Lunch is here,” she said sweetly. As if I didn’t know. The smell of tomato soup and grilled cheese wafted into my nose and I wanted to vomit. Eating this shit was like forcing down rocks. It still eluded me how people could eat this stuff.
“You need to eat today dear,” she said. “Your mother told me you love grilled cheese and tomato soup.”
Oh really? I’ll have to thank her for that. I bit my tongue. I wasn’t about to give in and speak to this woman.
“Now you know I can’t leave until you eat something.”
Fucking annoying, that’s what she was. Every day it was “you need to eat”, “it’ll make your mother so proud”, blah, blah, blah. Fucking bullshit. What the hell did she know about making my mother proud? Nothing. Absolutely fucking nothing.
I looked back up at her with the saddest face I could muster. She always caved in.
“Honey, do you want me to bring you something different? I think I have a granola bar in my locker.” I didn’t respond but continued to look at her pitifully, twisting the hospital armband around my wrist.
“Oh all right,” she said. “I’ll be right back. Try and eat something ok?”
Try and eat something ok? I mocked her in my mind. She knew just as well as I did that I wasn’t about to eat anything that she brought me. At least her leaving bought me a few more minutes to myself.
My throat closed up as the smell of the tomato soup returned and I found myself gasping for fresh air. I swung my legs over the bed and hopped down. Technically, I was supposed to stay in bed and wait for Mrs. Caddy to come back. Ha, like that was going to happen. I looked down at my pale arm. An IV stuck out from my elbow connecting me to a tower of “nourishment and vitamins” that I had to drag around. Not today, I thought as I ripped the tape off of my arm and gently slid the needle out of my protruding purple vein. Blood starting flowing out and I quickly pressed my finger on the hole. The bleeding would stop soon. I took a piece of the ripped tape and put it back over my bleeding vein. Poor arm, I thought. Look what this hospital has done to you. I rubbed my arm joint and shook my head. It didn’t matter anymore to me. Today was my day. It was going to be the last day that I had to stay in this hell. I would leave and find my own way in the world. I didn’t need the people here or what they had to offer. I didn’t need their journals, and therapy sessions, or their rules that wouldn’t let me sing after 9:00pm. That was quiet time.
I had group therapy today so there were clothes stretched out on the end of my bed. I picked up the pair of jeans and plain red t-shirt with disdain. It wasn’t what I normally would wear. I missed my long sleeve turtleneck shirts and thick sweat pants all complimented with a large hoodie, but the jeans and t-shirt would have to do. Taking off my hospital gown was like breathing again. Who knew that real clothes could be so comfortable with their ordinary cotton and polyester? At least it wasn’t that scratchy material of the polka dotted hospital gown they forced me to wear.
After putting on somewhat real clothing, I opened the door to my room and walked out. The hallway was cold and the inpatient psych ward always frightened me. The people were always friendly and they smiled and nodded at me as I walked past, but it was the presence of the place that terrified me. My counselors had told me that I was just like them, but I refuse to believe that I am like anyone else. How can anyone even begin to comprehend what I’m going through? I just wanted to be free again and get the fuck out of this hospital. I wanted my life back, the one with high school band practice and reading frantically every night for AP English; the one with the dishes I cleaned every day and the dinner that I had to make. Even then I wondered how my family was eating without me making dinner and I didn’t know if they could see the counter through all of my father’s empty beer cans.
I continued to walk down the hallway, past the rooms with the screamers and the emos, at least that’s what I called them. Screamers always screamed when a nurse or doctor came in and emos talked too much about how dark and dismal life was. Pathetic, but still terrifying. It was hard for me to believe that people could be that sad and depressed, but I knew that it happened. My father was like that, always sad and angry. He drowned himself with alcohol every night. I always assumed it was so that he would lose all feeling in his body and soul, so that he would forget something in his past that was too terrible to deal with.
The group therapy room was down the hall and to the right. It was huge and freezing (like everything else in the damn hospital) with pink walls and purple non-descript flowers and a strong smell of lavender. I think it was supposed to make the room inviting and comfortable. All it did was make me gag. There weren’t any chairs in this room either, so when we had group sessions we were all supposed to sit on the floor. We would huddle around each other, our butts pressed against the scratchy beige carpet. “Express your inner feelings,” Mrs. Genga would say. Sometimes, I thought she was crazier than all of us put together.
I went to that room because I wanted my journal. It was a basic composition notebook that was issued to each member of our women’s therapy session. I didn’t know why I wanted it so badly. We were required to write in it to start each session every day. I never did. Everything I put on paper was pointless scribbles that I made sure made absolutely no sense. I didn’t want to write anything or share my feelings. I just wanted people to go away, but for some reason I needed that journal. I thought that it would be step one on my way to a new life after I escaped this fucking place. Who knows? It might be nice to have a journal as a companion when I run away.
“I thought you might be here Amy.” The voice was Mrs. Genga’s. How did she find me?
“Mrs. Caddy told me you weren’t in your room.” So Mrs. Caddy was the culprit. Figures.
I turned to look at Mrs. Genga. She was a rather tall woman with an annoying personality, but beautiful nonetheless. Her smile would have been nice if she wasn’t so happy all the damn time. Her hair was brown and just as long as she was and her voice was rather low, similar to a cello.
“Now Amy, I know that something is troubling you and I want you to know that we care.”
“Can we talk?”
I didn’t respond, but averted my eyes from her face and focused on my socked feet.
“Amy, are you alright?”
I nodded. Please go away, I thought.
“I want to show you something dear.”
I hesitated and stepped back from her. I’m sure she could see the anxiety in my eyes because she cooed, “Don’t be afraid. I just want to show you the new therapy room.”
I was confused and also slightly interested, so I followed her down the hallway a few more doors. Running was pointless anyway, with Mrs. Genga there. She unlocked the large brown wooden door to a room that I had never been to before, and exposed an art room. That was the only way to describe it. On the wall were posters from MC Escher, Salvador Dali, and countless other artists I couldn’t remember. There were shelves of paints and chalks all sorted by type and color with long desks that lined the room giving ample space for painting and drawing. The scent of crayons, glue, and paint hit my nose and I breathed it in as if it were the first time I had ever taken a breath. My heart rose in my chest. It was the first time I had been excited in a long time.
I turned and looked back at Mrs. Genga. “Go on, you can go in. Don’t stand here at the door. Feel free to use whatever you like.”
I was shocked. I was being unleashed on a room full of art supplies, everything at my disposal. “Amy I noticed that you don’t write in your journal but you draw. I want you to have that outlet.”
I didn’t think my nonsensical scribbles would get my anything like this. I cautiously entered the room, taking in all of the supplies and their homes. Planning a picture was useless so instead I grabbed the paints and a sheet of paper from the top shelf. I shut my eyes and let everything flow to my hands: the pain of my mother and father as they dropped me off at the hospital; the fear as I watched my hair fall out in clumps in front of the mirror; the monster that I thought I was; the blame and guilt for destroying my family; the cold and loneliness. My hands were my paintbrushes. I dipped my fingers in the colors and smeared them all over the paper releasing the cold I felt; I hated it here, I hated my parents, I hated my friends, I hated myself. With each stroke of my fingers on the page, a small piece of warmth returned to me, until tears were dripping down my face and onto the picture that I had painted. When I stepped back I saw that it was my favorite place in the world that I had painted. It was my willow tree back at home, but it was different somehow. There were red streaks throughout the bark and dark shadows that hung on the trees limbs and leaves. There were no birds and the sky was a swirling brown.
Mrs. Genga came and put her arm around me. Without looking up at her I said, “Thank you.”