I feel space. Space between my hands, space beneath my chest, and space inside my head.
I feel blank. Like my universe is a piece of work that has been left dead for years.
Why am I here? —April 18th
They brought me to a sanitized room devoid of any color or life. Empty walls closed in on me as I made my way towards a window framed by white bars. I was separated from the rest of the world. My arms hugged around scratchy blue scrubs, digging my nails into my skin at an attempt to wake myself up from this little hell.
It was too late for me to walk around the rooms of this place after the nurse came by and turned off all of the lights until morning. I am left again with nothing.
I laid on the single bed lined by white sheets and stared at the ceiling for hours. The sound of birds chirping as 6AM ticked sharply by snapped me back from the blank void in my mind. I wanted to stay in that void until it covered my body and killed the demons tearing my thoughts apart, but my mind was sentenced to death already, and this empty room acted as a purgatory until my fate was decided.
“Here for your check-up.”
A nurse with a stocky stature and stubby fingers checked my vital signs and told me the schedule for this morning. Vital signs at 6, breakfast at 7, and my first visit with the psychiatrist at 9. She wore pink scrubs, slightly similar to the blue scrubs they gave me, except hers had an assortment of cats, and she didn’t seem uncomfortable in them. She tried to sound cheerful with her small-talk, but I had no reason to say anything to her. I was too exhausted to put sentences together, and continued to watch her mouth move incessantly in her one-sided conversation.
I don’t remember when she left or what she said, but the window told me it was getting closer to 7. The sun began to piece together bits of light through the white bars, and I heard feet shuffling outside my door. Everything was white here. White-washed walls, white sheets, white tiled floors, white sink, and me. I felt anxiety bubbling up in my stomach at the sight of it, and pushed myself out of bed. This room felt like the space in my mind and made me feel trapped in solidarity. I can’t stay here.
The pink nurse, let’s call her Pam, left the door open, so I put on hospital socks and peeked out of the doorway. The hallway had several doors like mine sketched across both ends, but no one was there.
How many people are trapped in these rooms? What if it’s just me?
I walked down the hall and found two rooms opposite of each other with tables, chairs, and a TV. A man with a grey unkempt beard, checkered pajama pants, and a maroon shirt, stared blankly at an old episode of Law & Order. He didn’t notice me at the doorway, so I decided to sneak back to my room before he did. I felt cold and didn’t know what to do with myself, and the blank look in his eyes gave off a familiarity I didn’t want to be a part of. Pink Pam caught me before I reached my door and motioned to a trolly with plastic trays.
“It’s breakfast time. Go to the dining room and I’ll have your food ready.”
Dammit. Never mind.
The grey bearded man’s name was Mike. He didn’t say much, but the nurses seemed to know him well, and tried to strike up conversations with him as they handed us breakfast. One other tray was left at the table adjacent to Mike’s, but there was no sign of movement in the hallway. Is this person exempt from eating cafeteria food?
The food tasted bland and reminded me of high school lunches.
The thought of school sent a chill through my body and I tried to shake it away, but I couldn’t.
The dining room twisted into a long hallway with tin lockers, black and white checkered floors, and blank papers posted on pieces of cork board. There was one door left open at the end of the hall, but it seemed to stretch farther away from me as I walked closer to the doorway. When I found myself at the entrance, my stomach dropped, but my body remained static. Paintings of trees with red, blue and yellow dripped down canvases lining the wall across from me, just how I left it. My desk had papers and folders organized in alphabetical order with sticky notes posted on the computer for tasks I needed to complete throughout the week. The whiteboard listed assignments due for next week, and displayed a quote from one of my favorite authors for the start of each morning:
Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced. –Soren Kierkegaard
Then tell me what reality is, because this doesn’t make any sense. I shouldn’t be here. I can’t be here.
My feet moved involuntarily towards one of the student’s desks and I noticed a blue spiraled notebook had been left behind. I took it, and started flipping through the pages one-by-one, but every page was blank. I moved towards my desk, and noticed all of my papers and sticky notes were blank. My fingers fumbled for the drawers, and they met me with the same blank pieces of nothing. I turned to the whiteboard and found that all of my notes had been erased into stark white, and felt something grip my heart and pull me down. I looked up at the walls and only saw white–no paintings, no pictures, no posters. Everything was gone. I was being erased at each movement I made. Fear jumped out of my skin and I felt my body grow lifeless. I closed my eyes and tried to bring everything back, but the white permeated the corners of my mind and took away my only pieces of sanity–
I opened my eyes and saw Mike staring at me over his tray of powdered scrambled eggs and pieces of bacon.
I stared at him with a confused look on my face, but said nothing. My body was shaking and I couldn’t concentrate on what was happening.
Mike continued to repeat the same phrase over and over to the point where I felt annoyed, but I couldn’t form any words to say to him.
Finally, he stopped, took one look at my food, and nodded at the untouched carton of orange juice on my tray.
“Do you want your orange juice?”
This began the first of many conversations I would have with Mike. Left over pieces of shitty cafeteria food. The nurses seemed to decide for us when we were finished, and started taking our trays away, but I handed Mike some OJ. His eyes lit up like I had just given him a birthday present. His reaction reminded me of when I worked at one of the nursing homes as a teenager. We played banana bingo every Tuesday, and it is just as exciting as it sounds. You get a bingo, you get a banana. If we didn’t have bananas, the old folks would become furious with outrage and demand for their treat. It’s no joke there, you can never come underprepared or you will have people staring knives into the back of your neck. I wonder if Mike likes bingo.
Pink Pam noticed I hadn’t touched my food, but she didn’t say anything. This phantom person never showed up for breakfast, but I overheard one of the nurses say “Jenny” was suffering withdrawals, and needed more medication.
Mike shook his head and looked over at me.
“She’s having a hard time. She hasn’t seen her kids in 3 days.”
I nodded at his remark and watched him reach for the remote to the TV. He didn’t seem to mind that I didn’t talk. Strangely enough, I felt some of my anxiety lessen as we sat there watching reruns of criminals getting caught and thrown into court.
In the criminal justice system, sexually based offenses are considered especially heinous. In New York City, the dedicated detectives who investigate these vicious felonies…
My dad loves watching reruns of this show. I used to get up around midnight and eat bologna sandwiches with him while he watched old Law & Order episodes and told me about the main characters. Olivia Benson got shit done, and knew how to shut men down when they objectified her or made some off-handed comment. I wish I had the strength to do that. Maybe then things would be different.
Dad was also pretty entertaining to watch because he always got emotionally involved with the characters. He would talk to the screen whenever the story took a turn for the worst, and gave me the play-by-play.
I miss talking to him about nonsensical things, but I can’t let him see me as I am now. It’s been half a year of lies and telling him I was fine, that I was making it in the adult world with my first job, and I overcame one of the hardest years of my life before graduation,
But I failed.
Every week brought me closer to feeling inadequate, small, and dead–
Until I broke.