SMILE (Part 2) – or How to Get a Lovely Mississippi River View for Free

View from Fairview's Psych Ward (Station 30)

View from Fairview’s Psych Ward (Station 30)

SMILE (Part 2)

Vinegar and Paper

Sam the nurse wheels me through the tunnels underneath the Fairview hospital complex.  They are slender and dimly lit and he speaks soft and nice, like I’m a child with a high fever.  “Don’t worry.  Is this your first visit?  It’s not a scary as it seems,” he says.

I don’t talk, just listen with eyes closed and feel the way the tunnel air gently brushes against my face as he pushes me in the wheel chair, listen to the wheels squeak and turn over slick, linoleum floors. They’ve taken off the black, vintage dress I was wearing because it had a belt and sharp, rhinestone buttons. They’ve dressed me in blue hospital scrubs that are shapeless and scratchy.

The tunnel is long, seems like a lifetime as Sam pushes and sweetly talks in a sing-song voice.  I imagine him as a preschool teacher, singing about Jack and Jill and his broken head all taped up with glue and paper.  We are the only ones down here in the dark emptiness, even breathing seems to echo.

Finally an elevator, smooth and cold, I can see my reflection in the brushed stainless steel walls.  Slumped and small, blue Fairview scrubs, puffy eyes.  I’m a monster, and the short-haired boy named Sam has his hands gripped tightly around the handles of the wheelchair.  He’s wearing purple scrubs, bright and loud that fit.  He has a laminated name-tag, clipped to the pocket of his shirt.  He’s humming and tapping his foot, a song that sounds familiar, but I can’t quite make it out.

Up and up, left, right, more hallways and turns, linoleum changes to thin, hard carpet, double doors that hiss and cry.  Sam pushes a doorbell, a crackled voice comes through the wall.

“Sundance,” he says and I hear a strong click, metal teeth releasing their grip from stainless steel doors. “Here you go.  Janice will take over from here.  You’re in good hands.”

Janice is in turquoise. She has blond hair pulled back in a bun at the base of her neck.  Her nails are smooth and clean, and she helps me out of the wheel chair, her hand gripped firmly on my arm.  “Alright, steady.  There we go,” she says and she sounds like a furniture mover, and I start to laugh.  She doesn’t flinch, just keeps walking with me down a softly lit hallway, into a room with two metal beds neatly covered in white sheets and a thin blanket. “Miranda is your roommate, but she’s in the common room.  She’s very sweet.  But this,” she motions to the bed next to a window, “is where you’ll be sleeping.”

There are drawers built into the wall, and she unlocks them with a key.  She shoves a bag of my belongings – my dress, the purse the cops scoured my house to find – into a cubby.  I have no shoes, I left barefoot.

“Hungry?” Janice asks.

I don’t remember the last time I ate.  Yesterday? Last week? Over the past six months, my weight has plummeted. I am wasting away, becoming smaller, trying to turn invisible.    My short, curvy frame whittling away, becoming sharper around the edges.  My round cheeks and wide eyes caving in, shoulders hunched, collarbones jutting out like snapped twigs.

Janice heats up a leftover dinner plate.  It’s nine o’clock, six hours since the cops were shaking me, asking me why.  I eat lasagna and salad with ranch.  Food never tasted so good, the rubbery texture of noodles, bland red sauce, lukewarm salad slightly wilted.  I shovel it into my mouth with a plastic fork.

I eat alone on my bed, different nurses and staff rotating in and out.  They all have badges, all have names I cannot remember.  Just a blur of colored scrubs and lab coats. They tell me I have to ask to use the bathroom, that everything is locked down for my safety.

“You’re on a hold,” Janice says. “72-hours so Dr. Lopez can evaluate you.  Except the 72-hours only apply during the weekdays.  Today is Friday.  That means you will for sure be here until Tuesday. So, settle in. And if over the weekend you seem to be doing better, we will let up on the restrictions, alright?”

It all sounds like babble, days of the week, hours, restrictions.  I just nod.  Eat more salad.  Sip cranberry juice in tiny, plastic cups with foil tops, and stare. The room is brown and white and beige with reinforced, plexiglass windows.  There are soft, cloth blinds with no cord.  It’s dark, but I can see the Mississippi River out my window, winding slowly and sluggish, chunks of ice poking out from jagged rocks.  It’s an expensive hotel view, but the price of admission is desperation.


9 Responses to “SMILE (Part 2) – or How to Get a Lovely Mississippi River View for Free”

  1. Last spring I spent a couple of days visiting my niece with the exact same view, but the river in flood stage. She saw a boat stop at the base of the Wash Ave bridge. A person lingered, appearing to examine the base of the concrete support where the water surged around it. My niece thought it was a terrorist planting a bomb. She called 911. The nurses were livid. “Don’t you EVER call 911 again!” My niece laughed, as she told me the story. She looked at me sideways from the corners of her slanted eyes and said, “I got them. They can’t control me.”

    • That, my dear, is a pretty terrific (and very true) story. I wonder how many locked-up inmates have called 911. They should block it from the patient line!

  2. Earlier in my life I remember visiting various people I knew who ended up in the psych ward. I remember how much it scared me because I thought I might end up there one day.

    Your descriptions make a movie in my mind.

    • Yeah, I feared on a certain level I would end up there. Mainly, because I had struggled with feeling “crazy” my whole life. I’m glad you are following and enjoying my work. I rarely share my pieces with people outside writer’s groups and schools, so this has been very inspiring to get so much feedback and support.

  3. Love that last line!

    • Great. I was a bit nervous about when I was drafting, feeling it might be too sentimental. However, in the context of the larger work, I felt it wasn’t too sappy. I wasn’t certain how it would read broken up on this site, but I’m happy it worked. Thanks for your continuing support. When’s your newest piece up?

      • I usually do one a week – putting something together on the writing process being a little like falling in love…

  4. I was hospitalized in Fairview too, but in the adolescent psych ward. I remember those same horrible green scrubs, and I remember watching fireworks across the river from my window. It is a surreal experience and you captured that very well.

    • A fellow Fairviewer! That’s funny that you saw the fireworks, too. Thanks for reading, and I’m glad it was realistic. I tried hard to capture it.

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