SMILE (Part 9) – or Ms. Manic’s Adventures in Manic-ville!

Author in Shark Jaw circa 2001

Author in Shark Jaw circa 2001

Dearest Wreck – 

“I’m in love with her, kiddo.  I mean it,” Murray whispers during morning check-in.  We are supposed to give a high and low of our day so far and answer some stupid question about if we could eat any meal what would it be. There are fifteen of us going round the room, hard chairs lined up in a circle, people still in pajamas and matted hair dragged out to talk about steaks and roast and pie at ten in the morning.  The eating disorder girls are in baggy clothes, over-sized sweats and shirts, some with knees pulled up to their chins.  Kim, the hairdresser, tries to hide the cuts on her wrists, some sharp and red, others pale and faded.  Hundreds of slices, years and years of trying to hide them.  The eating disorder girls don’t want to talk about food.

 “I’ve never felt like this before. I love Jenny.  She’s so sweet and her stupid parents don’t get her at all.” He waves at Jenny from across the room.  She smiles, her straight brown hair hanging in her face.  She’s so plain, just one of those faces that blend in, that pass you buy in a blur and never registers in your mind.

“Your wife, though,” I say.  I have no idea who she is.  Just a faceless, nameless void of a woman who dropped him off at the ER door and said, “Take him.” His case file is long and lengthy, the ER knew who he was.  He knew the procedure: surrender your shoes with laces, belts, sweat pants with strings.  Nothing sharp – keys or compacts or hair pins you could scratch yourself with.  Trade in street clothes for Fairview issue scrubs and special hospital socks with thin rubber strips that grip the smooth floor.

“Margaret? Fuck her.  She just gave up on me when I stopped making money.  I used to be a day trader,” he says. “She met me when I was flying, on top of the world shelling out cash for calamari and martinis and flourless chocolate cakes.  I bought her whatever the fuck she wanted – tennis bracelets and dumb rings with sapphires shaped like hearts.  That bitch is super tacky.”

“Murray? Please pay attention.  It’s your turn.  What would you want to eat?” Karen the psych tech asks.  She is tiny and blond and goes to the University.  She wants to be a shrink but her shrieky voice hurts my ears, like a stereotype of a cheerleader in some sex crazed-teenage boy flick from seventh grade.

“Food, right?” He winks at me. “Puffer fish.  They’re poisonous you know, but I guess that wouldn’t fly here.”

“Cheeseburgers,” I say. “Not crappy, rubbery ones like here.  But real ones with fancy cheese and mushrooms and lettuce.  That’s what I’d eat.  And that’s my low for today.  That I don’t get one.  And my high is that I might if I ask Johnny or Liam to bring me one.  But that’s my low, too.  Cuz I don’t really like Liam. He’s super boring and what kinda guy would want to pursue a mental patient he hardly knows, right? But Johnny might cuz he’s still sweet and cool…..” I start to trail off.

“Johnny’s that crazy one, right?  I mean, he looks like he’s one of us with that wild hair sticking up.  And the way he laughs! It’s maniacal.  I’m surprised they let him leave the other day.” Murray laughs. We always size up everyone’s visitors, wondering whose banging who, if they’re coming out of love or loyalty or guilt.  Sizing up their useless gifts like knitting needles and yarn and make-up with hard cases you could break and use to slice your skin.  All of these are kept behind the nurses’ station.

“Yeah, he’s my old boyfriend.  Not old, like age-wise, though he is thirteen years older than me.  But old, like we broke up several months ago.  Sort of.  We just faded away, really. But it’s more like I fell into a pile of cocaine.  I don’t think he knew too much about that, though.”

I remember the last email I sent him, the one that said {I guess I’m not your girlfriend anymore.} But it was months after I had stopped spending the night with him, after all the plans and lunch and play dates were over.  Our intense, nine-month love affair  began with flirty emails and childhood stories, cheap hotels and Jack Daniels on the railroad track at midnight, conversations that  winded around in dizzying circles about politics and art and the odd characters we had seen during the day.

It started like a wild fire – raging, uncontainable.  It ended like a wet firework, the fuse sputtering and straining, unable to ignite no matter how close you held the flame.

His most recent letter:

                             Dearest Wreck,

I feel so incredibly useless.  Your broken voice on the phone just rubs it in; I can do Nothing for You, except Love You and Care for you.  I walk the floor, worrying and weepy, wishing I even knew what, exactly to Hope for.

(At this point, the telephone rang.  I don’t know anybody who is up at 9:00 on a Sunday morning and I was glad to hear it.  I smiled before I even answered, knowing who it was.  You sound 1000% better than yesterday.  But, Y’know…..The day is Young.)

I Love You, standing tall or curled up in a fetal ball, hospitalized, institutionalized, domesticated, over or under-medicated.  Either/any way, I am useless.

It’s Hard to Sleep after Ten – 

The mirrors in our rooms aren’t real, just silvery squares that distort our faces.  I have to go out into the hallway to put on makeup.  I borrow handfuls of Miranda’s glitter and dust my face, let the eating disorder girls do my hair. They twirl and twist it, push silvery hair pins in while staff watches.  I skip to group. I have Murray and Miranda and Jenny to hang with, even though they can be annoying.  Jenny with her silence, Miranda with her mouth, Murray with his know- it- all way.  But the days are zipping by, fast, faster, faster and it’s all fun and antics and laughter and why the fuck are we actually here in this place when it’s gonna be alright, we’re crazy, and who cares and we get to play in occupational therapy and do stupid yoga and sing songs.  It’s fucking summer camp without the sun or trees or water or wide trails to explore.  It’s summer camp but sterile.

It’s hard to sleep and after the ten o’clock snack of apples and string cheese I want to hang out and laugh some more but the stupid techs won’t let me.  “Time for bed.  Take your meds.” And I make it into a little song – time for bed, take your meds, time for bed, take your meds, la, la, la – and they are pissed and write something in my chart.  The nurse tells me I have to take a sleeping pill but I say they scare me and she doesn’t care so I say call the fucking doctor and he’ll tell you I’m fine and can do whatever I want as long as I don’t hurt myself or anyone else.

They call.

Dr. Lopez tells them the meds aren’t working. I say, how can he tell? I feel great. It’s like you guys want me to be sad.


8 Responses to “SMILE (Part 9) – or Ms. Manic’s Adventures in Manic-ville!”

  1. Damn I want to come along.

  2. Excellent portrait of the day-to-day life on the “inside!!” I’ve only experienced six stays at various psych ward summer camps (that I can recall). I must admit however that the first was a doozy topping out at two months plus change. You paint with a freaky level of detailed, dimensional shades, that I can almost smell that lovely combination of ancient carpet dust and stale air in the rec rooms. The absolute astounding yet confounding element of your post(s), is that, through some sort of neurological glitch or divine intervention, you recount as if you really remember these experiences. While your writing is waking me up to a few colorful and cool ward flashbacks, most specifics are nebulous at best! Amazing clarity!

    • Yeah, my memory is quite specific in nature, that is for sure. I’m certain, like all things, I experience life through my unique lens. Others in the ward at that time probably recall different events. This detailed, vivid quality of mine has been difficult and useful. I wouldn’t be writing otherwise – a way to retell, reinvent, reconcile experience and memory with words.

  3. I love the way you observe your life without self pity, presenting it to the reader to make their own minds up. I’ve missed a few of these, but your details writing draws me in so quickly that I don’t feel lost, which is great.

    • Today is catch-up day. Breathe. Take the time to read what you have missed. The author is taking a much needed break. Catch-up because there is MORE coming SOON. And thanks for the feedback. I want to illustrate the experience w/out feeling sorry for myself. I’m glad that is coming across. You rock.

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