Visiting hours were up. It was 8pm and it was time for the friends and the families to leave. All 13 of us women gathered by the dingy cafeteria window as we waved our last goodbyes.
Leigh stood near me and started to sob.
“This is the best thanksgiving ever. Dave came to see me. I haven’t seen him in two years.”
“Who’s Dave?” I asked
“Two years ago we were roommates and he made some music–the producing stuff. He just came to see me…I’m so….I wish I could gain some weight….I love Dave, I really do…he’s a friend–not boyfriend though…I want to gain some weight when I come out…to see Dave…he’s so sweet and good to have came today.”
Leigh continues to sob as she pulls her sack shirt tight against her body and slouches further into her shrimp-like posture.
She was beautiful in a grungy kooky kind of way, with her stringy thin hair, and smudged up glasses. All grunge, zero glam. There’s no glam here, even when one looks like a 90s Calvin Klein model.
Oh God I’m so fucking lucky. My family and boyfriend came to see me and I feel like shit. But this girls crying for joy because of a dirty hipster named Dave. No no. I’m sure Dave is great. I bet he and Leigh used to listen to Elliot Smith together. I should be grateful. I AM grateful. Say grace. Do some praying. Wow, Leigh is cool. I should shut the fuck up about how much I envy her bony figure.
The wary nurse in charge banged a silver ladle against the food cart.
“Label all the snacks and put them in the cart–we’re heading back up.”
The girls (we’re actually women, but at the pyschiatric ward, everyone’s a toddler) and I scramble around, scooping the last bits of the miserable slices of cold turkey and gravy and half frozen peas into Styrofoam cups with her plastic spoons.
Sparkle, another girl from the floor, starts shouting.
“Don’t nobody touch my fucking cranberry juice. Somebody grab those juices.”
I run over and grab shove a bunch of thawing frozen juices into my smock pocket.
A few of us giggled. Sparkle is the youngest and we were all very fond of her. She was only 18. A baby.
We had decided that earlier at breakfast. The men’s floor ate at the table next to our. A couple of them made faces and did some catcalling.
Sparkle slammed her hand on the table and startled us all.
“SHUT UP. BITCH I DON’T WANNA TALK TO YOU.”
Black Girl. What a hero. What a stereotype. I’m a whore. Goddamn I’m a racist whore fucker. I love Sparkle. We all know we’re all miserable and love every bit of attention we can get here, even from the perverts. But it’s still fun to pretend we’re pissed off. And that line–that line BITCH I DONT WANT TO TALK TO YOU seals it up like the good ending to a sitcom show.
Jessie grabs the cart and before she does it, she turns over to me and looks at me right in the eye.
“If you fucking mention about wanting a smoke one more goddamn time, I’m gonna kill you.”
I look at her 24mcg nicotine patch on her arm. She’s totally suffering. She’s doing even worse. She’s smokes menthols and menthol are next level desperate. She’s totally suffering. Holy Fuck.
“Got it,” I said.
“I’m sorry,” I added some more.
“Just shut the fuck up.” She snapped.
Fuck. She’s mad. I don’t want to be on her bad side. She’s the one who’s not home to be with her kid at home. She’s younger than me but she’s got a goddamn kid. That makes her a hero basically. Of course she’s mad and on edge. She’s the one that went home last time and got chewed out by her abusive husband for wanting a manicure first thing. The one who said she’s a stupid whore for wanting something as expensive as a manicure just so that she could feel better. Fuck men. Oh God. She’s the the one that has nothing to look forward to after this other than her fucking 3 year old son. She’s the fucking bitch that gets to go home to a husband who will probably reduce her into nothing and give her another fucking black eye. That’s why she smokes. That’s why she has got a fucking nicotine patch. Fuck. I should just get a nicotine patch too. I do want a smoke though. Fuck. What did she just say. Whore. Go fucking kill yourself. Ha! You’re at the hospital. Can’t do that. Wait. It’s Thanksgiving. Be Grateful.
Jessies wheeling the cart ahead of us. She’s the leader. The head nurse unlocks the double doors and puts the FOB to the elevator lock. All of us squeeze our way into the elevator. Sparkle hunches over the cart. The mood is good. I can feel the vibe. It’s the kind where everyone feels good and agree on how miserable it is to be stuck in a dirty and understaffed psych ward and how wildly funny it is. We’re in a movie. A cinematic kind of collective dissociative episode.
“Fuck, we forgot Dani,” someone said.
“No, Dani left yesterday.”
“The wheelchair vicodine bitch?”
“Yeah, she wouldn’t stop slamming her fist into the wall.”
“That’s why she got kicked out?”
“No dude, she kept on trying to break her hand so she could get more vicodine.”
“She was awful though, I’m glad she’s out.”
The elevator door opens and the gossip continues.
“No, no, she got sent out to another hospital because she had a seizure.”
“From the withdrawal?”
That’s fucked. They’re so understaffed. How is this place not even sued yet. Oh. Right. This is a hospital for poor people. Poor people don’t sue. What’s going on. L told me that he read the reviews and apparently someone said the last time they had a seizure here the nurse just carried her into the room and put a pillow under. Something like that. Ahahaha. Having a seizure? Have a pillow!
The nurse has had about enough of it.
“Stop talking, everyone.”
“We want to know what happened to Dani!”
“I said, stop talking,” the nurse asserts again.
The first thing we did upon getting back to the floor was to turn on the T.V.
We love the T.V so much. And our favorite thing to watch on T.V at the psych ward is My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding. Nothing makes us happier than watching our favorite wedding-themed movie from the early 2000s.
It was 9pm and it was shower time. The ward technician unlocks the toiletry bins and we all scramble to line up.
I’m nosy so I look at everyone’s bins to see what kind of toiletries they have. It’s a personal hobby of mine. I love looking at toiletry items and making assumptions about people based on what kind of soap they used. A bunch of Suave-brand stuff. Some Dove bars.
So far nothing outstanding.
And then I see a bar of hand-made soap.
I don’t even think before I hear myself saying,
“Hahaha who the fuck around here uses this vegan-ass soap. Who is the rich fucker around here?”
I look up and there’s Leigh looking back at me. She looked totally embarrassed.
Fuck. Leigh’s like my best friend here. Shut your whore-ass mouth next time.
“It’s mine, dude. It’s not even really mine. It’s like some old stuff my last roommate gave me. You want some?”
I nodded vigorously.
Stop it. You’re not even that poor. Stop acting like you just showed up from a third-world country. You eat like one too, you fat bastard. No, no, the vigorous head-nodding was supposed to be cute. Like a parody of someone from a third-world country, you cunt.
I love fancy soap. Especially cruelty-free vegan soap that doesn’t foam due to it being sulfate-and-parabens-free. Besides, I was sick of using the sample-sized hospital shampoo that doubled as soap that I also used to wash my underwear. I wondered if I should tell Leigh if I would be using her soap to wash underwear.
The thing was, was that Leigh’s soap did lift up my spirits a little. It’s the small first-world-things that can really keep me going during awful times. For Jessie it’s manicures. For me it’s fancy dark chocolate and nice soap.
After the showers, the girls and I gather into a floor meeting.
Jessie’s the alpha. Sparkle’s the baby so she curls up by Jessie’s lap.
Some others hulled over a bunch of plastic orange chairs.
I really don’t remember the some of the other girls very much. In my memory they were the extras whose personalities were overshadowed by that of Jessie and Sparkle’s.
But I do remember Ashlee. She was the Indian girl who’s a dancer and everyone assumed was Hindu-or-Muslim-but-actually-is-Christian.
She was the one that pulled paper out of the recycling bin to have me draw on them on the other side with the hospital crayons.
She sat on the floor by the wall right next to me and Leigh.
The three of us are the Borderline Personality Disorder girls. We were drawn to one another from the start before we even knew that about one another. Leigh and I connected with our love of the same hipster music. Ashlee loved Taylor Swift but she’s a dancer. Whatever. Close enough. We also share eating-disorder issues. The first two suffer from anorexia. I’m the one that overeats everything. But I did tell them about the period in my life in which I substituted Benzos for meals so that I could chip in for the solidarity.
Leigh and I are the ones unclear and unsure what brought us to the hospital other than severe suicidal panic attacks. We don’t talk about it too much unless we have to. Ashlee, unfortunately, knows exactly which story and memory that kept on bringing her back to the psych ward. She never tells the story in full but drops bits of it every night as she began opening herself up.
“I had a twin, you see”
“She passed away when I was 12-or when we were 12, I guess.”
“Nobody would believe her and she was so confused by it and she was so ashamed of it that she killed herself.”
Between every nail-bite and sob that escaped, Leigh and I pieced the narrative together.
“I don’t think it was just the rape though. I think she was just tired I guess by then, you know? I was her twin so I was having panic attacks with her.”
“And you know the most fucked up part is? I resent her so much. Not that she killed herself. It’s just that her panic attacks finally ended and mine never did. We were twins, you know? It’s like–her rape was my rape and I kept on having those panic attacks for her, even after she died. Fuck I love my sister.”
So here we were, back again, Thanksgiving night, all huddled together.
It’s night time review day. We went around the circle, each sharing our ratings for the day.
Mostly 5’s and 3’s. Mine was a 7. Unusually high. Mostly because I got to see my boyfriend and my parents and the others weren’t so lucky. It would’ve been an insult to the others if I rated my day as low as the others.
“My baby,” sobbed Jessie, “I can’t even be there for my little baby. He’s only 3 and he doesn’t have his mommy with him on thanksgiving because mommy’s a fuck-up.”
“Jessie, why don’t you take the baby and get the hell away from your husband?” Someone asked and suggested.
“I can’t. I love my husband too. We’ve been together since high school. I loved him then, at least. No one would love me now. I’m fat and crazy. And I have a 3-year old. Who would want me now?”
“He’s a piece of shit,” Sparkle said
“I know he’s a piece of shit. But I can’t raise this baby without him. I can’t take care of my baby by myself and I can’t be there for my baby either. He needs a dad.”
When the circle sharing was done, the nurse came to announce some news.
“Meds in half an hour”
“Also, Tina’s going home tomorrow.”
I immediately got a bunch of dirty looks and envious gasps.
“But she’s only been here for three days!”
“Yeah. Don’t ever come back, like I did,” someone else quipped in.
“Thanks guys,” I said.
I was happy to hear that I was going to go home. I didn’t even know how I ended up in the pysch ward this Thanksgiving. Maybe it’s because of the holidays. Those were especially bad. Why did I have to go back to the pysch ward? Wasn’t the last couple of years bad enough? Didn’t I make up my mind to never ever go back since the last rounds of Electric Convulsive Therapy?
I turned to see that Ashlee and Leigh were crying.
“We’re going to miss you,” they said.
The last thing I remembered about CBH was that the girls on the floor got together and organized for me a going-away gift.
When they presented it to me, it was a definite sorority moment.
They had gathered together a stack of Grumpy-Cat themed coloring pages.
“This is for you to color, so that you can think of us.”
I leaf through all 10 pages of slightly colored and poorly xeroxed Grump-Cat images.
Sparkle comes up to me and hands me the last page.
“Ha! This is YOU”
The page is a picture of Grumpy Cat in a rice-paddy hat with chopsticks and bowls of rice on the background.
“Dude, is this because I’m Asian?”
The girls started to laugh in the background
“DUH!” said Sparkle “Of course it’s you. You’re Chinese and this is what Chinese people would look like if it was Grumpy Cat. Hehe.”
By this time I was laughing pretty hard too.
During those past three days, the floor of girls had bonded as family after all. To hell with political correctness I guess.
I mean, nothing really bonds people more solidly than to have spent Thanksgiving together at run-down and understaffed psych ward and eating lukewarm turkey with gravy.
But even so, after I left the ward, I never contacted the girls like I said I would.
I don’t know why. I love them. And I would never forget them. But I don’t know if I would ever contact them again. It’s not like the psych ward was summer camp. The friendships made there are somehow, too raw, too precious, and too painful, to be carried out of the psych ward.
I left their numbers and email addresses on the back of a bookmark.
I had put that bookmark in a book somewhere. But it’s under a couch somewhere, probably.
I know where that bookmark and the book is. And I think that maybe one day I’ll call Ashlee and Leigh and see how they are doing. I know I will want to know how Ashlee is doing with her fire dancing and how Leigh is doing with her music.
But not yet. I sure miss them like hell though. Oh well.
The next morning, as soon as I stepped out of the hospital, I lit up a cigarette like a fish thrown back into the water. I thought about Jessie and how pissed and amused she would be if she saw me smoking a menthol right then.
“I thought you said you’ve quit,” my boyfriend said.
“No, man. Not yet.”