“So, I just sat there for hours and hours—waiting. Nothing ever happened; the train never came.”
Her arms were wrapped from shoulder to wrist. We sat there in the common area displaying our war-wounds; battle-scars accumulated in the struggle against ourselves. “I found out later that those tracks had been abandoned for years.”
Like any train, she was hoping that it would take her somewhere; though not to a destination that most non-suicidal people would find appealing. She and her family were passing through Illinois, heading South to Tennessee from the Wisconsin foothills.
She’d slipped from their hotel room while everyone was passed out and dreaming. I knew the tracks she was talking about. Fortunately she didn’t follow them too far because they pass over the Illinois via a rotting, eldritch bridge.
Instead, she went back to the hotel room, drew a hot bath and started to mercilessly saw at her arms with a razor blade. Her parents heard her crying in the bathroom, rushed in in horror and called an ambulance.
“I just wish they would’ve let me go, ya know?” she said with a wistful light in her eyes. “I wish they would’ve let me escape being, um, being…”
“You,” I finished.
Sitting with us was a pediatrician named Miguel. He’d tried overdosing on V&V (Vicodin and Vodka) the night before. His wife found him passed out and dialed 911. He made it here just in time.
He was a quiet man, but kind. You could see him in his eyes, that warmth; and that sadness that comes with seeing too much.
All of this transpired as we played Gin Rummy while some talking head jabbered from the boob tube on the other side of the room. Lisa, an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s who was in here for begging her daughter to push her down the stairs, stared blankly at the screen.
These were my people; my Sangha.
Though I didn’t know it at the time; I didn’t even know what Sangha was back then. I felt so at ease with the mentally ill; I felt part of a group, a community. I’d never felt that way on the outside—I still haven’t.
People were so real in there. No one had their guards up because there was no reason to. We all knew we were fucked up just by us being there, so there was nothing to hide from each other. Out here, we have to paint on masks that approximate some kind of I’ve-Got-My-Shit-Together-ness.
This kind of keeps us at arm’s length from everyone. It’s as if we’re all ashamed of being human, but what else could we be? We are human, and being fucked up and broken is as much a part of being human as being calm and centered is.
We weren’t at arm’s length in there. We were connected, and our hands were open. You can bleed in public in the ward and no one will judge you for it; no one will tell you that it’s wrong to feel the way that you do. No one will say that it’s wrong to want to die and no one will moralize the hell out of you with guilt-trips and patchwork platitudes.
It was businesses as usual at the nurse’s station.
There were forms to be filled, entries to be entered, time to be past, and loonies to be looked after. Most of the staff were kind and helpful. You could tell the ones who considered this their passion from the ones who were just passing through.
“Lunch time!” someone said as the meal cart was wheeled through a badge-locked door that separated the cutters, dosers, and jumpers from other psychiatric patients on the floor. The food was actually not that fuckin’ bad. I ate more in there than I do out here! It felt like they were shoving me full of food every other minute.
15 minutes after the meal cart came the med cart. Dozens of tiny pills in dozens of tiny plastic cups with patient’s names taped to the sides. It was like the ice cream man driving up your street; if your ice cream man sold downers and antipsychotics.
I’m not a huge fan of meds. They make it impossible for me to write well, make music, or think abstractly. But, I definitely recommend them in a pinch, and I was definitely feeling pinched at the time.
“Pendall?” I marched up and dutifully downed my Xanax and Lexapro before shuffling back to my room to write. They let me have a pen since its tip’s blunter than a pencil’s. Also, there were cameras in all the rooms so that someone could rush in if I decided to jam it in my carotid artery. I didn’t have any urge to do that though, not anymore.
After being there for only day, I already wanted to go home. There’s something about the knowledge that you’re confined that eats at you, no matter how decent and spacious the confines are. I’d never been confined before, not literally, anyway.
I just wanted to go outside, have a smoke, and feel the breeze on my face.
I sat there gazing longingly at the Illinois; dappled sunlight etched and weaving across the tendered green across the river. An old tree, who I’d taken to calling Grandfather, stood stoic but yielding in the afternoon breeze. All was silent in my room.
“How did I get so lucky?”