Ceiling Holes – 1986
April 5, 2011 § Leave a comment
I died at 12.
Passed out behind a dumpster, my last breath took in urine, spit and stale beer, as wrists went red fingers red eyes red….
This is the part where you retrace your steps, looking for comfort just now lost. Fuck that. When I was 12, alone and cold on the streets, I wanted to die and all the fast food bathrooms were locked. So I cried around a corner, found rusty nail in board, and tore and tore until the chill was universal.
Never attempt suicide within 100 feet of a phone booth. Passing bums like to call 911, feel that it’s their duty to save poor, innocent girls that know the fuck what they’re doing, that don’t want Clear! and you a toaster thrown in the shower, dancing in and out of the white.
I remember the white. I belonged there. Not in the hospital with endless history tests and psychologists that vacuum up your secret shit. “We’re here to help you, Jennifer. You can trust us.”
They burned my clothes – too dirty to save. Gave my junk back in a ziploc, minus the $17.23 and my last will and testament. “To the world and everyone in it: Fuck You!” Now known as exhibit one in the neverending files of Thomason.
Thomason Memorial Hospital is a quaint little cottage near the coast, with triple barbed-wired fences and janitors that grab your ass while you sleep. It probably looks like a cement pretzel from the air, scattered salt representing the patients combing the halls for consistent realities. The color scheme was stolen from an ice-cream place, and instead of 54 flavors there were bottomless bulk-bins of anti-depressants and activity-supressors, in designer colors. They even give you those cute joke cups with your medication – “What’s black and white and red all over?”
Me, the very first night there, in restraints after trying to bite my doctor’s ear off. He looked like a Circle X grunt in drag, all nametags and “How can I help you?”. Fingered his head to my lips and whispered-licked a Fuck You before bearing teeth. I laughed myself silly as the cameras behind mirrors recorded his screams – I guess you had to be there.
But you weren’t. You didn’t die at 12, weren’t a ward of the state that needed to be under 24 hour supervision, and as sure as fuck don’t know what it’s like to be crazy.
I know.There’s this man I met on Day 3 over orange juice and graham crackers; he had a dark gray beard and knew the first 6 pages of the phone book by heart. Not the numbers and names – the instructions. As a treat for not yelling all morning, they let me go down the ramp into the day room, and I bummed a cigarette off of him as we watched TV. “Did you know,” Eric dragged, crumbing his pajama top brown, “that in 1996 the world will cease to be?” No shit, and he was “there’ll be fire and angry angels and dead folk come alive, and I’ll be in here watching it on TV.” I smiled through the stimulants and adjusted my 32 cent blue booties.
Crazy fuck, the world’s ending in the year 2000. Here’s how I know:
Day 27, according to the marking pen on my bedside table, I was fucking around with Quarter, showing him this cool pool shot I’d learned (you play a lot of pool when you’re insane) and this girl walked right up to me. In my face, smiling.
“Come with me.” Grabbed my hand, I dropped the cue (the green ball went in).
So we walked into the hallway – past the patients with cups asking passers by for spare pills – and she’s wearing hospital junk, white with light blue polka-flowers, that’s about to fall to the floor. Hair is balloon blue, half-on, half-off, and her bare feet covered with multi-colored marking pen stripes and circles. The ancient lady who spat in my breakfast on Day 4 laughed as we passed (sitting in her chair, tearing the ads out of old National Geographics).
“Where are we going?” Approaching the emergency exits, always a good question to ask.
“Fine.” Stopped by the vending machines. The MouthSavors were gone, the cola button blinking red. “Hey. I’m Laura. We’re leaving now.” Rushed for the door, they whooshed open with a department store alarm – when you just couldn’t rip the plastic tags off – and I just stood there staring at her, at the candy choices. What the fuck just happened?
And she hovered there, silhouetted in the sun passing through the iron gates beyond, and held out her hand to me. I wanted to hug her, to laugh at her feet, to give her some pants and forget about my pain, my hospital bracelet. She was like a neon cow-girl doing a rope trick, and if she was a soda she would have extra caffeine and twice the calories of the leading brand. My legs started to move me towards, but my left hand was latched to a pull knob for salted peanuts. Smiled as wide as a stop sign, stuck out her tongue, and held her hands high in the air as the nurses came, both middle fingers raised to attention. They knocked me down to the ground face first, and dragged Laura off kicking and screaming to the quiet room, her waving blue smearing sleeves.
I thought I was good. It took 7 hours for her to shut up, which I knew for certain because I was in the room next door, on “escape watch”. The first hour was the easiest to handle, with the occasional groan between the slaps and constant crying, and the nurses the only ones yelling, trying to “talk some sense into her.” Soon someone said fuck that and they opened the drug drawers. Hour two had her literally all over the walls, body-slamming the padding while not saying a word. I hid in the far corner, shaking under the rolled-up floor mat – the only shadow available. It was pointless to cry so I gnawed at my wrists until they reddened. Hour three, after I pissed in the corner since they wouldn’t let me out to toilet, she started to talk, and I couldn’t help but listen. First, she got inventive and started to yell out a blow by blow description of her stripping off pajamas. “I’m such a hot teenage girl, don’t you want to peek in the window at me?” Doctors do that, peek in with their clipboards, and I can only guess what they saw that day. “I’m naked here! Come on in and get some!” It was quite embarrassing and also rather exciting, because she’s cute to the point of exasperation. Finally, she gave a humongous “fuck this shit” and started at the walls again.
Hour four was when I started to pound back, and she noticed. “Hey, is that you?” and I yelled my loudest yes, all the while bracing for the inevitable doctor rush, needles dripping. “Cool.” She lowered her voice some. “Can you still hear me?” “Yeah.” “Still” “Yeah” “Still” and she was only yelling half as loud, but it almost seemed intimate – communicating by brute force through cement and rubber. I told her my name, and she said she already knew, that and a whole lot of other things. Hour five was when she told me about her life and her dreams, and hour six was when I told her mine. Sure, the doctors were recording every last word, but to them it was one big delusion, more stuff to jerk off with onto their PDRs. So when hour 7 came along, and Laura told me about the end of the world, they had proof that she was crazy but I knew better.
She was the one. My way out.
I was born at 12.
Laura was my mother, my savior, my secret lover that cradled me back to life. She had no idea, of course. Just her own problems to deal with.
On Day 4 I met Douglas – Quarter, I called him, because he always asked me for one – and the first time we spoke he just had to call his girlfriend on the outs. “She’s gotta be worried sick, and they won’t let her visit.” For some reason I laughed hysterically when he said this, and turned back to the industrial strength ashtray – it had a metal mouth that ate the butts, scratching wrists if you reached in too far. I traded bearded Eric my crackers for cigarettes – little did he know that I swiped a box off of the serving cart.
No, it wasn’t that funny. But when every window has bars, and there’s twitching people behind the couches, entertainment comes from the oddest places. I guess Quarter understood, because he eventually forgave me. We became TV room buddies, and soon enough he forgot about his girl and made his move. Yeah, it was still Day 4 when during the 6 0’Clock news I found his hand on my thigh. Now the rules were strictly NO CONTACT around those parts, but the last touch that I had that was anywhere close to loving was when I held my knees under overpasses, trying not to crack. So I let him touch, I let him want me, and even shielded him from the lazy guard sleeping on the bad side of the triple-tagged plexiglass, so he could have his way in peace. He didn’t do much, actually, just held there and whispered about the tracks on his arms, and the 3AM bathroom mirror shadow-self he couldn’t stand. I understood, and as soon as I held his hand back someone noticed, and kept us the hell away from one another.
Separation breeds desire, and on Day 5 I found myself kissing him behind the snack machine, where the cameras couldn’t reach. He wasn’t particularly kind, or clear about the mess he was in, but he held me and gave me his warmth. I was the one who grabbed him this time, I was the dead girl that needed someone to love. Beside the electric potato chip cabinet, he did just fine.
Day 6 over lunch he whispered in my ear that he wanted to fuck me, but all I heard was that he adored me and so I smiled over the mini milk cartons – 3 for me, 2 for him. The plan was simple – strike when the night shift started to yawn, and the juice needed refilling. So I straightened up my thrift store summer dress – the one Illyana herself picked out for me, the bitch – and waited in the TV room for him to come. The late night movie was about a war, and lots of men were dying horrible deaths – badly scripted, that is, with atrocious film editing. Even then I was the consummate artiste, always looking for the aesthetic in the miasmic. So when the wrong side won and the flags were hoisted, Quarter snuck on in and sat on the couch beside me. He had brought a blanket – it was cold, so it didn’t look that suspicious. Stared into my eyes as he reached up my legs, and as he drew close all I felt was hate. I hated my body, wanted him to take it away from me and rip it to shreds, and he did the best he could under the circumstances. Under the pink wooly blankets he licked my face and reached inside of me, and all I thought about was the war, about what side I was on. For a split second I was on his side, and grabbed for him despite myself, only to have florescents shine in my face and Bob, the guard with the yo yo, threw Quarter to the floor.
They called it attempted rape cause I wouldn’t stop crying and yelling. I was pissed off because he didn’t get to finish the job, because I wanted so desperately to have more excuses to hate myself. A suicidal run-away slut seemed a lot better then just a suicidal run-away. Of course, Illyana did her best to try to convince me otherwise.
Day 7 had her fawning all over me, promising to “make things right.” She saw to it that Quarter was put under lock and key, until I confided in her about what really happened. Then she went big sister and told me all about her first time (it wasn’t my first) and how horrible it was (mine was wonderful) and that after she had talked it out it all became better, somehow or another – she wasn’t too specific. I nodded as we couched in her office, and as we chatted I swiped a stray letter opener and stuck it down my sock. Parting on a high note, she gave me a warm hug and told me that my doctor said it would be O.K. for me to go to group tomorrow. Reminded me of a window-display dummy girl, stiff and happy with nothing to say except buy the crap that covers me, that hides my plastic soul. Gave her an elation-face that reflected back from her glasses, went straight to the bathroom, and cut my throat over the sink. The blood didn’t come at first because the blade was dull, but once it did I gasped and wallowed in the pain. Reflected back was a paper doll with her head half-snipped off, everything colored all out of the lines. I started to snicker-cough but my legs gave out and I slumped down next to the hamper, still warm and damp from the last shower. My eyes were filled with the white, as I balled myself up on the dirty red cement, and everything would have been perfect if Clara didn’t walk in just then. Clara the towel freak, Clara the screamer.
Code Red. Stretcher. Ambulance. Those machines that beep while they breathe for you. I was all set up on Day 8, and “fortunately” for me the wound was fairly superficial. Illyana came all the way to visit, with flowers even, and we cried together in intensive care. On Day 9 she snuck in some chocolate and cigarettes, along with the news that she had finally found my mother, and that she was coming right this instant to see me. When she left for her shift at Thomason, I tried to strangle myself with the IV tube, but ended up knocking the stand and everything over. There was a lone dust bunny under the bed.
Day 10 brought dear old Mom from dear old home to sit over in the corner, by the window, crying as the cars left the parking lot. “Why are you doing this to yourself?” All I could do was picture her on the floor, broken bottle in hand, throwing up onto the phone. I was 5, and terrified. I was 8, and confused. I was 12, and the bags were packed, and her wallet empty. “Please, come back with me.”
Day 11 I told Illyana about my mother. I begged her to send me back to Thomason, to keep her the fuck away from me. She kissed my cheeks and made the arrangements – I got the ball and chain, and there were no visitation rights. My mother was too crushed to fight for me, and she went back to her liquid hell forever broken. She died 11 days later – car crash, only she was the drunk driver.
Day 12 and the scab was beautiful. I was allowed one supervised trip to the vending machine, and I got some well-needed Grape Flavumm. Illyana brought supermarket tabloids and I wrote the first page of antizine. “Hate everything, to make room for love.” Life was a third-floor, bubble-gummed hell.
Good girls get what they want. I, being black to the core, was given a break on Day 13 and got to go back to the quiet room anyway. “We just need to watch you,” Illyana said, “You’ll be out soon enough.” So I sat.
You cannot understand. Locked door, locked mind, locked heart.
Hiccupping for air through tears and the crack between me and my mailbox-blue floor mat fort, I finally had proof that I was worthless. Broken. Crazy.
No amount of sticky red was going to stop the pain, and the only certainty was the way my face lay against the cool, hard, cement floor. I wanted to become that floor, to stretch long and wide and thin across the earth and be spat and walked and shit upon. I wanted to hug the world, to forever look up at the sky with misplaced wonder. Under the flickering lights, I finally understood why they called it the quiet room, when no one who went there ever shut up. They wanted you to yell at yourself, scream silent hatred until it hurts. So I did, and by the time Illyana came for me I had gotten pretty good at it.
Laura was way better, mind you. She made the quite room speak.
Day 17 and I was allowed to be in the same room as Quarter again. It was my 3rd group, and all the crazy kids were in full force. You would think that drugs and shit wouldn’t do that much to you in the end, but there in front of me were a dozen stories to the contrary. Yeah, I was the only pure death-junkie, but everyone shared the same basic illness. Life.
“My name’s Douglas. I don’t know why I’m here.” He was over by the kitchen door, slowly ripping up his yellow card. Definite no no, it was our passport to success, signed 20 times daily and more on weekends. Good for pizza and a handshake – I burned mine the day before.
“Yes you do. Be honest with yourself, with us.” No, not Illyana. Big Bill the magnificent, at your service.
“I said I don’t know. I should be in juvie, not some nut house.” He’d cut half his hair off yesterday with safety scissors, and now he looked as fuck as punk.
“Call it what it is. A psychiatric hospital…” Bill reminded me of an old sofa. Big and smelly, and way too soft where it counted.
“And we’re the patients. We’re sick.” That was me, glaring at Illyana. She was wearing a fuzzy sweater that matched the carpet perfectly – lint prone, scratchy and ugly. I’ve never known another woman as beautifully scary.
“Jennifer, you don’t have to be so negative.” Ah, the wisdom of Bill.
“I’m sick. I’m always sick.” Towel – Clara, that is, obsessing as usual. She constantly brushed her back-length, jet-black hair. I would die for her hair, so supple-shiny. In the very first group I was in, when Bill made her put away her comb, she convinced us all that dirt was a communicable disease. She could feel the filth dripping down the back of her head, and the itching wouldn’t stop unless she combed it. Eventually he gave in.
“None of you are sick. You just need help.” Finally my guardian angel. She smiled at me but I just looked out the window, counting the fence holes. Way too many.
“How can you help me?” Doug was this close to running; his forehead screamed it. I wanted to fly across the room, take his hand, and meet the stairs with him. But I just sat and thought about the carpet, until Arnold spoke up.
“They can’t. We can.” Obviously this wasn’t hospital propaganda, so I listened.
“You’re right. That’s what group is for.”
“I would tell you what group is for, but I don’t want to get off of checks. Sufficed to say that I sure as hell don’t deserve to be here. None of us do.” He was burning a hole in the wall with his eyes, his voice. “You can’t possibly understand what it’s like to be in our shoes, so you have no way of helping us.” His forehead was lickable, like a chocolate ice cream cone. “The only help Doug or anyone else is going to get will either come from me, or the crazy ass people on the unit. Better me than them.”
Everyone stared. Illyana started to say something stupid yet supportive, but then Big Bill gathered himself and quickly changed the tone.
So we talked about our feelings. About what “color” we were (I was gray, always gray…), and about all the ways we fucked up things. I just wanted to get out of there and smoke, and as soon as the meeting ended Arnold ended up joining me by the benches.
“Hey. Jenny, right?”
“Yeah.” I smiled. “I liked what you said up there.”
“Fuck it. We all say the same thing to ourselves before going to sleep.” He looked up at the clouds overhead, and the sea gulls far below, but still beyond our reach.
“How’d you get here, anyway?”
“Checked myself in. I’ll tell you about it, sometime.” Threw and shoed the fire out, and started to walk away. “But right now I’ve got an appointment. See ya around.”
He walked over the grass, past the door, and picked up the basketball lying by the fence. Disappeared around the records building, and as Illyana and Bill huddled us baby chicks back in line, his bounce, bounce, bounce, gave me a peculiar sense of hope.
Hope that Laura made shine brighter than the sun.
Day 28 I fell in love.
It was breakfast, and things were basically back to normal (except for double meds due to the day before). I had my rubbery oatmeal with extra salt, my 3 milks and 2 bananas, and Laura was led in by Illyana and pushed through the food line, obviously out of it. She had the overly medicated look well beyond any street-junkie, with lock step lock jaw nothingness, and I just wanted to cry. Pajamas were soiled and sagging, her hair leaking blue all over her cheeks, and I knew that as soon as she filled her red tray, she would be back to the quiet room. So would I, if I tried to talk to her.
As she approached the end, I took one of my half-empty milks and elbow-knocked it onto the floor. “Shit! Hey Steve, I need another milk. O.K.?” He nodded over his morning newspaper, and so I walked over to Laura, who conveniently was by the drinks suspended in ice. Said hi to Illyana, took my 2% and a napkin, and wiped off Laura’s face. She smiled slightly, and secretly placed something in my hand as I went back to my table. Satisfied that she did her daily duty, Illyana promptly ushered her charge back to lock up, and I bused my stuff as quickly as I could. Meeting was in a half an hour, so that gave me time to contemplate my gift in peace.It was a crayoned note, green upon a brown paper towel. In the bathroom, as the other girls took a shower or misapplied makeup, I read through my tears:
Did you hear me last night? I was screaming for you during the shadow watch but all that came was 3 men and something too sleepy to fight. But I kept a crayon from the day before, won’t mention where I hid it, and I’m writing this to you (over) cause we’re getting out of here girl, in exactly 40 days we’ll walk right out the front door and be together forever. We’ll talk on Sunday.
This was all wrong, all right, all mixed up with no where to go. I didn’t want to start swimming in her fantasy, in her reality, but in the steamy hiss I contemplated flushing the evidence, and ended up treasuring it always. She was right, you see, always was and always will be, and every time I walked passed the quiet room window, trying to sneak a peak at her, she would be staring right back at me, smiling.
Day 29 was activity time, with modeling clay and shrinky dinks (I made the first antizine logo, and gave it to Quarter). I got to vacuum the psycho kids club house, and Arnold got a whole extra hour of free throws because he knew how to kiss up. After dinner there was a PG-13 movie, and Doug tried to snuggle up to me during the over-sexualized chase scene, but Clara snitched and stray hands were lead back downstairs to the unit. I went to sleep feeling at home for once, and if I had a gun I would have shot myself right then and there. All that was available was my locker key, so I used that to fuck up my ankles (the cleaning crew had to give me new linens daily).
Sunday was Day 30, and I woke up with the unnatural urge to peek in Towel’s room, which was across the hallway. Everyone avoided that place and for good reason, because the floors were always strewn with wet wash cloths and extra hospital linen, which she used to buttress her bed from the evil, unclean spirits. She was afraid of something far more serious than filth, but that’s the way it manifested itself.
Anyway, as I looked in that morning, holding back my expected wince, there Laura was, poking around her night stand in an ideal Illyana dress. I couldn’t help but jump over the towels and bear hug her from behind.
“See, I told you.” She threw herself down on the bed, and I followed. Jumped up again to close the curtains, and then gave me this look that made me tingle all over.
“How the fuck did you get out?” I was tense, and I wanted desperately for her to lay down beside me and rub it all away. These feelings confused me, yet seemed so natural.
“Simple.” She joined me on the bed, the headboard thapping the wall. “I didn’t move for a day, didn’t open my mouth except to empty my 3 trays.” Brushed the blue out of her face, and smiled. “So in their eyes I was back to high society, and they had special doctor orgies which resulted in my freedom. Neat, huh?”
I stared at her, and at her tightly made bed. I felt so shy, so weird.
“What happened to your ankles?” She quickly Twistered herself around, flopping her feet onto the pillow while she cautiously caressed the new scabs.
“Sometimes I don’t want to walk any more.” Her feet were freshly marked, still smelling of pen vapor. “Or to live any more.” I cautiously touched a red circle, and it was warm.
“Listen here.” Started to tickle my feet, but it felt more like a kiss. “You are mine now, and that means I get to die first.” Clara walked in for a second, made a loud I’m listening noise, and then left in a huff.
“You are so weird….Laura? Frisbee?”
“Given name, earned name….it’s all the same in the end.” Turned back around and crawled up to face me. The bed creaked slightly, and in the distance I heard a laundry cart.
“Did you mean what you said the other day?” I was breathing heavily, wiped my right palm behind my back.
“You mean is the world going to end?” Her eyes, I wanted to lick them, to taste their vision. “Yes, but only for me.”
“No, I believe that.” She had a faint scar on her upper forehead, and I instinctively reached out to touch it. “I mean the note.”
“The note?” Took my hand and placed it to her cheek. How could I not want her?
“That we’re going to leave.” I drew my feet towards her, and when they touched I promised myself never to cut them again. “That we’ll be together.”
“Silly Jenny, we are together.” Brought my hand to her lips, and sucked on the fingers, like straws full of lemonade.
“I can’t stop thinking about you…” I was shaking, and she drew me next to her. She smelled like freshly cut grass.
“Don’t.” Brought her hand to my mouth, and poked inwards. “Please.”
Was it I that kissed her first, or her me? I want to remember the taste of her nose, of her lower left breast, but I can’t, not in the way I should be able to. Everything was too fast, too perfect, to reliant on some master stroke of fate that gave me life and started the countdown to irrevocable separation and sadness. All I know is that on Sunday morning I didn’t want to die anymore. I wanted to live, with Laura, and nothing would ever change that.
Clara came back again, and “accidentally” fell through the white plastic curtains, effectively putting an end to my bliss. I’m not sure what she thought she found, but I wanted it to be blatant, to flaunt my first and only love in her face. The half-nakedness was enough for her, and before I could regroup the room was full of nurses, and it took me on the floor begging to Illyana to not being put into the quiet room again. Laura skipped in with a smile on her face, and her silence filled the unit. Her heart sang of me, and of something else.
The white. Always the white.
My bliss lasted until Day 32, when Laura was allowed to go to her first meeting. She sat across from me but kept staring at Arnold. I hated her for that.
He tried to bum a cigarette off of her, but she didn’t smoke. She played one-on-one with him, while I cried behind my sunglasses, wanting the lounge chairs to become electrified. I really didn’t understand, she was supposed to be mine but there she was obviously taken by Arnold, and his tall, smooth brownness that even I could appreciate.
Quarter tried to make me feel better by letting me win at pool, but I just went off and sulked by the vending machines until bearded Eric came over and told me his only story, this time with a twist.
“You know the new blue-haired girl? In 1996 she’s going to eat the sun and all the lightbulbs will break. Do you understand me?”
I didn’t. I did. I asked him how he knew so much and he coughed-smiled.
“Come on! She’s broadcasting, like channel 6, 11 and 34 all wrapped into one, and everyone knows it.” Scratched at his bushy neck. “You think the doctors aren’t afraid? The blue hair….”
He was crazy. I was crazy because I understood him. He gave me some stray cigarettes and a pat on the shoulder, and babbled on to himself back to the TV room. That night they found him dead – heart attack – smiling underneath the static.
I didn’t do anything on Day 33. Didn’t eat, didn’t even get out of bed. Laura came by once, snuck in and kissed my cheek, but I didn’t even react. No purpose, no moment, no life. If she really didn’t know what was going to happen, then she would have stayed and caressed me back into the world. But I had a ways to go yet, and in the end she was just passing through. She would be back for me, when the time was right.
I had my first visitor on Day 35. My father.
“Jen, you look so much better.” 6 foot, clean shaven, flannel and jeans, and the most annoyingly lovable voice in the world. I missed him.
“I don’t feel any better.” He pressed his hand against my forehead, and smiled.
“But you are. You will be.” His new wife was going to have a son in a few days. Gregory – not as cute as Ai but then who possibly could be?
“Dad, get me out of here. I don’t belong here.” He sat down in the wooden chair by the table, and frowned, like when I was 10 and my mother was nowhere to be found.
“I’ve authorized your doctors to keep you here indefinitely, until everyone is sure that you’re better.”
“Then you can come live with me and Rachel, if you like.”
This was wrong. Why couldn’t I just die and be done with it?
“Yeah.” Problem is that I would never be better. Still am not. I couldn’t wait for the doctors to realize this
“You mean it? I would love to have you back…” He stood up triumphantly and kissed me on the cheek. I smiled away the pain.
“I’ll come back in next week, O.K.?” Rachel needed him. His family needed him.
“I love you.”
Silence, as he consulted with Illyana and I stared up at the ceiling. The tiny holes that regularly pricked the tiling were suddenly comforting, each one a potential route to take, a quicker way to the end. Why did I want finality so strongly? What did life have to offer me in the first place? I lived despite my mother, despite the terror and the pain, and no matter how much I tried to help, or to keep Dad and her together, she always ended up drooling on the floor – killing me slowly. The fuck with it, if that’s the plan then why not go all the way, and so when I left her I resolved to run and run until I couldn’t go on any more, dig my own grave, and be done with it. Then I could be free of my mother, of the scars that no one can see, of everything. Of course it didn’t work, and she got to die while I was poked and prodded and analyzed and medicated and told how broken I was, a gingerbread girl that needed reconstructive baking.
If I “improve,” do I win, or do they? And if I died then, in the halls of stately Thomason, or 2 years later in a dirty bathtub somewhere, wouldn’t that be just more proof for their hypothesis? The only choice was to live solely to spite my captors, and so I prayed to the dark behind the ceiling holes to give me enough strength to get out of bed, forsake the knives, and shame them all with my brilliance despite it all.
And I did. I put on my clothes, went to the next meeting, sat right down next to Laura and openly held her hand. I talked about my life, and my mother, and the nights when I would stare at the walls in the dark, breathing in the stillness, wanting to make it permanent. No more yelling, no more broken telephones, no more mistakes.
When it was all over, even Towel gave me a hug, and I didn’t push her away. It turned out that her father was like my mother, only he took it out on her sexually, and instead of screams through the walls there was the warm white stickiness between her legs that would never, ever wash away. Thus her obsession with being clean, with protecting herself from the invisible unknown, and after we had a talk we came to an understanding. She even shared a secret with me, one that turned everything around for the better.
It seemed that right after she found Laura and I together that Sunday, she had a massive flashback back to what had happened with her father, as anything even the most remotely sexual usually produced. So she was in a serious state, and when Laura finally was allowed back into her room Clara had stripped all of the sheets off of the bed we had glowed upon, and covered the mattress with towels. Laura got to the bottom of it all soon enough, and then started talking about me. About what had happened, and about how she felt. It turned out that she wasn’t ignoring me at all, but was just giving me space to get stronger. She needed me whole, so when we did leave nothing would trip us up. You would think that escape would be the last thing you’d want to tell Towel, but she never said a word, not even on Day 68 when everything was Code Blue and she sat crying on her bed.
“I’m not clean,” she yelled. “I’m not clean.”
On Day 40 I was up to a pack and 6 pool games a day. Bliss.
“I used to sell my brother’s Star Wars figures so I could have another hit.” Arnold only did half a pack, but his new record was 346 consecutive free throws – he didn’t remember the number of misses.
“Yeah, well I used to suck on 10 cent super balls, like jawbreakers. Between bounces.” Frisbee hated smoke, green felt tables and always tongued her meds. She had an empty shampoo bottle full of lithium on her windowsill.
“I used to make my Stacy dolls sell their bodies on the strip, and then strangle themselves with waxed dental floss.” I was hoping for lung cancer. To be eaten inside-out by car exhaust, melting pieces of death that look cool when you stand around holding them at your hip.
“Fuck, you’ve got me. I fold.” Went back to his book of the day. “Falling,” this trashy novel about an airplane steward wanted world-wide for raping passengers when they went to the scary plane toilets. I recommended it; at the end he’s blinded by salad tongs and dies in an institution. Best laugh I had all month.
“Chicken.” Laura was working on the connect-the-dots for antizine. One way, it was a TV, the other, a kids burger-meal box. Our pile of spare change and sugar packet loot was huge; the boys always overbid. “I used to turn on the vacuum cleaner and stick the tube in my mouth.”
“I used to open up the vacuum cleaner bag and lick the dust off my fingers.”
“Sick fuck!” She leaped up from the table in a mock fury as I swiped my winnings into my Illyana dress, which I had recently converted into a backpack.
“Sick but oh so sweet!” Arnold gave a Hah! from behind the paperback.
“I’ll be the judge of that,” and Laura dragged me out of my chair to the center of the room. All of the chairs were still pushed back from group; we were using the cafeteria for important Big Bill visualization exercises, and opted out of the popcorn filled after-party. Bribed Steve with future compliance, and so he gave us 15 minutes of run-wild time while he flirted with the cute nurses – especially the blond one that took everyone’s temperature.
“Not in front of the kids!” Too late. She was break dancing on the carpet, and forced me to join her in a wrestling match. I let her win, and she gave my mouth a victory lick. It was our second day of open affection, and Melissa from the night shift left me a Hallmark earlier that morning: “No tongues now!” I adored her, she let me smoke in bed.
Actually, I was starting to feel comfortable with the whole system – it was like junior high school only with a lot more detention, sex and drugs. In fact, if you were addicted to anything, the last place that you should be was in a hospital because everything was way too available. Arnold had to push away bags despite himself, and I had all day and night to plan my demise, with assistance from the staff. They loved to talk about that stuff, took notes even.Clara was gone that night, on a two-day stay with her parents, and Melissa looked the other way when I took her place in the shadows, Laura at my side. We whispered about our free future while she marked up my belly, the ink filling the air with intimacy.
“In 10 years I’ll do this again, and then you’ll understand what bearded Eric was talking about.” I moaned yes as I sucked on her earlobes, the water fountain down the hallway humming itself back to life.
She never mentioned John, even though she knew, but in the end that would have been too cruel. What mattered was that she was mine then, and I hers. Nothing else.
I sucked on her dangling hair as she covered my chest with sugar winnings, and every sticky lick upwards made me want to put away the dental floss for good.
The next morning, when Melissa sleepy-dragged me back to my room, I gave her the Illyana backpack full of coin, and told her to buy some red hair dye on the outs.
Not for me, for Laura. Blue just wasn’t her color.
I’ll never understand why Laura turned into Frisbee, but once she did there was no stopping us. The walls dissolved, the secret blatant, and we slipped out into freedom.
Am I ahead of myself? Yes.
Day 46 was the start of the conspiracy. Only the two of us were actively involved, but Quarter, Arnold and even Towel played their parts. We all started talking in fake school, when the annoyingly nice teacher wasn’t paying attention. The prevailing metaphor was basketball, as per the genius of Arnold.
“All we need is a semi-perfect pass, and then we’ll both go for the sweet 3 pointer.”
“But I’m already close to fouling out, and I can’t risk not being there in the final seconds.”
“Don’t worry Doug, Laura is a good coach. She knows what she’s doing.”
“Can I play? I want to play, too.”
“You can substitute, Clara. But first, we need to measure the courts, O.K.?”
So it was decided. After school we went down to the hoop and openly discussed our plan while we played. It actually did involve the basketball, along with a fake 8-Ball, the best intentions of Illyana, and a little help from Spazz.
The basketball was easy enough. Arnold had been trying to arrange a patient vs. staff tournament for the longest time, and somehow got it to happen on Day 68. So most of the larger doctors and nurses would be occupied on the courts while Laura and I made our move. The 8-Ball we made in activity, glazing a clay sphere the exact same size as a regulation pool one, with the expressed notion of making our own set, one ball at a time. Big Bill really thought that this was funny, which was appropriate considering what happened to it. What better way to sound the alarm than when we were already home free?
Illyana was far more problematic. She had taken the both of us as her personal charges, and Frisbee hated her because. I knew that she really thought that she was helping, what with her special gifts and heart-to-heart talks, so I felt awful to distract her the way that I did. But Clara was game, and on Day 68, during the big basketball affair, she started to freak out and kept calling for Illyana. “I’m not clean,” she sobbed, and there was no way in hell that her counsellor could resist. So while they had an intense one-on-one, I packed my Illyana dress with the bare essentials, left my almost full yellow card on the pillow, and met Frisbee out in the yard. We were both on 30 minute checks at this point, so no one would be looking for us anytime soon.
“Spazz’ll be here in 10 minutes. He’ll drive past the fence,” she pointed past the youth center, “and then we start the long walk.”
“This isn’t going to work.” Big Bill passed by, smiling. He had on his purple-intensive Hawaiian shirt, part of his extensive collection.
“And how are you ladies doing this afternoon? Enjoying the weather?”
“It’s a beautiful day. Yeah.” She was such a ham, but it was true. A perfect sky, with long, stretched-out clouds smeared across the light blue.
“Group today should be fun. Brenda and I have come up with some great relaxation exercises.” Brenda was new – very cool, always reading Kafka, too bad I couldn’t get to know her.
“Sounds fun. See you there.” Frisbee took my hand, and we walked over to the courts. Arnold was putting on a real show, slamming the hell out of Bob the yo yo guard. During a quick water break he sweated over to us and gave big hugs. Surprisingly, no one complained.
“I’ll come back for you. I promise.” Frisbee was starting to cry, which surprised me. Arnold wiped away her tears and gave a sad smile.
“I’ll be O.K. When I leave, I’ll come looking for the two of you. O.K.?”
She couldn’t speak, but I O.K.ed us both out of there. He went back to the game, Spazz’s car drove by, and it was time.
Walked past the records building – where my life story was filed away, only I could never read it – to the pool room’s sliding glass doors. Paul, the speed freak skater, used to always put band stickers on it, and they made him scratch them off weekly. That day, it was Intruder Alert! – the one with the walkie-talkie. Frisbee smiled as we entered.
Douglas was playing pool by himself, as per the plan. He gave us the fake ball off of the table, and pulled me aside quickly for one last smoky kiss. I let him, because I knew no one else would. Gave us his assurance that there would be 2 minutes until he broke the fire alarm open with his cue, and so we walked around the corner through the unlocked unit, straight to the lobby.
To the right, the central TV room and visiting area. In front of us, the hallway to our rooms and the cafeteria. To the left, the door to the outside, unguarded and wide open. Always wide open, always so bright.
We took five careful steps towards the phone booth, and gathered ourself while watching Spazz position the car. He was our ticket out of hell, but turned out to be an even worse form of torture for Frisbee. But that’s for another time.
Then, on Day 68, as Clara cried and Arnold flew, we left the receiver off the hook, turned left, and walked out into the sunlight.
Ran as we crossed tree shadow. The parking lot was old and cracked, but the cars doctor new.
Frisbee let the 8-Ball sail, and as it fractured Big Bill’s Porsche, alarms went off both inside and out. Douglas did his part.
Spazz waived us inside, the engine running, and I tore off my hospital bracelet with my teeth and left it on the curb. “Where to?” He was wearing his Circle X uniform, left work especially for our escape. Laura still has his shirt in my closet.
Crying in my true love’s arms as we turned the corner, the sunlight reflecting off of beautiful bus stops, I could only yell one thing:
In the distance were fire trucks and ambulances, fast approaching as cars swerved left and right. We waived to them as they rushed past.
They waived back.