I had seen Girl, Interrupted once in high school, so I felt mildly prepared for being in a psych ward. My aunt Janet dropped me off and told me she’d be back on visitation day. I settled into my room, which was easily one of the nicest rooms I’d ever been in, let alone hospital rooms. I could see the Pacific crashing on the sand across the street.
It was movie night. I went to the common area. A round man with a baseball cap asked me if I had an addictive personality. I had to pause and consider this. Stuart had flown all the way across the country for me. My dad died because of me, somehow. Loving me did seem to lead to addicts and/or trouble.
“Yeah, I guess so,” I replied, walking further away from him to an area of the floor where I could stretch my legs out in front of me, my back to a couch arm. Our featured film was Identity, starring John Cusack.
My roommate slept, snoring quietly and muttering to herself. I couldn’t tell if she was awake and muttering, or talking in her sleep. The hall lights stayed on constantly. The nurses did rounds about every two hours, making that elusive beast Sleep even more difficult to capture. I was handed pills that I swallowed without understanding. Without caring, really.
I’d been admitted with fifty-four open wounds on my body, mostly scrapings from parking lot rocks. My friends had taken my weapons. I hadn’t cut in days now, and it was starting to make the insides of my eyes bleed. I shook. I looked like Jim when he hadn’t had a drink for an hour or so. My aunt Janet was taking care of me; she was doing so much. I didn’t want to die at her house, not after everything. I didn’t know if I wanted to die. I wanted to go back to school, now that I wasn’t at school. I wanted to not feel insane if that was even possible. I held out little hope.
Days consisted mostly of meals at first, or so it felt. We ate three times a day and had entrees with sides, salad options, and desserts. I hadn’t eaten this well with a college meal plan.
As the meds adjusted, the regular food made my body feel hunger on schedule. I slept, and though it was medicated, it was sleep. I started attending groups. Or I started to remember attending them. There was AA since cutting was deemed addict behavior, and I was the only one who self-injured. Process group involved processing through our issues, verbally, aloud, with everyone. The rest were a variety of classes, educating us about various medications, goal-setting, coping skills, support system building, and other skills that should be required in elementary school. We had art therapy. I was in the swankiest of nuthouses, and I benefitted immensely.
One of our group therapists was retiring. Rebecca was moving to the southwest, where I can only assume she did something with turquoise. It was her last week at South Coast Medical. She had an intern with her, the person who would be taking her place. As was custom, we all went around the group circle and told a bit about who we were, diagnosis, and why we were here. My turn arrived.
“Hi, I’m Brittany. I’m a college student in New Orleans, but I’m taking some time off right now…obviously.” I smiled. “My dad died almost a year ago, and I went kinda nuts just before I moved to college. I know my dad was an alcoholic and into drugs, he wasn’t a good dad. He made me sleep in his bed sometimes, and locked us in the bathroom as punishment. I don’t know what are memories, and what are nightmares. My mom is bipolar and lives in her own world. I don’t remember much about the last few months. They say I have a few sleep disorders, severe depression, and suicidal tendencies.”
Rebecca coughed. She pointed with her ballpoint pen, uncapped, in my direction. She spoke to the intern.
“See, this is a great example. Here’s a textbook case of childhood sexual abuse. Notice the overbearing smile, to compensate, probably to distract from the actual words used. The memory gaps. The denial, to herself and likely that of her family…” her voice trailed off in my mind.
My mouth dropped open. I felt crawly, my skin suddenly covered in sweat and simultaneously cold. Rebecca was still talking to the intern. I couldn’t hear her. I couldn’t hear anything but what she’d just said, over and over in my mind, in slow motion. I worried again that I might be the villain in some horror flick, about to kill a bitch.
“Excuse me,” I squeaked, which was discouraging. Extremely so, in fact. I stood up, faster than I meant to, trying to compensate for the squeak. Then, the tears started. “I never said I was abused as a kid. Why would you think that?” I sobbed, hating myself. My eyes darted around the room, needing to find an exit. “I never said that. I didn’t say that.” I backed up, forgetting the chair behind me, which fell to the ground with an echoing finality. I fled the room.
At home that night, Aunt Janet wasn’t surprised. She told me that she’d wondered if that had happened to me since I was young. She wondered if it happened to all of us kids. My friends from college, everyone, without fail, told me they heard me talk about it in my sleep or during what they called “flashbacks”. I was the only person surprised.
My whole existence had been going on with me, around me, and unbeknownst to me. I was ignorant to my reality. What else might I have missed about my own life? What else did I miss about others around me? People who loved me; did they? Could they? Could I even be loved?
Why? The why lingered, fresh air on a paper cut every time my mind breezed by any thought at all. I remember asking Jim about things that last summer, before seventh grade, but he told me he’d tell me when I was eighteen. I only had one clear memory, if it was real. It seemed overly dramatic, like something I must’ve read and re-written in my mind.
I was locked in the bathroom. My bathroom, the one he’d been letting me help design. We were getting rid of the seashells along the counter, and my father had me pick the new design. The pink stains on the white shells made me feel bad. I couldn’t place why exactly. I didn’t think about it. I was crying on the phone. How did I get in the bathroom, and why am I on the phone? I listen to the line, and hear my aunt, Kathy, telling me that I’m being ridiculous and that my daddy would never hurt me. Outside the bathroom door, I can hear him pacing in front of the door. He has a tape recorder in one hand and something else in the other. I can’t see it. I’m telling my aunt that I’m afraid. I must be. My chin is dripping a wet ring onto the neck of my shirt, I’ve been crying for so long.
I don’t know how I got out. I did. I was in Whittier for seventh grade.
If I don’t know what happened to me, how does anyone else? The only other person who might’ve known is dead. Unless I really am cursed by Satan, and am seeing souls from hell, in which case I should just ask Jim the next time he’s following me to the bathroom.
This was unacceptable. I refused to live my own life in the dark, not knowing. How could I know what to believe if my own life was a lie? And I couldn’t die while I was in this place, so I might as well play the game and learn what I can. The next day, I started taking notes during process group, and all my other classes.