Cold January cracks through the diamond patterned lines on the security glass. The winter sun blinds my puffy eyes, stretches across my white blanket, my white sheets. Everything is white. I look for it in my gut—the comfort of warm familiar glows and dawn, but there is none. And the empty nothingness overwhelms me to a sit-up position. Fear. Fearing fear. This fear that had started spreading through me, and now continued as soon as I wake, like a black ink filling my veins. It has a mouth and a long, wide throat and there’s sharp teeth to catch me. There certainly aren’t people because people don’t exist in your head. And I cry because no one can help me out of this. That’s why I am here. I feel the nausea rise and the taste of rubber in my mouth. I cry because there is no God. I try to whisper Hail Mary again like last night. It’s not working. Focus. Panic. Focus. Feel the textures, feel the temperatures. Be present you will not die. I’m dying. Alone in my room, wearing their navy blue scrubs. It’s that starving cry again and I’m no longer embarrassed here to try to muffle it. I also know it doesn’t help worth a damn, but I’m that little girl, aren’t I? That little five year old getting her head kicked in and her underwear pulled. Wasn’t the time I put into this madness enough? It may never end, and I prayed to Mary to let it be over. I hear the little girl’s voice again, sobbing gently in my head. I want to reach inside myself and cut her. Because I know she is where I must begin–this is only the bottom of the well. It’s unexplored down here and only a shred of January streaks through above me, in that small opening to the world. Miles away. And I have to know this well like the back of my hand if I intend on not only surviving but never coming back. Memories, speak. Memories I’m down I’m down, I can’t fight anymore. And there is nothing left but terror—and even more terror awaits but I must break into this and start eating it alive—I must figure this out. I must feel. I must remember. Or I won’t make it.
The drive in the old red Chevy is a quiet one, nothing but white headlights through the haze of cigarette smoke—Dan, my stepfather, chain-smoking Dorals, watching the road and my thigh. None of us speak—we hardly ever did in those years. I stare through the glass, watching the mental ward set back against the tall bones of the birch trees draw near.
The sky is the only thing I want to see. The only thing I don’t have to think
about. I don’t want to think of my mother, or the speed of change. Up in the stars you don’t have to be a good girl in all that black space. It all means nothing. Even then, I knew it was okay to be lost
when you’re reminded how small you are, how little your voice is. I don’t think I would have found it surprising then that sixteen years later, I, too, would be a patient in this hospital.
The engine guns into the entrance and the halogen parking lights cross my lap over and over. He parks and my two sisters and I walk toward the picnic tables on a cement slab. It occurs to me—did she call us here? Why were we here at night?
My sisters and I stood apart from each other in the silence, each of us already learning the abandon of grief. I looked down at my shoes, my thighs, and then up into the stars when I heard Dan’s cowboy boots scuffing the pavement, escorting my robed and crying mother. I didn’t recognize her—terrified and helplessly stunned when she saw us. She kept looking to Dan, not looking at us again. We said hi and kept our distance from her and each other, and once I was sure it was forgotten I was there, I turned toward the field that lead to the trees, and looked up into the night sky. I thought about God, about how the earth was really just this round ball he kept in a box and for night time, he put a lid on that box and punched holes in it for stars. In my mind God is a giant old man forcing us to love each other in darkness.
Dan orders us back into the truck and I don’t want to sit in front. I suddenly can’t handle exposure. I feel naked again. But my sisters’ eyes are holes in their faces as they look for approval heading toward the back, and I can’t bare their eyes. I sit in front. She’s not coming home. Now he is the only one I can answer to, the only power. I’m suffocating in this punched box. This is love. A giant man forcing us to love each other in a space we’d never get back.