The first thing I noticed about him was his tie.
It was bright purple. And not a pretty shade, like something you might find in an 8-year-old girl’s bedroom, but the ugliest version of the color. Before this, I did not know that an article of clothing could be so obnoxious.
For an odd reason, I critique his entire outfit, trying to ignore the sound of him opening up a folder and pulling a pen out of his shirt pocket. My eyes are then drawn to a tiny piece of grey lint stuck there. And beneath that, his name tag: “Dr. Alexander Woodworth, I make thousands watching you suffer Medical Center.”
“Nice to see you today Charlotte.”
I switch my gaze to his face, and find it funny that although I hate his entire outfit, I love his eyes. They’re blue, a shade that I’m not even sure I’ve seen before. I wonder if he has a wife, and if this feature was the first thing that struck her about him. It occurs to me a moment too late that he has just spoken to me, and another moment to comprehend what he’s said. It honestly wasn’t that nice to see him, but I figured I’d play along. Play good patient Charlie. You’re already in hell.
“Nice to see you too.”
I badly want to compliment him on his astounding eyeballs, and more than that, I just want to say the word eyeballs out loud. But before I can, he’s already talking again. “So basically what we’re doing today is just seeing how you’re doing. When were you admitted?”
I'm in a mental hospital. How do you think I'm doing.
“And what was the reason for admission?”
I physically had to stop myself from rolling my eyes all the way to the back of my head until I could see the other side. I consider it a big waste of time to ask questions that you already know the answer to. I mean, he had my whole life in that folder. But since the least I could do for this man was to be polite and compliant, I take a deep breath and let it out slowly.
“What was your method?”
God, I want him to think I was ballsy. This is going to sound like a kitten’s meow rather than a lion’s roar, as far as suicide attempts go. But what the hell. My whole life had been pathetic up until this point, so my failure had to follow suit.
“I overdosed on pills.”
“What pills did you take?”
“Oxycodone and Zoloft.”
“How many of each?”
“I wasn’t really counting.”
“I understand that, I’m looking for a rough estimate.”
“Um, definitely more than 10. No more than 20. Make it 15 of each.”
Dr. Woodworth glances up at me, and I know I sound too robotic. I tell myself to make eye contact with him but it’s so tiring for me to look at anyone’s face since. In fact, everything was too tiring since. I felt like I hadn’t slept for months, years even. Which was ironic considering I’ve done nothing but that since I got to the hospital. But it was only my…God…I find it hard to keep track. Maybe my third or fourth day? I had to cut myself some slack. Dr. Woodworth sort of half coughs, half clears his throat as he jots my responses down.
“And what events lead you to make that decision?”
All of a sudden, as if he’s metamorphosing right in front of me, I don’t see the doctor anymore. I see him.
My heart feels like it’s separated into a million different pieces and has transported to every single part of my body, so I feel like my whole body is pumping. I hear the rushing of blood in my ears, and more than anything, his voice. Before I even know what I’m doing, I spread my legs wide enough to fit my head between my knees. I start squeezing, as if I can rid my mind of the last eight months of my life. It really starts to hurt but I keep at it. I try not to make it too obvious what I’m doing. I don’t feel like getting a shot in the arm and then wheeled into a room with white padding. Wait, does that really happen? Or it that only in movies, when someone really loses their shit? Either way, I keep quiet.
Eventually I hear Dr. Woodworth calling my name, “..Charlotte…Ms. Mugley…”
I want to go even harder upon hearing my hideous last name. Not wanting to make things worse, I sit back up, physically feeling normal color returning to my face. I squint and cock my head at him, as if he’s something to be studied.
“I can’t talk about that yet.”
Surprisingly, he doesn’t push, nor does he comment on what I just did. Figures, I smirk and think to myself, this crap is his breakfast, lunch, and dinner. He simply nods and jots more things down.
“Alright, I think that’s enough for now. Did you eat breakfast this morning?”
“Yeah, the food here is so good. I had a pancake and a corn muffin and a little bit of Raisin Bran. The people here are nice too. Everyone’s so nice. I can’t wait for lunch. I ordered good stuff.”
I don’t why I’m trying to make conversation, but it seems to ease his mind a bit, so I don’t feel so stupid. He clicks his pen back into place, returns it to his shirt pocket, and closes his folder.
“Thank you for meeting with me Charlotte. You enjoy the rest of your day.”
He stands and proceeds to open the door, obviously my cue that I can leave. I shove my hands in the pockets of my scrubs and stand up.
“No, thank you. And by the way, call me Charlie.”
He clears his throat, again, and gives me the doctor to patient smile. Real, but reserved for these interactions only.
“I’ll see you soon Charlie.”
I stare at the door long after he closes it.
Her name is Mariola Kowalski, and she’s waiting for me down the hall of the doctor’s office. She’s wearing green scrub pants and one of those shirts that nurses wear. This one is Scooby Doo themed, and looking at it almost makes me feel like I’m 5 years old getting my blood drawn. Instead, she’s my “watcher,” and I wouldn’t have one if I didn’t try to cut myself with a plastic knife in the cafeteria on the day I was admitted.
One of the employees appeared beside me, yanked the knife out of my hand, and says, “Nope, we’re not going to do that,” as if I’m a toddler that grabbed something I shouldn’t have. And who the hell are you to tell me what I’m gonna do? I have never had to conceal so many thoughts in my life. But this was a battleground. You had to avoid anything that might get you in trouble, or worse, kept here longer. So I just shrugged and started eating my soup.
As I ripped open the plastic wrapping that contains my slice of bread (what??), I got called to see the doctor. Thus, I now have a person that follows me no matter where I go. Even to take a piss. Privacy is a thing I never had to worry about, but now, it’s what I crave the most.
“Mariola, I’m going to watch TV.” She nods, smiles, and follows me to what is called the “recreation center,” which sounds a lot more fun than it actually is. It’s basically a large room with a TV mounted up on the wall, a ping pong table, and a large table for coloring and playing board games. It’s meant to look relaxing, but the whitewashed walls and sparkly, clean-tiled floors sort of ruin it for me. Oh, and also the constantly roving nurses and other watchers. Kind of ruins the illusion.
I flop into a chair of a color that reminds me of dental floss as Mariola sits down more gracefully. I elevate my gaze to the tiny, not at all high definition television that literally looks like it was made for hospitals and nursing homes. "Law & Order: SVU" is on and I wrinkle my face. It has taken me many years and will probably take me many more to understand the fascination so many people my age have with this show.
Don’t get wrong, Benson and Stabler are the duo straight from New York City crime solving heaven, but the stories all have a central theme: criminals do not cover their tracks, and only cooperate once they’re threatened with jail time. And there always seems to be a hooker involved. Not that the hooker is the problem. Actually, I’m a huge fan. But God, switch it up. Now, if Benson ended up being a hooker. That I could watch.
“My niece love ‘dis show,” Mariola says quietly, in her freaking adorable Polish accent.
I turn my head to look at her. I can tell that when she was younger, Mariola was very beautiful. Her hair was mostly white now, but if I looked really closely, I swear I could see honey blonde. Her wrinkles were so soft, it really took a second glance to see them all. There were so many, it was like navigating through a garden maze. I knew that as many lines as there were on her face, that she had just as many stories about her life. To me, she looked like the kind of person that no one was ever interested in. That made me start to feel something that I had already felt too much of, so I started talking to avoid losing it in the recreation room of a psych ward. I’m pathetic, sure. But I’ll be damned if I’ll be typical.
“Eh, I’m not too crazy about it. Maybe it’s the fact that literally everybody and their mother watches it. The thing about me is, if everybody is watching or doing the same thing, I defer from it. And for that I get mocked. Look who’s trying to be a hipster.””
Mariola laughed. Like, really laughed. She hollered and wheezed like this is was the first time she’d laughed in ages. I thought about asking her what was so damn funny, but let it be. Let it be a mystery. As she was finishing up and dabbing at her eyes with a lace hanky, I decided to take charge on a little weird quest I created for myself since “it” happened: to get to know more about people. Even the temporary people in my life. “Mariola, who’s someone really special to you?”
She didn’t even hesitate. It’s as if she expected me to ask her. For some reason, this made me like her even more.
“My granddaughter, Ellie. Her full name is Elliot. My son-in-law had a really good friend in university die in a car accident, so he told my daughter that if they ever had a son, he wanted to name him after his friend. So, when my daughter got pregnant, she promised to him that no matter if the baby was a boy or a girl that was going to be the name. And she ended up being a girl. Life is very funny.”
I laughed appreciatively because it was one of the cutest stories I had ever heard. And I was so thankful I had asked her. Only one thing would tie it all together…
“Do you have a picture of her?”
Seconds later, I am looking at a small, blonde little girl with a toothy smile that seemed too big for her. As Mariola chattered on about Ellie, my own smile began to fade. It occurred to me that this situation has happened millions of times before, in all different parts of the world, in every decade, in every year. An excited new grandmother, showing pictures of her grandchildren and talking about them as if they were literally dropped angels from heaven.
My grandmother no doubt did the very same thing. And I bet, when she was showing the pictures of me in my tiny dress and sporting wispy blonde-brown hair, that she never imagined I’d do what I did.
What would say if she knew I was here? What would she say if she knew that I was now eating bread out of plastic bags, or that my roommate was 68, talked to walls, and pissed on the floor almost daily? The thought made me stand up so hard that my chair made a loud scuffing sound on the tile and almost tipped over.
Mariola stood up with me, eyes darting back and forth between me and the door to the rec room as if she was debating on yelling “CODE BLUE!” It seems dramatic, but one false step in this place sends in the freaking loony medical SWAT team.
To cover, I yawned really loudly and said, “I’m so tired. I better get some sleep. It’s a big day tomorrow.” I laughed to myself. It was my own little private joke since every day was the exact same.
Mariola settled into her chair next to my bed, sliding her glasses down in the exact way you are probably picturing in your head, and began to read a book. I silently studied the cover. It was all in Polish, but it looked like that erotica shit my aunt used to have hidden in her bedside drawers.
I smiled, then flopped down onto the bed. I pulled the soft white sheet (yeah, you probably thought I was going to say “scratchy wool blanket.” No, not everything sucks in this place) up to my neck. Mostly to be dramatic, but also, it was really cold in these rooms. It was September, for Pete's sake. Why was the air conditioning on?
Oh right. You’re the youngest idiot in here. The elderly needed their artificial air.
I closed my eyes and rubbed my temples, which still hurt after my display in Dr. Woodworth’s office. As I did, the thoughts started. Since I was in bed and semi-stable, I let them come.
It was a bad idea. Sure, I had been cutting since I was a junior in high school, but self harm isn’t always blood and razors. It’s not always so Hollywood…