51 50 // by Jennifer Patino
There are four strangers in my living room. Their clothing is dark but they look like angels. I call one of them by their first and last name. They strap me to a carriage and I am floating. I can’t count the overhead lights because it’s off rhythm with the Kesha song in my head. I suddenly fear bombs. I suddenly feel this whole thing is wrong. I open my eyes later and see a smiling lawyer on a billboard. I know now I’m not at home anymore. I’m sure I’ve died.
These sirens for me
I’ve been lured somehow, floating
I’m pacing. Around the white room. Away from the white coats. I pace around a table. I sit at a table. I pace again. There are white papers on the table and I’m terrified to sign them. I black out and the room is full of water. It is empty except for a frazzled doctor, out of breath, wide eyed, staring at me. I don’t recognize myself in the mirrors lining the left wall. I knew before I fell asleep there were others here. I don’t know what’s real or what’s not
Too many doorways
They say all are closed to me
But I defy them
I don’t remember visitors. I’m supposed to remember them. I don’t remember what day it is. I wring my hands and they’re scaly. My dead self is flaking off. I am raw. I am given industrial strength soap that tears more of me off. They say I took off. They ask me strange questions. I think I’m there for something else.
“I think you’re possessed”
Staff members are scaring me
I will not trust them
The sun is too bright. I pace around the garden wrapped in a blanket. I go in when it is too hot, pace around the rec room, and go back out when the AC makes it freezing. Alarms go off because someone tries to escape. I think it is Sunday. Football on the tube tells me it’s true. I see my shining star that night. I pace after hours when he’s out of sight and there’s an Elton John concert on the TV that me and another insomniac are given special permission to watch. We sing quietly. We hold hands. We are sent to bed.
I’m crying for home
“So goodbye yellow brick road”
Can I go back soon?
The judges are the jury. They say I can’t leave early. They don’t know what’s wrong with me. I start inventing things wrong with me based on prescription drug commercials that trigger us all on the TV. I can’t feel my face from whatever they have me on. Another patient slaps me after coming in for a hug. It is a surprise attack. She’s been here one day less than me and she’s learned nothing. I haven’t spake unless spoken to in three days.
I read “Ariel”
I wonder if it’s cliché
or just worrying
I recognize my visitor. I’ve been waiting all day. I feign smiles through arts and crafts. I write a letter home lying about how this experience has made me feel so much better. I think this is what they want. I know they’re watching us. What I really want to write is: “There is so much that needs to be done with how mental health is handled here in America and I’m too afraid to speak up. I will be silent about this because they’ve already put so many stigmas on me that I’m buried in them. I will forever be afraid of this happening again until the day that I die and it will change me.”
Every single day
“Just be yourself” they tell me
Then I’m locked away
They tell me I’m going home and I’m happy. I’m nervous about screwing it up though. I’m exceptionally good. I chat with nurses like a “normal person” while silently cursing them through my teeth. I still don’t sleep fitfully. I read my notebook for the week. They gave me a soft sponge wrapped around a piece of lead to write with to keep me calm. I’m shocked. Someone wrote in my book but I won’t recognize myself in those words until later. And even then whoever I was is now long gone.
Making it alive
The goal once I realized
I had nowhere to hide
I finally step into the sunshine with my head down. I continue this practice for all of my days.