The room contained a bed and a dresser. There was one small window right behind the bed; its thick panes looked like bars. Next to the bed was another window. It was wide and made of plastic. I could see into the nurses’ station from it. Is this for extra observation? I wondered. Is this a room for the especially messed-up people who need additional supervision, or was this the only room available? I couldn’t imagine that I was more messed up than the other patients I had seen so far, so I figured this must have been the room available when I arrived.
I sat on the bed and looked outside at the gray world. This is a mistake. I can’t stay here, I thought. Crooked Teeth came back into the room with my suitcase and placed it on my bed. She started to say something, but I interrupted her.
“I don’t think I need to be here,” I said as my eyes filled with tears. “This isn’t the right place for me. I’m not like these people.” I didn’t try to hide my disdain for the other patients I had seen. Some of the patients on the unit seemed 100 percent insane, and others were clearly heavily medicated with antipsychotic drugs. I even suspected a number of them were developmentally disabled and I truly couldn’t figure out why they were in this facility. More pressing, I wondered, Why am I here? How do I fit in with these people?
“There are all sorts of people here,” Crooked Teeth said. “People who are depressed and anxious, just like you. You might find you have things in common with them, and you could learn something from them.”
Spare me the acceptance-and-human-diversity speech, I thought as I decided that I hated Crooked Teeth. I’m not learning anything from people who drool on themselves.
“So, we’ll go through your stuff together,” Crooked Teeth said as she unzipped the green suitcase my brother and his wife had given Chris and me as a wedding gift. She pulled out my favorite sweatpants. I had actually worn those to the hospital when I was in labor. They were supercomfortable. Since I had given birth, I had been living in loose-fitting cotton pants, sweatpants, or pajama bottoms. Their elastic waistbands and drawstrings were comfortable around my belly. Although my belly was quickly receding, I wasn’t quite ready to wear my prepregnancy clothes, and I refused to wear my maternity clothing postpartum. Glancing into the suitcase, I was happy to see that my mother had packed exactly what I had asked her to pack.
“The problem with these is the drawstring,” Crooked Teeth told me. “I could pull it out, and they’ll probably still be wearable because of the elastic in the waist,” she said as she tugged on the waistline.
“What?” I asked, unsure of her point. “Why would you pull the string out?”
“You can’t have long strings on the unit,” she said.
“What? Why?” I asked.
“They could be used for self-harm,” she said.
“I’m not going to kill myself,” I said in earnest, feeling I had been drastically misunderstood.
“We have rules to protect you and others. This needs to be a safe place for you, and even if you wouldn’t do something, other people here might, so we can’t allow you to have anything with strings.”
“Oh,” I said. I think I’m going to throw up, I thought, as Crooked Teeth continued to talk.
“So, again, I can pull out the drawstring and you can wear them, or we can just store them in a safe, locked location until you leave.”
“Fine,” I said. “Store them somewhere.”
Crooked Teeth continued to sort through my suitcase, removing all of my hooded sweatshirts, all but one pair of sweatpants, and a sweatshirt with a dangerously sharp zipper. Each time she had to remove a piece of clothing for safety storage, she would grimace and quietly say, “Hmm, a no on this,” or “Yeah, um, this isn’t okay.” It was as if she was trying to act like she felt bad for taking all of my clothes. Yet her voice also had a slight air of condescension, as if I should have known better when I asked my mother to pack my clothes, as if I was purposely trying to break the rules when in fact I only wanted to be comfortable.
The clothing and sneakers I had worn to Brookview were in a brown paper bag. Apparently, they had been thoroughly inspected to ensure that I wasn’t smuggling contraband into the loony bin. Crooked Teeth pulled my clothes out of the bag, and of course they weren’t allowed on the unit either.
“We can take the shoelaces out,” she said as she held up my sneakers. “Most people find their sneakers still fit without the laces.”
“So, when people leave, do you give them back the shoelaces and drawstrings you took from their clothes?” I asked.
“Oh, no,” Crooked Teeth said with an air of disbelief. “We have to discard all dangerous items. Besides, it’s easy to replace shoelaces.”
“Well, I don’t want you guys taking the shoelaces out of my sneakers,” I said. Is it even legal for them to do that? Isn’t that like stealing and destroying personal property?
“Okay, so, do you have slippers or something else for your feet?” she asked, which was a stupid question because she had raided my entire suitcase moments earlier. She would know if I had slippers.
“No. I’ll wear my socks.”
“Maybe that’s something family members can bring when they visit. Slippers, I mean. Maybe you can ask someone to bring you slippers.”
“Right,” I said noncommittally. I’m not staying here, you idiot, I thought. And on top of that, I don’t own a pair of slippers. I don’t even like slippers.
“Okay, so I’ll let you get settled. And you don’t have to return the sweats you’re wearing until you leave.”
I nodded to show that I understood what she had said, while thinking, I’m not wearing your inmate attire a second longer than necessary. I planned to change as soon as possible into the one pair of pants Crooked Teeth had not seized.
“I’m going to lock up the clothing items and suitcase now,” Crooked Teeth said.
“I had other stuff. My breast pump, my pocketbook and stuff. And I think my journal is in the front of the suitcase,” I said as I gestured toward the suitcase. “I want to do some writing.”
“We’ll go through your other belongings later,” she said. “I’ll need to see the journal…” Her voice trailed off as she unzipped the front pocket of the suitcase and found the journal. I hadn’t seen it before, since Carol had just purchased it for me, but it was perfect, exactly what I wanted in a journal. It was compact, had a wire spiral binding, was full of lined paper, and had a thick brown cover. Crooked Teeth opened it and ran her fingers along the journal’s edge.
“Um, I can’t let you have this,” she said. She pointed at the binding and said, “It’s the wire binding.”
“What? You think I really would find some way to hurt myself with that? I told you, I’m not going to kill myself,” I said in a caustic tone, hoping she could feel my hatred toward her and her stupid rules. “I really want my journal. It’s brand new, and I need to write.” Doesn’t she understand that writing is the one thing that might save me here? Doesn’t she see how horrible she is being? Doesn’t she see how awful she is making me feel?
“I have a notebook for you here,” she said as she handed me a marble notebook she had had with her the entire time. “We give all patients a notebook to journal or write in. It can be very helpful.”
No shit, I thought. That’s why I want my journal.
“But I have a journal of my own. I’m not using this,” I said as I indignantly handed the marble notebook back to her.
“I’m sorry, but you can’t have it,” she said. “I’ll leave this here in case you change your mind.” She placed the marble notebook on top of my dresser. As an afterthought, she opened up the new journal Carol picked up for me, the journal that I could apparently use as a weapon, and said, “I could tear a few pages from the journal, and you could write on those.”
“Fine,” I said. “Whatever.”
“They’re going to bring dinner up soon, so you can put your clothes away and then come get your tray,” she said. “For now you will eat on the unit, but in a few days, you’ll be able to go to the cafeteria for meals.”
What’s with this dumb bitch thinking I’m staying here for more than one night? I thought, but I didn’t say anything. I simply nodded and hoped she’d leave quickly.
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