This non-fiction excerpt was cut from my book, but it stayed on my mind. I’m sharing it, like most of my memoir, as per Virginia Woolf “In expressing it I explained it and then laid it to rest.”
To learn more about my memoir, visit charisejewell.com/crazy.
Most of the staff are strangers. Nurses, guards, doctors, everybody: strangers. I thought I would recognize some faces because it’s my second psych ward rodeo, but only a couple are familiar and they’re the untalented, unkind sort. Darren, the turd nurse, is still here. He’s too lazy or incompetent to move onto greener pastures, plus he likes the power and lack of accountability that comes with helpless, unreliable psych ward patients. No one believes a lunatic.
“Be careful,” a voice says down the hall.
“Yup.” A female reply. “I wore my most boring running shoes.”
I sit up straight. I don’t hear footsteps but running shoes don’t make noise. I’ve been at this stupid table for an hour trying to draw a picture that’s not happening. I don’t know where the others are but they’re not here, which is strange. The only time they’re all gone is for group therapy, but why didn’t they invite me? I loved group when I was hospitalized last year: the gym, gardening, drumming circle. Come to think of it, they haven’t invited me for any therapy this year whereas last year it was “a critical element of my recovery.” Why not?
Sheila turns the corner and we lock eyes. She’s a breath of fresh air, which is desperately needed in this prison they call a hospital. She looks strange though. Nervous. Why? She was good to me last year. We bonded over running shoes, yoga, and Eat, Pray, Love. Were those comments before she walked down the hall about me? Surely not. She liked me. I know she did. Why would she be nervous?
Oh. The complaint. She’s nervous like everyone else who flinches or backs away when they see me, because Eric filed the complaint against the security guard who assaulted me. Sheila wasn’t there when it happened, she had nothing to do with it. Still. Nervous.
She approaches, sliding the equipment cart along with each step. I guess she’s here to take my pulse. I guess she doesn’t want to chat, like we did last year. I guess that’s why she wore her boring shoes. On purpose. So I wouldn’t engage. So I wouldn’t try to remind her of our friendship.
“Hi, Charise, I’m Sheila. Time to check vitals.”
She looks through me, like she doesn’t recognize me, but it’s clear she does. It’s clear she’s terrified. Why? She knows I’ve never been dangerous. Did the hospital issue a warning, to shut me up and keep staff from hearing my story? To keep everyone on the same side as the security guard/hospital?
I look at the cuff she wraps around my arm and say nothing. A tear forms in one eye but I blink it away. If it’s lack of interaction she wants, that’s what she’ll get. No one is loyal to me here.
“Knock, knock,” a voice says from the hall. My door is ajar so I watch as a hand reaches to push it open.
“Come in,” I say. I bring my left leg forward, straighten out of my lunge, and drop my arms to my sides. It’s a jarring way to come out of Warrior 2, but it’ll have to do. They’re keeping tabs on me for everything, and I don’t want to give them any more ammunition. I don’t know what they might have against yoga but since I kept talking about Buddhism while manic, I’m sure they’d add it to my rap sheet. I have to get out of here. I’ve never been in a psych ward before and it doesn’t feel good. How can I have bipolar mood disorder?
The woman walks into my room. It’s large, with a huge window and comfortable window seat, much better than the “surveillance room” they put me in after they said I tried to escape. What kind of idiot would try to escape from a ward with two locked doors and no other exits? I didn’t try to escape. I tried to show them I was being compliant, waiting patiently for my husband, and when that failed I tried to walk back to my room, which was when they tackled me. Pinned my sides together so tight that I wondered if they’d wrapped me in a straitjacket. Then they put me in that wasteland they call a “surveillance room,” where any last bits of sanity go to die. But now I’m back in my nice room. And this woman is here with me.
“Hi, Charise, I’m Sheila. Time to check vitals. Is it okay to turn up the lights?”
“Yes,” I say, with a flick of the hand to gesture towards the switches. She slides the dimmer up and the brightness makes me squint. She slides it back down, to meet in the middle. It’s a kindness most nurses don’t bother with. I sit on my bed and she rolls her cart over.
“Were you sleeping?”
“Oh,” she says. “It was so dark.”
I don’t know if I can trust her. She seems nice, nicer than most, but some of the others seemed nice until I started trusting them and then they betrayed me. I’m tired of betrayal. A friend would be nice though.
“I like your running shoes,” I say. It’s hard to resist admiring them when they’re so bright and appealing.
“Thanks.” She does a little kick that seems out of character, and then laughs. I smile. I’m a sucker for trusting people.
“Sheila, here you go,” I say. I hand her the book that Eric brought for me to give her. It’s my copy of Eat, Pray, Love, the one we’ve been talking about along with yoga and running. And running shoes.
“Thanks, Charise.” She takes it and starts to read the back cover. I wait.
“But, you’re leaving soon, aren’t you? How will I get this back to you?”
I’m leaving today. Right now. As soon as I finish this one last thing to tie up this one last loose end.
“It’s fine,” I say. “I’ve read it. Pass it on to someone else when you’re done.”
She protests and I reassure her until it’s clear that I’m not budging, and she concedes defeat.
“Good luck, Charise. It was a pleasure to meet you.”
I want to tell her that I hope to see her again someday but I don’t ever want to be back in the psych ward again. Once was plenty. Sheila’s smile is genuine and I think I see a tear in one eye. I’m glad I decided to let her in. She never betrayed me. Just about everyone else did, but not her. I’m so glad she wore those brilliant running shoes on the day we met, the ones that distracted me into letting my guard down. Distracted me into making a friend.
“Bye, Sheila,” I say. “Maybe we’ll meet again someday.”
© Charise Jewell, 2022