“You are not doing well,” Dr. Watt says, finds me in his office leaning forward with my face buried in my hands.
“No,” I say, “I guess not.”
“How is the medication working?” he says.
“It’s not,” I say.
“Are you still using alcohol and drugs?”
“I don’t know if I can do this anymore.”
He leaves the room to call Fiona, my psychologist, and returns a moment later with a solidified opinion that my life is in peril, and I must immediately, “as in, right now,” he says, “go to the Emergency Room.”
For weeks I have been disappearing to The Bunny Room in our basement in order to get high on cough medicine. My two rabbits, Marcello and Caravaggio, have become my sole connections to the living world, to any flesh and blood creature.
I take copious amounts of cough medicine containing the chemical DXM (Dextromethorphan), and have only recently added Robaxacet to the cocktail. I pour multiple packets of Extra Strength NeoCitran DM into this huge mug of hot water, stir it up with a little spoon. I am up to two boxes, twenty packets, of NeoCitran each night, enough to distort my sense of reality and send me into semi-psychotic episodes.
The mug is black with white print on it. The print reads: Coffee drinkers make better lovers.
My sister describes my living quarters in the basement with my rabbits as “a hovel,” makeshift walls composed of big panels of cardboard, big Van Gogh and Chagall framed prints of which the glass has been broken; rabbit cages, boxes, old shelving units, all of which have been arranged to form the inescapable inner circle.
Inside the inner circle is a blue loveseat, piss-stained carpet and linoleum, rabbit beds and blankets, their litter boxes, food and water bowls, hay strewn loosely about the floor, and above it all, LED Christmas lights looped around the rafters.
It’s Christmas all year round.
Finances have been a sensitive issue. I am unemployed, addicted to cough medicine, and I no longer bring cash into the home. My husband has grown to hate me. Can I blame him?
At the Emergency Room, this weird goat-man takes my vitals. He smells like chewed socks, like goat.
He does not speak to me the whole time he takes my blood pressure and sticks a thermometer in my ear, but gets his point across rather astutely by his general aura, his goat-like essence, and the occasional grunt.
He ushers me through, guides me gently by the elbow.
I’m going in.
Inside the Archie Courtnall Centre: psychological screening.
“I notice you have scrapes across your wrists,” the doctor says.
“Yes,” I say, stricken by my own candour, though I am embarrassed, lower my hands to my lap. “It helps,” I say, “with the anxiety.”
“When did you do that?” she says.
The blood bubbles along the surface. I wipe it away, streak my palms red. These are not dangerous wounds in the physical sense.
“This morning,” I say, though upon arriving here I slipped away to the washroom and dragged a razor blade across them again a handful of times.
(There are the legs too, the hips. My pants rub at the open two-inch cut on my left hip).
“Can you tell me about your drug use?” she says.
“I get high on cough medicine,” I say. I say it unapologetically, directly.
I tell the doctor that I have occasionally lost the ability to hear sound (as a whole sensory category), and to understand English (as a whole linguistic discipline). DXM works like PCP, acid for the neurons. “The other night I took twenty packages of NeoCitran and fifteen Extra-strength Robaxacet,” I say, “and a beer.”
“What would you say if I said that I would like to admit you today?” the doctor says.
“I would be . . . really . . . really . . . against that idea,” I say.
She puts down the pen. “I am going to have to admit you.”
“I just started a new job today,” I say, which is true. A new temp job with the university.
“But what good is a new job,” she says, “if you’re dead?”
I stammer, “But . . . can you . . . legally do this?”
She cites me a bureaucratic clause that details all the reasons she can and is admitting me “involuntarily.” This is how it will read on my file for the next twenty days or so: Involuntarily Admitted.
“Okay,” she says. “I want you to stay in here while we get you a sedative.”
Do I have a choice?
I sit there and cry.
I’m waiting for the security guards to come and escort me over to The Pavilion; wandering around The Archie Courtnall Centre looking lost and weepy.
My blue scrubs are too big. They have taken my shoes and socks. I am stigmatised, forever branded.
I am pavilionized.
The security guards arrive to escort me over, but my memory of this becomes vapour.
I make a call before leaving, to my sister; the only person I can think of. I do not call my husband, Leigh. No way.
“Hi,” she says.
“Hi,” I say.
“What’s wrong?” she says, because she knows me better than anyone.
“I’m in the psych ward,” I say.
“What can I do?” she says. “Who should I call?”
I have long since feared that if ever I ended up in a place like this my life would be a revolving door in and out of it.
“Call Leigh,” I say. “And can you please feed my rabbits?”
“Yes,” she says.
The last thing I remember are the doors to the security van, and making some apologetic joke about my blue paper booties, but the rest is gone.
The first days slip by. I have no memory.
The ward is a big rectangular room divided into the A-wing and the B-wing, each at opposite ends. A-wing is not allowed to cross the line to B-wing. I am A, which is fortunate, because A has a homier feel than B, softer lighting above the couch and recliners in the TV area.
A week inside feels like a month.
Time becomes strange, something to do with the uniformity, the beige of the walls, the way A-side mirrors B-side as if each is a projection of the other, two universes oblivious to each other, but each transpiring in the same timeline.
I look over there expecting to see myself turn a corner.
They won’t yet give me back my clothes. Do they think I’m going to make a run for it? Are they right?
At some point (though I cannot say when it happens) the details sharpen, materialize from blankness, from the strange gestalt that has been holding me.
I come into myself. I become closer to here. I become a flesh and blood person again. It’s me. But I am a stranger to myself. It’s terrifying and liberating at the same time.
I wander these hallways, my sobbing having lost its heartiness; piqued to weeping.
The blue scrubs swallow me. I am humiliated. It’s these paper booties that are killing me.
I like Dr. P right away; he’s direct and likes to say fuck. I feel I can trust him. Our interactions are brief, if not rushed, during his morning rounds.
He begins our meetings: “How are you doing today?”
“Fine,” I say.
“You’re looking well,” he says.
On our first meeting he finds me sitting in a recliner in the lounge, still in scrubs, hair in a ponytail, dishevelled and washed out. There are no nutrients in my skin, no colour in my complexion. My potassium levels are low. They have been monitoring me. I am bleached, churned in a washing machine, wrung out by hand and hung like a sheet between two buildings in a ghetto. I’m not wearing make-up. My lips are dry, and my eyelashes feel crumbly.
Take my blood. Give me pills. Feed me at intervals.
Dr. P says, “Trisha?”
How does he know me?
“Yeah,” I say.
I am struck by his stature, his formidable height. I like his looks, brown hair and blue eyes.
I want him to like me right away, to think I am beautiful.
We go to the Quiet Room. He’s tall and walks fast. It’s hard to keep up. I’m five foot six and wearing paper booties, can’t get traction on the slippery linoleum hallways.
He is oblivious to this lack of traction, doesn’t notice me scrambling to keep up. I feel shunned, irrelevant. The shift is illogical and happens swiftly. In this moment, I decide that I’m nothing to him.
The Quiet Room has no windows. One door. The piano in the corner wants to play itself but has forgotten how.
“So?” he says, rather cheerfully. He opens my file.
I already have a file, and there is already a lot of paper in it. This feels like a conspiracy.
My room is EMP 408A.
I think EMP, which makes me think AMP, which makes me think of electroshock therapy, which makes me think of Sylvia Plath lighting up the western European grid on a dark, stormy night.
A nice girl who lives in the room next door, Lisa, reads my palms one night, finds two big W’s, one on each palm, and says this means great prosperity awaits me. While she is surveying my palms another night, I remember the red scrapes and shy away, lower my hands to my lap.
Lisa is heartbroken, apologizes ten times, says, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I have that too.”
I feel bad for making her feel bad, braid her hair as a kind of compensation. Everyone here is so fragile.
My husband, Leigh, has been up to see me a few times. He is listless and appears deeply disheartened, for reasons I fear have little to do with my well-being and much more to do with the general direction of his life, the force of my tide into which he is trapped, pulled out to sea, dragged into oblivion.
Today he has brought me a few toiletries, a nightgown—though not the one I asked for—and a pack of cigarettes, though not the brand I wanted.
I sense this is his last visit to see me.
My mother brings me a book and a bag of chocolates to help with the healing process. I consume the chocolate ravenously but hide the paperclip that came with the book.
Enclosed inside the pages of the book called, The Mastery of Love, which I will not read, is a paperclip which I have stretched into a needle-like thing, uncoiled and transformed from the use it was intended for and made instead into an object of minor self-mutilation.
I press down harder now that I’m here.
I add a dozen hatch marks across each of my wrists, and am shocked at how bad it looks, how brazen and tactless.
There is also a copy of Descant Issue 144: Dogs.
My sister brings me this journal, quite by chance, because I love dogs and poetry and good writing with equal measure; well, perhaps erring slightly on the side of dogs.
I have become good at finding meaning, code, in everything. The page upon which the inscription is written is red; red is relevant. The inscription begins: Speculate on the tints of a butterfly’s wing . . .Alexander Rodger (1784-1846) Stray Leaves.
I have never heard of this Alexander. Stray Leaves also elude me, though there is beneath my window an oak whose leaves have in recent days taken on a whimsy—flirtatiousness, a rustling illuminated by the industrial lamp bulbs in the parking lot. From where I sit looking out my window at night, the darkness is transformed; leaves and negative space change into magic and orbs.
I want to get through the glass, climb onto the tree, let go and feel the grass beneath my feet.
I have been redeemed my clothing and sit on my cot, survey the back-ass of the hospital: two banks of windows directly across; on the other side of those windows are the kitchen, pots and pans, giant cauldrons, other metallic items which I cannot make out from here; several loading bays with yellow lines to mark the way in and out as the linen and food supply vehicles come and go all day with their beeping and grinding; a large heavy-looking metal door above which is written the word “Powerhouse,” though I have not been able to determine why this particular door is instilled with such “Power,” and which surely opens into some enigmatic “House.”
Doctors come and go.
I have noticed that some of the doctors are healthy doctors who ride into work in Spandex cycling gear and helmets that match their fancy bicycles. They haul their bikes up the loading bay stairs and disappear, until they return at the end of their day, back in their matching cycling gear, hauling their bikes down the loading bay steps again.
Then there are the unhealthy doctors dressed in blue scrubs who slouch about the curb at the edge of the loading bays smoking cigarettes. These are my favourite doctors. They appear aloof and disinterested, apathetic to whatever spleen or gall bladder or cancer they have just cut out of someone’s insides.
I wave to the smoking doctors and deliberately undress close to the window, but I don’t think they can see me.
Beyond all this, beyond the roof and cylinder things and metal chimneys and banks of kitchen windows, is the ongoing construction. The work goes all day into sunset. The three cranes glint pink in the day’s last light, and I have hope.
These are my three steely cranes. They belong to me.
These are my heavenward cranes upon which I focus when I press the tip of my secret paperclip down hard, wincing in pain but exalting in the relief that follows.
I cannot see the earth beneath my cranes.
I stare out the window. I welcome any construction worker with good strong arms and a heavy body to lie down upon me.
Because I need to be pressed upon.
Because I’m afraid to be in here.
Because I long to have a man’s weight upon my body—a construction worker, my husband, a doctor—to crush me breathless.
Dr. P comes and goes.
Every day I long for his arrival, have formed an unhealthy attachment to him. I want only to sit across from him, to be in his presence. Only in such close proximity to him do I feel like I matter.
Our meetings are too short and the intervals of time in between are agonizing.
He says “hello” and “you look well.”
I say “thanks”, and “so do you.”
I want to tell him I’m feeling better, that I’ve come to an important realization, that loving yourself is rooted in a process of remembering who you are, not in a process of creating someone new.
But I say nothing. I just sit there glowing in my own sexuality, wanting him to touch me.
I sit at a sunlit table in between the feeding hours, missing my husband, thinking about my rabbits. I think about the time I ate rabbit without knowing it, the injustice of that.
My friend’s step-father gave it to me when I was ten, watched with a gleam in his eye as I chewed and swallowed, then everyone laughed when I learned the truth.
Another time: I held a rabbit’s foot in my hand. It was attached to a key chain. I held it gingerly on the playground. I was standing underneath the jungle gym. A faceless boy hung upside-down from one of the beams. He reached and tried to steal it.
“Rabbit feet bring luck,” Nicole said.
So now I recall the foot’s softness, the crinkle of bones under the softness.A nurse comes, rests her hand on my shoulder, says, “Honey, are you okay?”
“I miss my rabbits. I miss my husband,” I say. I get up and walk away.
I miss my Bunny Room: my drug den, my haven, that toxic sanctuary.
My husband is gone.
Dr. P and his Wednesday afternoon group have welcomed me into their sanctum. I keep quiet and listen, feel I must earn my place and my right to speak, and so it is, until he calls upon me directly to compare my marital situation with that of another lovely woman who sits directly opposite me. She is slender and beautiful, timid and breakable. But my intuitive powers tell me she is stronger than she knows, which in turn leads me to consider that I am stronger than I know too, and perhaps this is Dr. P’s angle.
“Yes, I totally relate to what you’re going through,” she says.
I nod my head, hide my hands in my lap.
Dr. P nods his head, sits next to me in the circle. I can’t help it, but I feel drawn to him, needy, wish he was physically touching some part of me—my hand, my elbow, my wrist.
I want every man I know to love me.
The slender lady says something else, but I look out the window to Mount Baker, its snow-covered peak. I can see the gleam of Cadboro Bay, just barely, a silver line at the base of the mountain, and the plume of a white sail filled with a gust of wind, miniature, far away, dwarfed against the horizon.
“I’m sure you’ll be okay,” I say, but I don’t know if she’ll be okay. I don’t know if she’ll make it. I don’t know anything.
The lady is telling the group about her marriage, her kids. I think about how Leigh and I eloped, just the two of us, got married in Cuba, and I realize it meant nothing to me, not the gown or flowers, or gazebo overlooking the Caribbean, not even the vows, how as Leigh was saying something important to me I was thinking of being twelve years old, standing on skis in the North Bowl of the Kimberley ski hill, specks of snow and ice flecking my face, foggy goggles, crystals forming in my long blond hair.
“I love you,” he said. And I did love him; I loved him and the small white flower pinned to his lapel.
There was the swish of my skis angling down the safe side of the mountain.
I was just a girl.
It’s almost time for me to go.
The following Wednesday I sit blank-faced in the group circle thinking of junior high, Prince George, BC, Mr. DeWolf’s Environmental Education class, learning to use a compass in the school field, then learning how to find True North in a forest outside of town by determining first the light side of bark, where the sunlight strikes it the longest throughout the day, thus indicating the rising of the sun in the east and its westerly trajectory above the shadows.
From this we establish our north, our south, our east and west, and find our way home again.
I am there in the forest, but I am also here in the group. I am here and there, wanting Dr. P to wrap his arms around me, to make everything okay. I am like a child.
I think of Mr. DeWolf teaching me how to pull the trigger on a 22-gauge shotgun in Environmental Ed. when I was fifteen and really into Bon Jovi.
I feel the butt of the action against my shoulder that day in the woods at the target range, the crackle of shot in my heart, and the bruise on my shoulder from the surprising kick-back.
I feel Mr. DeWolf close up against me, helping me with the weight of the thing, levelling it off my shoulder, guiding my vision through the scope, compelling my finger upon the trigger, and urging me, “whenever you’re ready . . . now gently, squeeze.”
The nurses gather us all together in the lounge area. People are murmuring, whispering. I hear the words morphine, death, and sleep. Rene is crying, and Julie is holding Rene.
The head nurse appears, and everyone falls silent.
Maybe it’s all a bad rumour, whatever it is.
“We’ve just spoken with the coroner,” the nurse says, “and he has confirmed that Lisa died in her sleep last night.”
Julie and Rene cling to each other and sob. I don’t know what to do. I stay for a while then go to my room, lie down, and write. I don’t know what to feel. I don’t know what it is I am feeling. How can someone I know die?
Who read my palms and gave me prosperity, whose long blond hair I braided three times, I did not feel the death in you, not even your peril or pain. Even as you slumped forward in the recliner and I had to keep tugging your braids to keep you from slumping into a morphine-induced stupor, I felt nothing of you.
I pulled your braid hard.
I examined your highlights and split ends, your overall lovely deadness. I wanted to say, “It’s okay,” and “I love you,” that night you read my palms and I pulled them away, embarrassed of my gashes, because you looked so sad, so sorry for having made me feel uncomfortable. I wanted to say, “I love you,” because if I can’t say it to myself, maybe I can say it to somebody else.
I am going to the hospital chapel. I am going to leave a note for you, where all the other good-bye notes have been left, on that altar by the burning candle.
Thank you for letting me braid your hair.
Dear Lisa, I braided your hair three times while you were still alive, anchored to me the way one woman is anchored to another woman; in a girlhood fascination with the art of weaving hair.
We own that, don’t we?
I will light a candle for you and leave my note behind, pin it to the bulletin board among the farewell notes that have also been pinned to the bulletin board for all of the dead who became dead before you.
My things are gathered at my feet, packed in plastic hospital-issued Eric Martin Pavilion bags.
I hold the Descant journal carefully, as if it might break, flip through the pages, and glance upon the reddest gash on my wrist. A superficial wound, nothing perilous.
This will scar.
Dr. P’s voice is soft but intelligent, caring but direct. I am not the worst he sees in a day.
He pulls his chair in closer to me, but maintains an appropriate distance between us.
How I want him to kiss me.
After twenty days in the ward, he signs my release papers.
“You are free to go,” he says.
I am free to go.
But what do I do? My husband is gone. My home is gone.
I look down at the journal again, read the inscription. “What is there to do but this: to pause, to speculate on what exists outside of one’s self, (the nature of a butterfly’s wing), or to descant in rapturous terms on the various properties of a bit of stone.”
I think upon leaving but do not say:
I love you. I love you. I love you. »
From issue #57