I am very excited to share this short story entitled Angel on the Ward. I broke it into pieces because it is a very long story.
This is part one.
The story is set in November of 2007 during my first suicide attempt and diagnosis. The story covers the entire week of Thanksgiving, almost six days, in which I spent my first time in the psych ward. The parts of the story will be released over the course of the next week in honor of my ten-year diagnosis/suicide anniversary, I made it!
This short story is still a raw piece and it will eventually make its way into my memoir once I finish editing. Its written in a short story format with some dialogue. It is far from perfect written and I post it here on my blog to gauge if this story is any good. I wrote this piece ages ago for a short story class and it just evolved over the years. I spent the last week adding to it and I am hoping the end piece will be good enough for my memoir.
Part One is very long so be sure you have time to read the entire part. Enjoy.
The opening of my door wakes me from a light sleep. The morning nurse pokes her head in, and I can only see the silhouette of her body in the darkness.
“When you’re ready James there is breakfast out in the common area,” she says, “You should try and get up, it’s a cold outside so dress warmly. The sun is about to start peeking through your window,” My silence was deafening. After a moment, she exits closing the door quietly behind her.
I sit up for a moment with every intention of laying back down. The pillow envelops my head and beings to throb hard as the thought of laying down starts to take over my body.
The memories of the previous night became hard to suppress as I work to focus on my surroundings. The quietness of the room makes it all easy for the thoughts to consume me every moment.
My room is small and simple. Four off-white walls, two longer than the other in a rectangle that surrounds me swallowing me whole. Two doors come into focus. One is a huge door with a small glass window that a person can look through and spy on me through the hallway. It was this door the nurse used to make me and put the endless loop of thoughts back into my head.
The other door is a typical plain brown door with a handle. It opens to the small bathroom with a toilet, sink, and mirror. It seemed odd that there was no shower in my bathroom, and the window was also missing. My guess, for people like me in a place like this, windows could be a hazard.
Occupying most of the room is two beds. A nightstand is positioned on the left side of each bed. The contents of everything I had on from the previous night in my hospital visit now was next to me in a paper bag on my nightstand. A small brown cupboard was next to the door that led into the bathroom. I assumed these cupboards were used by the guests to put their long-term items. I had no intention of staying past this day. The plainness of this room was prison like and it was making me feel worse about the situation I now found myself in. The memories of the night before, the ones I fought to repress before my arrival at this place, came flooding back.
I am moving in a slow wheelchair. This memory was hazy at best. The drugs that I took were still somewhat in my system thought the black charcoal substance that was shoved down my throat took care of most of it. I could barely remember the emergency room, and the details put together starts to become a puzzle I am seeking to solve.
A male nurse and a security guard was the first thing I remembered pushing me down one corridor after another, opening and closing doors that were locked by keycard. I found it a bit amazing that it took two people to handle one young man that at best was heavily drugged. I remember thinking, why are there so many doors?
With no idea about the end of this journey, I remember going in and out. The drugs kept my hazy. When they had been explaining it to me in the emergency room I was failing to pay attention. For all I knew, I had dreamed the whole experience. It was wishful thinking at its finest.
Reaching our destination, it was just after going through another locked door. I could tell the arrival portion of this trip through endless doors because the security guard was now leaving the nurse and myself. It sunk in—this would become my new place of temporary residency. The nurse started to push me down a new but small corridor reaching the nurse’s station.
A large female nurse approached the other nurse and starting whispering to my nurse. This recollection made me laugh and smile a bit because I honestly have no idea if the nurse was large or if I just remembered it like that. I could remember the big open room in front of the nursing station with overly large windows. My eyes were only greeted with darkness beyond the big windows.
An eternity passed (or just seconds) and I was on the move again, this time down another corridor. This corridor was different, it had an open door waiting for me at the end. In only a hospital gown two nurses helped me into the closest bed to the door. I had no roommate that I could see. They put my belongings on the bedside stand then moved towards the door closing it behind them. They left me there lost in the endless darkness of my mind.
The darkness puts into perspective my situation, and what had led me here. It all started with darkness. I cry for what feels like an eternity. The days leading to this event were harsh and unbearing. I wanted to cry for weeks. I just let it all go. Eventually, sleep overtook me.
Coming back to reality, my thoughts continued to brew in my head consuming all the energy in my body and after a while, moving seemed like a good option. I could feel the throbbing of my head the result from the night before, and slowly I made my way to the bathroom.
The face looking back at me in the mirror was barely recognizable. Did those sunken bloodshot deep black eyes the blackest of circles really belong to me? The face staring back at me seemed lost, and unrecognizable. It could have been a trick. My body could be in the possession of my depression and just my body and just my mind remained. Convincing myself that this was really me, I decided such thoughts such as these were pointless.
Finally, out excuses for not making my way to eat breakfast, I made my way back to the nightstand to see if there were any clothes worth wearing in the paper bag, a hospital gown was not going to do. My clothes from the night before were the usual for me—a pair of jeans, a t-shirt, and my hoodie. For some reason, no shoes could be found in the bag. I made my way over to the cupboard but again no shoes. I thought this was an odd thing but thought it best to let it go. I thought to myself, “Well that was weird.”
Leaving the room shoeless, I made my way down the hall to the open room that I had been in the night before. I could feel the daylight caressing my skin as I made my way to the room with the big glass windows that had changed with the new day. It hit me quickly that I had missed many things with my arrival on the ward. A glass door was positioned in the middle of the glass windows and its opening was to a small courtyard. I could see a few tables and cement benches to sit on. It became obvious that this area was just an illusion of serenity with the flowers and trees near the cement benches.
A cement wall could be seen the opposite of the glass door. It gave a true feeling of the reality that this place was a prison, and that courtyard was just an illusion. It was more of a prison than the actual ward. It seemed a real mind fuck to me. Why have an open area when clearly this was an illusion? Is this how the mentally ill are treated—with psychological warfare?
As I continued through the open room there was a small television with pink couches surrounding. Everything was so pink in this place. We pass the same nurse’s station from the night before, but a different nurse occupied the station. Further away there were more pink couches that lining the glass windows with other couches leading to another area with large tables. I could see other patients sitting eating their breakfast. It was a strange array of people. Some patients sat quietly, while others not so much. Wanting to be alone, I found an open table with no one sitting and placing myself with my back to the other patients. A nurse brought tray that contained my breakfast.
“Here you go dear,” says a new nurse as she sets my breakfast tray in front of me.
I made the decision to greet everything with silence. It was just easier. I spent the next several minutes poking at my breakfast with no real interest in eating. As I sat there in silence, the opening of the locked door from the night before caught my attention. A young girl about my age came in. A different nurse was gently pushing this fragile young woman. She looked very fragile and I noticed her wrists were heavily bandaged. She tried to take away the pain the only way she knew how, and I could relate. The result was the same I thought, trapped in a place with walls and windows, but no escape. Pondering this, I realized that this could be my future.
Her nurse was pushing the young woman gently in the wheelchair over to my table and for a fleeting moment, our eyes met—before her eyes moved back down toward the floor. She was so beautiful. The hospital gown she was in only made her beauty intensify in my eyes. The same nurse puts a breakfast tray in front of the young woman but she less interested in eating them I was at that moment. My eyes were locked on this girl and it was impossible to turn away from her, there was something about her that made want to know this young woman. Was it the connection that we share being here for the same reasons?
With just a whisper I tell her my name, “Hi, I am James. For a moment, she looks me over and in her eyes, decides something.
Then, with some relief, her quiet answer was a single answer, “Angela.” Not wanting to press her for more we ate in complete silence for the rest of breakfast.
That first day on the ward was a day of many lessons rolled into a day I will never forget. I spent the morning sitting reflecting on what had brought me here. Even though I had lived through it, the whole thing was one big blur.
A single theme was persistent in the weeks leading up to my suicide attempt. I knew as much to be true. The will to not be a part of this world was weighing heavy on my mind before getting to this place. It took me no time to realize that this was Thanksgiving week.
In fact, when I thought about it deeper, I realized it was the day before the big day. That made the night before a Tuesday. As I put things in chronological order in my head, it easier to function. Still, it was hard to piece it together with everything because all of it seemed so whirlwind like the event took up months instead of days and weeks. The pain was still raw and as I worked on recalling the memories, it was better to get it all in order now before having to visit the doctor.
The emotion pain. How long had it been there? This pain was unlike hurting your ankle, what I felt for so many months was worse. This pain was emotional and it cut deep. Depression became my best friend and worst enemy. Often, it whispered to me that the pain would only get worse, I had no real options. It told me I was alone in this world, and that death was always going to be my fate.
It kept me up for days at a time, and every racing through stripped away pieces of my sanity. My depression distorts my reality, and time seemed to slow. The lines of what was real and not real were blurry just a few days ago. The constant losing battle of dark thoughts.
But when the time came to finally face the fact that I would to suicide, a moment of clarity came over me, there was an option. A final option. It was time—it had to end. How to do it? My medication was the easiest accessible means. With no access to firearms and a high chance of someone noticing a missing knife, it was the only real option. It was just there for the taking. It was not long that thoughts became reality. Sleeping pills would work on two fronts, it would bring me to sleep and bring me death. Spreading the pills on my bed I counted them, wondering how many it would take to end it all. Putting my medication in my hand, it made that moment so real…
“James, it is visiting time now. You mother and father are here to see you.” I found myself laying on a pink couch. So, lost in thought that I barely remember moving from the tables to the couch. At some point, I had put on my favorite white My Chemical Romance hoodie to what I was wearing.
Moving from the pink couch, I walked slowly to the roundtables where breakfast has been served just an hour or so prior. I could see my mother and father coming through a different door, the one to the outside world.
My father had his usual stern look about him. They wore expressions of a mixture of afraid and sad, my situation was one that neither one of my parents was prepared to deal with. My mother looked sad and frustration was evident on her face. The look my mom gave me told a story, she was hurt and she didn’t have any clue how to fix this situation that I was in. That look would be forever etched in my memory.
It was hard to be around my parents. What can you really say to your parents when they are as lost in the same unknown world that you are in? This was all new to them. I had never said so loudly that I wanted to end my life. In their minds, I was always the kid they saw on the outside, the illusion that became my shield. The reality was sinking in, this was who I really was. Even the hospital visits over the last couple months were minor things compared to what I just put them through, but this was a totally different animal.
What seemed like an eternity, I decided to ask what was on my mind since I had woken up. “What happened last night?”
My dad, very apprehensively replied, “You mean, you really don’t remember?”
“Not really. I remember that I wanted to die. Obviously, that didn’t take. I remember taking pills but not sure which ones or how many. I really don’t remember getting to the hospital. The last thing I remember was going through a bunch of doors and here I am.”
I studied the look between my parents. This was getting me nowhere. The feeling of wanting to die had not left me. I still didn’t want to be alive, but at the same time, the need to shed this prison was my only priority.
What I thought was an obvious question slipped out of my mouth, “Am I going to get out of here? I mean it’s not like I succeeded in killing myself. Why did they place me in here?”
“James. They had to pump your stomach and shove a black charcoal substance down your throat. You tried to overdose. You’re lucky to be alive!” My mom told me practically yelling. I could tell that my mom was happy with the outcome, me being alive and all, but she was still apprehensive.
I had just tried to take my life less than twenty-four hours ago, and it seemed to me that she wanted me to reassure her. But it would be a lie. It took all that I had not to let my parents know the truth of how I was feeling. It occurred to me that no one should know. Lying was my best asset in this place. It was the only way to get out alive. So I did what I always did, I acted as if I was sorry a pretend act to be sure.
“You’re not getting out today James,” my mom continued, “You’re on a seventy-two-hour hold because of what you did.”
“But, tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Are they really going to leave me here? Are you?” The realization that this was a moot point and it was starting to sink in. The answer my father gave me was expected.
“You put yourself here James. No one told you to take those pills. If you are stuck here it is your fault,” he said to me. I couldn’t meet his eyes, and I just wanted to be done with the conversation. It was getting me nowhere. My instinct was to just give up. Why even try?
We sat there for a while making small talk, but my racing thoughts began to overtake me. Could they just leave me in here during the holidays? Yes, I did something that was wrong. But I am alive, and no harm no foul, right? In my mind, I thought, this was only affecting me, because I am the one stuck here. It was not like they ended up here, they got to leave when visiting hours were over. I was alone in this place with no escape. For the first time in my life, I lost my freedom and it felt like hell.
Visiting hours finally came to an end. I was emotionally draining to visit with my parents. They let me know that there would be another visiting hour later that evening and that my mom would come back. They left me there again alone with my thoughts.
I had not seen Angela since breakfast. I felt a weird twinge in my stomach. What was my obsession with seeing this girl? The girl I hardly knew? She was starting to consume my thoughts. I tried my best to justify it as a connection that was purely a “brothers in arms” type of connection. We were both in combat for our lives. That was too simple, it was much deeper than that, but I had not realized it just yet.
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Photo Credit: paul morris