Names may, or may not, have been changed to protect the guilty.)
I look down at myself. I’m wearing a torn purple sweater, my ex-boyfriend’s boxers and my rain boots. This is pretty much the dumbest thing anyone could have asked me right now but I understand the comfort of pleasantries. “I am… alright. How are you?”
“I’m fine, thank you. Have you seen your room yet?”
I shake my head no.
“Okay, come with me.”
The sound of my boots clunking echoes as I follow her down the hallway. There are paper Santa Clauses and snowmen hanging from the ceiling and gold garland stapled to the walls. “The towels are over here, we eat meals over there but if the doctor gives you permission you can eat downstairs in the cafeteria. The group room is here but we won’t be having any groups the next two days because of the holiday. Here is your room, some shampoo, some soap, some toothpaste and a toothbrush.” I already know how things work here though. They don’t give us conditioner, mouthwash, hand sanitizer or anything else that has alcohol in it because we might drink it. We aren’t allowed to have anything pointy or with sharp edges. We can’t have anything with strings. No drawstrings on your pants or jacket hoods, no shoelaces. I found out we aren’t even allowed to have thongs or G-strings. The last time I came they wouldn’t let me bring in my underwear. I still find it amusing to imagine hanging myself with my thong. Death by G-string! There aren’t any mirrors here because we might break them and cut ourselves or each other with the pieces. The lids on the toilet tanks are bolted down, none of our doors lock and the thick windows don’t open. If I miss a meal because I’m asleep I can ask for snacks. They have cereal, chips and fruit. If I get cold I can ask for socks and extra blankets. If I can’t sleep I can ask for a pill.
“Do you have any questions?”
I shake my head. “No.”
“Well I will be your nurse this evening. If you need anything let me or any of the other staff know. You know you got here just in time we are about to have dinner.”
I smiled at her. “Thank you.”
I walk into the dining area, pull a Styrofoam container from the food cart and sit down at an empty table for my meal. The other patients stare at me and some of the younger ones come sit down next to me. Out in the real world I am not cool because people think I’m crazy. In here they know I’m crazy but they are too so it doesn’t matter. Since I am pretty they flock to me.
My new friends and I begin swapping stories of how we ended up here. One guy says he was going to jump off the 10th story of the Frost tower but some cops stopped him and brought him in. One girl says she was brought here because she sliced her wrists open. She holds out her gauzed and bandaged arms to prove it. An older gentleman at the table next to us, that had been speaking with himself, yells out that he is here because he slammed his head into his driveway since the neighbor’s Chihuahua wouldn’t stop barking.
“Danielle” A nurse comes into the room and calls out my name.
“You have a call, someone named Daniel.”
It is my dad. He says my mom told him I am in the hospital. He is driving into town to see me tomorrow for Christmas.
“Good morning! Merry Christmas. I am your nurse this morning and we need to get your vitals before breakfast.” After some prodding from her I take off my covers and sit on the edge of the bed. She looks at my clothes and frowns. She is the first person that seems to really notice them.
“Is someone going to bring you clothes today?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“I will get one of the aids to check the lost and found too see if there is something they can wash for you. I can’t believe they have you walking around here like that! Oh my goodness your sweater is all torn.” she says as if I didn’t notice.
“Is anyone going to come see you today?”
“Yes, my dad said he is going to be here.”
“Hmmm, visiting hours start at noon. We will make sure you have something by then.”
I smile. “Thank you.”
My dad walks in at 12 o’clock exactly. He’s right on time, as usual, wearing his sunglasses inside, as usual.
“Danielle, are you ok?” He asks as he hugs me and kisses the top of my head.
“I am alright dad. Do you want any juice or a snack?” I ask trying to change the subject.
“No Danielle. Let’s sit down.” We walk to the group room and sit next to each other at a table.
“Danielle what are you doing here again? You have to stop doing this Danielle. Are you still seeing that Brandon guy? Is this because of him? I know it’s hard but you have got to move on Danielle. You have to stop seeing this guy.” The one time a year I see him he has to lecture me about my relationships, as usual.
“No I’m not seeing him anymore.” I lie. “I’m just having medication issues. I stopped taking my medications and I haven’t been sleeping well.” It’s quiet for a minute and I start twisting my medical bracelet around on my wrist.
“Why did you do that Danielle? You know what happens when you stop.”
“I know. It was stupid to quit taking them. I won’t do it again. It’s not a big deal though. I felt a little bit suicidal but I am doing the right thing by coming here. I want to stay safe and take care of myself…” It is quiet again. I think for a moment about how alone I have felt my whole life and about the emptiness I feel inside. I think about how I’ve been trying to fill the void with alcohol, cum and shallow compliments and how so far it’s failed to work. Instead I just end up back here again and again. I would never tell him all that though. What’s the use?
“Don’t worry about me dad. I am going to take my medicine again. I’m going to start therapy and my meetings again too. I will be fine.”
He turns and faces me. I try looking past the darkness of his sunglasses to see into his eyes, like I have so many times, but it’s useless. Finally he says “I love you Danielle”. His voice cracks a little and a tear appears on his cheek. He lifts his hand and wipes it away. It’s gone as quickly as it appeared.
My eyes begin to feel a bit heavy… “I love you too Dad. Don’t worry I will be fine.”
“Ok Danielle. Please don’t stop taking your medicine anymore.” He almost sounds like he’s begging.
“I won’t. Really, don’t worry everything will be fine.” I say and give him a weak smile.
“Ok Danielle. Please take care of yourself. I have to get going. I love you.” We stand up. He gives me a long close hug and kisses the top of my head again.
“Bye Dad. I love you too.”
As he is escorted out by the staff one of the daytime nurses comes to me and asks “Where is he going? Is everything ok? He can stay longer if he wants we still have 45 minutes left before visitors have to leave.”
“I guess he is going back home.”
“Oh what part of town does he live in? Will he be back tomorrow?”
“He's from Fort Worth.”
“You mean he drove over three hours to Austin just to stay here for 15 minutes!?”
“I guess so. I know he cares about me. He’s just never been strong enough to stay.”