You’ve begun to feel like some neurasthenic Joan Didion character. Only without the shiny coating of beauty and glamour.
Increasingly, you have nothing to say. You are, distressingly, empty. Empty and blank and tired and done. Just…done.
All you’ve ever wanted is to make everyone happy. Now, you make no one happy. You are nothing.
You listen to Azure Ray and cry, hating yourself and slicing up your arms with razor blades.
In The Bell Jar, you think, Esther got that plum internship. Where’s your fucking prize?
You exist. Just barely.
You count out the aspirin and arrange them in various permutations. Four rows of ten, five rows of eight, two rows of twenty. Then you take them, one by one. The metallic taste of the pills makes you grimace and shudder.
The soundtrack is the Smashing Pumpkins. “Today is the greatest day I’ve ever known. Can’t wait for tomorrow. I might not have that long.”
At the time, the song seems perfect. Prescient even. In the aftermath, however, you’re unsure. Actually, it’s Jay who tells you that you’ve chosen poorly. “What a cliché,” he says laughing. You laugh too, even though you’re not sure it was funny.
You sit on your bed and watch “Homicide: Life on the Street” and wait to die. In the end that’s all there is: the sound of the air conditioner rattling on in the other room, Munch’s* voice, a smidge tinny through the laptop, detailing yet another crime. And your heart. Your heart beating steadfastly onward.
After the overdose, time seems to slow to a trickle. You don’t think about dying. Not really. Maybe you never believed you would. Instead you think about Bayliss and Pembleton*. You think about all the crime in Baltimore. You think about the pain in your stomach.
Soon the pain is all you can think about.
You thought that you would sleep. You thought that you would pass out. Neither happens. It’s five hours later and you’re still wide-awake.
You are not dying.
You’re not quite certain how you feel about that.
Your stomach is killing you.
You’ve started to go slightly deaf.
Doubled over and sweating, you leave the apartment.
It occurs to you, at the ER, that you haven’t been in a hospital since your birth.
This is New York City, so you expect to wait to be seen.
To your surprise, they take you back right away. Where, you wonder, are all the gunshot victims?
You guess it’s a slow night.
They give you charcoal to drink.
You are shaking.
You realize that—oh shit—you will have to call your mother and tell her what you’ve done.
In order to kill yourself, you think, you have to be heartless. Just for a second, maybe. All the same though. Heartless.
Some time later, a doctor from Psych is sent to talk to you.
You are optimistic that you can convince her to let you go home today. You’ll speak sensibly, eloquently. You’ll explain that this was a mistake, an aberration. You will impress her with your clipped vowels and clear diction. You’ll just go home. You’ll go home. Yes.
24 hours later, you find yourself being wheeled to a door marked “elopement precaution.”
You go through it and it clicks shut behind you.
As a mental patient, you no longer have any expectation of privacy. Like a criminal, you are strip-searched.
“Shake out your underwear,” a nurse commands.
You are a good girl. You always have been. You do what you’re told.
The food at Beth Israel is kosher. This means you can eat whatever they serve you. Mostly what they serve you is chicken. Chicken of all stripes and colors. Sometimes you suspect that they are serving last night’s chicken again under a different name. You would share your suspicions with the other patients, but unfortunately, everyone is crazy.
In addition to the kosher food, there’s also a special elevator for those observing Shabbat.
It’s surprising, then, how many people there attempt to convert you to Christianity.
These people suggest that you “Give it up to G-d.” They never specify what “it” is.
You take a leave of absence from school.
You are informed—several times—that taking this leave of absence means you can no longer use the school’s gym. In fact, you are stripped of all your privileges. You feel deprived, somehow. You’d never planned to use the gym, but being told you can’t leaves you surprisingly bereft.
Without school, you are adrift. And, you think, fall is sad, isn’t it? All those dead leaves.
The White Plains outpost of New York Presbyterian is exactly what you’d imagine a mental institution would look like, all dark and hulking and gothic. Upstairs on 5North, though, fluorescent lights shine brightly, illuminating plastic couches and shatter-proof glass.
It’s Christmas. You’d never know it here, though.
The son of your father’s new wife is coming into town. Your stepbrother.
You’d planned to meet him Christmas Eve. The next day you were supposed to go to see your sister.
You are, in fact, going nowhere.
Your father calls.
You say, “Tell Hunter I’m so sorry I’m not able to meet him.” You pause. “I really did want to.”
“We’re not going to tell him where you are,” your father tells you.
You agree wholeheartedly. Best that he doesn’t know about this little trip to the cuckoo’s nest.
Two days later your father calls again. He’s decided to come visit and he’s bringing Hunter.
You open your mouth to protest but nothing comes out.
The first time you meet your stepbrother is on a psych ward. Everyone is wearing shoes but you.
It’s February and you’ve landed yourself back at 5North.
Erica has been on 5North the longest. She’s thin and girlish, her body belying her 34 years.
“I remember her from the last time I was here,” Kat says. “She was so thin, she looked like a fetus.”
Erica has thin scars decorating her forearm. They are neat, done with a sure, steady hand. You rarely get close enough to see them though. Erica is prickly.
She is prone to fits of rage and you never know quite what will set her off.
Once, waiting in the med line, you glance at her as she walks by.
“Everyone’s fucking staring at my stomach,” she shouts.
You shrink back into the wall, feeling as though you’d just poked a dragon.
In the dayroom, Judy is watching TV.
Judy lost her leg jumping in front of a train. She keeps to herself, mostly. You watch her, though, thinking that she is brave. You would never have the fortitude, you tell yourself, never have the strength, to jump.
Her mother and girlfriend come from the Bronx to visit. They bring pizza and soda and Judy seems happy. You never can tell.
For Sylvia Plath, dying was an art she did exceptionally well. For you, it seems to be altogether harder.
Which is to say that your second overdose was as big a failure as the first.
You are, of course, in the hospital again. If only there was some sort of frequent fliers discount.
You are tired. You are ready, you think, to give it up to G-d. Or, at any rate, to the doctors.
You agree to having ECT. Why the fuck not?
In the ECT waiting room, there are New Yorkers. They keep them fairly up to date. You are glad.
In the ECT waiting room there are New Yorkers and pastel-colored prints from far-flung art exhibits. This is supposed to be soothing, you imagine, and maybe it is.
But it seems to you that the room is trying too hard. See? It seems to say. This isn’t your mother’s electroshock therapy.
The ECT makes you forget. Not everything. Just everything that happened while you were undergoing it.
One day in April you wake up and you’re unsure. Of what? Of everything.
You think you remember the story, what happened. You’re not certain.
Later, when you return home, you’ll receive a facebook friendship request from someone you can’t quite remember. Was it? Is it?
It turns out that she was your roommate in the hospital. That you lived with her, side-by-side, for two weeks.
You accept her request, feeling slightly ashamed.
The cut you made was big and gaping. Wider, almost, than the band-aid you covered it with.
The cut you made was deep. Down to the tendon, they tell you.
You are not fazed by this. The bleeding stopped, didn’t it?
They insist you go to the hospital, despite your sincere protestations. Someone accompanies you, watching you to make sure you don’t make a break for it.
At the hospital, the ER attending calls in a surgeon to stitch up your wounds.
You make polite conversation with him. See? You are Fine. Just Fine.
When you get up to go to the bathroom, a nurses’ aid comes in with you, politely turning around while you pee. “I’m sorry,” she says, “I have to.” Outside, a security guard stands sentry.
Much ado about nothing, you think.
Still, by the end of the evening, you’re back in treaded socks, courtesy of Berkshire Medical Center.
You are not going to groups. You are not leaving your bed, actually. You are spending long hours staring out the window.
The staff do not approve. They suggest that you spend more time “out in the milieu.” They say it just like that: out in the mill-yew.
Out in the milieu, Gedalia is looking off into the distance.
Gedalia always has food in his red beard and he always wears the same thin undershirt. You can always see his ribs. He says he doesn’t have a mental illness, not really. He never explains what, then, he’s doing here on Jones 3.
He tells you that you are the most gentle person he’s ever met.
They send you back down to White Plains.
You go through a quick succession of roommates.
“Let’s go to Palestine together,” Kat says.
Kat is your third roommate. A Sarah Lawrence grad, she spent a month last year backpacking around the Territories. Like you, she’s twice tried to do herself in.
Kat is your other psychiatrist. She used to work in the field. Used to want to be a psychiatrist. Now she dispenses advice for free.
She is fond of quoting psychiatric research to her doctors during rounds.
In addition to being an ex-heroin addict and a former cutter, Kat is also a recovered anorexic. All of this seems dangerous and—dare you say it—a touch glamorous. You look upon her with awe. She is a wonder.
Of course you’ll go to Palestine together. You’d follow her anywhere.
After all, alone, you’re pretty damn lost.
“Write it down, Marni,” your mother says. “Write it down.”
But someone already has. The story has been told before, many times, and you know that you could never tell it as well.
*Munch, Bayliss and Pembleton are detectives from the late procedural drama, “Homicide: Life on the Street.”