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.

 

 

September.

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.

 

 

Hospitalization #1

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.

 

 

The Aftermath

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.

 

 

Hospitalization #2

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.

 

 

Hospitalization #3

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.

 

 

Hospitalization #4

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.

 

 

Hospitalization #5

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.

 

 

Hospitalization 5½

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.”

TAGS: , , , , , , ,

Marni holds a B.A. from Vassar in Women's Studies. The degree turned out to be of little practical value, but nonetheless holds a lot of sentimental weight. She's written for BUST, Playgirl, Heeb and gURL.com. Her interests include subverting the patriarchy, reading, and "Law and Order": the Jerry Orbach years. She'd like to know why the inhabitants of the tiny Maine hamlet Cabot Cove so frequently come to violent ends. She'd also like someone to hire her.

25 responses to “Elopement Precaution”

  1. Amber says:

    Reading this just made me vividly remember the taste of activated charcoal after I had swallowed a couple dozen Effexor.

    Nicely, heartbreakingly written. That was beautifully descriptive. Thank you.

  2. New Orleans Lady says:

    Very honest and heartfelt.
    I wish I had something better to say.

  3. MeToo says:

    You nailed it. NPI. I hope this give me courage to continue to write my own story and not stick me with “oh, you’ve done it better.” Really, I envy this in what I think is a good way.

  4. Matt says:

    Oh, fuck me.

    I’ve missed seeing your work here, and wondered when you might once again grace us with your presence.

    But not like this.

    I am beyond glad that you were not successful.

  5. Autumn says:

    Sylvia Plath may have died gracefully, but she never wrote about her depression with such raw, naked honesty. I wish I could say “Bravo,” but my heart is only capable of a long shuddering sound somewhere between a moan and a sigh. Somewhere between empathy and despair.
    That’s still not right. But I hope you know what I mean.

  6. Zara Potts says:

    Dearest beautiful Marni,
    I’m lost for words. Like Matt, I have been wondering where you are and I am so sorry to learn that this is where you’ve been. You are such a gentle person, the man was right. It’s hard to imagine such gentleness in such a place. I have so much I want to say- but my thoughts seem inadequate.
    So let me just say this:
    I am so thankful you are here. I am so moved by your talent. I am so sorry you ever had to experience these days. Keep writing it, Marni. The world needs you and your beauty and gentleness and words.
    All my love, Zara

  7. Justin Benton says:

    It’s so good to read you again, Marni.

  8. elyssa white says:

    I’m so sorry to hear about all you are going through. This was an incredible, powerful, sad, and honest post. You are brave to share it. You are a talented writer. And above all, I am very glad you are alive to tell your story. Love, Elyssa

  9. Don Mitchell says:

    No, you did tell it as well. Probably better.

    Stick with us.

  10. Your collection of harrowing and quirky details speaks as eloquently as Plath ever did… now you don’t need to emulate her anymore. We need your talent and, more than that, we need you.

    David

  11. Like others, I don’t know what I could say that could possibly do any justice to the power of this essay.

    I know that I hope to hear your voice here again. I always remember your writing despite gaps, the posts and comments alike (and your fondness for police procedurals). Thanks for returning, Marni.

    • Marni Grossman says:

      A lot has changed this past year, but not my love of “Law & Order.” Thanks so much for reading and for commenting.

  12. D.R. Haney says:

    If any and every story is reduced to a genre or, anyway, an essence, then, yes, it’s been told many times by countless, interchangeable people. That’s why I prefer specific stories, about specific lives, told as they can only be told by specific people.

    You don’t exist just barely, if you still believe that, and here, in your own strong words, is proof.

  13. Joe Daly says:

    Gutsy and well-written. Only someone with the soul of a writer could share these experiences, and do so with such eloquence.

    You’ve been missed around here. Don’t be such a stranger.

  14. Gloria says:

    Thank you for writing and sharing this, Marni. It’s breathtaking.

  15. Irene Zion says:

    Marni,
    I didn’t realize I was missing you until I read these haunting words.

  16. Madeline says:

    The saying that we meet people for a reason; do you think that it may even hold true in this artificially created CyberWorld which we all possibly exist in far too much ? Dear Marnie, your writing is beyond any words I could write to describe how affecting and raw and beautiful it is.
    Thank you, your compassion and beauty is evident in every word.

    Like so many others who have typed comments, filled with sincere feelings, to let you know how happy we all are that you by the grace of the Almighty, you have not left this plane of existence. You see our world needs many more people like you: people who feel, who have compassion, and who are real in every sense of the word.

    I just pulled up into my driveway, about 10 minutes ago. I was listening to NPR on the radio. a young woman was telling her story, about the aftermath of ELOPEMENT with a man she loves deeply, she should be happy she has a wonderful marriage and a healthy son yet her sadness was so evident in the cadence of her voice. It is because she has had to give up everything for her marriage to survive. The culture inwhich she was raised , considers her act tantamount to the highest form of treachery against your family. So due to rules that were created hundreds if not thousands of years ago she is locked in terrible sadness which truly should not be. She has written a book about all that has occurred to her, her husband and her young son. As the radio program ended, I listened carefully for the author’s name and her novel’s title. How my first sentence ties into what I’m now explaining is: her novel is simply titled ELOPEMENT.
    I did a quick search and rather than finding a link to her book I found your blog and what makes it more uncanny is that I had just left a person whom I’ve known for more than 18 years and this evening we first had a conversation with any depth to it and I learned that he tried to take his life many times and when he was younger he was a cutter and I felt very honored that he would share this spoke me. We ended up speaking about our childhoods, and to our surprise, as we haltingly shared with one another, we found that we both had very similar and brutally traumatic early experiences. Yet, how we dealt with these horrible memories as we grew; were very very different.
    So as I sit here I’m actually stunned because finding your writings was very cathartic and I thank you. I hope I’ll get the opportunity to share them with my newfound friend, whom I’ve always known to be an amazingly kind and gentle and our conversation tonight, made my impression of him, so much more solid than it ever was. During the preceding 18 years, we only ever shared quick, socially acceptable words of very little substance. I’m sure you know what I mean: Quick verbal interactions such as “hello”, “goodbye “, “have a nice day” etc.
    Most of us conduct our entire lives on that superficial level I’m glad that I’m not one of those…yes I feel more and yes I suffer more because of it, but I couldn’t live any other way. And in the lucky error of my Internet search I found a beautiful compassionate person and I am very honored to have read your beautiful writing.
    Marnie, please know that people care about you and please do not deprive the world of your existence. I am very sincerely yours, Madeline
    PS I just realized I answered my initial query about our interactions in the cyber space humanity has created. Happily the answer at least in this case is enormously positive. Thank you again.

    • Marni Grossman says:

      Madeline-

      I’m so glad that my piece resonated with you. Nothing could make me happier than hearing that! Thank you so much for your comment! You’ve given me an awful lot to think about…

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