The Rest of the World
cw: mental illness, eating disorders, medical trauma, hospitalization
Not enough beds in the adolescent ward, so they put me in with the eating disorders. One of them’s ten years old, Rose is her name. (I turn seventeen tomorrow, here in this booby hatch.) She’s about the size of a plastic liter of soda, this girl, this Rose—I kid, but she isn’t much larger. You could fit her into a small suitcase. You could.
I feel bad for them, all of them. Five girls, only one boy other than myself. Tomorrow he leaves and the room we’ve shared for two nights becomes mine alone. I weigh as much as any three of the others put together. I wonder if they think I’m here for overeating. It hasn’t come up yet. Really, I’m just a typical teen nutcase condemned to the hatch. We’ll see.
Annie, the loudest, kindest MHP here, tells me to make sure I mark my food in the communal fridge. ‘But you don’t think that’d actually be a problem, do you?’ I ask her. She laughs, in spite of herself.
In spite of myself, I’m enjoying this music therapist and his music therapy—Drew’s his name, he’s bald and thick and tall. His voice is two octaves higher than you’d figure it would be. Not quite singsong, which would piss me off, and I do find it rather soothing. He seems relieved that one of his charges can name an album from before 2002 (me). He sings and strums on his acoustic a couple bars for me from a newer Steve Malkmus song called “The Senator,” but stops just before getting to the part about the senator wanting a blowjob—so right at the beginning, really.
New girl arrived today who’s here for the same reason I am: no room anywhere else. She set fire to her mattress at home, I heard from the testy girl Veronica whose room’s next to mine. All the staff are on edge. But she seems pleasant enough, this girl Aly—at least at first. She asks me if I’m type one or two, because ‘obviously you don’t have an eating disorder.’ I tell her I’m bipolar one. ‘So’s my mom,’ she says, ‘and she’s spent half her adult life in places like this.’ ‘That’s fun,’ I reply. ‘It is.’
What will become of Rose? I’ve grown fonder of her than anyone else here, she who is so small but sometimes speaks like she holds an advanced degree. My friend Ty visited me: ‘I don’t want to like bum you out,’ she said, ‘but have you looked at mortality rates for anorexia and bulimia?’ I tell her I can’t really ‘look’ at anything much right now, on account of the new meds sending my concentration down a death-spiral and the robust surveillance apparatus I live amid. But I know it’s grim. Rose said in group that she was diagnosed at age seven. Will she make it to seventeen? (At least I have now—never a given.)
Aly attempts escape through the two sets of mechanical double doors at the end of the ward. The orderlies trap her in that weird realm between the two sets, that room-that’s-not-a-room. They stick her with the booty juice, which is what my compatriots here call the haloperidol shot the staff uses on the most disruptive among us. A danger to ourselves and others, that’s who’s supposed to get the drugs—but Aly just wanted to see her boyfriend. Her mom won’t let him visit. He doesn’t even know where she is.
I’ve never been one for art therapy. Melanie, the diffident grad student who conducts it, asks me about my drawing. ‘It’s Jerusalem burning,’ I tell her—and it is.
Veronica hasn’t left her room in two days, the intersection of her weakness and her obstinacy. Rose says she’s getting sent to a facility that’s just for girls ‘like us,’ with acres of rolling lusciousness and a stable, even. ‘She’ll never feel more alone than when she does,’ Rose says.
Aly’s sent on to the general adolescent ward; a bed must have opened up. ‘How come I haven’t?’ I ask Annie quietly. ‘The official answer is your presence has been in no way destabilizing for the girls and has, in fact, been beneficial for them. The real answer is everyone here likes you.’ I blush the brightest color I ever have in my life.
My concentration improves. Ty brings me Our Band Could Be Your Life, which I read greedily, and Anthony Kiedis’s autobiography, which I don’t open even once.
My mother visits with her boyfriend, whom I requested she not bring along.
I sit with Drew on the extensive fifth-floor patio—I.M. Pei designed the hospital so chronic cases like us can get some sun without ever leaving our internment. There’s enough room for ping pong and even for paddle tennis. Drew tells me about his dad, who died when he was twelve, and his stepfather, who hasn’t died yet but deserves to.
Rose is going home today. I meet her parents, who are both clearly afraid of me—she’s got two moms, neither of whom resemble her in any way, although she told me that she ‘came out of Amy-Mom’s womb,’ and that, because of this, the two of them have far more intense of a relationship than she does with ‘Riley-Mom.’ I greet Rose’s parents weakly. (I doubt I’ll ever see her again—I hope not.)
The doctors tell me I’ll leave when I’m ready. I ask them when that will be. That depends on you, is what they all say. A non-answer, like always.
At dinner I struggle dragging napkins out from the industrial-sized napkin dispenser, each one shredded by the small slot. Rose and Aly and Veronica gone. Afterward, from my window, I study the ground below—the rest of the world.
Z.H. GILL works at a vanity label in West Hollywood, CA. He’s @blckpllplsrbch on Twitter.