The first night and the last night I was admitted to a mental institution were 8 years apart. The first night was a crumbled piece of lined paper, streaked with pencil smudges and the edges still ripped from the notebook. I still see my sister sitting in the waiting room for me, as she always did, attached to my side and my partner in crime. The last night was an officer dragging me from my front door, without a bra and waving with a kitchen knife swollen wrist.
Everyday I remind myself of those nights and in-between I find myself avoiding both memories like bitter cherry pits. I spit them out in gobs of spit onto a napkin. Intimate group settings or any emotional confrontation feels like an interrogation or threat to keep me hostage. I learned how to manipulate and tell any lie I can to go home within 72 hours - and how to tell when they believed it. Observing body language and tone is my specialty. Food tastes the best without a fork. This is the only place 5+ mentally ill people will willingly play UNO. And white walls as any interior design make me feel watched somehow.
I had a friend I made during my first 7 day visit when I was 12, but I don't remember her name. She was from Czechoslovakia, as pale as the dingy tile and didn't brush her long mohagany hair. Her two front teeth reached out like they wanted a hug and she made me laugh so much I was afraid they'd ask us to be quiet. Every now and then, when I think about those cherry pits, I wonder about her and if she is doing okay. I don't remember what she was there for.
Every time I think it's over it gets worse again. Something pushes it deeper down my throat and it keeps coming up. It never digests. It never settles.
It yearns to heal.
Drinking alcohol and skipping meals comforts me the same way as sleeping with stuffed animals. Words of concern are either responded with coldly or desperately. Grandiosity is my mind's way of avoiding the mental stress of rejection. Letters I sent to myself from the past that I haven't opened. Unpack the baggage. Open the letters. Face it before it's too late. Mood swings are my brain's way of keeping the water cold enough that I shiver but I don't jump out. Warm enough that I sweat but I don't fall asleep. Hot and cold. High and low. High enough that I feel like I might fall but it keeps me feeling alive, low enough that I worry I'll never see the sky again - like being strapped in an ambitrans on an icy evening, when the dew starts to melt over the grass and all I can do is spy out the back window. Every color spins into a ballet; blue streetlights grab the dainty hands of the green and red traffic bulbs, the moon twirls her finger around neon rays from CLOSED signs, waiting at the edge of the road to mean something again. My skin is oily and my hair is tangled in ropes that hang like swings across my forehead. Eventual defeat settles in and I loosen my fists, anticipating the night's sleep that waits for me on tightly fitted sheets around a bone digging mattress.
Quiet whispers among the nurses each time my paperwork goes through and I enter through the double doors. "These damn Venice kids," they murmured, huddled over a clipboard and adjusting their paisley scrubs.
When my feelings are stung my memories retaliate. Remember the house with the dirty blue carpet? Remember the apartment where your step dad would fall asleep drunk on the couch? Keep your memories alive, your feelings are hurt for a reason. Cradle them in your arms and close your eyes. Remember how he came to your recitals and games and how he yelled at you and locked you and your sister outside in the rain downstairs. You have difficulty detecting good and bad people; the people who were bad to you have been good to you as well.
Staring at the mirror. A pivotal point of the day. This could either go smoothly or terribly wrong. Analyze the details and crease lines and bumps in my skin. Rough terrain or grassland valleys. Waterfalls parallel to the other, depending on the climate. Depending on the environmental analysis for the afternoon. I took pictures and painted my face carefully today, tailoring the perfect garments to be the object of their desire and I did not get the results I wanted. My self esteem is dependent on attention. I will say it myself, although it was once something I could not bring myself to admit out loud, let alone in my own mind. Denial. I say it loudly between my own ears, I NEED ATTENTION. ATTENTION. ATTENTION. I crave love, I crave to be wanted, I need to feel needed. I could scream it on a mountain top if I could! One higher up than the eye can see, with beautiful flowers blooming all around. Blue rose buds and green vines, that's what I imagine. If flowers can grow on a mountain that high. The child inside of me is wincing and cringing. I NEED ATTENTION TO FEEL OKAY. The words hit back at me in a way that a cold spritz fizzes on hot skin. So refreshing! Living a life of truth!
My body is the worst part of me that exists. Dysmorphia: I disconnect from my flesh melted body while looking away from a mirror, like chicken falling off of the bone. I do not want to be me. I refuse; I am not conceptualizing myself as I am. I am a carnival character, wearing a suit and watching through the two small holes of fabric for my eyes. Around the corner I smell popcorn and cotton candy. There on the other side of me I hear screaming and the splattering of blood. Then I realize they're all coming from the same direction.
Being forced to recognize my patterns and traits requires me to bounce around between memories. You can not expect me to be able to recall in perfect order. Trauma has this way of hiding memories in tiny boxes fully dressed in cobwebs and hidden in the attic, but scattered, so it might take a few days to recover them.
"Nicole? Knock knock, I'm coming in," sang my sister, Lea, bowl of potato chips in one hand and our cat squirming out of her grasp in the other. Suddenly I had been called back to Earth 10 years later - raising my fists and rubbing my burning eyes, body glued to the fluffy pillows that gathered around me on the floor. I had drifted again, as I always do, when I am drifting paint brushes across canvas. The window behind my easel greeted me with a cool rainy breeze. I opened my eyes wide at the art I've created and took it all in - the greenery, the purple bulbs, the little cottage house in the hills that came from my head. That came from my memories, my pain, my trauma, all transformed and beautiful. All the ugly parts of my past, painted into splashes of acrylic color.
"How's it coming?"
Lea placed the cat on the wood floor and he twirled his tail against the wet paint, swaying away with a blue tinted tail. I dipped my hand in the chip bowl as Lea observed my painting and leaned her head on my shoulder. All my pain has been released - pushed out and used for good. I hesitate, breathe out a quiet sigh and I dip my brush into a red, adding one final touch. I outline a heart in the middle, tying everything together, my rivers of tears and the hazy clouds of my heart now replenished by love - the only love I ever needed, the only love that was there all along.
"Now it's finished," I whispered, and locked her hand in mine.