The first thing I notice is the smell:
antiseptic and bleach and sweat.
It stays in my mind long after we move
down a different hallway,
single file like a class of kindergarteners.
My finger runs in rhythmic circles over my thumb,
hunting for hangnails and reassurance,
as we sit in the lobby in plastic “safe” chairs--
too heavy to be thrown,
too hard to be comfortable, too ugly to be wanted.
I watch my husband leave me, his presence
no longer allowed. I am taken to a room and
searched for contraband. I am too hollow
to be embarrassed, and the women finish
their task with cold, clinical efficiency.
I wait alone in the unit’s lobby, peering at other patients,
wondering if you can make friends in a psych ward.
Blood has dried along the edges of my thumbnail,
and I resist the urge to make it worse.
I am too scared to be here, but I am too scared to leave.
Later I try to look the doctor in the eyes, to tell him
how my own thoughts frighten me, how they have taken
me captive, how I cannot see a way out except to
check out completely.
He gives me nothing but a new prescription.
That night I curl up tightly in my lumpy bed,
wipe away tears, and try to find words for a prayer.
I come up empty except for this:
Batter my heart, God—but not too hard—
I do not think I can take it.
Cover image by Jon Butterworth.