When the intake nurse asks you for your shoelaces and your belt, do not look surprised. Hand them to her calmly. Doing so will lower her suspicions about you. Lower. Not erase. After all, she’s not the one getting committed.
When the nurse hands you off to the orderly, do not show any sign of resistance. The situation, ostensibly, is quite awkward for him too, so avoid conversation. And crying. You definitely do not want to cry in front of him. Any emotional outburst could lead to a dose of Midazolam or Haldol. If you don’t feel like a mental patient already, you definitely will after a shot of one of those.
You notice that the walk to the ward is rather long and circuitous. As you progress, the doors start to require key card swipes, codes, large keys, and other kinds of advanced unlocking mechanisms. At the seventh door, the orderly picks up a phone and requests entry. There will be a loud buzzing sound when the door opens. Don’t let it startle you. They keep notes of everything here.
See? They are already taking notes. The nurses and the orderly pass various papers back and forth. After scratching down a few words, the orderly leads you to the final door. It is white with a large steel latch. It reminds you of a meat locker. The nurse presses a button, and the door opens. You step through and hear it close behind you. It’s not particularly loud or ominous sounding, which you feel is strange given the circumstances. Maybe even a little disappointing.
Either way, you are now officially a patient in a mental hospital.
Try not to take this personally. Whether you ended up here because someone sent you, or the police forced you, or the court ordered you, or you answered the suicide question wrong on the rehab intake form, it doesn’t matter.
Really, this situation says more about them than you. Think about it. You have to be pretty BAT SHIT to want to be in a mental hospital. They work in one. By choice. Now, that is crazy. So basically, you are being told you are crazy by crazy people. You find this to be crazy. It’s ALL crazy…
But now, you stare down the grey and white, door-lined hallway, and you realize for the first time that this is your home. And for how long, you have no idea.
Only two concerns remain:
- Finding out as much as you can about your roommate, and
- Planning your sleep schedule.
You ponder this as the orderly leads you to your room. He tells you your roommate’s name: Betty. You want to know her diagnosis, but don’t ask the orderly. That will seem weird. There are not many personal effects in the room either, so you will have to get the information from Betty herself. Ask her a question that elicits a revealing answer. For example:
Is there anyone here I should look out for?
You may get answers like:
- “Everyone here is stupid. The rules are stupid. Oh, and fuck you.” – Sociopath
- “I’m going to leave now because someone is trying to kill me.” – Schizophrenic
- “You can trust me.” – Psychopath
- “You’re sick with something, aren’t you? AREN’T you!?!” – Hypochondriac
You get the hypochondriac. Go to the staff window and ask for something innocuous, like diarrhea medication. When the nurse turns her back to check your medication schedule, crane your neck to view the staff “notes” (usually on a whiteboard on a side wall way behind the main desk). You notice that something about your room requires the staff to look out for “eating utensils.” When the nurse turns back around, appear disinterested. Swallow the medication – Pepto, Imodium, whatever – and walk back to your room.
You find Betty sitting on her bed. Something is peeking out from underneath her mattress. Small. White. Plastic. It is a spork. She notices you eyeing her bed. She doesn’t seem to like this.
You are one big germ to her. Accept it. She hates you.
AND she will try to defend herself. This could interfere with your sleep schedule. You should not sleep while she is awake. In fact, you should not sleep at all if she is in the room. You think about the fragility of your eyelids. Thin. Stretchy. Indefensible against the prongs of a spork. Betty eyes you, hand hanging over the side of the mattress by the little piece of protruding plastic. She fingers it. Take this threat seriously. She is not going to wait until you sleep. She’s probably psychotic. Paranoid.
Germs. Psychosis. Paranoia. You must prey on her weaknesses.
But she can’t know. Act casually.
Sit on your bed and start scratching yourself. Stare at her intently while you do this. Tuck your chin into your chest and smirk. If you can raise just one eyebrow, do so now. Then, cough. Loudly.
Cough. Hack. Cough. Cough.
She pulls in her limbs like a dying spider. She tenses. Growls.
Betty thrusts her hands under the mattress. They come out with sporks. Fists full of sporks. Sporks scattering across the linoleum floor. Use both hands and forearms to block the incoming spork missiles. As they peck and scrape at your arms, you hear squealing. Grunting. Feet pattering back and forth in furious pacing and then…
You look up. She is empty-handed. And terrified.
Reach down and pick up two sporks. Scratch your neck and head with one of them. Stick it down your pants and scratch. Front or back, it doesn’t matter. Both sides are a plague to her. Put the other spork in your mouth. Alternate between licking one spork and scratching yourself with the other. Take two slow steps toward her. Wave the sporks as close to her face as possible while maintaining an arm’s length distance. Don’t take your eyes off her. Keep watching. Keep waving. She’s effervescent. Vibrating, throbbing, gnashing her teeth, bursting into tears.
Toss sporks at Betty and run to other side of the room. Cower in the corner with your arms covering your head.
You hear the sound of moving furniture. A metal bed scraping against the linoleum. She is barricading the door. The orderlies are coming. Hearty pounds come from the other side of the door.
The door bursts open. Appear as helpless as possible. Shiver for effect. Watch Betty fight the orderlies. Watch her writhe as they grab her limb-by-limb and pin her to the ground. Watch them inject her. Watch her go limp. Watch them heave her sack-like body in a wheelchair and roll her away. You watch ALL this happen.
But one orderly remains. He asks you what happened.
Using phrases like “from out of nowhere,” “unprovoked,” and “by complete surprise,” blame everything on Betty. When he asks you if you need to see a counselor, listen carefully to the tone of his voice. It is soft. Almost whispery. This means he believes you.
Shake your head weakly in response. When he offers his hand, take it and stand up slowly. Keep your eyes down (you ARE the victim here). Pout a little and thank him for his concern.
He turns and walks out of the room. You hear his sneakers padding against the linoleum. He’s down the hallway. A little echo. A tiny squeak. And then, he is gone.
Walk over to your bed. Lie down. Place your spork-scraped hands behind your head and savor the silent solitude.
Congratulations. Your eyelids are safe. You can close your eyes. Now, you can sleep.
Enjoy it while it lasts. Another roommate will come. And when she does, check the staff “notes” and plan your sleep schedule accordingly.
About the Author: Laura A. Zink lives in Oakland, California. She is a Beast Crawl Literary Festival organizer and an editor for MARY: A Journal of New Writing. Her fiction has appeared in Broad River Review, Full of Crow, sPARKLE & bLINK, Naked Bulb 2016 Summer Anthology, and Literally Stories.