Home > Girl on the Line(9)

Girl on the Line(9)
Author: Faith Gardner

I’m glad Mom is pretending everything is fine at home, because I’d never want my little sisters knowing their big sister is such a basket case. I think of their sea-big, river-hazel eyes and drown in shame.

As surprised as I am to find myself in a mental ward, there’s actually nothing surprising about this place. It’s mundane. It’s every movie I’ve ever seen about mental wards. It’s appointments and quiet meals with strangers and TV and waiting, waiting to go home, waiting to talk to Jonah, waiting for life to feel like it’s either beginning or ending again.

“Hello,” Dr. Anglin says, glancing at a file folder. “Journey. What an interesting name.”

Dr. Anglin’s office is so blazingly white it hurts the eyes. The linoleum floors, the stark walls, blinding. I sit in a hard chair near a potted plant so healthy it looks fake shining under the fluorescent lights. I touch a leaf. Huh. Real. “My parents are rock and/or roll fans.”

“How neat,” Dr. Anglin says, putting the folder down on her desk. She is tan, muscular, smile-wrinkled—like someone who does fifty-mile bike rides on the weekends and gardens. “So let’s talk about why you’re in here.”

“Yeah, the whole trying-to-off-myself thing,” I say.

I expect her to laugh, but she continues her serious stare. Here it is, the chance to delve into my feelings with a capital F. You know, the big ones. The ones that used to be cute. The ones that, after the accident, confused me and ate my life up and shifted everything I knew and loved around like a terrible hurricane. The ones that drove me to medication and a diagnosis. The ones that made Jonah think I was too much, no fun, not worth it.

Every time I even utter his name, those two syllables throb like a heartbeat of hurt. I tell her I don’t know when exactly suicide went from an escape fantasy to really wanting to die. That I had thought about suicide before, but I never thought I had the guts to do it until I stood staring into the mirror the night Jonah broke up with me over the phone. Before that moment, I didn’t believe I had it in me. But suddenly I knew I did.

“You’re on more than the amount of Depakote we’d normally prescribe for a girl your age and size,” Dr. Anglin says, making a notation in my file. I imagine she’s scrawled something along the lines of patient won’t shut up after my meandering monologue.

“Yeah, the doctor who prescribed it gave me a quick quiz and then handed me my prescription. He wasn’t the thoroughest.”

“Mmm,” she says, as if she doesn’t know what to make of this.

I share with her a thought I’ve had since I got here, since I met the other teens here, many of whom are clearly struggling with so much more than I am. It’s just a nagging little conspiracy theory circling my mind. “Hey, so, um, what if I’m not bipolar?”

She gives me a look like this is the most ridiculous thing she’s heard all day. “Really.”

“I mean, I’ve always been a little . . . much, but after I got on medication, I’ve only seemed to get worse,” I tell her. “I mean, I never tried to kill myself before.”

“We definitely need to adjust your medication,” she says. “I’m switching you to lithium and pairing it with an antidepressant—hopefully that should give you some relief.”

“Okay. It was just a theory.”

“If I had a dollar for every time a bipolar patient told me they weren’t bipolar, I’d buy a pony.” She shuts my file folder and smiles at me kindly, her eyes twinkling. “That’s the trick of it—you start feeling better, you think you don’t need your medication, you get off it or let your dosage slide, and then you end up having an episode.”

“But I was totally taking my medication.”

“You will probably have many times when you feel better,” Dr. Anglin says, leaning in and putting the file down. “A lot of my patients have their first breakdown in their teens, feel fine for a long time, and end up hospitalized again in their twenties. It’s a long . . . well . . . journey.”

Not the first joke made about my name in my life, certainly not the last.

“A lot of adjusting dosages, trying new medications and combinations,” she continues, “but most people are able to live normal lives. Go to college, have meaningful relationships, children. You have a whole life ahead of you.”

I nod, even though when I picture my future, I see a blank screen like the end of a movie.

Oh, Dr. Anglin. I can tell she loves her job, that she brings passion to her work, that she reads our files and then tries so hard to see us all as people. But as I leave her office, a new prescription in my file, I feel like she hasn’t heard me. And that makes me even more crazy.

Day two at the mental ward, the residents’ phone rings. The residents’ phone rings all day long. I would be lying if I said I didn’t get a gross jolt of hope up my spine every time at the sound of it, peppered with self-hatred for having said hope. Jonah, the ring seems to scream. I’ve picked it up a dozen times over the past thirty-six hours I’ve been here and not once has it been for me. More than half the time it’s been for someone named Tony. There’s no one named Tony here.

I shuffle out in my slippers and pick it up.

“Nuthouse, resident nut speaking, how may I direct your call?”

“Journey?” Jonah asks.

His voice is small and sweet. I crack open at the sound of it.

“Jonah,” I say, eyes filling.

“Journey,” he says, sniffling.

“Jonah,” I repeat.

I am so raw right now. I am so horribly new. A little pink rat, just born, disgusting, too delicate for this world. I am ashamed of myself.

“What have you done, babe?” he asks.

“I made a really stupid mistake.”

“A mistake?”

“I mean, I meant to. But—”

He’s crying. I’m crying. Two girls walking arm in arm down the hall in their pajamas are crying.

“I’ve been so worried,” he says.

“I’m fine. No damage.”

“Why did you do this?”

I can hear his tone turning, the anger creeping in.

“How could you really do this to everyone?” he asks. “You were just going to leave me?”

“You broke up with me. You left me.”

“That doesn’t mean I wanted you dead!”

“I know. I wanted me dead.”

“Journey,” he says weakly.

“Or I thought I did. I was just . . . It’s hard to explain,” I say. “I’ve been going over and over it in my mind. Like, when did I fall off the deep end? Was I always like this? Was it when my parents split, and everything kind of shattered into a million pieces? Or after the car accident, when death became this . . . reality? Is it the medication I’m on? Is it that I’m not on enough medication?”

He doesn’t answer, but I hear him blowing his nose, so I know he’s there.

“Is it me?” he finally asks. “Did I do this to you?”

“Of course not.”

“You threatened on the phone, but I—I didn’t think you’d do it.”

“You thought I was bluffing.”

“I thought you were being Journey.”

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