I sat on the basic metal bed in small boxy room, swinging my legs. From time to time a kind-looking young nurse would pop his head in to check I hadn’t fashioned a noose out of the hospital sheets. The very bottom, I couldn’t fall any lower.
I had lain in those sheets this morning, listening to the breakfast bell and the shuffle of slippers on tiles. Unfamiliar voices echoed down the corridor. A new patient, like me, made several telephone calls on the phone in the passage. He sounded normal, some of his words washed over me. He didn’t think he should be here, amongst these people. His disdain of them, as if he were different, a superior being who had been led to the wrong place. It had all been a mistake. I knew exactly how he felt.
I spotted an empty light fitting. I wondered if it was actually a camera, watching me, checking I didn’t find something in this spartan room with which to do myself in. The room was painted a light grey and housed only a single hospital bed, a card table next to it and a narrow wooden wardrobe, with a small chipped mirror set into it.
The lunch bell came and went. I couldn’t bring myself to leave this room. Terrified by what I might say to these strangers? A dried up husk, the real Lucinda had left some time ago, leaving a scary woman in charge of the children.
Late afternoon, still lying, hiding in my cell. Wearing the hospital gown they had put me in when I had arrived the day before; comatose from the tablets I had swallowed. To be so near to the all the activity of the ward and yet cowering in this space, hoping to become as invisible as I felt. Eventually the kind-faced nurse returned, the doctor had asked to see me. My husband and children had come to see me, they were waiting in the visiting room. David had brought my clothes, but no make-up, and none of the clothes matched. A bag packed in a hurry.
I left the sanctuary of my room, a cocoon, a womb-like place where I had been curled up for nearly 24 hours. Hair wild and matted, it had been wet when David had lifted me, unconscious, from the bath at home. I knew I looked like the crazy woman I had become. A young man in the corridor, inmate or staff I couldn’t tell, gave me a sympathetic smile.
“It’s the boredom that gets you.” He winked and went off in search of a light for his cigarette. Lighters and matches were convascated at the door, along with aerosol sprays, sharp objects and dressing gown cords.
The doctors, three of them, looked serious. A kind one, a judgmental one and a third one distracted. The kind one explained patiently to my muddled mind that although I had volunteered to be in this place I was to be kept here for one week. Sectioned. A horrible word conjuring images of old black and white films with creepy asylums and people who bite.
The visit with my family took place the other side of the locked security doors.
“No place for children.” The officious nurse guarding the front desk told me, deepening my guilt, already a hollow and cavernous place, filled with dark thoughts and desperate acts. How could I explain how I had got this far to anyone who hadn’t been this side of hell?
At last I manage to join the slow procession to dinner, following the waft of overcooked cabbage down the passage to the dining room. Cautiously I looked around me. The strip lighting showing faces in an unforgiving light. No soft focus here, sharp lines and sallow profiles steeped in sorrow. I saw the young man who had spoken to me earlier, chatty and jumping with nerves, all elbows and jerks. A woman, once beautiful, her long blonde hair now brittle and faded. Her face no longer adored but fixed with an expression of defeat. She was cutting the meat of a young man seated next to her, a boy, shaking too much to complete the task himself.
After dinner and medications I retreat to my womb-room and lay back on the bed. I imagine I am lying on my back in a boat, floating to the middle of a lake. Floating away from sounds and distractions. Only thought remains. Are we all floating on our separate boats, colliding occasionally, our crafts connecting? Reaching out with hands outstretched, fingers touching, momentarily and floating past, separate once more.
During the night a torch intrudes on my slumber every hour or so. Night nurses on suicide watch. It’s never dark here. I wedge my coat against the nightlight with a chair. I feel I’m in an incubator, a human experiment.
The meals are bland but our life revolves around them. Nothing else to do. The piano is played briefly by one woman, who assaults you with a barrage of words if you make eye-contact. She plays the same two bars of the same tune over and over at different times throughout the day.
By the second evening we are starting to gather outside in the cold, night air. Smokers for their fix and non-smokers for company. Not wanting to be left alone with the piano-woman. Fragments of our lives fall from our lips.
Greg, the nervy one, selling himself on the streets of Sydney from the age of 14. The long history of drug abuse which he recovered from with the help of an abusive partner. One addiction swapped for another. He never stops trying to make us laugh. He needs a captivated audience to give himself validity.
“Lucinda, what brings a nice girl like you to a place like this?” Elaine, the faded beauty, speaks between draws on her cigarette.
I’d dreaded the question, no point evading it. We were not here because of our smooth, comforting lives.
“Overdose”. I cough wretchedly.
“Me too.” She smiles, sadly conspiring. “First time?”
“Second”. I admit.
“Fifth time for me. I can’t even get that right.” A hollow laugh emits smoke and steam from her open mouth. A former showgirl, once a beautiful peacock. Now she has three ex-husbands and a daughter she hadn’t seen for ten years.
A quiet man sitting on the edge of the group speaks softly. “I’d had enough. Battling with the ex over the kids and all. I drove out to the cliff top at the bay, you know that popular suicide spot? Well, I stood there windswept and expecting to jump for half an hour.”
“What happened?” It was Greg who spoke, for all of us.
“I remembered a lad I went to school with. His mum jumped off the Skillion, same place. Stuffed his life up. I thought of my kids and I couldn’t do it.”
Quiet again, each alone with thoughts of the journey that had brought us here.
We had our laughs as well, over the days in confinement. Outwardly groaning and eyes being thrown heavenward in mock dread when Iris hit those piano keys, shared disgust at the meals served, Saturday night spent over cups of tea and monopoly.
A strange young wild girl called Anna arrived in the night, hyped-up and non-stop chatter. Two days into her stay she disappeared over the wall. Caught up by the police and put into maximum security next door. A lovely middle-aged man, a barber, tried to hang himself in the shower with his own sweatshirt. He ended up in the same place.
When my time was up I hugged my new found friends tightly and wished them luck. Unspoken promises of not meeting again. Who would want to remember this week of our lives? Elaine had support now to leave a man she didn’t love, Greg a stint in re-hab lined up. Me, well I didn’t want to ever be in a place like that again. Life was frightening but its unpredictability, sacred.

4 thoughts on “CAST ADRIFT

  1. You are too far away. I LOVE YOU!!!! Can you not feel it? SO much love all for you XXXXXXXXX If you came back there is a space waiting, so here is where you’d come to first before any other option xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

    • This story is a thinly disguised me of seven years ago. I would always come to you first. Keep that space warm and you never know where life might take me. It certainly moved on from the me from seven years ago. XOXOXOXOXOX

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