A Letter From St. Lydia's Hospital

Submitted into Contest #183 in response to: Write a story that includes the line “We’re just too different.”... view prompt


Drama Friendship Sad

This story contains themes or mentions of mental health issues.

I know I should have said it before, but I'm sorry I ruined your birthday. If I could do it all over again, I would. I hope you know that. But I understand if you don't.

You wanted to know why, do you remember? You were standing in the doorway, a bit of blue frosting still on your fingertips. I'm sorry, but when you appeared, all I could think of was how much sugar and fat were in those cupcakes. Probably about twenty-six grams of sugar and four to five grams of saturated fat.

I couldn't tell you why I had started wailing the second you went to blow out the candles, because I couldn't talk. But if I could have, I would have screamed apologies. The guilt was eating me from the inside out. That's why I was curled up in that chair. A monster was devouring me.

When you were standing there, I could see your feelings. You were angry and hurt. Your soul was red-hot and burning at the edges.

I could blame the doctors who put me on a new medication four days before your birthday. It was pretty bad timing. I've never had a good reaction to starting new medications. The first time I tried one, I vomited for two days straight. This time, I saw giant talking gorillas and gray wolves running through the room, and fairies with huge fangs started dancing above my head while they threw cupcakes with blue frosting at each other. That's why I screamed. I know that doesn't make it any better. But that's why.


If nothing else, can we say that I ruined your birthday in revenge for you stealing my boyfriend? I know you'd deny it if you were here, but we both know it's true. I saw the two of you from my window. You were holding hands as you walked around outside in the garden. You kissed a few times. Maybe if I were someone else, I would have been angry. But the closest thing to an emotion that I felt was a bit of relief: at least the two of you would be there for each other. Besides, you were better together. You told jokes that made him laugh. At the time, I thought you were healthier than I was.

Of course I wasn't angry. I thought I was going to die soon, after all. Or maybe I didn't think that. I don't even think I really wanted to die. I wanted to disappear, like the smoke after a firework. That's why my soul stayed blue, instead of red. (And it was blue, not gray like you always insisted. My blue may have been different than yours, but it was still blue. I was still alive, if only a little.)


Do you remember the girl with anorexia that was in our dorm and had that miscarriage, Emily? I can't believe she didn't scream, either from what was happening or to get someone to help her. Why did it have to be us who found her when we went to the bathroom late that night? Anyway, there's something I never told you. When we walked into the bathroom and saw her and the blood everywhere, I looked where she was looking, and I saw the tiny, bloody thing there on the bathroom tiles. I was wearing that zip-up red jacket, and I yanked it off and threw it over the thing so Emily would stop seeing it, and so you wouldn't see it at all. Emily's feelings were a rainbow: red anger, purple sorrow, green horror, black guilt, and something white that I never figured out. (Was it death?) We screamed a lot. The nurses came running in, and Emily was whisked away to see doctors.

Do you remember the therapy sessions the next day? The girls who had been so excited about the baby were screaming and crying. One of them got angry at a girl who was crying, and said "It was her own fault, she was trying to throw up!" That girl had bulimia. One of the boys stared off into the distance, and I thought of the little thing wrapped up in my jacket that was hidden in one of the shower stalls.

The police asked the three of us where the "fetus" was. You started crying, saying you didn't know, and Emily said nothing, so I said nothing.

After dark that night, I found the jacket and took it to Emily's room. For some reason, the red fabric looked darker than ever. She stared at it for a long time before she stood, and we walked outside to the garden. Emily smelled like blood, at least to me. We kept walking until Emily stopped and knelt down, digging into the dirt with her hands. I watched, holding the jacket like it was a real infant. I looked up at the clear night sky and imagined it was just a ceiling painted black and dotted with white stars. The air I was breathing was recycled and disinfected. The scent of damp earth was somehow replicated by essential oils through a diffuser. The world was fake, and it was created for people just like me. It was an illusion, and it was perfect. Emily kept digging for a while, then she stood up and looked at my jacket. I waited for her to take it, but she didn't move, so I knelt down and put the bundle in the hole in the dirt, and started covering it with the cold dirt. I imagined the bacteria in the soil sinking into my cuts and comprising my immune system. It was always like that for me. Just like everyone else, everything could kill me, it was just a matter of what and when.

When the jacket was completely covered, I stood up and glared at the dirt on my hands and jammed under my nails like blood. I knew no matter how many times I scrubbed my hands, I wouldn't feel clean for weeks.

"Thank you," Emily said. It was the first thing said between us. I said nothing. We walked back to the dorms, and then we never talked to each other again.


You probably don't need to know all of that. But I know seeing the blood scared you, and you wondered what happened to my jacket. You knew it was my favorite.


I sometimes wonder why you ever took me under your wing. I asked you once, the week before I ruined your birthday. I shouldn't have said it. You were excited about your birthday, and it was no secret that the nurses and doctors were planning something special because you had gotten better. We were in your room, and you were looking in your closet for what to wear to the party. But I was thinking of the fact that you had friends and I didn't, and you didn't have to have food tracking apps blocked on your phone, and your hands weren't cracked and bleeding because you kept washing them.

"Why are we friends?" I asked suddenly. You looked at me with your eyes wider than I thought anyone could make them, and I felt myself start to die inside. "I mean, we're just too different."

"What are you talking about?" you said. "We're exactly the same."

I didn't want to argue with you, so I didn't say anything else. But I still don't understand why you said that. My boyfriend and I broke up a few days later. I probably don't need to tell you that, though. You already knew it. Please don't think I'm angry. I know you cared about him more than I ever did. I hope you were happy together.  


I didn't die, by the way. I get that's probably obvious, given that I'm writing this, but it was something I was so convinced of when we were together, that I feel like I need to mention it. I guess you could say I got better. It's not like I had much of a choice in the matter. You know how expensive the inpatient center was, and our families weren't rich. That was definitely something we had in common. We knew how much of a drain we were to the people around us. The dietitian helped me eat better and the therapists made me touch things and not wash my hands after. I got better at entering a "solutions mindset," no matter how much I hated the positive self-talk the CBT people liked. I sent in my resume for jobs and got a haircut and applied for a service dog. Then I packed my bags, and the nurses hugged me and told me to come back soon. I went back to my parents' house and pretended not to notice how they watched me do everything. When I had a job interview, one of the interviewers asked about the gap in my employment history.

"I was in the hospital," I said. "I got pretty sick."

I could tell the woman on the video call didn't believe me. I could tell she was looking at my hair, long and healthy. But I got the job. When they told me, I closed my eyes and pretended like I could feel other people's feelings, the way we would pretend together.


Then, I went looking for you. But I couldn't find you. The nurses said that you had left, against the doctor's wishes.

"She came back?" I said, more than a little shocked. You had left before I had, and it had burned like acid that you had never come back for me. It was one of the main reasons I had worked so hard to get out of there. Because you did that to me, you asshole. You hurt me, and it forced me to swallow heavy pills that made me see talking animals and fairies with blue cupcakes -- your favorite color was blue, and I never told you that it was a trigger for me. While I was at the hospital, I said hello to the ugly little thing I'd buried. It didn't say anything back, obviously. Unlike what people think about me, I'm not insane. Neither of us was.

I went to your house, and you weren't there. I found your real friends, the people you knew before you got locked up in the loony bin, and they couldn't find you.

But I don't give up easily. Obviously. And I think I found you. But not the way I wanted to.

So I guess I'm sending this letter out on some western wind, hoping it'll reach you someday. If you ever get it, return the favor that I did in this letter. I want you to tell me all the things you never told me before. Oh, and I'll buy you a cupcake. I owe you a birthday, after all. This time, the frosting will be red.

February 04, 2023 04:15

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Michał Przywara
21:47 Feb 07, 2023

That's a very intense scene in the middle! Lots of extra stress for people already dealing with a lot. I like the way the letter gradually reveals the context, and the relationship between the two friends. Considering the prompt, and the general theme of mental health, there's a strong current of "being stuck inside your own head" in a lot of the action here. Thus, the idea of using a letter, where the narrator spills all her inner thoughts, is a great counterpoint to that. The ending seems ambiguous. Initially I thought the friend might...


Lindsey B
00:32 Feb 14, 2023

Thanks for reading! I'm not sure why a letter format stood out to me here... It's interesting how in a letter to a "you," the person talks a lot about "I."


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