Contemporary Friendship

For Jo

If I hadn’t been honest then I never would’ve ended up here. People say honesty is the best policy, me, I say honesty is over-rated.

“Be real about how you feel and we can decide how best to help you,” they tried to convince me. Only (true to form) I was snarky with the psychiatrist and then they locked me up. Not my finest hour. However, when someone asks you,

“Why did you walk into the lake that night?” in a totally serious voice as if this a reasonable question, I think,

“Because I fancied a swim,” is a justified response.

The lake was bitterly cold, ice screaming on my skin and slicing through my drugged haze, although not enough to stop me. I was wearing a thin, black, strappy top, having deliberately taken all my layers off and was dosed to semi-numbness on squirreled away sleeping tablets plus off my face on wine. I decided to wear my trainers as the ground was spiked with gravel and I needed to be sure I could walk in. The barred gate was easily climbed and the keep out signs a challenge, a dare.

“What did you have to eat this morning?” the psychiatrist had asked me. Not for the first time I wondered why someone who was so qualified, knew nothing about what they were supposedly qualified in.

“Air,” I have replied, without a flicker.

“Why?” he had countered smoothly.

“Because I found it tasty,” I’d replied blandly, convinced I saw a stifled laugh pass across the junior doctor’s face. Later I would ask him who the elective mutes were in the meeting. A meeting in a room full of people that I didn’t know, apparently, they were my named nurse, my consultant physiatrist, a student and other uniforms that meant nothing to me. They were all there to help me, they said. Only I’d never met them before, never mind knew who they were and they’d decided already they knew all about me.

The clincher to this farce had been during the assessment in hospital. I was cold, so cold and they were trying to warm me up. My head was spinning like some kind of crazy fairground ride and I had needles shoved in my arms. I was on some kind of mat thing as they muttered about raising my core temperature and I longed for oblivion, only there was no way anyone was giving me any kind of sedative drugs now. The fabric of the hospital gown against my skin scratched and I realised I was wearing no knickers – they’d cut everything away, just a shame they stopped at my skin.

“You’re lucky they pulled you out when they did,” the doctor had told me. I didn’t tell him they had pulled me out twice, the first time I had tried to stagger back in again. I said nothing. Apparently, they found me just in time, only that’s wrong, they found me at the wrong time, they should have found me later, hopefully before the fish ate my eyes. I’d like to think someone didn’t have to identify an eyeless body.

What really tipped the balance was when they asked me at the hospital what I would do when they discharged me.

“Find a better way,” I had said bitterly, before thinking of the consequences of a disappointed honest answer. That did it. It was decided I would be best cared for on a crazy ward – sorry psych ward, I get to call it a crazy ward because I’m going there. They told me I could go voluntarily. I told them I didn’t fancy that. The tone changed then. Go or be sectioned. Great. And it was there I met Jo.

The lady down the corridor screamed. All the time. Screamed. The teenager down the hall wasn’t allowed her phone anymore as she took naked selfies and sent them to people – in her defence she thought she was a goddess and wanted to share her beauty with the world. The girl in the room next to me wandered down the corridor with her suitcase talking to the air, only when the girl who set the fire alarm off (no evacuation – too unsafe to check out the fireman) – asked her who she was talking to, it turned out she was talking to said suitcase. She believed the suitcase was her partner who died three years ago but had come back to her.

Jo had caught me looking at her scars. Ravages of frenetic wounds sliced like an incompetent surgeon down her arm. Some ‘healed’ covered with pearly white elasticated skin, some newly etched with scary precision and some bleeding. Rule 101 never ask why. We never asked each other way. But the scars couldn’t be easily covered and, despite my best efforts, drew my eyes.

“Fight with a lion,” she told me. “Someone attacked me with a knife,” she told the suitcase girl. “Caught on barbed wire while escaping prison,” she told the screamer. Truth and lies. Truth won’t out.

There wasn’t much to do on the ward. Colour in. Watch terrible TV. If you were allowed out the staff could take you for walks but, after a botched escape attempt, I was a flight risk, (if you try to run away from actual hospital they’ll do that for you.)

“I’m here voluntarily, right?” I had asked. The nurse had checked,

“Yes, you’re on an informal.”

“So, I can discharge myself, right?”

“You can, but then the police will bring you back – on a section – especially after last time.” The nurse replied, without even really looking at me.

“Play the game,” Jo had said to me, “play the game and you’ll get out quicker,”

I shrugged, “I’m so tempted just to walk out.”

“Not worth it, they’ll bring you back – trust me,” Jo rolled her eyes ruefully and continued. “You’d think there are so many people in this world that want to live, that they’d spend their time helping them, not forcing the rest of us that want to die to be alive.”

Jo gestured to coffee machine. Lukewarm water. Cheap, plastic, yellow, chipped mugs – health and safety. If I want to slice my arms open I’m sure I can find a better way.

“What’s your poison?” she asked.

“Vodka, sea water, arsenic,” I replied sardonically. She had laughed. “if I find any I’ll let you know,” she tossed back, helping herself to ‘coffee.’

The screaming continued. The girl wandered up and down the corridor still – no one spoke to her, not even the nurses, they had paper work to do. Two women were discharged, one striding out confidently, gushing thanks to the nurses and leaving us her washing powder. One begging to stay. She didn’t know how she would cope but they needed her bed. Others came in. An elderly woman that shuffled everywhere and didn’t speak. A young girl who managed to smash a mirror, and with the tiniest corner of glass tear fretfully at her skin. She went off in an ambulance and we didn’t see her after that.

No-one was for letting me go anywhere.

“You’re escalating,” they said. No kidding. I’m trying to find something that works and nothing does. Pills. Slice and dice. Jumping. A gun is supposed to be the best way – just sad we’re not in America. Not that I would even know how to use a gun. I could learn.

“How do you think we can help you?” they asked.

“By giving me a gun,” I had answered, and that was me still there. If only I could learn to put a lid on my sarcasm.

The psychiatrist tried. I know he did. But men haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory in my life, so when one guy (who I have know for all of two minutes) asks me to start recounting nightmares to him – that’s never going to work. (Although maybe I should’ve spared him the ‘jog on,’ comment. The nurses were lovely, but they were so busy, between the screamers, the self-harmers and the escape attempts no one saw me, unless I became one of them. The doctors whizzed in and out like supercharged Duracell bunnies and the consultant, well he was like God. I’ve never done well with people who have a god complex.

That left Jo and I. Colouring in. You’d think they would offer other therapy but there was no money, no staff and no time – although we had all the time in the world. In between deciding between colouring the bird feathers blue or green, I talked to Jo. I told her stuff I’d never told my own sister, (visited once, cried, said she’d help out when I was discharged), stuff from way back. The psychiatrist had tried to make me draw a timeline (screw you) and didn’t get the fact that fragments had splintered my brain into pieces. Jo was different, she slagged of the psychiatrist with me, talked around the fragments and somehow teased out colours that had been scrambled away or painted over.

I did do that timeline in the end – for me, because I wanted to know. I tried to explain to god (consultant A – I never knew their names), that my head felt like a ransacked library. I saw my mind as a collection of books some maverick had filed all over the shop and then expected the librarian to find. When the librarian found the right book, sometimes pages would be missing, or the cover would be damaged. Everyone assumed that the librarian was at best careless or at worst incompetent. No one took the sabotage seriously or bothered to find those causing chaos.

“I don’t get it. Why do you do it. Talk about it – let’s work it out. It doesn’t have to be this way.” Favourite catch phrases. They made me want to tear up all the library books in a rage.

Jo got it though.

“Either burn the library down, or start a new one,” she said.

Everyone else was all for trying to sort my head – good luck with that.

“You have the power to make choices,” they would ‘lecture’ me.

Your deluded if you seriously think I have choices anymore.

On a good day, Jo and I would plan a holiday, somewhere hot, a beach where we could order whatever drinks we liked and watch the shape of the clouds. On a bad day, we would think of new ways to die. Themla and Louise. I still wanted to die. That blackness clung to me like a needy toddler and refused to give me up. My family couldn’t hack it, they wanted me to talk about being well and I couldn’t always do that, they wanted me to say I was sorry. And I was. Sorry for their pain. Not sorry that I had tried. And that was the trouble. Not sorry that I’d tried. They all knew I’d try again.

“I’ll miss you when you go,” Jo had confided in me, a week before I’d finally blagged my freedom.

“Holiday, or cliff, right?” I’d joked. A sad smile had crossed Jo’s face. “Holiday or cliff,” she’d affirmed, “or smuggle me in some arsenic.”

I’d slung my rucksack over my shoulder and given Jo a hug. I didn’t know what to say, so I left it. Holiday or cliff. The nurse walked me out to the car park where my sister was waiting.

“When do you think Jo will be discharged?” I asked. The nurses gave me a funny look, a cross between pity and concern.

“Jo’s going to another facility where they can better help her,” she replied carefully, and forestalled my next question, “you know I can’t tell you more than that.”

Go where? I’d find her. Jo got it. She never really would tell me much. Odd random snippets about her cat called Loki or the courgettes she was growing in her greenhouse.

The nurse wished me well and turned back, the car park attendant smiled as I headed towards my sister’s car. “Been visiting?” he asked with a smile. I contemplated telling him I was an inmate – just to see his reaction, but relented.

“My sister, I’ve been visiting my sister,” I said.

February 05, 2021 14:06

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