I spent two weeks in the hospital once, when I was fifteen. I didn’t take a shit the whole time. The charcoal they pumped down my throat to clean out the damage wrought by a bottle of little white pills- seizure medication- was hell on the digestive system.
I’m listening to Nick Drake and thinking about those days. The song ‘Pink Moon,’ for reasons having nothing to do with its real meaning, always brings me back to the muggy afternoon at summer camp when I took that overdose. I took it, quite frankly, for no reason at all. I didn’t set out to kill myself, but then I didn’t exactly set out to not kill myself either. I took it because I was fucked up, without hope, and going nowhere. Because I was bored and stupid. Why not, I thought, just tear the seems of my life a little further apart?
The girls in my cabin were down at the lake swimming, and I sat there alone, feeling betrayed by the warm beauty of the forest around me. I swallowed the pills in several handfuls, a bitter taste lingering in my mouth, then lay down on my bed and stared upward vacantly. Floral printed sheets bunched under the rusted bedsprings of the bunk above. I shut my mind up tight, trying to clear away all my thoughts, until I even forgot about the pills I’d taken.
It was warm and still, smelling like the lake and dirt and somebody’s nail polish, the bottle left open on top of their trunk. Half an hour, probably, went by, And then all of a sudden, everything turned pink. Vivid, pink pink, like I was looking through a piece of cotton-candy-colored glass. Undoubtedly, the doctors told me later, something caused by the pills’ effect on my brain chemistry.
Saw it written and I saw it say/ Pink moon is on its way…that scrap of lyric popped into my head as I looked around in wonderment. I thought about Nick Drake’s husky, lilting voice, and I remembered what I had done. The prophetic tone of that song and the stupid, sad facts of my situation: as they slowly sunk into my mind, an aching sadness settled into my stomach, growing malignantly until tears streamed quietly down my cheeks. My face was wet and cold. My body was flushed and hot and shaking all over. Fuck fuck fuck fuck. I couldn’t believe what was happening. Goddamn it Masha, I thought, what have you done?
In the youth psych ward of that hospital I met an twelve-year-old girl who I still think about from time to time. Nobody knew what she was in there for. It was the only thing she wouldn’t talk about: the rest of the time it was her older boyfriend and the time he’d kissed her, her favorite movies, what she and her friends had done at the mall, her aunt’s house in South Bend. All we knew was that for what she’d done, her family was through with her. They had unequivocally washed their hands of the girl.
She was a hyperactive kid, who seemed very young even when she talked on and on about boys and dates and how much she wanted a cigarette. During break she ate Froot Loops and watched cartoons. At night you could hear her singing in the shower from down the hall. And I, who had plastered a smile and a positive outlook all over myself, in an effort to come off as someone in control of herself (which I was not), took her under my wing.
It was Jay who finally found out what she was there for, I don’t remember how. He told me one evening when we were sitting in the lounge playing cards. She had molested her little sister.
When I think about those days, I hate the person I used to be and hate the parts of me that, as far as I have come, haven’t totally changed. I think about the fine line between thinking and doing that just a quick instant of impulsivity can carry you across. I think about this in terms of myself, and in terms of that girl. Because, face it, we’re all perverts. We just don’t all act on all of our unusual proclivities. And a hell of a lot of us harbor a secret fondness for self-destruction, and a not so secret fondness for attention. When you’re a hyperactive and troublesome eleven-year-old, or a weary and directionless teenager, it’s so easy to do the wrong things.
There is only one set of choices we can ever make. As Milan Kundera wrote in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, “We can never know what we want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it to our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come.” And our choices become light and meaningless, and get away from us like fat helium balloons set lose in a wide-open field.
I am lucky to be fairly okay today. I, could, conceivably, have killed myself that day. Or I could have just lost myself to the persona I was cultivating- the suicidally depressed teenage girl- and spent the rest of my life in and out of hospitals, like some of the lifeless, ghost-like girls I met in group therapy.
That girl is not so lucky. She lost her family, probably forever. And she will have to live with what she did and its repercussions for the rest of her life.
I think about her short, shaggy, ginger-colored hair, and her toothy smile. Her skinny legs bent up on an arm chair, a bowl of Froot Loops balanced precariously in her lap. Throwing her head back and giggling at the Power Puff Girls. Her high, twangy voice. And then I try to imagine what she’s doing at this very moment, where she is. She would be fifteen or sixteen by now—older, taller and more world-wearied. And honestly, I’m not optimistic. It’s tough to recover when you’ve barely even hit puberty and you’ve already lost the first major battle in your life, when you’ve lost your parents, when you’ve got no one to root for you.
And I’m sailing downstairs to the northern line/ Watching the shine of the shoes/ And hearing the trials of the people there/ Who’s to care if they lose (“Parasite,” Nick Drake).
The album has spun to a stop in my CD player, Nick Drake has fallen silent. In my quiet room, afternoon sun is streaming in and streaking, golden, against the white walls. I watch it and think about how I’m getting by these days.
I’ve implemented a system based on my ability to make it through a day, based on admiring the milky shade of the still creek as it starts to freeze over, based on the dark, dry taste of mortality in the rise and fall of my chest. Marked for death by the time we emerge, sticky and shocked, from the womb. I’ve implemented a system based on the fact that, if not today, at least tomorrow, I’ll rest my head on your shoulder and close my eyes. I know I’ve said it before, but you feel so nice in my arms. I’ve implemented a system based on denying, on a regular basis, how horrible a person I am. There will always be plenty of time to hate myself later. I’ve implemented a system based on growing stronger, bit by bit, day by day.
For now, it works. There many things that I still do not understand.