*This is a real experience. I need to write about it, so I don’t forget and so I can come to terms with it.*
*Names have been changed.
For a while now, I’ve been trying to think of what I want to say when I write about the day I got to leave the psychiatric hospital. Coming up with the right words and descriptions has been extremely difficult, even with all the time I’ve spent thinking about that last day.
I remember it was very fast. One minute, I was shoving my things (clothes toothbrush notebook colored pencils word puzzles) into a paper bag; the next, my parents were standing next to me as I signed the paperwork, confirming that it was I who was making the ultimate decision to leave, even if my psychiatrist had advised I stay for another week. (Why didn’t I? Because I’d missed a week of school already. Should I have? Probably.)
I still had that Rolling Stone, Adele on the cover. I’d read it in the span of about twenty minutes, and knew I would probably never look at it again. So I went into the small hang-out room/cafeteria, where a small group of patients were playing a board game, and asked *Shaina if she wanted it.
Shaina was an outspoken and energetic woman, probably in her late twenties, with a young daughter she hadn’t seen for some time. I first met her when a nurse called her name and I responded; our names were very similar, and we often got ourselves mixed up. We’d talked a few times, but mostly, we watched television together: Animal Planet or Law and Order. She’d been there for a while, and was looking forward to graduating to a lower floor of the hospital.
When I offered Shaina the magazine, she first refused, even as I repeatedly assured her I didn’t want it. I’m not entirely sure why she kept trying to get me to change my mind. I wonder now if maybe it was because she didn’t get a lot of people offering her something without any strings attached. But I was determined to leave it in the ward (there wasn’t a lot of reading material) and she finally accepted it.
I remember that I hugged Asif and a few other patients, all of whom I’d only exchanged fleeting words with. I felt both thrilled and terrified at the prospect of leaving. There was safety in the hospital; outside, not so much.
I stepped outside the hospital, taking in deep breaths of chilly October air, saturated with cigarette smoke and car exhaust; but glorious to me. I followed my parents, my bag tucked under my arm, as we walked to their rental car. I clambered into the backseat and turned my cell phone on; I had dozens of missed messages and phone calls.
And then I rolled my window down as we got on the highway.
I couldn’t stop looking out the window. I stared at the cars as they zoomed by, the blur of trees and plants. I looked at the cloudy sky overhead, the numerous planes flying overhead, bound for JFK or LaGuardia. There was something surreal about the experience of that car ride from the hospital; I felt like I was experiencing things in a new dimension, one that may have been there the whole time but I’d never encountered until that moment.
I wanted to touch everything. The leather seats of the car, the rubber case on my cell phone, the smooth texture of the paperwork from the hospital, the solid zipper of my jacket. For the first time in a very long time, I felt peaceful. I felt like this was what life was really like, how maybe other people always experienced it.
It’s been almost three months since my stay in the hospital. There are days where I feel that I dreamt it up and it never happened, days where I wake up and wonder if I’m still in my dorm, days where I think I need to go back, days where I pray that I will never go back. I still don’t know how exactly I feel about the whole experience, and as my poor memory begins to eat away at the memories I have of my stay there, I wonder if I will ever get to accept what happened and maybe move on from it.
And then there are nights like tonight, where I do something as simple as take out the trash, and on my way back to the front door, I pause, and look up. There’s something devastatingly refreshing about seeing the stars. On the drive to SeaTac to catch my flight to New York City, I could see the stars. When I walked aimlessly in the dark, the night before I entered the hospital, I could see the stars. When I got on the train to leave Manhattan for the last time and come home, I could see the stars.
It’s just so nice. A perfect reminder that even when things burn out, even when they fade, there’s someone there to acknowledge the moment. There’s a way to capture it before it’s gone forever.
So now I can look at my ID bracelet from the hospital, and then at the stars, and for one instant, I can at least remember what it felt like to be okay at last.
Shea McGlynn is an aspiring screenwriter from Seattle and a co-founder of The Red Solo. She is a news junkie, reads too much Sylvia Plath and J.D. Salinger, and worries about things outside of her control. She is currently on medical leave from her freshman year at Sarah Lawrence College in New York. You can find her on Twitter (@shea_mcglynn) or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. She’s now a-tumbling at sheacole.tumblr.com.