On my first night in the hospital I was given a brief, rushed tour, culminating in the “patio” which more resembled a human bird cage than the relaxing outdoor resort/recreational space they seemed to be striving for. Suspended four stories in air, surrounded on each side by seemingly ancient brick, stood this terrifying structure, made shakily with fencing more suited for lawns, connected at all sides and a ceiling to boot. I eventually made my way out onto the patio by the week’s end, able to briefly enjoy the summers approaching breeze and almost forgetting that the shade provided from above was in fact put in place so we never tested our abilities of flight.
To think, all I am and all I feel distilled into woven metals wrapped loosely with plastic.
This, however, was reality. Every meal, every meeting, every moment spent in that room operated beneath the shadow of this cage, a constant reminder of my predicament - no matter how freely I moved and careful I spoke, there was simply no escape. I am not sure if I ever wanted to escape, or even if I could have, but nonetheless my brain acted as though this were some monumental challenge, some schoolyard dare - I invented scenarios, prepared my route, timed my nurses and knew their routines. I was going to undo this decision and run away from help, happy and desperate, clutching my hospital gown at its ends like some cartoon housewife afraid of a mouse as I darted across the black parking lot and into the town below. Here I would swagger like some drunk Frankenstein monster, young and alone and desperate to be loved.
There he would descend, the monster gaining speed, bashing in bar doors and raising all sorts of hell. Spinning tales of his story to justify the garb, getting loans from strangers and starting some new life in the craters of the old, just beneath the warm radar of friends and family who would mourn his loss so long as he pulled it off just right. It would be profitable, at first, but he would get pinched and simply run away, catching the closest train by its iron railings and stowing away until friendlier lands crested over the horizon and cleared into view.
And then, as quickly as I managed to enter these fictitious bars, I would find myself behind them again - ripped and slammed into my bed, bed two, room 467, Holy Name Hospital, where I belonged. If I were a fiction writer I would have made my escape by now, probably met a mentor of sorts on my way, began plotting my next move under the watchful eye of some well constructed and exotic boy, smelling faintly of Axe Body Spray and resembling the face of every guy I’ve ever loved.
I am not.
I am penning a flowery memoir at best - a product of my youth, desperate to make each sentence some new sensation.
They are not.
I could not sleep on my final night in the ward. The prospect of re-admittance into our carnivalesque existence repulsed me, the notion that I would forever reflect on it scared me, the bed I had slept in was simply all wrong. Too hot, too stiff, too thin, too foreign, still, after nearly a week. Nothing is comfortable about these nights - solitude may be bliss, but like all experiences moderation is key. The sheer totality of this solitude became sickening, choking all desire at its locked door and fenced wall - remember, you decided to be here.
There is no clock in my room, there are only my thoughts, loud and awake, pushed to their limit. Thoughts between the ears of a man who had not spoken in days, who had not seen loved ones or even smoked a cigarette, blissful till its end all filter and ash. My dreams and my reality began to blur, as I gave in one final time to the mystery of these walls, the completeness of my dreams, the fruitlessness of my “escape.”
I was on a city street clutching a carton of records, preparing to lay out my treasures and sell them to strangers streaming by. I was hungry, I was frantic, they seemed to keep falling out my hands and shattering on the floor. People stared in disappointment, it became a spectacle of sorts, an opportunity for these strangers to unleash some vitriol, spewing obscenities and laughing at my incapabilities. I bent over to pick up a record and sliced my fingers on its shattered edge, but the blood was black and began to pool on the ground like heated tar, absorbing the records with its steam, an appetite unmatched, eventually swallowing my feet, somehow bare, creeping steadily towards my knees, black and absolute. I looked up and was standing not on the city streets but back in my room, watching myself sleep, a body nearly consumed by the tar as it crept above the sheets, choking my breath and staining my sheets, approaching and blocking the lone window’s light. Soon the room is full, and yet I can see myself asleep, in peace, suffocated and pristine, intestines flooding with tar and eyes glazed over in something feigning acceptance but revealing some childish fear it was still juggling upon life’s completion.
I stood in the room, breathing the tar, staring at myself until my door was opened, and the new day had begun. Awake and alone, sweat pouring from my body, the final morning had begun and a nurse was taking my vitals. The dream had ended. Or so I hope. For even as I write this I am not fully sure. Some piece of me died in that room, in that night, and I watched it conclude, in peace, consumed before the chance for struggle - choked before the chance to speak - dead before time to think.
I belonged, in some way, to that world, and am still not fully convinced of this one’s appeal.