BY BLAZE ARCHER Leif is talking to the woman psychiatrist, who chased me out. There’s something about growing up poor that makes anything like that seem like you’re the hired help having to flee the room. She was a small woman. There was something bludgeoning in the way she put up her hair. Her hair was coarse and black, and so were her eyebrows.
Dropping my cigarette, I crushed it with my sneaker and walked toward the door to prepare for work. I was going to check in on Leif before I put on my scrubs. Something told me that psychiatrist shouldn’t be the last person he talked to. His face was wrinkled with tears.
The door to the roof opened. I wasn’t used to anyone else being up here this time of day. I looked into the shadow of the door and saw Leif in his hospital gown peering out of it. He had a startled expression, like he couldn’t understand what he was doing there. I began to walk toward him, but as I drew near he rushed across the roof.
He skidded to a stop at the edge of the roof, looking over the railing with a wild look. I ran across the roof and lunged at him. All I saw was his white figure, a blur of limbs and creased fabric. I grabbed him around the waist and dragged him to the ground, fumbling with his arms as he pushed against me.
“Let go of me!” He clawed at my hands frantically.
“Jesus Christ, Leif—how the Hell did you get out here?” I had pinned his arms behind his back, but his legs were still kicking. I could feel my arms going numb.
“I can’t—I can’t do this anymore!” Leif screamed. “You-you don’t know what I’ve been through, if you did you’d let me die!”
“No I wouldn’t!” Leif was still struggling, and I prayed he wouldn’t have another cardiac arrest. “Leif—nothing’s so bad that death is worth it! If you die everything’s going to be bad for the rest of your life—that’s what suicide is!”
Leif gave one last kick before going limp. The tears were streaming down his face, dripping onto my sweatshirt. Shakily, I picked him up and got to my feet. He didn’t resist.
I walked toward the open door. “They’re going to 302 you,” I said. “I’ll visit you, if you want.”
“I…I have a final request,” Leif whispered. There was something strained in his voice. I glanced down into his face. It was flushed and thin. I had never noticed how thin it was till now, this close. There wasn’t an ounce of fat on him.
“What is it?” I said. Leif gulped.
“I…there’s a supply closet the janitor always forgets to lock,” he said. “I…I want you to fuck me. Please. I…I can’t handle this!”
“Um…” I stopped in my tracks, thinking over my words.
“I think…that’s a really bad idea,” I muttered. “Anyways, I’m…mostly straight. And I don’t want to have sex in a closet.”
“Leif, you need to sleep,” I said. “You’ve been up all night. You had tachycardia.”
Leif was silent as we descended the stairs.
“They’re going to make me eat,” Leif muttered. “I wish I had used before I left.”
“Jesus, Leif, would Richard want this?”
Leif went cold. “Don’t…talk about him,” he whispered fiercely. “I know he wouldn’t!”
I reached the elevator and pressed the down button. Quickly, it opened with a ding. Stepping into the empty elevator, I pressed the button for the ER with my elbow.
“Like I said, I’ll visit you,” I said. “You aren’t going far. Just…don’t let whatever you’re detoxing from make you give up.”
Leif glared at me silently. “Liam,” he whispered, “you should have just let me die.”
I am in the crisis response center. The walls and the floor are white. There are no windows. I am in handcuffs. The metal is still cold, and cuts into my wrists. There are only women’s magazines. There is no television. The nurses are behind bulletproof glass. I can hear them laughing to themselves. I wonder if they are laughing at me.
I am in a small room on an exam table. I know it is morning, that the sun has risen, but it feels like the middle of the night. A nurse comes in to get my information. She is small, with a faint flush of makeup and blonde hair pulled behind her ears in a severe way. She asks me my name, my birthdate, my address. Somehow, in here, I don’t feel like a doctor anymore.
The hospital is going to fire me.
They have brought me breakfast. Pale, lukewarm eggs, a grey limp sausage patty, and some kind of gruel and or is it oatmeal? I drink the orange juice, but carefully put the food a few feet away from me. The smell doesn’t make me hungry. The smell makes me think of festering meat being dissolved in stomach acid to be excreted. I have not had a bowel movement in over three days. There was something about me that was dissolving like the meat in stomach acid, waiting to become excrement.
A nurse comes in. “The doctor is ready to see you,” she says. “You’re not hungry?”
I look again at the food. “I ate earlier,” I say. The nurse picks up the tray and leads me to another white room with a plastic couch, a cheap desk, and a chair. The doctor, a younger man than I, thin, with a shaved head, is sitting in the chair with a pen and clipboard. I sit down on the plastic couch in my hospital gown and hospital socks. It is cold.
“Hello, Leif,” the doctor say. “I’m Dr. Simms.”
“It’s Dr. Cole, actually,” I mutter.
“I’m sorry,” Dr. Simms said. “Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”
I glance at the handcuffs around my wrists. “Fine,” I say.
“What led you to want to jump off the roof?”
“I wasn’t really thinking about it, I just did it,” I said.
“How long have you been suicidal?”
“I don’t remember,” I say. “Years.”
“Okay.” Dr. Simms writes something on his clipboard. The pen scratches in my ear like a small insect. “In the ER they found opiates in your system. What are you using?”
“Heroin,” I say.
“Okay.” Another scratch of the pen. “When was the last time you ate something?”
“I don’t keep track of that,” I say. “I don’t remember.”
“Okay.” As he says this, I want to strangle him with my handcuffs. But I keep my hands still. I want to claw my face off.
“I’m going to admit you,” Dr. Simms says. “It’s going to be hard for you for a while. But it’ll eventually pass.”
I thought of the bag of heroin waiting for me when I got home, and I realize that is the only thing keeping me from clawing my face off.
“Fine,” I murmur. “I don’t care.”
I am led back into the white room with the exam table and no windows. The door is locked behind me. I am not able to lay lie on my side because of the handcuffs. My hands ache. They are filling with blood like a balloon full of water, and any minute I think they will burst.
They left a survey in the white room and a pen for me to fill out later. I glance at the questions. Asinine. Do you feel your rights as a patient were respected? Did you face discrimination based on your race, color, creed, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity?
Something in me wanted to write something obscene once the handcuffs were taken off. Something without intelligence, just a scrawl of graffiti on a marble wall. A scratch of a nail into a priceless painting. Fuck all of you motherfuckers.
The walls are beginning to blur into one big white light. The fluorescent light in the ceiling is bleeding into the floor. I am surrounded by white, and I am a stain, a scar, a yellowed and purple bruise. Something beyond my hands ache, something inside my head I can’t get at, it was so deep. I begin to rub my handcuffs on my wrists. The friction feels good, the pain. I scratch and scratch and scratch till the blood begins to blossom on my wrists like dew soaked roses. It is beautiful.
I lean back into the hard plastic exam table and close my eyes.
The hospital is going to fire me.
I am going to have my medical license suspended.
The bag of heroin atop my refrigerator again comes to my mind. Shooting up was always a rush, and then the sweet oblivion would wash through me like an electric blanket over my insides. I did not have track marks, but I imagined it was only a matter of time. I always wore long sleeves anyway.
Suddenly, I glance at my tattoo. Being with Richard had been a short break from all this. But I couldn’t save him.
The memory of his death was beginning to break through the pain of my wrists. I scratch harder till it again went below the surface and disappeared, like a dead body sinking to the sandy bottom of a still lake. Richard. He was twenty-six years old.
A nurse comes in, and glances at my wrists. I feel ashamed as her eyes take in the once beautiful blood. Suddenly, it looks like an animal in a zoo had mutilated itself before a crowd of staring human eyes.
The nurse unlocks the handcuffs. “I’m going to have to write this up,” she says. “Your ambulance is here. You’re going to Pennsylvania Hospital.”
I am led into the hallway with the bulletproof glass and the laughing nurses. Two EMTs are waiting for me with a gurney with big black straps. The gurney is lowered. My knees are shaking.
“We’re going to have to strap you in,” the bigger EMT says. He has a tattoo on his neck of a mermaid. It glistens green and blue and red. I climb on the gurney, and the smaller EMT begins to velcro the straps over my body. The ache in my head begins to glow like a supernova, and I see spots swim before my eyes like koi fish in a pond. I try to catch them, but they keep swimming out of the reach of my fingers.
The EMTs begin to wheel me down the hallway toward a pair of double doors. The smaller EMT presses a button, and the doors swing open. Another white hallway with white linoleum and no windows. Another set of double doors open with the press of a button. The cold air of outside sweeps over me, making me shiver uncontrollably. The sun is bright, and my eyes begin to pulse with pain.
An ambulance is waiting. The bigger EMT opens the back door and lifts me into the back. The door closes behind him. I hear the smaller EMT get into the front and turn on the engine. I feel movement, and we are on our way to center city. Again, there are no windows.
“What happened to your wrists?” the bigger EMT says. I don’t answer.
“I need you to sign a few forms,” he says. “Do you want me to sign for you?” I nod. My wrists are no longer moving.
The ambulance stops, and the engine is shut off. I hear the slam of the front door shutting, and the back of the ambulance is opened. The cold air again wraps round me, and despite the blanket I begin to shiver again.
They lower the gurney onto the concrete and begin to wheel me toward two glass doors that open again with a button. The walls are beige, and there is a carpet. I am in an elevator going up to the sixth floor. The doors open, and I am before a pink nurse’s station. A male nurse walks over and signs a form the EMT gave him.
The bigger EMT begins to unstrap me. I can’t breathe, but I manage to step off onto the green linoleum floor. The walls are off-white. I see a motivational poster with the words “Don’t be ashamed of your story it will inspire others” and want to shout something obscene again.
The male nurse turns to me as the EMTs disappear into the elevator. “I need you to fill out a few forms,” the nurse says. I nod, and he leads me into a windowless room with a brown carpet, two chairs, and a computer. The nurse sits before the computer, switches on the monitor, and logs into the system. He explains the forms like I don’t know what HIPPA is. Consent. I sign them.
“Okay, I need to check your weight,” the nurse says. I go cold, and my heart begins to pound painfully in my chest.
“No,” I say. The nurse stares at me.
“You can go on backwards if you want,” he says. “You don’t have to see it.” I am silent.
“I need to take your blood pressure,” the nurse says. I hold out my arm, and he wraps the blood pressure cuff around my bicep and turns on the machine. It swells and then my arm aches.
“It’s very low,” the nurse murmurs, unstrapping the blood pressure cuff. “Okay, now I really need to get your weight.”
I step up, my knees are shaking. I get on the scale backwards, and hold my breath. The scale begins to beep. My heart stops beating.
“Okay, you can step down,” the nurse said. I step down, and collapse back into the chair.
“Are you on any medication?” the nurse says, turning to the computer. I shake my head.
“What brings you in here today?” the nurse says.
“They didn’t tell you?”
“I need it for our records.”
“I tried to jump off a building,” I say. “But I was unfortunately prevented.”
The keys of the keyboard clack loudly in my skull. “Do you have any medication, food allergies?” the nurse says.
“No,” I say. Clack clack clack
“Do you have a religious affiliation?” Clack clack clack
“What’s your sexual orientation?” the nurse says.
“None of your business,” I mutter. Clack clack clack
“Okay, I’ll show you to your room,” the nurse says. I get up, and follow nurse into the off-white hall again. He leads me down a row of doors with no doorknobs, and brings me to a door at the end of the hall. He shoves open the door. One bed. A desk. A chair. A bureau. One pillow. One blanket. A bathroom with a wastepaper basket.
I am alone.
“Tell me if you need anything,” the nurse says. The door swings shut, and he is gone.
I glance at the room. There is a window looking out over a parking lot. It faces the sun, and the room glows white. The bureau is a pinkish color that throws off a dark shadow in the light. I realize I have no clothes, or my wallet, or my keys. I am completely blank.
I walk toward the bed, and lie down. The bed is hard, and smells of a freshly cleaned bathroom. Fifteen minutes pass. The door opens, a male nurse looks in, then it is quickly shut.
A nurse shouts, “Breakfast!” I lie still, and close my eyes. Sleep doesn’t come.
I begin to scratch my face.