How to Break Out of a Mental Institution

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Your dad will want to talk with you for the entire week before you’re scheduled for intake, making navy bean soup and washing sheets. He will drive you and your big black rolling bag up a high hill and he will park the car and point out how pretty the mountains are. Your doctor will be waiting inside, his long legs not surprised by your story. He will merely tap his pen and take tiny glances at the clock, which is comforting somehow, as if he’s heard it before. After you meet with him you will be taken on a tour, led by a counselor with long waved hair and beads.

You must act engaged while outlining the entire layout of the sanatorium. The arts and crafts room is to the left, filled with years’ worth of magazines, glue, and construction paper. Try to spend as much time as you can in this room, cutting out eyes of different models and collaging them into one gigantic eyeball. Behind is the cafeteria, filled with drawers that will only have sporks and other dulled utensils. It will be impossible to eat anything other than precut bagels and canned goods so it’s best not to expect much, but your giant eyeball will be hung and it will watch as everyone gathers together to slurp each meal.

To the right is the room with a half moon of chairs all facing a singular chair. This is the room where you will knit moccasins and watch day soaps. You will be expected to talk, and it’s best if you can skim over things, like when he unhooked your bra, or when she died, or when he died, and where that left you. Your body is not used to talking about it, and will try to fold itself into the chair. Don’t worry about how to straighten it back out.

Behind this room is a hallway, and an expanse of bedrooms, and it will feel like you are looking at the surface of the moon. Everything is wearing egg white and everything feels the way antiseptic does — clean but sticky. Your room will have two egg white twin beds, a double paned window, egg white linoleum floors and shower shoes. It will all smell like Herbal Essence shampoo, and this smell will follow you for the rest of your life. Try not to worry about that, either. You will have a roommate. She will be in bad shape. Every entire vein on her body will be collapsed and egg white. She will be sick at night, and you will lie in your bed and think about your shower shoes and whether or not they’ve been splattered on.

The entrance of the building is guarded by two big doors that lock with each swing. These are the doors you will need to get past, and they’re are a few steps you’ll have to take in order to do so. You will need to become friends with two important people: The guy who has a prescription for Klonopin, and any teenage girl who’s here because of a bad boyfriend. You will need to exchange your medication for this sedative, and you will have to find a hiding spot for it. There will likely be a loose brick along the wall in your room, but you’ll need to make sure that your roommate is not around to see you hiding it there, or else it will end up in powder form for her to snort.

Befriend the girl, take her to group, show her your eyeball. The staff will think you’re helping. Offer her relationship advice and the singular phone call you get once a week so that she can resolve things with the boyfriend. After a few weeks, a few cries, a few collages, take action. Ask to talk with him on the phone, offering to extend your advice to him. Once the receiver’s to your mouth, quietly tell him that if he can drive up and get you both, you will give him 35 Klonopin and gas money. You will talk with him once more, to pick a day and a time for his arrival. It will have to be during visiting hours, when the doors are on the upswing.

You will have to leave most of what you came with behind in your room. This will be easy for you, but hard for her. You will sit in the day soap room together, heads pressed against the window, pretending to share stories. Then you will see it: an egg white van with no license plate. Your heart will jump and you will both get up and hold onto each other, as if the talking process has been effective. You will linger by the front door until it buzzes open and you will both run to the van.

You will barely get your body into it when it will lurch forward, and you will be thrown backwards into it. It will smell in there, like decaying plants and sandwiches, but it will also smell like Herbal Essence shampoo. You will have them drop you off at the train station but not before handing over the Klonopin, and he will count each pill between his fingers and nod at you to go. She will wave, kind of.

You will take the train back into the city and you will start to feel bad. You’ll start to think of where you will go, and you won’t be able to think of anywhere. You’ll start to think about who you know and you won’t be able to think of anyone. Mostly you’ll think about your dad making soup, and you will start to cry.

You’ll get off at the next stop and take the train back.

 

 

Heather is currently getting her MFAW at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is oldish and fattish, which makes attending said institution difficult.

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