Forgetting Jonathon

When you are deemed a danger to yourself, and taken by ambulance to a psychiatric facility to be watched, the first thing they take from you is your shoe laces. This is so that you cannot hang yourself in your bedroom at night between 15 minute checks.

They give you a list of possessions you are not allowed to have. For example, they prohibit bringing in fruit in case the fruit has previously been infused with vodka.

At each meal you will be served food that serves the purpose of providing sustenance while denying one to choke on said sustenance.

There are suicide-proof bathrooms and suicide-proof bedrooms. Each edge of each piece of furniture is rounded. There is a Recreational Room with a piano but no sheet music. There is also, always, a Jonathon.

My Jonathon had fragile, brown wrists and baby lips. He wore those generic, white t-shirts you can buy in bulk at a Walmart. He avoided the no laces policy by using duct tape to keep his ragged converse on his feet.

The first day I arrived, he ripped a coloring page from his coloring book, handing it to me without lifting his head from his drawing. His hands shook violently from the drugs he had been prescribed and I could tell that he was ashamed of his own drawing that was almost complete but had been filled in as if by a child unable to stay within the lines. After some time, Jonathon glanced in my direction and, seeing that I was confused, shoved a box of broken crayons across the table to me.

The crayons, I could tell, were new but had been snapped in half by hospital staff, leaving only the dull butts, in order to remove any sharp edge that may have previously existed.

The picture that Jonathon had assigned me was of a princess sitting alone in a carriage pulled by horses. She peered out of the carriage’s window, wearing a tiara but not smiling. I began coloring the carriage black and the princess blue. Jonathon pointed at my princess, “don’t you wish that you were her?” I did.

I sat with Jonathon for five hours. Coloring was the only stimulating exercise that we were allowed. Jonathon talked to me about a girl he loved name Sarah who had a boyfriend with a job. Jonathon had tried to get a job as well and after some time had gotten hired, but it was too much, he said, the pushing of the shopping carts, the endless wrangling of the shopping carts left around the massive parking lot by careless shoppers. I pictured Jonathon, with his fragile, trembling body pushing rows and rows of shopping carts for a girl who did not love him back.

Jonathon’s hand shook violently from the drugs the hospital had prescribed to him.

During our Goal Group, I helped him fill out the sheet we were all required to complete. I asked him what his goal for the day was and after much thought he said it was to be happy. I asked him to provide practical steps to take to help him achieve this goal and he pulled the sheet from my hand, scrawling, “don’t let non-scary things scare me because I am brave.”

Our drugs were administered to us at each meal. Take the paper cup with the pills, take the paper cup with the water, put the pills in your mouth and, sipping the water, swallow. Lift your tongue, no hiding the drugs. Good.

This was a routine in which Jonathon refused willing participation.

With the help of two large orderlies, he participated.

Jonathon sat some days, all day, in the rec room, trying to remember a song he had learned as a child. After hours of coaxing, I identified the song as Edelweiss – the Sound of Music was his favorite movie, he said, except for the mountains because he knew he would never go to Austria to see them.

Sometimes Jonathon, enraged or bored or trying not to be scared by non-scary things, would pound his fist four, five, six times on to the piano. The pounding would continue until, inevitably, a nurse would enter the room with a syringe, an orderly trailing behind her with a wheelchair. The first time this happened I followed behind, confused, watching Jonathon punching the piano and the nurse administering the drug and a halt. And then there was Jonathon, for a split moment, at peace, and then, moments later, asleep, hands resting on the black and white keys.

I left the room before the orderly could pick up his small body and wheel him back to his room.

In the hospital there was a group – five of us – who were, self declared, “not crazy-crazy” and we stuck together. We sat together in positive thinking groups, goal setting groups, told the crazies they weren’t allowed to eat by us. The hospital was very much like high school.

But we worried about Jonathon because he was slipping and we could feel it. His parents, each day, came in through the doors marked “warning: high flight risk” and gave permission for his meds to be increased. Jonathon stopped leaving his room except to watch tv. He stopped reading books that didn’t include pictures. He couldn’t follow the plot line of the Nutty Professor, which he asked to watch 5 times.

When I left the hospital, the rest of my group had already gone, and as I walked past the rec. room, it was just Jonathon, sitting in front of the piano trying to play Edelweiss.

Afterwards, my parents took me out to dinner and I tried to tell them about Jonathon and make them understand why he was important. I left the restaurant crying. I moved my bed to my living room because enclosed spaces disturbed me. I began dreaming about Jonathon fading to nothing.

My mother was concerned, she said, you’re obsessed, she said.

Obsessed. Crazy. But not crazy, crazy.

But what I know, because I have had my laces taken from my shoes and I have seen women pulled screaming in to a room where they were bound for hours in order to be prevented from beating their own foreheads in with a Bible, is that Jonathon will be drugged until he is a non-combative disappearance. He will sit, days and days, at a piano, not remembering, until he is wheeled, unconscious, on to a bed and forgotten.

And there is guilt, because I also know that those, such as myself, who are obsessed and broken and crazy but “not crazy, crazy” will move on, get jobs, visit Austria to see the mountains, lacing their shoes before they go.

My mother promised me I would not forget. Guaranteed that Jonathon would not be nothing. That he wouldn’t disappear.

But I was called, two months later, by my roommate at the facility called who  told me that Jonathon was still there. And we both pictured him at the piano, hands on the keys, but neither of us could remember his name, which is not, in fact, Jonathon.


Addiction as told by Addiction

And here’s an addict, formed.

Pieces of glass and bits of rot pushed into the corner with a broom.

Thick skin that sheds seasonally. A jaw that unhinges as needed.

I straighten her spine, stretch her up, push her shoulders back. Her head rocks back and forth, unsupported by her neck..

I lay her in a gray mass on a gray comforter where she focuses her eyes on a cum stain half way down the mattress while pushing a needle in to her veins.

This is her clay and a ribcage and she’s forming. Shapely thighs, protruding collarbones. Eyes dark enough that, for the sake of morbidity – and we love morbidity – we’ll call black. I say, “Kit, you’re possessed by the devil,” but she knows that’s not my name.


Kit is standing, long arms. Daily, she tries to kill herself without knowing it.

I build Kit this way because I built her father this way and there is importance in lineage and blood.

I am disease and I lie, lie through chemically whitened teeth and red stained lips and when I close my fist and twist and twist, Kit thinks of the white bird, takes a glass of wine and pours it down her throat with ecstasy and loathing and great embellishment.

Kit speaks to me and says she is very good with words. She writes letters for people that they can’t write themselves.

And, even though I know, I ask her what the letters say.

We’re getting to the good part now because Kit’s answer, which I know by heart, makes my arms shiver from pleasure and as she lies again, a gray thing on the bed, she utters the words “Goodbye. In varying forms,” while her head once again nods to her chest.



On My Meds I am the Boring Kid at the Party who Shows up with a Six-Pack, Drinks Two and Maybe Plays With the Dog.

I used to think of my depression as the debt paid to my summers of unequivocal genius.

Depression is the grotto that lies beneath sadness. A cool, round pool of sorrow. There is, one day, the desperate need to shut the blinds, the inability to lift your head from the pillow. An accompanying self loathing for not being able to do so. The hours spent studying the intricacies of your room. The loathsome bedside table. The mediocrity of your dresser. A mirror pointed cruelly in your direction. Watch, carefully, the decay of the functional human.

You allow filth to pile around you – chores left undone, texts and phone calls unanswered, bills unpaid.

And then there’s this pulling, nudging, internal voice that goes like “look at all of these goddamn empty pudding cups surrounding your bed, you fucker.”

And maybe the change isn’t so instant. Maybe you pull yourself out gradually or maybe you use a bottle of whisky and a chainsaw called cocaine. But you’re there. You’re up, straightening your party dress: hi, everyone, sorry I’m late, I tripped and fell into my bed for three weeks.

Maybe you’re out of your mind or maybe you’re drunk, but you, now, are the hilarious musical pinball that sips wine between each breath. You feel the whiteness of your teeth and the glow of skin that you know radiates actual brilliance because you’re eternal and awake for the first time. But god damn if your new bright light, your own personal sun, doesn’t illuminate the stupidity of the human race. You’re kicked out of class. There’s a fight with a professor over the origins of being drawn and quartered. You’re the grumpy old man mumbling to himself, refusing to stop doing yard work. Get out of the yard, old man, you don’t even live here.

And now, as I realign my thinking, I picture my meds as an investment in stability. It’s okay to be the kid with the six pack. The one who sips on two beers and leaves without saying goodbye.

But neutrality is foreign to me, so I am a Fitzgerald character stopping by a church potluck still hungover from one of Gatsby’s parties.

And here I am, sensing the string of brilliant ideas atrophying in my head to lifeless, gray mucous as I descend back into winter.

bipolar, mental disorder

This is What it Takes

It was easy to ignore my first symptoms when they began cropping up.

Excessive drinking = college student.

A blatant refusal to leave my bed for weeks at a time except to go to the bar. Again = college student.

One night stands – isn’t that just called dating at this point?

And two months later there’s a boyfriend involved and he sees me smash a crystal bowl and collapse in front of the dingy sink in my college apartment. What is this, he says, what is all of this. Not a question. A statement. Neither of us knew. We watched as trails of water collected dirt and turned gray.

And my risky behavior leads to self-abuse and self-loathing and a general knowledge that things aren’t okay. Sleeping halts. I am the queen of productivity. I am drinking more than ever and vomiting creative ideas onto a canvas of shit. I graduate with honors.

And now my behaviors are not easily explained. Excessive drinking does not equal college student. And it is time to get help, says my mom, as she soothingly rubs my ankle.

This is done, of course, via google.

I type in my symptoms: “anger depression drinking funny lazy smart sad anxiety.” Enter?

Bipolar disorder.

And I go to a therapist who I cry to. She sits me on a small love seat across from a small window and hands me tissues and I tell her about my abortion and I cry and I tell her I can’t stop drinking and I cry. She hands me more tissues and schedules me an appointment to see a doctor.

And I find myself sitting on the other side of a desk in a low IKEA chair answering more questions about cutting myself and about sometimes thinking I’m just so grand as she puts it. She wants to know about weird behaviors. I tell her I count steps as I go up and down and the number of seconds it takes me to finish peeing. This is not so strange, though, I tell her. She raises a brow.

Bipolar Disorder.

I go to a different doctor. One that comes well recommended to me by my aunt who is a social worker and knows these things. People drive up from Chicago to see this man. People drive from Canada and all over the Mid West. I talk to him for an hour. He does not check any boxes. He lightly presses the tips of his outstretched fingers together. He is interested in the cycles of my moods, of the waxing and waning of my intense happy and my engulfing sad. He is concerned about my drinking. He asks about my medication. I tell him I won’t go on any if they make me fat.

Bipolar Disorder. Lamictal, Abilify, Xanax. They’ll probably make you a little fat. This is what it takes, he says, to keep the disease from claiming who you are at the core of your person.

I don’t take the pills. I get a job. I move to Detroit. I am doing great. I am swell. I have my own place.

Until I’m not. The stress at work is killing me. I can’t handle the sound of the baby’s voice over there – do you hear that – that fucking shrill squeal, I can’t think. The shape of my coworker’s teeth infuriate me.

And then I’m in a bar with a boy who is just looking at me. He has on tight red jeans and a tight black cotton shirt. I’m speaking rapidly, my words firing at him from my mouth and he is nodding, nodding, nodding, like he is not only understanding but absorbing, embodying, every word that I’m saying. I stop, awaiting his response. “So, are you on coke or…?”

I was not on coke. I was just speaking that fucking fast.

But I’m learning dutch! I’m going to visit the Netherlands for Queen’s Day next year. Why don’t you pay attention to me? I can’t get out of bed today. I need help.

And I’m ready, maybe, to accept this Bipolar Disorder.

I see another doctor. We talk briefly about family history. He types my answers into his computer using only his index fingers. He wants to know if I want to kill myself. He wants to know where I am in the cycle of my moods. If I’m agitated, if I’m drinking, if I’m happy. I give him a blank stare because I realize that happy is not something that I fully understand and I simply aim for nothingness. I tell him this.

Bipolar Disorder. Abilify. Klonopin.

Take your medication, young and healthy girl. Let me help you with your life.

This is what it takes.