Gray Pills

It was late in the day, and the sky blue of my bedroom walls had finally begun to dim accordingly with the gradual disappearance of the sun. I looked up from the messily scribbled notes in front of me on my desktop and glanced around the room. I had been so transfixed in my homework assignment that I hadn’t realized the utter stillness of dusk’s approach. My clothing was scattered all over the floor of my room, skewed between books, papers, and other various artifacts of my cluttered life. My gaze turned forward now to the wall that backdropped my desk. It was decorated eclectically and unstructured with photographs and artwork.There amongst old reminders and jotted notes lay my perceived relativity in life. The boy who vicariously dumped me on a whim smiled arrogantly next to photographs of my friends and family. His acid knife that lay wedged in my heart, responsible for many molten fits of rage and countless stinging tears, wrenched suddenly and I broke my gaze. It turned instead to the dried up rose that sat in an empty vase on the shelf above my head, devoid of any nourishment by sunlight or water. It was the only surviving relic (if you can call a dead rose surviving) that I still possessed of the first boy in my life, the only boy I had ever really loved. The same boy whose heart I had left for dead and then ripped out at the seams in search of something better. It had sat in that empty vase for over a year, and I had no intention of removing it. The burning tears of regret and sorrow began to flood my aged eyes, and I turned away before they could release themselves into my hectic, yet carefully monitored atmosphere. And so they stayed, trapped on the paramount edges of my lids.

It had been a rough couple of years; my family had all but disappeared completely after the departure of my equally screwed up brother, followed soon after by my sociopathic father. It was now just my mother and I living in a big empty house, and around every corner was a repressed memory of my painfully endured childhood waiting to strike. Our house was filled nearly to the breaking point with useless decorations and pieces of untouched furniture in an attempt to cover up my father’s absence, but empty nonetheless. The chaos that filled every inch of my room reflected the inner cavities of my mind, compiled of memories that pained me on a daily basis and entrapped me in a constant depression that numbed every new experience. From an external point of view, I was absolutely perfect. I was young, skinny, and attractive; and I always had a boy to dote on me (quite uselessly, I might add), and I received good grades in school. I had even been awarded an academic scholarship to my top choice university, which I would be attending in the fall. I had it all; I got away with everything and anything. It seemed I was living in the reality of the teenage dream, but there was a dark and daunting presence within me that my classmates and friends could neither detect nor understand. I was years ahead of them in terms of perception and maturity, but I often wondered if the reality I perceived was not a true reality, but a mere figment of the creative and destructive presence that I quartered wearily in my mental faculties.

I had been seeing various therapists and doctors since I was nine years old, and the common conclusion was that I was simply too smart for my own good. I was told time and time again that I was in good mental health, among one of the strongest minds these therapists had ever seen. But this “health” was based purely on my cognitive abilities to perceive and understand emotions, motives, and society. So was the dark presence invading my thoughts truly just my high intelligence and aptitude to empathize? By this point, I wasn’t convinced because the level of darkness that presided over my psyche could not possibly be a side effect of my so-called “high intelligence.” Or could it?

While going through a psychology course during my senior year of high school, I was privy to thousands of case studies and dissections of countless mental disorders. Being inherently interested in and curious about abnormal psychology, I divulged myself and read as much as I could. In a classic case of hypochondria, I identified with about 75% of the personality and anxiety disorders (as could be said for anyone taking enough time to read though the entire index of known mental disorders that sat on my psychology teacher’s bookshelf). Conclusively, this only worried me more and heightened my already prevalent sense of internal abnormality.

Over a period of six months, my belief that I was bat s*** crazy continued to increase, fueled by episodes of extreme rage in which I was driven to the utmost edge of sanity, ready to take the final step, condemning myself to the fatal plunge over the absolute threshold of life. It was during one of these fitful bouts whilst standing on the doorstep of my own premeditated death that I encountered a slight moment of lucidity. While my poor mother grasped my threatening hands tightly, disallowing them to flail around violently, I whispered the words,

“Mom, I’m scared.” The weight of these words forced me down onto the cold tile of my kitchen floor, the same familiar surface that had comforted my limp body repeatedly in past episodes as I wept. But this cold meeting of flesh and tile was different than the instances before; it was heavy with resignation and fear. My mother laid down next to me, my tear-drenched face in her shaking hands, and whispered,

“I know, Sweetie. I am, too.” We laid there and wept until our eyes became dry with exhaustion. It was then that it was decided that I would go away, and that I needed the special care and help of a round the clock vigil.

The name of this vigil, so essential to my mental health, was St. John’s Hospital for the Mentally Unstable. The mere title seemed laughable to me, but this was the opinion of my narcissistic counterpart that had taken control of my thoughts. Oftentimes, the narcissism, depression, and rage took turns controlling my thoughts, but today they came hand in hand.
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“And here’s your linens. Don’t try and make your bed, I’ll have Nancy sent to your room to take care of that.” A folded stack of thin, papery sheets was shoved towards me, forcing my tightly crossed arms to loosen and shoot out in order to shield my body from the head nurse’s aggressive thrust. Her name was MaryAnn, and she was absolutely frightening. As I stared blankly into her cold, gray eyes, the clinical psychologist that hid in my subconscious was furiously trying to understand the frost that secreted from her icy gaze. I concluded that in order to survive with sanity in tact in the midst of utter lunacy, it was necessary to stay as disconnected as possible from each patient. Her behavior contradicted her previous actions, when sitting in her office with my mother and I a few hours earlier.

“We’re going to take wonderful care of your daughter here, St. John’s is by far the most respected and successful hospital on this side of the Mississippi River,” she had said, with a tight smile plastered on her face, every possible imperfection hidden by flawless makeup and subtle red rouge. Her consummate pearly whites were framed by carefully applied red lipstick, and her eyelashes were curled to utter perfection. It was almost as if she were trying to convey the image of a paragon to set herself apart from all of the insanity around her. It was almost pitiful.

Convinced by MaryAnn’s sales pitch, my mother grasped my hands tightly as she said her tearful goodbye, hugged me as though she’d never see me again, and then finally peeled herself away to return back to society. Back to life. As soon as my mother had turned the corner away from St. John’s, the real business began. MaryAnn’s smile disappeared permanently, and she read a list of things I was not permitted to do in the hospital. I nearly had the right mind to ask her what exactly was permitted, because the list of prohibited actions seemed to last for days. I couldn’t even go to the bathroom without a nurse escorting me for the first three months. There was no way I’d be here that long, so this didn’t bother me as much as the rule that prohibited any outside visitors, aside from family. I had many friends that I would miss dearly, and whom I hadn’t even informed of my whereabouts. I sat patiently and attentively in the uncomfortable plastic chair in front of MaryAnn’s desk as she continued her list of rules.

“...it is not permitted to chew gum in Ward C, and last but not least, all cigarette smoking will be done in the yard, NOT in the ward, and ONLY during the designated smoking times. That rule is final, so don’t even try to weasel your way out of it.” This was obviously the end of her speech, because she folded her hands and looked up at me, her expression unchanging. “Any questions?”

“N-no, I don’t-I don’t have any questions.” Even if I had any questions, the tone of her voice certainly suggested that she did not have the time nor the desire to answer any that I might have. Besides, it seemed these rules were set in stone, and there was no point in questioning them.

“Good,” she stood up suddenly and marched around her desk and through the door, implying that I should follow. She led me down a narrow hall, illuminated with fluorescent lighting that burned through my skin and revealed my inner motivations as though I were standing naked in front of a scrupulous panel. Each nurse I passed as I followed closely behind MaryAnn’s stiff march gave me the same blank look, as though they had all taken lessons in attachment avoidance. We finally reached our first destination: the medication distribution desk. MaryAnn leaned in close to the glass and barked,

“We have a new patient joining us, she is a Case D, Level 2,” MaryAnn shoved a clipboard under the glass, and I snuck a glance at the undecipherable doctor-like handwriting scrawled across the bottom of the page. I was able to determine that “Case D” stood for Major Depression, and “Level 2” meant that I was only a moderate case.

Ah, well, at least they think there’s actually something wrong with me, I thought to myself. That meant there was something to be fixed, and I was confident that whatever was running amuck in my brain would soon be reigned in and controlled. Fixed. My attention turned back to MaryAnn as she thrust a little white paper cup into my hand. Two large grayish pills stared back at me from the bottom of the cup, and I glanced up at MaryAnn, unsure of what exactly I was supposed to do with them. I didn’t know what they were, surely I wasn’t meant to take them.

“Well, go ahead, what are you waiting for? We’re not getting any younger here,” MaryAnn scoffed as I nervously looked back down at the dauntingly-sized pills.

“What are these?” I inquired.

“Something to take the edge off, the first few days here are rough.” Finally, a glimmer of compassion and empathy from a woman that I doubted even housed a soul in her body. She must have felt me reading her body language, because she quickly crossed her arms and pursed her lips at me, resuming an icy stare.

“Rule #17: You take the medication that is administered to you. I have administered you Thorazine, therefore, you will take the Thorazine.” Her cold gaze broke down my sudden defiance, and I quickly swallowed the pills. I had never heard of Thorazine, nor did I know what it was for, but I hoped it did exactly what MaryAnn had promised. This place was like a show in which I was the helpless marionette, and it eliminated any personal supremacy that I had been desperately attempting to hold on to. My nerves were on fire. As I gulped down water from a second white paper cup, MaryAnn scribbled notes on her clipboard. After taking the Thorazine, MaryAnn led me through several more procedures, but she seemed to rush through them, as if we didn’t have much time. I later concluded this was pure irony, because in Ward C, we had all the time in the world. Time never passed; the second hand on the clock moved with a fraction of the speed that the hands on my confiscated watch had moved before I entered St. John’s.

By the time I received my linens, my vision had begun to get blurry, and my speech had started to slur. I was confused; it was as if I had no control over my motor functions, and everything around me seemed to slow down, way down. It was as if someone had pressed the slow-motion button on the television remote; even MaryAnn’s words began to distort, as though they were entrapped in molasses. I looked questioningly at her frozen features, and she merely replied,

“The Thorazine is making you drowsy. I’ll show you to your room and after Nancy comes to make your bed, you are permitted to nap.” My room was twelve feet by twenty feet, and in it were two metal framed beds; one was occupied, but the limp mass underneath the sheets did not move as I entered the room. A kinder, softer looking nurse that I assumed was Nancy briskly walked past me with my linens and said,

“That’s Beth. She hardly moves, so don’t worry, she’s easy to get along with.” Nancy shot me a gentle smile, but quickly wiped it off her face as MaryAnn cleared her throat menacingly. I was suddenly overcome with absolute exhaustion and sunk onto my thin mattress as soon as Nancy was finished with her task. Before I closed my eyes, I glanced around the room, and the reality of the position I was in struck me with a great force. Before the panic could fully set in, stillness soon flooded my brain. A black curtain was yanked briskly over my consciousness, and I was whisked away from reality, and taken to a terrible land that lay suspended between fantasy and actuality, sleep and vigilance. I was stranded in a sick purgatory, with nothing but Thorazine, which was quickly erasing the personality that I had worked so hard to achieve. I was becoming a mental patient in a mental hospital, and there was nothing I could physically or mentally do to avoid losing myself. The thought of losing myself mentally was paralyzing, because isn’t my mind the one thing that is supposed to be guaranteed?

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I awoke some time later, how long I stayed suspended in my personal purgatory it cannot be determined for certain. Beth still hadn’t moved an inch, and I wasn’t surprised. If my initial administered drug had such an intense and crippling effect on me, I didn’t blame her for her incompetence. I swung my legs over the edge of the bed as I sat up. I slowly shifted my gaze around the room, taking in my surroundings. The walls were a pale, powder blue; the same color as the cotton pants and tunics that the patients were required to wear. The gray and white speckled linoleum floor was covered by scuff marks from the bottoms of our perfectly white hospital shoes. The four walls that trapped me were completely bare, except for the wall farthest from the door, which housed a small window, nearly completely covered up by cold, metal bars. I assumed they were in place to prevent escape, but it only made me feel more like a caged rat, stuck in some experiment that I hadn’t signed up for. But I suppose I had. This is what I had wanted, to be fixed. And this would fix me, wouldn’t it?

I walked to the door and opened it slowly. I entered Ward C, a society within a society, yet a delusion of a true and normal society. As I became acquainted with the ward, I talked to other patients, asking questions about daily routines and the like. The answers I received were vague and obviously controlled by whatever drug they were being forced to take. MaryAnn soon found me amongst the other patients and she took me back to the drug administration desk. She handed me two more large, gray pills, and this time I took them without question to avoid her verbal lashings. The rest of the day was consumed by blurry group therapy sessions and fuzzy recreation time. I found it difficult to concentrate on anything, and my once beautiful blue eyes adopted the hazy look that I saw in so many other patients. By the end of the day, I was given two more pills and sent to bed. I fell asleep immediately.

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It had been a few weeks since my admission into St. John’s, and things were getting hazier still. Everything seemed to move slower each day, and my emotions were beginning to stay at a consistent flatline. The minutes turned into hours, which turned into days, into weeks, into months. I was accustomed to my routine: wake, take my Thorazine, eat, attend group therapy, then relax in the game room with the other patients until dinnertime, and then more Thorazine before bed. The routine was broken by regular smoke breaks, which I enjoyed thoroughly. It was my opportunity to go outside and speak freely with my fellow patients. We called our little smoking group The Crazies. We found this hilarious and quite appropriate. Our escorting nurses didn’t find the name as funny. We liked it.

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Today I woke up and the sun was shining. There was a knock at the door and Nancy stuck her head in.

“Your mother is coming today, remember?” I cocked my head to the left, wracking my brain for a certain memory. I laughed voraciously as I pictured my mother and I watching our kitten play with a small ball of foil. She batted it around with her paws and chased it all over the house, a sight that amused us. What a cute kitten. I wondered how she was doing, and if she still played with the ball of foil.

I dressed myself and headed into the ward to receive my daily dose of gray pills. They looked bigger today. MaryAnn met me at the desk and walked me to a room with tan carpeting and soft, plush chairs. My mother was sitting in one of them. I looked around at the cheery room, filled with flowers and framed pictures of places I’d never see in person. It was a nice change from the plastic and linoleum of Ward C. As I walked in, she rushed towards me and embraced me, tears rolling down her face. I smiled at her.

What a nice woman, I thought.She handed me a bouquet of yellow daisies; they were beautiful.

“Here, Sweetie, I brought you these flowers to put in your room. They’re your favorite, remember?”

“Sure,” I replied. “Thank you.” Nancy took the flowers from my mother and announced that she would put them in water for me. My mother and I sat in two chairs opposed to each other, and I described my life at St. John’s. She hung on every word. When it was time for her to leave, she embraced me again and whispered,

“I love you, Sweetie. I miss you so much.” As she pulled away, I just smiled. This kind woman was so familiar, yet so foreign to me as I stared into her sad and tired eyes. Part of me wanted to leave the room, for she was merely a reminder that life inside St John’s was not really life at all; it was a mere fallacy, an interpretation of life on Thorazine.

When I returned to my room, the daisies sat in a clear plastic vase on the table next to my bed. They were so pretty, I wanted to look at them forever. I was late to dinner, and MaryAnn made me take three gray pills tonight instead of two.
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Today I met a friend. Her name is Sarah. She has long, beautiful black hair. I like to braid it. We like to chase each other around the yard. The Crazies cheer us on as we race. She likes the same cigarettes that I do. I can’t recall the name.

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Today me and Sarah got ice cream for dinner. She said she wanted to see my daisies. When we got to my room they weren’t yellow anymore. They were brown. Sarah held my hand when I cried. MaryAnn came to my room with gray pills. I took them.
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The flowers were gone when I woke up today. Nancy said she would bring me more. I asked her to bring me yellow flowers. She said she would.

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Nancy brought me yellow flowers today. Sarah came to look. I was so happy. MaryAnn came to my room because I stayed in bed. She brought gray pills. MaryAnn says I am fixed. Fixed, fixed, fixed. They fixed me and I am fixed. What a wonderful thing to be.





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