This Is For

This is for the people I shared seventy-two long hours with

We’d never met before nor would we ever meet again 

None of us wanted to be trapped within those white, white walls

Yet we were all hiding from something out there, too 

This is for them: the crazy, the broken, the silenced 

This is for the roommate I got on my second night, first full night

She was blonde, maybe forty, and if we weren’t in a psych ward

I think she might have been pretty

But we were

And she looked like death 

She was detoxing from a drug cocktail from nightmares  

And neither of us slept 

Since they had to check on us every five minutes

With lights in our faces all night 

The same drugs that got her here killed her boyfriend

But she was here to tell me the tale 

And we swapped our stories, and she said,

“Oh, honey, you don’t belong in here,”

And she told me that I had things waiting for me outside these white, white walls,

That I should listen to my parents,

And if I wanted to write, then maybe I should write

(And I am) 

But no matter what, and I followed this advice, too, 

“Don’t touch drugs, and don’t come back.” 

This is for the girl with the dark, glossy, staring eyes 

That might sound bleak, but she was always smiling, giggling

Her mind was somewhere else, like mine

She was schizophrenic, too,

She’d been there a while, 

She told us in a group session that she fell in love with the boy only in her mind

That she believed he would want the best for her, even if it meant his demise

But she just wasn’t so sure she wanted to give him up 

And I told her I had friends only in my mind, too

And that maybe the ones we really love never truly leave us, real or not real 

And medication didn’t have to take that away from her

That he’d still be there if she wanted him, but only if she wanted him  

But so would the real world now, if she wanted it 

And later, I told myself that when I went back on meds, 

This thing I said first just to comfort her, 

But at that moment, she giggled again, and looked at peace, and said, 

“Thank you.” 

This is for the boy who talked nonstop 

He had a sweet, sweet car and a sweet, sweet girl 

He couldn’t wait to get out and see them both 

He told us this over and over and over 

And there probably was no car

And there probably was no girl 

But God, it was nice to live in his world for a second

He smiled every day over a breakfast a saint couldn’t eat

And didn’t mind that you couldn’t truly use the bathrooms alone 

He was a regular, knew all the staff’s first names

But didn’t look over at the sound of his own 

And he told us how great the world was out there

And I wanted to believe him 

And when they let us walk around the gray courtyard in circles 

For fifteen precious minutes 

Instead of hallways paced so much, all night, they put up signs

Telling you how many laps was a mile 

I didn’t go outside, because it was pouring

But he went, and he came back in, soaked, radiant

And I asked about the weather, joking, and he told me:

“It’s so beautiful.” 

This is for the one who tried to escape

I saw what he was doing

I cheered him on in my head and looked away,

Don’t give him away,

He crouched down low below the nurse’s station

And quietly bolted after someone into the locked room

The one with the elevators

But he got caught

And all I could think about was what I would’ve done

If I’d done it, made it to the first floor

No shoes, no jacket, no wallet, no keys, no phone 

They’d taken all of those things away 

I would’ve had only the same clothes I arrived in days ago 

I wondered if I could’ve blended in enough to walk out the hospital’s front door

And then gone… where? 

And I still ask myself that years later, 

And they asked him questions, right then, right there,

In that white, white hall that told you how many times you had to pace them 

To get to a mile 

(So many) 

And, bitter, he told them, 

“Well, it was worth a shot.” 

This is for someone I don’t know

It was one of us, it could’ve been any of us

But I got to borrow one of the hospital’s tablets

To check my school email

And feel like there was still a world waiting for me outside

And right there in the search history 

Was a question we’d all pondered

Yet I couldn’t bring myself to find out the answer

I didn’t want to be a tattle

But I didn’t want to have someone’s life on my conscience 

Even though I’d asked myself the same question 

And I remembered craving death

The way you’re supposed to crave oxygen

Every second without it throbbing 

I swallowed too many of my antidepressants once

I regretted it 

I liked to think there really was a worthwhile world out there 

So I told the nurses, just in case 

The person I didn’t know 

Had found the answer to,

“How do you kill yourself in a psych ward?” 

This is for the woman who was admitted after me 

I overheard them saying she had anger issues, she was delusional

That communication was hard, they said she spoke poor English

She screamed at them that English was her first language,

That they just didn’t like that she had dark skin,

That she wasn’t born here,

That her accent didn’t sound like theirs 

She liked to yell and throw and punch 

And I was stupid or brave enough to ask her what was wrong once 

And she told me she was mad at what the US government had done to her home country in Africa

And I told her that wasn’t so delusional, that she was right to be mad 

And for what it was worth, I wasn’t so fond of what they’d done to this country, either

And she took a deep breath and she told me,

“You seem sane. Don’t stop.” 

This is for the girl who liked to color with me in silence

We weren’t supposed to talk about where we came from 

But I thought I heard her slip and say something about Harvard

It was around midterm time, then, for both of us 

She had scars running up her arms that might scare the average soldier

But she made beautiful drawings, with or without lines to color in

And she doodled hearts over those scars until they faded away

She just missed her dog, and her mother’s cooking, 

And she had a little sister she was scared would turn out just like her 

She didn’t say much, but we’d sharpen our pencils under supervision together

With a cheap little plastic pencil sharpener from a back to school sale 

And I mumbled something about the times I’d taken one of those apart because 

I had nothing else to take out my self hatred with 

In the same breath as complaining about being watched,

And it was sad, unhinged, shameful, 

But what really made me not want to do it again 

Was when she looked at me with the expression she got

When she talked about not wanting to scar her sister’s wrists 

With her own self loathing, and she said, 


This is for the people I shared only seventy-two long, unwilling hours with

Complete strangers, yet no matter how different we seemed from each other

We shared how much the rest of the world wanted to lock us away

And how much a part of us wasn’t quite of that world 

And we did better united than divided 

And if I have to be honest

They sure did me a lot more good than the doctors did.