Am I dead?
I don’t think so.
I hear voices, but I cannot quite make sense of them. They seem far away.
I hear my heart in the beeping of a machine. Too fast. Then too slow. Faltering. Panic in the voices around me. I am sliding in and out of consciousness. My senses are beginning to dull. I can no longer feel the cot beneath me or the voices around me. I am a feather drifting away. Gravity has released me and now I am shooting across the solar system at a thousand kilometers per hour. All around me is blackness. I revel in the alluring emptiness.
But gravity has decided to take a hold of me again, dragging me back down to Earth. I try to resist but now I can feel the cot beneath me and the soft cotton of the blanket draped over me. I try to move but there is a pain in my arm. Something sharp moving under my skin. I force my eyes open. Everything is hazy and it takes me a few seconds before my vision clears. The culprit preventing me from moving is an IV needle, taped onto my elbow crease and hooked onto an infusion pump, which is dripping a clear liquid into me. I feel the chill of the liquid that is being dispensed into my veins.
As a matter a fact, I am hooked to several machines. I suppose I must be in a hospital room. The walls are a faded yellow. In the right hand corner there is a paper towel dispenser above a dark blue counter with a sink. The color matches the leather chair next to my bed. The one my mother is sitting in. My mother. She looks worn, like she has aged several years since I last saw her. She is speaking to a doctor. A tiny woman with dark hair, skin, and eyes. Their voices are low.
I am laying down, but the cot is tilted at an angle, allowing me to inspect my body. I am clad in a powder blue hospital gown and I can see little white stickers, the size of quarters, dotting my arms and legs. On my finger is a white clip, the kind they use at a doctor’s office to determine your pulse.
Noticing my movements, the doctor turns to face me.
There are two of her and both of them seem to be blurred along the edges. My eyes are camera lenses, focusing and unfocusing. Clear and blurry. I have so many questions I want to ask. Where am I? What’s going on? What are all of these machines that I am attached to? Why am I still here? What went wrong? But I am unable to form coherent sentences, and my words tumble out nonsensically. She says something. I can hear the words but I cannot register their meaning. “Is that the earth quivering beneath me?” I wonder idly. Or is it my body that’s trembling? I’m so tired. I am heavy. I am sinking. My eyes close of their own accord.
When I open them again, I realize I must have drifted off.
The doctor is gone.
My mother is dozing.
A nurse is attaching wires to the little white stickers and attaching said wires to a machine. It takes me a moment to find my voice.
“What’s going on?”
I sound like a heavy smoker.
She explains to me that the little white stickers are electrodes and they’re measuring my heart’s electrical activity. Normally, once the procedure, an EKG, is done, the electrodes are removed. But I was a special case. Apparently I had this same procedure a few weeks ago (I could not recall this but then again, I couldn’t remember my own name so I suppose that’s not too surprising) and the results were normal. But now they are dangerously irregular. They are worried my overdose had permanently damaged my heart. They want to monitor me. The clip on my finger is so they can keep track of my erratic heart rate. I will be transferred soon.
In a different city.
I have to strain my brain just so I can comprehend her words. I miss details, but I am able to grasp the gist, which is an improvement.
I try to sit up, but again there is a sharp pull in my arm. The nurse adjusts the IV and presses a button on my cot. I feel the back end of it rising, gently nudging me into a sitting position. “Why do I need an IV?” “We are trying to wash all of that medication out of your system.” “Isn’t that what pumping someone’s stomach is for?” “We weren’t able to. By the time you arrived, the drugs in your system had been absorbed into your bloodstream. We weren’t able to use activated charcoal either.”
And then it really hit me. I had failed. I was still here. I am crying. I don’t usually cry in front of people, and would never, ever let myself cry in front of strangers. But I am crying, sobbing actually. Tears rake my body.
I am terrible at living and I am terrible at dying. I am choking on them. Why can’t I do anything right? I can’t breathe. I can’t believe that is happening. Nothing feels real. This is someone else’s nightmare.
I am shaking. I did so much research. I prepared. What went wrong? I can’t be here anymore, I need to get out. My body shakes like a leaf. It is a separate entity from me. I stare down at it, repulsed. I wonder what it’s feeling. What’s making it convulse? What’s making it gasp for air? What’s making it claw at it’s own skin as if it is trying to escape itself. I just want to be nothing.
I want to be a part of nature. To disappear into the infinite expanse of the universe. To be recycled matter. To be nothing and to be everything. No more racing thoughts. No more flashbacks. No more panic attacks where my heart feels like it is trying to burst through my rib cage. Where I am a fish out of water, gasping for the oxygen that my gills cannot process. No more long periods of numbness with intermittent intervals of depression so severe that I cannot get out of bed. No more long sleepless nights, where the little sleep I do get is infested with nightmares. No more waking up soaked with sweat and silently screaming. I explain this all to the psychologist, who comes into my room hours after having been injected with a sedative medication.
He was a small, frail, and balding old man with thick glasses that were almost bigger than his face.“What do you have nightmares about?” “My father.” “Do you want to elaborate?” “No.” “Was there a history of abuse?” “Yes.” “Has it been reported?” “Yes.” I’ve driven him into a dead end so he changes tactics.
“Besides flashbacks and nightmares, how else does your PTSD affect you?” Is that not enough? “The majority of the time, I am watching myself go about my day to day life. It’s like watching a movie. The life belongs to somebody else. Therapists tell me it’s a defense mechanism, that it’s just my brain is trying to protect me. That way when he would hurt me I wouldn’t be there to feel it. But I feel out of control and powerless. I am a bystander in my own life.” His pen is scratching away at the paper it writes on.
“How does this make you feel?” “ Hopeless. Helpless.”
“Where do you see yourself in the future? What do you expect from yourself?” What future? “I will never be able to go to college, or hold a career, or have a family. I will never amount to anything. I have no purpose.” “Do you do poorly in school?” “No.” “Then why do you believe you won’t be able to get into college? “I never said I wouldn’t be able to get in. I said I won’t be able to go. I’ll get in. I’ll manage a couple months before it is too much for me. And than I’ll have to drop out. Same goes for a career. I’m useless anyway. And if anyone’s crazy enough to marry me, it won’t be long until they realize what a monster I am.” “So you don’t have many friends than?” “No. I have friends” “I’m guessing they don’t think you’re a monster?” “Most of them don’t know me. If they got to know me, they’d hate me.” “Why?” “Because I’m a terrible human being.” He closes his manila folder.
“Is that why you tried to end your life?” “Part of it.” “How do you think your death would affect those around you?” “I mean people would be sad. But they’d be better off.”
“What about you parents? Don’t you think you would break their hearts?” “They’d benefit. Mom’s always complaining about me being a burden. And according to my dad I’m a waste of space. And money. And time. And resources. And everyone would be better off if I was dead.” “Do you like your father?” “No.” Then why do you take so much stock in what he says?” “I mean it’s all true. My brother is like the sweetest guy in the world and he’s super honest, and he says I’m stupid and sadistic and mean and egotistical and well a lot of other things. And my dad’s a horrible person, but my mom is actually a very good person and even she’s always mentioning how expensive I am and how much space I take up.”
“All children are expensive.” “But I’m particularly expensive. I have a lot of health issues. There are so many different doctors I need to see plus all of the different procedures I need to have plus the different medications I need to take. It all adds up.” I wait for the psychologist to fire out another question, but he was silent. He took off his large glasses, wiped them clean, and placed them carefully back onto his crooked nose.
After an eternity of silence he spoke again. “I’m not supposed to share personal stories. I’m not supposed to do anything besides assess whether or not you are eligible to be hospitalized…” “Am I?” I interrupted. He ignored me. “But my sister’s son was a bit like you, very anxious. Very depressed. Unlike you, he self-medicated. When he was twenty-two he died of a heroin overdose. That was twenty years ago. It still eats her up. She blames herself. She thinks about all of the ways she could have prevented it. She wonders why her love wasn’t enough.” There were tears in his eyes now. I had to look away, ashamed. “I understand you believe you chose the right course of action. But believe me, it would have destroyed your mother. There is no benefit from losing a child.” Silence. “Good luck.” The lump in my throat was too big to allow me to speak. I just watched him walk out the door. I heard him saying something to my mother. After a few moments she walked back into the room. Her eyes were red and puffy, her face seemed gaunt. And suddenly I missed her. She was right in front of me, but I missed her so badly it ached. I reached out for her and she took my hand.
Elli Ratner is a high school senior whose academic interests include developmental, criminal, and abnormal psychology; environmental policy and sustainability; macro and cellular biology; and peace studies. In her free time she enjoys reading, writing, yoga, running, making jewelry, and interior design.