I can see the lights around me, I have watched the police car pull up to the curb and stop several hundred feet down the road. Frightened, I hunker down further into the brush beside the road, praying that it will hide me from the flashlights and search lights on the cars. My gray coat blends in with the foliage in the dark night. A stiff wind blows, driving itself deep through the down of my coat. Dried leaves crackle underneath me as I shift my weight, and I hold my breath, praying that no one has heard. I look far down the road to where the bridge crosses the creek, and I can see another car stopped down there, lights flashing. Oh god, I think, why didn’t I just DO it??! Why did I go and make that phone call? I wouldn’t have to be lying here in the bushes, freezing and scared. Why didn’t I just go to the bridge like I’d planned? I hadn’t, there was no point in wishing. So here I sit, terrified and exhausted, hiding from the police. Me, who had never been in trouble in my life, me, the A student, the musician, the one everyone leans on, the smart one. Me. Hiding in the bushes on a cold November night because something is very, very wrong with me. Something that I can’t talk about with anyone, even though my life depends on it. Earlier that very night, the cheerful, indestructible me had wanted to kill myself.
I can’t seem to stop shivering. I look up at the night sky, where clouds swirl angrily in the wind, splitting occasionally to allow a glimpse of the moon, or a few stars. My eyes wander to the ridge, where the trees stand out against the sky. A beam of light plays among the trees, scanning, searching. From far above, my mother’s voice drifts down, buffeted by the wind. She is screaming my name, her voice full of anger and tinged with something that sounds almost like fear. I listen to her call over and over again as the roots and twigs dig into my back where I lay on the ground. Briefly, the urge to answer washes over me, but I catch myself and shake my head. No, I can’t. She’ll kill me. I shudder at the thought of facing my mother’s anger. It would be safer to stand and flag down a police car, or so it feels. I curl up tighter and pull my hands inside my sleeves. I feel trapped, and so very alone.
Time drifts by, flowing and doubling back upon itself. I wish that I had my watch on, but it is sitting in my room, the battery dead. I try to estimate how much time may have passed, but can’t get a clear idea. It could have been forty minutes, it could have been three hours. I sit up slowly, carefully. The police car that had been stopped above me on the hill is now gone. I glance again down towards the creek. That one is gone as well. A wave of relief washes over me, coupled with something that I don’t recognize. Longing, perhaps? I frown. No, that isn’t right, I couldn’t want that. I push the thought out of my mind and continue to sit, watching.
I am so weary. I brush my hand across my eyes, which are dry, though grainy and sore. Reaching up, I tug at my hair, which has tangled itself around a twig. The twig gives with a sudden snap. I look around, my eyes scanning the road. I have not seen a car, police or civilian, for some time. A great sigh bubbles up and out, leaving me so exhausted that I want to be home in my own bed. I blink. I know what I have to do, I’ve known for a while now. Slowly I stand and stretch, forcing my cold, stiff muscles to work. I stumble back up to the roadside and climb over the guardrail, then begin trudging up the hill. I am going home. There isn’t anything else left to do.
I open the door quietly and slip inside. I walk to the kitchen, and fill the teakettle with water, then put it on to boil. Going to the pantry, I grab a mug and a container of cappuccino mix, then sit down at the table and measure out a generous amount into the mug. Just then Mom walks in.
I have never her seen her so angry or so panicked before. “What are you DOING???!!!!!” she hisses.
I look up at her and shrug my shoulders. “It’s cold out there,” I say, thinking she’s referring to the coffee. She looks at me like I’m from another planet, and begins to demand answers. I don’t hear what she is saying, I am in a fog. I mumble a few things at her, not knowing what I’m talking about, then get up and pour my hot water. Finally she turns and goes to the phone. She calls the police and tells them that I’ve come home. I sink into my chair and sip my coffee, waiting.
After a few minutes I glance out the kitchen window and see the police car pull into the driveway. I am no longer frightened, simply resigned, and basically numb. Mom goes and lets the officer in.
The first thing I notice is how very tall he is. He looks out of place standing in our kitchen, like he’s the wrong scale. He tells my mom to take my little sister out of the room, and then crosses to the table and sits down. He begins asking me questions, and I respond as best as I can, feeling like I’m watching from a great distance rather than sitting right there. It all feels unreal. After a while he sighs and says “I can see that there is more going on here than you‘re saying,” and then tells me that he has to take me to the hospital for evaluation. I’m not surprised, I’d watched enough TV in my life to have some idea that this would come next. Strangely, a flicker of fear begins anew in my gut. I shouldn’t be frightened, I think. Realistically, I know that the hospital is not a place where harm will come to me, but fear still makes my stomach clench. I hate doctors, I have since I was little. I take my tongue between my teeth and bite down, hard, letting the pain push the fear away. I must act normal. I must not show that I’m afraid!! I make my face carefully blank, allowing my mind to recede into the fog as the officer talks to my mother. Just then my father walks into the kitchen, briefcase in hand, confusion and concern plain on his face as he glances at the uniformed man standing in our midst. He is just back from work. For a moment, a wave of pity washes over me. He shouldn’t have had to come home to this... A twinge of guilt and sorrow hits me, but I push it away and retreat back into the protective cloudiness inside my mind. From a distance, I watch the officer bring my father up to speed on what has been happening and what he is going to do. Dad doesn’t ask many questions, he is calm and attentive. After a moment the officer turns to me and tells me to grab a coat and empty my pockets here rather than taking anything with me, as it will most likely be taken away at the hospital anyway. I nod and walk into the living room.
Out of sight of everyone, the urge to run hits me, and I briefly entertain an image of me slipping through a window and taking off...I give my head a violent shake. No. Act normal. Just act normal, or you’ll make it all so much worse for yourself. I sigh and stick my hands into my pockets, pulling out the myriad of small items that I had collected and placing them on top of the bamboo bookshelf. Once I’m sure that everything is gone, I take a deep breath, steel myself, and force my feet to carry me back into the kitchen, one step at a time, fighting down the panic that threatens to rise. They are discussing which hospital to take me to, Buffalo General or ECMC. I walk past the officer into the hall and get my coat out of the closet, then slip it on. I return to stand in the doorway of the kitchen. Finally they decide on Buffalo General, and the officer walks past me and beckons me to follow. Silently, I follow him out the door, into the darkness. He opens the back door of the squad car and I get in, putting my seatbelt on as he closes the door behind me. He gets in the front and starts the ignition. We pull out of the driveway as my heart pounds heavily in my chest.
As I sit silently in the back of the car, my mind races as fast as the car does. He is speeding, I note with distraction. I feel more and more afraid. Finally, unable to stand it anymore, I force myself to strike up a conversation. I ask the officer his name. He doesn’t hear me at first; I’m speaking so quietly that I have to repeat the question several times before he understands what I’m saying. When he does understand me, he responds, and then the “conversation” lapses into silence once more. After several uncomfortable minutes, I notice the computer terminal in the front of the car, and seeing it as a safe topic, I ask him “How many cars have computers in them?” He tells me that about half do, and we begin to chat about computers in general. I even joke with him about how mine ate a disk the other night. Not just the files, but the entire disk. He laughs. I glance out the window, and a garish billboard catches my eye. It is a topless blonde woman, her breasts blanked out at the nipple by a black “censored” bar, advertising a strip club named Private Eyes. I stare openly at it, disgusted, watching it grow in the window, and then zip by. We are nearing the city now, and panic rises inside me once again. After a few moments, we arrive at the hospital, and he lets me out of the car and walks me inside.
The nurse looks at me hard, and I can see annoyance in her eyes. She takes my temperature, pulse, and blood pressure, and signs me in. The officer gets ready to leave, and reaches out a hand. Shaking my hand with a firm grip, he looks me in the eyes. “Good luck,” he says, and I can sense that he is sincere. I feel a sudden urge to hug him. I just want someone to tell me that it will be okay. I ignore the urge and sit down again. In a few minutes the nurse leads me to the psychiatric unit, located through several electronically-locked doors. It is very foreboding. I am taken to a small room in a hall of four that looks out on the main desk, and told to sit down. I do. Perhaps fifteen minutes later, a tired-looking man walks in and speaks to me gently, checks my pockets, then tells me a counselor will talk to me in a bit. Several hours crawl by, and I change position in the room several times, then move out into the hallway that contains a few chairs and some magazines, and is overlooked by two cameras, one at either end. I pick up a science magazine and begin to read it. I run across a very interesting article about embryonic stem cell research, and before long I am lost in thought about the theory and the moral issues involved. The counselor finally comes in, and takes me back into the small room, where she has me sit down. She asks me a bunch of questions, and I answer to the best of my ability, downplaying the pain and fear, telling her that it was “stupid of me, and I realize that now,” and that I no longer want to hurt myself. The truth is, I’m so tired and frightened that I simply want to go home and go to sleep. It is now after one in the morning, and I have school the next day. The feelings aren’t gone, but I only want to curl up and let my mind float away. Finally, I manage to convince her that I am not going to harm myself, and that it was just a stupid, impulsive teenage thing. I make it out like I was simply pretending to be suicidal for attention, even though nothing could be farther from the truth, and she believes me. She talks a bit more to me, and then goes out and calls my dad. I wait alone in the small room until he arrives and picks me up, and I follow him from the building with great relief. It is only later that the sadness sets in, for I have lost a chance to get the help I need.
I taste of the vine and the fruit is sweet
Yet, behold, there is nothingness before me.
Whence has it come and gone,
I see but I do not understand.
It is gone and yet I remain,
Alone and untouched in a world of nothing.
How do I find it again?
What spirit compass shall guide me
When the direction of the heart fails?
Whose hand shall I grasp for support
When all who should be are no longer?
If you are out there,
Blank air and blackness.
Then I shall no longer search.