Flashback. I’m twenty-one. I’m in the hospital. I’ve swallowed half a bottle of acetaminophen. My brother is there. He says, “That must’ve been a hell of a headache,” and we both laugh. I love that sound. In the middle of laughing, I vomit all over the place. It’s pitch black. The nurse had given me a cup of liquid charcoal to neutralize the pills. It’s blasting from my nostrils; my body is ejecting a nightmare. My brother yells for help. I try to tell him I’m okay, but I vomit some more. I think the charcoal is working though. My liver has stopped twisting into my ribs.
I go to a “mental institution,” one of those padded lock-ups with the words “Life” or “Care” or “Point” in the title. I’ve been discharged from the hospital. I lost thirteen pounds in three days. I have to be Baker Act’ed (the nurses keep saying it like that, “You’ve been Baker Act’ed”).
My bunkmate thinks roaches are crawling into his pores. The patients roll eyes at him. We go to a group meeting and the counselor asks, “What’s your goal today?” We get these giant rubber pens with round paper. One of the guys pulls the fire alarm and yells, “I don’t care, I’ll suck it for crack, this is a free country!” Two nurses sedate him. He’s dragged across the floor, sneakers scraping the linoleum, his shrieks drowned out by the alarm.
The counselor asks again, “What’s your goal today?” I write down, “To get out.”
Later that night, my bunkmate wakes me up. He’s spinning his mattress over his head, saying, “Roaches in my bed, my veins, come on, it’s true, it’s really true!” “Hey,” I say. “I know. Let’s look for them, you know? If we don’t find any, we can sleep, how’s that? Let’s look for them together.” He likes this plan so we get on our hands and knees and look for roaches. After thirty seconds he plops onto his mattress and falls asleep.
I try to pray for him. I can’t imagine how hard it must be for him, to think roaches are really in his veins. Never mind that it wasn’t true. It was true for him. “I’m sorry,” I say. “I’m sorry it hurts so bad. At least you can sleep tonight. God, be here somehow.”