Someday, I Wanna Wear a Starry Crown.
By. Jasmine Ledesma
*Trigger warning: May be sensitive content for those struggling with mental health issues .
I am lying on a gurney in the back of an ambulance on the way to an upstate psychiatric hospital. It stinks like the middle school nurse’s office I walked into once, bleeding across my arms. Like gauze and thermometers. My body has been strapped down because I’m a danger to myself, at least according to the doctors in the emergency room. I am propped up like an animal learning how to act human. Through the back door windows, I can see the sky. Blue as ash. The cars lining the FDR are orange and red and beautiful. The East River screams. We weave in and out of traffic. The paramedic has black curly hair and white clothing. She could be anybody. She refuses to play Beyonce. Lana Del Rey comes on instead, her sultry voice guiding us to Westchester. A woman throws her drink out of her car window at high speed. The buildings along the river look like knives. Clouds pucker like a chorus of crying children. I watch it all with my eyes.
Two weeks before this, I began to get a familiar, hollow feeling in my stomach. Like a candle was left on inside me. Like I was a fire. I told anyone who would listen that my DNA was being rewritten at that very moment. I skipped classes and kissed strange mouths with as much love as I could muster. I was a goddess, suddenly. Beautiful and shedding everywhere. Nobody could get away from me. I didn’t sleep for more than an hour at a time. I hid from paparazzi that I was sure were there. How could they not be? When I began taking random pills, my friend brought me to the emergency room.
We finally stop. I hear the gravel beneath the tires as the lights inside turn off. The paramedic opens the door and gets me off the ambulance and onto the ground. The hospital campus is bricked and decorated by small dead shrubs. There is a buzz as we are let into the evaluation center. The paramedic wheels me down a hallway obviously meant to impress, plush and presidential looking. All the rooms are empty as skulls.
The paramedic smiles at me with her teeth as we go through another pair of doors into another hallway. This hallway is orange and lined with ugly plastic chairs. Rooms buzz with doctors. Several girls wearing white gowns and parents numbly sitting alongside them. They all turn to look at me. I am so powerful. I command spaces. I’m that bitch on the gurney. I could have bit somebody’s face off. Could bite yours. The paramedic starts to undo the straps around me. I hurry to get out of them as if they burn.
“Shh, calm down,” the paramedic says, gently helping me off the gurney.
My psych ward socks are showing. I take a seat on one of the ugly chairs and watch the paramedic leave. I watch the other girls and bite my nails. There is a girl pacing up and down the hall with a big bruise around her eye. A black obscure band t-shirt hangs off her frame. Her hair is short and spiky, as if cut in a rush. She smiles at me and I look at the clock. I haven’t eaten all day, haven’t slept in three. But I am a fluorescent goddess, a charming man. Cool as a syringe. I am the angel on top of the tree. I can give you anything you want.
A mental health worker comes towards me with hair red as Ambien, “My name is Angela. We’re gonna go upstairs to the unit now, okay?” she says, motioning towards my bag.
I stand up and she leads me to the elevator at the end of the hallway. She pushes the third floor button with her finger and within moments, the doors open to a dimly lit hallway. It smells like hand sanitizer and burnt hair. We walk past a string of chairs to a dark hallway with shadows in the corners. Doors are mostly closed.
The first things I see as we enter the unit are huge, barred windows. I want the light in my mouth. I want to get fed. I trail behind the nurse, eyeing everything. There are a lot more people on this unit. A girl sitting between her parents talks about hyper-sexuality. Another girl walks to the edge of her room and back in like a fish poking its slimy head from the water. The floor shines with polish. Everything is so bright. Everything is so artificial and loud and I watch a girl slam the payphone down and walk away. In the cafeteria, group therapy is happening. I want to linger, to eat the gossip like an alleycat. There is a schedule right outside the cafeteria, written on a board in green marker. Art group is happening soon.
My room is at the end of the hallway — a three bed room with giant windows overlooking the grounds of the hospital. Lawns of silk grass untouched. Then, there is a bathroom without a proper door but an ugly foam one instead. My roommate wears pink and looks familiar. Like I might have seen her in the grocery store once. She doesn’t speak to me, just walks in and out of the room. I imagine her socks leaving skid marks. I sit in the hallway and cross and uncross my legs. My temporary tattoos have vanished. I hear Madonna playing and laugh. A nurse brings me to the med window when I ask her to turn the song down. I take my first Ativan.
Dinner is not eaten and brown. I chain-drink bad coffee instead. Everybody else eats quietly, nibbling on meat slush and cookies. I throw my food away and pop into the living room. It is a wooden room with three tables, a piano and a television. Evening light pools across the floor like a murder. Outside, a tree shakes and waves a green goodbye.
I skip wrap-up group and go to my bathroom. Every fifteen minutes, a nurse checks on everybody in the room to make sure we are safe from ourselves. I forget about this. The bathroom has a sink with a button and blue light bulbs. The mirror is dirty with fingertip tattoos.
I look at myself and my paper clothes. Officially too much to handle. They had to hand me over to the white coats! Ha! I pretend to laugh and stretch my pink mouth with my fingers like an early morning cartoon. My teeth are bruised from a decade of illness, yellowed from coffee and cigarettes. I love them because they tell the truth. There is a bloodhound in my head, foaming at the mouth. I want to go home, I decide to my mirror self. Can’t stop my head. Can’t stay good. They’re trying to take my talent. I am talented. I look around for something to open the window with. A bar of soap and a toothbrush won’t do so I try to open the window with my hands until they hurt. I will jump from the third floor, from the roof or anything. I am lucid as a-
“Checks,” a pause, “Jasmine?”
A nurse walks towards the bathroom. She opens the flimsy door and I am caught white-handed. The nurse has eyes that look like marbles in a bowl of water. She holds my hand and walks me to the nurses station. Explains the situation to another nurse, who looks at me.
“Have you taken your night meds, Jasmine?” the nurse asks.
“You’re lying about me. I’m not suicidal”
The woman looks white, “We’re a few floors up. I saw you trying to open the window with the intention of jumping out”
I make an animal noise and try to get away from her. She lets go of my hand.
“Do not move” she thinks she’s scary. I laugh loudly. A girl looks at me. I’m a celebrity. I better get used to it. I wipe my nose like it’s bleeding.
That night, I am put on status which means somebody has to watch me every second of the day. They feed me Lithium and Seroquel until I drool. I fall asleep with a woman sitting at the edge of my bed.
I wake up from a dream like veins beneath skin. Like a knife carving into thin slices of meat. I wake up a butcher of sorts, hardly alert for vitals.
“Is that good?” I ask the nurse whose name is Lori. She is everybody’s favorite, blonde as a peach. I don’t see the appeal. She glances at the machine’s screen again and nods, her mouth pulled down.
“It’s normal” she says, moving past Camille, the woman on status with me. I sink back down into my bed, glancing out the window. It is raining today, the rain comes down like buckets are being poured. Like somebody is being careless. I hear my name being called and jump. Camille meets my eyes.
“What?” she asks, touching one hand with the other.
“I heard somebody say my name” I mumble, getting up to use the bathroom.
She follows me. My hair is washed from last night when another nurse watched me shower for twenty minutes. At least I have that. I stay in the mirror for a few moments. “What are you feeling, Jas?” Camille asks, meeting my eyes in the glass. I feel like I don’t exist. Like somebody has filled my body with fizz. Like the ghost of a teenager who never came home. Somebody who knows too much. I shrug.
“Bad” I say it like the truth is a bullet. “Agitated, maybe. My thoughts are racing” She nods.
“Wanna get breakfast?” she asks, her earrings dancing. I think about pulling them out. “What else am I supposed to do?”
It is dark as a secret in the hallway which bothers me. I make up a poem in my head as I sort through the plastic scrambled eggs and randomly placed pound cake. Above me is a painting of a dog laying outside of a battered house, boards across the windows and door. Dead grass and a bucket thrown about. I don’t know what is therapeutic about that.
Everybody is sleepy at goals group. Gentry, the group facilitator, annoys me. I imagine her going home at night to her friends, gossiping about us. Her curtain of blonde, clean hair goes back and forth as she asks us to go around and state our goal for the day. Gabby mutters her goal like a child in trouble.
“I want to draw something and not tear it up,” she says, the bags beneath her eyes like swings.
I play with a plastic cup, throwing it from hand to hand like a football. I am my own father. Marie begins her usual rant about how bipolar disorder was created by Pepsi. As ridiculous as it is, I have to leave. My goal is the ungoal. The never want. Camille follows me down the hall, crossing her arms.
“Irritability is a symptom of mania, Jas” she says, her eyes on the floor. “You just gotta push through it” I nod like I understand and go into the living room to sit down on the floor. Camille gets a chair for herself. We watch Teen Mom until I can feel my blood again.
That night, the moon is right outside my window. My silver dollar. My sliver of pearl. I want to dream of ex-best friends and dead dragonfly wings floating in the pool. I think of my aunt, instead. Savior of shelter dogs and one eyed cats. I stayed with her the night before I got here. Clad in a cheetah print fur coat and Hollywood red lipstick, she called me sweetie as and we smoked in the pond of her backyard. She told me how I need to get a boyfriend and all my problems will go away. I think I laughed. When I told her I took a handful of uncle Harry’s pills out of impulse a few minutes earlier, she almost laughed. Told me I’d be fine. I considered a nosebleed but felt like a saint. No, really. I know I left her house in the early morning, sleepless and covered in cat hair. But I was holy. And now who’s sick?
A couple of days later, it is Sunday and I am bleary. Thinking about easter candy again. Tender chocolate wrapped in pastel blue foil. Cookies with Jesus printed on them. Oh, to be so sweet. My teeth ache for the rot. The windows let gentle light in. I look down the hall. A woman with black boots comes towards me and stops. There is a pause as the air filters.
“You okay?” she asks. I look up at her.
The woman with black boots is my mother. I stand up instantly and look at her face for years. This is the woman that raised me. She gave birth to me. I was in there. She grounded me when I was thirteen and she’d do it again. We hug like magnets.
She has not brought me candy but soda which is better. My mouth sips the cola, washes my teeth down to my heart. We do not speak for a long time. Dead cells float all around us. I hold her hand.
“I really wasn’t expecting you”
My mother used to made me cry every day. I have diaries about her. Albums, too. Well, this is embarrassing. I had no idea she loved me so much. When I was sixteen, my symptoms began. The not sleeping. The racing thoughts. The loss of impulse control. The delusions of grandeur had me writing me speeches for awards I was sure I was going to win before high school was over. I was already famous, in fact. I kissed boys I had no intention of ever liking. My mouth tasted like a photo album. Yet, when I began breaking glasses and setting fires out of impulse, my mother insisted I was going through puberty and would grow out of it. It is a miracle she is here with me. From the hot yellow plains of Texas, she has come to visit her sick one. Her lithium dose. Her heart. My heart. Her belief is finally real. When the light dims, she gets up.
“I love you so much” After she leaves, I brush my hair.
The next day, we’re all together. Lorde’s teenage siren rings throughout the living room. As a teenage pimple, she was the awkward forever summer goddess I prayed to. Diary entries with blood on them. Posters of her ocean hair. Elena is dancing in her chair. She likes this song, too. Anything to get her out of here. Us, I mean. I’m getting out. The wood of the living room looks more like plastic every day. It seems the longer I stay, the more the ward changes. Gabby got off status years ago. Marie still only has one sweater. It is an orange afternoon.
Steve Harvey is the mascot of our ward. He makes us feel real. Every plush blue evening, after meds, we gather in the living room and watch Family Feud. He is stupid and cynical but nobody ever changes it. We love our man. The trees outside whip around in rain. iPads glow in the dark. The clock could have stopped a decade ago. Our machinery is familiar. We’ve known each other better than most people in our lives. We bond over secrets.
It has been three weeks since I arrived on the unit, crazed and unrelatable. The day I leave, the ward is quiet. Breakfast is the same meal I had the first day I got here, pancakes rolled with turkey bacon. I tell everybody this but nobody cares. It doesn’t matter because they are staying here. I don’t care either. I gloat and glow, gather my bags and put on my shoes like a president. My dad comes and asks the woman leading me downstairs what he should do if I start to feel manic again. She preaches medication and therapy. But I am itching for sky. I don’t hear her. When we can finally leave, I dig for my phone. I’ve forgotten what it looks like. Then finally, the sun bleaches my skin. I want everything.
The first thing I do in the real world is go to the pharmacy. I get out of the car and stumble across the street. It has been so long since I have walked for longer than a minute. I am a baby again, it seems. I pick up my medication and my hands shake like paper in the wind. I want so much but decide on chocolate pretzels and go back into the sun.
My second night home, I get off at 42nd street to throw my confetti all across Times Square. Let’s celebrate freedom. I watch the lights drizzle on and off, red-green-purple. Animated bruises. They look as if they have been crushed in my palm. Like a child drew them with crayon. The smell of everything you could ever want. The un-wanting of it all. I finally finish my pack of cigarettes and focus on the warmth inside me. All that blood swimming and swimming. I’m a pool of gross and I want to touch it. Down the avenue, the sun starts to blush again.
Jasmine Ledesma is a twenty year old writer living in the gush of New York. Her poetry has been published in the Carson Review, Not Very Quiet, Typishly. She was chosen as poet of the week by Poetry Highway and recently interviewed by Cathexis Northwest Press.