Day 4: Mental Health Unit, Providence Hospital, Anchorage by K. Beth

* Featured Image: “Little Devil” by Anita Driessen

I shouldn’t have complained so much yesterday. I’m not grateful enough, is my problem. All that bitching and moaning and I never even mentioned that we got to go outside. Yeah, outside. Into the sunlight. From here you can see the mountains, finally out from behind the clouds. They were so white it hurt my eyes to look. Cool, clean, sharp air against my face, in my lungs. There were six of us and one minder, and it was a little scary; all that open space, and then walking a little way along the road like real people. What if we decided to run? But she knew we wouldn’t. Somehow she knew. At least, I wouldn’t; I suddenly felt frightened, like the world was way too big and the cars were going way too fast by the sidewalk. I am not ready for the world yet.

She took us to a little playground just up the road, and there was a swing set. I sat on a swing, and Katy, my roommate, sat on the next one over. She grinned at me, said, “I can swing higher than you.” And suddenly we were going for it. I hadn’t done that in years. In a few seconds I was flying so high I could see the whole mountain range over the top bar of the swing set. It was intoxicating: the serotonin rush to my head, the freezing air bringing water to my eyes. The urge to let go slammed into me like a wall of wind: fly, Icarus, fly. For a few seconds my heart just stopped. I leaned back, looked up at the wide, china sky. My hat flew off and the cold stung my ears, tangled my hair, lifted the hospital smell away from my dirty scalp. But I didn’t let go. I was suddenly tired again, so tired. I just stopped swinging and waited for the momentum to ebb, letting me come back down to earth. The minder picked up my hat and handed it to me with a smile. It felt good to be looked after, like some oversized toddler needing extra care.

I was glad to get back to the fourth floor, glad when the doors closed behind us and locked out the world. I kept thinking, What if Jacob drives by? What if he sees me and tries to stop, tries to get me to talk to him? I will crumble away to nothing. Or else I will grab his head and smash his face and never stop hitting, hitting, hitting him.

Group isn’t too bad. I hated it the first day, but I always hate groups of new people. The head therapist kept harping on my drinking; that really bothered me. I’m not an alcoholic for godsakes. I’ve seen enough alcoholics over the years to know I’m not one of them.

But about Group. They’re alright, most of them. I’m going to start my Gratefulness List with the people in Group. This one kid, Angel, she’s an artist. Her diagnosis is pretty awful; she says she’s got Borderline Personality Disorder. That’s like the worst thing you can have, worse than Bipolar. I feel better being around her because suddenly I’m not the worst person in the room.

Anyway, her drawings are gorgeous: full of color, done from perspectives I wouldn’t have thought of. She draws all during Group, even while she’s talking. She’s drawn pictures of most of us by this point. Today she made me a picture of a wall with a crack in it and sunlight pouring through, and a little tiny me in one corner with a fist raised, pounding the wall, making it break. In the drawing, worked through the bricks of the wall, were the words, “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.”

They brought in a new guy today. Clay. I don’t think he’s going to make it. I don’t even know what makes me say that, except I feel like I can hear those words howling out over the top of everything he said in Group today. He didn’t even say very much, but every single word was so painful, so wrenching, and over and underneath it all, all I heard was “I don’t think I’m going to make it.” He’s got PTSD. He was a soldier in Afghanistan. He’s young, in his mid-twenties maybe, and when I look at him all I see is this dark cave, like a bear’s den, but is that crazy? Have I ever even seen a bear’s den? But that’s what I see, this place where you wouldn’t ever want to go, a place that if you ever found yourself there, you’d better hope the bear is sleeping. He’s in here because his wife is afraid of him, afraid for herself and the kids. She called the cops and they brought him here. He hadn’t done anything except yell and throw things, but he told them to bring him here because he thought he was going to do something. Do what? Something bad. He said he couldn’t be around his family. They weren’t safe with him. The bear isn’t asleep at all.

I understand exactly how that feels. Not how it feels to be Clay—he says he wants to go back to Afghanistan, he wants to go back in time and be with his buddies in the desert, with bombs and bullets raining all around. I don’t know what it would be like to feel at home in that environment, to wish I could go back to a place like that. But I do know what it feels like to be dangerous, and I know what it’s like to be afraid that I’m going to hurt someone. I’ve been told for years that I have PTSD. And I never understood why because I’ve never been in a war zone, never been shot at, kidnapped, bombed, held a gun.

But I’ve been torn apart in other ways. Raped by my husband when we married far too young. I’ve watched my friends die, one by one, over and over, starting when I was twelve and then year after year until high school ended. And then there was the thing Grandpa did. How old was I? Five, six? I’ve never looked at that straight on. Just, “the thing Grandpa did.” But everyone in our family knows about it. Some even knew back then. I think even she knew—my grandmother. It makes me sick to write this. Because I know she knew. She was there.

Every time I think about this something stirs in me. Something dark, and violent, like the bear in the cave I sense in Clay. Only, in my cave, inside me, it’s not a bear. The little girl my grandfather pinned to the bed, the helpless creature he grabbed and broke, grew into something big, with scales and wings and a set of teeth that could grab hold of a person and never let go. It has been years since I thought of it, but I saw it.

No—not it. Him. I knew him well, but he never had a name.

I’ve never told anybody this. Years of therapy, and I’ve never told. Nameless. That was his name. My dragon, my imaginary friend, goat-eyed and snaggle-toothed, fierce and loyal. He was my secret. I was just a kid, but I knew better than to talk to him in front of other people. If Eve was banished from the Garden for consorting with the Snake, I’d have for sure burned in the Lake of Fire for consorting with a dragon. Pastor Lemon, the leader of our little backwoods Fundamentalist church, would have directed one of his terrifying hellfire-and-brimstone sermons at me for all the things Nameless did.

But I never tried to stop him, never once. He came to me grinning and sly on Sunday mornings and I took joy in his flagrant naughtiness. I shook with silent glee all the times he set that little church on fire, the many ways he dismembered Pastor Lemon, tore him limb from limb.

I wish I could set him on my grandfather now. But my grandfather’s dead. It wouldn’t do any good.

I wish Clay could see Nameless. I think then he’d know he wasn’t alone. That we aren’t alone. That all of us have a Nameless, somewhere deep inside, and if all of us are Nameless, then none of us are strangers. We belong in this world, same as anybody else.


K Beth hails from Kenai, Alaska. She started writing as soon as she could pick up a pencil and is currently writing a memoir about growing up in Alaska, and the lines between reality and religion, imagination and madness. In this chapter, she flashes forward to her adult self, incarcerated in the mental ward after turning herself in as a "danger to self and others." Her work has been featured in numerous other publications including Crosscurrents journal, the Desert Review, the Peninsula Clarion, and Elephant Journal. K Beth currently makes her home in Austin, Texas.

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