Guest Writer: Erika Understood – A Survivor Story

Guest Writer: Erika Understood – A Survivor Story

I’m naked. Stark. Ass. Naked. And, I’m in the “quiet room,” although, they might as well call it, “time out for adults.” I’ve got not so much as a bracelet on when a petite blonde nurse circles me like she’s playing a casual game of ring-around-the-rosey. Her eyes feel full of judgement as they scan me up and down, and back up again. She surveys every inch of my winter-white skin, as she jots down notes on a clipboard that she takes extra care not to let me see.

I realize at that point that she’s documenting my scars. She checks my wrists and legs and ankles. She leave no patch of me unseen. When she feels accomplished, I’m searched for “psych ward” contraband. Think scissors I might have stuffed up my twat, which would have been brilliant had I not been half-dead when I arrived. She unlaces my shoes, in case I get the urge to finish what I started–in case I decide to hang myself from the shower rod. Although, that could never really happen. Here, we were constantly watched. As you lathered yourself up with generic hospital soap that smelled more like death than Irish Springs, someone was always outside the cheap plastic curtain. But, I didn’t know any of this yet.

What I did know was that I was ass naked, standing in a sterile white room, being inspected like cattle up for auction. “Fuck,” I think. “Why am I here?” Why aren’t I standing at some pearly gates, in front of a man I wasn’t even sure existed. Why wasn’t everything black? Why didn’t I feel the “nothing” I had hours earlier longed for? I still did–long for “it.” I longed for the darkness. For everything to stop. I longed for my mind to shut off, and no longer be the enemy. My mind: That bright red pen your high school English teacher would use to desecrate your essays. The voice of some higher authority screaming in red pen “Nothing you’re doing is right.”

But, it didn’t work. My mind didn’t stop. Nothing stopped. It may have paused for a few hours, like the finicky second hand of an old pocket watch that just needs a good tap of the glass to kick start again. In the ER, the doctors tapped hard on the face of my watch, kick starting time again…and I came to in this room. Naked. Miserable. Confused.

I say it’s an anticlimactic story, because I’m not sure how to tell it. I don’t remember much of how I got here. But, my mom’s eyes swell with tears when she tells me.

It was Halloween night, 2010. Trick-or-Treaters in cutesy costumes traipsed to our quiet, suburban front door. DING-DONNG. My mom would rush to answer. She’s wearing the same witch costume she does every year–her front tooth blacked out with wax that never really stayed. But, she sure tried. She loved Halloween, so she tried. She answered the door with a smile–a cheerleader and a little monkey stood with candy bags wide open–hoping, praying she wouldn’t toss in those awful orange and black pseudo candies grandmothers always seemed to dole out on the most magical night of the year.

Smiling face after smiling face appeared through the glass as she opened the door, unaware that in the upstairs bedroom, just over head, her middle child–me–was sound asleep. Unaware of the door bell, unaware of the anything. She was asleep, drifting quietly into the darkness she was so desperate for.
Hours earlier, I had definitively made up my mind–although, the thought had been lingering around in the depths of my wounded brain for years. For whatever reason, I had decided–tonight was THE night. And so I prepared. I stopped by the Walgreens drive-thru and refilled every prescription I could. I was cool, calm and collected when I decided this was “it”. While every woman my age was gluing on fake-eyelashes and pulling up their fishnets, I was slipping into my comfiest pair of pajamas and fluffing my pillow.

I remember thinking how easy this was going to be…how easy it was. Soon enough, it would all be over. All of the bullshit, all of the pain. I’d stare into the eyes of Johnny Depp as Edward ScissorHands until I drifted off into oblivion, forever…I popped the DVD out of its case and into the player, then I crawled into the bed I had slept in as a child, growing up in this home, in this room. I had come full circle, and had managed to get no where in between. It was my first night back in this home. I was officially homeless, a closet coke head with no money, and no plan. Well, except for this. THIS was the plan, and I would at least get IT right.

I remember the sound the pills made as they rattled together in their bottles. Dozens of them, waiting to be swallowed, waiting to take me to a perceived paradise–one I conjured up in my head as picture perfect. One where my mind and I could be friends again and eat lunch together in the cafeteria like junior high best buddies. It sounded too good to be true, but it wasn’t. That reality was right in front of me, in three orange bottles. They had my name on them. (literally).

Plunk, plunk, plunk. Three bottles worth of tiny, round tickets to paradise plopped into my hand. I grabbed the water off my nightstand, the water I poured minutes earlier in the kitchen of my parents’ home, knowing that it would be the last thing to wet my palate. It wasn’t poured to quench my thirst, but rather poured to quench the pain I felt at that moment. The pain I felt that year. The compounded bullshit of eating disorders and drug addiction, of mental illness and personal failure.

I made my way casually to the kitchen to grab the drink. I picked out my favorite plastic cup. (I don’t like glass. It feels weird in my hands, and I was done feeling weird.) As I hopped down the stairs, my eyes glazed-over like a zombie risen from the dead–ready to eat the brains of everyone not smart enough to prepare for the apocalypse. I smiled for my mother as she stood looking in the bathroom mirror, carefully perfecting that black front tooth of hers. She tilted her hat in the right direction, and combed the knots out of that stringy black wig. My dad was probably on the couch, watching the five o’clock news as usual–but, I didn’t notice. My attention wasn’t there, or anywhere. Instead, I walked like that maniacal zombie, going through the motions I had so carefully laid out in my head.

Water, pills, pajamas, pillow, movie, sleep. The end.

I remember not being afraid as I looked at the pile of pills I cupped in the palm of my hand. There were dozens–more than dozens. Three different kinds. Surely a deadly concoction. But, as per usual, I was wrong. Because I did wake up, and I was standing here. Fucking naked. Fucking scared. Pissed as fucking shit.

I should have realized that my mother would worry when the doorbell continued to ring and I was nowhere to be found. Halloween was, like hers, my favorite holiday. I practically lived at the front door–the pumpkin basket full of candy glued to my hand. This night, I didn’t pass out a single Hershey bar. I was busy planning my death, my demise, my end. She poked her head through my bedroom door, and saw me sleeping quietly in bed. Johnny Depp pruning some neighborhood bushes on the screen. The movie had barely began by the time I fell asleep. I’m sure I looked peaceful–no longer tired; overwhelmed.

I had planned every step–to a T. After I emptied them, I made sure to carefully tuck the bottles underneath the skirt of my bed–the place you hid all things that you don’t want to be found. High school diaries, your dirty porn stash. There’s nothing as dead of a giveaway as a sleeping, depressed drug addict with three empty pill bottles next to her bed. Mom said she called my name, again and again. Come see the trick-or-treaters, she begged. I didn’t wake. That’s when she got her first clue. Peeking out from underneath the bed she saw the tail end of a bottle. She picked it up, and it was empty. She shook me, and shook me, and shook me until I began to moan. Through slurred words, I told her to go away. Just leave, I thought. I was half there, and halfway to paradise…and I only wanted to be in one of those places.

Soon, red and blue lights lit my street. It looked more like a Fourth of July party than a Halloween scene. With an ambulance parked in the driveway, and a squad car to its right, first responders made their way into the house, I fiercely gave my mom the bird. I stuck that middle finger up harder than I’d ever done before, and flat-out refused to leave.
In our cramped front hall, paramedics wrestled me onto a stretcher and I was restrained–restrained and fucking livid. Instead of going out with grace, I began cursing loudly as parents with dolled-up toddlers continued on past me to our decorated front door. I’m sure I looked like a spectacle. Something staged for the neighbor’s entertainment. But, it wasn’t funny. Not to my mom. “What the fuck,” she says to this day. She couldn’t believe the bell was still ringing. Couldn’t believe anyone could fathom the idea of candy at a time like this. The faces she once embraced at the front door were now appalling…and so was mine.

And–That’s all I remember. Until I came to–here. In this room. A fucking cow being inspected. What just happened? I had failed again.

Somehow, on my way to paradise, I had tripped and tumbled down the rabbit hole. And here she was, walking circles around me–this nurse; this white rabbit. I was Alice, and with that glass of water and handful of pills, I had hopped through the looking glass, and I’d spend the next four years trying to claw my way back out. I’m still trying.

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