Friends Hospital was not the closest place to go, but... I was talking to my brother on the phone, and he was saying, "I called the hotline and asked them, if it was your kid, where would you send them? They said a place called Friends..."
As he spoke, my call waiting went off. It was Elaine, the mother of one of my clients... a woman who had told me she was recently interviewing for a position at Friends Hospital.
"Okay, thanks. I gotta go, call you back- call waiting," I switched lines, "Elaine?"
"Hey Echo. I had a missed call from you-"
"Yeah, Elaine... are you working at Friends?"
"Yeah, I'm actually starting today."
I interrupted her, "Can I come there?"
"Sure... Are you okay?" She paused, "Echo... are you suicidal?"
She put me on hold briefly, then returned with instructions. I agreed to call a taxi. She told me to bring clothes. I asked if I could bring my guitar. "Probably not, for now. Maybe someone can bring it to you later."
I called Victor during the taxi ride. "So, I don't know how long I will be there... They are going to ask me for an emergency contact. If you don't want to be that person for me anymore- If you want out, you should probably let me know now... So, I can work on processing that information while I'm there, getting help."
"No, it's okay."
"Will you feed Patsy?"
"I love you, Victor."
"I love you too. I'm proud of you, Echo. Be good."
I did not know it then, but that would be the last I heard his voice for another two months.
A security guard greeted me at the door, asking me to sit on the window sill until he had discharged another patient. I watched the middle-aged man empty a large plastic bag into his pockets. The doors opened, and two paramedics rolled in a stretcher, carrying a blonde girl with a baby-face. An aide peered out from the waiting room door, "She's a direct admit," she informed the security guard.
Part of me felt a twinge of jealousy for the baby-faced girl bypassing the waiting room. Part of me said, She must have really tried something. She must be coming from the real hospital. Aren't you glad you're not her!
Before they let me into the waiting room, I had to check all of my belongings. I was told I was not supposed to wear the large hoodie sweatshirt that Victor had given me, but I insisted upon keeping it, as I knew the waiting area would be cold. The security guard gave up the debate about hospital policies with me quickly. He cut the strings out of the hoodie and let me keep it.
I was grateful. The waiting room was freezing. There were two other women, several men, and one aide, sitting at a desk. Periodically the aide would come around to take temperatures and blood pressures. I chose to sit near an attractive young girl with a big bosom, bearing her children's names tattooed across her arms. Next to her, I was invisible. She looked me over with her large eyes, framed by thick black eyeliner. "When did you get here?"
"I don't know. Maybe thirty, forty-five minutes ago."
"I'm here, aren't I?" I scoffed, adding, "I've never been in a place like this."
"Oh, it's good here. I just need to get a week... a break." The young lady explained to me that she had two small children at home, staying with her mother, a boyfriend who was in and out of the picture, and she needed the respite to "get clean" before she started a new job. This was her third time inpatient... or was it forth? She lost track. They would not always admit her.
"What is wrong with that guy over there?" She pointed with her eyes, "He keeps staring and licking his lips at me."
Look at your cleavage. I can barely avoid looking at it, and I'm not even attracted to women... Don't judge. She probably doesn't even know how attractive she is...
I looked over to see a tall Hispanic man with lazily half open, light-colored eyes and eyebrows with multiple thin vertical lines shaved into them. He was anxiously cycling; fidgeting in his chair, making laps around the room, then sitting again.
"Yeah, he's not right." I recommended we move behind a pillar, but the big bosomed girl was not interested in escaping his attention. Instead, she was making a sport of watching him stare and complaining. Eventually another man sat on the other side of her and took her attention.
I read a book I had brought with me for a while. The sound of gunshots on the news disrupted my peace of mind. There was a dangerous tornado happening in Oklahoma. I pulled the hoodie over my head, curled my body into a ball and willed myself into a shallow sleep.
"Echo. Echo," a strange voice was waking me. I opened my eyes to see a nurse. "Your sister is on the phone."
"I don't have a sister," I mumbled.
"Well, there's someone on the phone asking for you."
I wandered to the pay phone hanging on the wall, its chord, less than a foot long. "Hello?"
"Echo! You got there?" It was my eldest brother.
"I'm here. I'm in the waiting room..."
I was growing tired of this question already. "I'm waiting. Victor's taking care of Patsy. I don't know how long I'm going to be here. It's cold."
The nurse interrupted me, "I just need to take your picture for admission."
"Hold on, they have to take my picture." I put the phone away from my face for the picture. "Hello? I'm going to try to sleep more. I'll talk to you later."
When I returned to my chair, I realized there were several more restless souls fidgeting in the waiting room now, mostly men, including the eyebrow man. My second attempt to sleep was impeded by an aide, telling me that he needed to take my sweatshirt.
"I've had it this entire time... It's cold."
"I'll give you blankets."
He asked me to step aside. I braced myself for a debate, but then he surprised me, "Look, I have to take the sweatshirt. I don't know how you got it in here, but somebody could loose their job. I will give you blankets and let you sit over here, in this other room, by yourself, and pick the channel on this other TV."
I had no argument. Instead I curled up alone, away from the other crazy people, watching a "Sandford and Son" rerun. A nurse did an initial medical intake. An alcoholic joined me in the private room for a while; telling me her story, telling me I would be okay- how pretty I was. She just knew it; I would be okay. She forced a hug on me.
A psychiatrist and the student shadowing her took me into an interview room for another intake. Dr. L was from Long Island. I could tell from her accent. Her flat-ironed blonde hair hung past her shoulders. She looked more her age with her reading glasses on. "Did you bring this book with you?"
"Yes... figured I'd be sitting in a waiting room most of the day."
"What is it?"
"The Intellectual Devotional (http://www.amazon.com/The-Intellectual-Devotional-Education-Confidently/dp/1594865132)," I showed flipped through the pages to show her, "Each page is a different item, like a sort of mini-encyclopedia about art, music, philosophy..."
"That's a really interesting book. Let me write it down..."
"Yeah, it keeps me from getting bored."
"So, what brings you here?"
Having already been through a psychological intake before, I knew better than to get boggled down by the details that I would have to repeat several times- to other doctors, nurses, and aides... "I kicked in my boyfriend's door and had a suicidal episode."
"Did you have a fight? Did you break up?"
"No, I just- He said he needed a night alone... the night after I told him I had pre-cancer... and I have been depressed for months, but I hadn't realized it... and I took a morning after pill a few months ago, and my hormones are out of whack. I had to take it before- it happened then too... I kicked in another door then. De-ja-vu."
"How long have you been depressed?"
"On and off since puberty."
"How long have you been having suicidal thoughts?"
"Have you ever been medicated?"
"Never... I studied psychology... I went out of my way to never become labelled, never be on pills," I admitted. Strange to hear it aloud. I thought about the recent mass shootings, of politicians fighting over how to better track the psychologically disordered. This is it. No turning back now. They caught you. Now you'll be on file. Your permanent record.
"Have you ever thought of harming anyone other than yourself?"
"Never. I don't even like to kill bugs. Just myself."
"Do you cut or self-mutilate?"
"Never. I don't like pain and suffering. I am suicidal because I want to escape pain. Oblivion sounds comforting."
"So, you're here. Are you willing to take medication?"
"Well, I would rather not-"
"But if you had an infection, you would take medication."
"I have heard this argument before... I'm not infected," I stopped myself. Every bone in my body wanted to argue for the sake of not validating her rationale... But I did not have the will or strength. "I'm here. I want to get better. If medication is the fastest way to do that, I will consider it."
Before I came to the hospital I had admitted this to myself.
I was on the phone with Eugene... He is often so depressed that he does not return phone calls or text messages for weeks or months. By some miracle, he called me before I went the hospital, "Oh, Zhenechka- I would never take pills. Booze and God's plant is good enough for me..."
"Eugene, I stopped drinking and smoking. I will do whatever it takes to get better... If it helps me get back on track... back to Victor, I will take pills every day for the rest of my life... if it is what I need... I will do whatever it takes. Whatever it takes."
The day after my big breakdown... after I kicked in Victor's door, 5 days before I checked myself in... He bought us coffee and took me to the park. His eyes were welling with tears that he was refusing to shed. Before the words started coming out of his month, I panicked, "You're brought me here to break up with me... You brought me out in public..."
"No, Echo. I don't feel comfortable in the apartment right now. It just makes me think about what happened."
"You don't want me anymore."
He paused, "Echo, I love you... You need to get help."
"You will help me?"
"I am trying," he squeezed my hands in his. "I want you to know I talked to some people about this, and they gave me some phone numbers. I talked to the suicide hotline. I didn't know what to do- I have never been in this situation before."
I was shaking.
"They said it is normal that you feel like you scared. There are things you can do- You don't have to take medication. There are things similar to meditation that you can do- You need to see a therapist."
"Will you take me?"
He paused, "We'll see."
"-Because I need you to be there. I don't think I can tell them everything without you there... I'm not sure I even know what happened. I need someone with an outside perspective to be there, to help explain."
"We'll see," he was pushing the tears away from his cheeks now. "Echo, it is normal for you to be afraid that you will loose your creativity, what makes you special... But you won't. It's okay."
"You... you won't forgive me though."
"I already forgive you. I just want you to get help."
"But your friends... your family... they won't. They won't forgive me, and they won't want me around you- and you won't be able to come back to me..."
"Echo... Shh... Let's worry about that later."
"No, Victor, are you leaving me?"
His tears were beyond rolling down his cheeks now, "Echo, please."
...He put me into the passenger's seat of my car. He gathered most of my belongings from his apartment and put them in the backseat. Then he drove me back to my loft and took the train home.
I laid in bed, devastated. I called my Reiki master, my mom, my brother... I called the suicide hotline. I couldn't believe they put me on hold multiple times. Eventually they connected me to a facility, where I thought I could go see an outpatient therapist. Then I heard the receptionist say, "Okay, we have a bed for you... Do you need us to send a taxi?"
"A bed?" I was shocked. "I don't think I need a bed."
"You're feeling suicidal?"
"Well, yes, but-"
"Then you should come in. I will hold the bed for you tonight."
"...okay, but- I might not come."
"Okay, but if you're feeling like you might harm yourself, you should. We will hold a bed." ...How I wish I had accepted that first bed.
Over the next few days, I hung out with friends. A couple chums took me to the movies, "Star Trek: Into the Darkness". I went to see some bands play... I went to my girlfriend, Regina- She was friends with Victor long before I came along.
"What's wrong?" She asked. Panic was written all over my face.
"He's leaving me..."
"What? Why?" ...She listened to what had happened. She asked me a series of questions about my sleeping habits, appetite, and moods. "You're depressed. You need to find a good doctor... It's okay."
"No buts- it will be fine. You'll get help, and you'll be fine."
"Victor is not going to leave you for being depressed. He's a really good guy... and if he can't handle it, then fuck him."
Day 5, after the door-break-down... Victor and I played our scheduled gig at the Italian Market Festival. Another band's drummer offered to sit in with us. It was great... until he said he had to leave- He had another gig, then he was going to see some of our friends play a show.
"Can I come?"
"Let me think about it."
"That means no."
...Later that night I was on the phone, asking him to come stay with me. I had not slept more than a couple hours in days. He was telling me he had to do what was right and not what he wanted to do.
I was on and off the phone, running around my apartment... trying to secure a sheet high enough and figure out how people hang themselves this way. I carried the kitchen knife around with me, speculating about whether it was long enough to reach my heart if I plunged it up under my ribs... I remembered reading about a model who had done it this way successfully.
Surges of adrenaline would peak and dissipate. I was cry and curl up into the fetal position and try to think of someone I wanted to see, wanted to call... There was no one else.
It ended with several attempts to suffocate myself. Layers of plastic bags... I had seen this in a movie. It seemed simple enough... But of course, this is why people have to handcuff themselves. It is scary- feeling plastic begin to seal closer and closer to one's face. It is not at all peaceful. I could not do it. Whatever part of me that was broken- that wanted to end this life- could not override my survival instincts.
I called the suicide hotline. "Can I keep my phone at the hospital?"
He said yes, but I knew better... They sent a car to pick me up.
During the ride to the Center City hospital, Victor stayed on the phone with me, "I'm so proud of you, Echo. I'm glad you're going."
"I love you, Victor. I want to be better..." I was crying, aching, "Victor, tell me a story..."
"A story? ...about us?"
"Yes. Us." I cried sweet-bitter tears, hearing him tell me the story of us that I had wanted to hear, just as I had hoped he would, proving the deep bond I felt was not single-sided. "I am here, Victor. I have to go now."
The moment I walked in the door, I knew it was mistake. I saw a stern security guard, demanding all of my things. I stopped in my tracks, "The man on the hotline said you wouldn't take my phone. He said I could keep it."
"No one here told you that."
"I can't stay here without my phone."
He made no attempt to argue with me, "Do you need a token for the bus?"
...I walked most of the way, calling a very disappointed Victor who convinced me to get into a taxi.
Many months later, he would tell me that he was sitting in his car, stopping himself from coming to me. By the next morning, I would be at Friends Hospital instead.
Many months later, everything would be different... I would weep to him- how I wished that I had never taken the morning after pill, "We just got serious. We were just starting our life and our band... I didn't want to ruin everything. I didn't want you to be with me because you knocked me up. I didn't want anyone else to think you got stuck with me..."
"...I can't control what anyone else thinks," He told me firmly. "I love you. No one else decides who I love and want to be with- You have to trust me."
-and for the first time, I began to realize what that meant.