Swimming for Shore

2000

“One pill a day,” Dr. Fodor said. “And your daughter will be fine.”

The social worker laid her hand on my mother’s arm. “See, Mrs. Turner, I told you. There’s plenty that can be done. She won’t be inpatient forever.”

“She’s starting to remember who she is,” Dad added.

Lately their faces had begun to register as faces, so I knew they were scrutinizing me, but I wasn’t clear on who they were exactly. The logical edges of things were fuzzy. I could peek around them like corners, but I didn’t know that I wanted to. I wasn’t sure I could handle what I’d see. No, it was better to sit in the confusion. I understood the words people were saying but not how any of it applied to me.

*

The afternoon before, Dad and I had eaten a bucket of KFC and watched the boats that sailed past the hospital. He patiently explained to me principles of their construction, the basic types of vessels, bits of random nautical vernacular he had picked up working projects on the coast.

“I got you white meat since it’s your favorite,” he said.

Is it? I wondered. I took a bite, and the taste was miraculous.

“You’ve been stealing the other patients’ lunches,” he said.

I didn’t say anything. I wanted to tell him that I was certain that they were poisoning me for being a Catholic or a Jew. I couldn’t remember which one I was, but I was positive that they knew and were punishing me for it. But I stopped myself before I said anything because I worried that if I told him that they’d try to poison him, too.

“Are you hungry?”

I didn’t say anything. The view of the bay was too beautiful for me to focus on him.

“Dr. Fodor showed me your drawings.”

We sat in silence until it was time to return to the ward.

“Will you be back tomorrow?” I asked.

“Tomorrow?” he beamed. “Yes, I’ll be back tomorrow. We have a meeting with the doctor.”

“How will I know when tomorrow is?”

He pulled out a watch. “Here. I got you this. It has the day of the week on it. Tomorrow’s Thursday, that’s when I’ll be here.”

“Thursday,” I said.

“Yes, when the watch says Thursday,” he said.

I must have looked scared because he wrote it on the calendar in my room. And then he wrote it on my hand. Thursday. Taking pains to form the letters carefully, much neater than his usual scrawl.

*

Coming to was like the ultimate shock to my system. You would think that remembering who you are after a period of psychosis is like climbing out of a pool that you’re drowning in, and in some ways it is, but in other ways, it’s like being thrown into icy cold water from a boat, and suddenly you have to swim for your life across the turbulent water, hoping you make it to shore.

Clarity comes in spurts and starts, and it’s rarely sustained or pretty.

*

“Why am I listening to these people’s problems?” I cried out suddenly, before storming out of the group session.

I returned to my room, crossed out the name on the plate and wrote a different one. It was the eighth time I’d done this. My new name was Faith.

My favorite psych tech questioned me about all the changes, and I told him impatiently “Would you want all these crazy people to know your name?”

“Do you know your name?” he asked.

I wandered off.

Later that evening I decided Faith was too dangerous and that I’d suffer religious persecution so I changed my name again.

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