A Boy and a Girl Walk into a Pysch Ward
By W.P. Eichler
“I’ve got stars in my great big skies,” Max sang, while staring up at the ceiling trying to ignore the sounds of the ward around him. The thing about psychiatric hospitals is they take all of your stuff when you arrive. So now his phone sat in a plastic bag in some unmarked drawer, only to be released when he was eventually discharged. Which meant he would not be listening to music during his stay. Hence the singing.
Max had quickly realized that there weren’t many ways to entertain himself here. There were movies playing pretty much constantly, but he was pretty consistently outvoted when it came to what they would watch, which meant he’d now seen way more Adam Sandler movies than he had ever wanted to, and not the good ones. He had tried to sleep a few times, but there was always just enough noise to keep him awake, even with his near-constant exhaustion. Eventually he began scouring his memory for every song that he knew all the words to; his mind had become a radio station with a rather eclectic spread of genres. He was currently working his way through all the pop-punk songs he memorized when he was thirteen. They had somehow remained lodged in his mind even though he was twenty now.
“Are you…singing?” asked a voice to his right.
Max brushed strands of his hair out of his eyes as he turned to face it. It belonged to a girl. She was about his age, wearing an oversized white t-shirt and black leggings. Dark hair fell past her shoulders and framed a face that looked at him with confusion and the slightest hint of concern.
“Yeah, it helps with the boredom,” Max replied as he sat up in his chair. There weren’t many people at the crisis center who were willing to carry out a conversation.
“What song is it?” she asked, sitting down in the chair next to Max.
“Something Left to Give by The Starting Line,” he replied.
“I haven’t heard of them,” the girl said, back when Max was younger he probably would have gotten some sort of satisfaction out of the fact that the song was obscure. Like he was some sort of miser, hoarding his riches in the form of fake deep emo-pop bands people hadn’t heard of. God he was a prick back then.
“They’re pretty good,” Max said. She was sitting cross-legged on the seat, eyes fixed on Max. He probably wasn’t much to look at. The fluorescent lights that lit up the ward made his already pale skin look sickly, and his clothes were wrinkled because he never bothered to put them back in his dresser after he washed them. He was wearing a dark blue shirt, with a large Superman logo dominating the chest. He wore it when he needed to feel strong; he wore it a lot. His pants sagged past his hips because the staff had taken his belt when he arrived, and he knew his gray boxers were poking out of his waistband. He had a pair of thick gray socks with grips on his feet, same as every other patient here. They had taken his shoes too. He wasn’t sure really sure why, maybe people tried to beat each other with them? A fist would probably work fine for that, though……..
“Are you okay?”
Max snapped out of the brief daze he had entered and made eye contact with the girl. She was still in the same position as before, the harsh light beating down on her, illuminating a trail of freckles that blazed across her face and deep purple bags that had taken up residence under her eyes. A slight smile formed across Max’s face as he knew identical bags had formed beneath his own.
“Yeah I’m fine,” Max said, “I’m Max, by the way.”
“Laura,” she replied, extending her hand towards him.
Max was taken aback by the normalcy of the gesture. He had gotten used to being observed but not being approached, as if he were some sort of wounded animal and all of the staff had to keep their distance or risk scaring him off. He didn’t exactly blame them though. He had only been here for six out of what would be a twenty-four-hour mental health evaluation, and someone had already tried to escape. Plus, there was a man going through violent drug withdrawal in the corner, and a woman had started a prolonged argument with the nurse about the amount of water the nurse had given her to take her medication (for the record, the woman won). They were all wounded animals in a way. He just wasn’t used to being treated like one.
After what was probably an uncomfortably long pause, Max took her hand and shook it.
“Good to meet you,” Max said, a full smile forming on his face out of habit. He supposed that was better than nothing.
“Good to meet you too,” Laura said back. “Why are you here?”
The smile faded from Max’s face as he struggled to find a good answer. He thought about saying that he was the world’s first alchemist, but he was only capable of turning his blood into lead. He was able to teleport to Jupiter, but it only worked when he was in bed and he couldn't handle the shift in gravity. He and his bed were in an abusive relationship and it had left him with two black eyes. His chest was a concert hall that had been abandoned years ago and now the only things left were empty seats and the ghost of an echo. His heart had gone off to college and he was having a hard time adjusting to being an empty-chester. He was at war with himself and he was winning, but also losing. He just felt a lot of things.
“Depression,” Max said.
“Anxiety,” she replied, “it’s kept me up for three days.” She said it coolly, as if it were simply a nuisance and not a condition severe enough to land her in a crisis center full of strangers, bad movies, and judgmental lights. She was much more coherent than Max would be if he hadn’t slept for three days.
“I’m sorry,” he said. It seemed like the right thing to say.
“It’s alright. They gave me meds when I checked in so I’m finally starting to relax. How long have you been here?”
“’Bout six hours, got here around 12:30 I think.” Max was actually painfully aware of the fact he had been there for six hours and nineteen minutes. He’d worked his way through quite a few songs during that time and had the same conversation about his condition three times with three different “recovery coaches,” as the counselors here liked to call themselves.
“And have you been singing to yourself that whole time?” Samantha asked with a chuckle.
“No, I started singing after I finished counting the ceiling tiles,” Max answered as he pointed his finger upward for emphasis.
She looked at him in disbelief, “You’re kidding?”
“There are fifty-four if you don’t count the lights,” Max said, he had counted them four times to be safe. They were those large white rectangles with thousands of minute chunks removed from them, so they looked like someone had bought a cheap knockoff of the moon and decided that it was better to look up at than the real thing.
“How long did it take you to start doing that?” she asked, actually seeming pretty interested. Max was grateful for that, a conversation meant he could stop singing and counting. There were ten chairs arranged in a horseshoe around the television, as well as four recliners off in the corner, one of which was occupied by the man going through withdrawal. There were also six tables on the other side of the room where the residents were supposed to eat their meals, although Max had only eaten lunch and had not even pretended to be interested in his dinner. There were 6 bedrooms with two beds each. There were five staff members all sitting behind the large L-shaped desk that took up most of the right side of the room. And there were three other people here other than Max and Laura: a man with PTSD, a man overcoming his addiction to crack, and a woman who told Max that Jesus loved him. He appreciated that.
“About two hours, it was after the first movie ended,” Max said. He stole a quick glance at the TV, Pee Wee’s Big Holiday was playing. He looked back at Laura, her gaze was still fixed firmly on him. “It helped to calm me down, gave me something to focus on.”
She nodded in understanding, “So singing and ceiling tiles? Are those the only things to do for fun around here?”
“It’s not a very fun place I’m afraid,” Max said, the slightest hint of sarcasm in his voice.
“No, I guess not,” she said with another quick laugh. “So, have you been able to talk to the psychiatrist yet?”
“No, he left a couple hours ago, I won’t see him until the morning.”
Laura’s shoulders sank with Max’s answer. He knew they were both going to be here for their allotted twenty-four hours, and there was no way for them to speed that up, but he understood that it was hard to hear that the one person who could tell you anything definitive about what the hell was wrong with you only worked a nine to five.
“He’ll be back here first thing tomorrow though, and we’re the only ones who haven’t seen him, so we won’t have to wait long,” Max said, hoping it was some kind of consolation. He hadn’t been here much longer than she had, but he figured a few hours of experience here was better than nothing. He may as well help if he can.
“That’s good, at least….” her voice began trailing off, and she began glancing around the room until her eyes settled on one of the bedrooms, Room 121. “I think I’m gonna try to get some sleep.”
She rose up out of her chair, grabbing the back to keep her balance, and began walking towards the door.
“Yeah, I hope you get some rest,” Max called after her. He sighed, “That was nice while it lasted.” Max slouched back down in his chair and began to turn the dial on the radio he had installed in his brain. A Flogging Molly song started playing.
“If I ever leave this world alive…..”