This story is by Jennifer Brighton and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Where am I? How did I get here? I ache all over my body. It is so damp out here, but I’m not shivering anymore. My fingers and toes are numb. I need water. What was that?
I feel bugs crawling all over me. What have I done to deserve this? My mind is racing. I can’t take this!
The dirt beneath smells of dog pee. It’s pitch dark outside; only the moonlight casts shadows on the trees from the surrounding forest. I lean back on an abandoned building, wishing I knew where I was. All I can think to do is hum to soothe myself, but as I attempt, the sound barely passes out of my throat.
Does life end here? The physical and mental pain is too much to bear.
Oh my god, there is a light. Please, no more! I cannot crouch or press back far enough to feel safe.
My muscles freeze, and my breathing is shallow.
If I adjust my head, my hair will hide me more. What if it is help? My body is filthy and grotesque. What has happened? I am so ashamed of myself.
“Hello!” There is a distant yell. “It’s the Police!” A female officer is coming closer. She shows her badge. “Officer Martin, here.” I peak through my hair.
“Stop, stay away!” I belt out as I clench my hands. A little surprised by myself. After a pause, I say, “Um, could you maybe…ring me to the hospital…I’m hurt,” My voice breaks down, and I weep, “Please don’t make me talk!”
“Alright, no talking.” She says. “Everything will be okay now. Can you follow me to the police car so I can drive you to the hospital?”
Through my sobs now, I reply. “I am tied up.”
I wake up with a sense of terror, screaming, “Where am I? Where am I? Where am I?”
“You are in a psychiatric suite at the hospital, Emma.” The Nurse explains. “It’s safe here.”
The place is dingy. It reads so uncleanly for an institution. All I crave is to be clean. I can’t seem to shake feeling dirty. It’s as though I can still sense bugs crawling over my skin.
I’m startled by a knock on the door.
“Hi Emma, I’m Dr. Grace.” The voice is gentle. “I’m your Psychiatrist while you are here with us. You have been through quite an ordeal.” She adds with compassion.
She asks all kinds of questions about my life and about the day I showed up at the hospital.
“Emma, you seem confused. Do you wish to tell me something?” Dr. Grace stares at me with her head slanted, and eyes pinched.
“I’m not sure what to say,” I mutter.
I feel so melancholy and don’t want to talk.
“The last thing I recall was leading to my jeep. An object hit me from behind. After that, nothing.”
“Emma, how do you make sense of what has happened to you?” Dr. Grace asks kindly.
“I don’t know? I really don’t know!” Tears trickle down my face, and I can’t speak.
How is it possible that I have these cuts, bruises, and wounds all over me, and I can’t recall how I got them? My wrists and ankles are raw, cut open, and gross. I even have bruises on my neck.
“It looks like you were struggling to wiggle out of those ropes for a few days, Emma. It must have hurt a lot?” Dr. Grace says, staring into my eyes. Almost like she is studying me or trying to trigger me. Carrying on, she explains, “The mind is very protective and blocks out memories that are too overwhelming for it to handle. We’ll move slow working through this.”
My thoughts take over.
Go slow? What does that mean? ‘We’ will work through this? You are going home now, Doc, and I am here in these four walls with nothing to distract me from my racing mind.
“Emma, are you here with me?” Dr. Grace says in a louder tone. “Yes!” I say startled, as I break out of my thoughts and look at her.
“I will see you soon.” She adds with a tender smile. I nod my head and glance down, embarrassed that I wasn’t paying attention.
My eyelids are weighty, and my entire body craves sleep. Yet, every time I close my eyes, I see flashes of a man holding me down partnered with images of me trying to push him off. I told the Nurse, and she gave me a sleeping pill, but it’s done nothing. They never work. I’ve been here for several weeks now. Every day the same mundane routine, breakfast tray, shower, check-in group, Psychiatrist appointment, on and on it goes. Every night I have the same struggle. Nighttime is the witching hour; when everything seems to come up.
“Nurse! Nurse!” Tonight I scream. I am balling. “I need your help!”
“What’s wrong, honey?” The Nurse runs into my room and stands at the edge of my bed.
“I don’t know!” I say flabbergasted.
“Perhaps you can let yourself talk. We are here for you.” She says. Nurse Rose’s voice almost seems like a hug. I want to believe her. After weeks of feeling blocked, something shifts. It’s like a tap turns on. Nurse Rose’s soft, reassuring voice makes it seem safe, I guess. I talk, and every word spills out quicker and quicker.
“I’m always terrified. Every noise I hear makes me jump. My skin feels like it is squirming with bugs. I have this pressure right here on my chest. It’s like I’m suffocating.” My heart races, words come out pressured, and my breath becomes short. “I feel like I need to get out of here, it’s like the walls are closing in on me. Every night, the walls are like hands; they fall onto my breast, neck, mouth, and nose. I suffer like I cannot breathe.” I’m hyperventilating now.
“Slow yourself down sugar.” Nurse Rose says. “Honey, go slow. Start on the edges of what has happened to you. Every day, you go a little deeper. Not all at once, okay? Your body knows what has transpired. Your mind is still protecting you. If you push to fast, your mind will shut it all down again.”
“This place is so isolating. It’s awful! I hate it!” The overwhelm takes over. “All I have are my worries. Anytime I stop moving or doing, I am stuck with these horrible feelings and images.” I say as my hands wring into each other.
“I recognize this almost seems cruel.” She hesitates. “Underneath the storm of your thoughts and emotions, your genuine self is hiding, like the magnificent sunny sky. She’s always been there. You need to release the rain from your clouds. You can’t do that if the storm distracts you. Sometimes it takes shutting out the outside world for a bit and going inside of yourself for reflection. Emerge only when the timing is right; with fresh eyes, and then you will discover what life has to offer.”
Nurse Rose pauses and adds. “Emma, recovery is like dipping your toes into freezing water. You don’t want to plunge in and shock your body. You need to digest this bite by bite.”
I think I get it. We remain together for a while as my breathing calms. Nurse Rose nods her head, peers at me in a caring manner, and leaves.
Even though I feel like I am in pieces inside at the moment, when my mind is quiet, I can touch a sense of peace way deep inside. I understand my healing journey will not be clear. However, if I am steadfast in my values, I feel that I will be proud of myself and understand everything when I reflect on my life.
I relax here now, eyes wide open as I hum; this time, I hear my voice. I’m not sure if I will sleep tonight. The emotional pain is intense.
Somehow I know I can survive, and I am ready for whatever is next.
I’ve decided maybe Dr. Grace and Nurse Rose know a thing or two; I will take recovery one breath at a time.