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“What do you mean?” I ask.

“Our society believes that if you suffer from depression of any kind, there is something innately broken inside of you. Especially if there is nothing personal to trigger the depression, like a death in the family or a loss of some sort. If you’re just depressed for no reason, they judge you.”

“Yes…” I say, fidgeting with the hem of my shirt.

“But I wonder about the people who never suffer from depression,” she says, leaning forward. “How calloused their souls are to feel less than us.” The us rings through my head. “Are they less actualized, less pessimistic, less able to taste the tang of reality on the tips of their tongues? Why are we the broken ones—those who feel things? Who are affected by the changing tides in society?” Her eyes are bright. She’s not doing the shrink thing with me, I realize; she’s speaking to me from her own heart. I let my guard down a little, and lean into her words.

“We are not the problem, Margo,” she says. I nod my head. “It’s the people who do not feel as strongly as we do who are…”

Her words surround me. At first they are suffocating. Everything about our society teaches us that what she is saying is wrong. But then I succumb to them. My need to be normal latches on to those words—sucking … sucking.

If what she is saying is true, then the rest of the world is numb, and we who suffer from ailments of the psyche are the ones who are more advanced in nature. We see the decaying of society, the neglect of morals and human decency: the school shootings, the crimes humans commit against one another, the crimes we commit against ourselves; and we react to them in a way that is more intense than everyone else. Yes, I think. Yes, this is the truth.

I leave her office altered. Perhaps feeling not as alone as I always have. I begin again, not to question who I am, but to embrace it.

It is later that night that I see Dr. Elgin in the hall. Her hair has fallen out of the low ponytail she wears, and is hanging in pieces around her face. She’s speaking in earnest to one of the orderlies, a dark man, who turns on his heel and runs toward the nurses’ station. When I draw closer, I see that she’s out of breath.

“Dr. Elgin?” I say.

She says my name; I can see it form on her red lips, but there is a screaming coming from the room to my left that drowns it out. I jar, my eyes wide. Screaming is as constant in a nut house as medication, but this screaming is different. Perhaps I am too familiar with the screams that emanate from the mouth of a tortured human. They are different from the screams of anger or injustice. The orderly returns with two others. They slip into the room as Dr. Elgin stands slump-shouldered next to me. I try to see into the room, but the only thing visible is their white backs as they struggle to subdue a thrashing body. The first time she says it—the woman in the room—I don’t register its meaning. She’s chanting it, over and over, the two words running into one another so that you have to break them apart to hear what she’s saying.


Pink Zippo

Pink Zippo



I reach up and cover my mouth with my hand. Dr. Elgin, divided between the woman in the room, and the distress on my face, looks for the moment like a cat deciding between the fat mouse in the corner or the skinny mouse in front of her face. She recovers herself quickly and grabs me by the shoulders, ushering me away.

“Let’s get you to bed, Margo,” she says. “It’s verrry late.”

Exactly. So why is she here?

I crane my neck, trying to catch one last glimpse into the room…

It’s a coincidence, I tell myself. I hurt Leroy as much as he hurt me. He didn’t have the time to find someone new. He is methodical. He takes months to search out his prey—watching, stalking, planning. I’ve been here for a little more than a month. Not long enough. Or did I trigger something by disturbing his pattern? Did he lash out to get back at me? We are back in my room, the bare and dingy walls already wearing down at my hope.

“It’s a coincidence,” I say out loud.

Dr. Elgin looks at me, her sharp eyes not missing a thing.

“Or is it?” she says softly into my ear.

I am gently left in the center of my room, the door closing behind me. Her soft purr has left me immobilized.

“Or is it?” I say.

The next morning, when the doors open for the day, I dress quickly and scurry out, heading for the nurses’ station. Come morning, we are to take our showers in the communal, then we have breakfast, and after that, free time, which I usually spend thinking about Leroy. The one that got away!

Her door is on the way to the bathrooms. My bladder is swollen beyond what is comfortable, but I need to see the color of her hair. Her door is not open like the rest of ours. Sometimes this happens when a patient is too ill to come out for the day; they call it ‘rest time,’ but what it really means is you’re having an episode and are too doped up to get out of bed. Nurse Fenn sees me lingering in the hall. We are not allowed to linger, but to move with purpose throughout the day. Seize! Charge! Believe! Hope!

“Move along, Margo,” she says. “It’s your bathroom time.”

“Who is in this room?” I ask, pointing.

Fenn looks squirmy, like I’ve asked her to name ingredients to her grandmother’s famous cookies.

“I heard her screaming,” I rush. “Last night. I just wanted to see if she was okay.”


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