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r i o m e M A Dana Allison Christensen


A Memoir By Dana Allison Christensen

Š2013 Dana Allison Christensen All rights reserved. No part of this book can be reproduced without the express written permission of the author, except in the case of written reviews. ISBN 978-1-929878-39-0 First edition

PO Box 5301 San Pedro, CA 90733 Printed in the United States of America

Back cover photo by Alex Befekadu

Acknowledgments: Writing a book isn’t easy. It takes time, and effort, and support. I would like to thank everyone who has supported me in these past few months and throughout my life- I couldn’t have done it without them. Specifically, I would like to thank my best friend from home, Miruna, for always believing in my writing and believing in me. I would like to thank Pomona-Pitzer Lacrosse and coach Queener, for always being there to listen when I needed them, and Pomona-Pitzer Soccer and coach Scanlon, for being a second family and making sure I got the help I needed. I’d also like to shout out to Camille, Jake, B, Gretta Mae, Traci, Dylan, Cry, and Alex- you guys saved my life, and I love you. Thanks to Curtis, to Daniel, to Weston, to Danny, to Ali, to Michael, to Rick, to Cari, to Melissa, to Vanessa, and all of my nurses and doctors- you’ve taught me so much and I’ll never forget you guys. Moya Carter- thank you for giving me more chances than I could have ever hoped for; you truly are amazing. Thanks to all of my college professors, who allowed me to continue my schoolwork from home, and Mr. Erickson, Mr. Radley, Ms. Shea, Mr. Bishop, and Dr. Branch, for constantly encouraging my writing. Thanks to R.D. Armstrong, who made this all possible. Thanks to all of my friends in outpatient and my counselor, Reed, for continuing to support me and my writing. And last but not least, I want to thank my mom, my dad, my brother, and my golden retriever Coda, for always being there for me and supporting me through these hard times. I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for you guys.

Publisher’s Note According to California law, the term 5150 refers to an involuntary hold that is placed on a person deemed “unsafe”. This refers to a person who has been diagnosed with a risk of suicide or is a threat to themselves or to another. The state takes a 5150 very seriously and there are a number of steps that must be taken to have a person classified as in need of a 5150 intervention. This is for a 72 hour observation, during which time a psychiatrist or psychologist “observes” the patient for aberrant and/or self-destructive behavior, such as suicidal thoughts or plans. Sometimes, it’s deemed that the patient will benefit from a longer stay in the facility, so a 5250 petition is filed with a judge. If granted, the stay is extended to 2 weeks. In street slang, to be 5150’d is to be labeled as being nuts. It is a term that is tossed around casually, so casually in fact that it means nothing, at least to those who have not experienced the frightening 3 day hold on one’s life and loss of freedom. To demonstrate how the term has become meaningless, I will share a true story: A social worker once advised me that I should get a 5150 so I could qualify for SSI. He made it sound so easy, as if it meant nothing. But I was afraid the powers that be might decide I was really nuts and never let me out so I didn’t take his suggestion (frankly I was appalled at it). This social worker has since left the employment of the state. It’s my hope that Dana’s stirring account of her descent into “darkness” will serve to remind us that affairs of the psyche are not to be taken lightly.

RD Armstrong Long Beach, CA


A Memoir

Introduction Two years ago, I took a razor to my wrist and cut three lines into my arm. I wasn’t trying to die. I didn’t know what a 5150 was, and psych wards were places my friends and I only joked about. But my friend had cut herself with scissors in high school, and I thought that if it worked for her, it could work for me too. I just wanted to feel something besides numbness, even if it was painful, anything to end the constant numbness pulsing through my entire being. Imagine a balloon, whirling around in a vicious tornado, unable to relax and touch solid ground. That balloon was me, until I found the shiny little rectangle that I thought could save my life. I needed not only to feel, but to feel grounded again. I had no idea why I felt this way, or that, two years from that night, I’d be on a rapid downward spiral, soon to be sitting on the patio of my suite at Pitzer College with a bottle of Jäger [Meister] in my hands and a constant stream of blood running down my arm. I never could have predicted that, in two years, I’d find myself lying in room 202 A at Aurora Charter Oak Hospital, on a 5150 (a seventy-two hour hold for psychiatric observation for being a “danger to myself”). Nor could I have predicted that, a week after I was released, the pain would be so bad that I would try to kill myself.


Tuesday, November 13th, 2012, 3:27am We don’t talk about the suicide attempt to hide my sleeves my dad heaves a sigh of relief. How much grief can one family take? And pills, for that matter, mom hyped up (down) on Prozac like the Mad Hatter brother lost in cyberspace, and I just wanted out of this place face burning eyes blurring as the liquor raced through my body, looking for somebody to hold on to the wrong song is playing in the background I’m falling, crawling soundless I guess it’s time to close my eyes.


Tuesday, October 30th, 2012, 4:12pm They called it a 5150- DTS. Danger to self. Was I a danger to myself? It’s hard to say. How many stitches does it take to qualify as a 5150? The EMTs joked about house fires, about car accidents, about death. As the ambulance rolled on, I couldn’t help but wonder how many body bags these guys had handled in their lives. I guess when you work as an EMT, death isn’t about the person as a whole. It’s a slowing heartbeat, a punctured lung, a number. What number was I? A dim light glared at me through the back window- Citrus Valley Emergency Room. I glanced at the EMT who sat beside me, casually scribbling notes in his binder. My arm throbbed painfully through the haphazardly wrapped bandages, but I was too caught up in the commotion to notice. Sirens. Important-sounding announcements over walkie talkies. Lights. Lots and lots of lights. As they wheeled me into the ER on my stretcher (unnecessary, if you ask me), I let my mind wander back to just a few hours before on that cool October afternoon, as I sat in the Greek theater, a razor blade poised precariously above my wrist. Just do it. What was I waiting for? My hand shook dangerously, and though I tried to steady it, the razor dropped from my fingers and fell to the cool cement below. “Damn it. Damn it!” I lit a cigarette and threw the lighter down in frustration. I wanted this. I really did. I checked my phone again- still no response from Rachel. And Camille wasn’t answering her phone, not that I really expected her to. I should have known. Closing my eyes, I picked up the razor from the ground, examining its edges as I put out my cigarette on the concrete. Amazing how such a tiny little instrument could do so much damage. The damn thing wouldn’t break apart for the longest time. I tried a pencil, a pen; I cut half of my fingernail off in the process. Whoever knew that killing yourself would be so hard? Okay. I wasn’t trying to die. Not really. I’d tried to tell the psychologist that, but it was no use. Three near-fatal slices on my forearm weren’t exactly helping my case. Still, I told her it was a kind of passive ambivalence towards life. A nonchalance, if you will. She didn’t buy it. Not for a second. I just wanted help, back then. Little did I know, the minute I walked into that room, my freedom dissipated with the last wisps of the smoke off my cigarette. I stared at my arm, willing myself to touch the razor to it, push down, draw blood. How deep could I go? How deep would I go? I closed my eyes, dragging the little razor towards me through the flesh. Whoa. Never gone 3

that deep before. What would happen? I watched intently as the skin parted into an oval, the white fat gleaming against the silver blade. Then, drop by drop, the blood came, filling the ravine I’d created in my arm. Instead of immediately covering it, as usual, I just let it fill, eventually overflowing and running down my arm. Curiously, only a few drops hit the ground. The rest coagulated on the spot, thickening into a paste-like substance before drying in an intricate web on my wrist. If I was drunk, I’d be dead. The thought crossed my mind briefly, but I quickly pushed it away. I checked my phone again, staring at the last text I’d sent to Rachel: I really need a friend right now. Still no response. I sighed, setting the razor on the ground before snatching it up and slicing two more ovals above the first. Fuck it. I laid down on the ground, slightly dizzy, and for the first time in my life, I felt like I was going to die. And I didn’t care.


Tuesday, October 30th, 2012, 4:41pm I’ve never thought much about death but I did that night as I drank; Jäger is best mixed with pain. Before I could follow through, cops pulled up to the pavement knocking angrily worriedly hurriedly on the wall that kept my secrets, regrets splattered across the floor. If only there was a hidden door so I could escape.

I was terrified that had already come to take me. My silver friend gleaming red and suddenly I’m repulsed with myself. Through my dizzy haze I can’t hear them could they bring out an angel to sit my shoulder, watch over

choices so when that little voice says cut I say no and shut the


Wednesday, October 31st, 2012, 2:38am “Honey why’d you do this to yourself?” The nurse stared at me quizzically, a horrified expression plastered across her face. I shrugged, watching the doctor as he spritzed iodine into my wounds. “Depression I guess.” “I don’t get it. You’re so beautiful.” She frowned. “Don’t do it again, okay?” Yeah, sure. “Okay.” She closed the curtain as she left, leaving me alone with the white beerbellied doctor and his Asian assistant. “This is going to hurt a little bit, okay?” “It’s fine.” He glanced at me. “Are you ready?” “Yep.” I looked away as he injected the numbing solution into my cut. It stung, but I managed to hide my grimace as he stabbed me again and again. When I thought he’d finally finished, he looked up at me. “Okay. One down, two to go. Ready?” I closed my eyes. Shit. Straight stitches would be better than this. “Yeah.” When B arrived at the theater, I was lying on the ground, feet firmly planted on the floor, a slow burning cigarette resting gently between my fingers. The business card I received earlier confirming my appointment with Monsour counseling for November 16th at 9:00am lay in ashes on the cement. B sat on the ledge and, for what seemed like a very long time, said nothing. She pursed her lips, a single tear sliding down her face. I knew she wanted to say something, but the words got caught in her throat. She brushed off another tear and looked away. A pang of guilt struck at the center of my chest, and for a moment, I regretted calling her. I wanted desperately to find the words for her, but I was equally as lost. “So… are you okay? What happened?” I didn’t respond. The question was a space filler; nothing more. She didn’t expect an answer, because the answer already dripped steadily from my arm. Still, after another minute of heavy silence, I felt compelled to say something. “I lost it.” “Were you… I mean… is that your art?” She pointed towards the wall, where This is This Moment was scribbled in yellow chalk. Dylan and I had written it about a month ago. I sat up abruptly and jumped to my feet, pacing the theater incessantly. “I 6

don’t want to be an ant.” I laughed. “It’s crazy, isn’t it? People… people walk by each other with the minimum… social interaction possible. Like- like ‘want some sugar with that?’ ‘Decaf or regular?’ ‘For here or to go?’ You know?” B nodded, unsure of what to say. “It’s like… we’re ants. Always walking around with our eyes on the ground- why don’t we say hello when we pass by strangers? What are we afraid of? And we’re not fucking ants. We’re people. We’re supposed to be special. Unique. But it’s like we’re fucking robots. It’s so stupid.” I kicked a pebble on the ground. “Will you come with me to Monsour?” “What?” I glanced over at B, forgetting that she was there. “Yeah… we can clean you up… talk to someone. The sixteenth is too late.” “I know.” As we struggled to carry our bikes up the stairs, I took one last look at the bloodstained theater. I sighed. “I know.” When I would return five days later, the blood would still be there.


Sunday, September 27th, 1992, 4:32am They say life is short, life is full of loss (and that’s true) moss covered graves line the streets heart beats slow speed up stop life is damn hard. Sometimes, I think death could be beautiful filled with potential. I keep up the fight, but when I can’t anymore, a silver blade makes it right?


I was brought into this on the brink of death. (Thanks, mom, for all the crystal meth). System fucked I got up and decided life worth living worth giving a chance. Leaves are on the oak trees, and that seems like a good enough reason to live. Seasons change, so I could, too,

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012, 12:44am The stitches didn’t hurt at all. I watched like a six year old as they sewed up my arm, asking questions whenever the doctor tied a knot or picked up a new instrument. “What’s that?” “Hydrogen peroxide.” “Oh. What’s it for?” “To clean the wound. Can you hand me that?” “Who me?” “No no.” The doctor turned to his assistant impatiently, who handed him some kind of sharp-looking tool attached to a black thread. “So… you just sew it up?” “No. There’s a special knot.” “Oh.” The conversation went back and forth like this for a while as he tied knot after knot. Sutures, he called them. I tried my best to watch, but it hurt to lift my neck at an awkward angle like that, so I settled back onto the pillow and stared at the ceiling. My mind drifted from the procedure and back to the theater, where I still saw myself, lying on the ground and watching the clouds float by.


Wednesday September 12th, 2012, 12:33am Tipsy Wednesday and something drew me to the water, crescent moon above dangling me as my bare feet traced the shadows of streetlights, night air biting my swollen cheeks. A large wall loomed before me and I pushed the door ‘til it creaked, suddenly sprinting naked body hitting the crystal pool in a single motion and I’m flying. Swimming in circles, trying not to notice Rachel kissing him when from somewhere behind me drunken laughter pierces the air. Glance over to where it came from, forget how to breathe, lungs heaving life leaving me as I struggle to find the ledge. Then the stranger kisses me and I no longer care if I’m on the edge of a cliff because I feel like hang gliding across the Milky Way, clocks retreating heart beating songs I’ve never heard, quick rhythms, words like shooting stars flashing through the dark my angels marking love in her smile in her fingertips while I hold her and mold her into me, and I think the moon winked as I walked home that night because surely Camille was the most beautiful sight that even mother Luna had ever seen.


Wednesday, October 31st, 2012, 1:47am A voice pulled me out of my reverie. “Maybe a little bigger bite.” “Should I start over?” “It’s your work of art- you decide.” “Okay. I’ll just… pull it out and redo it. How’s that?” “Perfect. Beautiful.” It took me awhile to realize that the doctor’s assistant was tying up my final cut, with direction from the main doc. So I was his guinea pig. Well. Fine by me. I didn’t want the stupid stitches –excuse me, sutures- in the first place. I could care less how they turned out, or where he put the ‘bite’. Whatever that was. The doctor looked down at me once more and smiled. “Don’t worry. Once these heal up, you’ll be a forearm model in no time.” The first thing I noticed about the psych ward was that every single door could only be opened by one of the nurses. Even the EMTs had to wait for a nurse to open the two doors that kept the “functional crazies” from getting out. Or perhaps to keep the outside world from getting in. Shoeless, phoneless, and covered in unwelcome goose bumps, I sat in the tiny room they threw me in. After a few minutes, I began pacing back and forth. Were they coming for me or what? I glanced out the window, and a woman wrapped in a white blanket with tears streaming down her face immediately caught my eye. I wondered why she was there. Was she crazy, like me? She didn’t look crazy. Only scared, and utterly alone, cast into this new world enveloped by white walls and costumed nurses. I calculated the hour in my head- it must have been around two. So it was Halloween. Despite the cheery smiles on all of the nurses’ faces and brightly colored costumes, though, I don’t think either of us cared. I tested the door carefully. No alarm. Not even a creak. Was it possible to just walk right out of there? “Can I help you?” An overweight, black nurse with a strange hat on walked up behind me. “Uh… I haven’t eaten since eleven this morning… or I guess yesterday… is there any way I can get a snack?” The nurse glanced at the woman in the blanket. “Let me check if there’s a sandwich in the fridge. Why don’t you wait in there?” She gestured to a plain room across the hall where a few plastic tables and chairs were assembled. While I waited for the nurse to bring me food, blanket lady wandered in and sat across from me. “Sup?” 11

She stared at me, eyes glazed over and dark red. “Hi.” I tapped my fingers against the table, peering around the room. “So… why are you here?” Shifting her blanket slightly, she frowned. “I don’t know.” “Oh.” “What about you?” I shrugged, holding up my bandaged arm. “You cut yourself?” I nodded. No use lying now. “Why? You’re so beautiful.” I laughed. Why did people keep saying that? If I wasn’t ‘beautiful’, would the cuts on my arm still be stitched up? Would I still be lying on the ground, life slowly ebbing away as the stars emerged in the night sky? What a fucked-up world.


Monday, September 24th, 2012, 7:54pm They taught me beauty is skinny; blonde hair blue eyed, perfection is the convention of pretty. Cat walk across New York City these celery stick legs still wiggle like Jell-O and when boys say hello I know they’re staring at my fat. The thing with cellulite is, there’s nothing subjective about that.

Her is unique; she sleeps splayed out on her pillow snoring she prone to take her clothes off. I imagine she once had a goth haircut before she cut it all off. Makeup is the convention of the devil. Some days I can’t handle her exuberance but her bright smile has shone since nineteen ninety-one. There’s nothing

about the warmth of her sun.


Wednesday, October 31st, 2012, 2:27am “I’m Melissa.” Ah. So the blanket lady did have a name. “Dana,” I said. “How old are you?” “Twenty.” The nurse finally waddled into the room, bringing out two turkey and cheese sandwiches and some graham crackers in individual packets. I devoured the sandwich within minutes. When we both finished, the nurse called Melissa outside to search through her suitcase and take away items that were deemed ‘contraband’. Not wanting to sit by myself, I wandered out to watch. “Okay, do you want me to cut the strings out of these or should I put them in contraband?” “Why did my husband pack so many clothes? Haha look at these- why would I need these in rehab?” Melissa held up a pair of cowboy boots with tiny strings adorning the sides, laughing hysterically. I grinned, trying not to laugh. The nurse grabbed the boots and shoved them into the contraband bag, clearly not amused. I shrugged. What a bitch. They really ought to hire people who enjoy their jobs. And this lady clearly didn’t. As it turns out, Melissa was my roommate. I lay down in my bed in room 202 A, glancing around. Everything was white. White walls white floor white blankets. If you could call them blankets. Except the socks. The socks were red, with tiny (white) rubber dots on the bottom so a patient wouldn’t slip and sue the hospital. Beside all the whiteness and box-like beds, everything was suicide proof. Towel hangers dropped under too much weight, in case someone tried to hang themselves. Cabinets were bolted to the floor. Instead of handles, the sink, toilet, and shower all had buttons. I sighed. Seventy-two hours, starting now. Three days. It was just like another long weekend; an adventure. I closed my eyes, trying to warm myself under the rough cotton blanket. Hours later, I drifted off to sleep.


April (?), 1990 It seemed I’d lost inspiration, until the rhythm of her creation heart beat tiny feet and fingers emerges and lingers in my mind, and I find solace in her toothless smile dreaming while I tuck her into safety thinkin’ maybe I can save her, hopin’ the words I gave her find their way into her soul make her whole again like she used to be then before the door closed on her future, and the sutures on my arm are her scars, starin’ at the stars asking why she had to die (why not me?), why the tears I cry dry up before they hit the ground like they’re rebounding off the heat of her energy the words she never said to me circlin’ endlessly through the air, thick with murderer’s sweat I’ll bet their lungs are filled with the ash of every child they threw in the trash but my sister’s too strong. She belongs with the trees breathin’ life through the leaves whispering love on every alley where there’s a hopeless daddy mournin’, waiting in pourin’ rain while his little girl burns to ash.


Sunday, October 22nd, 2011, 9:41pm

As I dreamt, my dream shifted to another night, long after my mother’s abortion, where I was sitting in my dorm watching my suitemates pregame for a party called Eurotrash. I wasn’t supposed to go out that night- we had a soccer game on that Monday and drinking would mean breaking the fortyeight hour rule. But as I watched my suitemates down shot after shot of Grey Goose, I couldn’t help it. It wasn’t until I was leaving Eurotrash, headed back to my dorm to go to sleep, that I met Homeboy. “What’s a beautiful girl like you doing without a man?” I glanced over to the guy that was calling out to me. Tall, muscular, and Ugandan, he was quite handsome. I tried to tell him that I had to go home, that I had a game on Monday and needed to rest, but he kept talking. “I’m Homeboy.” Homeboy? This stopped me in my tracks. What kind of pretentious, stuck-up douchebag would call himself Homeboy? Still, I was flattered that he was talking to me, and after some gentle prodding (and a few more compliments), I couldn’t help but agree to go back to his dorm with him at Pomona. “So… tell me about yourself.” Relieved, I let myself relax a little. Maybe he wasn’t such an asshole after all. We talked for hours, and I ended up falling asleep in his bed with him. He never even asked to kiss me. When I ended up in his room a week later, nearly blacked out, I didn’t think twice about crashing on his couch, and then, his bed.


Thursday, November 3rd, 2011, 2:39am She was drunk He was gone She said no He said one more kiss it’s just a kiss it’s just a mistake she makes the long walk eyes down talks to no one knows how the story goes but me I still see him constantly haunting me always asking for one more… close the door on that memory She was so drunk He was so gone How to Love still playing in the background saying please baby just one more kiss you I miss you (Why?) It was just a mistake he didn’t mean to break 17

open the tiny wrapper map her curves (Are they bigger?) Pull down on the trigger and swallow the pill life spills from her wounds and he promises to repay her but she’s crumpled paper can’t take it back to when they met She was too drunk He was too gone when dawn finally broke she choked down the pill that would kill the evidence


Wednesday, October 31st, 2012, 6:11am “PATIO BREAK!” I woke with a start, shoving my face into my pillow as a nurse knocked on my door and screamed far too loudly for such an early hour. What the fuck. Isn’t sleep supposed to be a part of therapy? How was I supposed to get better when they were waking me up every morning to go smoke? I tried to fall asleep again, but it was no use. Time oozed by as I lay in my little box, breathing in the foul smell of Windex and my roommate’s cough syrup hangover. “Ugh. I’m no fun this morning.” Melissa rolled over towards me, blonde hair tangled and black circles shrouding her eyes. “Sure you are.” Distracted, I pulled the blanket over my head. I might as well have been in Antarctica. The damn place was freezing. Around 7:30, they knocked on our door again. “BREAKFAST AND VITALS!” Jesus. Was the yelling really necessary? They acted like they hadn’t just tried to knock the door down only an hour earlier. Melissa stared at my arms, still covered in bandages. “Why did you hurt yourself?’ I sat up in my bed, shrugging. “I don’t know.” “But you’re so nice… how old are you again?” “Twenty.” “Oh wow… you’re such a baby. I have to call my husband. Haha oh that’s right… those stupid cowboy boots. What was he thinking?” I laughed. “Maybe he thought you were going to the rodeo.” A nurse shuffled into the room, peering at us. “Breakfast, ladies. Let’s go.” “Okay.” Jesus. I looked at Melissa. “You were pretty fucked up last night, huh?” Melissa climbed out of bed, grabbing a towel from her cabinet. “Yeah. I downed a couple bottles of cough syrup. And some vodka.” “Yikes. Bad combo.” I threw the blanket off me, shivering as I slowly crawled out of bed. “Why the hell is it so cold in here?” Melissa wandered into the bathroom, pushing the shower button which sent a spray of cold water all over the floor. “Shit! Is this supposed to do this?” Smiling, I pulled on my jacket. “I guess this place is just like the people in it.” I shuffled my feet slowly across the floor, glancing out the window. “Dysfunctional.” 19

As I ate the plastic eggs they served for breakfast, I remembered a conversation I once overheard in a diner in the Claremont village. “In baseball? Or in-” “Rodriquez?” “I don’t think it was A-Rod.” An older lady and gentleman sat at the booth of the diner, sipping on coffee and conversing with the waiter. “Was he a catcher? That’s one of the ones that one,” the waiter guessed as the old man leaned down over the crossword puzzle, scrunching his face up in concentration. “Pedro? ‘Cause we have a ‘P’ and a ‘D’. Padres? I went to a Padres game last weekend. That was fun.” The older lady smiled, recalling memories of the game. “No kiddin’!” “Oh yes we used to have a friend that had season tickets. We tried to go to Dodger’s games on Fridays ‘cause they had fireworks… oh my goodness were they gorgeous! We used to sit between third base and home base. Up. Wayyy up. I like the Dodgers but you know the Angels you can be there in an hour, half hour…” “It is really neat. You could go there and have great seats. You could have beer for a dollar. Hot dog for a dollar… entertainment all the time. They did relays or something out there, they-” Interrupting his reverie, the old woman continued. “Oh yes they call it steal home base. Parking is ten dollars but we split it so it wasn’t too bad. You know what you do? Go right down Arrow-” “Right down Arrow?” “No no Indian Hill. Get on the bus -cost you a dollar back in the day- well two round trip… I think it’s five now. Well senior citizens have a day that’s cheaper… Wednesdays?” “Sounds about right.” I sighed as I stared down at my eggs and cold toast. Why wasn’t my life that simple? Looking out the window, conversation faded, and I found myself daydreaming.


Monday, October 29th, 2012, 10:42pm Want to know why penguins can’t fly? I’ll tell you. The sky is blue, pink, orange, Black. We’re nothing but smoky lungs tied to this train track life kissed me on the forehead and left me to dry. I’m hanging silver on your eyelashes; to crash is to drop beneath the floor, stop before the river bank’s dust. I wake to red-rusted nightmares your fears echoing against my scarred skin screaming let me in let me begin to understand why penguins can’t fly. I’ll tell you. Her true face is melting. This place is nothing Special. They told me I was Special. But the sky is black deep river rafting through the stars prison bars don’t bend in this light. Fight for summer, fight for another flightless bird, ‘cause I’ve heard symphonies 21

in your footsteps. If only regrets could evaporate like leftover snow. I can’t let you go. Can’t let you know why I’ll never touch eggnog again but this pen won’t stop perverting the page. I was once an actress performing on stage now I’ve been cut from the cast. Her past is my future. Suture my wounds with licorice ropes sweet hopes of surviving dashed as the train crashed into my sunset. I’ll bet you don’t know why penguins can’t fly. I’ll tell you. She sniffed rubber glue at a middle school dance. I used to think I had a chance at resurrection but on closer inspection I found myself grounded to yesterday. I say hey with closed lips hoping her hips never open their dirty mouth again. Singin’ south of the border there’s a little girl who knows exactly why penguins can’t fly. I’ll tell you. See through my mannequin smile begin to question the five o’clock shadow 22

growing darker as the wind blows my ashes through the trees beggin’ please, please light me, ignite me, I want to derail your assumptions. And those little girl’s eyes are forked junctions which path will you choose? Now there’s nothing to lose but Everything. Want to know why penguins can’t fly? I’ll tell you. One too many bottles of wine on the table yeah I’ve heard empty cradles spew from your mouth like vomit. If I could I’d grab hold of Halley’s Comet just to fly for a night. But penguins are flightless birds, and your words can’t help me fly. Want to know why penguins can’t fly? I’ve told you.


Wednesday, October 31st, 2012, 10:13am We played bingo. I remembering sitting in the waiting room just a few hours earlier, listening to another soon-to-be patient jokingly claim his water bottle was vodka as they took it away and tossed it in the trash behind the counter. B was sitting next to me, beside Moya Carter, the dean of students at Pitzer College, shuffling nervously through a magazine. “Maybe we’ll play bingo like they do in old people homes,” I joked, trying to divert B’s attention. B laughed, but I could tell it was forced. Moya glanced at her phone, despite the huge sign on the door that read ABSOLUTELY NO CELLULAR DEVICES in large block letters. “I’m serious!” I tried again. “Maybe it’ll be fun. Like a vacation. For old people.” B smiled genuinely this time, handing me the magazine. “Here ya go. It isn’t exactly Cosmo but she’s pretty hot, right?” I examined the picture. A model posed nearly naked in a suggestive position, eyes wide and caked in makeup in some kind of advertisement for shampoo. I had to admit, she was pretty hot. In a conventional sort of way. The medical doctor examined my wounds. “Didn’t you go to a hospital? You need to go to the ER and get these sutured up. Here come on.” I followed him into an enclosed room, sitting down on a swivel chair and immediately spinning around anxiously. Another doctor came in, gasping at my arms. I watched, bemused, as they tried to tape the cuts back together for the trip to the emergency room. “Can you cut here?” “Here?” “No there.” “Oh okay.” “No no not there, there.” It wasn’t working. Every time they pushed the skin together and tried to tape it down, it just shot right back apart again, as if to say ‘fuck you’. “Okay. Did you get a picture?” “No. Here’s the camera. Okay. Ready?” The doctor looked at me, steadying an old-fashioned camera in front of my face. I wasn’t sure what to do. Should I smile? Smirk? Look angry? Depressed? It wasn’t a mug shot or anything, but it sure felt like one. I ended up with a loopy half smile half grimace, which would follow me into the ambulance and eventually end up in the hands of the nurses back at the psych ward, where I would find myself a few hours later playing Halloween bingo with all of the other crazies. 24

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012, 11:49am What’s one more day? I’ll tell you. Minutes drifting away life tick tick tocking everyone’s talking without speaking, silent shadow creeping through the blinds I think crazy’s a clinical term. Learn to control my anger heavy danger winding through my bones isolation just means alone and alone means twisted thoughts. Should I spill? Shove another pill down the [wind] pipe, choke it down try not to drown in the irony of drugs curing drugs I shrug down today’s pill with crushed ice, don’t think twice about falling (okay, maybe that familiar demon is calling my name), but this time isn’t the same, right? Fall asleep at night dreaming of strawberries spend my days with eyes weary and dry. What will happen when they pry open the demon? She’s still somewhere inside, moaning and screaming to be let loose, like a convict on a noose I try to strangle her, dangle her in front of the exorcists to tear apart but I’m starting to think that her hold is too strong, and the minute I believe she’s gone she’ll reappear, just in time to hear my teardrops hit the ground.


Thursday, November 1st, 2012, 8:43am I finally broke out of my shell and talked with some of the other patients, who weren’t really that crazy after all. Melissa was an alcoholic. Ali had had a mental breakdown. Weston, who wore a blue sweater that he said complimented his eyes, was an opiate addict. Danny, who spoke of nothing except how much he loved his wife and wore a black and white Aztec blanket around all the time, was also an alcoholic. Then there was saggy boob lady, who had no problem that I could see except for her saggy boobs, and Curtis. Curtis was a heroin addict. Talking to Curtis was different. During smoke break, I dragged lazily on my cigarette, listening to him tell stories about his ex-wife and little girl, Remedy. “It just wasn’t working out,” he replied, when I enquired as to why he’d gotten a divorce. “But I love Remedy, and I’m still on good terms with my ex.” I could see that- Curtis had tattoos all up and down his arms, including a huge one on his (rather large) bicep that read Remedy in swirly cursive letters. Something I couldn’t quite explain drew me to Curtis. Maybe it was his big brown eyes. Maybe it was the way he spoke- honestly and determinately, like he was so sure of his own future. Maybe it was the fact that he was such a caring father. Whatever it was, I found myself glued to him, talking to him during every smoke break and sneaking finger brushes during group. We had group five times a day, starting at ten a.m. and going all the way until four p.m., with smoke breaks in between every one. Different psychiatrists and psychologists and any other kind of ‘gist’ you can imagine would come in and lead group, which could be anything from art therapy to discharge plans (when you were gonna get the hell outta there, and what you were gonna do when you did) to what they called “exercise” (some odd form of leg lifts and light stretching). Curtis massaged my back during one of the groups based on discharge, while George, the psychologist, drew what looked like a staircase on the board. “This is where you are,” he said, pointing to the second highest step. “This,” he explained, pointing to the bottom where he’d written RECOVERY in sloppy green marker, “is where you want to be. But you’re not just going to jump out of a four story building are you?” Without waiting for an answer, he continued. “No. You have to climb. These are the steps towards recovery.” Each step had a different label on it, digressing from where we were at, 26

hospitalization, to RTC (residential treatment program), to outpatient therapy, to regular therapy, to recovery. And, as George was sure to point out, recovery was forever. The top step remained unmarked. “What’s at the top?” I asked. George peered over at me. “What’s your name?” “Uh… Dana.” “Well Dana, that’s called an IMD. Does anyone have any idea what IMD stands for?” We all shook our heads. “It’s the institute of the mentally disabled. You don’t want to end up there. When you get hospitalized enough times without making any progress towards recovery, they place you in a long term hospital for months or years at a time. Here at Aurora Charter Oak, the average stay is three to five days. Does anyone know what we do here?” Curtis stopped massaging me. “Short term treatment.” “Good, good… what’s your name?” “Curtis.” He squeezed my shoulder, and I tried to maintain a straight face. “Curtis. Right.” George drew a car on the white board. “See this car? You all have crashed. BAM! And it was a really bad crash, but you survived. Here at Aurora, we’ll get you back on your feet again, fix your car, fine tune it, and send you to the next stage. But we’re not just going to send you right back out onto the highway, are we?” A few people muttered no or shook their heads. “Of course not. We’ll fix you up, but maybe send you to driving school. If we send you right back onto a crazy highway, there’s a huge chance you’re just going to crash again and land right back here, or worse, dead. And that’s why we work so hard on our discharge plans. You have to walk before you can run… or drive.” Hooking up with Curtis, ducking into his room after smoke break and fooling around in his bed was fun, but I left knowing that I had only done it for the affirmation. I didn’t like guys. I’ve never liked guys. And as I fell asleep that night, I could only think of my sister Ashley, and though I’d washed my face again and again, I couldn’t get the bitter taste of regret out of my mouth.


Saturday, July 21st, 2012, 8:33pm The first time I had sex it was like Mike Tyson was punching my vagina again and again is that love? I guess losing your virginity is supposed to hurt, but how many guys will it take for it to be more than pleasing the man? I stand naked in the shower afterwards, wondering why it’s always painful, never fun


My sister used as a tool to win men, dancing in the club stripping her forte. She took after my mother who was be a role model, but pregnant at seventeen just might the worst example I’ve ever seen. Night after night my sister would come home drunk, convince herself that she had had

Thursday, November 1st, 2012, 6:33pm After dinner (more plastic) we had free time until the next patio break. Ali, Melissa, and I all crowded onto my bed, giggling like little girls as we played truth or dare. “Dare,” I exclaimed, trying to decide what embarrassing task Ali would make me do. Ali grinned devilishly. “Okay. You have to kiss Melissa.” “What?” Ali had wanted to kiss me since we met, she told me during the game, but she had a boyfriend and didn’t want to cheat on him. I kind of wanted to tooshe had gages and they were really sexy- but I guess Melissa, the thirty-five year old mom, would have to do. I kissed her slowly, gently, as if I was kissing a rose. It was over within seconds, but I came up satisfied that I’d given her the best kiss I could offer. And not to brag, but I think it’s a pretty damn good offer. She confirmed that it was, indeed, a good offer when I asked her on the next question if I was a good kisser. Curtis walked in just then, a smirk planted on his face. “Whatcha doin?” He sat next to me and looked around the room. “Truth or dare.” Ali replied. “Want to play?” I asked, hoping he’d say yes, not knowing exactly why I wanted him there. Ali turned to me, and when I said dare, she dared me to kiss him. I did, passionately, hungrily, searching for something –or someone- that wasn’t there. “Okay okay, enough.” Ali rolled her eyes. “Haha. Fine. Truth or dare, Ali?” “Dare.” “Well,” I said, thinking. “If I can’t dare you to kiss me, I dare you to walk down the hallway and make that weird car honking sound thing that you do at Nazi Nurse.” Nazi Nurse, a nickname decided upon by all of the patients at the hospital, was a fat old lady who liked nothing better than to scream at us and tell us we couldn’t do things. Especially things like truth or dare. Extra especially when they involved boys. “You can’t be in this room unless it’s your own!” Nazi Nurse glared at Curtis, who quickly got off the bed and shot out of the room. Ali slowly fol29

lowed, glancing back at me. “Bitch.” “Fuckin’ Nazi,” I muttered. What were we gonna do, have a giant orgy? She was probably just jealous that she wasn’t invited. My annoyance quickly dissipated, however, and I began thinking about kissing. I love kissing. It’s like a greeting, a way to say hello. Get to know someone. Camille and I had kissed before I even knew her name, and now I couldn’t stop thinking about her. Why did I let myself fall in love so easily? Especially when I knew that I shouldn’t. Not with her.


Thursday, September 27th, 2012, 1:12am I don’t know how to tell you this but I miss you every time I kiss you can you believe that love leaves the biggest scars? I dream of wrapping stars in pretty paper with a and pink bow that reads love when you open it I’d get you a thousand roses and write you a million proses just to hear you say I love you

I’m wondering long it will take before the rush fades and you wake to face the day. I hear you whispering that you’re okay but black circles tell me that can’t let you be alone with yourself. I grab some water from the sink make you drink, promise I still you but I have problems too and I can’t play superman forever. I’d never leave your side but don’t keep killing yourself inside please have to stop before I walk away.


Friday, November 2nd, 2012, 12:03pm Melissa used to be very pretty, before the alcohol had drawn circles under her eyes, caused her to shake uncontrollably, to pick up a few pounds. Had eroded her memory. I sat and listened during lunch as she told stories about her days when she was my age. “One time I was walking around town just wasted you know? And I ran into the head of this beauty pageant I had won. I guess being drunk in public isn’t too high on the list of things a beauty pageant winner should be doing. Anyway. He dethroned me after that. I was so mad… I went straight home and tore up my sash. I mean I had a beautiful sash from winning the competition- and I just shredded it.” I nodded. I knew what alcohol could do to a person. I had witnessed it secondhand from my birth mother Debbie, and firsthand from my neighbors, my aunt, my uncle, and my mom. When I was in elementary school, I used to beg my dad to take me on the “super-secret shortcut” on the way back from school. It really wasn’t secret or short, but it winded through the woods, over a small bridge shading a creek, and past Aunt Warren and Uncle Bobbie’s house, where Nathan and Rebekah were only teenagers. Aunt Warren and Uncle Bobbie were neither related to us nor had they switched their preferred gender pronouns, but we had been close to them for years and always joked around with them. Their son and daughter, Nathan and Rebekah, used to be good students. They used to play Legos with my brother and me in their huge house at the end of the cul de sac. But then Nathan’s grades started slipping, and he stopped playing with Tyler and me. Not long after, Rebekah did too. Instead of college, Nathan and Rebekah went to rehab, where (hopefully) they sorted out their alcohol addictions. Tyler and I were no longer allowed at their house, or so it seemed- mom and dad stopped talking about Aunt Warren and Uncle Bobbie and we never heard from Nathan or Rebekah ever again. I see Nathan in every hobo asking for loose change on the street to go buy beer, Rebekah in every crazy cat lady slinking around with her grocery cart and multiple cats, a cardboard sign in her hands begging for money. I don’t know what happened to Nathan and Rebekah, but I know that alcohol changed them, and it changed my brother and me. Alcohol became a demon that neither of us really understood, and I looked down on it with a passion. When I found out that I had been born with fetal alcohol syndrome due to 32

my mother’s drinking during pregnancy, I only developed a further hatred, for both the drug and the user. Tom, our other neighbor, had a meth lab in his basement. At the time we lived in Colorado, and when my brother and I were playing outside, my mom would call us inside for three things: supper, bears, and our drugged-up neighbor screaming obscenities through the fence. We would hear Tom playing trash cans in the middle of the night, pounding on the metal until it bent. Mostly, I liked Tom. He had given my brother and me a yellow zip line that we had attached between two big trees in our backyard, and Tyler and I would spend hours pretending we were Indiana Jones swinging over a huge canyon to safety. It wasn’t until after I was old enough to understand what crystal methamphetamine was that I heard some of the stories. Some of the stories were funny. “He came sprinting at us with a baseball bat,” mom said. “Dad and I thought he was going to kill us, but he stopped inches from my face and asked if we wanted to play baseball.” Most were not. “The cops came to his house several times, but he was never arrested. You need a warrant to get into someone’s house, and either they didn’t have a warrant, or they never found anything. His mind is probably Swiss cheese by now. You don’t want anything to do with a meth addict. One minute he’ll be talking to you, casually and under control, and the next he’ll try and kill you.” I didn’t know how true any of those stories were, but either way, they scared me. Like my mother, however, apparently Tom had one day stopped using and found Jesus. Bearing a bible and reciting verses to my mom about angels, Tom’s eyes pleaded for forgiveness. I stood at the top of the steps in my footie pajamas, staring down at him. My mom said something I couldn’t hear, and then slammed the door in his face.


September 13th, 1992, 2:57pm Dear mother, What’s another hit off the pipe? Smoke it right it just might shoot you straight to the moon, but it’s too dark for roses to bloom in that loveless cocoon some places are better off unexplored. What will you do when you’re floored? Passed out, off the high, wondering why you ever shot up to begin with. Maybe it was the myth of escape in that shiny silver needle, maybe you needed to feel something other than the booze in your blood running crimson hues through your empty shell, when we first met I could tell you were in pain. They’re playing a game with me, mother, and where exactly are you? Blue in the face swearing Jesus took the place of the meth but death lingers in your eyes like a parasite biting away at the little girl who used to play hopscotch during recess what happened to make you regress, choose the monster over me over her over everything you once believed, mother? You’re already lost on the other side, aren’t you?



5150 —A Memoir By Dana Allison Christensen

“I didn’t know what a 5150 was, and psych wards were places my friends and I only joked about. But my friend had cut herself with scissors in high school, and I thought that if it worked for her, it could work for me too. I just wanted to feel something besides numbness...”

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