She was both innocent and volatile. Clearly an adult but not able to behave as one. Her anger raging at times though more often it was time spent in gibberish spanish/ english speech and watching TV in childlike wonder. Far too often I caught myself looking around for a child as her voice had the tendency to travel and amongst all the ambient noise it was far too easy to mistake it for a youngster. I was awoken like that. Startled awake. bolt upright. My brain confused and shocked about how a child might have ended up in that unit. Lost? was there a mistake? It was momentary as each time my senses caught up to me and I reminded myself it was just her. A child lodged firm in a mentally ill adult body. Most moved around her. Paid her no mind. Avoided her.
The tantrums were a part of each day. Whether it was over cake she could not have (diabetic) or the TV remote that wasn’t turned over. Her voice rose high until staff finally reminded her about inside voice please. She would often storm away and slam her door. Bringing more reprimand. Tears and sulking followed. More ignoring and avoiding. It went on like this. I spoke with her when she looked at me, though often I could not understand with the spanish and the speech patterns that created a sort of sing song rapidity. I helped her shoot hoops when they took us outside the handful of times as often her shots fell short or carried wide. I told her what a good job she was doing. and praised her for baskets made. She told me about the voices. I could not ignore her. I could not look away. It felt cruel.
One of the evenings she was trying to get her clothes in the dryer. Staff was needed to unlock door to laundry to accomplish this. she asked as one walked by doing checks. Nothing. Not even a shortening of stride or a glance. She became upset. A second staffer came by. Same. She started to cry. and then to yell. Nothing. A nurse and psych tech walked by talking. neither even looked at her. Here there was a grown woman yelling and sobbing about her clothes in the middle of the hallway and yet they didn’t even blink. nor look her direction. None assured her they would come right back, or even express they were doing something and she would have to wait. Sure she might still have went off, even if they had, but did it need to get to this point? After then swiftly passed she just lost it. My heart broke. It just fucking broke. I wanted to help her, but there was nothing I could do and it wasn’t like I could get any better treatment. I returned to my room to get away from the meltdown that might have been averted. I could not watch anymore.
I think often of her and how she is treated in there. I think of her parting words to me when she heard I was leaving. It was a typical rounds morning and we all sat lining the hall. Because of fire safety, or something all the couches and chairs line one side. Everyone sits facing a wall. To talk is impossible, unless you happen to get a couch with nobody occupying the center spot. You can angle your body enough that looking at who you are talking to is possible. They want you all in a row so the rounds go smoothly. Nobody needs to be tracked down in their room, and none have fallen back to sleep. It is noisy and chaotic. Staff walk by. Maintenence is dragging around carts dumping garbage cans. others are checking outlets/ plugs. Random staff pass by. The exit doors close hard. Sound echoing up off the linoleum. foot falls too loud. Above speakers pipe in random music. That morning it was Top 20 pop/rock music. She saw me and our eyes met. She asked if I was leaving in her sing song voice. I said I was. Her eyes teared. I felt odd standing over her. I squatted uncomfortably so I could be at eye level. She continued.
“Ey Mommie. you need to take your medicines. h-okay? you need to sleep right. d-you need to go to therapy and do what they tell d-you. Ey?
“Yes. I will take my medicine. I promise”
“D-you need to be good. No want to come here again”
“I know. I know. I will be good.
“Mommie d-you need to find a husband. make a family. BUT NO BABIES”.
“ok”. Now at this point her voice is loud enough to be heard throughout the hall. Most people are looking away. uncomfortable.
“No BABIES. d-you need to use a condom. but they break, yes. so d-you need to use a sponge. not just one, no. No, d-you need a- LOT. then no babies. okay mommie?
“Ok. I will be careful and no babies.
“Ay-mommie. D-you need to grow your hair. why you not grow your hair mommmy?
“It is easier like this.”
“Be good okay?”