May. 4th, 2015 01:30 pm
aliaspseudonym: (Default)
[personal profile] aliaspseudonym
warnings: homelessness, institutions, abuse, mental illness, bugs i guess

The shelter is a miserable little cave carved into the subway system wall, heated to just above freezing and stocked with ragged blankets and pillows. I don’t know how long I’ve been here. Less than a week, I think. I haven’t been at my best. I’m sitting in the corner wrapped in my gross coat and blankets, staring at the others with glassy eyes. Some kind of enormous insect is crawling up one of the older men’s beard, up the side of his face. It rests for a moment on top of his head, turns to me and hisses, then flies away. The man doesn’t seem to notice and I don’t say anything. I don’t like him very much anyway.

This place is rock-bottom, even for the shelters -- this is where you come when you’ve been kicked out of other places for bad behaviour or sneaking in drugs or whatever. One of the men tried to grab me the day I arrived but I bit his arm so hard he needed first aid and they’ve all stayed away from me since. They think I’m rabid or possessed or something, which probably isn’t far off.

Now there’s a new man in the shelter wearing nice clothes and carrying a clipboard. Some sort of official. These guys are swarming all over the above-ground shelters looking for excuses to kick people out, but they don’t come down here that often. It’s cold and unpleasant and some of these subway caves aren’t even on their records, I think. He’s calling a name. Eleanor. That’s my name, probably. He walks over to me. I look up at him and then look down -- his face is -- nevermind. His face is pinkish with two beady eyes that are blue or green or something and a nose and a mouth which is frowning, which is opening and closing as he speaks. I can’t see for sure because I’m looking down with my eyes tightly shut, but I’m picturing it in my head now and I’m very confident that’s what he looks like.

He’s saying I have to leave. He’s flipping through the pages on his clipboard, finding the records of the foster home I’m supposed to be staying at, explaining that I can’t be taking using public food and shelter like this when I’ve got a perfectly good place to stay waiting for me. He’s telling me that he’ll be taking me back to my warm bed where I can get some better food and treatment for my, um, issues. That’s how he says it, pausing for a moment to select his euphemism.

I open my mouth to explain that I like the food here better anyway and their treatment gives me micro-seizures and I’m sure there are plenty of other kids waiting on my spot anyway and why don’t they just go get one of them. Instead I make sort of shrieking noise, like a bat or something. If there are any bats in the subway outside I’m sure they’re nodding in sympathy at my plight. Maybe a flock of bats will pour into the shelter and carry this man away for me. Probably not. He’s grabbing my arm. I don’t bite him. I let him pull me to my feet and follow him toward the exit. There’s no point resisting, he’ll just call for backup and they’ll drug me with something and take me back anyway. Sometimes I fight back anyway -- I’ve never been one to not do something just because there’s no point -- but I’m exhausted and hungry and the difference between the foster home ward and the shelters seems hardly worth fighting for at the moment.

We leave the shelter and head toward the nearest train station. The man is gripping my arm tightly now, he seems nervous. It has presumably just dawned on him that he is alone in a cold, dimly lit tunnel with a known psycho. For a moment I feel vast and high and powerful -- I stand up straighter and giggle softly, which makes the man grip harder and walk more quickly, pulling me along. The tunnel is walled with bare concrete smeared with grime and tar. We pause for a moment as a train roars by. The wind tugs at my coat and ruffles the pages of my escort’s clipboard.

We’re almost to the station when I feel something else, a sort of crackling sound but in my bones and behind my eyes; I stop with a jerk the man pulls my arm to make me keep walking. I’m breathing heavily and shaking a little. The darkness behind my eyelids fades from reddish black to white and I rub my eyes and something intangible is pulling at me from somewhere above and then, abruptly, all of that is gone and I’m out of the tunnel at the train station.

I keep my eyes closed and hum loudly for the duration of the train ride. I can’t listen to music because my headphones (but not my phone, which I found somewhat insulting) were stolen sometime last week. The man with the clipboard keeps his grip on my arm all the way to the other station and up the elevator. It’ll probably leave a bruise.

The elevator walls are glass and it travels through a big glass chute through one of downtown mall-parks. It’s indoors, but there’s a huge open space with grass and trees and fountains and winding paths in between the stores. It’s beautiful. They say they made these places to keep us from losing our minds during the long, cold, dark winters.

We reach the foster house and the man finally lets go of my arm. A couple of interchangeable nurses chide me for running away again and drug me and dump me in my room, where I am overcome by the relative warmth and softness of the ward bed and fall asleep instantly.

Life at the ward is a blur of white walls, unpleasant food and pain. They give me meds that stop my hallucinations completely but have no effect on paranoia or negative symptoms and give me small seizures multiple times a day. Yuan, who lives across the ward and spends most of his life playing sudoku or something on his phone, takes meds that stop his seizures but make him hallucinate. The purpose of these treatments is to make sane people feel better about themselves. I can’t even pretend to take mine because if I go for a couple days without any microseizures they’ll just know and I’ll get in trouble. It’s a joke.

It’s lunch time, now. I’m sitting in the cafeteria staring at some greyish lumps and feeling a deep, existential sadness. I wish the food here was better. Usually I have to try not to think very much about what I’m eating because of hallucinations, but this food might actually be improved by some non-existent insects. It would add a little crunch. The food at the shelters is much more appetizing, mainly because they add a lot of salt to help preserve it. This nutrient goop is better for me, probably. There’s a lot of overlap in this place between things that are good for you and things that make your life miserable.

I spot Marco carrying a tray from across the room and call to him. He comes over and gives me a strained smile. He’s one of the precious employees here who hasn’t embraced the concept of treating powerless people like shit to make his job slightly easier. I ask him about switching my meds and he just shakes his head sadly. Still can’t get approval, he says. Doctor thinks it’s better to stick with your current dose.

Yeah, that’s cause he fucking hates me, I say, and Marc nods. Maybe if you hadn’t run away the first time, maybe if you’d been more cooperative, he says, and I laugh but it comes out as more of a high-pitched shriek and everyone in the lunch room stares at me. Sorry, he says, and I don’t say anything because I’m clutching my head and trying to concentrate on not biting my toungue off and he asks if he can get me anything but it’s already over, so he leaves and I finish my grey lumps.

The whole place is called a foster house but it’s really two places, the home and the ward. The home is for orphans and kids whose parents couldn’t deal with them or couldn’t be trusted with them -- those kids go to school and do sports and generally try to prepare for life once they have to leave. The ward is where they keep the mixed nats and nuts. That’s N.A.T., neuro-atypical, a spectrum that includes everyone from home kids who misbehave a few too many times to people like me. There’s school for us too technically and I probably would have learned at least something by now if I hadn’t run away three or four times. Three times I think.

I shouldn’t even be here. I’m 19 but their records still say I’m 17 because like a year ago my dad bribed someone in public services to forge my birth date in the records so he could keep claiming benefits for taking care of a minor. Then he got himself arrested for drug trafficking or something and I got dumped here. It’s hard to get too mad at him though, he just didn’t want to kick me out and he couldn’t afford food for me without that extra cheque. Dad was always hard to stay mad at. He did stupid, dangerous stuff all the time and sometimes he would yell or break things over almost nothing but he tried so fucking hard. I think he saw things sometimes too, not as much as I do, and half the time he wouldn’t let me drink from the water faucets because he was convinced they were poisoned. He used a lot of drugs and he had a powerful, irrational belief that there was a place for him in the world somewhere. No, he still does, and he probably still uses a lot of drugs. I catch myself talking about him like he’s dead sometimes and he’s not, he’s in a jail or rehab center somewhere unless he’s weaselled his way out already.

My mom is dead, she died of complications during surgery to remove some kind of growth from her liver or maybe kidney or one of those organs. Dad was convinced the doctors murdered her and apparently went on kind of a legal rampage that ended with the surgeons being proven thoroughly clear of fault and us having to move into a smaller appartment. I don’t remember much about it, I was 4. Dad told me Mom loved seafood and used to play the bass guitar in some sort of band and also that she was an angel sent from heaven to save his sorry ass. I mostly remember blurry bright smiles and green dresses and words that made me feel calmer even in the middle of a tantrum. She could usually get dad to calm down too. Sometimes I think it wasn’t fair for her to leave the two of us toddlers to take care of one another, but that’s not a fair thing to think.

It’s later the same day as the thing with Marc and the food, or maybe some other day, I don’t know. I’m sitting in the ward garden; our own little slice of fake outdoors complete with grass, running water, tree (singular), and a very short round path to walk on because you’re not allowed to walk on the grass, it has a hard enough life already. One of the florescent lights above the fake skylight is flickering visibly -- it’s like the sun itself is sputtering, fibrilating, ready to go out at any moment.

I’m sitting on one of the little benches beside the path reading some novel on my phone about people with lives marginally less miserable than mine. A blonde girl wearing sneakers and a band-logo t-shirt with some sort of skull on it sits next to me and says, so, Elle, how did it go?

Her name starts with a ‘V’ and has many consonants for me to reasonably spell or pronounce; I call her Vee and she calls me Elle. She’s been diagnosed with ODD, ADHD and ASD-NOS. She says she would have done much better in high school without all those Ds pulling down her GPA. She helped orchestrate my last couple of escapes. She likes the idea of escaping because it annoys the psychs and disrupts the place but she never wants to come with me. She’s frightened of change. I’m a little worried about what’ll happen when she gets out on her 18th birthday, it’s only a couple of months away, but I can’t worry too much because it’s not really my problem.

I roll my eyes and say how’d what go and she says you know, stuff, out there? You know I didn’t go on vacation right, I say and she’s all exasperated and nods and is like come on, please? And she’s not asking for all that much, really, so I tell her about the above and below-ground shelters and the guy I bit and the food and some other stuff that isn’t very interesting but her eyes are wide and bright so I keep talking. I get to the part in the subway with the crackle and the weird feeling and she interrupts to say oh, yeah, I heard about something like that on the news and I say, really?

She says yeah, there’s been, like, weird stuff going on particularly near the subways and the ground levels, people seeing bright lights through windows even though it’s dark out there 24/7 now and other people having weird episodes in the malls, sometimes trying to go outside but not realizing what they’re doing like they’re in some kind of trance. I tell her that sounds really weird and she nods, says the news people were talking about it like some sort of cabin fever, a ‘natural reaction to this unnatural space we inhabit.’ She does finger quotes and her best reporter voice for that part.

My legs are getting stiff so I get up and stretch and start walking slowly along the tiny garden path and Vee follows and after a while she asks how I’ve been doing. I tell her I think I’m getting worse, I think I’ve got to get out of here soon. The seizures you mean, she asks and I nod and rub my forehead. I feel like I’m going to die, I say. I don’t know. Not that they’re that much worse, it’s just a feeling, like one of these times something’s going to go wrong and I’m going to fall and split my skull or have an anyresm or some-fucking-thing and that doctor is going to write a report about how sad it is I was uncooperative and didn’t respond to treatment and. Ugh. Remember Lee?

Lee was a home kid who got shipped over to our side because they couldn’t deal with him. Lee was his last name, his first name was a pretty sing-song string of syllables, Chin something-something. He was an asshole, he was always breaking stuff and stealing stuff and spreading lies about people (or true things he wasn’t supposed to fucking say) and made a point of treating us like trash because we were a bunch of nuts and he was a sane person who had been wrongfully, tragically misplaced. He died of anaphylactic shock like half a year ago, an allergic reaction to some antibiotic they gave him for strep throat. Apparently they didn’t have the allergy on his file and just couldn’t react in time to save him. So unfortunate. Such a tragic loss to all of us.

Vee shakes her head slowly but she says, yeah, and then swears in Russian. I don’t wanna disappear, I say. If I die somehow I wanna make a big mess and be on the news and have someone write an article about how hard it is in the shelters these days or something. I don’t know.

Vee says yeah again and I ask her if she’ll come with me this time but she shakes her head. I try to convince her, you’ll be leaving one way or another soon, right, don’t you wanna make some noise? Leave on your own terms? Something like that? I don’t know. Please? She grabs one of my hands and squeezes it and says, don’t, and her face is like completely blank and defeated and I just nod and apologize again and look away. I should know better than to press her like that, maybe. I don’t know.

I don’t know. I don’t fucking know anything sometimes. I once wrote the words “I don’t know” like five hundred times on my bedroom wall in neat little rows like a kid from some other century in detention and then hid under my bed because I thought dad would yell at me but he just said he didn’t know either. I don’t know things and I don’t know people but especially I don’t know what to do, like, ever.

Days pass in a haze of pain and muted defiance. The hard part of escaping is the following through. It’s scary how easy it is to just give in and cooperate and shuffle along from day to day trying not to inconvenience the staff in any way so they’ll just ignore you and maybe you find some activity that makes you feel marginally alive and eventually you die in a different institution having made no meaningful choices about your own existence. I bring this up in my case meeting with the head psych. He asks why I keep running away, why I won’t just cooperate and I rattle off all this stupid stuff and ask why won’t he fucking switch my meds. He tells me that delusions about being brainwashed are a common symptom of schizophrenia and my current dose may not be high enough. I call him a monster and he says I’m hysterical, he has a nurse sedate me and drag me back to my room. I spend the rest of the day thinking about ways to poison him. I won’t try to poison him, I’ll just run away again and hope he chokes on his own bile someday.

They’re always really surprised when I leave, Vee has told me. Hardly anyone ever tries to run away once and nobody else has done it a second time after being brought back.

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