Colors. Our sun bleached blond and red hair messily restrained in lycra swim caps, goggles tight across our faces. We take turns as the leader calling out red, orange, yellow, green blue, white, pink… as the other two of us swim as stealthily as we can muster across the deep end of the pool. Red, orange, yellow… I splash as I attempt to make it to the other wall untouched, but I feel a tug on my leg and know I have failed. We all laugh and begin again, playing for hours on end, burning to a crisp in the hot Southern Californian sun. The concerns of life were simpler, punctuated by swims and games of Sailor Moon in the small orchard alongside the house. What would we not give to return.
Wildfires were burning up Southern California. Ash was raining and smoke hovering. As my world burned, I retreated within, further falling into a zombie-like trance. I went through the motions with little knowledge of my doing so. It was another nondescript day at high school, and I wandered from class to class. Once again I had slept too much and not completed my assignments; I was starting to see no way out of this. My lack of functioning plummeted me further into the depression, igniting a vicious, self-perpetuating cycle. The world was ashen black, and the narrative music had ceased. My Bach and Beethoven transformed into sinister voices speaking about death, urging, encouraging.
It was lunchtime, and I sat in zombie trance as I heard over the loud speaker a secretary beckoning me to the front office. I was too tired to question or ponder this occurrence and trudged in a slow shuffle to the office. My mother was there, waiting to pick me up, and again, unquestioning, I obliged to her offer. Once in the car, she explained that she and Dr. Azad conversed, and I was going to spend some time in the hospital. In my state of emotional indifference, all I could offer was an “okay,” I imagined a hospital room with machines and a bed – a bed I could sleep and sleep and sleep in, endlessly. Little did I know that it could not be further from the case. I was to imminently enter a little prison that would sequester me for the next five weeks.
We arrived at the University of California, Los Angeles Neuropsychiatric Institute Adolescent Psychiatry Ward, or 2-South, as I would come to know it. A psychologist completed an intake and mental status assessment. I was quiet and confused, but compliant. My naivete was a sedative drug, overriding all brain function and nervous system response, for had I known the domain I was to enter, storm clouds would have rained torrentially. The naivete was a protective factor, stemming from my interminable internment in a vortex of a tornado untruthful and unforgiving. So yes, I complied, with what composure could be mustered.
The five of us sat in the Suburban, father driving and mother in the front seat, sisters and I in the back with the dogs. The windows were all down, the air rushing and blowing in, twisting and turning loose strands of hair, coaxing the laughter from our throats and carrying away with it the happiness gently oozing from our depleting stores. We drove through the streets of Westlake Village, and as we did so, we honked at strangers on the street, waving enthusiastically in the ruse that we were acquaintances or knew each other well. Some strangers waved back in confused embarrassment from an apparent amnesia, while others stared blankly in confusion. To us, it was hilarious, a wonderful warm afternoon pastime.
Every evening, twice daily on weekends, my mother made the drive to UCLA to visit me for five weeks, and continued to do so for the following five hospitalizations. As we played cards in the dining room on a plasticized wooden table, two sisters sat at home in the care of my father, who himself was distant, existing in a world that was slowly deviating from our collective. In fact, we were all shifting into and out of different collectives. Fractures forming. We played gin rummy every night, the only rope that could draw me out of catatonia. Two sisters, hours without their mother in the prime of their childhood. My father was no longer allowed to visit. I could not tolerate his presence. Fractures. My illness tore through the burlap of our family fabric with the ease and adeptness of a razor shaving hair. First the tibias and fibulas broke. Then, as time progressed, the femurs, the metacarpals, the bones necessary for the cohesiveness and function of the family. A mother’s sacrifice twofold. An ailing child in the hospital and shrinking children at home in the loss of a childhood, a forced maturity. Loss, on all accounts.
Every Sunday, my sister would don her Cleveland Browns jersey and watch the Browns football game with my father. Two peas in a pod, one large, another growing, nesting in their pod as they cheered each touch down, groaned at every fumble. She was still young, bleach blond hair not yet turned brown, swimming in her jersey, swimming in the camaraderie and happiness, the naivete still nursed to her from the bosom of childhood innocence. She was deserving, and when the milk ran dry, roads diverged, carrying her youthful body far from the familiar into terrain rough and rugged. Thirsty, she was, perpetually thirsty.
Not long after I was discharged from my fifth hospitalization, my aunt committed suicide. My mother and I went back to Ohio to attempt to piece together the remnants of my aunt’s abandoned life – clean her house, organize for donations, and plan a funeral. The fractures of my mother’s family thrusted to the forefront as many came to converge upon the death of my aunt. Fracture upon fracture does not hold in firmness and promise a structure capable of supporting a family ailing in many avenues. Following our days in Ohio we returned to California in time for another seismic shift and fracture in the walls of a house precariously resting upon the San Andreas Fault. My father was leaving the marriage, dissecting the family lines. A cut through the flesh with a sharp blade. The casualties? Two sisters shadowed by an illness and a broken marriage. Our feet bled as we walked upon the shattered china littering the kitchen floor.
Their sister was thrusted to the forefront, ill and hospitalized, discharged only to return a day later, a week later. The two sisters metamorphosed in the aftermath of an illness, the melting and drying wax of their dwindling candles slowly molding and melding to the life and care of their older sister. Years pass, school absences abound. Depression ensues, anger bubbles from fresh wounds. Fractures ever more apparent. One sister spends nearly three quarters of her year driving her sister to electroconvulsive therapy treatments, a sucking, a sequestration of nine months of her life. No, not her life. She struggles to exist in the wake of the aftermath of the seismic shifts, her life an entity separate from that of her sister, of the illness. Enmeshment and inseparability are words served cold with dinner each night.
A mother plays doctor, suturing lacerations and bandaging wounds, attempting to tie again what has been untied, to meld together what has been fractured. Such pressure, this role. Unfair. Caught between the worlds, the collectives divided by illness and seismic shifts. Of pinnacle importance? The knowledge that the body seeks self preservation and perpetuation. Fractures heal. Fractures once apparent connect and dissolve. There exists a remaining faint scar, a reminder that life is messy and that our ills and struggles will crack what we hold to be impervious.