By now I know the drill—
stuff clothes into a bag, pull
the strings out of my sweatpants,
slip on my black slip-on Vans,
clip my fingernails into the trash can
because who knows when I’ll be able to next.
I can’t bring my deodorant because
it has alcohol in the top three ingredients, and yes,
patients actually try to get drunk on their toiletries.
I toss a few books of poetry into the bag;
there is always time to read.
The look in my lover’s eyes says it all—
there is never enough room for her.
My friend drives me to the hospital this time.
At the ER I am forced to change into paper scrubs
the color of oxidized blood, not vein blue like last time.
Outside my door sits my own personal bodyguard
but instead of protecting me from other people
he’s there to protect me from myself.
I wear a yellow surgical mask while
the physician assistant writes in his notes
female-to-male transgendered with “top” surgery only.
As if I wasn’t a person; as if it were my genitals
who tied the noose in my bedroom.
I speak with the on-call psychiatrist through
an iPad on wheels, and I can’t help but wonder
what is hiding behind his fake desert background?
There are no beds on the voluntary unit,
no beds on the involuntary, either.
I’m to be transferred elsewhere, he says,
like I’m already a body in a bag.
He dismisses me by lifting his hand
to his hairline and tipping an invisible cowboy hat
like he is some kind of psychiatric lone ranger.
I wait a whole 24 hours before being admitted
to a locked unit at another hospital
in a sleepy town two hours south of here.
I’m strapped to a stretcher by a man named Reuban,
and all I can think about is how fucking hungry I am.
Through the back of the ambulance I look out
past tears at greening pastures rolling by—
the landscape swinging high to low and back again,
the silos as dilapidated as my will to live.
It’s mid-May in Vermont, and everything
is coming back to life, everything but me.
I am greeted by a team of security guards
who escort me up to the ward. One of them
won’t stop talking about how much he loves my name—
you must be some kind of a celebrity.
But my name ignites off his tongue harsh and explosive,
and each time he says it, my eyes grow a little bit darker
because my name is stronger than I’ll ever be.
He brings me to my room, sterile and suicide-proof—
no mirror above the sink, no strings on the blinds;
just a bed bolted to the floor, a weighted chair,
and nowhere to escape from myself.
I’m often asked what it is actually like.
The easy answer is styrofoam meal trays, plastic cutlery,
and butternut squash puree—baby food.
It’s checks every 15 minutes, the hours divided
into time I am alone and time I am alone and seen.
It’s sitting cross-legged on the floor of an outdoor enclosure
listening to spring peepers in the distance
and Pink Floyd strumming through the speakers.
It’s the girl with wasps inside her brain,
another who spent her entire stimulus check on cocaine.
It’s the boy who thinks we’re all being controlled by Nazis
and there’s me thinking he’s not exactly wrong, is he?
The hard answer is it’s just like you’d think it would be.
The hard answer is we’re all being controlled by something
we can’t touch or see.