I couldn’t stop stealing glances at my mom as we sat on the train for the long eight hours we had to reach North Carolina. Any fear that I may have had about living in a new state was replaced with happiness being next to my mom again. I missed her so much. Once we made it to North Carolina, I greeted my siblings when we made it to my new home. The weather was a lot warmer than it had been in New Jersey, but then again, it was mid-August in the South.
I remember my first night home I couldn’t even sleep. So much had happened. My thoughts were racing and I wanted them to slow down. Anytime any bad thoughts would enter my mind about my time being bounced around the mental hospitals in New Jersey, I would try to drown out with music. I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t had music as my saving grace.
My mom had to return to work the next day. She worked in chargeback and receiving in Target. I asked her if I could go to work with her. She said that I could, but I would have to make myself scarce. I would sit an entire eight hours at work with my mom. And anytime she would go to the grocery store, I followed along. I didn’t want my mom out of my sight. I was eighteen years old but clung to my mom like a scared three-year-old.
One day, I was napping and my mom decided to run an errand and I wasn’t awake to tag along. She let me know that she would be back in two hours. Two hours and one minute later I began pacing my living room floor. Where was she? Two hours and ten minutes later, I had already envisioned that she was in a terrible car accident, trapped inside the car in a ditch. She was calling out for me to help and I wasn’t there to help her. I was starting to put my shoes on when I hear the front door open. It had been two hours and thirteen minutes and my mom walked through the door as if absolutely nothing had happened.
I was furious! I walked right up to my mom and angrily asked where she had been. She explained that she’d had some errands to run and even reminded me that she’d told me she would be back in two hours. “It took you more than two hours! Don’t say you’ll be back in two hours if it will take you longer than that!” I saw the confused look in my mom’s face. She never said anything else. Deep down, I knew that it was irrational of me to be yelling at my mom. Yelling at her for being thirteen minutes late coming home. My mom was a forty-two-year-old woman, and I was angry at her for not being home. I wasn’t even really angry; I was scared. It terrified me to think of her hurt or dying. My fear presented itself as anger. I didn’t want anything to happen to my mom. It had always been my luck to lose the people I held so close to my heart. First, I lost my grandma to cancer, and then I lost Mr. McNeal because I moved away. I refused to lose my mom too.
A few days after this incident, I called the number that the hospital had provided me upon my discharge. It was to help secure outpatient resources to help. I knew I needed the help, and the sooner I was able to receive services, the better I would be. I hated that I had to explain my story each time I talked to a new person. The one question that I seemed to be asked over and over again was what my diagnosis was and what medications I took. I had no idea. No one had ever given me any information about my diagnosis and I did not know the name of the medications; I could only identify them by shape and color. I was able to give them the information about the hospital that had released me, including the address and phone number. The lady I spoke with last told me that she would get in contact with Blackstone and have them fax my medical records over for review. I thanked her and hung up the phone. I was actually looking forward to finding another therapist to see. Even though I didn’t know how to say how I was feeling, I was hoping to find someone who would ask the right questions. I never have been the type to volunteer information, especially sensitive information. I have always been a protector, and even though I wasn’t narcisstic enough to believe that anyone would care enough about me to worry about my problems, particularly a professional, I couldn’t help but think how I might ruin their day if I said too much. Hey, I never pretended to be a rational thinker.
Two days later I received a call back and was instructed on where to go the following day to begin receiving services. I wrote down the address and made sure I left early the next day so that if I had trouble finding it, I wouldn’t have to worry about being late. The place where I had to go was inside the main hospital’s parking lot. It was a building in the back, across from the OB/GYN building. I arrived and spoke with Erica. Erica was a triage nurse and she explained to me that I was being enrolled in their P.H. program. P.H. stood for partial hospitalization. It was an all-day program Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. I wasn’t sure how I felt about having to attend some program all day. But I was willing to give it a try.
My first time there, I was introduced to the counseling staff. There was Nate, Mark, Donna, and Jenny. They facilitated all of the activities that we all did throughout the day. There were about fifteen to twenty of us. We ranged in all ages, from eighteen to at least sixty-five. We had one woman there who was well into her sixties. We were male and female. We were black and white and everything in between. We all had our issues.
I was nervous being around other people. I wasn’t really comfortable around others, even if they were all struggling like I was. However, there were a few people that I gravitated toward immediately. There was a guy named Bob, who was originally from Illinois. I knew he wasn’t originally from North Carolina. He didn’t have a Southern accent. Bob was in his early forties, I think. He was tall and thin and had long hair. He was funny. I remember sitting across from Bob during our groups and since the bathrooms were near where we had our groups, we could pretty much hear everything that went on in there. I don’t know if it was because what they served us for lunch on Thursdays, but not twenty minutes after we were done with lunch, someone would go into the bathroom and it would sound like a dozen whoopee cushions going off at once. Bob and I would look at each other and try, unsuccessfully, to muffle laughter. We both thought farts were funny. I mean, who doesn’t? Once we caught on that it happened the same day of the week, Bob coined Thursdays “Shitty Thursday.” Every time someone would get up from group to use the bathroom after lunch, Bob and I would stop what we were doing and lock eyes…he would mouth “Shitty Thursday” to me and we would both start cracking up. It was pretty cool to have an inside joke with someone. I genuinely felt that Bob was truly my friend.
Then there was James. He was in his early twenties and I had a major crush on him. He was about an inch or two shorter than me, but I didn’t care. He has short blondish-brown hair and big blue eyes. I would imagine that he was my boyfriend, though I knew he would never find me attractive. He was always so nice to me though.
During one of the groups, I admitted to self-mutilating and admitted that I had done it just the night before. I was so nervous and my voice kept getting caught in my throat. No one judged me, but I felt humiliated for some reason. During our lunch break that day, James sat next to me and rolled up his sleeve to expose his forearm. I could see many cuts in varying stages of healing, including some that appeared to be only a day or two old. After a short silence, he said, “You don’t have to feel ashamed. I understand you.”
I couldn’t believe that he had so freely showed his scars to me. I was glad that he had, because I didn’t feel like such a pariah anymore. James sat next to me the next morning during our first group and every group that day after that. We sat together at lunch. He always brought his CD player with him and we would listen to music together. We both enjoyed 90s alternative and grunge. He would listen to Natalie Imbruglia, Fiona Apple, Alanis Morissette, and the Cranberries for me too.
A week later during lunch, James asked me if I wanted to go for a walk. I agreed. We walked the hospital grounds and we walked to where there was a small trail that led to a gazebo. The gazebo was near a small pond. There were pretty flowers everywhere on our trek to the gazebo. James bent down and picked a few flowers along the way. Once we reached the gazebo, I sat down and James stood in front of me and handed me the flowers that he had picked. “Pretty flowers for a beautiful girl.” I couldn’t believe my luck. A guy that I liked actually thought that I was pretty. We both just sat in the gazebo and looked out over the pond in silence.
James called my name. I looked over at him and he said, “You have a little something right there,” as he reached for my face. Since it was just after lunch, I was mortified. That is, until James grabbed my chin, tilted it up, and kissed me. He kissed me softly, and deeply. We kissed for several minutes. I was nineteen years old and that was my first real kiss. The kiss took my breath away. We both knew it was time to head back to group, but neither of us wanted to leave. On the walk back, we went hand in hand. We became a couple that day and stayed a couple for three months before he broke up with me because he had fallen in love with someone else.
Finally, there was Linda. Linda was much older than me. She was fifty-one and I was nineteen. I remember during one of our group outings we had gone to a drugstore that still had one of those old-fashioned counters that you can sit at and order sodas and ice cream floats. Linda was sitting by herself at the counter drinking a soda. I walked up to her and asked if I could sit with her. She said sure and moved her purse, which was sitting on one of the stools beside her. I sat down and asked her how she was doing. We made small talk that was pretty trivial. Nate walked past us and told us it was time to go. I sat with Linda as she finished her soda and we walked out of the drugstore together. Once we reached the van, we both got in and sat next to each other. We continued our conversation all the way back to the P.H. building.
She told me that she was a retired nurse and that she had been married, and divorced. She told me she had two daughters that lived in California. Linda also spoke very fondly of her mother, who lived in Florida. I told Linda about James and how heartbroken I was when he broke up with me. She made me feel better by telling me that he was a fool to let go of someone as sweet, beautiful, kind, and smart as I was. Then she shared with me how lonely and out of place she’d felt that day in the drugstore. She said that she was depressed and actually sitting there thinking about suicide. She told me that when I had stopped to talk to her, and then sat with her the whole time, it had made her feel better. She told me she liked me instantly. I was so shocked because I didn’t realize the impact I had on someone else’s life. I mostly just assumed that I had no real purpose in this world and I always felt insignificant and felt like I didn’t belong anywhere. I figured that if we both felt like we didn’t belong anywhere, then maybe we belonged with each other. We would become good friends and lean on each other. Six months after first talking to Linda, I moved in with her and we were roommates.
Linda had a beautiful home. She lived in a three-bedroom, two-bath ranch-style home. I had a bedroom that I painted sky blue with lavender accents. I am not sure why I went through all of that trouble just to plaster my walls with Backstreet Boys, Linkin Park, Matchbox 20, and Third Eye Blind posters. My walls were lined with huge posters. I also added glow-in-the-dark stars to my bedroom. But my favorite part of my bedroom was the lock on the door. I would definitely be safe now.
There was a pond behind her home, and just five houses down was the community pool. Linda had a female cat named Bella, and Bella was scared of everything, even her own shadow! I had also been given a kitten, a boy I had named Maxie. I loved living with Linda. We did everything together. We would food shop, watch movies, cook, listen to music, and we would talk for hours. We were both more like night owls than morning people. Linda hated to drive so she had me learn how to drive so that I could get my license. Two weeks after getting my license, we took a road trip down to Florida so that Linda could see her mother. Her mother was sick and Linda knew she didn’t have much time so she wanted to spend every little bit of time she had left with her mother. Not long after we left Florida to come back to North Carolina, Linda’s mom passed away. Linda was devastated. I felt horrible for her. I hugged Linda as she mourned the loss of her mom. I didn’t know what to say to comfort her, so I sat in silence while she cried.
It was a few months after the passing of Linda’s mom that we found out that the P.H. program was losing its government funding so the program was ending. I was sad because I really loved the support I received from them, plus the friendships that were formed. Linda and I remained roommates, but Linda had type 2 diabetes and didn’t take care of herself well, so she was in and out of the hospital. She had a diabetic ulcer on the ball of her right foot and ended up having to have two toes on her right foot amputated. I helped her through the surgery and adjusting to the boot that she had to wear while her foot healed. Unfortunately, Linda never would eat healthily so her foot never healed properly from her toe amputation and she ended up needing a below-the-knee amputation. Linda suffered a lot of phantom pain. I can’t even imagine how awful it is to feel pain in the part of your leg that is no longer there. The brain is a magnificent organ, but it can drive you mad.
I was no longer just Linda’s friend; I was her caretaker. I had to learn how to help her get in and out of the car from her wheelchair and I had to drive her to and from many appointments. I didn’t complain, because she was my friend and I really didn’t mind helping her. It became taxing on me because I had just begun a new job delivering pizzas for a famous pizza restaurant. I had just started that job so I was training and working long hours and then would come home to help bathe Linda and feed her and do laundry. My second week at my job, Linda had to be admitted to the hospital. I couldn’t help but feel a little relieved. Not because she was in the hospital, but because with her having other people that could take care of her physical needs, I was able to take a break. And take a break is what I did. I didn’t particularly like being alone in that big house, but I liked being able to not have to do anything. Not have to worry about anything or anyone. All I needed to focus on was work.
I was still training at work so I would go out with my co-worker, Joe, when he would deliver pizzas. He gave me some tips––for instance, always pay attention to my surroundings, and if something looked off, then to listen to my instincts and not deliver. He told me that while he had never been robbed while delivering pizzas, he had heard too many stories not to think about it and be diligent. I was happy to get these pointers from him. Joe was thirty-eight years old and was a father. He didn’t talk much about his children, or anything else, really. On my ride-alongs with him, we just talked about the job, and he was curious about my time back home in New Jersey because of my accent. I laughed. I didn’t feel like “I” was the one with the accent.
I had adjusted pretty well to Southern living, except I still would have to have most people repeat things to me, since I couldn’t understand them the first time because of their heavy Southern accents. I found out BBQ was NOT hamburgers, hot dogs, and chicken cooked on a grill. It was a pork product that looked like it had been chewed and spit back out. I learned that salad here was NOT a spring mix of lettuce with onions, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, and maybe a sliced boiled egg…oh no, it was some kind of icky spinach-looking stuff. No, thank you. We compared notes on things of our childhood and Joe would always crack jokes to make me laugh.
It was finally my turn to begin delivering pizzas on my own. I was nervous at first but honestly, it was easy. I made great tips. After one long night in particular, I got home around 11:30 p.m. Linda was still in the hospital so I was alone. I walked down my hall to peel out of my work clothes and shower. I undressed and left my work clothes in a heap on the bathroom floor. I stood in the hot shower and let the water cascade down my head to my shoulders, arms, and back. I took extra-long and washed my hair and my body and reluctantly got out of the shower. I dried myself off and put on my PJs. I’d bought those PJs a few weeks ago. I loved them because they were such a soft cotton blend. The shorts were short and the matching tank top was spaghetti strap. I didn’t bother with trying to wear undies or a bra. I just put my PJs on and walked to my room, which was right across from the bathroom, so that I could grab my CD player and put it in the kitchen so I could listen to music while I ate.
I walked down the hall with my radio in one hand and my CD case in the other. I decided to play some 80s Bon Jovi while I searched the fridge for some food. Nothing there that I wanted. I opened the freezer, and other than the bottle of vodka chilling in there, there wasn’t anything in there that I wanted. I didn’t feel like cooking. It was now a quarter after midnight and while there was a Food Lion literally a mile away from my home, I was not in the mood to put clothes on and go shopping. I remembered that my pizza job didn’t stop delivering until 1:00 a.m., so I called and ordered a large pepperoni pizza with onions and cheese sticks to be delivered. In the meantime, I danced around the kitchen, loudly singing along to “Always,” one of my favorites from Bon Jovi.
I heard a knock on the back door and knew my pizza was finally here. I opened the door and saw Joe standing on the other side of it.
“Hey Karen, I didn’t know you lived here.”
“Hi Joe, yeah, I live here.”
“Do you stay in the big house by yourself?” he asked me.
“Oh God no, I live with my roommate, but she is at the hospital right now.”
“So, you’re home alone then?”
“Yeah, but I will be OK.” I went to grab the box of pizza and cheese bread from Joe. He gave me my total and I paid him, plus added a tip.
“No, Karen, no tip. Keep your hard-earned money.”
“No, Joe, I insist, take it, please.”
“I’ll tell you what, how about I take this and come back with some beer for us and we can hang out for a bit. I get off in twenty minutes. I can be back here in forty.”
I told him that I was too young to drink. He just laughed and said that he wouldn’t tell if I didn’t. I agreed to his offer and told him I liked the Skyy Blue drinks. He said goodbye and walked back to his vehicle. I closed the door and started eating the pizza. I was actually relieved that Joe would be coming back. I could use the company for sure. I sat at the kitchen table and ate three slices of the pizza and two cheese sticks before putting the extra pizza and cheese sticks in storage containers and put them in the fridge. I continued to dance around the kitchen until I heard a knock on the door. Joe had returned.
I let Joe in and we sat down in the kitchen. He put the drinks he had bought on the table and took a bottle out of the bag. He twisted open the dark-blue glass bottle and set it in front of me. I thanked him and took a few sips. The cool, crisp, sweet taste mixed well with the flavor of pizza that I still had in my mouth. We made small talk and I mindlessly shuffled a deck of cards that was on the table.
Joe got up from where he was sitting and stood behind me and began massaging my shoulders. I tensed up automatically. I hated to be touched, especially being touched without my permission being asked first. Joe’s hands moved from my shoulders down the front of my chest toward my breasts. It was then that my whole body began to shake and I dropped the cards that I was shuffling all over the table. Joe removed his hands and asked me if he was making me uncomfortable. I told him yes. He asked me if I wanted him to stop. I said yes. His brief pause didn’t last long, because he once again started to rub me but this time he went directly for my breasts.
I was suddenly very aware of the fact that I was sitting in my pajamas still, and I had no underclothes on. I must be giving him the wrong idea, I thought to myself. I slid my chair out and excused myself. I felt like I was naked. I knew that my work clothes were still in the bathroom on the floor from my shower earlier that night, so I walked down the hallway to the bathroom. I quickly pulled my work pants on over my pajama shorts and put my work shirt on over my tank top. I walked out of the bathroom and right into Joe, who was now standing in the doorway of my room. He moved to stand in the hallway, effectively blocking my ability to walk back toward the kitchen.
I couldn’t look at him so my eyes were focused on my feet on the carpet. He started walking toward me and I stepped back a few feet. He was walking me into my room. I put my hands up in a defensive position to signal to him to stop. I told him it was getting late and he needed to leave. He grabbed me around my waist and pulled me into him. He began kissing and licking my neck. I tried to pull him off of me but it didn’t take me long to realize that my attempts were feeble. He had me on my own bed right now and he had my pants off. My pajama shorts were still on and before I knew it, Joe was inside of me. I gasped and closed my eyes tightly. I had been here before, so I knew what to do. I made myself disappear in my head. I went to my safe place where I was alone, and not in this bed, Joe was not on top of me, grinding against me. It did not hurt.
I don’t know how long it lasted. It felt like I was gone for hours, but it could have only been five minutes. Joe was now standing over me as I lay in the same position he’d left me in.
“I will see you at work tomorrow. I’ll show myself out.” He bent over and kissed me on my lips. “Don’t worry, I’ll lock up. You wouldn’t want any intruders coming in on you.” With that, Joe walked out of my room and seconds later, I heard the front door closing shut behind him. I looked at the clock on my nightstand. It was 2:13 a.m. I knew I had to be at work at noon, but I didn’t want to go back. The last time I looked at the clock was 5:19 a.m. before I drifted off into a restless sleep.
My alarm started blaring at 10:45 a.m. I got up and took my clothes off in my room and walked across the hall to the bathroom. My legs ached and I felt sore between my legs. I didn’t bother running any cold water in my shower; I stepped into the scorching water. The burning water bit my skin everywhere. The pain was welcomed. I just stood under the water for fifteen minutes before I even began to clean myself. Once my shower was over I walked to my room and opened up the small wooden jewelry box on my dresser. Inside, I had the blade that once belonged to a pencil sharpener that I dismantled, discarding the small plastic pieces and keeping the blade. I ran the blade across my stomach, making five to six cuts before moving on to my upper thighs. The pain was an immediate relief. As my cuts felt numb, so did I. I cleaned up the blood and put on my work clothes. It was time to go in and face Joe.
I had decided that I was going to ignore him. I would be making deliveries so the chances of us running into each other were very slim. I pulled up into the parking lot of my job. My heart began to race, but I took a few deep breaths before getting out of the car. When I opened the door to the store and began to walk to the back to clock in, I saw Joe standing there. He was standing with two other male co-workers. It appeared that they were in the middle of a conversation that stopped when I walked in. It’s probably paranoia, I tried to tell myself. I planned to walk right past them without even looking at them.
“Hey Karen,” Michael, my co-worker, said. “Can I make a special delivery at your house tonight?” The three of them began to laugh. It felt like the floor under me shifted. I turned around and started to run toward the door. I was dizzy and the sound of their laughter pierced my eardrums. I thought I was going to pass out. I made it to my car and sped away.
By the time I got to my driveway, I thought I was going to throw up. I opened my car door and made it to my front door, where I flung it open and doubled over and immediately started hyperventilating. I couldn’t breathe. I made my way into the kitchen and I began to eat. I ate the rest of the pizza from last night, I ate the cheese bread. I ate a few pickles and I ate some salad. I ate some Parmesan cheese straight from the bottle. I opened the freezer and ate some frozen peas. Then my eyes locked on the bottle of vodka in the freezer.
I grabbed the bottle and walked down the hall to the bathroom. I looked at the prescription bottles all over the white counter top next to the sink. I grabbed my bottles of Prozac, lithium, and Ambien. I twisted the tops off of the three bottles and poured the contents out on the counter. I grabbed a handful and put it in my mouth and took a long sip of the vodka. Despite the coolness of the vodka, it felt like liquid fire going down my throat. I didn’t care. I took another handful and more vodka. The alcohol burned so much that I had to take several minutes before I took another handful of the pills. I planned to go to my room, lie down in my bed, and let death envelope me and take me away from this world. I stepped out of the bathroom in the direction of my room, when darkness took over and I collapsed in the hallway.