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"Anna’s sarcastic voice is sharp as ever, and those who followed her through treatment will be anxious—and pleased." —Booklist
WHAT THE HELL AM I GOING TO WEAR? I should be thrilled that everything I own is at least one size too big, which, let’s be honest, is three sizes bigger than I’d like to be. Still pretty much a major accomplishment, seeing as I wasn’t even trying to lose weight. Major accomplishment or no, that doesn’t answer the question of what the fug I’m going to wear. I could ask my mom to go shopping, but I’ve been home all of thirty-six hours and the two of us have said maybe twelve words to each other. And about half of those words were me asking if she bought Cap’n Crunch. Which is all I’ve had to eat since I’ve been home. If I keep eating only Cap’n Crunch, maybe the weight will just continue coming off. Screw the Special K Diet; the Cap’n Diet is the way to go. Whose bizarre idea was it to call it “Cap’n” vs. “Captain” Crunch? Does anyone else realize it’s Cap’n? Avoiding avoiding avoiding …
Maybe I could wear my favorite jeans but with a belt. If I owned a belt. Why don’t I own a belt? Perhaps it’s because my pants never fall down. And I wouldn’t choose to wear a belt for aesthetic purposes, because aesthetically I would look like a potato pretending to have a waist.
Stop, Anna, stop. You are better than this. You look really good. Well, really better. So much better that you actually, sort of, probably have a boyfriend. A beautiful, tall, sweet, romantic boyfriend who is also an excellent kisser. Not that you had that much (i.e., nothing at all) to compare it to, but— No. No buts. Definitely a good kisser. And he likes the way you look. He called it juicy, remember? Maybe I should get myself some Juicy brand clothes, just to go with the whole theme? Nah, that’s ridiculously not me. I don’t need “Juicy” splayed across my ass. Besides, I always thought it made people look like they had juicy asses, which sort of sounds like they have diarrhea. Don’t need to shout that across the Midwest.
What to wear, what to wear?
A skirt? When do I ever wear skirts except for special occasions? But this is an occasion, right? Not really one to celebrate, although it is a debut of sorts. Maybe I should get a ball gown. That would not make me look crazy or anything. Do I need to worry about that? Looking crazy? Are people going to look at me and whisper about how pale I am and notice the bruises on the insides of my arms from all the testing and realize I haven’t been in school for three weeks? Will anybody even notice?
What the fuck are you supposed to wear to school when you just got out of a mental hospital?
SUNDAY, ASSY SUNDAY
*Brand! *New! *Journal! For my *Brand! *New! *Life! I suppose I could have written more yesterday, my first full day home, but I was too busy pouting and kicking walls, a light bit of aggression I picked up from Lakeland, excuse me, Lake Shit. My parents, the same two people who brought me to a mental hospital in the first place, decided to surprise me with a bedroom makeover when I came home. Thing is, and this is a message for ALL PARENTS: My room was me. So you making it over? Was pretty much like saying you didn’t like the way I looked or acted or dressed or sounded or expressed myself in any way shape or form. Come to think of it, putting me in a mental hospital kind of sent the same message. You guys were laying it on thick in the Anna Bloom Sucks department. Not only did my mother and father take down all of my posters, some of which were vintage and purchased with my hard-earned bat mitzvah money through intense online auction battles, but they tore down my beloved—albeit ridorkulous—kiddie circus wallpaper border and slapped on some Pepto Bismol–colored paint. The posters, which my parents claimed they took down ever so carefully, were stacked on top of one another in the bottom of my closet, the tape from each sticking to the next poster. I spent several hours peeling them apart, and I still managed to rip a couple. Careful my ass. It took so long to separate them that by the time I finished I was too tired to bother putting them back up.
At least I had the freedom to listen to music all day. It was stifling being in a hospital where the only times of day anyone could listen to music were a) Free Time, on a patient-controlled radio that managed to solely tune in to classic rock or hip-hop, or b) Physical Therapy, where we had the same radio stations available, but had to work out while we listened. There were no MP3 players, no computers, and pretty much no singing allowed. In my new and unimproved, pukey, pink room, I flicked around on my iPod until I found my religion: The Ramones by The Ramones. Hard and fast and short and brilliant. Loud enough to almost make me forget that my family was somewhere nearby outside the confines of my stomach coating of a bedroom.
The weird thing was, the music didn’t sound the same.
I loved it, of course, but I was listening through different ears. Because Lake Shit changed me. I wasn’t sure how yet, besides the weight loss and guy-friend, but the music felt different inside me than it used to. Almost like it was the old me that loved it so much, and the new me wasn’t sure if liking the same music made me still the old me. I tried to shake the identity crisis and focused on hating my parents some more. Yesterday they set some ground rules, which sounded like blah blah blah to me. Until they got to the part about not getting my driver’s license until things “calmed down a bit.” Calm? I was calm. The apple I grabbed from the table and chucked at the couch showed them how calm I was. Which, of course, freaked them out because I never did stuff like that before I went to Lake Shit. Whose fault is that? I didn’t sign myself up for crazy camp.
Tracy won’t stop calling me. My best friend in the whole world calls me, and I should want to talk to her and tell her everything, right? But when I first saw her name on my cell, I didn’t pick up. Nor the second time. After six calls in less than an hour, I started to feel guilty and answered. She was thrilled to talk to me. Like, screaming into the phone, talking ultra-fast thrilled. Which is really not Tracy. The only time T usually gets all bunged up like that is when she’s watching some WWE event on her jumbo TV. But there she was, almost screaming like a little girl. It weirded me out. I guess it was sweet that Tracy wanted to hang out so badly. Why wouldn’t she? She hadn’t seen her best friend in three weeks due to an unseemly incarceration of the mental hospital variety, so why wouldn’t she want to see me?
But why wasn’t I quite ready to see her?
Tracy’s life hadn’t changed in three weeks. She hadn’t lost fifteen pounds, seen only three hours of daylight, and had her first major kiss from her melty, gorgeous, kind-of boyfriend. Or maybe she had. Things do happen in three weeks. Unlikely, of course. Tracy is probably just the same hilarious, tough-as-nails girl who works in an overtly sexist lingerie chain store and has an unhealthy obsession with professional wrestling. Which are all of the things I loved about her. But in just three little weeks, I am not the same person I was when I used to be her best friend. I lived by freakish, nonsensical rules, like Don’t drop your pillow during Relaxation. If you were not in a mental hospital, you would have no idea what that means. Does it even matter that all it is is some stupid type of therapy where you just lie on a floor and listen to crappy music to numb your brain into sleepy oblivion, but only if you place your pillow ever so gently on the floor? Saying it now, why did it even matter at Lake Shit? Why did I care whether I got points for doing good (placing the pillow), which allowed me to gain levels within a ludicrous system made to keep us in our places? Looking back, who cares if I made it to Level III? All that did for me was give me the power to choose a TV station during Free Time. Being Level II meant I could eat in the cafeteria instead of my room. It felt like such a big deal. Now that I’m home, explaining all this sounds ridiculous. None of it makes any sense in real life. And that’s where I am now. Shoved back into reality after being sucked out and dropped into Loony Central. How did anybody in the mental health field come up with this as a way to make life better? All I feel is skewed.
* * *
Maybe the Cap’n will put things into perspective. I never ate Cap’n Crunch before I went to Lake Shit, but the singular request I made of my mom when I got home was that she buy me some Cap’n Crunch. It’s pretty much the one thing I ate while I was at the hospital. My stomach didn’t quite adjust to the wacky schedules and constant surveillance; therefore I never really took advantage of the vast menu of cafeteria options offered up. Hence, the weight loss. My mom didn’t quite see the Cap’n in the same light.
“All that sugar.” She shook her head.
Yeah, Ma, see, I was, like, fifteen pounds heavier when I was eating Ass-o-Bran Cereal, so maybe there is something to be said for giving in to temptation. Or at least sugary kids’ cereals with a dopey seaman on the box. Ha. I said “seaman.”
Was that even funny? I feel like my sense of humor has gone totally out of whack since I got back (though my gift for rhyme is working overtime). Things that are funny when you’re in a mental hospital don’t seem to make nearly as much sense as when you’re out. Example: I keep thinking about Matt O., one of my closest friends at Lake Shit, who had been there for six months by the time I arrived. Whenever he was stuck in the Quiet Room (ironically titled, being the only room in the whole hospital where one could be as loud as they wanted. Hence, how I ended up singing Ramones songs in there as if I were at a concert and I had to yell over the giant speakers to hear myself. As punishment for throwing a plastic baby down the hall. Long story), Matt O. would cry out his mantra, which was, “When I die, I want them to bury me facedown and ass up, so the whole world can kiss my ass!” Every time I think about it, I crack up. So during one of my seventy-six conversations with Tracy yesterday, I told her that story. She did one of those pathetic forced laughs that best friends should not have to do. Because she didn’t get it. Really, if I take a moment to analyze it, I know it doesn’t make any sense. It’s not like Matt’s bare ass would be popping out of the top of the coffin (although, god, that’s funny. Can you picture the burial plot: a mound of grass with a butt peaking out of the center? Hey! That is funny!). Tracy’s comment was, “Wait. Why is he called Matt O. again?”
I explained, “He’s been in there for six months, which is, like, years in mental hospital time. In those months, lots of people have come and gone, a bunch of them named Matt. To make things less confusing, because, of course, we were all too messed up in the head to deal with a catastrophic complication such as more than one person with the same name, they gave all of the Matts the addition of the first letter of their last name. Matt O. was technically the only Matt who was at the hospital while I was, but the O stuck around just in case.”
Thus the burial ass joke was lost in a quagmire of Lake Shit red tape. And there ended my desire to tell anyone on the outside anything.
PARENTS JUST DON’T UNDERSTAND
I’ve started to wonder if my parents were somehow traumatized almost as much as I was by putting me into a mental hospital. I mean, my dad has barely said two words to me since I’ve been home. Oh, wait. That’s normal. Truthfully, I’d prefer less than two words from him, since his words are usually critical (“Do you really need seconds?”), confused (“I have no idea what you’re talking about”), or—my favorite—dismissive (which often involves zero words plus kind, fatherly hand gestures, such as a finger in the air commanding I wait while he finishes his crossword puzzle). My mom was in some otherworldly trance, where she’s trying to be as nice to me as possible while a glassy sheen to her eyes meant tears from either the past or yet to come. When they sat down together to give me “the talk” (and I’m probably the only teenager in the world to say I’d rather this have been the sex talk than the laying-down-the-rules-post-mental-hospital talk), there was a nasty cloud of blame hanging in the air. I blamed my parents. My dad blamed my mom. My mom blamed herself. Dad made me promise that any time I felt “bummed” (obnoxiously inappropriate air quotes included), I should tell my mom right away. Which is wrong on so many levels, just a few being he thought my problem was that I was “bummed,” that should I need to tell someone it should be my mom, and that I’d actually consider telling him in the first place. My mom, who of course wasn’t objecting to the suggestion, peeped up (and, no, I don’t mean “piped,” because a pipe up would imply you could hear her in more than a five-foot radius), “Allen…”
“Don’t start, Beth,” as though her saying his name was starting.
“I’m not starting, Allen. I just think that it’s important for Anna to know that we are both here for her, no matter what happens.” I was impressed that Mom actually said something, but not enough to want to listen. I tuned them out, a little trick that Bobby, the youngest kid at Lakeland, taught me: Hum in the tiniest voice you can, so tiny that hopefully no one else hears you, whenever you want to escape a situation mentally. That way either you block out the sounds of the voices completely or you bug the shit out of them with the shrill sound. I succeeded two-fold, since I missed the glory of my mom and dad’s “discussion” (it’s never an argument) and managed to annoy my dad, who took a pause from belittling my mom to ask me, “What are you doing?”
“Excuse me?” I asked.
“You were humming,” he explained to me, as though, in my fragile mental state, I was unaware.
“I know.” I smiled at him.
Big sigh from Dad.
Copyright © 2012 by Julie Halpern
Posted December 24, 2012
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