Holding Onto Hope by a String
by Sahar Paz

A faint voice broke the abyss I was floating in.

“Wake up ladies.” John was here for the night shift.

Ambien induced sleep made my eyelids weigh a hundred pounds each, and to think I wanted more than twenty milligrams. I struggled to open them, knowing that if I did, the comfort of the infinite black I was existing in would be bleached by the florescent lights, followed by the reemergence of clutter that inhabits my subconscious.

John threw back the covers, the cold air of the linoleum room covered my skin and made my hair stand up.  I watched him eye my nipples as they rose under my shirt. Helping me sit up he grabbed my left arm with a sturdy grip, jerking me around, disturbing my jello like state. My fingers began to tingle from the grip of the blood pressure band. Right before my arm burst, he released the air, ripping the velcro and tugging the band down my arm; I smelled his spearmint gum with every grunt. Non-apologetic for disturbing my peaceful sleep, he moved to the bed next to me where Dahlia laid. A 40 year-old blonde women with schizophrenia. Frail in her frame, kind in her heart, so lost in her head.

“Do you think my girlfriend can hear us through the outlet?” Dahlia said like she had never fallen asleep.

This would be the thirteenth time she asked; I pretended fall back asleep. Pretend. That word seems to encapsulate my entire life thus far.

Go back to sleep, go back to sleep, I thought, hoping its redundancy would take me away. No luck. I desperately longed to return to a coma like state before the pain revisited. Count backwards 100, 99, 98, 97, 96… 95…… 94………… 93…

The countdown to my place of peace was interrupted by a scream, from none other than Joyce Roberts two doors down.


She had been mumbling that since I got here at 3 p.m. For six hours, I sat in the common area on fake leather couches from the 70s that stuck to the back of my legs. I listened to Joyce mumble that phrase under her breath as soon as she first saw me. Once in awhile she would look up at me and give me a confused smile, then she would get angry, her eyes pierced through me as she repeated to have me killed. I wondered how much of her life she had spent in this room, drugged up, forgetting what the real world is like, immersed by the voices in her head.

I rolled over and put the pillow over my head and bid farewell to thoughts of disappearing from my current circumstance. Not even a full 24 hours in this God forsaken place, I have had my life threatened and sexual advances from my disturbed peers.

Now that I think about – how am I any different?

Admittance to the same floor must somehow qualify me to be in the same context as my mentally disturbed peers… doesn’t it?

The Ambien is wearing off. I was again face-to-face with the repercussions of being me. Images of New Year’s Eve came back into my mind, making my entire body tense up; I shook my head, trying to throw my thoughts off balance.

“Shit, here they come,” I mumbled as what seemed like a million images flashed behind my eyelids. Manic again.

“She’s coming? She can hear us? Oh God I knew it!” Dahlia panicked.

I had no energy for her constant state of delusional paranoia. I turned again and there I was, like a projector had gone off in my head, airing my almost fatal night. I stood holding hands with my loving boyfriend, Daniel. I wore a perfect white dress with fantastic gold boots, the poster child of a fabulous woman in New York: a great job, boyfriend, and an affordable apartment in a really cool area. I was ready to ring in midnight with a bang, yet here I am not even a week into the New Year, and 2005 has already defeated me.

25 years of pain seemed to have caught up with me shortly after midnight. Drunk and high, my usual barrier was trampled by every painful memory – sucking the positivity out of me. The night became a blur except for the text I sent to my two friends: “Happy New Years! Do you ever wish you had someone else’s life?”

I never did have good timing.

I’m not sure what prompted the negative spiral that led me to send that text. With the click of the “Send” I unlocked thoughts and emotions I had been pushing away for years.  Dark thoughts that led me to that place on the 59th Street Bridge.

Empty from trying to be the girl everyone wanted, I was exhausted from all the faces I put on to fulfill other expectations. I had given up on me. Whoever she was. Every time I  experienced moments, hours or days of confidence, I knew it was fleeting. The messages of rejection that echoed from my country, parents and men, depleted me of any motivation to live. I had convinced myself that I was not deserving of this life.

I had to pee.

“Good Morning!” a cheery Dahlia  smiled like we were roomies in our West Village apartment.

“Mornin’,” I mumbled, still groggy, stumbling in the dark to find the bathroom.

Does this bitch ever go to sleep? I didn’t want to turn on the light in the bathroom; I wanted to sit in the pitch black, trying to remember what a peaceful night’s sleep was like with no nightmares.

Feeling around, I found the toilet paper to wipe down the steel seat. The icy metal against my ass did exactly what I didn’t want. I was fully awake. Damn it. When I held onto the handicap bar to flush the toilet with my foot, I felt Dahlia’s wet underwear, washed a few hours before… nasty.

I flipped on the light, face-to-face with a girl I no longer recognized.

The reflection in the plastic mirror was of a pale girl, with matted oily hair, charcoal circles under her eyes. I leaned in closer and touched the face in the mirror, I felt my tear ducts filling, why did they name me Hope?

What a waste, I thought as my eyes stung from the first tear that clouded my cornea. Good! I didn’t want to see myself anyway. I punched the mirror and went back to bed.  I laid and zoomed in on the bars on the window. My legs became restless, the tingly feeling moved up my core to my heart. I felt the panic coming.

“No no no,” I didn’t want this to happen again, no more Lamictal, Effexor or Lithium making me a walking vegetable with no emotions. Think, think – what did they teach me in therapy?

Breathing is key.

Okay, three deep breaths.  One: inhale…exhale…, two: inhale…exhale, three: inhale…exhale….

I held my breath and laid still, focusing in on slowing down my heart. It was working. I felt a slight smile grow on my face, my cheeks felt stiff; it was an expression I hadn’t felt in months. The last time I had a good laugh was when I visited Amalia in Florida almost a year ago.

We used to always laugh to the point of tears. My smile grew as I remembered the times at Taco Bell drive-thru talking in some made up accent. Soon that image faded away and was replaced by yesterday’s sad face. She held me like a mother, petting my hair, allowing me to get my tears, boogers and any other form of pain running down my face onto her shirt.

“There is too much pain here,” the anxiety of families leaving their loved ones; some pleading to go home, promising to take their meds.

The melancholy in the waiting room seeping into me. I felt the fear, frustration and anger of all those who shared that lobby with me. I wondered if they knew what they were getting into when they got in the car.

Still in a state of shock, I was expecting to get a prescription for antidepressants, but reality was sinking in. My visit here would not be a short one.

“I know baby,” Amalia said a soft voice. “It will be alright.”

I had been awake, in a daze, for over 48 hours when Amalia flew in from Florida. My New Years text worried her. Just like a sister she flew into take care of me. She was now lying in my bed Astoria as I lay in a cold room on West 12th Street in the City.

I felt so detached from reality. The sun was coming up.

I heard groups of friends passing by, drunk, loud and happy. That was me once, but the last ten months have been non-stop battles and mental anguish. I was struggling to find myself and every time I reached for more strength another memory of abuse or neglect would be found. I could no longer run from it.

With no physical scars I searched for ways to show the pain on the outside. I couldn’t find the words. Emotions were scratching the inside of my skin, trying to find an escape. Soon enough I agreed with the sharp words I heard and bowed down to the idea that I was a stupid failure, a slut, and an all-around disappointment. I felt alone. I had such a hard time liking myself, I couldn’t fathom anyone else doing it.

I no longer saw a need for me in this world.

Dahlia had finally gotten groggy. I listened to her light snore until my eyes got heavy again. At last, my mind and heart had slowed down thanks to the weight of my sadness. My eyelids finally relaxed and closed. I needed rest to survive another day at St. Vincent’s Psych ward.

Back to sleep until dawn when the head doctor and his team of interns would come to wake us up asking the same two questions:

“How are you feeling today?”

“Having any more suicidal thoughts?”

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