Crazy, I knew
by Cinthia Ritchie
I spent the fall of my seventeenth year in the psych ward, where I roamed the hallways in my jeans and bare feet, and the aides kept telling me to put on my shoes but I liked the feel of the linoleum, cool and anonymous and safe. I sat on the floor, too, and sometimes I read but mostly I stared at the television in the corner. That was the year Luke and Laura were going at it hot and heavy on General Hospital, and each evening I crept into the blond boy’s room where we went at it, hot and heavy, in his narrow twin bed, the rough sheets reeking of disinfectant.
I was in because I tried to kill myself and he was in because he threatened to kill his father, and when we weren’t making out we were making moccasins in occupational therapy or talking about our feelings in group.
Late at night I sneaked into the kitchen with Gerri, a woman in for depression, a side effect of brain cancer. We sat beneath the dining room table in the dark and stuffed food into our mouths.
“I’m f**king dying and they wonder why I’m depressed,” she’d say. Sometimes, we’d laugh. Other times we leaned toward one another, our shoulders touching in shared misery.
After I got out, I saw the blond boy a few times but it didn’t work out. He looked smaller in the outside world, and paler. We broke up after a Frankie Valli concert. I went home and cut off my hair, my neck emerging like something forbidden, something sacred.
A few months later I received a note from Gerri’s husband. “Gerri’s gone,” was all it said. Later that night, I sat beneath the kitchen table, in the dark, and ate lemon meringue pie, that tart taste soothing my tongue like a prayer.
IMAGE: “The Resting Place” by Candice Whitlock.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I wrote this piece after reading the “Me, at 17” prompt. One of the most defining moments of my adolescence happened during the four weeks I spent on the psych ward when I was 17. That was when I began to turn from a child into a woman, though I wouldn’t understand the implications for years. Still, I cherish this so-called crazy time because it allowed me the freedom to be unconventional, and stubborn, and to think and act outside the confines of society. It’s when I began to lay down my foundation, when I realized that there was a voice inside of myself screaming to be let out. When I released it, it wasn’t pretty. But it was necessary. It was the real me.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Cinthia Ritchie writes and runs mountain trails in Anchorage, Alaska, with her dog, Seriously. She’s a two time Pushcart Prize nominee and recipient of a Best American Essay 2013 Notable Mention. Find her work at New York Times Magazine, Evening Street Review, Under the Sun, Water-Stone Review, damfino Press, The Boiler Journal, Panoplyzine, Barking Sycamores, Postcard Poems and Prose, Poetic Medicine, Clementine Unbound, and others. Her first novel, Dolls Behaving Badly, released from Hachette Book Group. She blogs about writing and Alaska life at cinthiaritchie.com.
PHOTO: The author competing in a mountain race in the Chugach Mountains outside of Anchorage, Alaska.