Her name was Sam. At least that’s what I would have named her from afar. It didn’t matter what she called herself. She was real. Petite too; 5’5″ and barely scratching a hundred pounds. She reminded me of a bopper from the 20s with wavy brown hair cut just below the ears. She said she was a painter, sometimes a sculpter. She could’ve been my younger sister. I could’ve kissed her. Instead we talked as we walked along the hallways of floor 7G of Roosevelt Hospital–the psych ward.
“I was getting pulled by the wind,” she said. “I had just left my ex-boyfriend’s–I mean my boyfriend’s. The wind kept pulling me until finally I was against the door of this building. Then I went inside, and I saw these empty white walls and I figured I’d make an exhibit. Performance art you know. So I started swirling in circles. There was this audience but they didn’t get it. They kept trying to stop me. Someone called the police.”
“What’d you do?” I asked.
“I kept spinning. Then they came and brought me here.”
“That’s pretty funny.”
“At least you got it.” She smiled. “Aside from you, there’s not much to do here.”
I laughed. “Welcome to hell. The food isn’t so bad though.”
“So you from New York?” I asked.
“California and Connecticut. I’ve been here for six months. I stayed with my boyfriend for a couple of days. Then we broke up. I moved in with some friends I met. What about you?”
“Ohio. I don’t really live here, just sort of passing through. I actually drove here.”
“And then you end up in the hospital?” she asked.
“Something like that, yeah. Once I got here I started walking. I parked my car, got out, and just started moving. I even stayed in a shelter for three days. Then I walked here.”
“I do that a lot. Walk around.”
“You move in circles too.”
She laughed. “Yeah, that too. You know they gave me a shot to calm down.” She held out her shoulder where there was a band aid.
“Benadryl. No, maybe that one. I don’t know. I didn’t like it. It made my heart slow down.”
“They once put me in restraints. Tied me down with leather straps. I wasn’t even violent. Just arguing with a nurse.”
“They did that to me in the back of the ambulance. Just my wrists thought.”
“Have you taken the medication?” I asked.
“I refused,” she replied.
“They’re just placebos anyway. That’s what irritates me about mental health. It’s all bullshit without any true science to back it up. I mean, how can they diagnose me bipolar when they can’t even scientifically or medically explain what bipolar is? You know they vote on what qualifies as a disorder.” I feel satisfied airing out my views.
“I once read through their book, the DSM. There’s some weird disorders in there.”
A nurse interrupted our walk. to talk with Sam. I told her I’d see her around.
The beauty of Sam was how she took everything so lightly. She would laugh, wave off the doctors, not worry about the seriousness of life. She told me she had gone to college for a semester to study art. She dropped out, came to New York. No job. Life was hallway to walk down. I felt relieved in her company.
Later on, watching, I joked that she would have been a stand in for a Chaplin film.
“I bet you would look great in overalls,” I said.
“I own three pairs,” she replied. “How’d you know?”
“Just that look about you.”
Sitting there at the table in the TV room, I wrote her a poem. A gift of words the best I could give her at the moment. I wrote it on a paper towel because the nurse wouldn’t give me paper. I swallowed my shyness and let Sam read it. It brought a smile to her face. That was good enough. There’s a thin line between romance and hyperbole. The words can their best to capture a moment in time, a feeling. Memory is the only true camcorder.
She made a painting for me in return. Right on a Bran Flakes cereal box. I thanked her but deep down I knew that it’s the things that go unsaid that makes a bond permanent. What we had together, if only briefly, was an unspoken friendship. Two days in a psych-ward. It doesn’t get more real than that.
Later that night, sitting across from each, we ate Oreos with our feet tucked beneath us.
“We should call today a date,” she said.
“That was the cheapest date I’ve been on.” Without much segueway, I added, “I’m going home tomorrow.”
“That’s too bad.”
“I wish I could stay but the shelter isn’t going to do it. I need to establish myself here one day. You should come to Ohio. We’ve got a great art museum.”
“Where is at?” she asked.
“Toledo. Right on the northwest corner of the state. Not much there, but if you’re ever passing through.”
“I’m going to St. Louis pretty soon. I have some friends I want to see. That’s not too far from Ohio.”
“I have an aunt who lives in Missouri. We could take a road trip. Ohio’s only 12 hours away.”
“I’m going to miss you,” she whispered.
I wrote down my phone number on a paper towel with a marker. The hospital didn’t allow pens either.
“We’ll keep in touch,” I lied.
“When you come to New York again, we’ll be friends right?”
My heart sank. For once I didn’t want to leave the hospital. “You’ll be the only person I look up,” I lied.
I hugged her before going to bed, regretting not having kissed her.
The next day we shared lunch together and then went to art therapy group. In the middle drawing black lines on a sheet of paper a nurse came in said my dad was here. Sam and I hugged again before I said goodbye. I regretted not kissing her.