Current Shorts on Survival

“The Twenty-Two” by Clayton Bradshaw


Photo Credit: TL Sherwood

Suicide, n.1, 1. one who dies by his own hand: I shaped the rope into a tight S in my hand before wrapping the end around it and tightening the noose with a knot;   2. one who commits self-murder: I attached one end to the base of the satellite dish on my roof, sturdy enough to not bend and change my mind;    3. one who attempts or has a tendency to commit suicide: The loop slipped over my head, a medallion of the shame of peaking in life too soon as a pawn, as soldier fighting for someone else’s war, as a soldier losing my own war, as a father losing my own son;     n.2 the act of taking one’s own life: I see how we react every time one of us takes their own life. I see how all past conflict pushes to the side in favor of honoring the good parts of memory. In death, each of us becomes the hero we could never be on the battlefield. In Memoriam, we transcend in Ovidian metamorphosis to become birds or hyacinth;     self-murder: I remember _______, spleen shattered like a fragile mason jar unable to contain the remorse constructed by survival, putting the barrel of a .38 into the soft spot of his temple, rendering his funeral closed casket;     attrib., esp. as suicide letter, suicide note, suicide pact. _______ likely laughed as the shotgun he kept next to his stack of rented schoolbooks found its way into his jawline. He always found humor in darkness, in death, and especially in his own death;     Comb. Suicide blonde, n. slang a woman with hair dyed blonde (esp. rather amateurishly), a peroxide blonde: _______ never dyed his hair, but it looked almost as white as the all 30 of the Vicodin in his system when we found him, a sharp contrast to the blonde hairs that blended into the sand on his patrol cap;     n. a clause in a life insurance policy which releases the insurer from liability if the insured commits suicide within a specified period: _______, rifleman always on my left, number two in every room we cleared, hung from the rafters in his bedroom three months after he got out, a testament to institutionalized concussions;     suicide gene n. Genetics a gene which causes the death of the cell carrying it: Maybe some defective gene drives them to it, maybe some gene implanted by military service;     suicide squeeze   n. Baseball the action of a runner on third base in running for home as the ball is pitched. Pinched between the plate and third, we never find peace at home, so we run back and forth, no escape allowed, forever implanted with the realization that the memory will never leave, but the people around us will.     v.1 to commit suicide. We are committed to a dying cause, condemned to survival unless we fix it ourselves.     v.2 trans. (euphemistically) So, I take the rope off my neck and use a pen to pierce my veins and spill our blood on the page.

 

 

Clayton Bradshaw served in the US Army for eight years as an infantryman. He deployed with 3/2 SCR to Iraq from 2007 to 2008 and to Afghanistan from 2010 to 2011. He graduated from Sam Houston State University with a BA in English and currently participates in the MFA-Creative Writing program at Texas State University. His work can be found in The Deadly Writers Patrol, Second Hand Stories, War, Literature and the Arts, and O-Dark-Thirty.

 

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“Psych-Ward Cheesecake” by Elyse Brouhard


Photo Credit: Cady Guyton

I was used to the uniform forest of green scrubs. Short and tall trees of people in the sterile hallways. When they took my clothes away and replaced them with baggy hospital attire, they made me look as crazy as I felt.

This was my second time at St. Vincent’s inpatient psychiatric unit. I knew to strip naked and twirl in front of the vigilant nurse, displaying my scars and my lack of smuggled pills or strings or razor blades. I wasn’t surprised when they locked my bathroom door because I was on suicide watch. I wasn’t shy to ask the bouncy nurses to unlock it every time I needed to pee. I was a veteran.

This time though, I was pissed. Enraged they kept asking the same three inane questions every single shift. Annoyed to be babysat by nurses years younger than me. Furious that my life was out of control. I was angry in a way that I had not let myself be for a long time. It made me bold rather than contentious. I had very little to hide, no dignity to uphold. I was stripped down to my core, and it was liberating.

After two weeks on a closed unit, I began to see life differently. I enjoyed simple things like convincing a pizza man to deliver to the double-locked, double doored, fifth-floor ward. I became uninhibited. I took back tiny pieces of myself that I had lost or buried.

Psych ward introductions are straightforward. You start conversations by saying, “What are you here for?” “How long have you been here?” “How scared are you right now?” You make friends because you sit at the same table for breakfast. Because you both take the same meds. Because you attend art group together.

One evening, five of us squished together around a small, gray and white speckled table on the “quiet” side of the psych-ward. This side was smaller and gave us the illusion of separation. We started playing cards—blackjack? Or it could have been Scrabble. I can’t remember clearly. We huddled around the table, in our matching scrubs and assorted colors of non-slip socks; it felt like a pajama party. Laughing at our sarcastic and silly jokes, comfortable in this unspoken hug of solidarity and understanding. It’s amazing the familiarity you feel with people when you are thrown together in the most vulnerable moments of your lives.

Chuck disappeared to sweet-talk his way into a snack. I imagine he asked for something outside the usual offerings, perhaps cake or a candy bar, because the nurse sent him back with cream cheese and graham crackers, instructing him that, if you put the cream cheese on the crackers, it kind of tastes like cheesecake. We were dubious but curious.

Chuck stirred the tiny, foil-covered packet of cream cheese, and spread it messily across a cracker. He confirmed that this concoction did taste somewhat like cheesecake. Now we were all on it. Kellie mixed in a few sugar packets. Someone had the genius idea to mix peanut-butter into this creation. Pale, brown crumbs and sparkles of granulated sugar littered the table.

Napkin-less, we licked our fingers and grinned. We floated with the joy of mashing together sugar and cream cheese and spreading it on crackers with a spoon—because we weren’t allowed to have knives. We were laughing at ourselves as you only can when your world has crashed down and you find you are still standing. When nothing matters except the exact moment you are in.

We were unaware of the circling of nurses doing rounds: down the hallway, back around us to the nurses’ station. We stopped noticing the periodic loudspeaker announcements of “Code Gray” or “Rapid Response.” We were in a bubble of safety. You couldn’t go any lower, and you couldn’t find more understanding people to be on the bottom with you.

We complained about the same nurses, avoided the same therapists. We talked openly about our wish to die or to drink. Allen said the first thing he planned on doing when he got out was “smoke a joint.” We told each other how we wanted to kill ourselves, which methods we had tried, or what we did instead of jumping off the building. We didn’t think twice about marks on arms, on wrists, on ankles. We understood not coming out of your room for hours, not eating a meal for two days, making bed sheets into nooses and hiding them under towels.

We grinned over the victory of our makeshift cheesecake.

We offered the best and simplest of healing: our presence and unspoken acceptance. If you could make magic like that happen in a place like this, you could find magic in other places too.

 

 

Elyse Brouhard lives in Forest Grove, Oregon. She started writing at the age of two, while pretending to take people’s orders for food. She works as a social worker, primarily with homeless adults with mental illnesses. She loves her work and has found a home in the people she assists. Writing is one of her favorite skills to employ for surviving life.

 

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