BY CECILIA SIBLERSTEIN
In the tenth grade, my then-undiagnosed bipolar disorder landed me in the Mount Sinai psychiatric ward.
When my dad came to visit, along with a falafel sandwich and the New York Times, he brought me a poem. “Frost,” he said as he slipped it in with the newspaper, “your favorite.”
I glared at him.
“Look,” he continued, “I just wanted you to have something to read.”
I pointed to the foot and a half of thoroughly perused Times and Economists, of which my heavily medicated mind understood half -an-inch. He sighed. “Just do me a favor and look at it.”
We shouted after that– I was the instigator. Then, checking his watch, he left.
The sandwich was delicious.
Time was structured strictly in the ward. My dad had parted early. This, I decided, was simply part of their plan to convince me that I was crazy, and that I belonged there. The poem must have been part of their plan, too.
“Quiet time” came after visiting hours, though I still think this period was dreadfully misnamed. As I flipped through my Times, a cacophony of muffled sounds penetrated the thin walls of my room. Some were frank, understandable, easy to handle. When someone shrieked, a fixed procedure followed. The offender would be wrestled into capable hands. My neighbor, however, had a propensity for warbling pop songs.
The music of quiet time played on, but my mind returned to conspiracies. Why would my dad leave early, if not for some nefarious scheme? Why would he bring me a poem? Why Frost?
The nurse came in. “Five minutes.”
I unleashed a torrent of words, and the nurse left, muttering to herself. As she went, I laughed. This was the constant rhythmic track backing quiet time – bursts of manic laughter emanating from all corners of the wing. Laughter narrowly separated from the shrieks, laughter which said someone’s sedative levels were going up that night, laughter that reverberated within one’s head – ear to ear, reflecting off fragmented thoughts.
My dad returned that evening. “Did you read the poem?”
He pulled a paper from his pocket and before I could react began to read out loud. As he began, I physically withdrew – retreating to a corner, humming. As the metered syllables crashed out their perfect rhythm, I let my brain return to the music of quiet time. Next thing I knew, I was singing along to the music. Next thing after that, four men charged through the door.
When I woke up, my throat was dry and aching. I tried to get up to get water, but my head felt like lead. Instead I rolled over to find that I was staring at the pile with the newspaper and the poem. Some force within me compelled me to pick the poem up off the table – a laborious task, as it required moving my limp arm approximately one whole foot. I could not read the poem, but someone had highlighted one line already:
“Use language we can comprehend.”
Cecilia Silberstein is a rising freshman at Haverford College, and is also the co-foundering of Beautiful Minds Magazine. Photography by Sarah Neukrug.