Written by Caroline Tsai.
Graphic by Peyton Cabaniss.

Originally published as part of the Spring 2019 “Challenge” Issue.

I remember what the hallways smell like – “Like where dreams come to die,” my ex-boyfriend said when he came to visit me the first time I was in there. I remember that the walls are white, but not a clean white – a dirty white, like a stain you scrub away at until you think for a moment that it’s gone, but then realize: not quite, it’s still there. I remember the harsh lights – the florescent ones that make you feel like you are not real.

I remember the scrubs – far too big, swallowing me whole. I remember how they take everything from you before you go in – clothes, phone, shoes, the hair-tie on your wrist. Everything that is yours – these things were how you knew that you were a person. Am I a person anymore? Suddenly you’re not sure.

I remember the coloring sheets, the way you find them scattered in random places – some overflowing with color like someone was trying to pour everything that was inside themselves onto the page but couldn’t contain it all inside the lines; some half-finished like a life interrupted – one moment your world makes sense and the next, you can’t remember how you ended up here; some with only a scribble or a line – remnants of a conflicted moment, someone caught between the strange desire to leave a mark of their existence – I was here – and the instinctive uncertainty of what might be revealed when persona meets paper.

I remember that the beginning of the very first time was fear. What’s going to happen to me now? The uncertainty – like there has never been a moment where you have known less than you do now. Like discovering the last something that you think means anything actually means nothing. Like you are humanity and God has sent the flood. They take everything. What happens when you are not a person anymore?

I remember that there are no clocks – no sense of time passing by, no concept of a world outside these halls. I remember the bedsheets – scratchy, shrunken, thin; the most desolate blanket to hide beneath given to people in the moments when they most need to hide. I remember the nurses coming in every morning at the crack of dawn and every night before lights out to take vitals – you become numbers on a chart. I remember the puzzles – strewn across entire tables, patients hunched over pieces for hours, trying to put something back together in lieu of the things they can’t.

I remember that every time after the first, it was – slowly, hesitantly, gradually – safe. They take everything, nothing left to hide under – you are forced to find yourself again. Life does not happen within these walls. Everything that was before the moment you walk in is paused. It does not move again until you walk out, until you are ready for it to move again. If you cannot be a person right now, you come here – to exist in the spaces between you existing. It is flooding outside, and this place is the ark. It is empty and quiet and cold. But you would be drowning otherwise.

I remember sitting at the table with a coloring sheet, shading inside the lines – I was here. But soon I won’t be. I remember taking a purple crayon and hiding it in my pocket, grasping it tightly with my fingers – This is mine now, I have something. Now you’re a person again.

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