I encased myself in a made-up face, lavender bridal dress, paced the corners of the adobe bridal suite, quivering at false words whispering from dark corners empty of people. False words were better than the shifting sun outside, true words humming from inside people’s bellies like light—blinding symphony of the unsaid. Better to crouch beside cool round walls, listening to silence that lay beneath the voices I knew well enough to call by name: auditory hallucinations.
Finally, I stepped outside. Heat and air swirled around the courtyard, wrapping me in a bright cloak of air and hum. I entered the commons, family waiting like disciples. They cried color, thought, fertile desire of light and sound: you look so beautiful, don’t you look lovely. I was splayed. My true face frozen open. No thought, no breath. Panic: the mind’s small death.
Head split apart, I was remade Christ the day of my bridal night. When my mind rose again, I loved them all, was wedded to this endless life.
I lay awake in the Taos honeymoon casita, saints whispering outside. Eric slept. By morning, a shroud of dead moths covered me. We had given ourselves to each other with vows and rings, but now, I could not stay. My body flamed up with the holy. Someday soon, the only thing left of me would be ash, wind off the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
While Eric brewed coffee, I slipped out, walked around the block, counted circles—flowerpot, bicycle wheel, crab apple, sun dapple. I looked up, saw a black dog barking from the crotch of a cottonwood tree. I circled back to the casita, pushed Eric out the door, camera looped around his neck. “Find a black dog in a tree,” I said.
He left, returned, told me he had recorded a hollyhock with light. He recorded a crucifix on the wall, then recorded me too. We walked to buy pastries and he recorded a stump gnarled around itself because I told him it was my heart.
He drove me to the gorge. I walked to the center of the bridge, hung my head over. The bottom rose up until I could see a lizard skittering from light to dark. A woman stood beside me, spoke into her cell, “I’m over the Taos gorge and I can feel God.” Of course she could. I was right beside her, burning with my holy.
Next morning I woke, discovered myself hovering above us like a black dog in a tree. Eric asked, “How are you? Did you sleep? Should I phone your doctor?” My body barked circles that popped wetly in the air. He packed bags, made calls, led my body to the car, never saw me floating above us.
Upon voluntary admission to the locked ward, I was left alone in an examination room. I removed my clothes and put on a paper gown. The doctor knocked, entered, a nurse following and standing in the corner. The doctor viewed my body piece by piece. He told me to stretch out my right arm, then my left. He pointed at their features, asking about each one.
“What is that?”
“That’s a freckle.”
“What is that?”
“That’s a burn from a hot cookie sheet six years ago when I was a baker for a vegan restaurant collective.” I didn’t know how much information to give.
He had me open the back of my gown, made notes but asked no questions. He had me peel down the right half of my gown and he checked that breast. Next he had me peel down the left half of my gown and he checked the other breast. Piece by piece, he had me reveal, then cover, then reveal.
“What is that?”
“That’s a birthmark. My mother said it was where my Mexican and Montenegrin parts didn’t mix right.”
By the end he had viewed each naked part of me, recorded every blemish. Finished with the revelations of my body, he and the nurse left. I put on my clothes, covering my narrative, preparing to enter the ward and tell no stories.
One man smiled, pointed at a towel tied around his head.
“Nice hat,” I said.
He laughed. Within minutes all the men wore towel hats. They strutted around the common areas, mouths split in wide grins.
A young man with a twitch approached on soft feet, asked me to check and see if his was on straight. I tugged at the knot off-kilter at the base of his skull, found I could not move it. I gave up. “I like things better when they’re crooked.”
After twenty-four hours, I was fed up with this locked ward bullshit. Hourly smoke breaks in one walled yard. (I went. I didn’t smoke.) Recreation time with flat basketballs in another walled yard. I wanted more. More than two walled yards. My room. The table by the nurse’s station. The TV room. The dining room.
I had nowhere to pace away from the crazy people. One man twitched, spoke fast. Was he another patient or a plainclothes doctor? I answered all his questions carefully. My room had no roommate, no other woman, but an enormous man wheezed on a cot outside the door. At night the nurses hooked him up to a machine that covered his face, made his breath rasp like Darth Vader. What kind of crazy crept inside the lungs like that? I wanted out.
I sat by the doors buzzing people in and out of the ward. My doctor found me, the same one who had mapped out my body during intake. I told him I wanted to go home. He answered softly, consonants rounded by another language, like stones in a river. He told me if I insisted, he would go to a judge and ask for a “hold.”
“Hole,” I heard. The judge would grant him a hole. He told me a hole would be hard to get out of. I nodded. This made sense. I imagined a hole like a dry well, the high walls, tiny patch of starlit sky. There might be peace in a hole. Then I imagined pacing tight circles, trying to climb out, my bloody fingers, mangled hands. I didn’t want to be in a hole.
It made me trust him, my doctor’s straight shooting. He hadn’t snuck up, pushed me in. I said I’d stay. He left me and I stood careful at the edge of the ward.
The doctors said we needed couples therapy. One morning Eric came and the nurses buzzed him in. The doctors made us wait for a long time. We sat silent at the common room table, mad men and women swirling around us. I wondered if the waiting was the therapy, if the doctors wanted us learning to not-talk. I asked Eric if he thought this was true.
“No,” he said. “This is how hospitals work.”
I took his word for it. I realized he was sane and I was not.
They called us into the small office. My doctor with his soft syllables, another doctor with ghost-silver hair. They asked questions. We said we had been together a long time. We said we had been married for one week. They asked about what trouble we’d had and we told them it was hard for Eric when I was insane.
“He gets tired,” I said, and watched my words sag to the floor.
They asked Eric questions for a long time and I stared at his hands that waved lines in the air. His words and theirs blurred into a hum with no meaning. At the end of it all they told him to return the next morning for more therapy.
Later that day, I wrote them a note. Leave us alone. We can talk without you. The next morning Eric came again but they never called us. He and I sat at the common table and we spoke of small things. The bad food in the ward. Our dog. Eric’s morning. After an hour, he left. I wrote the doctors another note: Thank you.
Days in the ward were filled with groups: Morning Group, Nutritional Group, Hygiene Group, and more. More groups than I ever knew could be grouped. They were all optional.
At the end of each day, the intern sat down beside me. “I see you participated in Morning Group and Hygiene Group. Is there any reason you chose to stay in your room rather than join Nutritional Group?” I learned to join all the groups. I joined so many groups that, in less than a week, doctors told me I would be released that afternoon.
But it was morning and I wanted out. I paced the edges of the locked ward. I worried I might mess it up—grab a chair and throw it, bang my head against the locked exit doors, scream out out out!
In the first ward, the first time I knew I was Jesus, a smiling woman ushered us to a long table covered with butcher paper. She set down a bucket filled with markers without caps and small, round crayons. “I want you to pretend you will be sent to a deserted island. You will be allowed to bring three things. I want you to think carefully and then draw those things.”
I thought about all the things I could bring—a pack of pug dogs, a pearl-handled switchblade, a battery-operated vibrator, a BMW SUV. I chose carefully. I drew a tent, a book, and a cooking pot. She had us share with the group. I said, “I drew a tent so that I can have somewhere to sleep. I drew a book because I like to read. I drew a pot because I will need to cook and carry water.”
She smiled broadly, marked on a clipboard. A man who was always trembling had drawn three women in flowing gowns. They had long arms, no feet. Each carried a basket on her head. One woman was red, one blue, and one green, all shaded with delicate crayon crosshatching. The art therapist thinned her lips. He told her he had drawn Charity, Contentment, and Creation, the three women who lived inside him. The art therapist shook her head, wrote for a long time.
At the edge of the locked ward, I made myself breathe regularly as the sea, remembering to play my part of sane. Right as I thought I might lose it, a social worker approached and smiled. “I thought you might like to join me for Spirituality Group.”
Praise Jesus. She led me to the locked doors and they parted. I followed her down corridors, around corners until we reached a new set of locked doors, which parted. Inside, a new ward. A new posh ward with a piano, houseplants, couches that weren’t covered in vinyl. Goddamn, I thought. I’ve been ripped off. But then I saw people sitting, rocking, pacing, and knew—they weren’t visiting, they lived there. I wished I’d stayed behind in my temporary ward with its antiseptic air.
She led me to a glass-walled conference room, had me sit on a plush tweedy chair. Other people followed us inside, sat. A woman in a long skirt. A man with large hands. Another man walking stooped. A man with his hair in a long braid. The stooped man said, “This is bullshit. All of this, this is bullshit!” and slapped his hands on the table. The social worker told him to leave. “I don’t want to,” he said. “I don’t want to leave.” But she didn’t back down. “This is bullshit!” he said, walking stooped out of the room. She closed the door and he paced outside the glass.
The social worker said each of us should talk about how we recharge our spiritual batteries. We went in a circle. The woman in the long skirt spoke about nature, circles of energy. The man with the large hands spoke slowly, his hands flashing their pink palms like signal lights marking distress. He spoke about Jesus. My turn came. I was careful to say nothing about Jesus. I knew (almost) (again) that I was not him. I spoke about being alone. The man with the long braid talked about silence. The man with the stoop kept pacing outside, his body saying Bullshit! Bullshit! I wished we could let him back in.
The social worker smiled and said we had good ways to get in touch with ourselves. I felt the room humming from all of us keeping so still. Everything but those large hands that flashed slowly, sending me a message I was careful not to receive.
Eric and I had been home for an hour when the phone rang. It was the intern. “We have just received the results of your pregnancy test,” he said. “You tested positive. You are pregnant. You need to stop taking all of your medications immediately.” I felt the phone spark in my hand, knew I was having another auditory hallucination.
“Eric,” I said. “I need you to take this call.”
He took the phone. I stood beside him, watching his body tense. After a long time he hung up. “You’re pregnant,” he said. “They said you have to stop taking all your medications.”
I felt madness growing inside me. Pregnant, voices whispered. Pregnant with grief pregnant pause pregnant silence.
Eric said we should return to the hospital. We went and waited in the waiting room, sitting still on orange molded plastic chairs. An intake nurse called us into a small room. Eric asked her what each of my medications would do to a growing fetus. She answered each with different words but the same meaning. She didn’t know. Nobody did those studies. No one gave pregnant women cocktails of these mood stabilizers and antipsychotics on purpose. She didn’t know. I did not tell her about the voices.
Back home, I tried not to hear our house pregnant with voices. I lay down, tried to imagine nine months staying well, and failed. I closed my eyes; rest might ease my restless mind. But my thoughts circled around the baby swimming inside a sac filled with bad medicine, sharing my bad blood.
Eric paced circles inside the house, talking, talking softly. “I can’t do this,” he said, and I knew he meant months of watching over me, me pregnant and mindsick.
I hovered over myself, saw how still I held my arms wrapped around my belly. “I’m sorry,” I whispered. I wondered what it was like to grow inside a mad woman. “I love you,” I said, and my body turned on its side, curling around my belly. Like a miracle, I fell asleep. I woke inside myself, red and cramping. The house was silent. I was not mad. I was pregnant with nothing that could be born.
When I told Eric, I watched his shoulders fold over sad. “Are you sure?” and I was.
Eric drove me for an appointment with my new psychiatrist—the doctor from the locked ward with ghost-white hair. We waited together on vinyl chairs, his hand resting on my leg. My psychiatrist opened the door to his office and ushered me in, telling Eric to wait outside.
Inside, he asked me how I was. He still thought I was pregnant. I told him I wasn’t anymore. “Are you sure?” he asked, and I told him yes. I did not say I’m red I’m all alone in this body goddamn you I’m sure.
Instead, when I saw his face creasing with doubt I said, “I have an appointment today. They’ll do tests.”
He asked me how I was again and I told him I had never been more sane. He nodded. Then he said, “I want you to know I think you’re handling all this remarkably well.”
All this, I thought. Ten days. My wedding. My madness. My hospitalization. My pregnancy. My miscarriage. I didn’t think I was handling it well. My hands were filled with rocks. What I said was, “Thank you.”
The appointment ended quickly. I went back to the waiting room, saw Eric sitting, his body still crumpling in on itself and I felt again how heavy I was. But he stood and we left together, his hand firm on my back.
The joy in my book of wedding proofs is hard to look at. There I am clutching a bouquet studded with pink lilies, smirking at the camera. There I am held in my father’s arms as he steps me around the dance floor. There I am spinning on the end of my new husband’s arm. There I am alone, a great grin spread across my face. All proof of how much I loved my delusions of Jesus during the first hours of my marriage.
I embraced madness, believing myself loved as only Christ can be loved, knowing myself loving as only God can be loving. The toasts confirmed it all. Father’s, mother’s, friend’s devotions washing over my blessed body, my congregation of loved ones raising chalices, drinking my blood. All night I stained their mouths red, blushed their cheeks pink.
It is better to remember days after the wedding, when my mind’s sparks set my head burning. Best to remember the first long night in the locked ward, body blazing with my sins manufactured by madness. I believed myself a murderer, thief. I remembered all the times I was told I was entirely self-absorbed. I curled on my bed, cried “Oh God, why have you forsaken me?” then remembered I was God, had forsaken myself.
Now I write to remember the days after the joy of madness already recorded in image. I create a new book of proofs—one pregnant with grief, incomplete.