February 20, 2020
Black Girls Don’t Commit Suicide - Third Place Winner of 2019 First Chapter Contest
By Brandi McGee
Our eyes were one. Tired. Blinking. Watching and waiting in the darkness, studying each other through the rearview mirror, searching for something to say. He was at least, searching. The kind who couldn’t be troubled by his thoughts. I was the opposite. So, I watched him as he watched me. I watched the glare of the passing headlights skate across his face, his jawbone jutting out rhythmically as he chewed his gum.
“This is the kind of cold that make you want to slap somebody’s mama!” he finally blurted out. His stale piece of gum tucked into the buccal of his cheek. This was his third piece in as many hours. He chewed gum like the abnormally anxious chain smoked, swamping one stick for another before the flavor ran out.
“You warm enough back there?”
“I’m good.” I sighed deeply.
“You sure?” I nodded as we breezed by a heavily lighted stretch of the road, hoping it might silence him. I knew he meant well, but all his attempts to distract me had been more of a nuisance.
“I’m good,” I repeated, sliding listlessly across the smooth surface of the seat as we crossed over a pair of rusted railroad tracks. There was nothing back here, but darkness lit up occasionally when we careened under the streetlights. That’s when the shadowy corners of the car became visible. The stock end of his shotgun, a pair of handcuffs and his hat, cold and unbending beside him.
“Do you know how long they are going to keep me?”
“Depends.” He shrugged
“I hear we are supposed to get 7 or 8 inches!” he announced excitedly at the chance for more cliché interaction. I slunk back into my seat and watched big delicate flakes of snow fall gracefully to the ground, pretending not to hear him. I studied the streets as we rode along, they were so reflective at night when they were slick and wet, soundlessly mirroring the world above.
A gush of stinging winter air barged in as he flung open the back door and lassoed me from my seat. My feet were numb and didn’t entirely feel like my own as I stood up.
“The nurse said you might be a little woozy,” he cautioned as he rubbed his big rough hands together. He had the hands of a much older man. Calloused white patches lined the top of both palms, one more prominent than the next.
A dusting of snow littered the walkway that led to the one-level brick building. Our slow, metered steps made a loud crunching sound that echoed deep into the night.
I must have passed this place a hundred times on my way to the mall, and never paid attention to it. But tonight, it stuck out like a sore thumb in the dead of winter without the camouflage of the lush foliage that kept its secret in the spring and summer. It didn’t look like a mental hospital, not that I have given much thought to what one looked like.
I followed him through a set of silver double doors, as the painful cold coursed through me like an incurable affliction. The heavy doors closed with a startling finality, and I wondered about my mother. Did she know where I was?
A bulky security guard sat restlessly behind a glass enclosure to the right of us, a trail of potato chip crumbs zig-zagged down his shirt. He brushed them away and crumbled the empty bag in his hands as Mike approached him, leaving microscopic dots of grease in their place. He had just spent the last two hours with me in an area of the emergency room smaller than my bedroom, closed off from the rest of the world by a flimsy curtain. A parade of nurses in festive scrubs with balloons and flowers checked in on me periodically, monitoring for any signs of hallucinations, loss of balance, seizures and a whole host of other symptoms of a failed overdose. Calling him Officer Bell seemed too formal.
"What's up, man?!?” he nodded neighborly as he approached the sliding glass window of the desk.
“What’s up?" The security guard responded flatly, slipping several forms through the opening. Mike flicked the brim of his hat up and began completing them. At the hospital, he was kind enough to inform me that suicide was something we didn’t do.
“Black girls don’t commit suicide!” he bellowed as he leaned back in his chair and chewed a piece of cinnamon Trident so viciously that I thought he might sever his tongue.
According to him, God never gave us anything we couldn’t handle, and apparently, that was the only sustenance our Negro souls ever needed. I wondered what he would tell his friends and fellow officers. Milwaukee seemed even smaller now that I was exposed. He slid the last form of the bunch to me, a consent form that I scribbled my name on. I tried explaining to the EMTs that this was all one big misunderstanding as they loaded me into the ambulance (without a coat or socks), but, they just nodded and cited procedure like mindless robots. He slid the forms back to the security guard and pulled the brim of his hat back to its original position.
“Take care of yourself, Blake,” Mike said before pivoting swiftly on his heels, like a spinning top bursting out into the February night. I watched him disappear through a narrow rectangular window, with an unexpected sadness.
I was eventually led through the second set of doors where a slightly slimmer guard with thick biceps waited. His muscles peeked from his tight-fitting white shirt. He was solid like a wall, unlike the other guard who looked like he might squeal and giggle if you poked him in just the right place. He slid a blue plastic container down the conveyor belt where I stood.
“Please place all metal jewelry, belts and coins in here.” I had spent the last 40 minutes in the back of a police car, but it wasn’t until I began to remove my things that I felt like a prisoner. When I looked up and began to unclasp my earrings, I noticed the guard. His bottom lip slightly folded in, the stitch of hair underlining his teeth. There was a hint of mischief in his smile. I glanced down to see that my nipples swelled a bit from the cold and were bulging through my thin shirt. I felt like I had when I first began growing breasts, violated and betrayed. His lurking made me regret leaving my coat more than the biting cold had. The only thing more unnerving than his transformative glare was the validation I had once found in that same look.
“What are you doing in here?”
He spoke with such unsettling familiarity that for a split second I wondered if I knew him.
“You are too pretty to be here.”
I toyed with the idea of telling him I had just torched my man’s house. Pickings must be slim when you are flirting with the latest addition to the psych ward.
"You should write your number down," he said as I passed through the metal detector.
His voice slightly lowered, as if some measure of shame had finally registered. He wasn’t even a bad looking guy. I walked past him and into the brightly lit waiting room. At that precise moment, every movie I had ever seen that featured a psych ward flooded my mind. It had been surprisingly quiet, full of people you would never expect to see here and a few that you would. I exhaled a bit as I took a seat across from a woman who looked like she had been born tired, dark circles cradled her weary eyes and strands of brittle graying hair peeked out from a once precisely crafted bun.
“Kevin…Kevin, sit down!” she pleaded with a lanky man who defiantly broke away from her grasp. His face was covered with splotchy red acne, and his head was shaved low on the sides.
“Kevin!” she shouted, obviously louder than she intended by the way she shrunk in embarrassment and smiled uncomfortably.
"It's ok," a woman dressed in all white said, seemingly appearing out of thin air. She was standing in the center of the room behind a long wooden table that had three large boxes stacked on top of it. He darted as fast as he could towards her, his deformed left foot languidly trailing behind.
"Are you behaving today?" she asked as she opened the cardboard lids of one of the three boxes. Kevin grinned and applauded in anticipation as she retrieved a sandwich, a bag of chips and a box juice. I wrapped myself in my arms as I snuck a look around the room. There were fifteen of us floating in our own little bubbles of detachment. Several other patients reluctantly wandered and gathered into a drunken slanted line near the table.
“Ham and cheese or…?”
I scurried off to the most desolate corner of the room and tore into the meticulously packaged sandwich as if I was some vagrant who hadn’t seen a meal in days. It was literally just ham and cheese slapped between two pieces of white bread. Not a lick of mayo or mustard, so swallowing quickly became a conscious endeavor. When I was growing up, we called sandwiches like these “choke” sandwiches for obvious reasons. The first bite stuck stubbornly to the roof of my mouth. I felt like I was chewing on a piece of my childhood. Oddly enough, I kind of enjoyed the sensation of dried chunks of sandwich traveling down my throat before free falling into the acidity of my stomach, like my own little anatomical amusement park ride.
“I’m your mama. I’m your daddy. I’m that nigga in the alley! I’m your doctor when you need, want some coke, have some weed…” sang a gangly looking cat as he sauntered in from the hall, moving much too fluidly for this to be his first time here.
“I’m your Pusher Man!”
Our eyes met and my veins filled with ice. I breathed a sigh of relief as he breezed pass and tossed back the purple liquid in the small container. Several people were still looking around timidly as he continued.
“They don’t make them like that anymore, do they?” He had circled back and was standing before me.
"Not no more, they don't." He loudly answered his own question snatching the newspaper from the chair a few seats away from me.
“Glenny, shhh!” one of the nurses at the desk warned as she slid open the window.
“Bitch, don’t shhh me!” he said rolling up the newspaper in his hand, smacking it against his knee.
She turned beet red like a scolded child and slammed the window shut.
“They still think they can tell us what to do! You believe that, shit?”
“Glenny!” A black female nurse with thick burgundy framed glasses opened the window and stared at him sternly.
“Don’t make me come out there!” she cautioned. “You and Darleen were just playing Gin Rummy last week. Why are you being mean now?”
“Rummy… I haven’t played Gin Rummy since ‘78, the year my daughter was born. You know a nigga liked to slit my throat cause of some Rummy!” he claimed. As he directed his attention towards me, I noticed a small wound on his split earlobe that was discolored and glazed over with scar tissue.
“Glenny, let her alone.” The nurse nodded her head in my direction. Without saying a word, he folded his arms inward like an insolent child. He smelled the way men sometimes did when there hadn’t been enough ventilation. Something he seemed to be oblivious to by the way he kept flopping around trying to get comfortable in his small square seat.
I woke up from a brief nap to find that most of the room had dozed off right along with me. A few were following along with the T.V. in the corner, though there had been no sound. Women in all white occasionally floated in on thick-soled shoes leading patients away. Glenny was still seated a couple seats away and hadn’t seemed like the type keen on sudden movements, so I just stayed put.
After a while, he discreetly started pulling a package of peanut M&Ms from the pocket of his light-colored jeans. With the majority of the bag still in his pocket, he began to furtively slip pieces into his mouth, peering around suspiciously after chewing each one. Eventually, he pulled the entire package out. The crinkly sound of the wrapper beneath his anxious fingers blotted out everything else, like a high pitch warning only I could hear. I watched him inconspicuously out of the corner of my eye as he coolly shook the colorful candies in his hand before plopping them into his mouth.
“You want some?” he asked sharply. His kind gesture was completely at odds with his expression.
"No, thank you."
He carried on silently, tilting the bag until several more pieces came dancing out into his hand. Peanut M&Ms were my favorite, but a mental hospital hardly seemed like the place to start taking candy from strangers.
“You shouldn’t be here!"
“You shouldn’t be here. He’s not worth it! Whatever he has done to you, he’s not worth it!” he said rising to his feet.
“You don’t belong here!” he shouted angrily.
Several curious eyes darted our way. He crumbled his empty wrapper and shot it through the air towards the garbage in the corner. He held the stance a few seconds like he was posing for the cover of some sports magazine. As soon as the wrapper landed inside the garbage, he vanished.
“Ms. Mosely?” I looked up to see a woman summoning me from behind the nurse’s station.
“Do you have an insurance card?” I hadn't really paid attention to it before, but everyone had been enclosed in glass. I really couldn’t understand why, though. No one waiting looked particularly dangerous, not even Glenny. My sanity felt more like a handicap.
“Do you have insurance?”
"My mother does."
“Here. Fill out as much of this as you can.”
I jotted down everything I knew and walked back to my seat, certain my whole family had heard about what happened.
“Don’t say anything, but you know Blake tried to kill herself."
“What! Girl, no.”
“Mmm hmm. She had to go down to the mental health department and everything. I always knew that child was not right.”
“Ms. Mosely,” called a cherub-faced woman with blotching cheeks and stringy blond hair.
“The doctor will see you now.”
She folded her lips sympathetically, as I hesitantly used the wooden arms of the chair to propel myself up. I followed her down a long sterile corridor; her hair was so reedy that her peach scalp peeked through, like the summer sun setting behind a field of dried corn stalks. My shoes were still annoyingly damp from the snow, each of her timid, quiet steps was met with the painful screech of mine as the soles of my shoes streaked across the floor. I wanted to take them off and run the rest of the way down the unusually long hall and out the nearest emergency exit. We reached a wooden double door, and she pulled the badge clipped to her front pocket down and waved it in front of a small sensor. One of the rectangular fluorescent lights immediately began to flicker as we entered dimming the hall briefly before fluttering back on. We stopped in front of a large oak door with no name or room number affixed to it. She knocked three times, and a balding white man appeared snug in a brown and copper argyle sweater.
“Please,” he said formally.
His office was slightly warmer, but I still felt the twinge of my skin as thousands of tiny goosebumps rose in defiance.
"Have a seat anywhere you would like."
There were only two choices in front of his desk. He had one of those metal old-school teacher desks with file cabinet drawers, locks and lots of space for the things they seized from students throughout the year. It had a transient feel to it. It was like he packed up the credentials
on the wall and all his other belongings each night before leaving and strung them back up again the next day.
“So, Miss Mosley,” he said leaning back in his high-backed leather chair. “Would you like to talk about what brought you here this evening?”
He would never understand, with his wrinkle-free khakis and life of privilege. He would never know the familiarity and angst I felt at the sound of gunshots reining out in the distant summer night or the pressure of assuming ambassador for your entire race when you have found you’re the only one in the room.
“School, it’s been a little stressful lately.”
"I see." He paged through a flimsy stack of papers. “And you are a freshman at what school?”
“I’m not. I’m a senior at St. Isadora’s.”
“Oh,” he said, his gaunt face flush with awkwardness. "I'm sorry it just says here that you were born in 1980."
I should have been finishing up my freshman year in college but was held back in the third grade because of my attendance.
“Have you ever tried to hurt yourself before?” he asked the top of his pen resting at the corner of his mouth
“Have you thought about hurting others physically?”
“No. It was really a stupid mistake. I regretted it immediately.”
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