Issue Forty-One - Winter 2023

Defining Normal

By A. L. Diaz

“Unfortunately, she didn’t say anything during her session.”

“She hasn’t eaten in two weeks. She was already skinny and now she’s getting worse.”

“Just keep pushing her to eat. I wouldn’t worry too much about it.”

“And the scratching?”

“I would continue monitoring it. Discourage long sleeves in case she tries hiding the lesions.”

“What about her sleeping?”

“There are pills if that will make you feel better.”

“She’s been through a lot. She watched both her parents die. We left war to come here. And then the harassment from the neighbors…”

“I think the fire was too much for her.”

“Her father cut himself after my sister’s death. He was suicidal, too. I’m worried she may be the same. That cut on her arm was dangerously close to her wrist.”

“If you’re that concerned, we can consider medication or ECT treatments. We can also discuss the possibility of having her admitted. There are some lovely hospitals up north…”

I listened to them discuss my future as if debating cold cuts at the deli counter. The sterile hallway enveloped with sunlight, my legs burned under its rays. But I reveled in it. A scab caught on my cardigan, and I flinched. I lifted my sleeve and chipped away at the loose crust, catching a fragment that had not quite detached. It started bleeding, so I placed my index finger over the hole, sending a sting through my arm. No one watched me. I stood up and wandered over to the window before pulling the latch on the frame and letting the window swing open. The ground, about thirty feet below us, had blades of grass each perfectly manicured to a two-inch height. A wide, concrete sidewalk hugged the perimeter of the hospital, where visitors wandered and nurses pushed patients in wheelchairs.

No one cared how I felt. They only cared how I made them feel. And I made my aunt and uncle sad. That was why people created asylums. To make people “normal” again.

I could make things easier for them. Save them from feeling sorry for themselves. Save myself from the mortification strangling me and whatever had yet to come. One nosedive and the concrete would do the rest. Would any of those people stop? I hoped not. The breeze kicked up and slammed the window shut, not that I made much of an attempt to hold it open.

“I think we need to discuss this more,” I could hear my aunt say. The sound of chairs scraping alerted me of their approach, so I returned to my spot by the door. The three came out of the office, and my aunt and uncle ushered me toward the elevator as they discussed in hushed tones what they should do. I trailed behind, neither one of them acknowledging me. I stopped, as my attention went to the window again. A cardinal had landed on the ledge. From the periphery of my sight, neither my aunt nor uncle noticed I had stopped. I imagined going up to the window, taking my time unlatching it, climbing up onto the ledge, then simply falling.

I looked back at them. They did not care. They still had not noticed I stopped, still lost in their conversation. I caught up to them and said nothing. But the thought of the window lingered.

When we got in the car, my aunt asked if I had any desire for lunch. I said to her, “How should I know what I want? I’m only seventeen.” I refused to look at them, but from the corner of my eye I could see them exchange despondent expressions over the words I threw back at them. They said nothing else on the drive home.

Everything rushed past us as we drove onto the interstate. As my aunt sped up, my fingers grazed the door handle. From outside, though, two more cardinals caught my attention. They soared over the interstate and behind our car, disappearing. The higher and farther they flew from me, the more I envied those birds. I moved my hand to roll down the window instead, letting the assault of wind numb me for the rest of the ride.

Copyright Diaz 2023