Mount Valdis. When I first heard the name it sounded like a real nice place to be. I imagined a mountain shrouded with mist surrounded by swarms of gorillas and so many colorful birds and log cabins that they’d stack up, one on top of the other, and just about make every body who went there burst into tears.
Momma’s hip is nagging her but she is still sitting next to me on my crumpled white sheets, all thoughts of chiropracting and Doctor Trieste out of her head as she argues with the doctors about my treatment. As far as I can see, they are planning to try something new. As far as they can see, I don’t understand a single word.
Sometimes this girl with skin the color of cracked toilet pipes and the craziest old glasses I’ve ever seen passes by my door while she’s getting her toiletries or waiting for new blue pants and a top. I make it a point to discourage her and everyone else from watching me like an animal in a zoo by crouching on my bed as if I were in a still life for hours straight. Momma often tells me to stop and the girl looks at me even more but I don’t wanna because I know she can see the name tag next to my door but I’m not allowed out of the room to see hers or to eat with the other patients. One day, Michelangelo, Basquiat, and Munch are all going to be sitting on the red-dotted cushions in the visiting area and they will render me into art.
The bathroom light is always on and I begin to worship it because it reminds me of the light from the cathedral where I saw Jake last. My other brother threw himself off a bridge before I was even born because of my father and because of both of them my momma bites off the bubbling calluses on her palms at night and spits them out like birds from her lips. Jake admitted he saw this when he was hiding waiting for momma to fall asleep so he could sneak some of her money. His eyes shone like discarded beer tops and used cigarettes in the darkness beside my bed.
“Why?” I asked, fidgeting with my dreadlocks as I sat bolt upright. Over the years, I pretended not to see the endless array of girls and smoke attached to his lips but memorized the sound of coins against dirty plastic, the buckshee he dropped into the homeless man’s cup. I wanted to vomit when we passed him but Jake sniffed the air like a greyhound as if he could clean the entire sky with his nose for me. Last I saw, he had alcohol on his breath and the front of his pants were sopping wet. I avoided his eyes as he stumbled up to me and began rubbing my bare, gooseflesh arms, eyes chocolate in the cathedral lights and the smell of urine in the air. He was slurring. I made out that he had escaped from somewhere just to come to the service, had fought off a hundred flying men to boot, and wanted to just be gone for a while.
When I went back to the pews, momma asked why my paisley dress was wrinkled and stank so badly. I went still and excused myself to the bathroom to scrub at it with rough paper towels and white foam.
I still never dare tell momma though Jake is nowhere near.
The girl is here, and I know she wants soap from the storage closet right outside my room because I heard. I turn around and begin undoing the round metal click-buttons on my baggy pants. What soap can help you now, girl?
The heavy door to the hallway slams and closes away the pale girl as the nurses’ yells burst like broken glass ¾ but my dark flesh’s hard as diamonds.
“Taking off her clothes like that, she’s manipulating all of us.”
“She might be one of the worst we’ve ever had in Madison six.”
“I know, that’s why the doc ordered us to collect her urine, and now look at what she’s done….we have to clean all of this up.”
“Yes, but the urine collection has to take place at the exact time ¾”
I leave the pool of urine behind as I retreat to my bed and stay still, one elbow propping me up and dreadlocks obscuring my face. The medicine has made me woozy but I keep my position like a sentinel as the nurses sop my mess up.
Momma agreed to try something new for me, but I hadn’t slept for days by then and the glowing blue screen of the beige computer monitor-desk-and-chair set wheeled beside my bed like clockwork every night hadn’t helped. Hospital staff must have snuck Super Glue on my eyelids because my eyes should have fallen right out of my head by now. Now I look for brushes everywhere ¾ the type that applies eyeshadow but for glue.
I inspect the nurses’ pockets for bristles as they bend down and rise up like mournful elephants, their fingers for dried glue crumbs, their eyes for my brothers.
“It’s time, Espie.” It’s S.P., but the nurse hisses it out in one word.
They drag me out past the bulletin board announcing “Mount Valdis” and “EXCELLENCE ALWAYS” and bring me to a barren white gurney.
“We’re trying to help you.” A nurse clenches my arm in place as I struggle. A sting in my arm prods out a whimper between my teeth as everyone croons out soothingly. They guide me down onto the sheets and begin wheeling me away from my room and towards the lightning that they think will make me whole again.
But the thunder I believe in. Believe in, and want it to scrub me clean again.
Michelle Chen is a sixteen-year old poet, writer, and artist who lives for paper mail, warm zephyrs, and fried noodles, and who takes inspiration for her writing from the events that occur in and around her home, New York City, though her birthplace is Singapore and she hopes to return and visit someday. She is the first-prize winner of the 2015 Knopf Poetry prize and the Norm Strung Youth Writing Competition, the recipient of The Critical Junior Poet's Award, and has performed at Lincoln Center. Her work has been honored both regionally and nationally in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, been shortlisted for the erbacce-prize for poetry, and is forthcoming in the Sharkpack Poetry Review, Corium, Across the Margin, Transcendence, Ember, and Night Train.