In search of adam, p.17
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       In Search of Adam, p.17

           Caroline Smailes
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  Buzz buzzzzzzzz.

  The door opened.

  Slam bang bang.

  The door slammed behind me. Click clicked. Locked. A code was needed. I didn’t know it. I couldn’t leave. Ask permission to leave the ward. I was eighteen years and six months old.

  A lady approached us. She said that she was a nurse. She didn’t look like a nurse. She wore jeans and a t-shirt. We were standing in the corridor. A few centimetres away from the door. The locked door. Noises. Loud noises were whirl whirling around. I didn’t recognisethe noises. I began to shake. In my knees. In my hands. The nurse had her back to me. She was talking to my father. Hush hush. I couldn’t hear what she was saying. I couldn’t hear anything. The corridor felt busy. There was no one there. The smell was strange. Wee. Bacon. Sick. Coffee. Blood. Beans. Mingled. Strong. All mingled. All wafting.

  The nurse turned around. Facing me. She looked at me as she told my father to go. Best not make a fuss. He smiled as he left. He’d nip and see Rita, before going back to work. No hug. No kiss. Big smile. See ya soon pet. I stood alone. Rooted to the blue strip of carpet. For very important peoples. For very important mad people to walk along. My bag of stuff quivered on the floor. Brushing my feet for reassurance. White walls. Not daring to speak. Waiting to be told what to do next.

  The nurse picked up my bag. She didn’t smile. She didn’t speak. I followed her along the corridor. She was tall. Stretched to the ceiling. She was grey. Smudged together black and white. She was smudgy. But. Tall. Stretched. Straight back. No face. I looked through open doors. To the right. To the left. Quick march. My eyes flicked.





  Beds. Chairs. Staring eyes. Faces. A smear of images. Blurred into one mixed up mess.

  A sick of images.

  I had my own cubicle. Iron. Cold beds, separated by a thin flowery plastic curtain, that didn’t quite reach the wall. Lines of light escaped between the curtain and the wall. Looked into my private space. Watched. Watched. Always watched. The nurse told me that was to be my bed. Pointing at the silver iron block. A white blanket was stretched across. Ward 23 imprinted in blue ink. Just to remind me. Alert alert. The nurse told me that she would have to check my bag before I could have it. My bag was taken. A hurried shoving of my things into a bag. Knickers. A sketch pad. My green notebook. Glue. Scissors. A navy blue cylinder tin. It had a gold trim and IIR in gold lettering. Colouring pencils. A nightie. Toothpaste. Toothbrush. Soap. A razor. Shampoo.

  Two hours since I went to the GP. Two hours since I was told to go into hospital and I had rushed to find what I would need. I didn’t know what to pack. I was going to be in hospital for a long time. The mortuary was waiting for me. Choices. My bag was taken to be searched. Strangers were rifling through for secrets. They were searching and searching. I sat on my bed and waited for the nurse to return with it.

  The padded cell existed. It was real. It was occupied.

  People began to introduce themselves. Excited at my arrival. Young blood. A new story to be told. I was frightened. Rooted to the white blanket on my cold bed. I sat on the edge. Not daring to relax. Not daring to move. Alone. Startled by the madness that surrounded me. I could not speak. Heads appeared around the thin flowery curtain. Clouded eyes. The voices were slurred. They weren’t well. I had to remember that they weren’t well. I couldn’t trust them. I had to be silent. I had to keep myself to myself. But. They seemed so happy. They seemed so happy to be on Ward 23. It was a home. It was a safe place.


  Moira was nice. She rushed in. Shouted at the staring glaring others. One two three four five pairs of eyes.

  Leave the lassie alone. She’s terrified. Poor hinny.

  She came in to me and sat on my bed.

  Come on hinny tell is yer name.

  - Jude Williams.

  That’s a pretty name hinny. Nice to meet yer.

  She was wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Like the nurse. She had grey hair that was roughly cut. Short and spiky. Her skin was smooth and brown. She was thin. Very thin. Her fingers were stained with an orange band. She put her arms around me and hugged me. She smelled of cigarette smoke. Moira told me that she was a nurse andthat she’d look after me. I had to tell her if anyone bothered me. She’d look after me.

  I’ll be yer ma while yer in here.

  I didn’t tell her about my mother. I wanted to, but I didn’t. She sat with her arm around me. Humming incy wincy spider. Rocking me gently backwards and forwards. All the time I looked at the hole in her pink slippers.

  The nurse returned with my bag. Moira jumped up and scuttled away. Run run as fast as you can. I could have my bag back. The razor and the scissors had been taken. I would have to ask to use them. I would have to be watched when I used them. I didn’t understand. Someone would watch me while I cut and pasted. And while I shaved. I didn’t understand. She left me with my bag. I sat back. Against the iron headrest. I clutched my bag into me. Black. Soft. As big as me. I could hide behind my bag. I would not cry. I could not cry. Big girls don’t cry. Do you hear me? Big girls don’t cry. I wanted my mother. I wanted to be with my mother.

  My neighbour

  I heard a hiccup. Loud. Bounced off the walls. Gasping for air. A lady. Sat on her bed. In the next cubicle. She looked like a hunched old lady. Like she was over a hundred years old and about to die at any minute. She wore a pink nightie and a matching velvet dressing gown. No slippers. Bare feet. She stared. Through her eyelashes.

  Sat next to the crack in the curtains. Hairy legs dingle dangling over the bed. She didn’t have old eyes. Glaring. Staring eyes. She hadn’t spoken. Her bed was next to mine. The thin plastic flowery curtain separated our worlds. I felt her eyes watching. Watching watching watching. Not blinking. She was staring in through the crack. Where the curtain didn’t meet the wall. The light was blocked. She penetrated. Her eyes telling me stories. Nasty nasty stories. They were screaming out of her eyes. She was watching. Fear. Panic panic panic. Alone. Really really alone. No safe place. I needed my safe place. Out of control. She had no voice. Just staring. Glaring. Burrowing in with her laser eyes. Burning her story into the side of my face. Turning my cheeks red. Ruby red.

  In the middle of the night. For the first seventeen nights. My neighbour pushed her bed out of her cubicle and into the corridor. Scraping. Grinding across the floor. Scratching. Scratching. Scrape scrape scrape. I lay awake. Too frightened to close my eyes. On day eighteen she forced plastic into her mouth. Down her throat. And she choked. I heard her choke. She was dead by the time the nurse finally noticed. They found sixteen pieces of a Walkers Salt and Shake crisp packet in her bedside locker. Each cut into a perfect square. The nurse threw them into the bin. I took them out. One two three four five six seven eight nine ten eleven twelve thirteen fourteen fifteen sixteen. I kept them in my blue cylinder tin.

  Exhibit number five—sixteen squares of plastic.

  The noise was constant. It didn’t change with the light. They. The patients. They communicated through squeals and high-pitched wails. They sang to each other. Symphonies. Crescendos. Loudening. Maintaining the climax. Always at climax. They reminded each other that they were near. Playing parts in a well-rehearsed show. Locked in together. All of us locked in together. The screams. The wails. The cries. Combined. Rebounded around the white rooms and out along the white corridor. An unhappy tune that told of the pain and the confusion that had led us all to end up on Ward 23.

  The sadness penetrated me. By day twenty-one, their sadness had climbed into me and made friends with my own. Added to my madness. I shifted my view of the world. I watched. I learned. I learned so very much on Ward 23. Moira told me too many things. Tips and techniques that no sane person would share. I was eighteen years, seven months old and twenty-one days, when I learned the easiest and most effective ways to commit suicide.

  Don’t slash your wrists. Too many scars and too messy. Good chance you’ll survive or ch
ange your mind in the middle. Hanging is out. Light fittings fall. They’re not strong enough. Moira had fallen sixteen times. Shooting is no good. Relies too much on bravery. And strength to pull the trigger. Not a female method. Tablets. Sleeping tablets. Strong tablets. Lots of them. With alcohol. Alone. Where you won’t be disturbed.That’s the easiest way. Though jumping in front of a train is a guarantee.


  He used to be a headmaster. Moira told me that. He taught Geography in the local grammar school. He had had a breakdown in the middle of a lesson. Hit a pupil. Broke his nose. It had been in the paper. The local paper. On Ward 23 he walked. He strode up and down the long corridor. Up and down. Up and down. Patrolled. Head held high. Eyes straight ahead. He didn’t speak. He didn’t alter his gaze.

  I sat next to the window in the visitor’s room. A big glass window that looked out onto the corridor. A strip of blue carpet ran down the middle. I watched Derek. Up. Down. Up and down. I counted. Twenty-seven seconds down. Thirty-two seconds up. I watched his determination. His need to reach somewhere. He marched. Up and down. Up and down. His hair was jet back. He couldn’t have been old. His eyes told me that something was wrong. Something had frightened him. He was like me. He lived in the same world as me. A sad world.

  Derek’s eyes carried secrets that I would never know. Derek didn’t speak. Not a word. He was tall. He was proud. He dressed in a navy blue suit and a white shirt. No shoes. Just socks. Every day. He was smart. He was voiceless. I never heard his accent. I imagined that he was posh. That his accent was swish like Aunty Maggie’s.

  I watched his feet. Huge feet. I sat and I watched him. Up and down. Up and down. Shoeless feet. Dark socks to match his suit. A proud man.

  Every Saturday Derek’s wife and two boys came to visit. Derek wore shoes for his boys. They sat around the wooden circular table in the visitor’s room. Derek connected his palms. Locked his hands ready to pray. He lowered his eyes and he rocked. Gently. Controlled. His feet moved under the table. Tiny steps. Up and down. Up and down. I watched him. Derek never spoke. I strained to hear his voice. But he never spoke. Gentle rocking. Backwards and forwards. Rhythmic. Tip tap tapping. After a strained hour. A nervous hour of his two young boys trying to tell stories. Connecting eyes with their mother for help. For reassurance. They talked to their mother. They talked for their father. For Derek. After an hour they stood to leave. Derek walked to door with them. I saw their relief. Splashed across their faces. I saw his relief. Splashed across his eyes. He smiled. A real smile. His family left him. Derek’s hands returned to his sides. His shoes already left under the wooden table in the visitor’s room. Another Saturday over. Derek could return to his patrol. Up and down. Up and down. Up and down.

  I went to the toilet. I locked the door.

  I never saw a doctor. Not once. The nurses watched. They talked in hush hush tones and they built a file. A yellow file of observations. With my name and hospital number on the front. I wasn’t allowedto read it. I wanted to. I wanted to know what they were writing about me. The nurses tried to note everything that I ate, that I drank and how many times I went to the toilet. They asked me if I was sick. I lied. They scribbled my lies. It was humiliating.

  Then. Once a week they would weigh me. Make me stand on the scales. I was terrified. Terrified that I would put on weight. That I would put on an ounce. An ounce in a week. Then. Then they’d think me cured. Then. Then they’d tell me to leave Ward 23. I couldn’t let that happen. Every week they noted my weight. In front of me. I felt sick. Real sick. I made sure that my weight always went down. It wasn’t a challenge. It was a need. So. So they recorded. Kept record. They focused on consumption. On food and drink. They focused on the surface. Not really sure what to do with me. Not sure why I had something called Bulimia Nervosa. Not sure how to cure me. Not really sure. They didn’t understand. They thought that I should just stop being sick. That I could just stop. If I wanted to. But I couldn’t. I really couldn’t. I had forgotten how to eat. I had forgotten how to enjoy food. They thought that I wasn’t quite normal. They were right. I wasn’t normal. A reet strange bairn. I’m not normal. But they never asked the questions. They never allowed the words to escape from me. They never realised that I was trying to communicate. Sicking up the words that I couldn’t voice. Trying in the only way that I could find. Trying to tell them all the things that were eating away inside of me. Eating their way through me. Being on Ward 23 made me question normal. Being on Ward 23 made me wish that someone would help me to use words.

  Sunday was always cream cake day. Sunday was Ward 23’s highlight of the week. I had to sit and watch them. I was forced to watch everyone eat. Apparently. Being around food would make me better. Abracadabra. Wave the magic wand. And. Poof. Jude is better. We were all pushed into the visitor’s room. A dull metal trolley was clunked in. Clink clank clunk. The cups and saucers rattle rattled as the trolley clunked. On it was afternoon tea. A stainless steel cake display. Smothered in cream cakes. Thirty sticky chocolate éclairs. Oozing with fresh cream. Pots of tea and coffee. China cups and saucers. No knives. A wave of excitement swept around the room. We sat. The patients sat. Waiting. Anticipating. Dribbling. Rocking. Mumbling. Scratching. Screaming. Waiting.

  Always the same. Days blurred into one. Not Sundays. Cream cake day was different. Time no longer had meaning. Time tick tocked in the real world. I had escaped. I existed without ticking and tocking and chiming and rushing and worrying. Measure was removed. Schedule was removed. I escaped beyond the cuckoo. We had sold our clocks. We had abandoned our minds. Free. No rules. No boundaries. Free. Except on Sunday.

  Every Sunday. I had to sit with them. Around the round wooden tables. I had to watch them grabbing the cakes. Pushing. Shoving each other out of the way. Grab grab grabbing. They fingered the cakes with their dirty fat fingers. I had to watch them. Always fifteen of us. Me and fourteen others. Pushing full éclairs into their mouths. The cream rushed to the end. It oozed. It fell to the table. Itfell onto their clothes. It fell onto the floor. Some licked it from the table. Some left it on their clothes. Some licked it from the floor. Tongues. Moving tongues. Food-covered tongues. Others scooped the cream onto their fingers. Eyes twinkling with excitement. Dollops of fluffy cream topped their fingertips.

  I watched them. I watched them suck and lick. Slurping. Chomping. Mouths open. Mouths wide. Teeth showing. Chewing like horses. I watched the disgusting blobs of fat-filled cream sticking to their dirty faces. Covering their dirty faces. I watched the food being twirled around their mouths. I wanted to shout. You’re all dirty dirty. Close your mouths when you eat. I wanted to scream and throw plates around the room. I wanted to climb onto the table and jump. Jump jump jump. Jumping till the table strained and buckled under my weight. I wanted to scream. Really really scream. The nurses were torturing me. They are driving me to madness. I wasn’t getting better. I was learning. I was learning too much. I was blending into my environment.

  I was a chameleon. I am a chameleon.

  One Sunday. No date. No date. I picked up the fattest éclair. Finger prints screamed out from the chocolate. I closed my eyes. I blocked out the dirty dirty finger prints. I shoved the éclair into my mouth. Push push. Chocolate and cream oozed. Escaped. Decorated my face. Two each. I counted them all. Thirty cream cakes. There had been enough for two each. I had four. They wouldn’t mind. Theycouldn’t mind. Some of them couldn’t even count anymore. No rules. No manners. Eat eat eat. I hated the madness. I hated me.

  I went to the toilet. I locked the door. I was sick.


  He arrived one day. Replaced my dead neighbour. I recognised Simon from the estate. He lived on Gladstone Street. The next street up from Disraeli Avenue. He was nearly two years older than me. He was nearly twenty-one. He had bright ginger hair and pale blue eyes. He looked quite normal. He was tall. He walked around in shorts. He had legs like Barry Venison. Played football three times a week. Supported Sunderland like my father. He acted normal. He seeme
d quite normal. Made me smile with rhymes and jokes. Made me feel happy. Then. He talked with absolute pride of how he had died for three minutes. He had taken an overdose.







  Had found his dad in bed with their male lodger. Sick bastards the two of them. I didn’t understand. He told me that he hadn’t meant to kill himself. Wanted to give the bastard a shock. But. He told me that the thrill of dying was addictive. I didn’t understand. I didn’tunderstand. He was only staying in for a day or two. Simon told me that he wanted to keep in touch after he left hospital. He wanted to be my friend. But. That he wasn’t sure if that would be possible. He still wanted to die. He told me not to tell anyone. Hush hush. Swirling secrets. He was tricking the nurses so that he could be discharged. Clever lad. He was my friend. He gave me a big hug when he left. He said he’d be in touch soon.

  Two sleeps later he died.

  A nurse told me. They had expected him back on the ward. But. But he died on the way to the hospital. A bottle of tablets and a bottle of vodka. It worked every time. I hadn’t told. I let my friend die.


  Gordon was small and funny looking. He was tiny and had a tummy that must have had a baby in it. He was twenty-eight. He was ten years older than me. Gordon had tattoos covering every inch of his right arm. Words. Mainly words. He did some of them himself. A needle and ink. They were faded. Dirty. Blue. He lived in a Bed and Breakfast in Whitley Bay. Gordon liked to cut himself. Apparently. A bread knife did the trick. Faint lines glistened across his right arms. Over the tattoos. Cuts. Still raw. Spread across the tops of his thighs. He had tried to kill himself too. Seventeen times. He was classed as dangerous. Gordon was on Ward 23 like me. He had a girlfriend who was married. She came to visit with her child. But. She never stayed long and afterwards Gordon was put into the padded cell.

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