TRANSFORM requiem for the silent part one of five parts
On that occasion there was a woman standing behind me,
her lips blue with cold, who, of course, had never in
her life heard my name. Jolted out of the torpor
characteristic of all of us, she said into my ear
(everyone whispered there) – ‘Could one ever describe
this?”’ And I answered, ‘I can.’ It was then that
something like a smile slid across what had previously
been just a face.
~ Anna Akhmatova
When they leave the hospital, they won’t speak of it again. It’s more than embarrassing – it’s shameful. No one wants to admit that when they were fifteen they tried to kill themselves, or that they used to hear voices in their head, or that they tried to stab their mother because they went psychotic and thought she was trying to kill them.
They won’t want to talk about being crazy. About being children or little more, and being locked away in a state-run psychiatric hospital which is much like a prison. They won’t want to be the butt of the next loony-bin joke.
Mostly they don’t speak of it because they don’t want to remember it.
So the hospital stays silent: a concrete facility keeping a few dozen kids at a time, mostly aged six to eighteen, kept behind barbed wire and barred windows. Kids are sent here – crazy kids, troublesome kids, the ones raped and beaten and thrown out into the street until something in them breaks and someone sends them away from polite society.
They come here and they learn to be silent again, to tell all the right lies so they can have their freedom again. Freedom’s one of those things you don’t really appreciate till it’s gone.
Even if they did speak, how could they find the words? How could they describe such a place to people who’ve only heard about it in jokes, seen it glamorized in movies? How could they find the unique moments that describe their experience, and somehow freeze them, capture them to show to others?
Maybe one could never describe it.
But maybe one could, and in doing so, transform those names, those half-forgotten faces, back into people again. Maybe I can find the words. Maybe I can.
REQUIEM FOR THE SILENT //original text by Anna Rosenfeld ’11, transcribed in five parts from her LJ entry of 2008-02-02 @ 1734h PST. A complete print was made on 30 April 2008, her nineteenth birthday. Parts titles such as TRANSFORM, INBAL, and the others were NOT in her original as titles, they’ve been added by Brad Butler.
REQUIEM FOR THE SILENT // poetry by Anna Akhmatova, “Requiem”, translated by Sasha Mayakovsky, boldface. Passages included as they appear here by Anna: she constructed her essay around the Russian poem, alternating back and forth between poem and reminiscence. The design was to link Akhmatova to her own personal experiences as an inpatient in Israel.
Submitted in February, 2008, by Anna Rosenfeld in partial fulfillment of the course requirements “Writing From Life”, The Evergreen State College, Olympia, Washington, USA. Webpages reference is http://kiota.livejournal.com/683341.html
Full text of the entire LJ entry frame, with responses, is included following Part 5 of five, below.
Everything has become muddled forever –
I can no longer distinguish
who is an animal, who a person, and how long
the wait can be for an execution.
There are only dusty flowers,
the chinking of the thurible,
tracks from somewhere into nowhere.
~ Anna Akhmatova
The wait in the crazy house is forever. We wait for freedom and for death, but most often those two come hand in hand.
Uri though – he’s trying for freedom, real freedom. He’s trying for a job. The hospital lets him out three times a week to work at a factory. He’s trying to get a full-time job for when he leaves the hospital – he has a future, maybe.
Uri tells me stories and most of them are true. He tells me how he sees girls my age on the streets, fourteen years old and selling their bodies for coke or heroin. He tells me how the pimps and dealers get them hooked and use them till there’s nothing left.
He’s been homeless a lot. At thirteen he was a drunk vandal, and then it was gangs. Dealing. And heroin, a lot of heroin. He lived on the streets and sometimes in hostels. He doesn’t speak of his parents. I don’t know if they threw him out or if he left on his own. If they hurt him.
I can’t imagine anyone hurting Uri. He’s a big guy, probably twice my weight. His body is covered in scars, his face with pockmarks. He’s big and he’s ugly and looks like a dangerous thug. Maybe he is. He’s always kind to me, though.
Uri’s drug of choice isn’t pot or heroin, despite his tales. Now it’s the razor. Specifically the single-edged blades, sharp and fresh from their packaging. His arms are a mass of scar tissue and newer cuts. He’s the only one strong enough to hurt himself – big, ugly, kind-hearted thug, bringing the blade down against his skin.
Fresh winds blow softly for someone,
gentle sunsets warm them through; we don’t know this,
we are everywhere the same, listening
to the scrape and turn of hateful keys
and the heavy tread of marching soldiers.
Waking early, as if for early mass,
walking through the capital run wild, gone to seed,
we’d meet – the dead, lifeless, the sun,
lower very day; the Neva, mistier:
but hope still sings forever in the distance.
~ Anna Akhmatova
We do not call it the hospital. We call it the loony bin, the prison, the crazy house. We live in the crazy house and this is a source of much amusement to us. Yissasskhar is seventeen and he treats me like a kid sister – a lot of people here do. He usually seems really happy and unbeaten, seeming to view his time here as a grand adventure, something to talk about when he’s high.
He’s high a lot of the time – he even manages to get high here. He shows me the little cannabis plant he’s growing in the ward’s makeshift kitchen, nestled in with the sorry, dead bits of mint in a cracked pot. I diligently water it and even feel rather sad when my roommate Odel drowns the plant in a moment of schizophrenic confusion.
Yissasskhar cracks up when he discovers I’ve never even smoked a cigarette. He’s been smoking since he was eleven. He sells pot and sniffs glue and seems, to my naivity, to be a hard-core drug addict. Despite that, I always follow him out to the porch, where he smokes hand-rolled cigarettes and talks endlessly about his friends and family back home.
He’s really only here because of the drugs – he’s pretty sane, but he got caught dealing weed and the courts decided he was too unstable and sent him here until his trial. That happens sometimes – people come here before going to court and then juvie, prison, or in a few cases, back to the loony bin.
Most of them say they’d rather be in jail than with us – us thin, pale crazies wrapped in blankets and lying in the hallway, glaring at them with alien eyes. Some of them are nice to us because they are close enough to being us – depressed enough or strung out on enough drugs that they just might end up back here. Yissasskhar’s one of those. Or maybe he’s just nice to everyone, no matter what.
However, I know he’d rather be in jail—rather than endlessly pacing the hallways here, endlessly taking different connotations of anti-depressants and anti-psychotics and tranquilizers. One day he says he’s so sick of this place he’s going to make the police take him to jail instead. I hide around the corner from the single phone where he rants at the police, who hang up on him. Later he tries to kill one of Staff by smashing the man over the head with a guitar. For the next two days he’s tied down in Isolation. He doesn’t go to jail.
Another boy, Matan, is also here for drugs. His court date is soon – he’s only going to be here a few days. Privately he tells me that he wouldn’t let Staff draw blood from him because he’s scared of needles – that the only reason he hasn’t done heroin is because of that fear.
On the fifth day a policeman comes to get him. Matan had spent the whole day crying silently, huddled in a corner chainsmoking, but when the policeman puts the cuffs on his wrists and ankles, Matan is dry-eyed. I watch from the barred window until the police van drives away.
I never see him again.
I wonder how long it took for him to start using heroin.
No one at the hospital really needs outside drugs. We have drugs – legal ones. Xanax, Valium, more sleeping pills than I can name, tranquilizers, anti-psychotics, anti-depressants, and so on. Staff give us these and watches us pretend to swallow, but we secretly hoard them in case of emergency – though what kind of emergency would require eight sleeping pills, sixteen anti-depressants, five painkillers, and four diuretics, no one really knows.
Sometimes, perhaps mistaking the colorful pills for candy, people swallow their entire stash. Then Staff give them more pills, and they scream from the pain in their stomach all through the night.
It isn’t me, someone else is suffering. I couldn’t.
Not like this. Everything that has happened,
cover it with a black cloth,
then let the torches be removed…
Inbal is perfect in her suffering. Her hair is short like a boy’s, a reddish fuzz harsh against her skull. Her cheeks and eyes are hollows in her angular face, and the bones of her shoulders are like knives threatening to stab anyone who brushes against her. I have a huge crush in Inbal --- a childish, innocent crush. I cling to her every word as though pearls fall from her mouth as she speaks. When she smiles at me, the warmth of that smile lingers with me for hours. I want to vanquish her enemies, to serenade her. She is so unreachable, so distant, so beautiful.
Inbal sees me as a little girl, I think – she’s nineteen, to her I’m just a child, a cute little thing that tags along behind her and occasionally smokes her cigarettes. I don’t mind. She shows me her art sometimes and I feel awed just to be in the presence of someone who can create like that. Awed and then incredibly saddened that such an artist would be hidden in an isolated institution, that no one’s really seen what she can do.
She’s sick all the time, and I worry: she’s pale, and there’s always dark shadows under her eyes. At the nurses’station, in the kitchen, in the hallway, her eyes roll up in her head and she collapses: some mysterious illness that doctors can’t diagnose. Anorexia doesn’t help, either. Usually Staff doesn’t notice when she faints, and she eventually rises, ghostly and shaking, to eat another piece of dry, burnt toast.
Monday (or Wednesday, or Friday – I have no idea, the days all blur into one here,) I am in the kitchen making tea, while Inbal peers suspiciously at a bag of bread. Everyone knows there are rats in the kitchen. This bag is chewed, so she tosses it into the trash and joins me at the counter. There’s nothing in the kitchen but bread and tea, so she makes tea.
She starts talking and for once she is vulnerable. I already kind of know that she isn’t really as tough and harsh as she likes to appear: I’ve seen the slashes across her wrists, over her arms, her shoulders, disappearing into her shirt. I’ve seen her face just before she collapses to the ground: suddenly a deathly white, scared, feeling darkness overwhelm her and not knowing if she’ll be able to rise if she falls again.
She hasn’t revealed her fear in words before, but I hear it now – her voice is soft like a child’s and hesitantly, she is confiding in me.
She tells me a thing she remembers. A childhood memory – in it she is six or maybe seven. She is in the shed behind the house, where her brother’s friends go to hang out. She lies sprawled on the floor amidst empty beer bottles, some of them broken into sparkling pieces on the ground. There is blood on the inside of her thighs. It hurts. And she gets up, brushes off her dress, and goes back to the house. She has no words for what happened to her in the shed, so she doesn’t speak of it --- eventually, only remembers it as one might remember a long-ago nightmare.
She is telling me this and I can’t say anything because suddenly she’s not so distant, so alien. She’s talking about bad dreams she doesn’t want to remember, secrets she can’t tell anyone, even herself, and suddenly I have so much to tell her. I want to tell her that I am like her, that I’m not just a distant observer chronicling the suffering of others. I want to tell her how when I was nine I learned you must always stay awake and watch the crack of light under the bedroom door, watch for when the shadow crosses it. I want to spill the secrets I can’t even remember.
I want to tell her she’s not alone in her suffering, but to do so would be to admit that I am, in fact, suffering also – and here that would mean admitting I really am crazy, and freedom will be further away.
So I say nothing. And eventually she tugs her sleeves a downwards so they cover her arms a little more, takes her tea, and lights a cigarette; and we both sit and watch the smoke curl around the bars of the window and out into the night.
I have learned how faces fall,
How terror can escape from lowered eyes,
How suffering can etch cruel pages
Of cuneiform-like marks upon the cheeks.
I know how dark or ash-blond strands of hair
Can suddenly turn white. I’ve learned to recognize
The fading smiles upon submissive lips,
The trembling fear inside a hollow laugh.
That’s why I pray not for myself
But all of you who stood there with me
Through fiercest cold and scorching July heat
Under a towering, completely blind red wall.
~ Anna Akhmatova
One day Avikhai tells me he’s going to kill himself.
Avikhai is seventeen years old and incredibly tall. He towers over my own four feet ten inches, and has to hunch under the low ceiling of the kitchen. His hair was shoulder-length when he came here, but now it falls to his chin, since Inbal and I cut it.
That was great fun. We tried to brush Avikhai’s tangled hair but it was too knotted, so we took him to the girls’ sink and washed his hair, using liberal amounts of conditioner. Then we borrowed a pair of scissors from staff and cut his hair, giggling madly the whole time. Avikhai just sat there patiently, smiling his sad little smile.
I love Avikhai like crazy and wish he were my big brother for real. I wish I could somehow take on all his pain and make him happy again.
When he tells me he’s going to kill himself, I don’t try to talk him out of it – his voice is too firm, too sure. Instead I ask him when, where, and how.
Then I quietly leave and tell Staff.
“In the next few hours, in the phone room. He’ll hang himself with his sheet.” I tell them how serious he is – Avikhai doesn’t joke around about stuff like that. He doesn’t joke around at all.
I pace the hallway for the next hour, then doze off for a bit. When I wake up there’s a commotion in the hallway, by the phone room. I know what happens before I get there.
I catch a glimpse of something long and thin stretched out on the tiled floor with the remains of a sheet around its neck, something limp and silent. Something that can’t be Avikhai, but is.
Something inside me breaks and I’m sliding downwards and whispering, ”I told you.” I’m watching people rush by to attach machines to the thing in the phone room and I’m sobbing, “I told you, I told you.” I told you he was going to do it and you didn’t stop it and now there’s a limp, dead thing lying on the dirty tiles.
Everything around me is blurring and spinning and I’m saying over and over, I told you, I told you. Over and over, thinking how unglamorous death is, how ugly. You see, when you die, your bowels let go. There’s nothing glamorous about shitting your pants. Nothing glamorous about people crowded around your still body, struggling to revive you, choking on the stink.
After that I don’t remember any more. Or I don’t want to remember any more. I’m tired of writing this.
This is what matters: I told them. I told them and they didn’t listen and that was the harshest, cruelest betrayal. I told them and still he lay there with the sheet knotted around his throat. I told them, but I went unheard and again I was silent, again only I knew that once, once I had told.
But now, I’m telling you.
Now, you know too.
Ki will later comment that Avikhai had been revived, that she had taken artistic license with her account. Very improbable that she told her Writing From Life instructor that, though.
The full frame around the essay text of LJ entry 683341 posted on 2008-02-02 at 1734h tesc time PST follows. The entry was downloaded to print on 30 april 2008, her 19th birthday. Transcriptions were first made from this print on 2008-05-26.
Icon = closeup of Autumn Whisperlings. Kiota’s words as comments in red below:
I just emailed my instructor.
Oh fuck. Fuck. I’m really nervous. I don’t even know when she’s handing them back in.
[Texts of parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 follow]
Ki ends her post and the text with a personal comment: *exhausted*
cruciatus_x 2008-02-02 1813h PST [all times below are PST]
That’s all I can say.. just. wow.
Wow. This is…amazing.
This is seriously powerful writing. Wow. I… I can’t stop crying.
kiota replies 1837h: *hugs*
Good writing, it’s very powerful. It makes me sit & think of my own experiences
in hospitals. Some (well, most) of the greatest people I’ve ever known were “crazies.”
My best friend, a drug addict & an alcoholic who’s been in & out of hospitals since
she was thirteen included.
this is really amazing writing.
kiota replies 1912h: You inspired me. :p
*hugs you tight*
That was really amazing and powerful…I wish I could write as well as you do.
I can only imagine how hard it must’ve been to write it, though.
You know, you really are amazing.
kiota replies 2026h: *hugs back* thank you. You’re an amazing writer as well.
This is brilliant, Kiota. It really is.
You are an amazingly strong person. You’re an inspiration.
kiota replies to a deleted post 2008-02-03 0047h: There’s a bit about me, it’s just not the
main point. D: I don’t want to get that personal with this instructor yet.
Like everyone else said, this really is excellent writing.
silverplate88 2008-02-04 1320h
Part of why this is brilliant is your design: bringing Akhmatova to life, to your own life
and through your own eyes …. It’s one thing to sit down and read a poem out of a book,
but quite another thing to walk slowly beside you through the corridors of your hell and
feel pieces of you die. Not just back then, but right now too, as immediate as a real
pulse, a vanished one, and a virtual one.
Now you know, too.
gothicotter replies to silver 2008-02-09 1456h:
I wholeheartedly agree with this. I could actually feel
everything. You are amazing, Kiota. Thank you for surviving that hell.
silverplate88 responds 2008-02-11 0949h:
…for surviving that hell, and for going on and on XD
Probably the deleted post was erased after 13 April.