An essay about what mental health issues feel/look like to a child
Hide and Seek
I remember him shiny. A sparkling, electric youth with eyes that dazzled and a ready smile. He had energy about him, like he was in a hurry to arrive, or was almost out of time. Memories come in spits and sparks, flashes of brilliance that fade like writing on burning paper. And so did he; he flashed his unique brilliance and was gone. Something remains, but I chase the image of innocence back to a time when joy fairly seeped from his skin. Yet I have no real memory of it. Just a blurred vision: vague and incomplete.
His nose and cheeks were blushed with an afterthought of color, like he'd been out in the cold. Tall, slender and full of energy he wanted to run, to feel, to flit to fly, everywhere, all at once. I don't remember his voice, though it haunts me, and I recognize it when it speaks through someone else. Chills creep up my spine and I run from the sound. I don't want to go back there, not now, not ever.
Most memories are borrowed from others, people who were there, who knew him. I only remember burrowing into the laundry barrel thinking it was the perfect place to hide. I hear footfalls in the hallway and almost hear his laughter. My little brother is hiding in the dryer, and I think it might be fun to turn it on but I don't. Who did he find first? Who gets the hat? I don't remember. All I know is the game was motorcycle man, his version of hide and seek. Maybe that's all that happened. Maybe he's just hiding somewhere, waiting for one of us to discover him so he can take the hat.
One day he just melted. That brilliant shiny surface bubbled and roiled and dripped and oozed, and lay pooled at the feet of his exposed interior. Like a candle slowly melts to reveal that its core is a burned up wick, his was black and brittle with no memory of the light he once danced in.
Long sterile hallways echo our footfalls as we walk single file creating a rhythm for the singing florescent lights. Chained steel doors and a master lock designate the end. We turn left through wooden doors into an expanse of crisply made beds in neat rows. I scan the area for a familiar face. A trumpet case rests on the end of a bed, and I know our destination. I sit quietly next to the case running my fingers down the grooves and across the metal clasp. He never comes.
Dressed in Sunday best we ride through town stopping at an indistinguishable building. I take my little brother's hand and we sprint walk to keep up. We sit in a room with three other grown ups who speak too nicely, like they want something. Everyone gets a turn to talk, and my little brother fidgets and says random things. I want him to pay attention, but I don't understand what they're talking about either.
Every week we go sit in the room and talk to the grown ups. Pretty soon they leave me and my little brother in a play area with toys and puzzles and books. We make hot chocolate and too sweet coffee, ride the elevators up and down, and play secret agent in the stairwell. No one remembers we're there until they're leaving.
That's what it feels like: Empty and alone. Not knowing what happened, not knowing what's going on, how it's going to end. It makes no sense and I'm not sure how to search for answers. I ask questions but only get vague replies. Everyone is hush hush; like this is a bad thing that no one else should know. Just put him in the closet with the rest of the skeletons and quietly lock the door.
He's not him anymore. He's changed into something else that's frightening and confusing. He laughs when he's not supposed to and it's creepy. He talks to his coffee and screams at cheerios. He drags my mom down the stairs and through the gravel in front, and I can do nothing. I cannot stop him; I cannot help him. I want him to take his medicine to be himself, but he doesn't like it. He smokes like a machine and there's nothing in his eyes. I almost can't remember who he was and he scares me. But I can still feel how much I once loved him.
There's a time bomb ticking in my brain; I can feel it. I walk through school and home and life waiting for it to go off, wondering when it will be my turn.
High school psychology teaches me what's happened. Schizophrenia is a shattered personality I learn. Shattered. Coming home I grab a plate and take it to the street slamming it hard into the asphalt. Pieces fly and skip and dance across the pavement. Grabbing a box I run frantically, picking them up while slowly realizing I will never put it back together. I gulp air and can't breathe, slowly collapsing to my knees, crawling and crying picking up useless pieces of glass that will never be a plate again. My brother is never coming back. No medicine, no miracle, can ever make him whole.
It's a carnival ride. Somehow, I must figure out how to traverse the labyrinth of passages that twist and turn through the fun house with cracked mirrors projecting shards of glass towards me at crazy angles. I know he's in here. Somewhere amidst the rubble, distorted and disfigured, that glittering boy is dancing through the chaos.
For all these years I have turned my face from the darkness of his diseased shadow, hiding rage, grief, and fear behind logic and denial. And still my heart holds the love, joy and anticipation of that little girl sitting atop the stairs waiting for her brother to come home.