Selena Wade

Don’t Fuck with Mother Nature

The Garden at the Asylum at Saint-Rémy by Vincent van Gogh

They don’t drive with the sirens on, but the lights still drown you. The blues loft across your mouth and down your neck, the reds drape across your eyes like some offering after death. Sight drips, the air so thick with the smell of metal and sterilization and rubber gloves that you reach out to touch it. Your hands are tied down, what are you doing? a voice asks. Your own is silent, whispering only to silver-plated ceilings far above, promising calmness and protection. Shh, it coos, they have no idea. You lay flat and still and watch shooting stars swing like lighthouse beams out the back-door windows, eager to illuminate monsters chasing behind in the tar-black dark.

When you arrive you never see the building you enter, only that it begins with thick glass doors leading into a too-tight entryway, locking you in from the outside and outside from the in. You pretend it won’t be painfully alike to every other white-painted cinderblock, tan-linoleum-floor fever dream you’ve been in before. Maybe it will be beautifully consuming, the sort of place you wouldn’t mind dying in if that’s what it asked of you. You know it’s not. Your mother is standing by your feet, the two men who joked about death while loading you into the back of an ambulance at your sides. You stare, unblinking, slow and aged. The lobby is empty, you forgot it was two in the morning. After twenty minutes, an elevator opens and a man walks up to the door. He fumbles with keys and apologizes for the wait, there was an accident with a patient. I am the head nurse, or some shit, he says to you. You look like you’d hurt me, your eyes mutter, if you had the chance.

Parents are not allowed on the floor your mother is told. That makes sense, you think later on, don’t let them see this. You cry, suddenly unsure this is what you want. You lack any other option. She hugs you and is gone. There is a three-floor ride up and the two men sign you into the hands of another, your bare feet press into the cold tile. You stand, naked under an open hospital gown, then sit, then wait. Do you know where you are? Do you know why you’re here? They take your vitals, take your blood, take you into a room to strip and change. Can I face the other way? you ask. Yes, they say, but we have to watch. The shower is freezing and only for show, proof that you were admitted clean and cared for, an irony missed among bureaucrats. They have no clothes for you yet, so you’re given underwear and a paper gown. You’ve just turned eighteen, the youngest on an adult floor, co-ed.

Outside the door there is a woman, standing, staring. She is old but not elderly, matted black hair dusted with grey stretching down to her waist. She is the actress that plays every once enchanting now murderous witch in every scary movie you have ever seen. She is lifting a finger towards you and screaming. Two nurses restrain her and pull her down the hall. You sit in your chair and blink, where the fuck am I.

You meet a man who crashed his semi-truck driving down a highway twenty over the speed limit, drunk. He didn’t hurt anyone, no other cars even crashed. No one had been injured, but his dog had been in the front seat. The crash didn’t kill it, but strain of recovery eventually did. He said that was the part that he would go to hell for. You remind him of his daughter, though you are a few years older than her. You have the same smile, he says, You are kind, like she is. He tells you about his family, how he loved his wife and daughter and son, although his son a little less and drinking a little more. You know he was not a good father to his children, but you love him because he is a good one to you. He knows you are not his real daughter, but he loves you as if you were. A new father, a new daughter, able to care for each other, learning to heal for the first time.

There is another man, who you will never forget. He is sixty-four and tinier than you. There is a tattoo warping across his bicep—an eagle, shittily done and worn with age, the most impressive thing you’ve ever seen. It soars over mountains, gripping a thrashing fish in its talons, “Don’t fuck with” bannered around the top, “mother nature.” around the bottom. He tells you about his home, the one he was removed from, built completely out of recycled glass bottles and scrap lumber, metal, brick. Less of a house, he says, more of a hut. A home is a home, you say, it doesn’t matter. He defends you from the homophobic bit-coin boy and calls him things that sort of defeat the point. He loves your generation because they don’t shut up. You’ll fight, he says, I’ll be dead.

There are bars on the windows, and grates, and locks. The coffee is decaf only, the lights never turn off. You get a roommate who cries every night, and a counselor who likes to tell everyone he doesn’t care if they kill themselves. You get a phone call and thirty minutes outside every other day if you don’t piss off the nurse. You get a windowless, chalkboard-walled room, twice a day, because you can’t stop crying at the promise of more days added onto a sentence you started yourself. But you get a new father, and a new friend, and you learn to play a system comprised of cages and catch twenty-twos. We don’t care if you kill yourself, they say, don’t fuck with mother nature, you respond.


About the writer:
Selena Wade is currently an undergraduate student at Virginia Commonwealth University, studying Sociology, Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies, Psychology, and Creative Writing.

Image: The Garden at the Asylum at Saint-Rémy by Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890). Oil on canvas. 37.4 x 29.7 inches. 1886. Public domain.

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