Illustration by Andres Garzon
“Katarina! Katarina!” A female patient shouts in her room. Her voice, coarse and grating. “Come Katarina!”
“Shut up! Shut up!” A male patient yells back.
My eldest daughter lives in St. Mary’s Hospital psychiatric ward. Her name is tacked on a billboard. Patient status: Number 1. Date: January 8, 2001. Her backpack, salt-stained ankle boots, and parka are in a locked room. She can’t leave the ward without her doctor’s permission.
A pink slip of paper. A psychiatrist’s report. Cleaning her overheated, cat litter smelling, hardwood floor apartment a couple of years earlier, I found the hospital report: cognitive disorder associated with epilepsy, chronic. Borderline retardation and psychotic episodes greatly impair insight and judgment. Patient regressed to the mentality of an eight-year-old. Suffers from generalized anxiety: Permanent. The contribution of a chronic disease, sarcoidosis in the lungs, to mental state, is unknown. The hospital is requesting public curatorship.
Room 23 is filled with the sound of a radio blaring. The sun is streaming in through vertical blinds, across apple-green walls. With four female patients to a room, I find her lying on the bed. Short-sleeved, sky-blue cotton gown. Strings, untied.
“Marisa, you’re not cold?” I ask. She is recovering from pneumonia. Ten days on antibiotics.
“The doctor came by. He is going to take another X-ray.”
My daughter half-smiles. Close by, a middle-aged woman snores loudly, a rumpled lilac blanket pulled to her chin. A typical Sunday visit.
“Who are you?” one roommate asks.
“I’m Marisa’s mother,” I respond. Terse. Clipped. I don’t want to be here shaking this woman’s hand. Sadness grips and twists my unshed tears. An ill daughter’s life. A dirge. The special daughter. Our three other children are not ill.
My ex-husband remarried. They don’t visit here. Don’t call here. And Marisa doesn’t call them either. Medicated and growing heavier from side effects. The white-painted door closed to the static noise of a television in the common room.
The little girl in a red top and blue cotton shorts, Marisa, who stuttered in first grade, took a yellow school bus. A Montreal suburb bungalow. Apple trees in the yard. Geraniums. Jasmine. Wild roses. At six, she stood up to her father, “Stop hitting mama.”
I busy myself: Organize tapes and CD’s. Trash old magazines. Hang up fluffy white towels that are thrown on the bed.
“I want to leave the hospital. I want to go home!” Marisa complains.
Six years earlier, she had a house and a home. At thirty-six, she is the mother of three. Two daughters and one son. Youth Protection Court. Divorce Court. “Unfit mother!” Full custody to the father. I supervise her children’s monthly visits in my downtown studio “to prevent accidental harm to children.”
During two hours, she hugs and kisses her children. Not a single word escapes her chapped lips. She smiles. Hugs. Is angry with me because I supervise.
“Will we become sick like mom?” they are worried. Beautiful, smart, sad, and lonely grandchildren. Raised by their father, his new partner, and great-grandparents.
“I want to leave the hospital,” Marisa continues her complaining.
The Old Brewery Mission for women. Home for my homeless daughter. Marisa rents a curtained cubicle with a single bed at the shelter. Roams cafes nearby until suppertime.
She is here in the psychiatric ward, because she suffered a panic attack. Picked up by ambulance at metro Beaudry. “A woman sitting beside me, called for help,” she’d said.
“Do you need anything?” I ask now.
“Let’s go to the cafeteria,” she says.
“We’re going to the coffee shop,” I tell a doctor.
“Marisa, you can’t go out today,” says her nurse. “You have permission for daily thirty-minute outings. Yesterday, you were fifteen minutes late coming back.”
She doesn’t own a watch. Doesn’t wear earrings or a pearl necklace. Doesn’t wear chiffon dresses. Walks in snowstorms without a wool hat or scarf. Parka unbuttoned. Boots, unlaced. Short cropped hair, unkempt. She refuses to cut her nails. When married she washed her hands all the time, until they were red and sandpaper dry. Her lung sarcoidosis exploding into pneumonia. She likes to test the rules and the patience of the staff. Exhausted, she exhausts me. For years now.
We settle for the dining room. I watch her sip apple juice through thick plastic straws. Her large hazel eyes look at me innocently. “I don’t belong here with these people,” she says. I look around: the room is deserted, except for a man and a woman. They sit alone, staring at their stoneware mugs. Islands of maple wood tables shape their Sunday afternoon. A nurse hands out cups of medications. Gives one to my daughter.
After an hour I get up to leave. Plant a kiss on her cheek. Promise to visit the following week. An electronic door buzzes me out. I quickly walk away. I look back only once: a woman dressed in a hospital gown and blue jeans. Unlaced running shoes. Marisa ambles slowly down the corridor.
ILONA MARTONFI is the author of three poetry books, Blue Poppy (Coracle Press, 2009), Black Grass (Broken Rules Press, 2012) and The Snow Kimono (Inanna Publications, 2015). Forthcoming, Salt Bride (Inanna, 2019) and The Tempest (Inanna 2020). Founder and Artistic Director of The Yellow Door and Visual Arts Centre Readings. QWF 2010 Community Award.
Copyright © 2018 by Ilona Martonfi. All rights reserved.