I am Mack. I’m writing a letter to my real dad (not to my foster dad-I’ve had 12 so far and I’m not even 13). I’m writing it carefully with their stubby pencil but these people don’t know where to mail it. I tell them his address. They say that’s not a valid address. I say isn’t it close enough? How many damn zip codes does Yakima have and can’t you guys do some research? They tell me to calm down (I hate that the most). They look at me like I’m about to tear their faces off. When I step back from the thick glass they’re behind, their eyes relax a little and they say the usual: we don’t have time right now (which means they won’t anytime soon). I hear them talking about New Admits, guess a ton of them, so they won’t have any time in probably forever.
Yesterday I tore out the sink in the Day Room. Some wimp loosened it when staff were busy looking at files. He gave up, so I went over there and finished the job. The plumbing is still intact but that sink is toast. It split in many pieces when it hit the floor. There was plaster everywhere. The staff run over and are terrified we’re gonna grab little pieces, use ‘em as weapons or stash ‘em in our pillowcases and use ‘em for self harm. That part was all right, thinking about us before the damn busted sink. But a few minutes later I had hell to pay. They wrestled me down, shot me up with bootie juice and hauled me in the restraint room. I was so loaded. But it was totally worth the little bit of alone time I got! The other kid in my room is crazy. He’s reading Book of Morman all day, or he’s pacing the hallway looking for a fight, carrying that book with him. He shits holding that book. He’s little and not the tough guy he thinks he is.
I’m the tough guy. My real dad said I’ve got the tensile strength like Bruce Lee, wiry superhuman stuff only a few people on the planet ever get. He said it was a blessing and a curse. And the curse was busting faces instead of just a light bruising or a bloody nose. I broke noses before I knew what happened and I’m under 100 pounds. They think I am cute with my soft brown eyes, all these new staff, and then the veteran staff explain: “Nope. No, no. Mack is not cute. You will see.” I’ve heard staff talk about me many times when I’m on the floor slumped against the wall. They think I’m blanked out on meds. I’m just sitting there. There’s not usually a damn thing to do.
The new staff’ll give me projects saying I need to be stimulated. I will go along. I’ll write the Daily Schedule on the white board with their shitty markers. They praise me like I’m two and let me to go to the cafeteria. At the cafeteria I chug down three juice drinks before they notice. I’m hopped up on sugar and start messing with everyone. I tell the staff ladies they’re beautiful and ugly and the ones I said ugly to say he’s got to go back to the unit Immediately. The ones I complimented say aw he’s not doing anything wrong Really. I wind up being escorted back and on the way do something like stealing their walkie-talkie and screaming Code Blue! into it. They’re always shocked because they thought I had potential. These new staff, they don’t last more than a few months.
The hair is gone on half my head. I’m like a damned old man if you look at my head from behind. It’s my scalp and then some fuzz-soft like a baby duck’s- trying to grow back. I smooth it down in front with spit and fingers and probably look good from certain angles. But the mirrors here are cloudy and dented like tin foil. So I don’t know what the hell I look like but the kids all tell me Dude you’re bald from behind and it’s all fuzzy too, like, it’s not normal!
A psychiatrist gave me some med that is supposed to help me stop obsessively pulling, smoothing and twisting at my hair. It about made me crazy. People became dark, hazy shapes. He led me to my bed in the room with Book of Mormon boy who looked like a fluffy brown bear so he didn’t annoy me. I laid there frozen for God knows how long. I watched the sunlight fade out the window and the bright hospital lights blink on. Then at some point it was daylight again. And the psychiatrist in all his coffee breath came in my room and was astounded that according to the hospital video recording I hadn’t touched my head all night. He thinks this med might be the answer. He wants to try it again tonight and I shrugged fine.
Last night the banshee visited. Like liquid glass it spread over my chest as my heart was frigging jumping. My dad said it is probably my mom visiting in the form of a banshee. I never met my mom so like to think it’s an ordinary banshee. It smoothed my arms down by my sides and pressed firmly and you might say with love on my chest to quiet my heart. The banshee is surrounded by a purple and orange light. It comes around every so often to flatten my palpitations and works better than any damn med. But you can’t tell that to a psychiatrist.
Image by Marc Pascual from Pixabay
6 thoughts on “Banshee by Susan Jean DeFelice”
Believable voice of an adolescent boy. Nary a false note.
This was excellent.
It explores the complex issue of behaviour and allows us to consider all sides.
Is something behavioural or is it a mental health issue? Here, behavioural isn’t classed as a mental health issue but when you think on some behaviour, surely there must be something wrong with the persons thinking to behave in that way in the first place??
What really comes across in your story is that this is a beginning. In later years if he does something really bad the ‘experts’ will say that they spotted this in him from a young age. He was manipulative, disruptive for his own means and feeling a presence that wasn’t real. Hindsight is the pointless attribute on initial observation of the seriously ill.
A very well balanced story that doesn’t take any side, it just tells as is.
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An effective character profile of a person on the edge. I especially liked the closing imagery. Sadly, I don’t think I’d want to meet up with Mack in a few years.
Thank you for your generous comments! This kid Mack, I feel the supernatural banshee is the sole reprieve from his prisonlike, clinical external life and from the self-harming habit of pulling at his hair in the way that abused & neglected animals sometimes bite and chew at themselves. Not saying he’s not responsible for his behavior, but his future seems pre-determined and the banshee is his stab at inserting some control.
I like the physical description of Mack, and the descriptions of how he gets human connection. He’s not comfortable in this world, he’s fighting it all the way. He wants to connect with his real Dad. That was interesting how he busted up the sink in order to get in the isolation room. The banshee’s from another place, the meds are from this world.
I’m reminded of local (to me) author Ken Kesey’s “One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest”, but with a younger protagonist. As noted, the boundary between mental illness and questionable behavior is thin, but whichever is the answer, I wouldn’t want Mack in my world.