Risk of Elopement


June 1, 2015 by The Citron Review

by Marcy Darin


I read the warning printed on paper as cheerily pink as pepto bismol. “High Risk of Elopement: Close Door Quickly.” For a mega second, I imagine Kara hopping a flight to Vegas with her new boyfriend, Mack. She phones me after the ceremony and I start crying, saying I always wanted to see her walk down the aisle of some pretty little chapel.

It is now 11:45 PM, way past visiting hours. But when I got the call from the hospital, I knew I had to come. Just being in the same place as my daughter makes me feel better, knowing that somewhere behind the locked door Kara is safe, her waif-like body sleeping between starched white sheets. I make a fist and knock hard. A bored-looking man in a white shirt cracks open the door that has a window the size of an etch a sketch and confirms that my daughter is here but I will have to come back tomorrow. Nothing more to be done. I make my way down the hallway, my new sketchers squeaking in protest all the way to the elevators.

The next day, I am back at noon when visiting hours start. I sign in at the nurses’ station where a man in blue scrubs is yawning as he watches patients line up clutching orange-speckled trays. Kara is easy to spot. She is wearing a Miss Kitty tee-shirt and black sweats stretched across her skinny hips. Her boyfriend, Mack, must have dropped off her street clothes this morning. Behind Kara is a bald man in a paisley hospital gown with most of the snaps in the back left open. Sad. No one has bothered to give him an extra gown to act as a robe. I steal another quick glance at my daughter before she sees me. Her blue-green eyes- the same ones that peered at me through a hospital glass bassinet 19 years ago– match the waves of Lake Michigan beyond the window beyond the unit that keeps her captive, at least until her psychiatrist can sign her out Monday when she can convince him she is no longer a danger to herself.

Finally Kara acknowledges me with a slow motion wave. Her shoulders seems to slump forward as she leaves the line and comes toward me.

“Hi honey, you look so tired,” I manage to blurt out with a wan smile that looks like an upside down half-moon. I never know quite what to say. And I’m afraid that whatever I say will make it worse, and so I choose my words as carefully as turned over letters in a scrabble game, praying to score a vowel.

Kara asks me when I got here. I tell her it was just a couple of minutes ago.

She then opens her arms for a hug. I think she must be feeling very vulnerable. Ever since the sixth grade, she would ration her hugs like bags of rice in a refugee camp.

My mind flashes back to Kara’s graduation from a therapeutic day school. She let me hug her then. I remember the silky feel of her graduation gown, the coconut scent of her hair, the press of my hands against her bony shoulders.

I am hugging her again, my heart fluttering. We step apart and Kara tells me that the admissions nurse had removed the string from her sweatshirt and confiscated the pencil with chewed off eraser. “Remember the time you smuggled one in and hid it one under my mattress so I could do a Sudoku?”

We conspirators share a smile.

I ask what happened.

She says that she and Mack started fighting after he accused her of flirting with an old boyfriend. I learn that Kara had taken her weapon of choice, an eyebrow shaper with a serrated edge, and in one swift action, had sliced her own left leg above the ankle.   I notice the bandage there. Miraculously, she had not needed stiches.

When Kara was younger, she had used paper clips, needles, sewing scissors, my toenail clippers, tweezers, whatever she could find. She had once told me that it made her feel a release, watching the ruby liquid bubble up from her skin. She had started when she was ten, slicing her thigh high enough so her sixth grade gym teacher wouldn’t notice. I didn’t either.

During her junior year in high school, Kara had been hospitalized twice, once when she swallowed a half bottle of Bactrim she was taking for strep throat. Another time when she was unable to promise her therapist that she would not hurt herself.

I follow Kara to a table next to the windows in the small cafeteria, away from the other diners. Someone has given the man with the open back another hospital gown so his backside is no longer exposed. No one is talking, except for the staff member who is quietly reminding diners to put their trays back in the food warmer. Kara listens then turns away.

I dig in my tan satchel bag and fish out a deck of cards. Kara teaches me a new game called Egypt. When you see a card overturned that you need to make a straight or a pair, you have to slap it. I pull an ace of clubs from the deck, gingerly place it on the pile, but Kara gets it first.

I tell her it’s time for the prize- a bag of Hershey kisses. We both indulge. By the time the nurse notices and confiscates our sweets, our Formica-top table is covered with silver wrappers spread like confetti.

Kara and I walk back to the hallway. Time for her to go to group. Then a movie; they’re showing “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” today. She lets me hug her again. When I leave, I use my fingernails to peel off the scotch tape that is holding the pink paper to the door. I scrunch it into a ball, and drop it into my purse.


Marcy Darin is a writer and proud mother of three young adults. Her nonfiction has been published in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Parenting, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and Ms. Magazine. Her short stories have appeared in the I-70 literary journal and in several anthologies published by Outrider Press. Her writing has received several national awards, including first place in the memoir competition sponsored by The Writers’ Workshop of Asheville.


One thought on “Risk of Elopement

  1. Wonderful story! Poignant and real.

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