Dear Lisa at Seventeen,
You are in your purple bathrobe, desperately pulling the door of your closet closed as your father and uncle struggle to open it on the other side. It is 6:30am on a Monday morning. Five minutes ago you were getting ready for school. Now you are crying, screaming, wondering why your uncle who lives a town away is even at your house, not to mention in your room trying to help your father force you out from your hiding place.
It’s been a rough couple of months to say the least. I’ve already written you a letter about the incident with your ex-boyfriend that brought you to this place. To this morning. To this terror. I’ve already given you lots of mental hugs and love for that night, but unfortunately that night was not the end of your trauma.
It was just the beginning.
You’ve spent the two months since skipping school, running away from home, and numbing yourself in any way you can. It’s been a blur. It had to be a blur. You don’t know this, but you are dealing with having been raped. This is how you are dealing with it. Not that any of your friends or family know that.
They just think you’ve gone crazy.
You struggle to stay in your closet for as long as you can, but you are no match for the strength of two grown men. They pull you from the closet, and you are splayed out on your bedroom floor, your robe open. You think you are screaming, but you can’t hear anything. You are asking, why are you doing this? You are crying, please, please, please, stop. You are pleading that you were on your way to school, that you will be better, that you will change.
It is at that moment that your medical doctor father gives you a shot in both your legs. You try to stand up and can’t. You are woozy. Your brain, though reeling understands you have been drugged—understands that your father has drugged you so you will not struggle.
You were terrified that night two months ago with your ex-boyfriend, on his parent’s bed, with nowhere to run to, but that was nothing. Nothing compared to what you are feeling this morning with your father and uncle standing above you and your head fuzzy with drugs.
Your father tells you, they are taking you somewhere that can help you.
You can’t even talk. You can’t even ask where. You can’t even imagine where.
Your father and uncle come on either sides of you and pick you up, helping you out of your room, down the stairs and into the running mini-van of your mother.
You understand in some part of your brain that is still working that this was her idea and your hatred for her that you didn’t think could increase, swells in your wilted body. Your father and uncle put you in the back seat of the van one on each side of you, so you don’t consider jumping from the car.
Where are you taking me? You manage to ooze out. That is how words feel, like ooze. How the air feels, like warm water. Your calmness is fabricated by drugs. Your mind tries to focus, but nothing comes.
Somewhere that can help you, your father says.
You do understand that you need help. You also understand that this is not the way to do it.
Why? Drips from your lips. Why? You ask louder.
Your mother tells you that they are afraid for you. They don’t know what else to do. You threatened to jump out your window last night.
You remember this. You did say it, but you didn’t mean it like that. Your mother forbid you from leaving the house, blocked the front door (you realize now it was because she needed to make sure you would be home in the morning so they could do this to you). What you meant was that you were leaving the house any way you could. What you meant was fuck off mom.
You feel the car pull out from the driveway. You realize your little sister is not home. If she was there was no way she would have let this happen. You feel sick wondering what they told her about you. What they will tell her when she arrives home from school and you aren’t there anymore.
Amazingly and only because of the drugs, you fall asleep and when you wake, you arrive at a hospital. A mental kind. You see it on the sign outside.
Fear drowns you.
You understand that hospitalmeans staying. You understand the bag of clothes your mother packed for you means staying. You still don’t know for how long.
Your parents fill out some paperwork and a nurse takes you into a bathroom so you can change (you are still wearing your bathrobe). She watches as you struggle to stand and put on jeans and a t-shirt. You say, I don’t belong here. You explain what you parents did to you to get you here. She has a calm, reassuring voice and tells you she’s sure all that will be figured out.
You understand she is lying to you. Understand that it is her job to lie to you, to try to calm you down.
You will not calm down. You will not stop saying, I don’t belong here. This is a mistake. This is wrong. Eventually your parents leave you in the nurse’s care. They hug tight to your limp, unresponsive body. They tell you they love you.
You tell them, I hate you.
They cry, they both cry.
I am so sorry seventeen year old Lisa that your parents used your innocent threat against you like this. I am so sorry that you are hurting so much inside that the only thing you knew to do was escape any way you could. I am sorry that it led you here. I am sorry that for the next week you will wonder what is wrong with you—if you really do belong in this place. I am sorry that for many years after this you will have nightmares. That it will take a very long time for you to forgive your parents.
I am sorry that only thirty-six year old Lisa understands that the night with your ex-boyfriend is the only reason you are here. That seventeen year old Lisa doesn’t understand that enough to tell anyone what happened to her.
There is so much I am sorry for.
At night, when you are locked in your ward and in your room and your schizophrenic roommate screams into the dark and there is nothing you can do but cover your head with a pillow, I want you to know that you will get out of this place.
That this place will make you stronger.
That this place will scare you enough to make you seek wellness.
That one day you will write about this place and this day it will set you free.
Lisa Burstein is the author of Pretty Amy, The Next Forever and Dear Cassie, as well as a contributor to the upcoming essay collection, Break These Rules: 35 YA Authors On Speaking Up, Standing Out, and Being Yourself. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her very patient husband, a neurotic dog and two cats.