Amber D. Tran

My eyes in Chestnut Ridge


At 5:34 AM, a nurse in blue scrubs drained blood from the belly of my pale arm.

My roommate snored with a cobweb of phlegm dangling in the pit of her throat.

One of the administrators promised me that they served caffeinated coffee, so on that first morning when I approached the coffee maker and saw only green and orange letters on the brown-black packages of grinds, I refused to take my pills until someone served me something with caffeine.

During a patient’s monologue of describing his near-fatal breakup with his girlfriend, a yellow balloon with a Walmart smiley face appeared in the window, on it the words ‘Happy Day’ resonated in everyone’s brains like a burning imprint of a verse for us to carry when we left this place.

From the lobby window, I watched the West Virginia Mountaineers face off against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.

My mother sobbed every time she called me: because I could only talk for five minutes at a time, and because I told her I was not eating.

A different nurse, not the one in blue scrubs, watched me shower, warm water splashing between my legs for the first time in four days, and she kept saying, “You’ll get there, sweetheart,” as I grinded my flimsy, malnourished finger nails into the eyes of my wrists.

I found my roommate sobbing and naked in the corridor, a hospital gown tangled at her feet, and she screamed the words, “They gave me Lithium!” as I determined she was no longer receiving the ECT for which she was scheduled.

My secret word for phone calls and visits was Toby.

On my third day, my doctor asked me why I was not eating, and I told him through a set of broken teeth, “I slept with someone who wasn’t my boyfriend, and I have been diagnosed with the Sylvia Plath Effect.”

When I am finally permitted to leave my unit for an hour of ‘free time,’ I followed an administrator into a classroom filled with instruments from South Africa, and she pointed to a musician at the front of room, told me, “Those kids you saw on television with bloated stomachs and flies on their face? That was him, before he got out,” and then she told me to pretend my drum was someone I hated, and I watched the bleached leather of my own face bruise and bleed.

My poetry professor visited me, and I tried to bake her perfume in the pit of my bed sheets.

My new roommate stood like a naked tree, limbs bare and trembling in the cold air, and she asked if she could braid my hair, and while her brittle fingers danced and massaged my dry scalp, she confessed that her father raped her every year, on her birthday, and she ran away because of the disgusting creature growing in her womb, the one she wanted to name Liam.

I wanted to hang up Christmas lights in my room, but the nurse admitted she could not trust me, or anyone else, not to get creative.

A patient with last month’s beard threatened to murder my entire family if I did not go on a date with him, so I curled into the fetal position on my rock-hard twin-sized bed and chewed on the corner of my pillow until the images of knives in my sister’s back subsided.

The moment I learned that my ex-boyfriend tried to visit me, I told the secretary to rape me with a pen and tried to shove a plastic cup down my throat.

On the day I was released, my mother was quiet as I kissed the winter, and she wanted to tell me that she forgave me, I know it, but she lit a cigarette and drove us back to Hundred, West Virginia, without sharing more than nicotine and oil.

I slept for a long time after that.

Amber D. Tran graduated from West Virginia University in 2012, where she specialized in lyrical non-fiction and contemporary poetry. She is the Editor-in-Chief for the Cold Creek Review literary journal. Her work has been featured in CalliopeSonic Boom JournalSpry Literary JournalCheat River Review, and more. Her first novel, Moon River, was released in September. She currently lives in Alabama with her husband and two dogs, Ahri and Ziggs.