Showroom of Perfection IN THE PSYCH-WARD Chapter 2

22 03 2011



It’s my 29th birthday. Not exactly a party this time. This birthday is spent in detox. When this is halfway over, I mean, I can talk and walk – somewhat, my dad picks me up to take me to rehab.

I don’t pay much attention as to where we are going. But then we stop in front of a gate.

The Austrian State Mental Institution, the “Steinhof”. It’s a protected landmark building, historical and famous for its’ art-deco design. It is magnificent and breathtaking in its beauty, but on the other side, it’s not a place one wants to be. What a waste of beauty.

“What are we doing here” I jump up in my seat and bang my head on the windshield.

“Steinhof has a Drug-Ward and the psychiatrist who directs this part of the ward, runs a work-rehabilitation program that involves sewing. Here is your chance to learn something after all” My dad tries to find something encouraging to say. ”I hear, they even pay”.

He’s right, of course. After fucking up so badly in LA, flunking out of school to work at Lady Velvet’s Dominion and turning into a totally out of control heroin and meth-addict, I still want to be a designer. I mean, when I was so whacked out on speed, I’d stay up all night sewing intricate dresses for my bunny-rabbit. Then I forced it to wear my creations. It didn’t like it, but what does a bunny know about fashion? Nothing.

I force a smile for my dad. “Thank you for finding this. I’ll make up for the shit I did, I promise”

But when we drive up through the historical park and get to the Drug Ward my heart sinks. Tattooed, bored and gloomy prison-types and hooker-girls linger outside smoking. The atmosphere is hostile.

For the first time I’m back in Vienna, I lose it and cry. All through the detox, I kept up an almost happy mood. I was so relieved that I did not have to score, get busted, and hustle for money. But I haven’t started to think about the “Now What?”

I don’t want to be here.  I’m scared.

My dad is choked up too. He’s taking his daughter, his former Ingenious A-student with her own TV-Show, a girl with talent and huge promises just a few years ago, to a psych ward.

This place looks like a low security prison, not a rehab.

The patients eye me with suspicion and curiosity as we step out of the car.

“Who does she think she is? Princess Daddy?” I overhear a stringy haired plump girl in way too small shorts. She whispers to a wiry guy with a mullet and a “Don’t fuck with me” glare. He checks me out and decides that I’ll be his dessert.

My dad is a prominent politician and because his picture is in the papers all the time, they already hate me.

I jump back into his car and sob.

“Please, please take me somewhere else. Anywhere. Even if they shave my head. I’ll let them have my hair”

“I’m so sorry, Monah. That place cannot take you because of your ex-husband. That criminal you just had to marry. He works there as a counselor now.”

“No way, he isn’t. Him? A counselor? Oh God.”

“Yes him, I checked it out. Do you think I want you to be here? I looked everywhere.  This is the only place that will take you because they have to,” my dad sighs, “ you made your bed, now lie in it and make the best of it.”

I know. One has only so many chances and I’ve blown almost all of them. This is my last one.

Inside, a chubby, no, quite overweight, no, actually really fat man in black leather pants, long black hair (dyed, for sure) and a black leather shirt waddles up to us, his hand out stretched.

He has the look of a gone-to-fat rock star and he sure looked hot, a long time ago. Fat bulges out of his way too tight outfit and there is some grease and mustard stuck in his beard.

He greets us with nervous admiration for my celebrity dad and badly hidden contempt for me. In this hospital, he doesn’t get to treat daughters of politicians every day.

“Welcome at Pavilion Eight.” He beams “your daughter will get what she needs. Don’t you worry about a thing. I will make sure she is safe and protected. Now dad, say good by and leave us to care for her”

His words sound slimy and patronizing. For the first time in my life, I watch my dad be silent. He always knows what to say. He’s Mr. Charm and Funny, at all times. He turns around without saying good buy.

“Did you see that dude crying? What a moron”, a bald weightlifter in a wife beater that shows his sweaty armpits, giggles.

A very pretty, but somewhat lived-in girl with curly black hair and green eye shadow swats him on his hairless head “He’s that guy from the socialist party. I just saw him in the paper last Sunday. Have some respect” then she giggles too.

“Hi, I’m Susan, your Social worker” a dumpy dike in a purple overall steps up to me and snaps up my suitcase. “Gotta check that out, before I’ll let you loose in here”. She reminds me of all the women at the Anti-Nuclear- Protests who cut their hair off, became feminists and looked down on girls like me. Girls in Satin disco pants and long hair.

Of course, she has issues with my supplements and my many beauty supplies. “That’s all bullshit. You don’t need this.” She snarls as she stuffs my expensive grooming products into a trash bag. “This shit holds you down. You got to learn to be a worthwhile human being without this dreck that the cosmetic industry wants you to think you need to be human. Pretty is way overrated”

Whatever. I was not planning to woo the mental ward population with powder and lipstick. She lets me keep a toothbrush, soap, my journal, a few books and a change of underwear. Then she shows me to my room.

“Hey, flower, great to have you as a roomy” a bizarrely skinny man with glasses that are held together by a wad of gum and tape grins. He sits on his bed, cross-legged and has a bunch of tools and electric parts spread out in front of him.

“I have a man as a roommate?”

“We don’t separate people by their gender. You got to learn to get along.” The social worker says before her beeper goes off “Gotta run. Make yourself comfortable”.

“Hi.” I say icily. “I need privacy, I hope you get that, ok?”

“Sure, baby. I’ll leave you alone. No reason to mark your territory. I’m nice. And I’m gay by the way, in case you haven’t noticed”

He offers me a box with greasy looking crackers.

“No, thanks” I look away.

“Suit yourself” he laughs, “lemme know when your mind changes. It will. Everybody gets fat here.”

“Well. Not me” I stick my few belongings into a shoddy and peeling nightstand and lay down on the bed. I try to read, but can’t connect the letters and words. My brain has not started to work yet.

Without books I’m on my own. On my own means restless, pissed, irritated. It means I think about why I’m in this godforsaken country I never liked. I want to be in America. I want to be with my three boyfriends. I want to shoot speed and heroin and dance at the “Dirtbox”. What am I doing here?

Downstairs in the dining hall, Mullet-Man makes a go for me. I ignore him. I check out the girls who check me out. They are all fat. They are stuffed into their way too small junkie-clothes.

I push my food around on the plate. I’m hungry. I’m so hungry, I could eat ten of those plates but I don’t.

Back in my room, I try to sleep. Hunger and withdrawal gnaw at me like a rabid rat in a cage. A few hours pass and I sleep a little, but when I wake up at three am, I know there is no way I can make it through this night.

I sneak downstairs into the kitchen for a bite, just one bite, so I can sleep a little.

I grab a box of cereal and a spoon and before I can even think, “Stop”, the box is empty.

There is a huge bag with hazelnuts and another one with raisins. I load up a bowl and sit down. I eat all of it and I am still hungry.

“Fuck it” I mumble, “I’ll eat nothing tomorrow all day to make up for this” and eat another box with cereal. It feels so good to eat, so fucking good and I want to go on forever. But now my stomach is so full that I cannot stuff another bite down.

“You’re a fucking loser. Out of control and I hate you. Why don’t you go shoot yourself? You’re never gonna get clean and be normal. You’ll be that girl with the pretty face if only she could lose that weight”. That hamster wheel in my brain is racing and gaining speed.

“Shut up” I say loudly into the vast kitchen “Shut up and give me some peace”

My stomach feels like I have bricks inside me. This is how the wolf in “Red Riding Hood” must have felt like. I tip toe into my room, crawl back under the covers and fall asleep.

Dr. Herman wakes me up. “Time for your Physical!” he radiates with purpose. “Before we let you loose on the male population, we like to know if you have AIDS. Let’s go.”

After taking blood, he asks me to step on the scale. Oh God. He checks his files and beams at me:

“You already gained 12 kilos since you got back from America. That’s a great step forward.”

I am horrified. He doesn’t notice this at all.

“What about the sewing studio you run? I really want to work. I’m serious”

“You are not ready to work yet. You’re weak as a kitten. Lets talk about it in two months. Don’t worry, you’re doing great” he shakes my hand as he pushes me out of his office.

I eat nothing all day, smoke cigarettes and run up and down the stairs. When I’m at number 84, my social worker stops and watches me for a while. Then she interrupts the only thing that keeps me from ripping my skin off.

“You have to calm down. Exercise is ok, but what you are doing is excessive.”

“You don’t understand, lady” I snap “I need to lose a lot of weight and then some, so leave me alone. Thank You for your fucking concern, but this is none of your business”.

She doesn’t move. Unbelievable.

“It’s not going to work like this,” she says with a hint of kindness in her voice “ Part of your recovery is about acceptance”

“Acceptance?” I mock “Acceptance of being fat? I will NEVER accept such a thing” and I go back huffing up and down the stairs. “Don’t you have an exercise room? I mean”- looking her plump body up and down “ it wouldn’t exactly kill you either. Just saying.”

“You have to stop right now!” She screams. So what? The day that I can be told by a fat social worker to stop exercising is not on my calendar. But it is on hers.

“You either stop right now or your visiting privileges will be withdrawn.”

Now, that’s an issue. My former dealer, Regina van Thom, a performance artist who had a crush on me before America, is on her way with heroin. Hidden in a box of candies.

“Alright then, if it means so much to you, I’ll stop”. I glare at her fat ass and creep back up into my room.

I can’t stand how I feel with this weigh on me. I stick my finger down my throat and retch. Nothing comes out. I do it again. And again and again. Fuck, this doesn’t work. How come my sister and so many of my girlfriends do this and I can’t? I try all afternoon. With my toothbrush and even a feather a la Rome, that I find on the windowsill. I’m the only want to be bulimic who can’t manage to barf.  Another failure. I’m a loser. I can’t even do this.

Regina shows up and I quiver with anticipation. She looks stern. Loaded with pinned eyes, but I know that self-righteous look on her. This can’t be good. And it isn’t.

“I’m sorry, Monah, but I don’t feel it’s the right thing to do. To bring you drugs to rehab.” She says as soon as we sit down. “You went way too far with this. I don’t want your death on my shoulders”

“Jesus, Regina. I’m already through detox. What’s the big deal?” I’m really disappointed.

We don’t have much to say to each other. When we were roommates, we shot heroin together and drank a lot of Opium Tea. We also did some performance art together, but without drugs, it is awkward and empty. We have no connection at all.

“Besides, you are loaded yourself. Get off your high horse.” I say.

“I have it under control. I’m not the one in the psych ward.”

We smoke a cigarette together and I am glad when she leaves.

Back inside, I stuff the pockets of my shirt with Granola and retreat to my bed. Eating makes it possible for my brain to read. I devour the chips my roommate left behind and a paperback I bought at the airport in NY. The story of the Mama’s and Papa’s, a total drug story if there ever was one. I drift off, stuffed and hopeless into a sweaty nap.

When I get up, I eat some more; whatever I can get my hands on. I’ll go on a diet tomorrow.

I’m in a mental ward and food is the only thing that gives me pleasure.

One boring afternoon, instead of binging, I fuck Mullet Man because he seems mean, but in bed he turns out to be a timid pussycat and I am bored. I flee his room and eat some more.

A month later, none of my clothes fit. I mean, I can’t even pull my jeans up over my fat thighs. My arms are flabby sausages, my face is a bloated full moon and I resort to sweatpants from the donations closet. I don’t care anymore.

They weigh me again. 140 pounds. 55 pounds more than when I left LA. This is outrageous. I am devastated. I crawl under my covers and cry.

The next day, I start a fast. No food at all. I last for five days, exhilarated and determined. I am hungry, but I can take that. Besides, I’m better than everybody. Look at my discipline, you fat cow, I think while I buy a bottle of water. I walk on water. I’m holy and perfect.

I go out for a walk and feel so good, I actually smile. There is a bakery by the entrance of the hospital. I buy a paper bag full of goodies and eat all of it while I’m walking out the door. I am in a trance. When I get to another store, I buy bags of chocolate, cookies and bread and I eat and eat and eat. My stomach is going to explode and no way can I eat another bite. I crash.

Holy Shit. What have I done? What has just happened? I find a dirty toilet in the subway station and stick my finger down my throat. I gag and snot and tears drop into the toilet, but the food is stuck. No matter what I do, no mater how hard I try, I can’t get it out. I’m a loser, a fucking worthless loser who can’t even vomit.

After a few months of the same scenario; starving for a few days just to end up in an even bigger binge, my weight is 190 pounds.

Dr Herman is pleased “You are ready to work in my studio. Be there tomorrow at 7 am.”

Finally. This will take my mind of food.



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