I met my best friend Carrie in a psychiatric hospital in Leesburg, Virginia 1995. I was sixteen and she was just one year older than I. She arrived late in the evening, it was February and she was on suicide watch. I was hanging out with the nurses, not something I should have done but a psych tech I became very close with used to allow me to bend a few rules. She spent her first night in the hospital on a small mattress in the middle of that big room. She cried silently and did not speak.
My recollections are a little fuzzy about what happened next, and how we actually came to talk and eventually become inseparable. I do remember giving her a lot of shit. I trash talked to her a lot – I was a very angry person. I remember calling her a virgin (woo, scary and terrible, I know) telling her she was hoitey toitey and finally breaking her down to yell at me in gender group. All I remember after that she had permission to go to the dining hall and though my usual group of ‘friends’ wanted me to sit with them, I sat down with her at a table in the sun. That’s always how said our friendship started… I used to say she was my angel. I looked at her and asked her if she knew she had one green eye and one blue eye; she looked right back at me like I was dumb and said yes, she couldn’t believe how many people asked her that. That was really all she wrote, we were bound at that moment in the sun, we connected and I don’t even know how it happened.
We had amazing and emotional times at that hospital. I was a fighter and a ‘acter outer’ and so you often heard the cry over the loud-speaker of “CODE YELLOW TO THE ADOLESCENT UNIT” and that meant someone was ‘going off ‘ and if one person was, it was likely the entire unit would go off. I spent a lot of time in all the quiet rooms, sometimes in four point restraints, sometimes not. After a very big fight in gender group and once such evening in the quiet room, Rose came to get me and she brought me to my new room, which happened to be with Carrie. She had decorated it all for me, it was so beautiful and I was so happy we were together. We used to steal cigarette butts out of the ashtray on our way to the dining hall, then smoke them in our bathroom. Can you picture the two of us on top of the toilet, holding our smokes up to the vent? We would get such a buzz that we would fall onto our beds laughing… and then rush around rubbing lotion on the walls so no one would know we had smoked. While we were at Springwood we met lots of folks and saw lots and lots of things that I’m sure most folks don’t see growing up. We met Logan, who’s mama had sold her to many men, Candy who was so fucked up she would steal glass, cut herself and then rub it all over the walls, Doug – a real bad boy who I later briefly dated, Rebekkah who wrote me a song, Erica who turned sixteen in the hospital and the oh so memorable Kenyatta. Who I remember most though was Rose, the psych tech who taught me how to watch the grass grow and desperately helped me to get rid of my anger. I really wish I could find her now…
Carrie left the hospital before I did. She did come to visit me and then when I was put into the group home, she came and visited me there, too.
To the best of my recollections that is how Carrie and I met and became such fast friends. It’s very hard to be here without her. It is extremely sad for me that I am the only one who holds our story, that we can never again share it together. I am having just such a difficult time with this, dealing with this, I mean…. I am unable to weep but my heart is so heavy and sad.
Carrie Handwerk meant the world to me. She was a bright, beautiful, talented, smart young woman who suffered with a terrible mental illness for much of her short and tragic life. She was a very significant part of my life and I miss her terribly and have so many thing I wish I would have said. My only comfort is writing about and sharing the story of our friendship.
This is a photograph I took of my ‘goodbye’ book from the hospital. This is the entry that my beloved Rose wrote to me. . . I read and re-read it often, just touching the book makes me feel close to the beginning…instead of the end.