Toy Soldiers | Teen Ink

Toy Soldiers MAG

September 19, 2008
By Michelle Mar BRONZE, New York, New York
Michelle Mar BRONZE, New York, New York
1 article 0 photos 2 comments

“Why are you here, Vanessa?” asks the woman with the bun. Two blond ringlets fall behind her ears and I want to yank them, to see if they will straighten when you pull them.

“I don’t know,” I mumble. She looks at me irritably, pen poised like a dancer at the top of her notepad. “Because of my grandma,” I relent. My voice is hoarse. We have to drink tap water here, and I’m really an Evian kind of girl.

“Vanessa,” she says sternly. I hear the undertone in her voice: You know that’s not why. And I do, minimally. But I don’t speak. My ears are itching for the headphones that have filled them almost nonstop for the past two months. My eardrums quiver at the unnatural silence

“Here at Horizons, the first step toward mental health is taking responsibility for your actions,” she lectures. I tune her out, mentally rapping what I can remember of Eminem’s latest. She leans forward and for a second I think she’s going to slap me. She doesn’t, though. She just looks me hard in the eyes. “You do want to get out of here, don’t you, Vanessa?”

I don’t understand why headphones have to be contraband.

I am one of only two non-suicidal patients. The other one is here for reasons I don’t understand. He raps Eminem in the halls too, but with a fierceness I can’t quite muster, talking back to counselors and swearing at the receptionists. I just don’t care that much.

My tray of kosher vegan-friendly cuisine has two Lexapros and one Topamax where the milk carton should go. All around the room, kids take their medicine like candy, joking as the pills dissolve on their tongues in smears of pink and white. I take mine quietly in a single gulp. I’m not practiced enough yet to swallow them dry.

After lunch, everyone gets up and silently moves the table to the side and pushes the chairs into a circle. A counselor enters, his glasses askew. I reach up automatically to check that mine are in place, but then remember that they took them and issued me contacts. They said glass is unsafe, that even if I don’t want to hurt myself, someone else might ask me to help them.

I wouldn’t though. I’m not here to cater to someone else’s agenda, to play Kevorkian to their wounded souls.

A girl with a bandaged wrist nudges me. Time for group.

“Hi, my name’s Natalie, and I’m here because I slit my wrists.”

“Hi, Natalie,” we chorus. I mouth the words because if I say something out loud, that means I’m here.

The rapper boy is next. He’s wearing black nail polish. From before, I guess. “Hi, my name’s Randy, and I’m here because I pushed my father down the stairs.”

“Hi, Randy.”

It goes like that for a few more people. Then it’s my turn. “Hi,” I say. This is only my second time in group, and this is the first time we’ve had to say why we’re here. Before, we just had to say how long. “My name’s Vanessa, and I’m here because I hit my grandmother with a chair.”

There is an uncomfortable silence. Suddenly my pride is leaking away, my remorseless acceptance of my actions crumbling at my feet. “She’s, like, 50,” I snap. “And she goes to the gym. I mean, she’s, like, this big,” I say, holding my hands as far apart as they can go. “Don’t get mental images of this weak old lady with, like, white hair. And the chair was ….”

“Vanessa,” the counselor says. “That’s enough.”

I realize that I am leaning forward. Abashedly, I slump back like a sullen child.

Newbies don’t get to watch TV, but Randy recaps it for me anyway. We’re not allowed in any rooms but our own without two counselors to supervise, so we lean against the reception desk. He tells me about some show on MTV. I tell him about how much I miss my books and computer. He tells me how badly he wants a cigarette.

What strikes me as more painful than anything is the fact that I don’t want to go home. I know I won’t do what I did again, but the circumstances will be the same. I’ll still be in my grandmother’s condo with my mother, who’s the reason why we can’t live in our house. My clingy brother will be there with his stupid stuffed snowman, and my grandmother will check the computer history to make sure I’m only going to kid-friendly sites.

The only company I want right now is Eminem’s. And failing that, Randy’s.

Or my father’s. But he’s in New York with his new girlfriend, and I … well, I’m not.

“So this one time,” Randy tells me, “I stole my cell phone from the nurses. And I was just standing there trying to think who to call. ’Cause who do you call when you’ve been stuck in a hospital for six months? I wanted to talk to everyone I knew. But I knew I had, like, ten seconds, so I ran to the bathroom and stood in the shower and turned the water on.”

“Who’d you call?” I ask urgently. That detail makes his whole story. I want him to say it was his dad, or his girlfriend, or his drug dealer. I want him to say that it was the most beautiful conversation he ever had.

But he picks at his nail polish and says, “This kid from my psych class. I asked him about the homework.”

I sit there, stunned.

“He was all, ‘Dude, you haven’t come to school in six months.’ I didn’t know what to say, so I hung up and gave the phone back to the nurses.”

“Wow,” I say quietly.

On my eighth day at Horizons, Randy and I find a small radio in the custodian’s closet. We search for Eminem songs for a good 20 minutes. Finally, we catch one, just as it’s winding down. We mouth the words that are bleeped out, and I stare into the blinking red light of the radio like I’ve suddenly recovered my sight after 30 years of blindness.

When I am discharged, my mother comes in her maroon minivan to pick me up. My brother is with her, clutching his stuffed snowman. Pens and pencils are contraband except in the common area, so that’s where Randy and I stand. We write our phone numbers on each other’s hands, though he tells me to send letters to Horizons “for now.”

I promise. My resolve crashes, and as my mother’s heels click past the reception area, I shudder. I’d rather stay at Horizons for seven years than go back with her. What hurts is that I can’t choose. I could fake a suicide attempt, but I know I won’t. Something in my face lets Randy know all of this. “Hey,” he says in that raspy way of his. “Hey. You be a soldier, okay? Don’t let them get to you this time. Be strong.”

I close my eyes. “Like Eminem,” I say quietly.

“Yeah,” he says. “Okay? Say it.”

“I’ll be strong,” I mutter.

“No,” he says seriously. “Say what I said. Say ‘I’ll be a soldier.’”

“I’ll be a soldier,” I promise.

Randy kisses me on the cheek. Casually, because that’s all we’ve ever been. “I know you will,” he says.

I walk to the car with my chin up. When my mother hands me my headphones with her familiar cluck of “I wish you wouldn’t listen to this,” I tune her out without any help from the music.



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This article has 244 comments.


on Aug. 24 2011 at 1:50 pm
peypeylovespies, Guntersville, Alabama
0 articles 0 photos 1 comment

Favorite Quote:
Why do they have to be a bad influence on me when I could be a good influence on them?

i love eminem, and this is amazing. reading this will make me think like a soldier when making life decisions. its helped me.. good job(:

on Aug. 3 2011 at 7:29 am
taintedannex GOLD, Hong Kong, Other
15 articles 5 photos 166 comments

Favorite Quote:
The truth is that at some point, everyone's going to hurt you. You just have to decide who's worth the pain.

Some say having something to lose is what makes you vulnerable. I believe that having something to lose only makes you stronger.

I love this! This is an absolutely beautiful piece of work. Haunting. 

on Aug. 2 2011 at 8:01 pm
lovetildeath GOLD, Virginia Beach, Virginia
10 articles 0 photos 34 comments

Favorite Quote:
I'm selfish, impatient, & a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control, & at times hard to handle. But if you can't handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don't deserve me at my best.
- Marilyn Monroe

Wow great job!

P.S I love how at the end you used a few lyrics from "Mockingbird"


on Jul. 17 2011 at 11:37 am
Tongue_Blep PLATINUM, ????, Ohio
40 articles 1 photo 769 comments
I loved the story! and was impressed! Great job! (Sorry for the advertizing!) If any of u coulld read my two stories called the beast and nightstalker, that would be great! Also please post comments saying if u liked it or not. Thanks! And keep writing! :D

on Jul. 11 2011 at 12:06 pm
foreverme BRONZE, Williamston, Michigan
3 articles 0 photos 24 comments
I loved this! You are a very good writer. I really liked your story. This is the first thing that I have read by you, and I can't wait to read more.

on Jun. 6 2011 at 7:16 am
heathersgone32 GOLD, Elyria, Ohio
14 articles 0 photos 15 comments

Favorite Quote:
Don't let your past define who you are today. Your so much more than that.

I love this!!!

on May. 31 2011 at 6:06 pm
WynterPage95 ELITE, Monticello, Arkansas
164 articles 8 photos 76 comments

Favorite Quote:
"It's better to burn out than to fade away..." -Kurt Cobain

this would probably make a great novel...hint, hint :)

on May. 28 2011 at 9:41 pm
ibadancer13 BRONZE, Urbandale, Iowa
4 articles 0 photos 16 comments
Wow.... i don't even know what to say that was so good! :D

on May. 28 2011 at 12:52 am
A.PaigeTurner, San Antonio, Texas
0 articles 0 photos 125 comments

Favorite Quote:
You think that everybody hates you. You should really stop that.- A Good Friend

Whoa.  I'm speechless.  That was a great story.  Keep writing please!

gfigs SILVER said...
on May. 22 2011 at 8:10 pm
gfigs SILVER, Elyria, Ohio
7 articles 0 photos 6 comments

Favorite Quote:
LETS DO IT!!!!!!!!!

wow this is super good :D

on May. 7 2011 at 5:58 pm
TheBananaKing SILVER, Convoy, Ohio
6 articles 0 photos 4 comments

Favorite Quote:
Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me.-???

W to the ow!!! This is ah-mazing!!! I love eminem and I love this. For some odd reason I wanna be Vanessa! :) I really loved it plz check out some of my stuff :)

on Apr. 23 2011 at 8:12 pm
Listen.to.me., Goshen, Massachusetts
0 articles 0 photos 10 comments
IT WAS SO GOOD. I know thats all anyone has said pretty much, but serioousslyy ITS GOOD.You really got what she meant, and understood how she felt, and him too. I wish it could be longer, like a whole novel. it'd be soooo cool. :D

on Apr. 14 2011 at 12:49 pm
msoccerm345 SILVER, Grimes, Iowa
7 articles 0 photos 68 comments

Favorite Quote:
You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.

oh my goodness!!!!! thats my name!!!! <3

on Apr. 14 2011 at 12:48 pm
volleyball17 PLATINUM, Grimes, Iowa
23 articles 0 photos 14 comments

Favorite Quote:
You cant fail if you dont try

thats  my best friends name :) and the first letter of her last name too! that is sooooo amazing... oo and this is good :)

on Mar. 24 2011 at 12:19 am
heiwagirl SILVER, Enumclaw, Washington
6 articles 0 photos 12 comments

Favorite Quote:
You just have to live your life not careing what they think and just shake off the drama and prove to them that you are better than they think you are.

a really amazing and beautiful story it really pulls you into her world and what it would be like to be in her situaition.

StoryWeaver said...
on Mar. 23 2011 at 8:05 pm
StoryWeaver, Alaska
0 articles 0 photos 6 comments

Favorite Quote:
How many slams in an old screen door?
Depends how loud you shut it.
How many slices in a bread?
Depends how thin you cut it.
How much good inside a day?
Depends how good you live 'em.
How much love inside a friend?
Depends how much you give 'em.

I guess there's not really that much I can say, except that this is really good. This is totally relateable, but natural and not emo either. It's simple. I like it.

PJD17 SILVER said...
on Mar. 11 2011 at 6:09 pm
PJD17 SILVER, Belleville, Illinois
8 articles 0 photos 624 comments

Favorite Quote:
I do the best imatation of myself- Ben Folds

I just joined teen ink and havent read many articals yet, but i would have to say this is the best ive read so far.  Not to say that the others were bad.  Yours was just very impressive

on Mar. 10 2011 at 12:04 am
-JustDance- PLATINUM, Medford, Oregon
23 articles 0 photos 28 comments

Favorite Quote:
"The manner in which we live and that in which we ought to live are things so wide asunder that he who quits the one to betake himself in the other is more likely to destroy than to save himself." ~Niccolo Machiavelli

So let us find the balance.

I don't think their point was to capture the emotion, but in a way they did. Through the sarcastic humor and leaving you curious, and having meloncholy aspects. And I don't think the end sucked the emotion out rather it left it up for interpretation, should the reader feel so inclined.

Peregrine said...
on Mar. 3 2011 at 3:47 am
Peregrine, Roosterville, Other
0 articles 0 photos 38 comments

Favorite Quote:
I am thoughtful. -Jon Stewart

I do NOT like Eminem, but I can completely relate to the wanting to have music in your ears thing, except for me it would be Marilyn Manson.

Great story!


on Mar. 2 2011 at 9:29 pm
GodsBandGeek BRONZE, Yukon, Oklahoma
2 articles 0 photos 4 comments
Wow... I may be the biggest non-fan of Eminem, but this was a pretty amazing story! :D It hits right in the heart!