“Self-Portrait in Colors” by Alejandra Pena

Deer by Brian McPartlon


It was 4 a.m. when I lay my body down for the first time on the twin-size bed in my room and realized I was scared. The light from the hallway seeped through the half-opened room door and onto my corner of the room where the twin-sized bed was, and subsequently, directly on my face. I had asked the nurse who had brought me to my room moments earlier if I could close the door to avoid the fluorescent light shining on me and she replied no, it was against the rules. Defeated, I tried to make myself as small as possible and squeeze into the corner of the bed where the light was not as harsh in hopes of seeing only darkness, but I was still able to see the outlines of the room, which contained one bookshelf, two locked trunks, and another bed besides mine, which a person was lying in, pretending to sleep. I was not alone—not in the room, and absolutely not in the hospital, but while lying on the twin-size bed in the half-lit, foreign room, I felt my chest become a rock devoid of tenderness and flesh. The rock sat on top of me while I clenched my eyes shut until I eventually met darkness and slept. I was all alone. And I felt like it was all my fault.

February 23, 2021 at 9:36 A.M.

I stop living and I start again in a matter of minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, but not years. Never years. Death is fleeting. Death has to make its mark and return to haunt. If it stays too long it becomes permanent. It enclouds and it overwhelms. Death hovers over with the promise that it will return. The returning is what is terrifying. The knowing that the switch can be flipped almost instantly. If it stays too long it becomes permanent. Once you stop fear its return, it becomes a friend, and it is there to stay.

golden piss

The weeks spent before driving myself to Carrolton Springs at midnight were turbulent, I had quit my job without telling anyone and was spending most of my time in my disheveled one-bedroom apartment drinking golden piss beer and obsessing over my greatest fears and failures, and eventually, researching painless ways to die. I finally decided, after a lot of calculation, how I was going to die and when I was going to die. The sound part of me, which was close to drowning, was panic-stricken. The void that had consumed my daily living, however, was happy to be laid to rest. With a gasping breath, I picked up the phone and called my therapist Lisa, who evenly told me to go inpatient. She said, “I care about you. Take care of yourself.” Before the will in me drowned, I quickly packed a bag, got my car keys, locked my apartment door with the dirty dishes still in the sink, jumped in my car to drive away from the dead, and landed at Carrollton Springs.

February 25, 2021 at 5:22 P.M.

I am so sorry to everyone I have left behind and lied to. I was doing terribly. I quit school, and I quit my job. I am so sorry I did not amount to what anyone thought I would be. I am not one of those people. I tried. I tried. I tried for you all. I will die an insignificant death.

dark blue

I am bipolar. When I am depressed, everything I see is in different shades of blue. When it gets unbearable, all I see is in dark, ocean blue. It is a hateful, spiteful color. I could not outrace it if I tried, and I have tried—every time I felt it wrap its arms around me. It first comes like a gentle blanket telling me to rest until it becomes something uncontrollable. It is death while living. The color of a funeral.

February 20, 2021 at 10:26 A.M.

I live with a couple of ghosts. I share a language that could only be properly described as unfortunate with them.

eggshell white

The walls at Carrollton Springs are painted an eggshell white, rather than the usual hospital blinding, virgin white. This was the first thing I noticed when I walked in for intake. The second thing I noticed was the tired nurse with the kind face at the front desk. She asked what I was requesting services for. Her face grew a mixture of surprise and concern when I simply told her I wanted to die. She said, “Okay, then. Fill out this paperwork. Here is a pen.”

February 19, 2021 at 6:47 P.M.

I see my body walk away

there is a chance it was never mine

rather a hallucination of sorts

a longing for something tangible

I see my body walk away

like it was never mine

shit green

The roommate I was given at the hospital was detoxing from heroin. She would vomit all over the bed, missing mine by several feet. I did not mind it. We all have our vices, and some are just messier than others. The vomit was shit green. Like when you eat too much broccoli and see

the end results of that decision later that night. She was shitting and vomiting for at least 5 days. When she was finally able to stand, she asked me what my name was. I finally learned hers, too.

February 10, 2021 at 7:30 A.M.

Do you think that if I lie down the leaves jumping off the big trees will cover me? I want to stare at the sky and feel like I’m falling and think of nothing else. I promise to lie as quietly as possible. I promise to not squirm due to the itchiness of my sweater & I promise to take shallow breaths without raising my chest as to not scare the worms. Please. I have never destroyed anything that was not always mine.


The psychiatrist I had at Carrolton Springs should be a scientist in a lab. He looked at me like I was a foreign specimen. “You quit your job and did not leave your apartment for almost a month without telling anyone, you say?” he asked with eyebrows raised. “Yes,” I said back. “You thought there were ghosts living in the walls of your apartment?” he questioned. “Yes,” I said back. I was under a microscope. Every secret I had kept to myself for months during my spiral were finally brought to light. The blunt questions were exhilarating, but also painfully sad. It was like someone was cutting me open to dig the rot out. “You will be put on Abilify. It is an antipsychotic. I want to give you the highest dose, which is 30mg,” he said. “Okay,” I replied, feeling small. I received the chalky white pill that same day. “Let me see underneath your tongue,” the nurse demanded. She had to make sure I actually downed it, and I did not blame her. I showed her underneath my tongue. “You are good to go,” she said.

February 17, 2021 at 10 PM

You shapeshifter, you stubborn woman. you grow, you speak, you train your body into something malleable. You learn no, you lift weights, you alter the chemicals in your brain. You are the first person to be born. You practice magic. You say thank you, but also, I’m alive, it hurts, but I exist.

I exist.

bright red

The name of the therapist that led my group therapy is Alyssa. She had been at Carrolton Springs as a patient 10 years ago for an eating disorder, and she had decided that the rest of her life would be dedicated to helping other nutcases. I admired that about her, but who wouldn’t? Her hair was bright red, and it was clearly dyed. I also admired that about her because it was brave, the same way working with nutcases is brave. I saw her three times a day for 12 days for group therapy. There, I did not reveal my deepest darkest secrets. I told her what she wanted to hear, and I think she knew that, which is why she did not like me. My bullshit was a sharp contrast to the majority, who would either not speak, speak too much, or not show up to group therapy at all. If you did not show up or participate in group, or perform simple tasks like eating dinner or showering, the doctors kept you inpatient longer. I envied those who lived in honesty, but I could not bear the consequence. I spewed my bullshit because I wanted to leave by day 5, anyway.

February 9, 2021 at 9:48 A.M.

There is nothing more catastrophic than sitting underneath a tree

& feeling your body turn into something

resembling forgiveness only

to start sobbing.

I believe in God

only after I ruin something.

bright yellow

When I am manic, everything I see is yellow. It is an intoxicating, lovely of a color. I could race in it, I have raced in it, but I have never won. It keeps me alive with the premise of a brighter shade of yellow. If I keep going, I will reach white. Purity. The color of death, but not of a funeral.

February 13, 2021 at 5:38 P.M.

I guess I am trying to say that I still remember my father’s stare in the hospital after I tried to kill myself for the first time in 2017. I remember his anger. In this memory, I am experiencing it in bird’s eye view. I am lying in the hospital bed in a hospital gown, doped up with tranquilizers. He is sitting in a chair across the room diagonal to me with his arms crossed, his facial muscles contorted, but not twitching. His facial expression is locked. His lips are pursed, his eyes are set on the TV. He is not tapping his foot and he is intentionally not looking at me. When I spoke to him asking if he wanted any of my food, he did not look at me and his facial expression did not change. He did not speak. Locked. Set. Solid like a rock. He was angry in the hospital, and he had been angry when driving me to the hospital after he found out I had swallowed handfuls of pills. I remember sitting in the passenger seat of his truck while the trees we were driving past became a blur and I had started losing consciousness. I remember thinking that it is the last time I will ever see trees and the shame of seeing them for the last time in a moving car. I started to panic when things became blurry. I asked my father if I was going to die. Without looking at me, he angrily said, “I don’t know.” I do not know. I do not know. I do not know. I was dying under the weight of my rock and my father thought I deserved it. I thought I deserved it, too. I only wished for someone to tell me I did not.

ash tray gray

I fell in love at Carrolton Springs with a woman named Kathy. She is 20 years older than me and an alcoholic. The first couple of days she was there, she did not leave her room because of withdrawal. When she was finally able to move, she joined me and the rest of our ward outside for a smoke break. She stood with her hands in her pockets, and I noticed her short fingernails were the grey color of ash. She had her hair in a bun, so I asked her if she was gay. She said yes, but that she has 4 children with a man, whom she is now separated from. She said that she became an alcoholic because she had to get drunk every night to have sex with him for 20 years. We both cried.

February 15, 2021 11:29 A.M.

What I do know is that the world is a hideous monstrosity. What I do know is that words have almost no meaning when they are being written. What I do know is that if you write something for long enough, it will be believed, and you will start believing it. What I do know is that I am nauseated. What I do know is that I am about to throw up. What I do know is that I do not believe that my throat will ever be calloused enough to withstand that sort of violence. What I do know is that I do not believe in the usefulness of callouses. Things will bleed once force and roughness continues. Roughness does not survive more roughness. Roughness continues to erode the object until it becomes something else altogether. Roughness is therefore not a sign of strength, but of brokenness, raggedness, damage. Roughness demands survival, and I know that anything that demands survival is broken. Brokenness is not violent unless it becomes rough, and I do not believe brokenness can become rough. Brokenness may contain sharp edges, but it will never create callouses.

light purple

There is a nurse at Carrolton Springs who has short, jet-black hair, brown skin, and light purple scrubs. He has a smile that is contagious. I loved him dearly. On my 12th day, my last day, he unlocked all my things from a locker and asked me what my 5 reasons to keep living are. I knew these were bullshit when we went over them in group therapy, but I knew his question was genuine since it was coming from him. “My family, my friends, my writing, my dog, hope,” I said. We both had tears in our eyes. “Please take care of yourself, okay?” he said. I asked him when he was going to get married and start a family. He said, “Soon.” We hugged and I promised him to stay alive and do my best and he said he counts on it.

February 17, 2021 at 2:30 A.M.

1. may one day a full moon bring you peace

for its light / an unending promise

of a brighter future

2. may one day you look at a wild river & marvel at its braveness

& honesty / its scream / its fearlessness

instead of everything that was taken from you

3. may one day the sun bring you warmth & multitudes

a rejoice in its reminder / for the days to come

a now / where yesterday did not exist

light blue

There were no pens allowed at Carrollton Springs because of the possibility of someone hurting themselves with one, so I picked up a light blue marker. On March 9th of 2021, which was my last day at Carrollton Springs, I wrote in my journal:

I am 23 and am a newborn. I share a language with the living for what feels like the first time. I feel deeply and with purpose. My suffering matters and has meaning, but it will no longer leave mark or influence in my words.

I reject the notion that rebirth is not possible. I am surrounded by newborns at the psych ward, not by suicides or attempts. I learn a new language of meaning with them, and I touch the parts of myself that are afraid of rain and also of light. I believe in radical growth, but also of radical suffering. This is not a suicide letter. It is my birth certificate.


Alejandra Pena is a queer Mexican-American poet from East Dallas, Texas. Her work has appeared in Thimble Literary Magazine, Sleet Magazine, and the North Texas Review. She loves her pug Kiwi and the moon.

Brian McPartlon (Schenectady, New York, 1948) attended the School of Visual Arts in New York. Recent and upcoming exhibitions include Pie Projects, Santa Fe and the International Art Museum of America, San Francisco. Press includes LandEscape Art Review, Magazine 43, Dream Noir, Arkana, and Pasatiempo.