Seventeen, locked up again

Creative Nonfiction by Carrie Lynn Hawthorne

1998 – Northridge Adolescent Psych Ward. Woke up in a Pepto Bismol pink room. The day before, my hospital roommate, Lucy, had found out she was pregnant. By her dad.

When Lucy slept, she looked so much younger than fourteen. Too young to be motherless, with no home to look forward to going back to, just a shelter for women and children that she had been assigned to by the state of California.

I shook her awake, “It’s Christmas,” I said.

Lucy sat up in bed, her hair like Medusa. She blinked twice. “Doesn’t mean anything to me.”

“I got you something,” I said, and I handed her a lumpy package wrapped in notebook paper and scotch tape.

“How?” Lucy asked.

“It’s something of mine,” I said. “I want you to have it.”

She tore open the paper and took a breath. A pink bra from Victoria’s Secret, lacy and demure. “Are you sure?” she asked. “It’s so nice.”

I nodded. “It’s my best one.”

“How do I put this on?” she asked.

“You’ve never had a bra before?” I asked.

“It’s my first,” Lucy said.

I didn’t tell her I’d noticed, like everyone on the unit, that this was something she needed.

I took off my Misfits shirt and my bra. She stood and reached up, pulling her pajama top over her head. I inhaled the heady aroma of unwashed teenage girls. I pulled my bra out long, stretched it around my back, one end in each hand. “Hook it in the front, then turn it to the back, slip your arms into the loops, and voila.”

Lucy struggled a bit with the hook, so I helped her, then adjusted her straps.

“It has a little room, that’s good,” I said. “Your boobs will get bigger.”

“My nipples sure are,” Lucy said. “They’re like pepperonis.”

I laughed, pulling my shirt back on.

Lucy did the same, smoothing her chest. “How do I look?”

“Pretty,” I said. “Grown up.”

“No one’s ever said I was pretty,” she said.

I walked toward the door. “Let’s go check our stockings,” I said.

I had the harebrained idea to tape our striped gym socks to the door. Sure enough, they were filled with hospital toiletries—lotion, deodorant, and shampoo. I looked over at the nurses’ station to see the RN who sat on our bed at night for girl talk, the one who watched as I shaved my legs. Our eyes met, and for once I didn’t want to duck and cover, I wanted to be seen.   

Carrie Lynn Hawthorne

Carrie Lynn Hawthorne is a writer from Los Angeles whose work has appeared in many literary magazines and anthologies. She is an MFA candidate at Antioch University. For links to recent publications, check out her website at