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.

Similar Articles


This article has 246 comments.

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!

on Mar. 2 2011 at 8:23 pm
sunshine04 BRONZE, Vindhyanagar, Other
1 article 3 photos 253 comments
its so amazing and by the time so cool with the eminem stuff i just love this story 

movadostreet said...
on Mar. 1 2011 at 8:08 pm

i really

love that book

of toy soilders

on Feb. 7 2011 at 8:35 pm
Michelle Mar BRONZE, New York, New York
1 article 0 photos 2 comments
Aww, really? Thank you so much! :D

on Feb. 7 2011 at 8:32 pm
ZalphaNeko GOLD, Plantation, Florida
17 articles 5 photos 16 comments
OMG you rock at writing. i wouldn't read this if it were longer but it kept me reading and enraptured. it was beautiful. also my little sister had a stuffed snowman that was her "best friend" lol just thought it put that out there

Jaycee94 said...
on Feb. 7 2011 at 8:32 pm
Jaycee94, Manchester, Other
0 articles 1 photo 1 comment
this is really good! :)

on Feb. 5 2011 at 10:59 am
Noitcif_Plup SILVER, Argenta, Illinois
5 articles 1 photo 8 comments

Favorite Quote:
"It's only after we've lost everything that we're free to do anything." - Tyler Durden

We had an assignment in English to write a story that fit the citeria to be sent into Teen Ink, and our teacher gave us a bunch of example stories. This was one of them. I loved it. This story here is pretty much the reason I joined Teen Ink. Thank you.

on Jan. 16 2011 at 7:12 pm
BeYOUtiful_13 BRONZE, Tinley Park, Illinois
4 articles 1 photo 98 comments

Favorite Quote:
“Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it's better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.”
~Marilyn Monroe

I like it alot. It is very good

on Jan. 16 2011 at 1:54 pm
SunsetSunrise SILVER, Scituate, Massachusetts
9 articles 14 photos 1 comment
this is incredibly moving. really good job (:

on Dec. 26 2010 at 1:52 am
LaDyElFuNkOe SILVER, Male&#39, Other
5 articles 1 photo 12 comments

KaileeM BRONZE said...
on Dec. 25 2010 at 4:26 pm
KaileeM BRONZE, Magnolia, New Jersey
1 article 2 photos 18 comments
i rate it 5million stars. it was excellant- absolutley amazing.!!!!

on Dec. 25 2010 at 8:11 am
Internal-Love PLATINUM, Queens, New York
33 articles 3 photos 310 comments

Favorite Quote:
Nothing's black or white, its all just a shade of gray---

TI "Live your Life" ft Rihanna

i rated it 5 stars!! :)

on Dec. 9 2010 at 7:55 am
Cassandra_M SILVER, Bryan, Texas
6 articles 0 photos 8 comments

Favorite Quote:
"And don't hate us because we choose to have courage and be different. Because courage is hard to come by now a days and I for one like the Idea of being courageous like a hero as does he." -Mikayla Cassandra Moats

I thought it was a very nice story. I like it a lot.

Sarbear GOLD said...
on Dec. 3 2010 at 8:27 pm
Sarbear GOLD, Milan, Ohio
10 articles 4 photos 489 comments

Favorite Quote:
--Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them, you're a mile away from them and you have their shoes.
--When life gives you lemons, squirt them in people's eyes.

wow! i really loved this. i felt like i was living it with her. AMAZING

Lynsey BRONZE said...
on Dec. 3 2010 at 4:01 pm
Lynsey BRONZE, Portland, Connecticut
4 articles 5 photos 4 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it's better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring." -Marilyn Monroe
"Sometimes you have to run away just to see who will follow." -Anonymous

this story was really good. i loved how you tied emenem's story with her own. i think it was very well written, good job!!

on Dec. 3 2010 at 3:15 pm
silentvocal SILVER, Chicago, Illinois
5 articles 0 photos 44 comments

Favorite Quote:
Don't try to fix what isn't broken

i agree-i liked the realistic way it's written too.-like you're just a bystander  that stepped rite into a portion of this girl's life. that's why its so neat. u know?

Mickey_D GOLD said...
on Dec. 3 2010 at 1:17 pm
Mickey_D GOLD, Santa Cruz, California
11 articles 0 photos 18 comments

Favorite Quote:
If you don't believe in that subconscious self as a writer, then you shouldn't be doing it. ~Ray Bradbury

You introduced very well, the dialogue was near-perfect, and the story very much flowed to what it needed to be in order to capture the reader. However, emotion was not a key player in this, I felt. Instead, there was a sort of sarcastic humor, a curiosity, and some melancholy feeling that left me not emotionally impacted (as I've seen other comments that say OMG OMG OMG KEEP WRITING) but rather fairly interested in what will happen to the character. Where you left off in the end was a great spot to end, but it was kind of abrupt and sucked the emotions out. You did a great job as a storyteller, but as an orator of passion as some comments make you out to be, you fell short.

Maybe that was not your intention, maybe it was. It doesn't matter, because that is not what I got from it.

I figure I'll just end with a "great job".

Great Job :)

on Dec. 3 2010 at 12:27 pm
silentvocal SILVER, Chicago, Illinois
5 articles 0 photos 44 comments

Favorite Quote:
Don't try to fix what isn't broken

oh my god its like emotions just strung thruogh u with a sharp hard needle cuz that hit me hard.-and in many ways i feel so much of that character. the compications and-just wow. i love this peice-dont stop writing

on Nov. 11 2010 at 6:19 pm
liveloud BRONZE, Cresskill, New Jersey
1 article 2 photos 14 comments
ya sometimes sequals ruin books, like the twilight books