(Image: Goodna Mental Hospital c.1950. Queensland State Archives, Digital Image ID 1438)
They want to tear the old asylum down. They’ll erase its dark hallways and unmarked graves. But when these walls come down, where will I go? This is my home. I live within these walls.
I was twelve. Or eleven. Or ten, I don’t remember. Time stops within these walls. There was no night or day, just an endless grey existence punctuated with yearning. I was missing something but I didn’t know what. The injections didn’t give it to me. The electric shocks couldn’t give it to me either.
I watched pictures of real people in books. They smiled at me from the pages, pulling me in with what they had that I didn’t have. What made them real and me just a ghost? If I reached behind their eyes, could I touch it? Would it sit warm in my palm? Would it slip through my fingers?
I searched every moment of the grey for it. I began to think it didn’t want me to find it. Maybe it wasn’t meant for someone like me. Maybe some people were just meant to be ghosts.
When I became ill they wheeled me into a room that smelled of old syringes. There was pushing and jabbing, doctors were shouting, but I wasn’t scared. I thought I’d find it then, in this new kind of grey.
No one could reach me in this new grey. They couldn’t see me when I walked the same hallways I’d always walked, and no one came for me anymore. I watched the nurses grow old and new nurses take their place. I tried to call goodbye to them but they never heard me. The doctors left too, and one by one the patients after them. Soon I was alone within these walls.
I search for it still. I watch the real people when they slip through the rusted gates. I reach for their hands in the night. I search for what they have that I don’t have. Maybe one day I’ll find it. Maybe one day it’ll sit warm in my palm.
Until then, I am a ghost in the wall.