Photography © Shannon O’Connor


Just Call Me Joe
for Sinéad O’Connor

In the hospital, I listened to the cassette I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got over and over again on my Walkman.

It was like every song was speaking to me, and Sinead knew what was going on in my life at that time.

But of course, she didn’t.

I was psychotic, but I wouldn’t admit it to myself. I believed I was in touch with God, and it was my destiny to save the world.

In the hospital, people had their own problems. Other kids were depressed, and wanted to kill themselves, did drugs, or came from bad families. But I believed I was the Daughter of God.

A guy named Matt like to tease me about my name. We got into intense discussions about our opinions on the best song on The Lion and the Cobra.

“I think the best song is ‘Just Call Me Joe,’” he said.

“No, I think it’s ‘Troy,’” I said. “It’s because it’s so emotional.”

“It’s ‘Just Call Me Joe,’” he said. “Hands down.”

A guy who worked on the locked unit was named Joe, and I thought Matt was friends with him. Matt was always on the payphone, and I thought he was talking to Joe telling him what I was doing.

The phone calls always left me unsure.

“‘Just Call Me Joe’ is a nice song,” I said. “It’s sweet, and pleasant. But it doesn’t have the emotional intensity of ‘Troy’.”

“There’s where your wrong,” Matt said. “You should keep taking your medication, and maybe you’ll come to your senses.”

Matt didn’t take medication. He had slit his wrists over some girl who moved away. She didn’t even break up with him, and she was probably upset, too. He was just depressed, unlike me, who was labeled insane. I didn’t understand why these people had no idea I was there to save them, and not listen to their squabbling. I was counting the days until I left.

It’s not easy to escape the psychiatric hospital. Sure, at this one, there was no wall, and anyone could walk away any time. But if they caught you, you would be in longer. And there was nowhere to go, and most kids didn’t have any money. I wanted to leave, because I hated it, but I wanted to wait until I was let out legitimately. Then I would achieve holiness.

Sinéad O’Connor was playing at the Orpheum on May 3. I wanted to see her so badly. I thought if I did, I would find out why I was in the hospital, and what had happened to me.

I was supposed to get out at the end of April. I was gasping to get out of the hospital, like a fish at the top of a tank that couldn’t breathe.

I wasn’t let out of the hospital.

I had to see Sinéad.

On May 3, after lunch, I ran down the hill, and caught the 39 bus into Boston. I had fifty dollars in my pocket that I had stolen from a nurse’s wallet on the unit.

I took the Orange Line to the Orpheum theater.

“Do you have tickets for Sinéad?” I asked.

“We’ll be releasing some rush tickets two hours before the show,” the guy said. “You should get here earlier than that.”

I didn’t have any money to eat, but I didn’t care. Sinead was more important. I had to hide from the authorities. I went to the bathroom at Jordan Marsh, and hid there for a while. I looked at the clothes like I was shopping. I hoped nobody would guess I escaped from a psychiatric hospital.

I waited in the rush ticket line. I was in the front. I got a seat in the sixth row. I put my hands in my pockets, and slouched down in the seat before the show started.

Sinéad wore a crushed red velvet dress, and played the guitar and sang every favorite song of mine. She felt herself up when she sang, “I Want Your Hands On Me.” I cried when she sang “Nothing Compares 2 U.” I screamed when each song was over. I escaped from the hospital, and I was howling at injustice along with my favorite singer.

The last song she sang was “Troy.” She performed it with ferocity and passion. After she finished, she stormed off the stage.

I knew that was my sign. It was my destiny to cure the world of its pain. I had to find a way to point my mission in the right direction.

I would not go back to the hospital. I wanted to save the world, and I wouldn’t let anything stop me.


Shannon O’Connor holds an MFA in Writing and Literature from Bennington College. She has been published previously in Oddball Magazine, as well as 365 Tomorrows, Wordgathering, and others. She is not related to Sinéad O’Connor, but she cut her hair short in high school because she wanted to be like her. She lives in the Boston area, and works in a hospital.