P.33

   “WAKE UP CALL, EVERYBODY UP… VITALS! …COME ON, UP AND AT EM! RUNNING LATE TODAY SORRY…” the voice added politely.

   I heard what sounded like a young girl, yelling across the entryway and then down the hallway.  I moved the pillow I had placed in front of the digital clock’s obnoxiously bright red numbers. 5:54

   The bearer of the voice, Marla, was an exceedingly dainty dark-haired woman with chic square-rimmed glasses- whom you could have easily mistaken for a 14 year old; but she was the night shift RN. Every morning she had the pleasure of trying to wake us all up to take our blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen sat, etc and then tossing you a gown to go get lined up for weigh-in. Being a night owl, 5:30- 6 am was not something I ever got used to- especially without coffee, and breakfast wasn’t for another three hours- even with those at home, my brain didn’t usually wake up until 5pm- and that was only sometimes.

“Oh my god.. how does she even…” I saw Leo come from down the hallway in the same terrible hospital gown, and lean against the door frame of the weigh in room. I surmised that was where we were supposed to go, so I went to stand over there as well. If I had been a shy person I would likely have felt very awkward with just a thin open- backed gown for clothing.

“So… newcomer, welcome to the fanciest hell you’ll ever find yourself in. I’m Leo- but you probably already figured that out.”

“Kat.”

“Sorry, I was in an awful mood last night. I could have at least waved or something I guess. I know I was so goddamn unnerved the day I got here. But that entire group was just awful- you’re lucky you came here when you did. Where are you from?”

“Practically down the street,  or just over the hill. Pretty much where I’ve been all my life. You?”

“I flew in from Washington DC. I grew up and lived in LA until I was 23 and then my fiance and I moved to DC for his work. Yes, I’m gay- so let’s just get that fucking annoying, unnecessary conversation out of the way. I mean people are people are people…” he continued without hardly even taking a breath, as though he were reciting something he was used to saying in his defense on the regular. “It’s like people expect you to be wearing a fucking rainbow gay pride pin or something.” he paused. ” I thought I saw you praying or something last night when you were sitting there with Brendan at the little table. You’re not one of those Christians are you? They always hate gay people; I swear, they’re the worst.” He said it as though he were handling something disgusting.

“I’m sorry if that’s been your experience. But yes, I guess if I had to put a denomination label on it, I’m a Christian; but I don’t think those people you may have had negative experiences with were of any genuine faith. And even if I were a hypocrit- I’m standing here in rehab, half- ass naked- I don’t think I’m necessarily in any position to be throwing stones.”

“Yeah, well we’ll see,” he said, next up into the room. 

A very drowsy Liz and Sabrina – who were typically inseparable- appeared from down the other hallway. 

     The moment Leo said the word “rainbow”, I suddenly recalled the dreams that I had had that night. After all the morning routine I went back to write them down. 

 

 

 

 

P.32 the Last Letters

       No one spoke to me for the hour or so I remained there merely observing while adrift in thought, and occasionally switching over to sit in front of the window. It was a minor shock to digest the reality of not only so suddenly going from the life of isolation I had chosen and maintained for years to being around people- but being around people 24/7 for the next year. People always made me even more exhausted for some reason I could never identify, as though company somehow invisibly drained some kind of life force from me, or imposed their unspoken burdens upon me- even without the expectation of conversation or entertainment. Yet the extreme few humans I had met in my life- which I could easily count on one hand- who gave energy instead of taking, had a tendency to move across the country or disappear altogether.  As irrational as I realized this inexplicable feeling and aversion to be- I knew I had better get used to it. But I never did; I guess pushing a flightless bird out of the nest doesn’t always teach it to fly. 

           After the supervised consumption of my designated Dinner – which to my reluctance was a quesadilla- I went out onto the back porch for some fresh air. Reflexively I reached in my sweatshirt pocket, then remembered they had of course confiscated my lighter and cigarettes, to keep them in the lockboxes in the locked nurse station. The patio was a decent size from what I could see on a moonless night, illuminated by one lamp by the doorway and the light through the living room window. There was a garden of Rose bushes lining the rod iron railing that gave way to a marked drop to what looked like an extremely miniature golf course below, and just beyond that, another massive oak tree. Beneath the single lamp were four square wooden chairs surrounding a tiny wooden table beside a clearly unused empty spa. 

        It was only a few minutes I had to look around before Jacqueline stuck her head out the door to inform me that Shawna had instructed I be in “line of sight” at all times- which meant I couldn’t go outside, much less at night when it would have been of most appeal to me. To my frustration, I was the only one on the unit who remained on this status for the entirety of my stay- as opposed to the typical 1-2 weeks- no matter how much I tried to behave and color inside the lines; So I eventually exchanged the fruitless charades of normalcy for going wherever and doing whatever I felt so inclined. Perhaps Amberlyn- the veteran of the clinic- had it right from the beginning: that the only effort that ultimately makes a difference is not getting caught- in life I suppose. But either it was my conscience or my upbringing that had still always kept me on a fairly short leash- one that I had been working to chew through for the time of late. 

        I grabbed the red book from Shawna’s office and retired early to the observation room, where I would also be sleeping- aka a smaller version of Shawna’s office with the same oak tree’s arms against the window. My couch was visible across the main entryway from the open doors of the staff office, of which was occupied by the night shift staff. I scanned through some of what was written those years ago and was surprised to find the pages riddled with words and wishes I had long forgotten, with random angsty poems and entries from well over a decade ago. I guess that much hadn’t changed. I turned to the last pages of the book, contemplating what terribly irrelevant thing I could write to see if God was still listening. 

“Dear God, if you’re still listening, and if you care, please have someone give me a lemon. Yes- a lemon. I’m aiming high in life,” I scrawled. 

      I already felt awkward. I still always had my doubts- why would God care about me anyways when there are a billion people on this planet, and most of them have *real* problems. What did it really matter if I was miserable and wanted to die?

     I was unaware that I was growing sleepy until finding in the morning that I had used the book as a pillow, and it was the first night of sleep I’d had in weeks. 

….

    

P.31

     The moment I said it-  as swiftly and with as much agility as I would have expected- she threw herself from the branch, perfectly grabbing it overhead, and swung down, dropping a considerable height as she hit the dirt with barely a sound. Instantly she was up the steps, flew past Jacqueline- who was in quick pursuit- and I heard a door slam somewhere in the long row of rooms encircling the courtyard. 

 I never heard if there were any real consequences for her- as she never *technically* left, but she turned out to always be the most affable of the lot- and though reserved, tentatively also the most clever.

     Returning to the house, I found everyone but Amberlyn lounging about in the living room, most using their cell phones or laptops; texting, Skype or facetime likely with whomever the people important to each of them were. Jacqueline made a formal announcement regarding my being the newcomer and named everyone for me, as they were mostly occupied with conversations or listening to music too loud to hear anything else. I sat down on the brick seating in front of the empty fireplace and mindlessly fiddled with the zipper of my jacket while observing my new treatment “family”. 

      One of the five was male, which rather surprised me to see a co-ed  residential home. He sat slouched down into the couch, headphones disappearing beneath a black beanie that I would only twice ever see him take off. I would have guessed him my age. He wore a plain black T shirt “, fitted black jeans, and Black Doc Marten’s. He appeared to be Hispanic, with hair too short to be seen beneath the beanie, a lip ring, and a chromatic eyebrow ring completely identical to my own. His name was Leo. 

       Sabrina was a petite girl skyping her mother. She looked like a minor, perhaps 16- but it was often difficult to judge age in treatment centers due to malnutrition slowing maturation, or inversely, lifestyle speeding aging. She too had darker skin, long black hair in a loose ponytail, and was also dressed in black from head to toe, with a long knit jacket and black slippers with bunnies on them. 

     Melissa was a girl my age in a small wooden chair in the corner, sitting with her back unnaturally  straight, not touching the chair’s back- as though she were terribly  uncomfortable. She was particularly beautiful, with facial features that reminded me of a human-sized pixie or fairy, with neatly waved dark blonde hair reaching halfway down her black sweater. She frequently looked at me and then back at the book in her prominently boney hands – of which she clearly was not focused on reading, as she never turned the page. She had bright blue eyes that were sharp and vigilant, but unspeakably sorrowful and far- removed from all surrounding her.  She looked the most nervous and evidently at dis-ease of everyone. I surmised that perhaps she too was lost somewhere in her mind. 

      The last girl was Lizzy- likely 18 or 19- who was additionally in all black; a Pierce the Veil band shirt, leggings, and Doc Marten’s. She had bright purple hair in a pixie cut just to her jaw and a row of at least twenty different bracelets on her aat that barely covered the countless raised scars running up her forearm. Looking around, they all had on numerous beaded or string bracelets, though not as many. Her headphones were so loud I was eventually able to determine that she was listening to Vermilion pt. 2 by Slipknot.

P.30 the Last Letters

       I assumed I had made enough noise for her to notice me there, but she didn’t as much as look up at me. After about five minutes, I had to come up with something to get her down in the next five. I guessed the truth was always best. 

“Hey, I know you don’t know me and all, but Jacqueline is about to call the cops to report you AWOL. So.., can you please come down? I’ll defend you from Jacqueline. Promise.”

She peered up at me almost imperceptibly, curled up with her knees to her chest, her darkened face buried in her arm. 

“Are you OK- I mean, of course you’re not OK, but what exactly is on your mind? If you don’t want to talk to a stranger that’s OK, but I don’t have anyone to tell.”

    “Oh I’m fine,” she bit back. “As fine as you could be- you know, being trapped in the Crazy House with a bunch of anorexics, bulimics, and users; being forced to gain unreasonable amounts of disgusting weight; having been here for almost a year already, and they won’t discharge me, and still six months away from being old enough to sign myself out of this hell. I’m great” her voice intermittently faded in and out. 

“I know.” I sighed. “Treatment really is the worst thing I’ve ever done, every time. Worse than death seems huh? But a year already? That’s absolutely insane, I’m so sorry. What can I do to at least pretend I can be of any help to you?”

  She was silent, suddenly fumbling with something in her hand. I think she was trying to hide it, but I had a guess as to what it was. 

“I get it Amberlyn. You’ll do anything to get out of here. You’ve gone so far past what you can handle and you’re stuck- helpless and hopeless; damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Like you’ll never escape it, because it lives in your skin; and you’re watching idly by as people who only think they’re helping bury everything you’ve placed your trust in- found any solace or comfort in- beneath six feet of poured concrete; and you want it back before it dries forever.”

She gave me a look that either meant she thought I was insane, or she was caught off guard.

Exactly.” I never forgot just how terrifyingly raw the rage and resentment in her voice was. 

I awkwardly reached over and across a couple branches, “I’m Kat.”

Amberlyn”, she quietly reciprocated,  but not going for a handshake.  “or just Amber. Whatever. I don’t care.”

“I think I have more than enough free  time in my life to afford calling you Amberlyn. That’s pretty, I’ve never met someone with that name before.”

She clearly had no intention of as much as moving. I tried to think if I had anything in my pockets or something I could bribe her with. They hadn’t checked the smallest coin pocket in the cargo pants I had on. I pulled a few pills out of the coin pocket, silently assessing which could possibly be of any appeal to her. 

“Well- this is terrible I know- but I’ll trade you.” I held them out to her on my palm. “they’ll at least lift your mood for the rest of the night.”

She looked up but didn’t respond. 

“Please give me the knife Amberlyn. I understand why- but If you use you that, you’ll end up with more problems than just Jacqueline tonight.”

     I was legitimately impressed that she had managed to sneak a blade that big in here- but obviously I didn’t say that. I climbed over the branch between us, a bit closer toward her. I heard an echo of Jacqueline shouting something from the entryway. 

“Times up,” I said. 

P.29

     “So is that why you feigned surprise or intrigue by my answers, when you had already perused my War and Peace in your hand?”

“I wanted to hear it from you, and It’s not that detailed. I’d love to stay and pick on you as you get settled in, but I’m already way late for Woodland Hills. So Jacqueline or someone will be introducing you to everyone and finishing all protocol, as well as personally ensuring you abide by your bed rest- which starts tomorrow morning. I’ll be back in a couple days for our first official session. I want to hear good things from Jacqueline. Good things, you hear me? You don’t want to get on her bad side.”

“Write a boring-ass autobiography. Sit and stay. Behave. Got it.”

“Okay, I’m expecting something to read by then,” She said with a teasing intonation as she again rose and quickly made her way along the winding brick walkway outside the window.

         After twenty-some minutes of sitting in the office, I wandered out into the entryway, unsure of what I should be doing or if I should just keep waiting in Shawna’s office for Jacqueline. There was no one anywhere to be seen, so I walked about for another period of time, taking note of the decor, “vision boards” on the walls, took another look at the door from the dream, and walked back out onto the front porch. There was a wooden bench there with two striped mahogany pillows, and two large rod- iron lamps hanging on each side of the double- doored entrance. Heading back and glancing in a few open rooms, all of the flooring and the majority of the house’s structure was made of varying tones of red bricks, with a few portions of white upper walls in a couple rooms.         

The house echoed of a strange emptiness with every step I took, and I was surprised there were really no rugs to speak of, except one small brown square rug in the middle of the living room. There were two pillow- laden brown couches adjacent to one another on two sides of the rug, in front of a fireplace with a sitting area, a sprawling window seat on the next wall, and the third wall was a huge gloss  white floor to ceiling bookcase filled on all but the empty top shelves, which were far out of reach. A modest golden chandelier hung above, and a large bronze carving of what reminded me of the flower of life far above the fireplace reached up to an exceedingly tall ceiling. I saw what I would guess to be most of the house residents in the dining room, which gave off close to no sound from behind two closed glass doors. I saw Jacqueline at the head of the table with five other absolutely stern, fairly gaunt faces. I quickly ducked back out of sight of the couple looking back at me as though they were already pissed off at my presence, but I tried to write it off as nothing personal. Just a moment later as I heard a crash come from the room, one of the glass doors flung open, slamming into the wall and a tall, dirty blonde- haired girl, likely about 18, stormed out of the room and nearly smacked right into me as she turned the corner and bolted out the open front door. 

“No, everyone sit down.” I heard Jacqueline say, in just the way an irritated mother would address her children. 

A few moments later and Jacqueline appeared as well, looking down the hallway, into the living room, and paused with a look at me that said “spit it out”;

“She went out the front door,” I said softly. I immediately kicked myself,  feeling like I had already betrayed someone who would likely end up my roommate. 

    Jacqueline rushed out the front door, but was back inside within the minute, yelling to someone evidently in the staff office to call the police. 

“Wait- Can I try to find her?” 

“What? Look, we don’t have time to mess around playing hide and seek, she’s gone. 

    “You just have to think like an addict” I said, but only in my head. 

 she stood there with her arms crossed, her light brown hair falling out of a messy bun. I guess everyone around here was a foot taller than me.     “Fine, you’ve got ten minutes while I check the back and all the rooms, and then I’m calling.”

       I descended the front steps and paused halfway down the walkway beneath the canopy of oaks. Turning to the larger oak tree- the one that went right up to Shawna’s office window- I started to climb; I knew that’s where *I* would go. I didn’t see her as I made my way up through the maze of unruly branches jutting off in the most peculiar of directions. Then up near the top, where the branches just barely would support anyone, she was. 

I perched on a branch a few feet across from her. Though I knew the time constraint, I couldn’t bring myself to do or say anything but to just watch silently. She reminded me of someone, as I felt the pangs of her tears. I don’t know why, but I noticed a tear on my own face. 

….
 

 

P.28 the Last Letters

        She came back a few minutes later with a manila folder and the vermilion journal that had been sent from home. She opened the folder and set the journal on the table in front of me. 

“So this is the part where you sign a bunch of legal papers while I decide based on our conversation which of our four interning therapists would be most appropriate for you for the duration of your stay at the beautiful life.”

I scanned through the ten or so pages of agreements, noticing some rather odd statements I was expected to sign and initial. I couldn’t help but quietly laugh at a few of them. “I will not die by suicide” was one of my favorites. A hundred questions about my eating and exercising habits, some more extremely odd questions I had never even thought of. 

      “People actually do this weird shit?” 

She appropriately declined to answer my rhetorical question. “So, I’m the therapist for all family sessions, but I stopped taking individual patients when I became director of both here and Woodland Hills a couple years ago- but I’ve decided that I’m going to take you on as an individual client anyway.” 

      “Was that before or after I  told you to fuck yourself? Sorry again.”

“Oh, it was before we met. Sherice sent me your entire case file and looking through it I immediately thought ‘oh I’ve gotta meet this girl, this’ll be interesting’; and sure enough you’ve got the attitude and I can just feel your tension and the anger you’re using to try to keep everyone away- but that doesn’t scare me. I think you’re just a teddy bear with teeth- just someone in pain. But mainly, I don’t think an intern would even know where to begin with you.”

I laughed darkly, closed my eyes, and shook my head. “Why are you doing this.”

     “Doing what?”

“Seemingly giving me this special treatment; you already held a bed open for me for now I find out over a week- when I know this place has a waiting list and you didn’t even know that I wouldn’t be sent back to Alhambra. I mean, great- I’m glad if I interest you, sure I’ll confess it’s reluctantly flattering- but I didn’t come here to have more people dislike me because they think I’m full of myself or thinking I merit extraneous attention. I don’t want to come in here feeling any more like an asshole, and the person who has the power to make all the major decisions in the course of each patient’s treatment plan- being the one I build a personal year-long relationship with- that’s not going to help me fit in with any of the other people my age here.” 

“Everyone’s treatment plan is different. Their problems are not your problems-  your case is completely different; so the treatment is different. And certain privileges may also be granted or withheld as a result. Don’t worry- I’m going to be harder on you than everyone else. You’re going to hate me by year’s end.” 

“Not if I make you hate me first. Look- can you just keep it on the down low, at least at first?”

“Good luck with that. But this is why I’m starting you out on full observation status, and…” she paused for emphasis, “Three days of bed rest- and that’s just for starters- if you behave and actually do it. 

“What the hell!” I stood up from the chair. 

“Ah, struck a chord there? Sit. Yeah, reading your file and I knew the first thing you need to do is rest. I know you hate that. When was the last time you took a week or month off from all your crazy workouts and mountain climbing? How do you have energy for that anyways? Not to mention you had a seizure. You need to lay low.”

“because that’s only an hour here and there- work is at least four hours; I can’t predict when I’ll have an OK hour. I don’t have feel or act any certain way out with the coyotes; and I’m fine as far as one little seizure.” I slowly lowered myself barely back onto the armchair, on its edge as always. 

“I mean you clearly can barely even sit with yourself. As soon as you get one drop of fuel back in the tank you’re flooring the gas pedal a hundred miles per hour, and wondering why you’re so burnt out. So, the first thing we’re working on is learning to just sit- or lie, in your case- relax; and most importantly learn some self-compassion. Do you know what that is?”

 I rolled back the sleeve of my tattered, grey hoodie and held my wrist up to her. “Time waits for no one. Not me, not those getting what’s fair or unfair. Nope. My youth and my life is passing me by and I’m just fucking pissing my time away, splashing like a beta on its side in some inch-deep puddle in the middle of a Japanese market- everyone else is getting things done, changing, going somewhere, trying, loving- living. As a child there was a fern plant that always grew up through the floor of the house, through the carpet; no one could ever kill it- it always came back, always pushed back up through the concrete. That’s why I put that there, where I would always see it when my head is down in my hands, and be reminded to never stop moving forward with the unforgiving time. I can’t waste any more time- I’m losing all of it. That’s why I’m so merciless with pushing myself.” 

“That’s a pretty tattoo though,” she replied succinctly. 

I sighed. “Okay. What am I supposed to do with all of this- apparently of a sliding timeframe-  free time to just lie there and be in my head? That never ends well, you know that.”

She pushed the journal closer towards me. “I want you to write your story.” 

“Here we go again. I don’t have anything to say.”

“Write a factual autobiography then. Sherice told me you like to write, so you’re not getting out of it. Start from the very beginning of your memory and recount what brought you to today be sitting in front of me with such deep wounds that you would try to take your own life.” 

“There’s already an autobiography right there. There’s what- just short of fifty pages of it I wrote, three or four years ago.”

She grabbed the book and opened it to the very last sentence written. 

“Sorry for fucking up your life so far;” she read aloud, “because K*, the only thing that will allow you to finally see what you actually loved, will be losing it all.

Hm. Interesting, but  I still want you to start over. That way you’ll remember even more things that you didn’t write here before.” 

I decided to save my usual scowl for later as she set the book and a red pen back down in front of me. 

….

P.27

“Because I don’t have anywhere to live right now, I’m out of food stamps for the month, I’m not confident that I’d survive the women’s shelter, and I don’t particularly feel like sleeping with John Doe from the internet for a place either.”

“Serious now.”

“I am serious.”

“Okay, then tell me your other reasons why you’re here. You know exactly what I mean.”

“Well for starters, I was sent over here on a 14-day legal hold from BHC Alhambra. Which means I was 5150d at least twice for suicidal ideation and self harm. So you can know that I have an apparent “mental illness”. If you ask me, it’s just depression. Really, really severe depression I guess. They sent me here so that you could babysit me and make sure I don’t off myself, because I’m pretty tired of every fucking part of life at this point and their magical malpractice didn’t make me suddenly want to live another stupid fucking day just to deal with the same stupid fucking shit on a different fucking day. You know that I had a seizure and that I came here from Huntington Hospital, because the doctor saw in my dictionary-sized medical chart that I have a long history of anorexia, so he figured why not kill two birds with one stone and make sure she gets properly fed too, of which Sherice contacted you. And to make it even better, I’ve been off everything now for two weeks and I feel like an even shittier version of me.”

“You were self medicating.”

“Aren’t we all?”

“What were you taking?”

“Nothing. That’s not really even my problem. A bit of Modafinil, alprazolam, Adderall pseudoephedrine, Fetzima- or sometimes a different dopamine/ norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor, a bunch of over the counter painkillers- because the harder stuff knocks me out, about 10 cups of coffee, thyroid medication, and biweekly hormone injections.”

All of those?”

“Usually.”

“Oh my god, you know you can’t mix those, those are all stimulants but the one. Hormones?”

“I seem relatively fine anyways. Until quitting cold turkey, thank you very much. I have an abnormally rapid drug metabolism, so everything’s gone in less than 1/3 of the time. And I plead the fifth on the injections until I can speak to the  psychiatrist.”

“Which also means overdose is that much easier a thing for you to do. No, that was not intended as a suggestion. But you’re going to learn to live without all of those things now.”

“So upside I have a heart attack, down side I have enough energy to make it through another day. Wait- all of them? Even coffee?”

“Dr. Shapiro will be in tomorrow evening for sessions with everyone; you’ll discuss it then.”

“Do you only hire people who have a name that starts with Sh or something?”

“No…” she paused with her hand on the door handle to go get something from the staff office- the one in the very center of the house that was off limits to the residents- “Why? But I still want to know how you knew my birthday, ” she said with a laugh; she had that look again like she was waiting for me to confess something she already knew I’d done.

“Because the last six therapists I’ve been assigned to, stuck with, forced to see, etc.- their names all started with Sh, with birthdates on the odd numbered days at the end of December or first few days of January. The 21st was untaken and it just seemed right I guess.”

“Okay, but I’m not your therapist.”

“Are you sure?”

“I think I of all people would know.” she half winked, took a quick glance out the window and disappeared out into the main entry room.

Looking outside I saw a crow perched on the closest branch right outside the window. It called a few times at that moment, and then flew away. It would have had to very intentionally flown down along the long patio beneath the thick canopy of the shrouding oak trees to get here, but I noticed him land there sometime about halfway through the conversation. I knew most people saw crows and ravens as an an evil omen, but to me it was always somewhat comforting to know that at least the crows seemed to like me enough to always stick around.