P. 35

The weekdays were much more structured than how the weekend had appeared to include so much free/electronics time, with only two hours in the evenings where any outside communications were permitted, if you had earned (and maintained) that privilege. I slowly over the next couple weeks began to familiarize myself with the many staff members that went through the place, all fulfilling slightly different roles or leading specific therapy groups- of which the week days were full of.

After daily intentions and breakfast, most everyone was waiting in the living room for a group while I was out back sitting on the edge of the spa steps with my guitar, the crow and hummingbird both sitting at the top of the Cyprus tree above, as I could always count on whenever I went outside.

I was working on writing out a song called “Always” that had started playing in my head when I woke, when a Latino gentleman of roughly 6’3″ in a white chefs smock, came from around the corner of the patio with an armful of lemons very precariously cradled with the bottom half of his apron. He was clearly attempting to carry far too many in one trip, as a couple escaped out one of the sides and bounced off the ground with a dull thud, one rolling off into a rosebush and the other right up to my shoe. I picked it up, retrieved the other from the thorns, and holding them  out to him, offered to assist him with any future lemon collecting.

“Nah, keep it. Just don’t let Shawna see. But when life gives you lemons-”

“You throw them at people, I know.”

“Well that’s not exactly what I was thinking, I was going to make some lemonade for you guys for a nice change-  but you forgot squeeze them in people’s eyes,” he said, very matter-of-factually. “Pleasure to make your acquaintance Kat. Andre. OK, I cheated- I saw your name on the staff board.”

“There’s a lemon tree here?

“Of course, you didn’t see it? right around the corner, outside the main dormitory window.”

“No, because they have me sleeping in the observation room.”

“Ooh… What’d you do?”

“Nothing, it’s not important.” I took a bite of the lemon and pitched it out over the fence into the oak past the putting green.

“Food Mom!” Lizzy exclaimed happily, leaning halfway out the back door, “Did you go grocery shopping yet?”

“Iyiyiyi…”He shook his head with a reluctant grin. “Anyway, lunch and whatnot to prepare; if you ever have any special requests for meals or anything, don’t hesitate to let me know.” He gave a small bow, and took his armful of lemons into the house.

Andre was the house chef, and though he only really needed to be there each day long enough to prepare our meals ahead of time for in the fridge- and in addition to operating a restaurant out in Santa Monica, he seemed to always be around anyways- unpaid overtime, holidays, weekends, etc; usually until Shawna would *make* him go home, if she was around to. Despite my natural penchant for potentially invasive questions, I never managed to find out much else about his personal life other than that he considered three hours a “good night’s sleep,” and had a true passion for what he did in the restaurant business, and even in preparing food for reluctant anorexics who didn’t want to eat in the first place- which makes for a pretty damn tough critic; but he was an incredible cook, and you could always hear an upbeat song or whistle coming from the kitchen. Everyone thought he was late twenties at the most, for how youthful and lively he acted- but were all surprised to find some months later that he was actually in his early 40’s.

Despite Shawna’s yielding prohibition to us all regarding the “appropriateness” of it and to stay out of the kitchen-  I probably spent more time around Andre than I did most anyone else in the clinic- usually talking about inconsequentials, or simply harassing the hell out of each other. I would rearrange the spice rack, or other things around the kitchen that he needed, or leave peanuts in every drawer and shelf because he was very fastidious; and because I was the only patient who was not a vegetarian, he would “accidentally” swap my meal protein for tofu or some other TVP, or put my guitar picks on the very edge of the top shelf of the bookcase. He often even made time to take me for walks when no one else would, through a viridescent branch of Sycamore Canyon.   I would have gone even more downright insane without that little bit of fresh air. He was kind and patient with all of us,  with me- when I was not to myself; lightening the mood when the darkest storm clouds rolled into the house; and I surmise that we were all more more grateful for his influence and the energy he contributed to the place, than anyone else.

Returning inside, I saw from across the living room, everyone but Amberlyn crowded around the island in the center of the kitchen; Melissa stood back a couple feet with a subtle lightness in her face watching them all. The kitchen was a spacious moderately fancy one of all white cabinetry, silver knobs, dark green and black laminate counter tops, and two large silver overhanging lights. The apparent object of fascination was a royal blue beta fish, that “Nice Mom”- whom I had yet to meet- had evidently brought in of her niece’s who was going away to college.

“How about Jaws?” Sabrina suggested.

“Corey!” Lizzy countered, enthusiastic as always. She really did have a strange preoccupation with Corey Taylor of Slipknot.

“No, you can’t name him, or he’ll die-” Leo stated confidently. “That’s getting too attached, and everyone knows if you get attached to something it dies.”

“He’s got a point…” Sabrina muttered, her countenance suddenly darkening in such a manner incommensurate to the trivial matter at hand.

The beta merely poked his head out of the glass log he was hiding in.

“Ok, so he’s just Fish.” Lizzy concluded.

They had reached an apparent consensus as I leaned over the counter beside Leo, attempting to be a part of the discussion. The beta fish darted out of his tiny fortress and charged up against the glass between Leo and I, puffing up elegant fins in a peacock-like show of hostility, then quickly retreating back to his log.  I think if  a beta could- it would have kicked one of our asses. I tried flipping it off, and it seemed to respond with an increased level of aggression; then as though losing track of the thought completely, it spied the fish food that had been floating above, gobbled it up, and returned to it’s refuge. So Leo and I traded off with the procedure of flipping off and feeding Fish every morning.

“You know you guys aren’t supposed to be in the kitchen-” Jacqueline walked in to see what the crowd was about. “Ah. Kat, bed rest.” she motioned over her shoulder, her other hand on her hip. “Did you forget?” She moved Fish to the hallway, outside the staff office door.

So there I was, lying on the couch with nothing but my red journal for the remainder of the next three days. Hopefully only three. 

P.34 the Last Letters

      I found myself in the company of a number of people, all evidently enjoying themselves socializing over drinks and formalities. As usual, I would practically have rather taken a gunshot wound than stay there any longer. I didn’t recall any particular faces or people I knew, but at some point I saw a small white light flitting spastically about the room. It could have been a hummingbird or other small finch- but it somehow conveyed to me that I should follow it, and since I was seeking any excuse to leave, I obliged. 

      I followed the light for an unknown distance to a barren place I did not recognize until I came upon a single tree. It was a small shrub- like tree, and in its fragile branches and flying all around were a hundred-some birds; every kind of avian I knew of and many more, of every brilliant color imaginable. They were all in pairs of two- mates ever chasing eachother in circles, spiraling up into the air in an elegant dance, then very suddenly darting off in opposite directions, only to meet up again to repeat the process in a seemingly endless repetition. 

As I drew nearer to the tree, the light flew off to its match and the birds began to alight all over me. I held out my arms, quite awestruck by the occurrence, taking the most particular notice of a Blue Jay and a Cardinal. 

    After this, I had the same dream again. The light led me to the tree, only this time the tree had grown much larger, and was now in the middle of a creek that was fed by a spring of water that had come up from through a rock in the ground a short distance off. The water had caused the Earth around the tree to erode away, and turn into a small waterfall. The same birds in number and color flew about and in its branches. 

I sat on a rock at the top of the waterfall, watching the birds enjoy  themselves, drink from the falling waters, and alight all on and around me. Then as a young man of my age and of a similar appearance to my own sat down next to me; the waters dried up, the spring died, and all of the birds flew away. 

    I had the dream a third time. Following the light, it this time led me somewhere different, across an open field and to a rectangular wooden building divided into a few sections- perhaps some kind of stable. I was led to open the farthest door, and inside again were all the birds of every color- but this time in the thousands, and many of them sparkled similarly to the way the guiding light did, dancing about in the same circular routine, glinting of silvers and golds. I then woke up. 

….

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. 

….