It was James’s idea to go there. He had spotted a prospectus in his doctor’s office that caught his eye with its smart slogan: “Quit your addiction, Quiet your mind”. He had called and arranged a meeting in their London offices for a consultancy assessment something, Brie wasn’t so sure about the proper term but she had decided to go. “Decided” wasn’t exactly the right word though, because James had blackmailed her with closing down their common account and since she had no other means to live (or use), she dragged herself out of bed, then into a cab, then into the fancy skyscraper in the bank district.
“So, how long I am going to be dead to the world?”, she asked, spitting a nail she had just bit off on the grey marble floor of the spotless elevator.
“I don’t know Brie. A week? A month? They will tell us.”
“A month? Are you for real?”
“I don’t know”, he said irritated. “And you’re dead to the world already.”
“To you, maybe. I am…”
“If you say alright, I am going to push the button to go down and actually leave you to your own luck”, he passed his finger above the zero button on the elevator for emphasis. She rolled her eyes and spit yet another nail to the floor.
“This is disgusting. Try and act like you were not raised in a barn.”
She started to say something but the elevator doors opened to the fourteenth floor. For a moment both of them stood inside, just looking out. The walls, the floor, the ceiling, the lights- all were blinding white. Stepping outside, Brie made a full circle around herself, taking it all in.
“Yeap, a mental asylum alright.”
“Do not use that word here”, he shushed her under his teeth.
They walked the corridor to the reception office, which continued the all-white pattern, then they gave their names to the smiling blonde receptionist and waited in the living room. Brie gave up the fidgeting with her nails and started tapping both her feet at a speed that any drummer would be jealous of. James took a magazine and pretended to read an article on the benefits of mindful eating.
“You know they’re going to give me much stronger drugs than the ones I am taking now, don’t you?”
“It’s medication, and yes, if you need it in order to recover, you’re going to take it.”
“Medication is a way of saying drugs politically correct, you know that, right?”
“Brie, just give it a try. And give me a break. I am trying to help and I don’t have to do it, alright?”
“Yes, you’re Saint James.”
“Kindly fuck off and let me read.”
They waited for another torturous five minutes before another blonde lady approached them. She introduced herself as Dr. Morrison and took Brie to a room in the office. Brie noticed that the door was made of glass and somehow this made her feel a little bit safer. They were not going to do anything to her that she didn’t want to, not when everybody could be watching them from outside.
“Your full name please?”
“How do you spell it?
“Like the cheese. It’s from Brittany, you might want this one, it’s the official one I guess.”
“Thank you, Brie. Now, I am going to ask you a series of questions. Please answer as truthfully as you can so we can evaluate what would be the best plan for you?”
Brie already didn’t like Dr. Morrison for the simple reason that everything she was saying had a question where a full stop should have been. But answer she did, and after twenty minutes, she was back at the reception hall, exchanging pleasantries with the doctor and the receptionist and the promise that they will see each other again in two weeks after the treatment was over.
“I can’t believe you went through with it. I am proud of you.”
“Yeah…”, Brie trailed off. She didn’t know how to respond to something that she rarely, if ever, heard. She liked that she was doing something to please her family for once but she really didn’t enjoy the idea of being locked up somewhere, trying to get sober. The good thing, the thing that actually convinced her to go, was that in this particular treatment center you were assigned your own cabin and the absolute unbreakable rule was that it was completely silent. She didn’t have to have therapy sessions or talk with the other people there, she just had to pass two weeks in absolute silence in a forest somewhere. The only people she would see would be the staff (which she was not allowed to talk to either) and the other patients in the dining room. It seemed bearable, at least definitely better than the other treatments her family tried to make her go to, which were full of activities, group meetings, and private sessions.
From the minute she arrived, Brie had the unmistakable feeling of pure, raw calmness, so much so that she felt it attacking her. The treatment’s premises were huge; the main building stood proud near the gated entrance, welcoming the patients with its Victorian architecture and white brick walls. White was the pattern that seemed to follow the treatment everywhere, from their London offices to the depths of Northumberland, where the rehab was located. Loyal to their promise, from the minute Brie stepped in, nobody talked to her. There were smiles and gestures and even nods from the other patients but no sound. The first night, while Brie tossed and turned in her bed, unable to stop her thoughts, it snowed.
Brie woke up at seven her first morning there, and after taking a hot bath she went to make coffee. The view from the window caught her eye: Everything, every little thing, was white. The snow was the ultimate dominant, covering the ground, the trees, the other cabins (which to be honest were pretty far away from one another so it might have been just very big rocks), even her window was half-covered with snow. Yet, the cabin was very warm, with its heated floors and electric fireplace. It seemed weird to Brie that a room so white could be so warm and cozy. The blankets were the kind of soft wool knitted in huge knots, the floor was covered with a fluffy carpet and all the furniture was either shinny or rustic looking and whitewashed. She wondered how much it costs to clean the room after every visitor and then felt a bit guilty thinking how much it had cost James to put her there. She knew places like this, especially the new-age ones, had a weekly fee that could reach almost the yearly salary of an average job. Staring at the flames while slowly sipping coffee, Brie suddenly felt very grateful that her family was wealthy enough to afford her treatment. It was an unexpected and rare feeling, this overdose of gratefulness, and she cherished it dearly.
The rest of the day didn’t go so well. Brie struggled with the nothing-to-do-ness more than she had expected. A couple of hours in the morning were fine, more than fine really, then a slow noon, followed by a dead quiet lunch and the unreality of a group of people and only the sound of the cutlery present, then an afternoon that was just lingering in time, not going forward or backward, and finally, a night that gulped all sounds, completely, leaving nothing to even itch the imagination. She slept around eleven, exhausted, after having picked her skin to the point of bleeding, thinking that she can’t go through with it after all.
But, the next morning was again perfect. She slowed into the day, careful to prolong everything. The coffee lasted for an hour, the bath for another one, then she just stayed in the bathrobe, looking at her reflection on the mirror above the dresser and tending to the wounds of the previous night with a cream. The snow had fallen again at night, maintaining the blanket of white over everything. There was something almost epiphanic about this experience of complete stillness. Brie found herself thinking again about her family, about herself, about life. It was amazing how many years she had spent not thinking about these things. It seemed impossible.
The rest of the day went smoother this time around. She didn’t feel the urge to talk or make sounds with her feet just to validate her existence. She flowed through the day, almost like the snowflakes, gentle and silent.
The day had come. James was waiting for her outside of the gate, napping in the driver’s seat. When Brie came out, he heard the noise of the gate and stepped out of the car. They hugged, briefly.
“So, how was it?”
Brie felt like she was struck by lightning. It wasn’t only the surprise of hearing a voice after fourteen days, it was suddenly the need to explain, the need to put feelings into words, so many feelings…
“I feel better”, she replied, the words tumbling in her mouth, feeling rusty and foreign.
On the road back, she felt the need to talk that was not exactly a need but more of guilt. He had spent all this money and done all the effort for her, and all she could say was that she was feeling better? She opened her mouth to talk but nothing came out. She tried again, with the same result. Putting her hand over her mouth, she lowered herself in the seat and closed her eyes. She saw white. It was a mixture of snow and blankets and freedom. She stayed there for a little bit, while everything cleared; the guilt, the anxiety, the helplessness.
“Thank you. I appreciate what you did for me”, she said at last. James almost jumped in his seat. This time it was him that was opening his mouth without any words coming out. She smiled at him, nodding. It was okay.