Contemporary Fiction Friendship

“What I saw made me realise that things need to change. Not for me, I’m out now, I managed to escape the system, but for everyone whose still there, who will be there.” I sighed and ran my fingers through my long blonde hair. When I got out of there, I almost danced towards you, but then I looked back and saw Jill watching me and waving and I knew, she wasn’t getting out anytime soon.

Ellie sipped her coffee. Americano with two sugars – just as she liked it. “You should say something, what happened to you must happen all the time, it does happen all the time, write to someone, people need to know.”

“You’re a fighter though, you make people listen. I’m just someone that lives in varying stages of the emotionally broken. People don’t want to know, that’s the problem.  I have thought about writing to someone, but writing to who?  All anyone has to say is there’s no money. Maybe there isn’t any money, but those places are revolving doors.”

Ellie glanced at me sympathetically, she’d been my best mate for years. Ever since we’d started secondary school and found ourselves on the netball team together. She was Goal Attack and I was Goal Shooter – she could run further and faster and pursued the ball mercilessly. I was more tactical and would stand in the circle, waiting for her to pass the ball. Everyone said we were an amazing combination – but most of all we simply loved to play.

“What did they even do on the ward that was nay good?” Ellie asked curiously.

“The psychiatrist changed my medication – which I’ll give them that, was useful. The psychologist looked at my notes and said I needed EMDR (Eye Movement and Desensitizing Reprocessing Course) but I was too unstable for it. She then said I would benefit from CBT (I told her I tried that twice already). She then offered me mindfulness (mindfully eat this apple and think about how it tastes – my life tastes terrible, thanks for asking). The nurses flitted, the doctors disappeared. People cried. People tried to die. I stopped eating. People kicked off – shouting and turning tables – simply because there was nothing else to do.”

I had cried repeatedly down the phone. Sadness. Anger. Frustration. Hopelessness. At one point I purloined the can tab from a coke can and used it to rip my arm, looking in desperation for a vein. I knew it wouldn’t kill me, but thought they might send me to hospital, where I could sneak out more easily.

It was when I stopped washing, stopped eating, stopped caring and looked for ways to feel pain that ‘the force of Ellie’ changed my life. A bit like Star Wars, ‘may the force be with you,” but the force of Ellie was relentless.

“We’re not ever letting you go back there – you know that don’t you?” Ellie grabbed at my hand. I nodded – letting my hair fall like a curtain across my face, not trusting myself to speak. It was Ellie who had busted me out – who had stormed onto the ward like a headteacher about to blast a misbehaving class.

“She’s here on an informal right?” she had demanded. The nurses hovered uncertainly and wavered.

“Get your stuff Nikki – we’re leaving,” she had declared, marching into my room and throwing my stuff into a holdall randomly.

“This ends now!” she slammed to anyone who was listening.

Leaving everyone wittering in her wake she had practically pushed me out the door. I was still wearing my grey fluffed slippers and my greasy hair hung like dirty string around my shoulders. As she snapped her seatbelt shut she had pressed the child lock buttons on her car and fixed me with a scary glare.

“Do not even dream of getting out of this car,” she warned and powered us back to her home. Dan was working and the kids were at school.

“You stink,” she had told me without preamble. “You’re going in the shower and then you’re going to eat a sandwich. Too dazed to agree and too sad to argue, I had complied. The scalding hot water hammered my skin and Ellie’s apple shampoo ran down the back of my neck in rivulets. Afterwards, I sat down at her kitchen table and choked down a sandwich. My bloated stomach protested angrily.

For the next month Ellie let me stay at hers. I say let – I wasn’t really given a choice. She made me get up every day. My job was to walk the children to school – it saved her a job she said and she knew that would make me get out of bed in the morning. Every morning she gave me a list of errands to run or household jobs to do, (bonus cleaner! She had joked). In the afternoon she gave me Dan’s old guitar. “Learn that,” she instructed. Distraction. Diversion. Learning a new skill. Winning. In the evening, she would cook – ‘eat it or the kids will wonder why.” We would watch Netflix. Ellie and Dan would tell me funny stories about their work – Ellie was a hairdresser (I dyed a woman’s hair with tiger stripes today). Dan was a university lecturer (the fire alarm went off in his building because one drunken student made toast under the grill). Ellie sat with me while I phoned work (I was an estate agent) and told them I wasn’t coming back for two months. She held my hand while I phoned my family (what did we do wrong?) and she found a me trauma counsellor. When I came back and hid under the duvet, she simply passed me a hot water bottle and let me cry.

“You’re like my fairy godmother,” I laughed one day, when she presented me with my favourite fish pie.

“I’m no fairy godmother,” she had responded, “we just love you, that’s all.”

“I want to go back and see them Ellie, I just don’t know if I can face going back there again, or after your intervention – whether they’d let me.” I absently  stirred my caramel latte with a spoon.

“Excuse me?” a softly spoken woman leaned over from the next table. “I couldn’t help hearing your conversation.”

“I think,” Ellie began charging in heatedly, and I laid my hand on top of hers to stop her berating the woman for eavesdropping. The woman obviously noticed Ellie’s anger and hastened to reassure us.

“I spent some time in one of these wards a while ago, and I know what you mean, listening to you, it brought it all back again.” I looked at her again and she seemed familiar somehow.

“Have we met before?” I asked uncertainty. I saw Ellie looking more closely at her. The woman smiled, a mischievous kind of smile. She took of her big, dark sun glasses and baseball cap.

“Jenna, Jenna Stone,” she introduced, holding out her hand. “Sometimes it’s nice just to be incognito for a while.” Ellie and I looked at each other open mouthed. I recovered first.

“Nice to meet you too,” I replied casting around for something to say to one of the most famous actresses in ‘Catch – A,  as well as being the current number seven in the charts.”

And that’s how it started. Just talking at first – until she asked me to do that. I refused, of course I did. I mean who was I to speak to all those people? I was only one of hundreds, thousands, more than thousands that walked back and forth through those revolving doors. Doors swinging like moods in the gust of the wind – like broken magnets that pulled and pushed away.

And then I caved. She had a way of talking you into these things.

“Let me introduce me to my good friend, Nikki,” Jenna smiled and motioned to the crowd to applaud and waved me onto the stage. Normally shorter than me, her insane silver, strappy heels made her stand at least an inch taller. Her dark brown hair was threaded through with purple streaks and her eyes danced with aliveness.

“This concert is all about raising money for Mind-U, a charity that draws alongside people with mental illness and works with those admitted to hospital. Mental illness could happen to any of us. Psychiatric wards, they’re grim places and we want to change that, to bring proper counselling, proper training to these wards. We want to stop the stigma, the waste away – Nikki!” She passed the mike to me, squeezed my hand. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, found a point away from the crowd and started talking.

“Hi my name is Nikki and I have EUPD. They tell me this means my personality is broken. It means I am emotionally unstable. I used to think it meant I was mad. Now I know my emotions lie to my life and that then puts my world out of kilter. There is no cure, no magic pill. I take medication that helps me, but on any given day my emotions could charge at me like an uncontrollable electric current.

The last time I free fell, tried to jump off a bridge, they locked me up. For my own safety they said. I couldn’t jump anymore. In the ward we were like supermarket produce left to expire, products whose sell by date was passed. No one had time to talk to me. My notes were added to but never read. The nurses tried, really, they did, but it was a different nurse every time and there’s only so many times you can recount your nightmares. My emotions raged like an uncontrollable ghost train, but they told me off for trying to cut away the pain. I would have done something, I would have taken any help that was there, anything, but there was nothing to do. A course. A hobby. A discussion. A walk. No. Courses cost money. Hobbies were dangerous – needles, screws, lead-based paint, going outside where you could run. Discussions were fraught.

I wanted something else to fill my head with, but all I could fill it with was time. I saw people go in and out – like a fast-food restaurant. Why didn’t they help them? Teach them?  Fill their head with something other than sorrow. I was lucky. I survived in spite of it, not because of it. But sometimes – those revolving doors brought out body bags or brought in news of tragedy.

So I, we are asking now for you to help them. People like me, people like you, people you pass, you love, every day. That’s all. Just help them. Yeah so, my names Nikki and I’m asking you for help. I glance anxiously around as I finished and the whooping and cheers from the crow was deafening in my ears.

Jenna came bounding up to me and gave me a big hug. “You slammed it girl,” she whispered in my ear. I made my way gingerly off the stage – where Ellie, Dan and the kids were waiting in the wings.

“I’m so proud of you,” Ellie whispered fiercely into my shoulder, hugging me tight.

“I can’t believe we’re at a Jennaz Concert,” grinned Chloe singing along. “This is like so cool, wait till I tell everyone.”

“People will know now Nikki,” said Dan seriously, “what you said – that’s powerful.”

“Well, the power started with my fairy god-mother,” I grinned, punching Ellie lightly on the arm.

February 12, 2021 16:17

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