Breathe in, breathe out. Count to ten. Don’t worry about the outside world. When the world gets blurry, they tell us the same things, over and over again. I’ve tried to count the days since my parents put me here, but it seems impossible. When they dropped me off, it was January 6th, or maybe the 8th? And it’s been 5 weeks, I think.
“What’s the date?!” Emma, my roommate, screams. “I need to know what day it is! My brother’s birthday is coming up and I need to know!”
“Shhh.” The nurse says, pulling her aside. “Don’t worry about the outside world. You’re safe here. What’s happening out there doesn’t matter right now.”
She won’t tell her the date, and I can’t keep track anymore. For her sake I wish I knew. They could at least have the decency to let her know when her dead brother’s birthday is. She thinks he’s still alive, or maybe she just wants to think he’s still alive.
Everyone here seems crazy in some regard, though I suppose that’s the point. Welcome to the local psych ward, where you can send all your crazy children and hope that the doctors can medicate us into normality. Adults come here too, but since they can check themselves in, why would they? Why come here if someone isn’t forcing you?
We aren’t really crazy, or at least I’m not, though everyone probably thinks that of themselves. My parents deemed me unstable after I punched my classmate. They told the staff that I’m aggressive, a danger to others. They never even thought to ask why I did it, what might have lead me to the ‘outburst.’ They never let me explain how he cursed at me, how he told me I’d never be worth anything, how he said that no good thing will ever come of the weak little girl who can’t even pass a 9th grade history class.
Once Emma is calm again, we’re called into the cafeteria for breakfast. Apple sauce that we can eat with a spoon, and only a spoon. I hate it. Mushy food for breakfast lunch and dinner, soft enough so nobody needs to do anything more than scoop. Wouldn’t want us attacking each other or anything, would we?
I don’t pretend I don’t know why most people are here. It’s rare that anyone is sent in for being a danger to others, usually it’s people who are considered a danger to themselves. I guess that makes me special.
“Hey there, Juliet.” Fray slides into the chair next to me, somehow making it look cool to sit in these stupid padded chairs. “Whacha got there?”
“The only thing they ever give us.” I say, half jokingly.
Fray might be the only real friend I’ve got here. Emma’s sweet and all, but she isn’t really here, and everyone else keeps their distance. Don’t want to risk getting too close to the ‘violent’ one, I guess. Fray doesn’t care though. He listened when I explained what really happened, and he did so without judgement or accusation in his eyes. Even the doctors’ faces couldn’t manage that level of kindness.
He’s not crazy either, he just doesn’t want to exist anymore, and people don’t tend to like that. Not that any of them really care about him though, they just won’t let him go. As much as I hate the feigned kindness, I’m grateful for it in his case. I want him to keep existing.
“Hurry up Jules.” He nudges me, just barely. “We have to get to group.”
I notice he’s already gulped down his apple sauce, and I attempt to finish mine as quick as I can. The nurses are watching, making sure everyone finishes their meals.
Group is better when Fray is there, though some days he’s out. I presume he’s talking to one of the doctors those days, being given another pill to force his brain into thinking it wants to live. The group leader is some psychiatrist who’s been asked to babysit us for the day, and she seems to be forcing the smile on her face, probably to seem welcoming.
“Okay everyone, today we are going to go around and each tell the group about something that makes us feel safe. It can be anything, from a food to something we had as a child.” Her plastered smile even comes through in her voice. “How about you start, Emma?”
The young blonde girl nods, and I notice her clenching and unclenching her fists for a moment before speaking. “My brother makes me feel safe.” She whispers, just loud enough for us to hear. “When my parents fought… when they weren’t around he always read stories to me growing up.”
Pity enters the eyes of the group leader as she nods at the next kid in the circle. We go around until it gets to me, and I find myself revealing more than I intend to.
“The color yellow.” I say, almost as if I’m talking to myself. “Not the bright kind though, I mean when it’s pale, like when white paint I added until you could hardly call it yellow. It’s warm, almost like light itself, and all white things fade to it. It’s a warm color of old forgotten things, like the letters my grandparents used to send each other that they kept in a box to show me when I turned 13.”
This gets a smile from the group leader, and a strange look from Fray, as if he’s questioning why I’d give something so personal away. Then it’s his turn.
“I like knives.” He says with a smirk, resulting in a glare from the leader.
We go through lunch, and coloring, and dinner, and then it’s time for bed. The day feels no different than any other when I go to sleep.
Soon enough, I’m awake again, and Emma is crying to a nurse about the date.
“I need to know what day it is!” She screams. “My brother’s birthday is coming up and I need to know!”
Breathe in, breathe out. Count to ten. Don’t worry about the outside world. When the world gets blurry, they tell us the same things, over and over again.