“I didn't” Rogerson said. And in the distance, suddenly, I could hear sirens. Rogerson stepped back from me: He heard them, too. “Get away from her,” my mother said, crouching down beside me. “You lousy bastard. Caitlin. Caitlin, can you hear me?”
“No,” 1 said. “Wait” I could feel her smoothing my hair off my face, her own chest heaving against my shoulders. Then, suddenly, she said, “Oh, my God, Caitlin. Oh, my God.” I turned to her, but she wasn't looking at my face. Her mouth was open, horrified, as her eyes traveled over my arms, shoulders, back, and legs. Under the white of the streetlight, my skin was ghostly pale, and each bruise, old and new, seemed dark and black against it. There were so many of them.
Rogerson was backing away now, even as my mother wrapped her arms around me, so gently, sobbing as she tried to find a spot that wasn't hurt. The sirens were coming closer, and I could see blue lights moving across the trees. The front door slammed and I could hear voices gathering, getting closer. The piano music had stopped. It seemed like everything had stopped. “Margaret?” I heard Boo call out. “What's going on?”
“What's happening out here?” I heard my father say, his voice choppy as he ran through the grass. “Caitlin? Are you all right?”
“It's over now,” my mother said, still crying softly as she rocked me back and forth, smoothing my hair. “It's okay, honey. I'm here. It's okay.”
“What happened?” my father said, but no one answered him. The police car pulled up and I heard a door slam, a voice garbled and hissing over the radio inside. I looked up, trying to find Rogerson, but it seemed like the dark had somehow sucked him up and he'd disappeared. I could hear everything that was going on around me: the murmuring of the Fool's Party guests, my father talking to the policeman, Rogerson complaining angrily as the cuffs clicked shut. I could hear the streetlight buzzing and Boo crying onto Stewart's shoulder when she saw the bruises on my skin, the way she whimpered again and again, I should have known. I should have known. And all the while my mother was crouching over me, her voice steady, rocking me back and forth like she had the day Cass had cut my eye, saying everything would be all right. I couldn't even tell her I was sorry. I was worn out, broken: He had taken almost everything. But he had been all I'd had, all this time. And when the police led him away, I pulled out of the hands of all these loved ones, sobbing, screaming, everything hurting, to try and make him stay.
“Caitlin.” I rolled across my pillow, turning away from the broad green hills outside my window. My roommate, Ginger, the bulimic, was standing in the doorway of our room. She had on overalls, her hair in braids, a pencil tucked behind her ear. “Yeah?” I said. “You have another visitor,” she said, cocking her head toward the other end of the hallway. “Lucky girl.” I got up off the bed, grabbing my sweatjacket off the chair of my desk. As I shrugged it on, Ginger jumped onto her own bed, pulling a rolled-?up crossword puzzle magazine out of her back pocket. She slid the pencil out from behind her ear, licked its tip, and flipped a few pages in the magazine until she found her current challenge. I pulled my hair up in my hands as I started out of our room, up the hallway that was flanked with huge, double-?glassed, floor-?to-?ceiling windows. It was so bright at midday I imagined it must be like what people see in near-?death experiences, that long, bright walk that takes you right to God. Here, however, you opened the door at the end to find the visitors' room, where the real world was allowed to peek in every Sunday and Wednesday from three to five.
I'd been at Evergreen Care Center since the day after the Fool's Party. What had happened was a blur, punctuated by flashes of horrific moments: Rogerson's face so dark, yelling at me. My mother, sobbing, as she carefully turned my arms and legs, examining the bruises. And finally, my own screaming, terrible shame as I pulled away from everyone, trying to hold on to the one person who had hurt me the most.
Once the police had taken Rogerson away, my father had carried me inside, where I sat balled up in a kitchen chair, clutching my knees and rocking back and forth. My parents and Boo and Stewart conferred in the other room, made phone calls, and tried to figure out what had happened. Later, I'd find out that it was Mrs. Merchant, from the Ladies Auxiliary, who'd glanced out the front window and seen us. She'd told my mother, then called the police, which effectively broke up the party. All that night, the tent stood empty outside, with pounds of tempeh salad and shelled shrimp rotting away. It was all still there, crackers fanned out on pretty party dishes, punch bowl half-?full, surrounded by abandoned glasses and crumpled napkins, when I left the next day. Rogerson's car was there, too, parked right where he'd left it. Later, someone would come to pick it up.
Maybe Dave. But the sight of it, sitting there, scared me all night long, as if he was still sitting in it, waiting for me so that we could replay that night again and again, like a movie where you can't even tell the end from the beginning. I'd heard of Evergreen Care Center before. Cass and I had always made fun of the stupid ads they ran on TV, featuring some dragged-?out woman with a limp perm and big, painted-?on circles under her eyes, downing vodka and sobbing uncontrollably. We can't heal you at Evergreen, the very somber voiceover said. But we can help you to heal yourself. It had become our own running joke, applicable to almost anything. “Hey, Cass,” I'd say, “hand me that toothpaste.”
“Caitlin,” she'd say, her voice dark and serious. “I can't hand you the toothpaste. But I can help you hand the toothpaste to yourself.” Which she would then do, passing it off to me with a pseudo-?nurturing squeeze of my hand. Ha, ha. It didn't seem quite so funny now.
Technically, I was admitted for drugs. This was because my mother had found a small bag of pot and my bowl in my jacket pocket, both of them coated with Commons Park sand. But everyone knew the bruises, Rogerson, what I had let happen to mewas the other reason I was here. I wasn't able to tell my parents anything in that first twenty-?four hours. I couldn't say I was sorry, or explain how I'd let this happen. I just sat in my room while my mother packed up my things, my knees pulled up tight and close to my chest. We left for Evergreen early in the morning, in the rain, and none of us spoke the entire way. I suddenly realized, in that silent car ride, how long it had been since any of us had mentioned Cass out loud. It was like I'd finally done something to overshadow her completely, but not in the way I wanted to. We met with the administrator, who checked me in and then took us to my room. My mother made my bed and put away my clothes while my father stood by the window, watching the rain, his hand in his pockets. Then it was time for them to leave. “I'll be back on Wednesday,” my mother told me, pulling me close to her chest. She was still handling me so gingerly, as if I was a piece of china already cracked and a fingertip's weight could break me completely. “I'll bring your blue sweater and some nice shams for this bed. Okay?” I nodded. My father hugged me and kissed the top of my head, saying, “Hang in there, kiddo. You're a good girl.” I stood in my doorway as they left, my mother dabbing at her eyes and looking back every few steps, as if she wasn't quite sure she could leave without me. When the main door clicked shut behind them, I went back and sat on my bed. Then I started crying. I didn't stop for two days. I cried in my room and through lunch. During group, individual, and specialized therapy. During crafts and personal time. I cried the entire time I was making huge amounts of potato salad in the kitchen for my chore work, and then I cried all night long under a huge, yellow moon that seemed to take up most of my window. I cried out everything I'd kept in since that summer day Cass had left, becoming a huge, drippy, snotty mess, a tissue permanently balled in my hand, my eyes so puffy I could hardly see. I cried for Rogerson, and for Cass, and for myself. I cried because I was ashamed and I knew I could never face all of the people from the Fool's Party. I cried because I'd fought with Rina and never had a chance to apologize, and I cried because I was homesick and missed my parents more than I had ever thought possible. I cried because I missed Rogerson, even though I knew that was crazy, and I cried because Corinna was gone, probably all the way to California, and I'd never told her what a good friend she'd been to me. But mostly, I cried because my life had been going full speed for so long and now it had just stopped, like running right into a big brick wall, knocking the wind and the fight right out of me. And I didn't know if I ever even wanted to get up and start breathing again.