Author: P Hana

Page 49


Evergreen was bearable. There was a certain peace to it, being so secluded, my day broken up into tiny manageable pieces. I didn't think about getting through the week, or what would happen the next day: I just concentrated on making it through chore detail, or crafts class, or another therapy session. It was easier to take the days in tiny swallows, rather than biting everything off at once. I wasn't sure yet how much I could keep down. Ginger, who moved in with me after being attacked by her kleptomaniac roommate for using her nail file, said that the thing she hated most about Evergreen was all the talking. “Group therapy, individual, specialized,” she complained to me one day as she tackled another crossword puzzleher viceand ignored the tray of food sitting in front of her on the table between us. “I am so sick of myself, I cannot even tell you. It's like I'm some episode of the Brady Bunch I've been forced to watch eight hundred times. There's nothing new there.“ But Ginger had been at Evergreen for almost a year, and she still had to divide her food into tiny little pilesa hierarchy I didn't quite understand involving color and consistencyas well as be monitored so that she did not purge after each meal. As for me, I kind of liked all the talking, at least after the first session. My doctor, Dr. Marshall, was a short, round woman with wildly frizzy hair who kind of reminded me of Boo. She wore running shoes and jeans and kept a bowlful of Jolly Ranchers on the table in her office. That first day, I ate six of them, one right after the other, and didn't say a word. She sat and watched me. I thought of Cass, that solemn look: At Evergreen, we can't make you eat Jolly Ranchers. But we can help you to eat them yourself. ”Just start somewhere,“ Dr. Marshall had said to me as I ground a banana-?pineapple one to bits between my teeth. ”It doesn't have to be at the beginning.“ She'd pulled her legs up, Indian-?style, letting the legal pad she'd been holding drop to the floor. ”I thought everything always had to start at the beginning,“ I said. ”Not in this room,“ she said easily. ”Go ahead, Caitlin. Just tell me one thing. It gets easier, I promise. The first thing you say is always the hardest.“ I looked down at my hands, stained mildly red from the particularly sticky watermelon Rancher. ”Okay,“ I said, reaching forward to take another one out of the bowl, just in case. She was already sitting back in her chair, readying herself for whatever glimpse I would give her into the mess I'd become. ”What was the name of Pygmalion's sister?“ She blinked, twice, obviously surprised. ”Ummm,“ she said, keeping her eyes on me. ”I don't know.“ ”Rogerson did,“ I told her. ”Rogerson knew everything.”

During my second week at Evergreen, my mother brought me my dream journal. She didn't know what it was, or even that Cass had given it to me. She'd just found it when she went to turn my mattress during spring cleaning, with all of my photographs tucked into it. I didn't ask if she'd read it, and she didn't offer if she had or not. After she left, I spread the pictures across the bed in front of me. I soon realized that the ones of Rogersonas well as the only one of us together were missing. I could just see her carefully slipping them out, maybe ripping them to shreds, burning them in the grill among the briquettes. I couldn't really blame her; it was the only way left to protect me. But all the rest were there: Boo with her Buddha; Corinna and Mingus on the porch; Rina and her cigarette; my father watching the last-?second shot. And finally, at the bottom of the stack, was one I'd forgotten. It was the last picture I'd taken, and it was of me. We'd been assigned a self-?portrait for our final project in photography: They were to be displayed by our names at the Arts Center exhibit, a way of matching our work to ourselves. I'd taken mine the week before the Fool's Party, in my bedroom. I was standing in front of the mirror, the camera held at my stomach, shooting up to catch my reflection. In the picture you can see my few certificates and pictures circling the mirror, and a slant of light coming through the window behind me. I am wearing a white short-?sleeved T-?shirt and barely, just barely, you can make out a gray, thumb-?shaped spot at the base of my neck. I have my head kind of cocked to the side, and I'm not smiling. In fact, there is no expression at all on my face, just a kind of dead, stoned flatness. I sat on my bed at Evergreen and looked at that picture for a long, long time. I hated the girl I saw there, and she didn't even care, didn't know, just staring out, oblivious. She'd spent her whole life wanting to be someone else, something else, and it had gotten her nowhere. I wanted to reach through that mirror and shake her, wake her up. But it was too late now. So I ripped the picture, one long gash crossing her face. Then again, and again, tearing the pieces down until they grew smaller and smaller, tiny bits like the stones of a crazy mosaic. My hands were shaking as I brushed them all up, like tossed confetti, into my hand. I went to throw them in the trash can, but just as I was about to open my hand and let them fall like confetti, something stopped me. I emptied the pieces of the picture into a small bag, then curled ir shut and put it carefully in the front drawer of my desk. Then I went and lay down on my bed, closing my eyes and trying to clear my mind. But still, all I could think about was that girl, torn into tiny fragments, with nothing to do but sit and wait to be made whole again.

If there was one thing that set me apart from everyone else at Evergreen, it wasn't that I'd had a drug problem, or family issues, or that my boyfriend had beaten me. These things were a dime a dozen here, and everyone wore their neurosis like a badge, each carrying a certain weight, the way a particular brand of sweater or jeans had in junior high. There were some with it easier, and many with it worse. What set me apart, though, were my visitors. From the first Wednesday I was there until the day I left, someone came to see me each visitor's day. I found out later that this was unique, as well as a source of envy among a lot of the girls on my floor. But my mother, the queen of organization, drew up a schedule, dividing up days just as she had always allotted chores for PTA drives or Junior League functions. Between herself, my father, Boo and Stewart, and Rina, each Wednesday and Sunday, someone was always in the solarium waiting for me. For the first week, it was my mother. It was hard at first. The minute she saw me she smiled, took a deep breath, and then opened her mouth to talk nonstop for almost twenty minutes, words flowing out of her as if they were the only thing keeping her afloat, a life preserver of inane details and incidents from the last week. She told me about a new doll she'd ordered, how my father had wrenched his shoulder reaching for something in the backseat of the car, how she'd found a perfectly lovely recipe for vanilla custard in Southern Living. She did not take a single breath while doing this. Finally, when she sputtered to a stop, the sudden silence hung between us, sucking up the last of her words like a black hole absorbing light. We both felt it. “Oh, Caitlin,” she said suddenly, sliding one shaking hand over mine. “I just... I just don't know how I can ever tell you how sorry I am.”