What if he didn’t want to see me?
The thought tightened my throat, but I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t lose it. From here on out, I had to be the poster child for mental health. I couldn’t afford to be sent away anymore. I had to figure out what the hell was going on.
Even if I had to figure it out by myself.
A knock on the door startled me, but it was just Mom. She looked like she’d been crying. Daniel stood up, smoothing his wrinkled blue dress shirt.
“Where’s Dad?” I asked her.
“Still in the hospital. He gets discharged tomorrow.”
Maybe, if I could put on a good enough performance, I might get discharged with him. “Joseph’s there?”
Mom nodded. So my twelve-year-old brother now had a father with a gunshot wound and a sister in the psychiatric ward. I clenched my teeth even harder. Do not cry.
My mom looked at Daniel then, and he cleared his throat. “Love you, sister,” he said to me. “I’ll see you soon, okay?”
I nodded, dry-eyed. My mother sat down.
“It’s going to be okay, Mara. I know that sounds stupid right now, but it’s true. It will get better.”
I wasn’t sure what to say yet, except, “I want to go home.”
My mother looked pained—and why shouldn’t she? Her family was falling apart. “I want you home so badly, sweetheart. I just—there’s no schedule for you at home if you’re not in school, and I think that might be too much pressure right now. I love you, Mara. So much. I couldn’t stand it if you—I was throwing up when I first heard about the asylum. . . . I was sick over it. I couldn’t leave you, not for a second. You’re my baby. I know you’re not a baby but you’re my baby and I want you to be okay. More than anything I want you to be okay.” She wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand and smiled at me. “This isn’t your fault. No one blames you, and you’re not being punished.”
“I know,” I said gravely, doing my best impression of a calm, sane adult.
She went on. “You’ve been through so much, and I know we don’t understand. And I want you to know that this”—she indicated the room—“isn’t you. It might be chemical or behavioral or even genetic—”
An image rose up out of the dark water of my mind. A picture. Black. White. Blurry. “What?” I asked quickly.
“The way you’re feeling. Everything that’s been going on with you. It isn’t your fault. With the PTSD and everything that’s happened—”
“No, I know,” I said, stopping her. “But you said—”
“What do you mean, genetic?” I asked.
My mother looked at the floor and her voice turned professional. “What you’re going through,” she said, clearly avoiding the words mental illness, “can be caused by biological and genetic factors.”
“But who in our family has had any kind of—”
“My mother,” she said quietly. “Your grandmother.”
Her words hung in the air. The picture in my mind sharpened into a portrait of a young woman with a mysterious smile, sitting with hennaed hands folded above her lap. Her dark hair was parted in the center and her bindi sparkled between her eyebrows. It was the picture of my grandmother on her wedding day.
And then my mind replaced her face with mine.
I blinked the image away and shook my head. “I don’t understand.”
“She killed herself, Mara.”
I sat there, momentarily stunned. Not only had I never known, but . . . “I thought—I thought she died in a car accident?”
“No. That’s just what we said.”
“But I thought you grew up with her?”
“I did. She died when I was an adult.”
My throat was suddenly dry. “How old were you?”
My mother’s voice was suddenly thin. “Twenty-six.”
The next few seconds felt like forever. “You had me when you were twenty-six.”
“She killed herself when you were three days old.”
WHY DIDN’T I KNOW THIS?
Why wasn’t I told?
Why would she do it?
I must have looked as shocked as I felt, because my mother rushed to apologize. “I never meant to tell you like this.”
She never meant to tell me at all.
“Dr. West and Dr. Kells thought it was the right thing, since your grandmother had so many of the same preoccupations,” my mother said. “She was paranoid. Suspicious—”
“I’m not—” I was about to say that I wasn’t suspicious or paranoid, but I was. With good reason, though.
“She didn’t have any friends,” she went on.
“I have friends,” I said. Then I realized that the more appropriate words were “had” and “friend,” singular. Rachel was my best friend and, really, my only friend until we moved.
Then there was Jamie Roth, my first (and only) friend at Croyden—but I hadn’t seen or heard from him since he was expelled for something he didn’t do. My mother probably didn’t even know he existed, and since I wasn’t going back to school anytime soon, she probably never would.
Then there was Noah. Did he count?
My mom interrupted my thoughts. “When I was little, my mother would sometimes ask me if I could do magic.” A sad smile appeared on her lips. “I thought she was just playing. But as I grew older, she would ask every now and then if I could do anything ‘special.’ Especially once I was a teenager. I had no idea what she meant, of course, and when I asked her, she would tell me that I would know, and to tell her if anything changed.” My mother clenched her jaw and looked up at the ceiling.
She was trying not to cry.
“I wrote it off, telling myself that my mother was just ‘different.’ But all of the signs were there.” Her voice shifted back from wistful to professional. “The magical thinking—”
“What do you mean?”
“She would think she was responsible for things she couldn’t possibly be responsible for,” my mother said. “And she was superstitious—she was wary of certain numbers, I remember; sometimes she’d take care to point them out. And when I was around your age, she became very paranoid. Once, when we were on the way to move me into my first dorm room, we stopped to get gas. She’d been staring in the rearview mirror and looking over her shoulder for the past hour, and then when she went inside to pay, a man asked me for directions. I took out our map and told him how to get where he wanted to go. And just as he got back in his car and drove away, your grandmother ran out. She wanted to know everything—what he wanted, what he said—she was wild.” My mom paused, lost in the memory. Then she said, “Sometimes I would catch her sleepwalking. She had nightmares.”