I couldn’t speak. I didn’t know what to say.
“It was . . . hard growing up with her, sometimes. I think it’s what made me want to be a psychologist. I wanted to help . . .” My mother’s voice trailed off, and then she seemed to remember me sitting there. Why I was sitting there. Her face flushed with color.
“Oh, sweetheart—I didn’t mean to—to make her sound that way.” She was flustered. “She was a wonderful mother and an incredible person; she was artistic and creative and so much fun. And she always made sure I was happy. She cared so much. If they knew when she was younger what they know now, I think . . . it would have turned out differently.” She swallowed hard, then looked straight at me. “But she isn’t you. You’re not the same. I only said something because—because things like that can run in families, and I just want you to know that it’s nothing you did, and everything that happened—the asylum, all of it—it is not your fault. The best therapists are here, and you’re going to get the best help.”
“What if I get better?” I asked quietly.
Her eyes brimmed with tears. “You will get better. You will. And you’ll have a normal life. I swear to God,” she said, quietly, seriously, “you’ll have a normal life.”
I saw my opening. “Do you have to send me away?”
She bit her lower lip and inhaled. “It’s the last thing I want to do, baby. But I think, if you’re in a different environment for a little while, with people who really know about this stuff, I think it’ll be better for you.”
But I could tell by the tone of her voice, and the way it wavered, that she wasn’t decided. She wasn’t sure. Which meant that I still might be able to manipulate her into letting me come home.
But it wouldn’t happen during this conversation. I had work to do. And I couldn’t do it with her here.
I yawned, and blinked slowly.
“You’re exhausted,” she said, studying my face.
“You’ve had the week from hell. The year from hell.” She took my face in her hands. “We’re going to get through this. I promise.”
I smiled beatifically at her. “I know.”
She smoothed my hair back and then turned to leave.
“Mom?” I called out. “Will you tell Dr. West that I want to talk with her?”
She beamed. “Of course, honey. Take a nap, and I’ll let her know to stop by and check on you in a bit, okay?”
She paused between the chair and the door. She looked conflicted.
“What’s wrong?” I asked her.
“I just—” she started, then closed her eyes. She ran her hand over her mouth. “The police told us yesterday that you said Jude assaulted you before the building collapsed. I just wanted—” She took a deep breath. “Mara, is that true?”
It was true, of course. When we were alone together in the asylum, Jude kissed me. Then he kept kissing me, even though I told him to stop. He pressed me into the wall. Pushed me. Trapped me. Then I hit him, and he hit me back.
“Oh, Mara,” my mother whispered.
The truth must have been evident on my face because before I decided how to answer her, she rushed back to me. “No wonder this has been even harder—the dual trauma, you must have felt so—I can’t even—”
“It’s okay, Mom,” I said, looking up at her with glassy, full eyes.
“No, it isn’t. But it will be.” She leaned down to kiss me again and then left the room, flashing a sad smile before she disappeared.
I sat up straight. Dr. West would be back soon, and I needed to get it together.
I needed to convince her—them—that I only had PTSD, and not that I was dangerously close to having schizophrenia or something equally scary and permanent. Because with PTSD, I could stay with my family and figure out what was going on. Figure out what to do about Jude.
But with anything else—this was it for me. A lifetime of psych wards and medication. No college. No life.
I tried to remember what my mother had said about my grandmother’s symptoms:
And then thought about what I knew about PTSD:
There were similarities and there was overlap, but the main difference seemed to be that with PTSD, you know, rationally, that what you’re seeing isn’t real. Anything with a schizo prefix meant, however, that when you hallucinate, you believe it—even after the hallucination passes. Which makes it a delusion.
I did legitimately have PTSD; I experienced more than my share of trauma and now sometimes saw things that weren’t real. But I knew those things weren’t happening, no matter how much it felt like they were.
So now, I just had to be clear—very clear—that I didn’t believe Jude was alive either.
Even though he was.
THE CLOCKS IN THE PSYCHIATRIC UNIT TICKED away, counting down the hours that remained of my required seventy-two. It was going well, I thought on Day Three. I was calm. Friendly. Painfully normal. And when another psychiatrist named Dr. Kells introduced herself as the head of some program somewhere in Florida—I answered her questions the way she expected me to:
“Have you been having trouble sleeping?”
“Have you been having nightmares?”
“Do you have a hard time concentrating?”
“Do you find yourself losing your temper?”
Every now and then. I’m a normal teenager, after all.
“Have you been experiencing obsessive thoughts about your traumatic experience?”
“Do you have any phobias?”
“Do you ever see or hear people that aren’t there?”
Sometimes I see my friends—but I know they aren’t real.
“Do you ever think about harming yourself or others?
Once. But I would never do anything like that.
Then she left and I was offered lunch. I wasn’t particularly hungry but thought it would be a good idea to eat anyway. All part of the show.
The day dragged on, and near the end of it Dr. West returned. I sat at a table in the common area, as plain and impersonal as any hospital waiting room but with the addition of small round tables peppered with chairs. Two kids who looked to be around Joseph’s age were playing checkers. I was drawing on construction paper with crayons. It wasn’t my proudest moment.