This Room

Married to a self-proclaimed historian, I began writing late in life at the age of 54. I do my best writing in our home located deep within the Poconos Mountains with my crazy cat, Bella, at my side ... [+]

Image of Set Stories Free - 2018
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The foyer of the stately Pennsylvania mansion has twelve-foot ceilings and a blistering chandelier that glares down at her like a vulture circling its prey. The heavy stench of disinfectant assaults her nose and stings her eyes. Hard marble floors—white with veins of gold and gray—are cold against her feet. She follows Jillian, her good friend, towards the front desk.

The first room they are led to hosts a dark, wooden table with a decidedly odd number of chairs assembled around it. The walls are painted an unrecognizable shade of orange, she thinks, like pumpkin pie with too much cream. A tall fan oscillates heavily from one corner of the room, beating out a familiar rhythm. It’s keeping time with her frightened heart, she realizes. She looks down at her lap wishing she were dead. But that’s why they are here, Jillian reminds her. “They’re going to teach you how to live again.”

She tries to smile.

The man in charge informs them that the dress she wears, the one Jillian found lying on the floor of her home, is inappropriate. But not because it is wrinkled or dirty, which it is. Or not because it is too short, which it is not. Her dress is inappropriate because it has a belt, he explains. "Something she may try to use to strangle herself with later."

She didn’t think of that.

Rummaging through her bag, the man quickly spots her Philadelphia Eagles’ t-shirt from 2004; red paint splattered across the front (she tried painting her dining room once) and a pair of ratty, black sweat pants, two sizes too large for her now. “These are better,” he says. “Please change.”

Change? She wishes she could.

Slowly, she changes her clothing behind a curtain (precisely for this purpose) while Jillian and the man wait. No one cares what they wear in a mental hospital. No one.

Returning to the desk, she wonders again why she didn’t think about strangling herself with her belt earlier, save everyone the fuss. She’s then told that Phyllis—a homely, yet friendly, woman—will escort her to her room. “You’ll be staying with us for a little while,” the man states.

Jillian manages to hug her goodbye. She's stiff. “Good luck,” Jillian says. She turns away from her friend and follows Phyllis this time, down the corridor along the same cold and hard, unwelcoming marble floor.

Once in her room, she learns that another patient, Teresa, is already there. Like her, Teresa has no choice; they have to share. There are two single beds. Each with one pillow, a warm blanket. A common bathroom, has no mirror. There are no pictures on the walls, no phones, no pencils, no pens. One small window, covered by an iron grate, located on the far side of the room is above the bed Teresa has already claimed for herself. She’s told that no one, besides the nurses and doctors, are allowed in this room. She shuffles to the available bed and crawls inside, buries her head.

Let me die, she thinks.

Soon, the overhead lights are turned off for the night. Teresa closes her eyes. Slowly, her eyes become acclimated to the darkened room by a dim light streaking in beneath the door. Noises on the unit are constant: meds being counted at the nurses' station, towels tumbling in the dryer, an aid mopping the floor... but it isn't these sounds keeping her awake tonight.

Tomorrow she will learn that her name is Amanda. The one who’ll greet her with a sweet smile and arms bandaged from wrist to elbow. But, it isn't Amanda who is screaming tonight, either, she’s told. “It's her other personality, Stella, who's come undone,” Teresa explains, before falling asleep.

She listens while aids struggle outside of her room, still trying to strap Stella down to her bed so she can no longer hurt Amanda. She’s frightened, she thinks. She begins to cry, finally releasing some of her own pain. It’s then that she begins searching her memories for a reason to live outside of this room.

Before long, she remembers herself.

She draws a deep breath, slowly exhales and closes her eyes for the first time in days; hoping the strength she still has left inside of her will always be enough to keep her from ever returning to this room.