He leans back and sighs and rubs his temples. “Cassie,” he says.
“You’re not even going to look? You just want to believe that I’m crazy.”
I pretend to cry for a second, terrifically bad acting until he says, “Okay, Cassie, our session is over.”
“Free at last!” I jump happily to my feet.
He walks me to the door and then waves in his next patient. It’s James, my best friend here and the only reason I have made it through this place with my sanity intact.
Just as Nurse Mary and I are leaving, I hear James scream, “Holy crap, Dr. Meeks! There are Smurfs climbing up your window!” and I laugh all the way back to the ward. It’s been almost two and a half years that James and I have been screwing with Meeks, and it never gets old for me. Two and a half years, and now only two days left.
Instinctively, I look down at my wrists where the rope burns once were. Even though the years have passed so slowly, it’s still hard to believe it’s been that long since the day my parents dumped me here, since that terrible, terrible day.
IT WAS FEBRUARY, and I was fifteen when I woke to my mother, my father, and Matthew standing over my bed. They were backlit by the early morning sunlight, their shapes ringed by the glare. I blinked up at them, squinting through unadjusted eyes. It was so disconcerting to find them there and to realize that they had been staring at me as I slept that it took a moment to register their serious faces.
“What?” I said.
They watched me with cold detachment, the way one might examine a bug getting sucked down a drain.
Then I noticed the ropes in their hands.
I looked up at their faces.
Down at the ropes.
Faces, ropes, faces, ropes.
I sat up. “What the hell?”
“Get up and get dressed,” my mother said. “We’re taking you to a hospital.”
“A hospital? Why?” I said, and then, in my disoriented state, worried that something was actually wrong with me. I flashed back to the night before and then looked down at my body as if finding it covered in blood would explain things.
My mother glanced first at my father and then at Matthew, who flanked her on either side like foot soldiers. They moved in closer. She took a breath. “It’s a psychiatric hospital,” she said. “You can come willingly or we’ll tie you up.”
I looked at my brother and laughed. “You have got to be kidding me.” There was no way this was happening. No way this was real. And yet.
I turned to my father.
He wouldn’t meet my eyes.
I looked back to my mother, at the curl of satisfaction on her lips. This was her doing.
I glanced at the door. No way to make a run for it.
Slowly, I removed my blanket and swung my legs over the side of the bed.
There was so much light in my bedroom. It seemed too early for such blinding sunlight, and when I looked down at myself, moving in this strange space between dreaming and not, my skin and clothes seemed bleached out by it, my whole body a fading stain.
I picked a sweatshirt off the chair and threw it on over the big T-shirt I had slept in. “Are you going to watch me put my pants on, too?” I said. All three of them continued to stare at me. I guessed that was a yes. I turned my back and slipped on my jeans as fast as I could. My body was shaking, yet my mind was completely still, completely stunned. I knew I had to figure out a way to save myself, but I could not form a thought beyond that.
They marched me out of my bedroom and down the stairs. Matthew was in front of me, his now six-foot frame blocking all chance of escape. I watched his back as he descended the steps—the one person I’d always believed could keep me from falling through the Earth now leading the way down. I thought of the Matthew I had shared a childhood with, the one who had taught me how to skateboard, who sang “Jimmy Crack Corn” to me when I was scared or sad, the perfect older brother whom I followed and imitated as if I could fill my half-formed self up with him like plaster into a mold. I knew he had been under the spell of my mother for years now, had become in essence my mother’s surrogate husband once she’d decided that my father was useless. But I never imagined he could become this brainwashed. I wondered how, in his mind, he could justify this, what she must have told him.
We reached the kitchen. The reality of what was happening seized me all at once, shook me in its teeth like a small, helpless animal.
“You ASSHOLES!” I screamed. I swiped my arm across the countertop, bringing everything on it crashing to the floor. Then, in the chaos of that instant, I took off.
I was out the door and down the driveway, the houses and trees blurring in my panic. The sound of my own terror roared in my ears as I ran for my life. I was almost to the sidewalk when Matthew sacked me from behind. The asphalt rushed at me. A vivid memory dislodged with the impact, the image of Matthew and I running around on the boat, him playing the good captain and me the interloper, the doomed and hated buccaneer.
We are given our roles so young.
In an instant, all three of them were on top of me, tying my wrists and ankles while I screamed for help that I knew—in this neighborhood where everyone minded their own business—would never come. Matthew and my father carried me to the car, stuffed me on the floor of the backseat like an old sack and slammed the door shut. I struggled uselessly to untie myself, screaming screams so bloodcurdling, I didn’t even recognize my own voice.
The door opened again and my mother helped my baby brother, Gavin, ten years my junior, into the car. She buckled him into the car seat right above me. His little face looked stricken when he saw me tied up and sobbing on the floor.
“Help me, Gav! Please! Untie me. Don’t let them do this to me!”
His forehead furrowed with conflict. He looked pleadingly to my mother. She gave a cold, authoritative shake of her head, closed the door and climbed into the front seat. “Let’s go,” she said.