The New Robertson Spring Hospital for the mentally ill is nothing like an actual hospital. At least not the conventional type, with the pristine, white hallways, and pressed and starched beds that make you wonder if such extreme cleanliness is truly worth it. Robertson Springs is not dirty, but it is not as sterile or immaculate as I imagined it would be, either.
While my father's car pulls up the drive and into the car park, I spot a gaggle of teenagers, older than myself, clutching cigarettes in pale, unhealthy looking hands. One girl is speaking, waving her sparking fag around dramatically, and in another time and another place I might have found it funny.
As it is, it only makes me feel sick.
The entire journey, I've been begging and pleading with my parents to change their minds, send me back. I've got a headache, the air conditioning in the car is blowing a cold blast into my face, and I honestly don't think I've ever wanted anything more than go home.
I want to go home.
Gossip spreads quickly at my school. I wonder if any nosy busybody saw my car sweeping down my road with me inside. Crumpling up their face as they wonder where I'm going, without telling anyone at school as I'd usually do. Watching silently, as the old ford fiesta chugs back home in an hour or two, minus a passenger.
My mother twists round from the front seat to face me, her expression anxious, pleading. Like she wants me to accept that they're 'doing what's best'. She blinks at me, biting her lip hard, as if she cares, and I turn my face away to stare out the window. Two of the smoking patients are fighting now, thrashing about in the biting, cold air, while their companions screech and clap in apparent glee.
It's a full twenty-three seconds before a yellow clad woman hurries out the building they stand in front of, her mouth a round 'o' of annoyance. Pulling the two offenders apart, she marches the entire group back indoors, ignoring their twisted scowls and spitting insults. One of them - the girl who was gesturing so comically - sees our car, and me staring with glazed eyes from the window. Her face contorts into a sort of half grin - her middle finger lifting up to present me with an obscene gesture of welcome.
My father brings the car to a shuddery halt, sending me lurching forwards. I sit motionless in my seat, letting my parents scramble out the car and lift my trunk from the boot in a ridiculous effort to try and please me.
Yes, that's right, mother, father. Bring me to a hospital for crazy people - probably ruin my entire reputation in the process - and then attempt to make things up by carrying my case. That's going to work really well.
My mother opens the door for me, tilting her head in a silent plea. 'Come on, Ethel. Don't be like this.' Words to that effect. Out loud, she says, "Out," and smiles sadly at me. What's it like for her, sending her only child to live with a bunch of mental maniacs? It can't be good as it is, but I'm still going to make her suffer. Maybe she doesn't deserve it - maybe she's only doing what she thinks is best - but I really don't give a damn.
I don't deserve to be forced here, after all.
I stay pointedly in my seat, fixing my eyes blankly ahead of me - away from Robertson Springs, and away from my family. Robertson Springs is a large building, the same canary yellow as the worker's uniform. It has a large front garden, with a bin at the front laden with cigarette ends.
I loathe smoking.
I never want to see the place again, because I know that I'm going to hate it already. Absentmindedly, I feel an irritating tug on my arm, and snap my head around to see my mother pulling at my sleeve. I shake her off wildly, snatching my arm back. "Get off," I snarl through gritted teeth, my features engrained with a savage contempt.
I know I shouldn't, but I sort of hate both my parents in this moment. Perhaps it's childish and a little selfish to say that, but that's how I feel, and it's hard to ignore the deep rooted stirring of loathing in my chest.
I think I hate them and that scares me more than any hospital ever could.
My father steps round from the back of the car to speak to my mother. "Don't pander to her. She knows we have to do this for her." Even without looking I can feel his eyes boring into my skull with a fist of half-pitying scorn. "Ethel?" he says, his voice sharp. "Ethel, get out of the car. Don't make a scene."
I get out the car, and I don't make a scene. Escorted by my wittering mother, and tight jawed father, I trudge towards the hospital with legs of lead and stone.
I do not fight against the hollow pit of emptiness, and nothingness, and slow, eternal loneliness that threatens to swallow me whole. Far from it, in fact.
As I look upon the hospital with heavy, painful eyes, I step up to the pit, and I embrace it.