CHAPTER 2 The Escape
I pace through the length of the room and check the window every two minutes. My mom’s not the kind of woman who’s late. She’s the kind of person that doesn’t wear makeup, that doesn’t mind if her skin is dry. She focuses on being presentable, not pretty. And yet she’s thirty minutes behind schedule.
“Did my mom call?”
“No, and please stop asking me every thirty seconds.”
The receptionist thinks I’m crazy. A logical assumption, but she doesn’t know me and she doesn’t know my mom. I start to worry, and the worry makes me worry. Something feels wrong and I can’t place where the sensation is coming from. It’s hours of feeling like I’m about to go on stage. It’s like what Miles said. Something is going to happen. I have to do something, but I don’t know what.
“Sorry. I’m just nervous,” I say. It’s amazing how easily I can lie now. And how readily the people around me believe me. “I think I might get to go home. Continue treatment there.”
“Mm hmm,” the woman says sarcastically. That’s not a good sign. I’m coming off as paranoid. I smile at her and focus on the window.
Finally I give up an hour later and step into the cafeteria. It must be an emergency at the hospital. Would’ve been nice if they remembered to call me. I shouldn’t expect them to though. I pick out lunch and sit at the table. Miles slumps down in the seat across from me. He has a book in hand.
“I’ve figured out what they’re lying to you about,” he hisses at me.
His bout of insanity seems to be continuing today. I’m in too irritated a mood to put up with his fantasies today. But I hesitate before presenting him with reality. I hate to do that. I’ve seen it happen, people dragging patients out of the safe havens they’ve created for themselves. It’s horrible seeing their faces, their despair. I sigh and prepare myself for another healthy dose of the old man’s delusions.
“What are they lying to me about, Miles?”
“Everything, Charlie. Everything.”
I’m almost tempted to laugh. But I control it. If anything, it’s a way to pass time until my mother comes, if she comes.
I say, “Everything? Okay, then. Who’s lying to me anyway?”
“Does that include you?”
He seems stumped by that question for a second and then shakes his head slowly before staring philosophically at the potatoes in front of him. He’ll forget about the whole paradox in about five minutes and start praising the baby carrots. It’s peaceful today. There are no screams, no wails, and no incomprehensible yells. Even the orderlies are in a good mood.
“You have a visitor, Charlie,” the nurse tells me.
I expect my mom and turn around. But it’s not her. It’s Travis. To everybody else he looks normal. But he isn’t. He’s close to losing it. I know the way he fists he his hands inside his hoodie, the deep breathing and the constant glances behind him. Travis doesn’t freak out, he freaks in. It’s something he’s done since he was a kid. It’s been six years since his step-dad’s gone to prison, but Travis still uses the same coping mechanism.
“Dude, what’s wrong?”
I’ve been hearing that word a lot lately. Everything. Travis sits down across from me and leans in, making sure that no one’s listening. Milo’s still staring at the potatoes, so Travis ignores him.
Travis says, “Charlie, you need to get out of here.”
“I know. I think I’m going to get discharged next week,” I say. “Maybe even before that.”
“I don’t mean discharge, Charlie. I mean you need to get out, now. You’re not safe here. Your mom…”
“Where is she?”
Travis runs his hands through his brown curls hair and sighs. “She’s trying to kill you. And she’s not your mom.”
“Of course she’s my mom. She took me to my first day of kindergarten. She packed me lunches. Well, our maid packed my lunches. But you get my point.”
“She was doing it for money, Charlie. Just like… like I was.”
It looks like I’m in for a lot more surprises. I have two options. Accept that Travis is telling me the truth. My mom was never the touchy-feely type, and the temptation to believe him is kind of strong. The other option is that Travis has also gone insane. It makes sense that we’re best friends. Like attracts like.
It’s the more likely option. But I can’t call an orderly and have him admitted. I’ve seen too much of this place for that. But first things first.
“Okay. Where is my mom? Answer that first.”
“She’s in Brookline.”
“Brookline? Where the hell is that?”
“Why would she go to Boston?” I ask. My mom doesn’t know anyone in Boston. She has a thing against Harvard which she won’t talk about, something about a position they offered her rival. We stick to the west coast, we always have.
Travis says, “I don’t know. I don’t have the clearance to know that.”
“Clearance? What are you, FBI?”
“It’s not like that, Charlie. My stepdad took some money from some people. I don’t know much about it.”
Nothing makes sense anymore. I know enough about mental illness to know he doesn’t look the part. He’s not focused on his story, but on the guilt. Miles’s words come back to me. But it’s impossible. I can’t accept anything, but I’m afraid to completely disregard it either.
“Tell me what you do know,” I say.
“They told me to be friends with you. Even after my step-dad went to prison I kept working for them. We needed the money. They said that I was good for you. Made it easier for you to make friends. They said that you needed the diversity. According to them, I’m black, middle-class, it’ll help you be more broad-minded.”
“Travis, I’m not understanding anything here.”
“I don’t either. I’m just tired of lying to you. I was hired to be your best friend, but I am your best friend. I’m not lying, Charlie. You gotta get out of here. They said that you’ll be killed,” he says. “They said that you were malfunctioning.”
“What am I, a toaster?”
I’m a little louder than intended and the nurses cast a concerned look my way.
“Nothing to see here, just having an animated discussion with my friend!” I say.
It doesn’t help much, but at least the nurses turn their heads away.
“Look Charlie. All I know is, if you want to live you need to get out of here.”
Travis gets up and I think about following him. He looks back once at the door. I know I’m not going to see him again. I run after him, yelling for him to stop. My best friend, lying to me. I don’t know if he thinks he’s telling the truth, or if this is some twisted joke he’s playing on his crazy friend. Maybe he’ll go back to school and tell all the kids how I almost believed him.
“Travis, stop! Get back here, Travis!”
I’m swearing and yelling, and for the first time I’m one of them. I’m one of those truly insane patients who need to be restrained, a danger to others and to themselves. For the first time since my admission, I’m taken to solitary confinement. The room is padded, the window to the outside tiny. I close my eyes and sit on the bed, trying to pass the time with thoughts. It doesn’t turn out to be the best idea. My mind keeps taking me back to Travis’s warnings. But I’m stuck in a room with a bolted door. Not to mention the orderlies outside. I’m not weak, but I really don’t stand a chance against a dozen orderlies used to restraining people on a daily basis.
It’s a lovely day to be in a padded room.
Shit… I’m hearing voices now.
You really need to stop thinking that you’re crazy. They’ve done a great job of convincing you of that, but you need to get your act together now.
Hard to do that when I’m hearing voices.
I promise you that I exist. It’s just, the proper circumstances for interacting with you didn’t arise in the past. And I needed practice. Not everyone can be a natural like you.
“Really? It wasn’t a proper circumstance when I was admitted here?”
It was really a matter of safety. They’ve found out that they can’t extract anything from you. You’re no longer worth keeping alive. You need to escape.
“I’ll be sure to do that,” I say sarcastically. I know that if this room is under surveillance it’ll just cement my status as a schizophrenic. Talking to myself will be added to my list of symptoms, and they’ll know I’m hearing voices. It’s the most classic symptom of schizophrenia, and the fact that the voices are telling me to do things will only make them up their dosage.
Well, we’ll get you out before they can say “two pills a day”.
“If you didn’t know, this place is like a prison,” I say.
Yet here I am.
There are noises outside, thuds and yells cut-off midway.
Stand in the corner of the room.
I’m already in the corner, and I freeze in my position on the bed. It’s not her warning that causes the fear. It’s the sound of bullets striking the doorknob. The door opens and a girl steps inside. I take a second to observe her every feature, this impossible girl that talks in my head and breaks into mental institutions. Straight black hair, shoulder-length with red streaks. Her clothes are simple, grey shirt with black vest, khakis and combat boots. The scariest thing though, are the guns on her belt. Her serious expression is in contrast to the childishness of her features.
“So, are you ready to go?” She asks.
“Ready to go where?”
“Look at me, Charles. You don’t recognize me?”
I don’t understand what I’m supposed to recognize. The girl looks bizarre, with her multi-colored hair and her hostile expression. She’s walks towards the door and I see that she’s got a small backpack. She shoots at the wall this time, not to accomplish anything but just to vent.
She doesn’t seem at all concerned by the sound and opens the door. She checks the outside and beckons me with her hand. I step outside cautiously. The orderlies may not have guns, but they do have Tasers. But the corridor’s empty. I walk past the windows, and there’s a small solitary room, filled with all the orderlies thrown into a pile like dirty laundry. I wonder if she put them all down by herself.
“I can’t believe you don’t recognize me. I can understand when I was just in your dreams, and the drugs they gave you. You forget dreams, the memory warps and… but I’m here now. How can you not remember me?”
She seems pissed. And she has a gun. The instinct of self-preservation rules me at this point and I decide staying silent is the best thing to do. I observe her as we make our way to the main door. She’s nothing like the girls at my school. Everything about her is rigid, efficient. There’s noises coming from the reception. I slow down, thinking it’s the security guards. But it’s not. It’s more people like her, dressed in almost the same kind of clothing. They’re all heavily armed, and the girl takes my hand and guides me through the dozens of soldiers. I narrowly avoid a bazooka, and come face to face with the scariest man I’ve ever seen.
It isn’t the long scar on his neck that makes me fear me, and it isn’t his enormous size either. It’s the feeling of menace that radiates off of him. His red hair is cut close to his scalp, and he has a neatly trimmed beard. I’m about to run screaming, and then he smiles. He starts laughing.
“Like taking candy from a baby,” he says.
The girl shakes her head, “Not over yet. We still need to get back.”
“You need to loosen up, Lieutenant.”
The girl grimaced. “I’m fine the way that I am General. He doesn’t remember anything.”
“Ya don’t remember me, Charlie? Come on, you gotta remember me!” he asks, seeming genuinely surprised and punching me playfully in the shoulder. I think he meant to be playful anyway, it’s still pretty painful.
“I don’t know who you are. Who any of you are,” I say.
I stop talking. I don’t know what else to say. Too much has happened in too short a time. I’ve never been a person who’s good with surprises, and I feel the beginnings of shocks setting in. I don’t know if I’m being rescued or abducted. I don’t know if my parents will mourn for me or not. And then there’s the million-dollar question. I don’t know if what I’m experiencing is real or just an elaborate hallucination. In which case, I’m screwed beyond help.