A Danger to Herself and Others(10)

Or maybe she just knows I’m not stupid enough to complain. Not when I know full well that when the good doctor types up her report for the judge, she might hold my complaints against me.

I glance at Lucy, lying on her bed with her back to the room. She didn’t budge when they brought us water and soap this morning. Maybe she didn’t want to get undressed in front of me, didn’t want to give me a second chance to see all the flaws she’s worked so hard to eliminate. Her long, almost-black hair is starting to look greasy.

“I’m hardly isolated,” I say finally.

“I meant isolation from the familiar. You’d be surprised how powerful it can be when you need to reset.”

Reset. Like I’m an appliance that needs tinkering, a frozen laptop that needs to be rebooted. I don’t think Ctrl + Alt + Delete is going to cut it here.

“My parents will insist on talking to me eventually.” Once they get back from Europe, probably.

“It’s not up to them.”

Lucy shifts, and the metal frame beneath her mattress squawks. I’m tempted to point out that conducting therapy with another patient present is surely a violation of doctor-patient confidentiality, but I don’t want Lightfoot to think I have anything to hide. Anyway, she probably doesn’t care about protecting my privacy.

“Doctors’ orders can’t supersede parental wishes.” I try to sound official and adult. I’ve watched enough hospital dramas on TV to know that in emergencies—like when a patient has cancer, or is in a coma and can’t make decisions on her own—treatment plans aren’t up to the doctors alone. They have to ask permission from the patient’s guardians or spouse or next of kin.

Of course, the hospitals on television don’t look like this place: on TV, the doors don’t stay locked, the furniture isn’t bolted to the floor, and people who are perfectly capable of walking don’t use bedpans.

Come to think of it, the hospital where Agnes went didn’t look anything like the ones on television either. It wasn’t bright and white and clean. The linoleum floors were brown (a good color for masking bloodstains, I suppose) and marked with black lines from gurney wheels. In the ICU there were no private rooms, and the lights never went out, not even in the middle of the night. I asked if Agnes could have more privacy if we paid extra, but they said not in her current condition—the doctors and nurses needed her where they could see her. There were curtains around the bed, but they were kept open. The only time they were closed was when the doctors examined her. The doctors made me wait outside even though I explained that I’d seen her undressed plenty of times before. The curtains were pink and frayed, marked with shadows of old stains. Even the curtains weren’t like the ones on television.

Now, Dr. Lightfoot pauses before answering. After a moment of (what I assume to be) thinking about how much to tell me, she says, “That doesn’t apply in cases like yours.” She tries and fails to tuck some of her stringy dark-brown hair back into its bun, settling for hooking the rogue strands behind her ears.

“Cases like mine?” I echo.

“Yours isn’t a voluntary confinement.” She shifts her weight from one foot to another. She puts a hand on the back of her chair but doesn’t sit, as if to underline that this conversation isn’t part of our daily session.

“Of course this isn’t voluntary. I’d never choose to be sent to a place like this.”

“We need to wait until my evaluation is farther along before making any changes to your treatment plan.”

Further, not farther, I think. They could at least give me a doctor who knows basic grammar. It’s not exactly comforting that my fate is in her hands.

“It’s not like I’m awaiting trial here.” I imagine my unspoken question floating in the air between us: Am I? My parents’ lawyer—I guess he’s technically my lawyer, too—said I was only here for observation.

Finally I say, “What about my side of the story?”

“You can tell your side of the story anytime.” Dr. Lightfoot straightens, holding her pen above her clipboard like this is the moment she’s been waiting for.

“I mean to someone who matters.” To the judge. To my parents. To our attorney. (Not that he’d do me much good. He’d probably say this thing is still playing out.)

I close my eyes. You can’t imagine what it’s like growing up in a small town, Agnes said during one of our many late-night heart-to-hearts. How trapped you feel. Well, how trapped I feel. Plenty of my friends want to stay there forever, and that’s fine for them, but for me—my whole life is waiting to get out. Not knowing if you ever will.

What do you mean? College is only a year away. You’ll get out.

Agnes rolled onto her side to face me. The room was dark, and we were each lying in our beds. Jonah snored softly beside her. By then, he spent most nights in our dorm room. He slept with his mouth slightly open, like a baby.

College is temporary—you still go back for the holidays, over the summer. I’ll always be trapped until I call someplace else home.

In his sleep, Jonah’s fingers wrapped around Agnes’s hip bone. Maybe he was dreaming that he was falling and his girlfriend’s hip was the one thing keeping him safe.

You’ll get out, I said. Girls like you don’t stay in one place for the rest of their lives.

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