"A Week in Purgatory" OR "Red"

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"A Week in Purgatory" OR "Red"

Post  ReaganRichey on Mon Aug 22, 2011 6:36 pm

This started off loosely based on my experience this summer at Marshall Pickens mental hospital (I told y'all I'd end up there). I didn't do pills, and nobody tried to run away, but all the people are real. Just wondering what you guys think. Smile


On the Fourth of July, most people enjoy celebrating our country’s freedom by blowing things up.
Before I went crazy, I used to join them. But this year, I spent my Independence Day having my stomach pumped at the hospital to rid my body of the pills I’d used in a failed attempt to kill myself. Later that day I was escorted in my paper scrubs by police to Marshall Pickens mental hospital.
Since I was only fifteen, I was placed in the Child and Adolescent Unit. I had been expecting white cinderblock walls, doors that locked from the outside, and terrifying roommates—all stories I’d been told by my mother who’d been twice. But, considering what it was, it wasn’t all that bad. A massively fluffy golden retriever named Chloe greeted me with licks when I came inside, and the other kids there looked no more dangerous than the ones at school. There were three that day—Allyson, Rickey, and Lisa. None of them looked particularly happy, but who would?
One of the many nurses took me to a back room and asked an endless throng of questions—right down to where any birthmarks are, and to be completely honest I couldn’t remember the one on my neck without having seen it in a mirror. Once that was finally over, it was time for a group session. Meredith, the nurse in charge that night, took us to some lawn chairs outside and talked about emotion regulation. I could hardly focus—I watched Allyson the whole time. There was a long line of mascara down her face, and her eyes were rimmed with red. When she spoke, her voice was choked and heavy. I wanted so badly to hug her and make her feel better, but all of us were forbidden to touch one another.
As far as first days at a foreign place go, that one wasn’t all that bad. Meredith made Coke floats for us and we watched a movie before bed. I wanted to go home by then because I just missed it so much, but I figured it wouldn’t be too terrible for just one week.
My insomnia kept me up that night, and early in the morning while everyone was asleep, two nurses came in to take a couple vials of blood. The bruise was impressively tiny, but I felt sick to my stomach immediately. They brought me orange juice, which didn’t help much, but I drank it appreciatively anyway.
The day dragged on far too long—lots of time spent just reading in my room, anything to keep me out of my own mind. A little while after lunch, another girl joined the ward—Leslie. Nobody had seen her, of course, but we all knew she had arrived when we heard the blood-curdling screams from down the hall. She wanted to go home. She didn’t want to be here. And she was dead-set on that being known by everyone in earshot. On the way to the bathroom I caught a glimpse of her—same paper scrubs I had, lots of shiny brown hair, and a face that openly showed her contempt. There was something off about her; a slur of her words, a peculiar twist to her features, an awkward gait. It took me longer than necessary to gather that she was mentally challenged, but I suppose that wasn’t exactly anywhere my mind wanted to wander.
Leslie didn’t participate in any of our activities—she wasn’t even allowed to leave the unit. It was so hard for all of us already—I couldn’t imagine how difficult this must be for her. Our bedrooms shared a thin wall, and on her first morning, she too had her blood taken. Well, they tried to at least. She screamed when they came near her, and every night since, I’ve woken to that sound piercing through my dreams.
Rickey, Allyson, Lisa, and I headed to the cafeteria for dinner that night. It was kind of amazing to me how exposed the walkway was between our unit and the main building. If someone wanted to make a break for it, the path was wide open. The nurses always joked that there would be “a nasty surprise” waiting for us if we tried to run—namely a five-foot drop off the sidewalk—but, being invincible teenagers, we highly doubted it. That threat and the purple identification bracelets we wore were all that kept us from running those first days. Not that we didn’t think about it and talk about it, even to the nurses, but up until then no one had ever tried anything.
But then Allyson got the idea.
She had grown to calling me “Red” for the color of my hair. Soon everyone did—oftentimes even Meredith and the other nurses. During the day, she and Rickey would be bent over a Cinderella coloring sheet from a Disney Princess coloring book—it was the only paper they had. Scribbling with crayons and scratching out diagram after diagram, they’d call “Hey, Red!” and have me add my opinions. Their plans were long-winded and ridiculous—that would never work.
“It’s not like we can just walk out the front door, Red.” My eyes shot up wide and I groped for a crayon. They watched as I carefully sketched the lines of my drawing, following inch by inch as my plan unfolded.
“Or is it?” Rickey replied with a laugh, eyeing my diagram. He was impressed, I could tell. Rickey and I suffered from the same issues—depression and anxiety. From the moment I met him I knew we had some kind of connection. He was a good person; he said his prayers before every meal. Lisa and I were good friends as well—the only two girls besides Allyson in our group. Allyson scared us a bit though; sometimes it seemed like her dark eyes looked right through you. Lisa was usually asleep through our planning though—she stayed shut up in her room most of the day anyway.
The next day at lunch, we filled Lisa in on the plan and showed her what part she was in charge of. It had to be a group effort or we’d all be stuck here. It’s not like fate made that part any easier though—when we got back, another girl had joined the ward. Julia was thirteen and allergic to absolutely everything. Her parents had driven her to the brink of schizophrenia with the stress they put on her; they even blamed her for her younger sister’s lupus. The poor thing was a mess, and we all felt compelled to help her. We gave her all the advice we could, which was basically limited to “they’re going to take your blood in the morning so don’t freak out.” She was scared out of her mind, but unlike the rest of us, she wasn’t aware that our plan had already begun.
Allyson’s other nickname for me was “Robin”—partly because she considered me her sidekick and partly because of my amazingly bird-like vision, which was Step One of the plan. All the doors to the outside had a keypad that automatically locked the door when it closed. But see, the keypads were in plain sight, and they were used so many times a day that it wasn’t hard to pick up the six-number code. This was also put on the Cinderella coloring sheet, just in case anyone forgot.
Step Two was one-half luck and one-half timing. Leslie’s internal need to scream was almost like clockwork, and we depended on her meltdowns to distract everyone else. It was in these times, as the nurses calmed her down, that we conferred with one another and got Julia up to date on the plan. On the day of, Step Two would be our small window of opportunity.
The last step was simple enough—once we opened the door, we just had to run like hell and try not to break our legs on the fall from the sidewalk.
The only issue with the whole plan was that, well, I had no idea why we were running. They all seemed desperate enough to get out, and I did miss my family, but it wasn’t so bad. I asked them later that night why they were so dead-set on this.
“This is a prison, Red. They’re gonna turn us into lab rats because they think we’re too crazy to care,” Julia said. Her big brown eyes looked like those of a murderer—somber and dead. “Besides, it’s different for you. You’re the good one—you do what you’re told and you have the chance of getting out soon. The rest of us, me especially…not so much. I’m gonna be here forever, Red. They’re not gonna let me out, and my mom sure as hell won’t sign me out when my commitment is over. Allyson isn’t getting out of here anytime soon, and Rickey will probably be here a while too.”
“We can’t take it, Little Robin,” Allyson said. “We want to be home, and I know you do too, except we can’t. We all just want to get back to a normal life, but we can never go back to our families—I don’t know about you, but the rest of us have screwed our lives over enough. So just get back to fluttering your wings and making those plans perfect.” I glared, but snatched the coloring sheet and stomped off to my room to work on the details.
The next morning after breakfast, we set the plan into motion. The nurses went into Leslie’s room to wake her up, and the screaming began. She wailed for a good ten minutes, giving us plenty of time to punch the code—513926. The lights flashed red. Wrong code. 513926. Again, the door was locked.
“Oh God,” Lisa whispered at my ear. And, like clockwork, Dr. Dolinar—a portly man with turtle-esque speech—punched the code from the other side.
“Nooow, whaaaat aaaareee yooouuu—” he began, but Chloe’s raucous barks interrupted him as she wound herself around his ankles and his rotund body fell to the floor, propping the door open. I looked at the others and shrugged, hopping over his squirming form with ease and dashing to the sidewalk. The others close behind, we all took a brief inventory of the fall—there was grass at the bottom, but we’d still have to be careful. Rickey hopped over first, easily closing the distance with no problems. Lisa went next, and again was unhurt. Allyson shooed Julia and me on after Lisa, and I stupidly flailed in terror and scratched my arm on a briar. Julia was fine—she’s an athlete like Rickey. Allyson checked that the coast is clear and hopped down herself.
“Holy…wow. We did it,” Lisa said as we all took a second to assess the next obstacle. We just had to make it through the parking lot and into the woods and we’re in the clear.
Allyson whacked us all on the back of the head.
“C’mon, we have to go!” She ran ahead of us, clearing the path. We all bolted out into the open, shielding our eyes from the glaring sun. The woods were close enough, just beyond the pavement, and we reached them in minutes, shedding out bracelets and taking a second to rest.
We all sat in among the bushes and tried to catch our breath. Very quickly we came to realize that there were too many sets of breath—five humans panting…and one Chloe.
“Ah, Chloe, go away!” Julia moaned. “She’s so old—she’ll just slow us down!”
“Whatever, Jules, it’s fine. We’ll deal with that when it becomes a problem. Okay, so who knows their way around here at all?” Allyson asks. Rickey shrugs—he’s from Belton; doesn’t come to Greenville much. Allyson’s from Columbia, so she’s not used to here at all. Julia and Lisa are from Mauldin, so they know a little better, but the only one with any real knowledge was…me.
I lead them through the woods as best I could, and before long we came across the little grey house with red shutters. The Bakery Off Augusta—my cousin Tom’s bakery with an overly-hefty name. Tom was actually not my cousin—he was my real cousin David’s boyfriend. Tom made the cakes, and David make the promo pictures. I couldn’t think of a better couple of guys to shelter us—or at least Chloe—for a little while.
I banged on the back door, and Tom answered immediately. His eyes jumped from me to the others and then lingered on Chloe.
“Where did you get a dog?” he asked.
“Look,” Allyson cut in. “We need someplace to stay for a little while—just long enough to figure out where we are and where we need to go. Can you spare the room?” He was taken aback for a second, but then nodded and opened the door wider. Chloe came in last, and took to the cuddly gentle-giant of Tom instantaneously.
“Okay, do you have a map or GPS or something we can use?” she asked.
“Where exactly are you going?” Tom was a nice enough guy—he wanted to look out for us, keep us safe. But Allyson was just too paranoid and adrenaline-pumped to see that so she was a little sharp and impatient when she spoke to him.
“I don’t know—not about them at least. I’m heading to Charleston to audition for American Idol! Where do the Greyhound busses pick up?” He led us over to a map where he plots the weekly deliveries.
“There’s bus stops all over—just find the highway you need to take and you’ll find one. I gotta go man the counter, y’all take your time.” He leaves the kitchen through the swinging door and not long after, the front door’s bell chimed and heavy footsteps approached the counter.
“I neeeed a doooouble espreeessooo, Tooooomm.” Holy cow. Dr. Dolinar? The voice was a perfect match.
“Double? On the bold side today. Something going on?” At the sound of this, we all clamped a hand over our mouths and shrank away from the door. Our eyes met each other’s with terror—what are we gonna do?
“We have five kids escape today at the C&A ward! They knocked me over and ran out the door!” No. Oh, God no. Tom, please don’t blow our cover.
“Really? Oh my gosh! Uh, let me go get your coffee real quick.” Tom slipped back into the kitchen and pretended as though we hadn’t heard. He fixed the coffee, and went back out to the front. “Boy, you’re sure gonna need this today. Have y’all got people out looking for them?”
“Yeah, we’ve got half the orderlies combing the area.” Just then, fists began pounding at the back door. We had nowhere to run. Hiding would only work for so long.
As the door swung open, the wind rustled the incredible scent of cakes and pastries around the room. Men in white coats not unlike that of Tom’s baker coat emerged from the doorway, and by then we were pretty sure we were screwed.
There were so many, and there was nowhere to go—we were completely surrounded. They were talking to us, trying to explain what was going on, but my ears felt as if they were stuffed with cotton balls and I couldn’t hear a word they said. Allyson and Julia were yelling back at them and swinging punches; Rickey turned so as to hide me.
Suddenly, Rickey was pulled away from me and I felt a sharp stab in my ass, and immediately the cakes began to swirl in circles. I couldn’t tell if I was looking at Rickey’s skin by then or if my vision was failing me when suddenly my feet slipped beneath me and my eyes saw nothing but black.

-

Every morning I awake to the sound of Leslie’s screams.

ReaganRichey

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Re: "A Week in Purgatory" OR "Red"

Post  unused on Mon Aug 29, 2011 6:21 pm

this is really good, Regan. It sucks that you had to go to the Mental Inst., but it looks like there was a heck of a lot of good writing material there! Here's the biggest thing. Start later. At SCGSAH, I always had this issue with tooo muchhh exposition. Here's the fix. When Allyson (I think) says, "Red, we can't just run away" or something like that: there's your starting point. Spend more time with the chiase...remember, a short story can be eight pages long(: But everything else was really good. Enviable idea; I love Red/Robin. Maybe rethink the relationship with Richie. Is Red really crazy? I saw this awesome commercial for a movie where a guy thought it was the end of the world...slowly, the viewer figures out he has a history of mental illness in his family. So is he crazy, or is the world actually going to end? Is Richie red's Other Her? Is everyone there part of Red?
Just an idea! AMAZINGG job!!
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unused

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