Recovery This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

September 14, 2013
By , Avon Lake, OH
The man sitting next to Scarlett is crooning to himself gently, a lullaby directed at no one. His bruised fingers are clasped tightly, as if gripping an extraordinary prize; his hooded eyes are dark and devoid of expression. Scarlett is careful not to stare at the long scars running across his arms and along his face.

“Scarlett Callasen?” A young receptionist, perky and blonde, bounces into the waiting room. Her smile doesn't reach her eyes.

Scarlett, she repeats quietly to herself. She despises her name, the color of boldness and passion, of dripping blood and blooming roses. She is anything but. She is faded, shriveled, ochre. If she was a rose, she would be a wilting, dying one.

She stands slowly and jerkily, like a marionette at the mercy of a puppeteer. By now, she has memorized the number of steps it takes to get from the drab, claustrophobic waiting room to the spotless familiarity of Dr. Reed's office. This could be the last time her black sneakers pad over the familiar dingy carpet, she thinks to herself, and is unsure what to feel about this. Relief? Hope? Nostalgia?

She steps inside the office and shuts the door firmly, savoring the heavy thud that speaks of finality and dignity. Her eyes flick over the massive psychology books that line the shelves. Their titles are long and impressive, and she drinks in the words thirstily. They taste smooth and velvety on her lips.

“How are you, Scarlett?” Dr. Reed's voice is, as always, slow and soothing. He sits behind his massive oak desk, the desk which has always created a breach between them. Doctor and patient.

Whole and broken. Normal and strange.

“I'm fine.” The word has a flexible meaning. Only a few short months ago, “fine” meant that she had made it through the week without the world shattering around her like broken glass.

“How has school been for you this week?” The deep rumble of Dr. Reed's voice, like far off thunder, never fails to calm her.

“I got a hundred percent on all of my tests. I'm doing really well.”

Eyes speak: He knows that, of course. He's not in the mood to play games. “I meant socially.”

Her stomach lurches. Socially? She is still the strange girl, the girl with scars crisscrossing her arms like intricate constellations, the girl who prefers the company of books to humans. She is still too afraid to face the incessant noise in the lunchroom, instead spending lunch in the library with just Sylvia Plath for company. They whisper poems to each other, softly, one on the wrinkled pages of a book and the other in a tense whisper so soft it's not even audible.

Recovery recovery recovery. A mantra, a refrain, a lie wrapped in paper-thin truths. “I'm making new friends. It's hard, but I'm trying my best.”

“And you're taking your medication regularly?”

“Yes.” This lie tastes bitter and chalky, like the pills that she is supposed to be shoving down her throat. But Scarlett doesn't need the medicine. She is getting better, even without it. She knows because of the reports, tucked inside their neat file folders. When her parents read them, something close to happiness lingers behind their tired eyes. She hears it, too, in Dr. Reed's voice when he whispers that sacred word: recovery.

Scarlett imagines breaking open her skull and revealing the contents as she pictures them – a complicated mesh of wires and circuits, twisting and overlapping in a frenzied mosaic. If she closes her eyes, she can see Dr. Reed examining the circuitry, his dark, expressive eyes narrowed in concentration. Then he would exclaim “Eureka!” and pluck out a wire here, flip a switch there, and everything would go back to normal. Normal. Such a vicious, broken promise.

Dr. Reed's eyes are speaking, again, gossiping on about doubts and reservations and suspicions. But he has to see that she is a good girl now. She does her homework, gets good grades, talks to her parents. She eats her dinner and asks for seconds. She uses razors to shave and bleach to clean her clothes. The sleeves of her sweaters cover the last traces of her past: pink and black ravines that snake delicately across her skin.

Finally, he cracks. He folds his hands like a man praying. For what? she wonders. Strength or deliverance? “Scarlett, you've shown exceptional progress as of late. I've been talking with your parents, and we agree that your recovery is almost complete. In fact, they have suggested that our appointments are no longer necessary.”

Hope, a tiny jewel-bright bird, flies into her stomach, opens its mouth, and begins to sing. She imagines a future without the constant appointments and concerns and ugly waiting rooms. A normal future. Recovery.

“However, in my opinion we still have quite a bit more work to do. We've made a lot of progress but you still have a ways to go. Specifically, in your social and communicative skills. I think another set of sessions is in order.”

Another visit, another day, another step in a journey that has long since grown wearisome. She refuses to let her disappointment show. She has become a master at hiding emotions, burying them underneath layers of indifference. Even if her mind whispers darkly, incessantly. Money-sucking leech why don't you end this I'm fine fine FINE.

If she has waited this long, she can last a little longer. When that last day comes, when she swears off the claustrophobic pressure and sickening acknowledgement of a therapy session – when that moment comes, the lies will all be worth it. No longer will she have to weave her golden web of fabrications and deception. The sickening chaos of the beckoning lunchroom will cease, and she will be left with her musty books in peace. Maybe she'll change her name to something softer, more muted and peaceful. Indigo or Violet, or maybe Lavender. Anything but Scarlett.

She leans back in her chair, focuses on the ebb and swell of her breath. Recovery.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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crazysockmonkeys said...
Apr. 16, 2015 at 8:03 pm
Thank you for this! I can relate to it well.
maddymadmad3 said...
Apr. 9, 2014 at 10:16 pm
I love this story!
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