Welcome to the Ward

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Most would say she wasn't  beautiful. Sallow skin, jutting bones, dark, hollow eyes, a chapped, strained smile that so rarely appeared. Most would say she was wrong, insane, f***ed up. And she was. And it was beautiful.

The first time I saw her, she was carted into the psych ward on a rolling hospital bed, strapped down, her eyes looking up at the ceiling with no emotion on her face. I was sitting in the common room, reading one of the worn paperbacks that were haphazardly crammed onto the shelves. It wasn't a particularly interesting book, something meant for a ten year old about some girl on an adventure with her trusty monkey friend. The nurses had to ensure all the books were safe, appropriate, and utterly boring before they were allowed into the ward's library.

I looked up from the book, taking in this girl as she climbed down from the bed and sat in a wheelchair. The orange band on her wrist indicated she was at risk of passing out, which explained why she wasn't allowed to walk on her own. She didn't see me at first, but as they steered her to her new room down one of the halls branching off from the common room, she glanced my way. And she smiled.

I would've smiled back, but I didn't know how. Not anymore. So I looked back down at my book and went back to reading. She was taken to her room, and I didn't see her for another day, not until the group therapy session all patients had to attend every morning.

At the session, held at a small table in the center of the common room, Nurse Maddie, a short, soft lady with bright red hair, introduced the new girl. "Everyone, this is Aubrey. Aubrey, this is Tom," she said, gesturing to the tall, skinny black boy with constantly tapping fingers. He nodded quickly, nervously. "And Leila," she continued. Leila glanced up from her lap briefly, then looked back down. She didn't talk much. "And this is Simon," she said, with a wave my way. I wasn't sure if I should say hello, so I settled for a nod and a small smile, hoping to make up for my lack of one yesterday. I'd woken up this morning with a clear head, a nice change. Yesterday had been a bit cloudy.

She didn't respond, didn't offer up a word to any of us, just looked at our faces, then her hands. They were clenched in fists. After a moment, Nurse Maddie continued on with the session, and Aubrey stayed silent as we talked. These sessions weren't anything special. We usually just talked about small things, our favorite foods or ambitions we had or whatever. In other words, we all made up a bunch of fluffy, shiny lies to fill the space. None of us spoke our minds. That would set the air on fire, drown us in the darkness we hid. Our minds weren't meant to be emptied out or dissected and picked apart by a kind, naive nurse with a sunny smile. I looked down at the floor and scrunched my eyes shut. So much for waking up with a clear head. I tapped my foot to a song in my head, waited for the clouds to lift. Or maybe I'd just sink into them. The darkness was almost alluring.

That evening was Spaghetti Night. The meatballs always looked a bit slimy, so we all avoided those. As Tom, Leila, and I sat down at the table in the common room with the evening nurse, a grandmotherly lady named Sharon, Aubrey emerged from her room, pushed in her wheelchair by one of the other staff. After the morning session, she'd been absent from the other group activities. I wondered why. I wanted to ask her, to say something funny, maybe crack a joke about the mystery meatballs. But I didn't. I stayed quiet. Just like always.






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