My house sat on a sea of orange, yellow, and red. The vibrant colors looked like fire that licked up our front yard to set our white house in flames. Orange basketball pumpkins decorated all of the porches down my street; carved with faces, designs, and full scenes for the overachievers. Each step I took crunched under my sneakers; the sound hung in the crisp air that surrounded me. My breath had not yet become smoke tentacles escaping my lips. I liked the world like this, a transition period. Each day kept you checking the weather to see what was to unfold throughout the day. I didn’t like the world as black or white; I like the muddled grey area between them. I was a grey person. I belonged to autumn and spring, and they to me.
As the door clicked quietly behind me it felt like I triggered a bomb in my vacant house. My footfalls were expertly silenced as I quickly aimed for the stairs. Five more steps. Four more steps. Three...two-the old recliner squealed from the living room.
“Millie, is that you?” A voice called. My whole body went icy cold. Go upstairs. Keep moving. He’ll fall back asleep, my mind screamed. I knew, however, that I could never just walk away from him without a second glance.
“Y-yeah it’s me, I’m just guh-going to my ruh-ruh-room,” I developed my stutter just a few months prior, out of the blue. The logical part in my brain mathematically added up the days which Eric’s been here, lining them up with my stutter.
“Hold on a second...lemme see you...come in here.” I heard the metallic clink of a bottle being set on the table next to the recliner. It was most likely whiskey; the old, musky scent of it hung all over my house from him. Everywhere I went inside of my home it reeked of alcohol and the distinct smell of cigarette smoke.
I stepped into the living room and stayed in the doorway. A large, beer-gutted body sat in the recliner like he was melded into it. His face was pudgy and his eyes were glossed. The dough like face had cheeks pinched pink like he’d just finished running; but the only chasing he was doing required swigs of juice following his whiskey.
Slow eyes glanced over my body; dressed in baggy jeans and a large gray sweatshirt with my Converse sneakers. I pulled my red hair down in front of my face so I concealed any skin on my neck that could be seen or the flushed color in my cheeks.
“Your hair is beautiful Millie,” he muttered appreciatively.
“Why do you keep it in front of your face all the time, girl?”
I shrugged. “I luh-luh-luh-like it thi-this wuh-wuh-way.”
My heart pounded when he got up and stumbled his way over to me. My feet became cemented to the matted carpet underneath them even though every fiber of my being screamed to back away. He didn’t say anything. He simply reached out and twirled strands of my hair between his thumb and forefinger. I stopped breathing. I looked at a point over his shoulder and kept my gaze locked there. If I even dared to glance upward to his face, he would see it as an invitation. Men are like this. The simplest glances could be misconstrued as an open invite.
“You’re so grown up, Millie,” he slurred.
I couldn’t escape to the bathroom quickly enough. I looked at the image in the mirror through blurred, teary vision. The corners of my sight were tinged red and my hands shook so violently I barely held the scissors still.
“It’s all your fault.” I spat.
Why me? Had I done something wrong? Every memory I had with Eric in them I’ve picked apart with a fine-toothed comb. Every glance, every laugh, every smile he ever witnessed of mine I’ve investigated to see whether or not I led him to another area of understanding. I’d laughed at his joke a few months ago, was that his key? A few weeks ago I smiled at my mom and Eric happened to be in the room, did I open the door unknowingly? Or was it a combination of everything? Did all of my actions mix together to form a perfect storm? These questions swam around my mind aimlessly like the water circled the drain in the sink; white noise to block out any sounds I made.
My vision was as red as my hair; matted to my tear wettened cheeks.
Then the red became sloppier, more liquid. There was a tightness, a warmth, and a vague sting in my arms. They weren’t in that order though. I was all over the place. I floated back from the mirror on what felt like cotton legs. I was a paper doll, floating through the tiny bathroom, hair sat tangled on top of my head like a fire. I was a paper girl on fire; crumbled underneath the weight of him and set alight amidst the dark.
I wanted this floating sensation to take me somewhere new; somewhere clean. I wanted to go somewhere that smelled of roses. The only thing I smelled was a stark, metallic smell; like pennies and then the sharp after smell of bleach.
One of the last things I heard was the metallic snap of the scissors clattering to the tile floor of the bathroom. I landed in the bath.
Then came the squeal of the recliner.
An average body contains approximately 1.2 gallons of blood. I lost nearly two thirds of that in the time it took Eric to walk upstairs, find me, dial 9-1-1 and then for the paramedics to arrive. I didn’t know why I chose that day to try and do something about the feelings inside of my head; it just kind of happened. A black hole surrounded that entire afternoon after bringing the scissors to the bathroom. It was as though someone placed a black veil over the events.
My hair was matted, clumpy, and dirty. The crazy strands stuck out in every way; flames against the stark-white crunchy pillow. The rough, cheap, bought-in-bulk material of the pillow left my cheek raw and red. A slow steady beat of a revived heart was the only sound in the room; each thump felt like a mocking slap to the face. I couldn’t even end my life properly.
Eric hadn’t been allowed to visit me. It was parents-only in this wing of the hospital and he was not my parent or legal guardian. He was just a man who pushed me too far.
My parents, the doctors said, were trying to get here as soon as possible. Years spent as their child, though, equipped me with the knowledge of what really happened. They weren’t going to let some inconvenience ruin their romantic holiday in the Caribbean under the rouse of a work trip. I never asked them to get my parents here, mostly because I knew they wouldn’t come. I didn’t hold that against them. Some people weren’t meant to have kids, even if at one point they wanted them; and the world moves on even if they do.
“Good morning, sweetheart,” a voice rang out.
The feral, alert green eyes that replaced my foggy ones darted to the man walking into my room with a clipboard. “How are you feeling, Emily?” Was this a rhetorical question? Was he not a doctor in a behavioral hospital for flight risks? I know doctors are required to ask these questions, but honestly. Would I be here if I felt like peaches and cream?
“Luh-luh-like crap. Your pillows s-s-suck and I’m not e-even allowed to puh-pee without s-s-s-supervision.”
He chuckled, unbothered by my sharp tongue. “I’ll see about getting you new pillows, Miss Hunter. Unfortunately, you know why we have to supervise you.”
“I cuh-can’t kill muh-myself with urine.”
“It still stands, sweetheart. We can’t have you leaving us too soon. How are you feeling physically?”
“My ruh-ruh-wrists hurt.” I groaned. “They i-i-itch, t-too.”
“I’ll send Nurse Beth in to change your bandages.” Then he closed his clipboard and looked at me with eyes of no placid doctor; but of a worried man. “Emily, can I ask you a question?”
I didn’t trust my own voice, so I simply shrugged.
“What’s going on in your head?”
“I-I-I didn’t want to b-b-b-be huh-here any-m-more. I d-d-didn’t wah-want to let h-him-,” I stopped myself with wide eyes. Dr. Jones looked up at me with understanding and my head throbbed. “I’m tired.” He nodded.
“I’ll send in Nurse Beth. Thanks for talking with me, Emily.”
I glanced up sheepishly. “Y-You can cuh-call me M-M-Millie.”
His smile was bright, almost genuinely excited. “Okay, Millie. You can call me Tom.”
“O-O-Okay, T-Tom.” Hesitantly, he patted my leg over the blanket and walked out.
Old-Millie would’ve immediately clung to Dr. Jones. He was the kind of man I would’ve loved to pine over having as a dad. I wouldn’t have come home shaking every day if it was Dr. Jones waiting for me to step inside. He was kind. His eyes were soft. He was the sort of man who probably has more than one child and loved both equally. Favoritism wouldn’t even be a thought in his mind. It made me both long for him to stay and yearn for him to leave for reasons I couldn’t possibly explain.
Nurse Beth was a round, cherub-looking lady. She was such a stereotypical looking nice-nurse that I almost laughed out loud when she walked in the first time.
“Well good afternoon to you, beautiful girl,” she called while walking into my room.
She bustled over to my bed with a locked compartment tray. “Time for your meds, sweetheart.” She brought out two containers, grabbed one pill from each, and then locked the rest away. Emily came over and handed me the smaller oval white one; Prozac.
I took it, winced at the bitter chalky taste on my tongue, and washed it down with the paper cup of water. Then she took a little nurse flashlight and checked my mouth to make sure I swallowed it. Then she handed me my second one, a smaller yellow one; mood stabilizer. We repeated the cycle; bitterness of the pill, coolness of the water, and mouth-check.
“What’s the matter, honey?”
I looked up at her. “I’m in a nut-hospital.”
Nurse Beth turned on me so quickly that I shrunk back into my bed. “There’s nothing to be ashamed of, Emily. Getting help is what you need to be doing. You can’t go your whole life how you were before this place.”
“No one was there. I was alone.”
She shook her head. “You’re never alone in this world, Millie. You have to ask for help before it’s too late. All of the people here want to help you but you have to want the extra hands.”
“It already is too late.” I glanced down at my bandaged arms.
Beth came and sat on my bed, looked at me with leveled eyes, and shook her head. “You are alive, sitting before me, and young. You ask me for help and I will make sure you never have to see the man who did this to you ever again. We’ll do it together. You can’t go through life afraid of living it. You’re seventeen years old and you need to feel that way.”
I looked at her. Tears stung my eyes. “He’s not going to go away.”
“Like hell he isn’t going away,” her voice was a flame shooting out of an open fire.
“I’m asking for help, Beth.”
Eric was sent away. Temporarily I was sent to live with a foster family so my parents could be investigated without my influence. In the wake of the police investigations, Eric’s restraining order, and all of the CPS questions...I was hit with a very clear realization.
Since the day I spoke with Beth...I didn’t stutter once.