1.1 Putting Together the Pieces
(Formerly titled “Corner Points”, as published in “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tough Times for Teens”)
The first thing I notice about the waiting room is that my chair has no corners. The cold, green plastic has been moulded into the shape of a beanbag chair with none of the comfort. I feel like I am that chair, stuck in a world where everything comes in cycles that never really begin or finish.
I don’t know what to expect when I see her. Is she going to cry? Is she going to hate me for making her come here? Maybe she won’t even come out of her room at all. I pick at my nail polish, watching the little red flakes land on the dark carpet and disappear. The room smells like cleaning products and emptiness. Just being here is depressing me. I look out the window, but all I can see is the grey winter sky and the wooden fence that I could never climb over, even if I was on the other side of that scraped up pane of glass and had a reason to want to escape.
I hear muffled footsteps from socked feet because she isn’t allowed shoelaces. Coming towards me is a ghost. Her hair is strikingly dark against the whitewashed walls and pastiness of her delicate skin. It covers her face like a curtain. She looks different dressed in a grey oversized sweat suit that proudly proclaims “GRAD 2010.” I wonder if we will even make it there. It feels so far away and unlikely now.
She won’t look at me. I see the redness of her eyes, and how tired her body looks as it labours to make it down the empty, narrow hall. She dumps herself into a chair across from me and looks away, subconsciously pulling her sweatshirt tighter around her wrists. Even now it’s like she’s still trying to protect me, as if what I don’t know can’t hurt me. If only she knew the truth — what I don’t know only hurts me more, because she feels she can’t talk about it with me.
I ask if she wants to play a game or something. She stands up, and drops herself into another chair by the bookshelf, next to a 5,000-piece puzzle. Silently we try to put the puzzle together, one piece at a time. We start at the edges before realizing we can’t start to piece things together until we turn all the pieces face up. The box shows three happy kittens sitting in a beautiful field of flowers. I look at the scattered bits of colour in front of me and find it strange that we are sitting here trying to put these kittens back together when I never even knew that she was falling apart. I wonder how many pieces she is in right now.
I awkwardly try to make conversation, asking about how therapy is going, how often her parents come to see her, and if she’s feeling any better. All of these are answered by a noncommittal shrug, her eyes not leaving the puzzle. I feel like I’m suffocating as I hold back tears, trying to stay strong for her.
Once again I fail her, and a tear slides down my cheek. I turn away from her, not wanting her to see how broken I am inside. I look at my watch; we have been sitting here for hours, and pretending not to be upset has worn me out. I tell her I have to go, but will try to be back tomorrow. I casually wipe my eyes with my hand as I stand up, but she knows. She grabs my hand, forcing me to turn and face her. Her big brown eyes look into mine, and I see that she, too, is failing to hold back tears.
“Thank you for coming to see me,” she says, her voice cracking slightly, “and I’m sorry about this….”
I squeeze her as tight as I can, and tell her not to worry, because everything is going to be okay. I don’t even know if I believe it, but that hope is all I have to hold on to as I turn and walk towards the metal door, praying that tomorrow will be a little bit easier for her on the long road to recovery.