Categories > Original > Drama

The Safest Place

by pipssister 4 reviews

An anorexic young woman is sent to a mental institution. Despite her struggles, she is determined to get better and makes a friend, but her friend is hiding something from her.

Category: Drama - Rating: R - Genres: Drama - Warnings: [R] [V] - Published: 2005-05-05 - Updated: 2005-05-05 - 3323 words - Complete

It was about six years ago when I went to the institution. I had my reservations. Who wouldn't? But I knew I needed it. Everyone could see how thin I was getting, and when I stopped menstruating a part of me wanted to be there, anyway. Well, not there. Nobody really wanted to be there. Horton's Peak wasn't so much an institution as a dumping ground for abnormal teenagers. Everyone from kids who acted up in class to juvenile murderers went there. Looking back I probably should have been in some sort of specialized house. Some place in New York with the other anorexics and bulimics, but we lived in a small town in Nebraska and my mother couldn't bear (or afford) to send me that far away.

I hated the place as soon as I saw it. Horton's was a dilapidated, creaky mess of a building with leaky ceilings and cockroaches. Well, I told myself at the time, let's say that getting out will be a perk of being fat. I wanted to be out of there as soon as possible, but when I saw the other patients I wanted to be out right away. I can still remember them screaming at each other. You fuck, I'll fucking kill you! You can't keep me in this fuckin' place. Hey Twiggy, wanna see how you get food around here?

They were the probably the reason I attached myself to Sam. My roommate at Horton's was a schizophrenic who muttered to herself and would babble loudly at night. After about a week of listening to her screaming I began to venture out into the lounge for some peace.

The second time I went Sam was there. I still see her as I did that one night. She was hunched over a chair, pulling a cigarette out of a pack with her mouth like she was posing for a movie shot - her movements a bit too choreographed and grandiose. With her dark blue hair cropped short and seemingly flat chest, I mistook her not only for a guy but for some sort of punk noir hero. Especially when she lit her cigarette - I expected her to start telling me her life story on the mean streets. But she just took a long drag and looked up at me.

"What're you in here for?" she asked me. Another cliché, maybe.

"I'm ..." I paused and took a breath. I still had trouble admitting it. "Um, anorexia."

She shrugged and got up. It was then I realized she was a woman. Her chest may have been wrapped up beneath her shirt, but her curved hips and rounded buttocks revealed the truth. "You're in good hands," she told me. "The food here sucks."

Her callousness at first surprised me, but her silence in the lounge at night was better than the nightly screaming sessions. We didn't talk much at first beyond a "Hey," or an "I like this show" when we watched TV together, but soon she became warmer. Well, no. A little friendlier.

"Hyper-aggressive disorder with anti-social tendencies," she told me after about a month.

"Oh," I said. "I figured you were in here for gender dysphoria."

She shook her head. "That's just extra."

"But..." I said. "I figured that would be ... I mean, don't they care about it more? If you want to become a man and all ..."

"I don't really ..." she looked off to the side. "That's just not what I'm here for."

Something told me not to bring it up again.

We had very different problems, anyway. She went to anger management classes while I spent my time in group therapy staring at a mirror and droning on about how I was beautiful and loved and did not need to starve myself. Still, she always asked about me, asked for answers she would never offer for herself. How much do you weigh today? How do you feel? Are you menstruating again?

The day I said "yes" to that last question I got a card from her reading, "Yay! You're Bleeding Again!" I wondered if stuff like that was the real reason she was here.

But she never told me very much. She had both parents and two brothers. Her favorite color was green. She went to Maplewood High before coming to the institution. And she loved gay male porn. Really, really loved gay male porn. I tried to ask her the most obvious question, but she wouldn't answer that one either. ("I have every other fucking thing about my life analyzed in this god damned place. Could you leave my porn alone?")

Still, I enjoyed Sam's presence. While I was timid and would shrink from orderlies that tried to help me pick up a dropped fork, Sam reveled in acting up. When she wasn't screaming back at the Tourettes patients, she knocked over food carts and threw things at the nurses. After I started walking through the halls with her, people didn't bother me as much.

I told her this one day and it made her smile. "You know, you shouldn't be so nervous. This is actually the safest place to be."

"How can you say that? Do you know who they put here? Do you know that this is where they put kids who faked insanity to avoid going to jail? People who have -"

"Stupid Annie, of course I know. They're in the real world, too. At least here you know who they are."

"They're also closer here," I muttered. I suddenly felt furious at my parents.

Sam just stared at me and lit a cigarette. "You don't know that."

I bit my lip in anger, but by the sudden concern in her eyes, it seemed like she thought I was worried.

"It'll be cool. I'm not going to let them hurt you. Most of them are a bunch of shitless whiny dicks, anyway. Preyed on people they knew they could take. I could take them easy."

I just sat there hating my parents.

Horton's Peak was always chronically understaffed, but with the summer came more volunteers - mostly in the form of other teenagers looking for National Honor Society points.

"Get into Harvard with the extra perk of gawking at the freaks who got kicked out of your school," Sam rolled her eyes. "I bet the fuckers love it. They get so much good stuff to tell their friends."

I wasn't particularly fond of them either. Hearing rich kids whine about having to clean my roommate's bedpan or how everyone here was so creepy made me both sick and jealous. I still smile when I remember Sam throwing a glass at a girl who she overheard saying that anorexics weren't really sick. ("Sure, they locked me up in my room for a few days, but the bitch got fired for lack of sensitivity or something so I figure it was an even trade.") Of course, there were some nice volunteers, although seeing the pity in their eyes for poor, thin, little me often made me feel worse. I thought about how Sam never looked at me that way, even on my worst days.

Sometimes I'm still mad at Sam for not telling me when it all started. It seemed to happen so slowly. Or maybe I was so caught up in my weight that I just couldn't notice.

But few people paid attention to Felice Witherson. She was a small thirteen-year-old with chronic depression - another common story at Horton's. I guess she was pretty. She had a natural litheness I envied so viciously, with normal-sized breasts that looked enormous on her otherwise wispy frame. When I first saw Sam and Felice talking, off to themselves in a dark corner of the cafeteria, it caught me off-guard. I had to admit I wondered again what Sam was in here for, and about the way she dressed ...

"It's nothing like that," said Sam.

"Then what is it?"

"Nothing you have to concern yourself with."

I sighed. God, I hated when she acted like this. "It's just that if you're getting into a relationship or something, you don't have to hide it from me -"

"It's not a relationship," Sam said curtly.

"Then why won't you tell me?"

"It doesn't concern you, Annie. And please don't ask Felice, either. I'm sorry you saw that, you weren't meant to."

I grudgingly left the subject alone. Whatever happened seemed to end very quietly, anyway. Every once in awhile Felice would smile and wave at Sam and I as we walked through the halls together, but for the most part I didn't see her.

The major paradox of institutions is their confidentiality clause. Doctors aren't supposed to talk about their patients, but when you live in a small, enclosed environment with over a hundred other disturbed teenagers institutional life just becomes high school magnified a thousand times. Sam kept a lot of heat off me, but rumors abounded. While the doctors would never tell me what was wrong with Sam or whatever she said to them, they would often ask me how to approach her.

So it wasn't surprising when a volunteer did the same thing. I don't really remember what she looked like. Normal, I guess. Straight, pale hair and slightly pudgy -nothing really distinct in either ugliness or attractiveness.

"I can't really help you," I said to her, my now-standard answer to that question. "I know what you may be thinking, but we're not like that. I'm more like a minion than anything else."

I can't remember if she smiled at my joke. "Don't you know anything about her? She's being quite disruptive."

"Well, no," I reiterated. "We don't really talk about why we're here. We just hang out."

"Surely you must have heard something, Annie."

"I'm sorry, but no. Sam likes to keep herself to herself."

"Then can you give me the name of one of her psychologists?"

I frowned. "Um, no .... Look, I know you haven't been here long and there are people here less sound than me who'll do or tell you anything for a cigarette but we have this confidentiality thing here and ..."

The volunteer took a step towards me and I drew back. "You know that confidentiality isn't really true here. And honestly, who are you protecting? Her? I'm sure everyone from her home town knows what she is."

"I ... I know that's true, but I'm not going to -" I coughed as my back hit the wall. The volunteer thrust her face an inch from mine.

"Tell me all about her."

"I don't know anything!" I tried to push her away, but didn't have the strength. She took my hands in hers and pinned me to the wall. "What are you doing?"

She dug her fingers into my wrists and I screamed.

"You're not as fat as you may think, little kid. I could crush your wrists."

"I don't know!" I could feel the tears stinging my eyes. "Stop it! Stop it or I'll tell and get you fired."

"Who'll believe a crazy person?"

I tried to respond that she was crazy, but she kneed me in the stomach before I could get out a word. She finally released me as I fell to the floor. "You also might want to look out for your girlfriend or the one with the nice tits before you think about talking."

Despite her warnings I didn't wait. I remember how weak I felt as I struggled to walk to Sam's room, the fear, the pain and the hunger that never quite went away mixing into a force that nearly made me swoon. I was shaking so violently when I got to the door that I thought I had lost control of my body completely.

Somehow Sam managed to get a strong enough hold on me that she sat me down on the bed. She knelt in front of me on the floor, unwrapped a candy bar and pushed it near my lips. I drew away.

"It's all I have," she said. "At least try to chew it. I won't be mad if you spit it out."

I took a bite and before I knew it I had eaten the whole thing. I stopped shaking but immediately wanted to throw up.

"What happened?" Sam asked.

I gulped and told her everything, Sam's face getting angrier as by the minute. At the end she stood up. "I don't want you to worry about this. Given what she is and my reputation around here I didn't think she'd come after you. I'm sorry. After tomorrow she'll be out of here."

"What she -?" I moved onto the ground so I was closer to her. "Sam, what's going on? What happened to Felice?"

"Annie, I told you it doesn't matter. I'm going to handle it."

"I don't care about that now. What happened? Why can't you tell me anything?"

Sam stared back at me. She raised her hand and placed it against my cheek. "If you had known she would have hurt you worse."

I frowned. "I don't care about that."

"You should. That's the reason you're here, right? So you can't hurt yourself. There's no reason to let anyone else do what you're trying not to." She took her hand away. "You can sleep in my room tonight if you're scared."

I didn't think I would. I sat on the padded visitor's chair in her room, planning to regain my strength and go back to my room, while she read a book. I closed my eyes ...

When I opened them again a few hours later it was nearing dusk. I looked on the bed, but Sam wasn't there - probably hanging in the lounge. I didn't feel comfortable walking around without her tonight. For a moment I entertained the thought of sleeping in her bed but a loud growl from my stomach told me I probably wouldn't be able to sleep for awhile.

Restless yet tired, I picked up one of Sam's gay graphic novels for something to do. I can't remember what it was about. It could have been the one about the singer and the novelist or the one with the two cops or something else entirely. I don't even remember if I enjoyed it. I remember the look of the characters - a bit like girls molded into a quasi-masculine shape. Like women without breasts ...

I put down the comic, feeling like all of the air had gone out of my body. Sam didn't think she'd get me because of the way I looked. Because I was so thin, like a boy ... but Felice was thin. No, no Felice had breasts. She had "nice tits." That's what the volunteer said. Not like Sam... no, she tied them up. She. A woman. Not a man. Looks like one - no, Sam looks like a girl. Like a girl molded into a ... being small keeps me (keeps us?) safe from ... Oh God, that woman must be ...

I hugged my legs to my chest, my head resting on my knees. Sam ... poor Sam. She wasn't outside. She couldn't be. She said she would take care of anything. Oh God, what did that mean? No, calm down. The woman must be at home. Could Sam have found out where she went? Maybe she lives nearby. Maybe she'd planned to do this a long time? No, no, no. How could she possibly find out? There's no way ...

I stumbled to the door, to the hallway, hands along the walls to keep me up. When I made it to the lounge, she wasn't there. I collapsed on the couch, my heart pounding in my chest. There was no way I could walk any further. I couldn't find her no matter how much I wanted to. I tried to pick myself up. Maybe if I left now I could get back to her bed.

A door opened down the hallway. I tried to pick myself up as quickly as I could. If it was one of the guys, who knows what could have happened to me?

But it was Sam. Sam, dripping wet from the outside rain, her face bruised and scratched, her shirt ripped and ...

Sam pulled her shirt closed and hunched over so I couldn't see. "You should be asleep."

"What did you do?" I demanded, struggling to stand up. "I figured out what she was doing to Felice. Did you do anything to her?"

Sam glared back at me. "What she deserved."

"Did you kill her?"

For a few horrifying minutes, Sam just stared back at me. Then she looked away, ashamed and angry. She reached in her pocket. "I took these."

She opened her palm. Four bloody fingers lay there.

I ran to the garbage and vomited, the mixture of the stomach acid and water that had filled my belly now burning my mouth. I sobbed and felt Sam's hand on mine. She pulled me so I sat next to her on the couch.

"How could you?" I asked through my tears.

"How can you ask me that? You know what she was doing."

"That doesn't make it right!"

Sam's face turned red. "Right? What the fuck is right? What would you have wanted me to do? Go to the police? Tell them that she fucked a little depressed girl in a mental institution? Have that girl tell her story to an 'impartial' jury of sheltered middle class fuck faces who have no reason to believe her and probably don't think women can rape other women, anyway?"

Sam stood up and raised her arms. "Or hey, let's say they do believe Felice. How long do you think they'll lock her up? A year? Five years? Maybe she'll plea bargain and then the bitch will just have to clean up trash on the side of a highway. She doesn't have to care about what she did. She doesn't have to fucking think about it." Her head dropped and she let out a small sob.

I reached my hand out to her. "Sam?"

Sam grabbed it and sat beside me again. "You know what it's like, Annie. You know what it's like to look in the mirror and hate what's staring back of you." She pulled her shirt together again. "That bitch won't have to feel that cleaning up trash. That bitch won't have to feel it once she's out of prison. And she certainly won't feel it dead."

I suddenly felt very cold.

Sam calmly placed the fingers in her pocket and wiped her hands on her shirt, accidentally giving me a view of her chest. She then turned to me and hugged me, her hand on my head. I could feel her softness; feel how my bony hips and elbows pressed into that softness. For the first time in years, I felt very, very small.

"You shouldn't be worried. I told you this is the safest place in the world. Here you know what everyone is. They can hide out there, but not her anymore. She made the mistake of trying to hide in here. It doesn't work that way, Annie. No, not at all."
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