In the house with a green door there was a communal kitchen and a lounge. It doesn’t look like a communal lounge. It looks like someone’s lounge. There are two sofas and a telly.
When I come downstairs the first morning, I find two girls there. First I think they’re around fifteen or sixteen but it turns out that they’re both in their early twenties. They don’t only look young, they seem young. There’s just something really open, soft and vulnerable on both of their faces.
“Hi, do you want a coffee or tea?” one of them asks and smiles at me. I’ve forgotten how nice people are at places like this. I’m sure these girls would be nice anywhere but in a place like this there is always certain comradery. We’re all here. Might as well make the best of it.
Maybe that’s the reason why I made so many friends with people at the ward. We were brought into this place that’s like a hospital version of Alice’s Wonderland where the rules and norms of the society don’t apply. There’s no egos. Not anymore. We’re all here. You’re not better than any one of us.
This wasn’t easy on everyone. Some of the patients liked to come across as if they’re not a patient. Without fail they were women. You could recognise them from the way they carried themselves. Had you not known, you might’ve mistaken them for a nurse. Had you given them a folder and a name badge, you’d be away. But they didn’t have an office to disappear to or a meeting to attend so they’d just glide at times aimlessly between the communal spaces and their rooms.
“I’m not one of you.”
Tough. You’re still in the loonie bin.
I embraced this identity and it’s surprisingly easy to slip back into it, like a dressing gown. We quickly exchange basic information, what counts as basic information at a place like this. Have you been before, how long have you been here.
Both of them have been there several times before but neither of them had never been admitted to hospital. I start thinking maybe they should, since something clearly isn’t working here.
They’re both being discharged today and have struck a friendship during their week-long stay. They show me pictures and videos they’ve taken of each other larking about in each other’s rooms, attempting twerking and doing impressions. They also show me pictures of their pets. One of them also has a young daughter. I try to cover my shock as she looks so much like a child herself.
They head to a nearby shop. Do I want to come along? I tell them I can’t face the world just yet. I ask them for a bottle of pop and they refuse to take money from me.
I think about all the people who have all the money in the world and would never part from it but these girls are more than happy to buy me a bottle of pop after five minutes of knowing them.
I suddenly had a hue of what I guess is close to a maternal instinct or what I might feel towards a younger sibling. They’re both so young. Have I ever been that young? I’ve been that age, sure, but have I ever been that outrageously, uninhibitedly young? Carefree and ditsy in a way that stems from the innocent self-assurance of someone who doesn’t know how to pay bills because they don’t need to.
One of them is the same age as I was when I met my abuser.
Did I have that same expression? That despite everything the world is still open and full of wonder?
I look at them. How could anyone ever even consider of harming someone like them?
How could someone harm me?
It’s good that they leave, I might’ve started crying in front of them.
In the middle of the night I wake up from a nightmare. The staff had told me to come downstairs if that were to happen. Willing myself out the door is almost scarier than the nightmare. I’m small and needy like I always am after a nightmare and I’m terrified of being rejected if I share it with another person.
I remember how comforting it was to know that someone was awake when I was at the ward. Back then I used to wake up nine to twelve times a night, hardly sleeping continuously for more than an hour. I’d cry out of frustration but knowing that someone was always going to be there if I went to the office was so much better than lying awake alone in my flat as the sky would grow white with merciless morning light.
It was like the nurse’s office was the heart of the ward and it never stopped beating.
I can feel the heartbeat on every step as I make my way down the stairs.
“Are you all right, Ida?” asks a lovely staff nurse called Carol with her comforting Glaswegian accent and the knot at the pit of my stomach tightens and loosens.
“I had a bad dream.”
“Go get a cuppa and come sit with us.”
I make tea. I never make tea. I don’t like tea. Especially with milk. Now I make tea with milk and lots of sugar. The taste reminds me of being really young, maybe the last time I’ve had this kind of tea has been at a summer camp, somewhere I’ve been away from my familiar surroundings. Somehow I don’t hate it because this is an exception, I’m away from home. I sit on a comfy chair at the other end of the room from Carol and her colleague. The fabric of the chair feels cool against my bare legs.
Carol is painstakingly making a fire safety plan for the building and keeps laughing at how wrong she draws out the rooms she walks in every day. She invites me to look. Her colleague makes fun of her. She makes a comment back before both of them return to their tasks. It reminds me of all the long nights spent at the office doing the student newspaper with my best friend. Quiet, safe concentration. Air so light and calm like a side of a sleeping cat.
They don’t ask what the nightmare was about. None of us really speaks. They both do their own thing as I drink my tea. Their fingers tap the keyboards. Light from the one single lamp in the room is so yellow its almost orange, like sunlight through autumn leaves.
It feels so good. It’s so calming to see that despite what I saw in the dream, other people still go about their business. The world hasn’t been altered. Everything is fine. It was just a dream.
I finish my tea and get up.
“I’ll try to go back to sleep.”
“Just come back down if you can’t,” Carol tells me. “Don’t stay in your room ruminating.”
I fall asleep and don’t wake up until the morning, without seeing any dreams.