Chapter 1: Surreal
For three months, therapy, detox, and lessons are what my life consisted of. Had to get those drugs out of my system. Had to stop those voices, stop those nightmares, so I could lay in my bed - the way I am now - as a stable member of society.
Of course, the rehab folks don't mean this bed. They mean the bed outside of this room, beyond this building, and inside the house I hesitate to call home.
When the door opened, and my counselor told me my parents were waiting, I could distinctly feel my heart beating against my ribcage. It beat hard enough for my necklace to move in rhythm with the quickening tha-thumps. I gripped the necklace, the small orb cold in my grasp, and sat up.
Had my room mate been next to me, I'd feel obliged to say, "Thank you for all the stories. Make sure you involve me in one of your wild tales when you tell them to the next girl, if you're not an outie by then."
I looked at her messy bed and smiled as though I'd said it anyway.
Family therapy was part of Asheton's recovery program. I guess those timed, scheduled meetings work for some families, but mine? Not so much. Each meeting surpassed the previous one in awkwardness.
Mom, generally a crass, straight-to-the-point type of person, was also one of those people who pretended to be pleasant when confused about how to act...the problem being that anyone could tell she was pretending. And Dad, who was in a constrant struggle between being too dramatic and not dramatic enough, often made things even more awkward. Add that to my tendency to say very little and show no emotion, and it's easy to see why those meetings accomplished nothing but bad acting on mom's part and nonsensical actions on dad's.
We made quite the family.
I felt this with my entire soul when I saw mom and dad at the entrance. Leaving the Asheton Treatment Center was both our last meeting in an institution and our first meeting as a reuniting family. They went all out. There I stood in a gray hoodie, my duffel bag of clothes over my shoulder, unable to close my mouth at the oddity of mom dressed in a tight, polka-dotted Sunday dress that I'm pretty sure she stole from my closet and dad in his most expensive business suit, the one his growing belly no longer supported.
First off, what parents came to pick-up their 18-year-old delinquent from rehab dressed their Sunday best on a frigid Monday?
Mine, of course.
I rolled my eyes when mom rushed over, her heels embarrassingly loud, to grab me in a hug. Dad followed. He snatched the bag out of my hand and joined the hug fest. It wasn't as heartwarming as it may have appeared. Between mom's suffocating perfume and dad's even more suffocating cologne, I seriously couldn't breathe.
Once out and in the car, no one knew where to start. Finding something to talk about after three months of only five odd meetings wasn't the issue. While mom and dad took turns stopping and starting possible conversations - weather, new shows, job drama, etc. - I marvelled at the condition of my dad's Sedan. It smelled like a new car, and the seats were actually soft and clean. I thought I'd have to wrestle with hundreds of tools and books just to sit down.
Mom cleared her throat, a clear warning a confrontational statement was on its way. "Honey, I know you see how hard your father and I are trying to talk to you."
What was I supposed to do about that? My brain often drew a blank when I was expected to hold or start a conversation. Another issue rehab couldn't reverse.
Seconds of silence passed between us, but the world continued to be noisy. Loud wind shuffled the October leaves, the engine shook the car, and bluegrass country music played in the background like an improperly chosen theme song.
Finally, dad broke in.
"I say we just go home," he said. He stared at mom after speaking, which he only ever did when he felt mom needed to back down. Though the look always initially angered her, she at least gave him the benefit of the doubt and stayed silent until they were alone.
He turned the radio up. I wanted to thank him from the bottom of my heart. Instead, I sat there in a daze of ease as Asheton disappeared behind us.
When I saw my house, hope grew with every detail I took in: the large porch with a bench; the calming blue and white paint; the house's second level, with large windows looking out into the typically suburban neighborhood; the colorful flowers lined up on both sides of the path. It was more than I felt worthy to have. Excitement, anticipation, and fear rose within.
The condition I left the house in before I ran away was chaotically messy. All three pots of flowers by the stairs were knocked over, the dirt ruining the blue carpet. The large couch a few inches back from the entertainment center was overturned, while the lazy boy chairs to the left and right were haphazardly thrown to the side. Static loudly blared from the TV and radio - a sound that haunted me for days.
Though the stairs and rooms upstairs hadn't been touched, the kitchen suffered from what looked like a struggle as well, though not as rough a struggle as whatever went on in the living room. The tall chairs behind the black counter lay on the floor, surrounded by a number of broken plates and butcher knives.
I turned to my parents, who'd both been staring at me take in my surroundings when we entered.
"The house looks amazing, like someone pressed rewind and paused before the nightmare," I said
Mom raised her eyebrow. "Nightmare? What are you talking about?"
The longer the silence, the more it dawned on me that she was serious. Goosebumps climbed up my back and stopped below my neck, which was already hot with confusion and paranoia. The way our house was trashed...there's no way they could've forgotten, and it had to have happened; my memory of the event was too thorough! Yet, as I looked at the room again, I realized my thoughts about the house appearing rewinded and paused wasn't far from the truth.
In fact, nothing had been replaced. These were the exact same items from before.
"W-when I ran away, the house was destroyed. It's true; I'm not making this up. I remember!"
Dad sighed a long sigh. "Actually, I've been meaning to ask you about that. Why did you run away, really? We knew you were upset about what happened to Danny, but..."
"It had nothing to do with Danny! There was a chase, and I had to get away."
"Who was chasing you, dear?" mom asked.
"And where was me and your mom?" dad added.
Then I made the mistake of closing my eyes, calling forth the gridlocked image, and trying to plug in the missing details. One would think, after my many horrible experiences with certain memories, that I'd stop putting myself through the torture of retrospection. Usually, I could deal with my memories not always matching up with theirs. I'd already blown that odd issue off as some type of brain impediment better undiscussed.
I couldn't ignore it this time. I'd spent too many nights imagining how wonderful my return home would be. Mom and dad were not supposed to be gawking at me like an ex-junkie prostitute who'd lost her mind!
I needed to remember - not just for them, but for me.
Dirt in the carpet. Broken vases. Dead flowers. Couches overturned. Static; so much static; so loud! Knives. Broken plates. How? Why?
I couldn't make out what my parents were saying over the static, nor did I want to. I covered my ears. Had to go deeper, explore the other senses.
Freezing. Hiding. Running. Can't look back. Someone saying something. A guy? God, what's he saying? Something about...about...about...DARKNESS...fearfearfearfearfear.
That intense feeling of fear crossed over into the real world as the most agonizing, instant migraine I'd ever felt. One second, absolute fear; next second, an explosion of throbbing pain. My eyes shot open long ago, but it took me awhile to notice my parents standing there, terrified. I didn't realize how loudly I was screaming or how tightly I was gripping my head until seconds afterward.
My throat burned. With each throb, I could feel my energy draining. My blinks grew longer until the uneven mixture of darkness and bright lights became nothing but darkness. Mom and dad said something, gibberish in my ears when paired with the static.
Strong hands gripped my shoulders so tightly I could feel nails digging into my bones. Like whiplash, I was back in the living room, standing in front of my tense father.
"I'm not making it up," I started, my voice a hoarse whisper. "I'm not..."
My dad shushed me. "Baby, you've been through enough. Just close your eyes and I'll make sure you get to sleep safely, like I should've made sure the night you disappeared."