Let Me In
"It's not your fault, you know."
It is the advocate talking, the one the hospital contacted to sit with me while I wait. For what, exactly, I'm not sure of. I'm not asking for treatment, at least, not anymore. Not once they'd explained to me exactly what kind of procedures this treatment would entail, and the fact that someone else, a lot of someone elses, would have to know what had happened. Despite this, they haven't agreed to release me yet. They haven't yet told me that I can go.
I don't respond to her words. There is no response to them. There has been little I can safely say in reply to anything she has told me during the past three hours we have been placed together in this claustrophobic space, this room with walls so white it makes me want to lower my eyes away after looking for very long.
I let my fingertip brush slowly over the pale papery green of my hospital gown, smoothing it at the knee, and I stare at the sheet underneath me on the too-short bed. It is white, of course, but I do not yet avert my eyes. I have already memorized the number of cabinets above the kitchen sink, the order of the file cabinets to my right, the three signs on the wall instructing doctors to wash their hands, patients of their rights to emergency room treatment regardless of race, financial level, or nationality, and another depicting the nearest escape route in case of an emergency. For the moment, this sheet, even with its whiteness, is preferable to look at. Anything is preferable to meeting the advocate's eyes, seeing the awkward concern there, mingled with uncertainty.
She doesn't have to tell me that this must be a new experience for her; it is clear in the uncomfortable way that her mouth twists when she tries to give me reassuring smiles, in the slightly hunched posture of her shoulders and the almost overly concerned tone of her voice when she addresses me. I wish I could tell her that she doesn't have to say anything to me if she doesn't want to, that I prefer that she doesn't. But I say nothing. I say nothing, and I wish that she would too.
Her name is Danielle; she told me that much when she introduced herself to me, when she had reached to shake my hand and withdrew it when I did not meet her halfway, biting her lip unconsciously. She is young, probably 21, 22, 23, somewhere around that. Not any older than me. She's brunette, pretty in the bland, rich- kid way that I envied when I was younger and still thought was obtainable for me. Her jeans are new, the bottoms not yet frayed, without holes or stains, not that this girl, this Danielle, looks like the type to wear them anymore if they were. Staring at slight flare of her jeans for a moment, it crosses my mind vaguely that she had probably put careful thought into dressing in something casual yet not too casual to come here, to be with me. I wonder if she thought that I would care what she looked like, given the circumstances of our meeting. I wondered if anyone else, sitting where I was now, would care, or if I alone felt numb to everything and everyone. Even me. Even this.
This girl sitting with me, this Danielle with no last name and the too-quick smile, looks to me like one of those types who runs for class president, who volunteers for everything that comes her way, all the better to pad her resume or grad school applications. Definitely a college girl…no one I can relate to, even before now. Before this.
"Katarina?" she says, and I wonder if she'd said something before that I hadn't heard. I don't ask her to repeat herself. I don't tell her that everyone who knows me calls me Kat.
"Katarina, if there's anything you want to, like, talk about…that's what I'm here for. To be here with you…if you have any questions about anything, or just want to, like, talk…"
I let my gaze shift over to my knees, covered by the thin paper gown. It bags around me, and I realize after a few moments that I am shivering, a few moments later, that my skin is riddled with goose bumps. I am wearing nothing underneath the gown, and I try to breathe as shallowly as possible, try to hold myself still, so that the gown does not touch more of me than is necessary. I am vaguely aware that my muscles are sore, but this knowledge is distant, removed from myself. It is less real to me than the whiteness of the walls, the words on the signs, the small scuff mark on Danielle's shoe. I bet she didn't notice it when she dressed…I bet she would have changed her shoes if she had seen. Those things seem a part of me in some way that my body, my existence, no longer does.
"Katarina…can I get you a blanket or something?"
She's trying to be understanding, to show how much she cares about me. About what happened. I know she doesn't understand. Even Danielle knows she doesn't understand, however she might try to come across to me as if she does. It's her job to be here for me, to understand for me. I'm tempted to tell her to give up, to just go home. I am wasting her time. I am wasting everyone's time. Even mine.
I have work today, I remember. Seven am. I'm supposed to be there for the breakfast shift. I wonder what they'll do when I don't show up. Nothing, probably. They'll call in someone else to cover for me, gripe about my absence. Maybe threaten to fire me, if it happens again. But they won't worry. I've never missed a shift, never given them any reason to think that I would just not show up, just quit without notice. But they won't worry. And if Micah doesn't come in either, they might even crack a few jokes, coming up with their own theories about why we aren't there. I can't blame them for that. I would do the same. If I were them. If I were there.
I can't work there anymore. I can't go back there. Can't go back to my apartment. No way in hell can I go to my mom's…my stepdad's…my brother's. Can't go anywhere. Anywhere at all.
The diner is only two blocks from my apartment. I usually have the morning shift, so it's not a big deal to walk home from it alone. Saves gas, saves money, both two very good things when you're practically broke. But this day, someone had called in sick, not an unusual occurrence, and I got drafted to work the dinner shift too. I thought about driving, but I figured, what were the odds of anything happening, right? Nothing had ever happened before. I could handle myself. This tiny town wasn't exactly Harlem.
I was working the shift with Jessica and Micah. The only reason he hasn't been fired so far, from what I can tell, is he continues to show up for work when half the people here quit within a month or two. He's lazy, he doesn't pay attention to what the customers need or even explicitly spell out to him that they want, and he spends half his time lounging at the counter, chatting up bored women customers or screwing around with his phone instead of actually doing work. Jess and I have to cover his tables for him sometimes just to make sure that customers will actually consider coming back.
What was most annoying though is the way that he was always after me. Raising his eyebrows, making insinuative comments, 'accidentally' bumping into me or brushing his body against me. Jessica has always said he has a thing for me. Like I can't see that with my own two eyes and hear it in every word he says to me. I've made it clear on a daily basis that I'm not interested. It doesn't matter. The guy's nothing if not persistent. I wish one of these women he's always flirting with instead of waiting tables or one of these new waitresses that are always coming or going would catch his eye for more than the two minutes he takes with them that are probably just to try to make me jealous. It would make being around him a lot more tolerable, that's for sure.
The three of us were the ones responsible for closing the place up at the end of our shifts. Micah left before Jess and me, of course, leaving us with the clean up. As I locked the front door, calling goodbye to Jessica over my shoulder and beginning to make my way down the sidewalk, I heard Micah calling out to me from the parking lot. I turned, letting out an impatient breath. Obviously he hadn't skipped out entirely, just long enough so that he didn't have to clean.
"Hey, Kat, where you going?"
"Home," I said, turning back around and continuing on my way. Although the streetlights were on, my route back home well-lit and in full view of the road and people's apartments, I suddenly felt a little uneasy. It crossed my mind then for the first time that I should have drove.
"Aw, come on, it's still early…what do you say we hang out a while?"
"I'm tired, Micah, I'm going home. See you tomorrow, all right?"
I kept walking, hoping that would be the end of it. He started to follow me down the street, and my heartbeat quickened, my senses suddenly heightening as he loped at my side. If he touched me, I was afraid I would hit him, afraid that I would scream. There was no real reason to be afraid of him. He was just an annoying guy at work, he'd never done anything more than come on too strong. It was just that in the darkness, when you're alone, everything seems a little more threatening, a little more likely to cause you harm.
"How about you let me give you a ride?" he persisted, still keeping in stride with me, his shadow overlapping mine on the sidewalk, engulfing it entirely with his larger size. "Come on, Kat, you can at least let me give you a ride home, give me something here!"
"I'm almost there already, don't bother, all right?" I said. I tried to give him a quick smile, hoping that it would appease him, that he would be satisfied enough to let me go. "See you tomorrow."
He stopped walking then, looking at me with an odd expression coming into his eyes. Something dark, hurt, maybe even a little pissed. I didn't care, if he was going to go back to his car, if he was going to give up on this persistent delusion that I wanted anything to do with him outside of work. Or even while working. He shrugged, starting to back away, muttering over his shoulder as he moved away with heavy emphasis to his steps, contrasting with their former jauntiness.
"Well, whatever…if you change your mind…"
"Yeah, thanks," I said, watching him walk away. I waited until he had reached his car before continuing, relieved. However much the guy hoped, I was never going to change my mind.
"If you change your mind, it can still be done," Danielle is saying, and I lift my eyes briefly, not looking her in the eye, but rather some point around her ear. I notice that her ears have three piercings. "You know, the kit. Up to three days later, you know, after, we can still find evidence with it. If you change your mind. And want to do the kit. And press charges or something."
I nod without speaking. It takes me a few moments to decipher what she means as my eyes drop down again, tracing the specks of brown engrained into the tile white floor. I know that I won't change my mind. I don't want to stay here any longer than I have to. I just want to go. I just want to go home.
No. No, I don't. Not home… not anymore. Not after. Maybe it is best if I stay here…where else would I go? Could I stay here forever, a moment frozen in time, not moving on, not moving back…just here.
Why was I here? Why had I called, why had I come? At the time I had just acted, just did it. I dragged myself to my feet, dragged myself to the phone, and made the call to the hospital. I did it without emotion, without much thought. It was instinctive, a way of acting without accepting, running to shelter while running away. I didn't understand it now. I could have gone anywhere. I could have done anything. But I was here. Here, in this room, with these glaringly white walls, this suffocating space, and this girl, this advocate, this Danielle.
She's tried to touch me, a few times. Shaking my hand, putting her hand on my shoulder, on my back, lightly, gingerly, as if not quite sure of what sensation her hand might feel when coming in contact with me. When she touches me, she watches my face closely, licking her lips nervously, as if she's worried that I might flinch away from her, that I might be afraid of her. That I might cry.
I don't. I'm not afraid of her touching me. I don't want her to, but neither do I really feel strongly about it in any way at all. I don't feel strongly about anything right now. Even this. Even me. And I don't cry. I think she wants me to, I think she would feel more comfortable if I did. But I don't. I can't. And I have no desire to. My eyes are dry.
God, it's so cold in here. I can feel the hairs on the back of my neck standing up. I try not to shiver. Try to keep the cold separate from me. From my body. I don't want to feel it. Don't want to let Danielle know I feel it. I don't want to let her give me anything, even just a blanket. If I let her do that…if I let her do even one thing like that, who knows what might happen next. What I might let happen next.
My feet are bare, the dirty soles dangling over the bed. When I was a kid I would have kicked them. I don't do that now. I see Danielle's eyes quickly lower down to my feet, like she's embarrassed to be looking, or afraid she'll be caught. I think she's looking at the blue polish chipping off my toenails. I can't see her feet inside her closed toed shoes but I bet she has a pedicure. Bet she takes the polish off or redoes it the second it starts to chip. I want to tuck my feet under me, hide them from her eyes, but I just stay still. Just pretend I don't notice, tell myself I don't notice. And pretty soon she looks away.
God, it's so cold.
I think of the blanket Danielle offered. Think of wrapping it around me, protecting myself from the cold. Protecting myself from her quick, nervous looks. For a second I think of my blanket at home, but as an image comes to mind I catch my breath, hurriedly trying to redirect my thoughts. No blankets. No…anything. I try to exhale as soundlessly as possible, where Danielle won't hear, concentrating on keeping the paper gown's stiff material from touching most of my skin.
My eyes move to read the sign above Danielle's head for the eighteenth time, and again I read the declaration stating that I cannot be denied emergency services. Ironic, given that I'm now denying them the chance to give them to me. Both Danielle and the cop that was here earlier, the cop I could not bring myself to speak to at all, have informed me that if I don't go through with this, if I don't press charges, that the state will not pay for my treatment here, even though really no treatment has been given. I wonder if this is true, if they can really make me pay. What if I left now? What if I just stood up and walked away, without waiting for the doctor to come back, without waiting for a nurse, for a cop to return, for someone to come sign me out and make me sign forms…what if I just left?
I think about it. I even will myself to stand, to walk out the door, hospital gown and all, to give Danielle an excuse to go back to her college and do whatever it is that girls like her do with themselves when they aren't here with girls like me. But I don't. I can't. I can't make myself move.
"Katarina…is there anyone I can call? Family…friends…anyone…"
She has asked that already, but I don't point this out to her. I hear her shift her weight in her chair, hear her sigh softly, and I force a word out from the dryness of my throat.
I try to tell myself that there isn't.
He stood in my doorway, his hand propped against the frame in seeming casualness even as his smile curled in a way that made my stomach clinch. I kept my hand on the doorknob, trying to close the door a little in a way that's subtle but pointed. Shit…
"Micah, what are you doing here? Did you follow me?"
"Thought you might have changed your mind," he said, and he didn't move away, his eyes slowly raking down over my pajama-clad form. I was newly aware that I had removed my bra just before he knocked on the door, and I wanted to cross my arms, but this would mean letting go of the door. "Thought you might want some company."
"You thought wrong," I replied pointedly, but I could feel my heartbeat speeding up, could feel my palms begin to sweat, and I swallowed, again trying to slowly shut the door. "I told you I'd see you at work tomorrow. Go home. I'm going to bed."
I tried to shut the door, but he blocked it swiftly with his foot, his eyes narrowing. There was an anger to his voice that I had never heard before, that he had never shown among all his jokes and teasings.
"It's not even eleven, Kat. Stop playing games."
"I'm not playing anything, Micah, I told you, I'm going to bed. Go home!"
I tried to nudge his foot out of the way, but his hand shot out to grab mine, tightening around my wrist until my eyes widened. His eyes met mine, and I froze, the tautness of his jaw scaring me almost as much as his grip on my wrist, the darkness of his pupils.
"Don't be such a bitch, Kat. Let me in."
"Let me in," Danielle is saying, and I look up sharply, for the first time, struggling to pull myself into the presence, to understand her words.
She blinks, seeming surprised that I am paying attention, that I would care enough to ask her to repeat herself. She clears her throat, tugging at the hem of her shirt, and repeats herself, her eyes on mine only because she is making herself hold them there.
"I said, if you change your mind…if you decide you want to do this, you know, the kit…and pressing charges…they'll let me in, if you want. Into the room. While they're doing it. They would let me stay with you. If you're worried about being alone."
I nod, letting my eyes shift away again, letting her off the hook from having to look into them any longer. It isn't being alone that I am worried about. Being alone…that's what I prefer. And I know that I will not change my mind.
The silence falls between us again, stretching out so that I hear nothing but Danielle subtly shifting her weight once more in her chair, my own slow breaths, the erratic beatings of my heart, the rustling of the paper gown against my skin, despite my efforts to keep it apart from me. As though drawn to it, my eyes return to the whiteness of the wall before me, its sheer lack of color blinding, burning the back of my eyes, until my vision blurred, until my eyes grew hot with the pressure of continuing to look at its color. I tell myself that it is the wall, that it is the white. I tell myself that it isn't my tears, rebelling against my instinctive commands to not be shed.
The overhead light of living area of my apartment was so bright, burning into my eyes. I turned my head and shut my eyes, but it wasn't enough. I could still see the light filtering in through the thin skin of my eyelids. He had been gone for a few minutes now, but I could still see his face, the features twisted with aggressive determination as it hovered too close over mine. I could feel his hands on me, could feel his breath on my cheek, the remaining stickiness of his saliva on my skin. I felt him on my body like he had never left me at all. I lay very still, my eyes squeezed shut, and I told myself over and over to stop. Just stop…stop…stop…
I could hear my heart pounding. It felt like it was right there next to my ears, even though I could feel it knocking hard against my chest, like it was trying to break through the skin. I swallowed repeatedly, convulsively, but it was still hard to breathe. Every breath was more like a gulp, like I couldn't take in enough air, like I was drowning without water.
I felt like I was drowning.
I could feel the blood trickling down my thigh, the skin darkening around my eye, the flesh of my lower lip splitting further apart, like each second was an eternity, every moment that my body took to deconstruct itself measurable and distinctly noticeable to me. The pain was dull right now, but building slowly, intensifying, and I bit my already bleeding lip to keep from crying out. My stomach churned, and even with my eyes closed I felt dizzy, nauseous, like the entire room was spinning and I could do nothing to stop its circular path.
Two words repeated in my brain, slow at first, then faster, until I could no longer remember their meanings. They were nothing, just sounds, and I panicked for a moment, struggling to draw in breath and choking, coughing, beginning to gag. I opened my eyes, sitting up, and the sharp pain this caused made me freeze, concentrating on thinking past it, thinking through it, willing it away.
It didn't work.
Eventually I made myself stand. Eventually I made myself go to my room and dress in my baggiest shirt and sweatpants, not looking at myself, keeping my eyes focused on the wall of my bedroom as I touched my body as little as possible. Eventually I walked to the phone and called the police, telling them what had happened in the voice of a girl I didn't recognize, a stranger who spoke with such a dead, flat tone that a small part of me wanted to shiver at its sound. Eventually I drove myself to the hospital, because this was what they had told me I should do.
But first I just sat there…first I wrapped my arms tightly around my aching torso, feeling my heart rattle rapidly against my forearms as I struggled for breath. It hurt to touch myself, hurt to do anything at all, but I did it, some part of me convinced that if I didn't hold myself together physically, I would scatter into lifeless pieces across the floor.
I already was, inside.
I sat there, and I wanted, I needed so badly for something, for someone, other than my own bruising arms to hold me. But at the same time the very thought of anyone's touch terrified me to the point that hot, panicked tears formed in my eyes, and I knew that no one I knew could know this. Somehow, no one could know.
God, it's so damn cold in here.
I take in a slow breath, but I can't let it out. Somehow it's being held inside, and I start to panic as I struggle, choking; finally it escapes, and the tears that I continue to tell myself do not exist press even harder against my eyes. Suddenly I am shaking, shivering so hard I can hear my teeth clicking together, and I can't stop, I can't make myself be still. I try to tell myself to stop, try to tell myself to calm down, chill out, but I'm just shaking, and it's not stopping, nothing I tell myself is making it stop. The paper gown is touching me now, every time I move it brushes against me, scraping my skin, the rough papery surface making me shiver even harder with its complete lack of warmth and comfort. My muscles scream their protests at my violent twitching, and I wrap my fingers tightly around the bottom of the bed, my knuckles whitening, trying to tense my body hard enough that I am forced to stop shivering.
My head is lowered now, my teeth gritted, but I can still see Danielle out the corner of my eye, beginning to stand, her expression alarmed as she takes a hesitant step towards me, her hand awkwardly outstretched. I hear her call my name, but I don't respond. I can't.
It isn't until her fingertips lightly brush my shoulder, hovering there for a few moments before more firmly settling as a solid weight, that I see a small damp spot slowly spread itself over the gown at my lap, darkening the pale green