The building was a massive structure made of white marble. It had a portico that spanned the immense length of the face of the building and was being held up by towering columns. Three long steps were placed at the end of an even longer walkway to lead up the portico directly to large doorway that led in to the building. A large expansion of beautiful green lawn rolled in front of the building and on either side of the walkway. Oak trees of old lined the lawn where it met the road, seemingly trying to protect the white marble building from prying eyes, while bright flowers lined the walkway seeming to greet the guests of the building.
I finally stepped from my vehicle that was parked on the opposite side of the building. I had to admit to myself that it would have made a beautiful scene, the building and landscape, if it hadn't been for the words stamped across the building's face: Evergreen Psychiatric Hospital.
Hundreds of screaming, raving lunatics locked behind heavy metal doors and barred windows lived in that building. This is where only the worse cases went, people who would live and die in Evergreen. It was a long term treatment facility and once a person got checked into EPH, he was never coming back through those doors again. There was no such thing as freedom for the patients of EPH. Sometimes I think that there wasn't even freedom for those who worked and visited Evergreen.
I made the slow journey of walking up the walkway, which, by the way, was also white marble. I passed by a number of people that were leaving the building. One could always tell which people had been coming here the longest and which ones had just started. The old ones were blank faced and stared straight ahead – they would be the ones to cry when they got back home, just before bed. The newer ones were a sobbing mess from the time they left Evergreen's front doors to the time the finally collapsed in bed, tired from all the crying. I fell in the older category, crying when I arrived home from my visit.
At last I arrived at the foot of the stairs and quickly stepped my way up to the portico to stand in front of the large doors. They looked like it would take ten men to pull open the doors, but I reached out and gave hardly a tug before one of the doors glided open smoothly. A wash of cool air rolled over me as I stepped inside the door, pulling it shut with a light click behind me.
The large antechamber of EPH had a high ceiling with some kind of design engraved into it. The walls and floor where just as white as the outside of the building and my shoes clicked with every step I took. I stepped up to the check in station and waited for one of the receptionists to take notice of me.
One that I didn't recognize came to the Plexiglass window to check me in. She had bleached blonde hair, baby blue eyes, and a sparkling smile. I grimaced at her looks. Who smiled in a psychiatric hospital anyways? But she'd soon stop smiling and being the perky girl she was, if she stayed here. Everyone ended up taking on a grim aura. It was kind of hard to remain happy with so many crazy people around.
She flashed her megawatt smile at me, "name, please!" Did this girl not understand where she was? Her peppy cheerleading days were over. Welcome to the first gate of Hell.
Blondie's fingers flew across the computer keyboard, her eyes reading my sign-in history. "And who will you be visiting today?" I feel my mouth pull down at the corner. There was a list containing only one name that went back twelve years right in front of her face. Did she really need to ask?
I watched the blonde receptionist turn back to her computer, her fingers flying across the keyboard. I knew that years of information was popping up about Nikolai Volkov – birthday, physical descriptions, family members, reason for institutionalization, etcetera – but the most important was his visitation rights. There had been times where I came to visit him only to be denied access. Those days were his bad days, where it was not only dangerous for me to see him, but for even his doctors. Nikolai had a reason for being in EPH and it was a damn good one too.
"Everything looks good today!" chirped the blonde receptionist, her fingers once again dancing across the keyboard now that she was done reading, "Just let me print you up a visitor's pass and then you can go through security!" I bobbed my head in approval and thanks while I waited for my pass. I could hear the printer starting up and watched as the receptionist went to retrieve it for me. She put the little slip of paper into a clear plastic covering with a clip and slid it under the Plexiglass for me. I took it without word and moved onto the next stage of admittance.
The heavily barred doors to the left of the check in station buzzed and slid open to allow me access. I stepped through into a small cell like area where a security guard was sitting on a stool. His name was Tony and I'm pretty sure he had been here longer than most of the staff in EPH. He was old and graying, thin and hunched over. It's a good thing that Tony only worked security clearance, because I doubt he could have done anything if any of the patients had gotten out of hand.
Tony gave me a kind smile as I approached and he rose slowly to his feet. I never questioned as to why he smiled. Anyone could tell that even though it was a kind smile, it held sadness, grief, and pity for those who walked through these doors. I smiled crookedly back.
I spread my arms out wide and my feet shoulder's width apart as Tony came at me with a metal detector wand. It beeped as it came to my belt buckle and beeped again as it was waved over my pockets, which contained my keys and cell phone. Tony took up a basket and held it out to me, whereby I pulled out my belt, keys, and cell phone and dropped them into the basket for safe keeping. He then swiped his photo ID card into a keypad by a second barred door, opposite the one I just walked through, and punched in a long series of numbers. The door buzzed open and I walked through to stand on the other side, the door clanking shut behind me.
"You know the routine Nika," said Tony as he shuffled back to his stool, "Just walk down the hall to the next station and you will be assigned an escort who will take you to Nikolai's room." I turned to thank Tony before making my way down the long, white hallway. There were neither doors nor pictures nor windows on the walls of the hallway. I felt trapped myself as I walked down the hall towards the second station, almost as if it would take an eternity to reach the end. It was really only a few seconds and I was standing in front of the new station.
Through the Plexiglass that also protected this station I could see the orderly, Gabriel, moving to greet me. He was a nice kid who had been working at Evergreen for about as long as I've been visiting. And he seemed to be the only one who truly enjoys his job of helping the patients here.
I once asked him how he could stay so positive in a place that seemed so negative. Gabriel explained that his mother used to be in a psychiatric hospital and that everyone thought she'd be there forever. Well apparently a couple years later she was out and functioning once again. Gabriel told me that his mother said it was because there had been an orderly there that seemed to be able to truly have a gift in helping the patients. He had been so thankful towards the orderly that helped his mother that he decided that he would become one too and that he too would do all that he could to help the patients at EPH.
"Nika! How have you been?" inquired Gabriel kindly, but quietly. He was tapping away at the computer, double checking to make sure that Nikolai was allowed to have visitors today. Liking what he saw, Gabriel shot a quick, "one moment," as he buzzed me through yet another set of barred doors. When I walked through them, Gabriel was there waiting for me, obviously my escort for the day.
"I've been alright; been kept busy by my job though," I murmured as Gabriel swiped his ID and entered a series of digits, which he didn't try to hide from me, into another keypad next to another door. We walked through together into a second, smaller antechamber which had three heavy metal doors that would lead out of it. The one in the middle would lead to the service offices such as the kitchen area, medicine pickup, and a recreational area. The door on the right held patients who had either checked themselves in or had family member check them in because they were unable to properly function within society anymore due to their mental illness. The door on the left held the patients that were placed here because they were found mentally incompetent due to mental illness to stand trial for crimes. They were the patients who posed a serious threat to themselves and society. That was the door that Gabriel and I were heading for.
The process of going through this door took a little longer as Gabriel had to swiped his ID card and not only enter one series of digits, but three. I took this time to look around the room. It was just as Spartan as the rest of the place. No pictures lined the wall, only a certification of authentication awarded to Evergreen Psychiatric Hospital that was framed hung from the wall, and two uncomfortable looking chairs. I heard a buzzing and knew that Gabriel had cleared us through the door. I turned towards him as he was pulling open the heavy door, motioning for me to enter. I did so without hesitation.
We walked down a long hallway, passing a number of doors to either side of us that held patients behind them. Gabriel and I finally arrived at the end of the hallway where another station and a heavy door was at. We passed by the station without a second glance and made our way to the door. Yet again Gabriel swiped his ID card and punched in numbers, the door opening with a buzz and leading us into a stairwell. Together we climbed two flights of stairs to arrive at the third floor where another keypad was awaiting us. While the amount of security was annoying, it let me know that it would be extremely hard for any of the patients to escape. I felt a little safer knowing this.
Gabriel and I walked through the door as it buzzed to arrive, at last, on the floor that held Nikolai. We walked pass another station and many more patient doors, this time faint screams being heard, to the last cell that was Nikolai's home. I stood behind Gabriel as he again swiped his ID card and punched in some numbers. The door only gave a soft click this time as it opened outward slightly. Gabriel waved me through and he followed close behind me, closing the door as he entered. We stood in a room with a metal table and two metal chairs on either end of the table, all bolted down to the floor.
I walked towards the chair nearest to me and slipped between it and the table to sit myself down. At the same time Gabriel moved to a door opposite to me that once again had a keypad. "Nikolai, Nika is here. I'm going to open the door, so stand away from it," called Gabriel, peering through the small square window about eye height. He waited a moment and then repeated the process of unlocking the door, a faint click emitting from the door.
Gabriel pulled the door outward and for a moment there was no one to be seen in the room. At last the man by Nikolai stepped into view and walked through the doorway to make his way to the chair that was closest to him. Gabriel closed the door lightly and the made his way to lean against a wall.
I stared across the table at Nikolai, a shiver running down my spine at the picture I saw there. The sight of my twin brother staring back at me with the exact same icy blue eyes I had was unnerving, reminding me that I could have been the one in his place, the one locked up in this hospital. I took in his physique; we had both always been skinny people, but the bones in his wrists seemed to jut out harshly, as if they were going to rip their way out of his snowy white skin. I could tell he wasn't eating well, but that had been going on since he arrived at Evergreen, so it was not surprising to me. Nothing about him surprised me really, as he had been going in only one direction since his confinement: down. The only thing he seemed to take care of was his so very white hair, which was a shiny, luscious wave that fell to his waist. I took note that it had now become longer than mine.
My replica finally took his eyes off of me and began taking in Gabriel, as if it were his first time seeing the orderly. "How have you been Nika?" inquired my twin, glancing at me for only a moment before turning back to Gabriel.
"Busy with work and taking care of the kids. I tried to visit you earlier, but you had…a bad day," I said, pulling on my bangs out of a nervous habit. Nikolai only nodded his head like he knew I was going to say this all along. And maybe he did know. We had always been freakishly intuitive towards each other.
Nikolai seemed to roll his next question around for a bit. Finally asking, "And how is Sasha doing?" The name of my husband was hissed slightly. If I hadn't been listening to it, I would have missed it. I could see the corners of my brother's eyes and mouth tighten up. He hated my husband with a passion I hadn't seen since our days in high school when the kids made horrible fun of our albinism. Or since the incident with our parents, the incident that put him in this hospital.
"Why do you ask when it only makes you angry to think of him?" I inquire, honestly wanting to know the answer. He asked every time without fail since I had married Sasha, and every time I could see him getting angrier and angrier.
"I'm trying to be polite for the sake of my syestra," answered Nikolai, at long last turning to look at me again. There was a possessiveness in his eyes that clearly stated that I was his, and only his, no matter what the ring on my finger meant. His voice, however, was soft and gentle. He really was trying to be polite for me, although he probably didn't realize what his eyes betrayed.
I smiled very lightly at the Russian word for sister. Nikolai would call me that when we were younger, before the incident that sent him here. I remembered how I would call him mladshii brat, Russian for little brother. I began tracing the scar that went through my left eyebrow, down to my cheek, that Nikolai had given me during the incident. It had cost me my eye sight.
"I don't regret what I did Nika. I did it for us. But I do regret harming you. I never meant to do that, never. You're everything to me," spoke Nikolai suddenly, looking like a lost child. I gazed at him, still tracing the scar, up and down, up and down. I loved my brother and I would always love him. He was the only person I truly cared about, truly loved. Not even my husband who I married out of obligation, if anything.
"I know Nikolai. How many times do I have to say I forgive you before you finally believe it?" I asked teasingly. Nikolai just gave a sly smirk and flipped some of his hair over his shoulder. I knew what he was going to say next when he did that.
"Syestra, will you braid my hair?"
I smiled at Nikolai's antics, but gave my consent nonetheless. I glanced at Gabriel for permission though, and he nodded his head in affirmation. I stood from my seat and made my way to stand behind Nikolai, brushing my fingers through his hair. I began separating and pulling his hair into a French braid, thinking back onto the incident.
Our parents were planning on separating us for good, each parent taking one of us far away from each other. It had been the only time that our parents had paid any attention to us, and of course it had to be negative. We were closer than what a brother and sister should be, but what did they expect? We were Russian immigrants who still spoke English with an accent and were albinos. American teenagers were all over making our lives a living hell from the time Nikolai and I exited the house to the time we finally entered the house again, mostly to hide from those cruel kids. And there was the fact that our own parents paid us no mind, too worried about this thing, or that thing. We had only each other.
It had been the night before Nikolai and I were to be separated for good and I was a crying mess. We had locked the door to my room and laid curled against each other, seeking comfort from one another. I had always been the strong one, but I could never had imagined my life without Nikolai. He had eventually soothed me to sleep, himself not crying one bit, taking the mantle as the strong one this time. When I woke up, our lives had changed.
I remember hearing screaming and thinking that maybe I was just dreaming it, but then I realized that it was real. I leaped from my bed, noticing Nikolai was no longer with me and that the door was ajar. The screaming continued, me noticing that it had been coming from downstairs. I had ran all the way down the stairs, just in time to see my brother plunge the knife a final time into our mother. Father was already dead on the ground, laying in a huge pool of blood.
I approached my brother cautiously, more worried about him than the dead bodies on the ground. I had touched his shoulder when he spun and struck out at me, slicing the sharp kitchen knife down my face. Nikolai had gasped in horror at what he had done to me just as I had yelled out a strangled yell of pain.
The police arrived shortly after. Nikolai told the police that the only things he remembered were falling asleep next to me and then waking up to find himself slashing a knife at me. If Nikolai hadn't been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, he would have been tried as an adult for murder at the age of 16. Luckily, if it can be called that, Nikolai just got sent to Evergreen Psychiatric Hospital for the rest of his life.
I pulled myself from my memories, noticing that I had already braided half of Nikolai's hair. I worked my fingers diligently through his hair, wanting the braid to be perfect. "I'll get you out of here Nikolai, I promise."
I felt, rather than saw Gabriel shift at his spot against the wall. It was a strange thing to say to someone who was going to be here forever, no matter what. I meant it though. I'd get Nikolai out of Evergreen if it was the last thing I had to do. "Did you know that Volkov comes from the Russian word volk, meaning wolf?" I inquired towards Gabriel who only shook his head, confusion written clearly written across his face.
Beneath my hands I could feel Nikolai shifting restlessly. "Hold still, mladshii brat, I'm almost done with your braid." Nikolai stilled once more and I quickly finished the braid, tying it off with a hair band I always kept around my wrist. I pulled back from Nikolai to admire my work and announce, "Done!" quite happily.
In a flash of movement Nikolai was out of his seat and grasping Gabriel's head between his hands, beating the boy's skull again the wall of visiting cell. He threw Gabriel to the floor violently and straddled the bleeding orderly, pushing down on his throat to prevent Gabriel from yelling out.
I lifted my foot to remove the razor blade that was hidden in the sole of my shoe, knowing there wasn't much time as the blinking light of the security camera reminded me. I strolled quickly next to Gabriel and squatted by his head. "You're a nice kid Gabriel and don't take this personally. You picked the wrong day to escort me." I picked Gabriel's ID card from him and watched as he scratched at Nikolai's hands, desperately trying to get my brother to release him. I flipped the razor blade in my hand and dug it deeply into Gabriel's neck, just above Nikolai's hands. Blood poured out and the life in Gabriel's eyes died out.
There was an old Russian lullaby that popped into my head as Nikolai and I moved to exit the visiting cell. It went like this: Bayu-bayshki-bayu/ Ne lozhisya na krayu/ Pridyot serenkiy volchok/ On ukhvatit za bochok/ I utashchit vo lesok/ Pod rakitovy kustok (Baby, baby, rock-a-bye/ On the edge you mustn't lie/ Or the little grey wolf will come/ And will nip you on the turn/ Tug you off into the wood/ Underneath the willow-root).