June 15, 2020
It was hard getting past our fifth group therapist’s looks. Not because she was some drop-dead gorgeous model; no, quite the opposite. She looked like Nanny McPhee and dressed like Miss Frizzle.
Our therapists were often tricked into their positions with a promised, substantial salary. It only took them a week to find out they’d been gypped and were subject to government pay lower than a poor community’s teacher’s salary. If that didn’t work, there was always David to scare them off. I learned this on the fourth’s last day. Dr. Spencer said it was important to know the reason behind his actions if we saw him on the news. I liked him. I liked to think his right eye constantly twitching meant he was on the verge of revenge, like me.
David was a troubled young man that kept the rest of us sane. We used to always say as long as we didn’t end up as bad as David, we’d be okay. There were many stories of David that circulated the ward — none of them ever confirmed except for the one I witnessed.
It was a bright day shining through the crosshatch windows of our section. David, tall and lanky with dark shoulder-length hair that covered his eyes, walked into the common room where the rest of us were gathered around the TV we had no control over, looked up at one of the windows and said, “As soon as it starts raining, there will be only one death.” He waited for no response and left afterwards as suddenly as he entered. The statement alone was troubling, but even worse was the fact that that was the first thing he’d said in two months. I got chills, the girl next to me screamed and buried her head in the sofa, and the nurse at the desk said, “What the fuck?” It was a strange day, made even stranger by David’s prediction coming true. It rained, and there was one death — a murder. David was able to stay because 1) there was surprisingly no evidence or witnesses to link him to the crime and 2) even if there was, he was already in the place they would send him. As for the nurse, well, I never cared for him anyway.
Our fifth group therapist, Dr. Siconey-Castillo, had a thick Colombian accent that was a nice distraction from her naïve teachings. She spoke to us like we were her kindergarten students even though we were in our twenties. I almost felt sorry for her until she told me I needed to “keep my hair out of my face and use sugar water to get rid of all the acne that was ruining my beauty.” I responded in the most obvious manner, by picking up the dictionary resting on the coffee table between us and chunking it at her head. Getting thrown into the quiet room for the rest of the day was worth it. Her shiner in our next session was the most satisfied I’d felt since I first arrived there six months ago. I was a little surprised however to see her and not another replacement. Dr. Essie (she even stayed long enough for a nickname — a simple pronunciation of the initials in her hyphenated last name) and I had a mutual understanding. In our next session, I noticed her chair was placed an additional two feet farther back from us and the dictionary was nowhere to be found; pity, because I did enjoy reading it from time to time. Dr. Essie also never gave us advice on our appearance again.
David only joined us in group therapy. I guess because it truly was mandatory. The nurses would literally drag you out of bed and strap you to a chair, if necessary. He sat quiet at the edge of the sofa, staring at the therapist. Most times he would wear an evil grin. When his face got tired, he resorted to slow, stabbing motions with his hand. The therapists would always try to engage him, but he never responded.
Group therapy was often a good place to daydream or just doze off. Javier took up all the time with his disturbing talk about how his uncle raped him in every room of the house every day until his twelfth birthday, when he just couldn’t take it anymore. He was more detailed than a nineteenth century author. Even when the therapist tried to give other people a chance to speak, it was no use because Javier would suddenly burst into tears and yell, “I can still feel him in my ass!”
Dr. Essie did a strange thing to this day I can’t figure out. One day, after Javier’s usual outburst, she replied with, “Okay, everybody up! We’re going for ice cream.” Obviously, nobody moved, but that shut Javier up.
He sniffled and said, “really?” But Dr. Essie was already on her feet. She swung open the door and called out to the nurse’s station, “Tell Dr. Spartz we’re going out for ice cream. Be back in a jiffy!”
The two nurses at the desk simply blinked at her. But Dr. Essie was on a mission. She grabbed her purse that I thought for the longest time was a scarf, dug for her keys and looked back at us all still sitting. “Ice cream makes everything better. Come on kids.” Javier did not have to be told again. He was up and trailing behind her as she marched through the common room towards the exit. Melinda, the girl who had to be kept away from cups of liquid (in case she tried to drown herself again), followed shortly after. The rest of us, four other insanities, me, and lastly, David, shrugged and followed. It was amazing; there was a buzzing sound, and the doors opened.
It was bright outside, but I could see a white van with the name — Van Scott Psychiatric Hospital — printed on the outside in blue, block letters. Dr. Essie started the van and Javier slid open the door and hopped inside. The rest of us paused and looked around at our gated surroundings. I did not feel like running without a carefully thought-out plan in place. The others must have felt the same because we all joined Javier.
I was enjoying my Cinnamon and Dutch Chocolate scoop when I looked up at the silent TV screen in the ice cream shop to see our home on fire. The news was showing live footage of firemen hosing down a blazing fire. The newscaster was saying there were no survivors. There was a picture inset of Dr. Spencer. Dr. Essie looked up at the screen and said, “Good boy.” It took five group therapists before one finally told me something meaningful: ice cream really does make everything better. Except for Melinda, who somehow got her hands on a cup of water.