Five weeks and not once had Kamila seen Elizabeth anywhere. Frustration coursed through her as she took a seat in the group therapy session. Twice weekly she came here, sat through sitting to people discussing why they were angry at their cat, how their dad abused them, and how what the government hid in their electronics was causing cancer. Some of it freaked her out. She’d left the last meeting certain that if the population in just this institution was only one percent of what thrived outside these walls the world was pretty messed up.
Other patients fluttered in and mingled with others, some took extra cookies and hid them in their pants pockets. She glanced towards the door just as Elizabeth entered. Kamila’s mouth dropped and her eyes grew studious. The young woman looked so frail and pale. She was thin, too thin, and her tall blonde hair hanging around her neck was knotted up. The unkempt appearance of the woman baffled Kamila. Where has she been all this time? What have they been doing to her? The wrists were bandaged up and her legs, Kamila guessed, looked just as bruised and beaten as her arms did.
“Let’s all have a seat.” Dr. Jules was the group therapy leader as well as the art therapy instructor. Kamila had liked the woman right away and was pleased to see her come in. “Let’s form a circle as we always do.” She patted a chair and Elizabeth sat down beside her. “Please help me welcome our newest friend Beth.” Dr. Jules turned towards her and smiled before looking at each and every patient in the circle. She greeted them individually and asked them all to tell how they were feeling.
When the ice breaker reached Kamila she looked at Beth. “I’m feeling curious today.” She stood up and stepped across the circle and offered Elizabeth her hand. “My name is Kamila. It’s nice to meet you.”
“Thank you for being so kind Kamila but let’s focus on ourselves for the time being.” Dr. Jules said in a professional but nice tone. “How are you feeling today?”
She sat back down and looked down at her hands, clutched in her lap. “I’m feeling sad today. My roommate went home today. And even though I’m really happy that the doctor felt she was better enough to go I will miss her.”
Dr. Jules nodded. “It can be a very upsetting disturbance in our lives when people move on but we have to understand they are moving on to bigger and better. And also remind yourself that you too are striving for the same thing.” She smiled again. “Thank you for sharing that Kamila. I hope your next roommate fills the void in a good way.”
The round robin continued until it reached the last person. Elizabeth remained still. She sat with stiff body posture and her hands were under her legs. She looked at the doctor and finally opened her mouth when Dr. Jules shook her head. She quickly closed it again.
“You can say just one word, a feeling, if that is comfortable for you Beth.”
Everyone waited impatiently. Green sock covered feet began moving around and hands moved anxiously.
“Sleepy.” Beth finally spoke.
Kamila continued to study the woman. She did certainly look sleepy with shadows all around her eyes and her sunken in cheeks.
“Thank you Beth.” Dr. Jules patted her hands against her lap. “Alright. So today I thought we would all share a little about their childhood. Whatever you feel safe and comfortable talking about. We won’t talk to each other except to share empathy.” She pursed her lips and looked at a few patients. “Remember the difference between sympathy and empathy. Here we give each other empathy with statements such as I can understand how you felt or I have felt similar to that. But let each person finish speaking and no interrupting each other.”
Kamila wanted to roll her eyes. Although the doctor was sweet and all, Kamila felt like the woman treated them like six year olds rather than adults. She surveyed the group and guessed the youngest person was probably Elizabeth, who was barely nineteen. She looked beyond the group and out the windows that showed the halls and nurse’s station. Dustin was smiling and waving at her. She raised her hand to smile back.
“Thank you for volunteering Kamila.” Dr. Jules said.
“Oh. I didn’t…”The doctor stared at her with a sickly sweet smile that said something akin to ‘pay attention next time’ and Kamila knew she had no choice but to go on and share. She thought for a minute about what to share. Her childhood wasn’t the best.
“I grew up in an orphanage from the time I was six. Before that my parents were the best. That was before my mother died.” She didn’t want to share that the world believed her father killed her mother before he ran off. She’d had enough memories, ever for a six year old, to know that her father had been the sweetest man ever alive.
“Someone murdered her, my mom I mean. After that I was sent to the orphanage.” Kamila swallowed. “I don’t have any brothers or sisters but I always wanted them. I kinda felt that is why I was put in the orphanage, so that I could have brothers and sisters around me. Most of them were mean. I was small for my age but I did find a friend there who grew up to be just like a brother to me.” Until I tried having sex with him and screwed up that relationship. “He went away though and things got harder.”
Kamila was reminded of all the times she got beat up and how every time someone told her that her father was a monster and so was she. Her eyes misted over and she shook her head before looking away.
“Thank you Kamila. Does anyone have anything they would like to share?”
Beth looked at Kamila and acted like she wanted to say something but didn’t. She even shook her head as if deciding against it.
“Beth would you like to say something?”
While everyone waited for her to speak Kamila just sat and looked at the floor. She was afraid if she made eye contact with Elizabeth that she would lose any courage and strength she might already have. It didn’t work. Beth remained silent.
Kamila didn’t pay attention to the rest of the session. She instead made quick glances towards the doctor and Elizabeth. It looked like Dr. Jules had some kind of sway of Elizabeth. Whenever the doctor would pat her leg gently Elizabeth would make a comment, however brief they were. Kamila decided that either Elizabeth was comfortable and felt allowed to speak when that happened or she felt forced to speak. She couldn’t decide which though because the session was cut short.
“We are having a fire drill today and then we are going to be having movie day.” Dr. Jules announced.
Everyone moaned. Kamila didn’t see what was so wrong with a movie day. And at least with a fire drill they would all get a chance for some extra sunshine. She was disappointed with the lack of outdoor activities permitted in the institution. The small gated patio was covered and the lack of tables and chairs space made it an opportune place to be and rarely was there anything available. So much so, a fight took place two weeks ago on the patio that now it was no longer a first come first serve environment. Now it was assigned. Kamila didn’t know when she was going to get to go out.
They all lined up and was shuffled to their rooms accordingly. The fire drill had to be as exact as possible and everyone was told to pretend they were sleeping in their beds. Kamila wondered how precise a drill it could be. Shouldn’t they just do a nighttime fire drill? She sat on her bed and stared at the empty one across from her. Lost in thought about who her next roomey would be, hoping it would be Elizabeth, the fire alarms sounded and the lights above the doors flashed.
Following along the wall with everyone else they were led to the basement and then outside in an overgrown concrete playground area. There was fence all around it and no safety exits that she could see. She continued looking around when Dustin popped over to her.
“Hey there. Who’s your friend?”
Kamila looked from him to her other side where Elizabeth stood. Her eyes were glazed over and Kamila couldn’t help but wonder if one of the nurses hadn’t given her a mild sedative or something. She was mildly surprised when Elizabeth allowed her to take her hand in her own. “This is Beth. Beth, meet my friend Dustin. He works here.”
Elizabeth didn’t look at him. Instead she stared at Dr. Jules. Kamila looked in the same direction and watched the doctor for a moment. She was talking to Dr. Mulligan, looked in their direction, and then glanced away quickly when they saw Kamila watching them. Elizabeth squeezed her hand and Kamila wondered what the best thing to say would be.
“Why does everyone hate movie day?” Kamila asked Dustin.
“Well, I could lie to you but I won’t. You’d learn soon enough. The orderlies begin doing room and bed checks. They look for things you aren’t supposed to have.” He winked at her. “You aren’t hiding anything are you?”
Kamila had to check herself and smile playfully. If you only knew. “Not me. You?”
Dustin didn’t return with his normal witty banter but looked at her carefully. He tilted his head a little and watched her longer. The crowd was finally released to go back upstairs; everybody directed to the movie room.
“They don’t get restroom breaks so I’d go there first if you have to.” Dustin said in her ear.
“Thanks for the tip.” Kamila waved by and led Elizabeth to the movie room.
Dr. Jules stopped them when they were ten feet away from the doors. “Elizabeth, come with me. It’s time for your medicine.” She released her hold from Kamila. “Say thank you to Kamila for helping you.”
Kamila watched Elizabeth turn slightly but remain silent. As they walked away Kamila decided there was definitely something going on and she would have to look into it soon. But first I do have to go to the bathroom. The closest one was, she decided, was beside her room down two halls from the movie room. As she walked she heard a cry and turned back to look. Maybe it was just her mind playing tricks on her but she believed it was Elizabeth’s voice she heard. Before she had a chance to look for her a hand covered her mouth and yanked her into a room.