[WONDERLAND REHAB]

After a public figure hangs herself. Part one of two. 5,495 words.

“He just kept ramming the cart into my ankles. Everyone’s done that once or twice accidentally, I know I have. Trying to hide the toilet paper under the cereal because somehow it’s embarrassing to take a shit. Hiding the lotion because what would that woman think? And then you’re hiding all this stuff and you run the cart into someone’s feet and they start shrieking bloody effin murder. Except instead of on accident, this little a-hole keeps doing it. Ram ram ram ram ram. His mother just sat staring at the horoscopes in the soap mags.”

“How did that make you feel?”

“How did it make me feel? It made me feel angry. My veins almost popped. Overwhelming headache, rapid breath, started sweating. Like a panic attack, except instead of anxiety it was rage. I was shaking in my shoes.”

“And what did you do to calm yourself down?”

“I didn’t do anything. I knocked the kid out cold with my fist.”

“Why?”

“I’ve said why for six weeks. Because he was a little shit and he deserved to get hit.”

“How did that make you feel?”

“Feel? It felt great. Feels great. How many people get to knock the fuck outta a four-year old? The look on the mother’s face…amazing. Like she was radiating ‘my kid is an angel, obviously the problem is yours.’”

“Miles, that’s not the response I was looking for. You know that.”

“I thought I was supposed to tell the truth! You said always be honest. That’s what I’m doing ain’t I? You asked how it made me feel, I told you. What do you want from me? Huh?”

“Calm, Miles. Breathe.”

“I am breathing.”

Miles sits forward in his white plastic folding chair. His fists are clenched and a sneer is plastered on his face. Sibella looks annoyed while she jots down a few notes in her unkempt folder.

“Okay. I appreciate that you’re telling the truth, but remember what we’ve been working on? The truth needs to change for you.”

“That’s moving the goalposts,” he says.

“In a way, yes.”

“That’s stupid. The truth doesn’t change. You’re talking about subjective attitudes. That’s bull.”

“The truth is objective,” says Mark from next to Miles. “It can’t change. It just is.”

“The exercise is to change the way you perceive the truth,” says Sibella. “So the kid was being irritating? Perhaps he has ADHD and he can’t help it. Perhaps he got in trouble at school and he’s venting. Maybe his mom spanked him in the parking lot. Or maybe she’s a terrible mother and hits him at home. Do you see how this can change things?”

“No. The truth was he rammed me a dozen times with a cart. That’s painful.”

“You’re a grown man, Miles,” she says. “You can handle whatever a four-year old does. If you examined the situation before reacting quickly it might have turned out differently.”

“You mean differently, as in not being here.”

“That’s right. But don’t think in an ‘either-or’ fashion, imagine this as a place to train yourself to think before you leap to conclusions. If not for this incident, what would have happened for you to get the help you need?”

“I don’t know. What does it matter?”

“It can help to see different perspectives. It’s not always constructive, but for you I think it might be helpful to think of what might have happened before you were brought here. Would you have paralyzed someone? Killed a man for bumping into you at a bar?”

“Probably. I see what you mean. But those are assumptions.”

“They are. Think on it, Mister Norbert. We’ll talk about it more tomorrow. Okay,” she says, shifting papers in her folder and biting down on her black pen a few times. “Christie, how are you doing today?”

The tall redhead stands and begins to peel her green-and-white gown from her shoulders.

“Christie! Stop. Talk, don’t strip.”

The redhead shrugs her shoulders and sits back down her white plastic folding chair. Part of the paper gown rides open down her spine. Her clothes are confiscated because she keeps destroying them and the doctor figured she might be better off in hospital attire.

“No, keep going,” says Benedict with a grin. His hair looks greased even though oil products aren’t allowed.

“Mister Sweeney, enough of that,” Sibella says with a stern look indeed.

“There’s nothing wrong with a little self-expression,” he says with a smirk. “Go on, Christie. We won’t mind.”

“Benedict, stop that.”

“Christie, just keep taking it off,” he says. His eyes shine with lust. The redhead stands again and continues her self-expression.

“Christie! Stop that!”

She stops and sits back down.

“No, no, dear Christie. Please keep going.”

She stands and continues.

“Christie! Sit down. Benedict, this is your last chance.”

“Don’t hate art, Sibella,” he says. “Christie, that paper negligee looks terrible. If anyone saw you in that they’d throw up.”

Christie starts sobbing uncontrollably.

“David! Greene!” Sibella cries out. Two burly men of about thirty push open a barred door and rush to the circle of plastic chairs. Sibella points to Benedict and the two stand on either side of him.

“No! No! I’m just an artist!” he bellows. “Christie you look hideous in that.”

“Two hours,” Sibella says to the one called Greene.

“No! Stop repressing me! Christieeeee, you are a doll under that ugly dress!”

David grasps Benedict under his arms, around his chest. The small, grease-haired man begins to struggle. He violently slaps David and starts spitting. Greene bends down and takes greasy by the ankles, and the two men walk towards the door. Another man waits there with a syringe. They stopped tranquilizing people in front of the group after what happened to Ashley last month. Now they wait until they’re outside.

Benedict still struggles and hits anything he can until the door slams shut, then the small room is quiet again.

“I’m sorry everyone,” says Sibella. “Christie, I’m so sorry. This is the last session with Benedict. I should have switched him to afternoons already. Please forgive me.”

The redhead nods and wipes away some of the tear tracks that decorate her cheeks. Perry leans across the empty chair and pulls up the green-and-white paper, ties the strings behind her neck. She smiles at him, then winces and starts sobbing again.

“Christie, it’s alright if you want to take a break from today’s session. Benedict won’t bother you any longer. You have a green pass, you can go lie down or whatever you want until lunch.”

The redhead nods and stands, then runs to the door and out of it.

“Okay,” Sibella says. “I’m sorry for all of about that. We’re understaffed and it’s complicated trying to get the right people matched with the right group. Sorry again. Perry, how are you doing today?”

“F-fine.”

“Just fine?”

“F-fine.”

“How are your arms?” she asks.

Perry rolls his sleeves down until his hands are almost completely covered.

“Perry, how are your arms?”

“J-just fine.”

“We’re going to have to look at them. And your fingers?”

He holds his shaking hands out. His fingernails are still bandaged, but it’s not because of injury; he wouldn’t stop picking the skin from his arms and eating it. So they wrapped up his nails thinking that would stop things.

“N-no thank you, they’re f-fine.”

“Have you done your worksheet from last session?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I c-can’t write with my fingers l-like this.”

“Yes you can. David saw you doing crosswords this morning.”

“The worksheet is too hard.”

“It’s very simple if you took the time to look at it.”

“I said it’s too hard!” he shouts. “You want to see my fucking arms? Here!”

He rolls up the sleeves of his hooded jacket. The sight is grotesque.

“Perry, sit down and breathe. Two in, four out. Slowly now. Breathe. That’s it.”

“I said I’m f-fine,” he says after a long minute.

“It’s obvious you aren’t. We might have to move you over to the medical ward if you keep doing that.”

“No! I won’t g-go.”

“Perry, we’ll have to treat those wounds if you keep opening them. We’ll have no choice.”

“I’ll stop. See? I stopped.”

“Will you stop for the next hour?”

“Yes.”

“How about the next two?”

“Yes. See? Not doing anything anymore.”

“That’s good, Perry. Very good. Please do your worksheet tonight so we can talk about it tomorrow. Can you do that?”

“P-probably.”

“Please try.”

“Okay.”

“Alright, that will have to do. Annelore, do you want to share anything?”

I grimace. I’m always last because I have the least to say. All the same, Miles, Mark, Perry, and Wallis stop fidgeting and look at me. My grimace deepens and I close my eyes. I try to breathe deeply and block them out.

“Annelore?”

“No, it’s okay,” I say with my eyes still shut. “Nothing to talk about.”

“Annelore, we all have some shadowy corner of ourselves that we don’t want to let the world see. It’s perfectly normal.”

“It’s only that the whole world wants to see my shadowy corner.”

“It’s been six months. The world has moved on to other things.”

“How can I know that? I’m still stuck six months in the past. No magazines, no live television, internet, phones…how do I know that’s true?”

“You’ll just have to trust me. Remember what we discussed last week? You have to trust that there are people who do things in your best interest. I’m one of those people. I care about getting you healthy.”

“I don’t trust you. I should just leave.”

“You signed an agreement. You gave your word.”

“Gave my word?” I say and open my eyes. “That’s something men always talk about. The world will tell me the truth.”

“No, she won’t, Annelore. The world will break your heart.”

“That’s incredible defeatism from a psychologist.”

“It’s the truth. The objective truth.”

“Bold statements.”

“I want to get you better. That’s my purpose. You’re sick and you need help. I’m offering it to you. I’m here solely for that. Now, would you like to carry on from where we left off yesterday?”

————————-

“The headaches never end. If the pain starts to lessen, all I have to do is think ‘headache, where did you go?’ and then it’s back. Ten times worse.”

“You’ve been complaining about them for quite a while, yes?”

“Since I was thirteen. So, yes.”

“And how are you handling the transition off painkillers?”

“They were useless, Stan.”

“Doctor Celeteus, please.”

“Sorry Stan.”

“Have you noticed any withdrawals? Itching, dry mouth, joint pain?”

“No. Should I have?”

“No, I’m glad you haven’t. Most patients experience some negative side effects after coming off such a high volume of medicines.”

“So what, I’m special?”

The doctor displays a crooked grin. “Of course you are.”

I sigh and wrinkle my nose. “You know what I meant.”

“Of course, sorry. That you’re not experiencing any side effects spells good luck for any future medicine changes. Before we move on to those, how are you doing with your psychosis?”

“What?”

“We have you down for psychosis NOS.”

“What is that?”

“I don’t know. We just use that when we have no other diagnoses.”

“Terrific.”

“How are your hallucinations?”

“Every time I breathe I see what happened that day. The look in her eyes, Stan. The way her arms were crossed so she wouldn’t strangle me. The crucifix around her neck, the tears…the sobs…the way she slammed the door. I can’t erase it. I see it everywhere. It will haunt me forever.”

“Perhaps it’s time to think about forgiving yourself for what happened. These pills are supposed to facilitate that.”

“Forgive myself? How can I forgive myself when I didn’t do anything wrong?”

“Forgive the world, then.”

“The world will break my heart, according to Sibella. And she’s not wrong. The world did break my heart. Who is to blame for this? Jeffy? He’s the hateful monster who pulled the trigger, but he didn’t cause this. I did. But then…but then I didn’t at the same time.”

“That doesn’t make any sense, Annelore.”

I sigh. “That’s what I’ve been fucking telling you people for the last six months.”

“So who do you blame, then?”

“Do I have to blame anyone?”

“It’s a perfectly natural response to trauma like this.”

“Okay, in that case I blame god.”

“Which one?”

“Whichever one listens. She’s the one who made me this way. I never chose this path. Why would I? Why would I want to stand out from the masses like a bent dick? Who would honestly choose that when it’s so easy to simply conform? No one would. No one at all. I certainly wouldn’t.”

“But the reality is that you do stand out.”

“No one knew who I was until the EMT guys came and ‘saved’ me.”

“Right. Sometimes I have to remind myself of that, I apologize. I know it’s extremely unprofessional, but I was a huge fan of yours.”

“I know. You’ve told me every other appointment.”

“I really am sorry, Annelore. Truly. Very unprofessional. But let’s steer back to medicines. How are you liking venlafaxine?”

“Which one is that?”

“Effexor.”

“I don’t know.”

“We changed you to Effexor from Elavil because of some troubling recurring thoughts Sibella reported. Have you noticed any decrease of these thoughts since we changed?”

“No.”

“None at all?”

“Oh, do you mean am I still seeing her face? Am I still hearing ‘mom, mom, who’s at the door?’ No, those are still happening.”

“That’s what clozapine helps. Effexor is for the depression and…suicidal ideation. Do you feel it’s helping at all in that area?”

“No.”

“Hmm,” he says while he scratches his nose under his glasses. “That’s unfortunate. Okay, we’ll up the dose then. Give it another week and check in next Thursday. How does that sound?”

“How about you go fuck yourself.”

“Excuse me?”

“It sounds fine, Stan.”

“Okay. Good afternoon then, Annelore.”

————————-

Peas, carrots, chicken, and some filmy noodles probably baked from Perry’s skin flakes. Oh, and ice water. That’s all they trust me with. No potatoes, no chips, no dessert, not even a soft drink. I’ve threatened in the past to leave through the bolted iron gate and fetch something edible from the market, but no one believed me and I didn’t have the spirit to follow through. Plus, I did sign a contract. And hopefully Sibella was right; by the time I get out of here, the public will have moved on to something else.

At least that’s what I’m counting on.

“They’re always watching, you know. It’s so irritating.”

“Who?” I ask.

“Them.”

“The orderlies?”

“Yes, but also the shadow men.”

“What are those?”

“You should know what they are, Annie. Don’t you see them too?”

“I don’t see anything I’m not meant to.”

“They’re everywhere. Always watching. Eyes floating behind our shoulders and arms trying to pull us into the dark places.”

“You are so messed up in the head,” I say.

“That’s right, I am. But at least I didn’t hang myself, Annie.”

I laugh. Of course Violette is right. I can’t be accusing other people of being deranged when I closed my eyes and kicked the stool away. If only my dark place could have persisted. Instead all I got was the police breaking my door down with a battering ram and some idiot EMTs checking my pulse. And a nice scar.

“Have you heard the news though?” Vio asks.

“What news? I’m cut off from anything outside these walls, remember? No TV, no internet. Phones if I press my luck, but there’s only one person I would call and I doubt they would answer.”

“Air Cleric fought Nerveian and won. Big time. Apparently it was a thrashing. Can you believe that?”

“I never met either one. I don’t really pay attention to that stuff. That’s why no one knew who I really was before this whole…fiasco,” I say, waving my fork around. Two peas fall onto the brushed steel table. I flick them to the tiles.

“Sorry. I just thought…no, I’m sorry Annie. I shouldn’t be bringing up that part of your life.”

“It’s okay, Vio. I know you’re just trying to help. So is everyone here, even if they go about it wrong sometimes.”

“I care about you. I just want to see you get better and leave.”

“I’m just glad the court ordered the paparazzi to leave the premises. Now I can hopefully slip away with no one noticing.”

“There was a lawsuit concerning you and the press. I think your mother filed on your behalf.”

“Really? How do you know?”

“It was a big deal before I was brought here. Privacy concerns, injunctions, court orders. It was all over the news. Because of who you are, you know. The judge locked up a few reporters for complaining about free speech. I don’t know, I didn’t really care until I got brought here.”

“I suppose I never thought about the other side of things.”

“What do you mean?”

“Like how people view me as a public figure. I don’t know, it’s all irrelevant. My life is over regardless of the press.”

Vio giggles. “That reminds me…did Stan do that thing again today?”

I sigh. “He didn’t actually ask for an autograph, but I know he will before I leave.”

“You could just go at any time, you know.”

“I know, but then I’d just hang myself again. I can’t get her face out of my head, Vio. I just can’t. And Nolan, what he did…how can I repay that debt? Especially with Ellen clearly not wanting to see me ever again. How do I make her understand? Make her understand how I feel and what I would give to take it all back?

“I think she understood the day you stopped being…that other woman. The day you checked in here.”

“I didn’t ‘check in,’ I was brought here in handcuffs.”

“True, but you can leave whenever you want. Obviously you’re staying for your own reasons.”

“Most people probably assume it was a publicity thing. She probably hates me even more, now.”

“No,” Vio says. “She’ll understand one day, Annie.”

“No she won’t. I’m just the dumb cunt who got her husband shot nine times. The bitch who stole her children’s father. What does she tell them at night when she tucks them in? ‘He’s on a business trip,’ or ‘he’s on vacation for a while,’ or ‘he’ll be back soon, go to bed now.’”

“What does Alex think?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Maybe it does.”

“I won’t be seeing Alex again. That’s over.”

“Because of who you are?”

“Because of who I was, because of what happened, how it happened, why it happened. Life gets in the way of shit, and then that shit is flushed away to become someone else’s problem.”

“Love isn’t shit, Annie.”

“Love is shit, Vio. That’s exactly what it is. It doesn’t matter anyway. I’m too damaged to go on out there. Maybe I won’t ever leave this place. It’s what I deserve, you know. It’s exactly what I deserve.”

“Sometimes things happen that have no reason.”

“Or rhyme?”

“I’m just saying, sometimes random things happen and that’s the way it is.”

“What you’re really saying is that bad things happen to good people and there isn’t shit-all anyone can do about it.”

“So what’s your answer then?”

“Blame god.”

“Really? That’s a pretty basic conclusion.”

“It makes sense,” I say. “Otherwise I’d keep blaming myself and I’d never get better.”

“Do you really want me to throw a verse at you? I think this is where your thoughts are headed.”

“I didn’t know you had the gift of street music.”

“Cute, Annie. Paul said in Second Corinthians that—”

“Vio, you’re my only friend in this place, but if you try to justify my torments by flinging poetry from dead drug addicts at me, I will just leave. I got enough of that in the hospital. You know that?”

“What?”

“You know where they took me? St. Timothy’s. Of all the hospitals in this city, why did they take me to the Catholic one? And what’s worse, after they send me to a locked facility, they stick me in a room with a nun who became a prostitute to pay for repairs on a church that was going to be condemned.”

“We are all used in unique ways. I never said what I did was right, but I did it anyway. And they locked me up all the same.”

“I think the bible probably forbids prostitution, even if it is for a charitable cause.”

“Does it though?”

————————-

“Does it ever bother you that your patients make international headlines?” I ask.

“Does it bother you that it doesn’t?”

“I’m just not used to being in the news is all. I mean, I am, but not with my real name. My real name and my other name. Shouldn’t that be a crime? There should be a UN mandate forbidding that.”

“How do you know you’re in the news?”

“I’m making assumptions, Christian. It’s something healthy people do.”

“That’s progress, right?” he says with a twirl of his gold pen. “You haven’t been doing much thinking of the outside world after the first month you were here.”

“Not my decision, remember. You took away all my media privileges after what happened with Ashley.”

“Because you broke your contract and left Bedford.”

“I came back, didn’t I? I just had to see her again, to find out if the media was all over her lawn, bothering her kids, making her life infinitely more miserable than it already was. I don’t think that was too bad a thing, even if I did…temporarily renege my promises.”

“That’s right, but then you hung yourself again.”

“Which worked about as well as the first time.”

“We didn’t take away your privileges to hurt you, Annelore. We did it to help you. How can you get better if you think the world is hanging on to anything to do with you? And with what happened?”

“So they are?”

“What?”

“Hanging on to me and to what happened.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“You did, though. Now what am I supposed to do with that information?”

“Limit your perspective. Worry only about what you can control in the environment around you. You can’t change what happened or how it happened, and you can’t control the media. So don’t worry about it. That’s wasted effort that could be redirected to more constructive exercises.”

“Fine.”

“Fine?”

“I’ll try to only worry about myself.”

“More progress! See, it’s not so bad, is it?”

“I said I’ll try, not that it will actually work. Or be effective.”

“Hmm. Okay, let’s talk about Ellen,” he says, turning a page in his yellow notebook.

“I can’t. I’m seeing her face everywhere. When my eyes are shut, when they’re open, when I’m on the toilet or sleeping or talking with you lot. I hear her anger, her kids, Nolan…it’s awful.”

“Stan told me about that. Do the hallucinations still have no pattern?”

“How many times do I have to tell you that they aren’t hallucinations? How can I not see her face? How can I not picture the face of the woman whose husband died saving me? Of her children coming to the door asking if daddy was home? What am I supposed to do with that onslaught of images?”

“It’s not protocol for me to say this, but you’re experiencing psychosis whether you believe it or not. We have you listed as Psychotic Disorder NOS, and we take the triage classifications very seriously. Our own records indicate that St. Timothy’s ordered—”

“Christian, stop.”

“Stop?”

“I’m sure all you head people know what you’re doing, but this isn’t psychosis. This is guilt. Humiliation. Torture.”

“Well yes, that’s why we also have you on antidepressants. Those should alleviate the sour thoughts and feelings.”

“And also because I hung myself. Twice.”

He nods. “Yes, that’s true.”

“And that’s another thing I won’t ever be able to escape. I can’t edit my medical records no matter how much I try. I would if I could, you know. I’d take St. Timothy’s, take Bedford, take all the files from Mayo when I was a kid…burn all of it to the ground.”

“That’s very violent thinking.”

“I didn’t say I would burn people in the buildings, Christian. Just the records.”

“So you’re not feeling violent towards other people?”

“No. I’m not homicidal.”

“Hmm. That’s good. Okay, let’s take another angle then. How do you feel about that part of your life?”

“Miss Nuclear?”

“Yes. Now that people know who you are, does that make it better or worse in regards to what happened?

“It has nothing at all to do with what happened. And what happened…it happened for another reason altogether. Absolutely nothing to do with Miss Nuclear.”

“Alex.”

“Alex.”

“Tell me about it.”

“I’ve been telling you for six months.”

“It never hurts to think from a new perspective. Talk through it again. Progress can be made through repetition just as much as sudden discoveries.”

“Fine,” I sigh. “We were walking down Park, it was 11:47. I remember it being 11:47 because the cops got there at 11:51 and I had already done two minutes of CPR. We were walking with our hands held, kind of jumping. Skipping, really. It was a good movie and we were both excited. Then some guy sees us, starts shouting…hateful things. Things you go to jail for. Alex started shouting back. Then the guy—Jeffy—he pulled out a pistol. I knew it wouldn’t hurt me, but it would definitely hurt Alex.”

“What happened next?” Christian asks, like we don’t go over the story once a week.

“This guy comes out of nowhere, tries to cool everyone down. Starts talking about being civil. His mustache is ridiculous. I remember that because he threw up blood all over it when I was trying to resuscitate him. And then this guy—Jeffy—he just starts shooting Mister Mustache. He emptied the clip. Nine bullets hit the guy. Nolan. Nolan Richards. Just a regular dude trying to defuse a hateful, ignorant shithead.”

————————-

“Why, Annie? Why?”

“I said I’d give them two hundred days. Two hundred days to fix this or I leave. Is that enough time? I mean honestly. If it can’t be fixed in two hundred days, it can’t be fixed at all.”

“But why two hundred? Why not three hundred? A thousand? I know better than most that these things take time. Mental health isn’t a ‘check in, check out’ kind of deal.”

“Why two hundred days?” I say, shoving a jacket into the suitcase. “Because that’s how many bullets Jeffy had in his car. Nine in the gun, two hundred in his Malibu. One day per bullet that didn’t go through Nolan’s chest.”

“What is there for you out there?”

“Maybe Alex. Maybe redemption.”

“You think Alex is waiting for you?

“I don’t know. Maybe she is, maybe she isn’t. But I’m not going to find out in here, with no phone, no computer, no TV. I need to see this for myself. Deal with this for myself. By myself.”

“What if you find out she’s changed?”

“How?”

“What if she’s one of them now?”

“One of what?”

“You know, one of the trappers. Maybe what happened, maybe it turned her into someone else. Maybe she’s been making TV appearances preaching about you. Getting on all the talk shows blasting you and people like you.”

“This has nothing to do with Miss Nuclear. This is me we’re talking about. Me. Annelore Rubeski.”

“And this is me talking. Violette Reiter. Sure we’ve only known each other for…well, a little less than two hundred days, but don’t we have something too?”

I give Violette a stern look and suddenly feel very awkward.

“No, not like that,” she says quickly. “I’m saying that you should rethink leaving Bedford. This is a safe place. People like you here. I like you here.”

“People only like me because I’m famous. Because for the rest of their lives they can say they knew me personally.”

“I know I like you for you. I didn’t even find out about the other stuff until way later. Being a nun, you know, it’s basically like being in prison. The first time I had the internet was in Bedford.”

“You know lying is a sin, right? A cardinal one?”

“Okay, at least since I was a kid.”

“But you knew the name, of course. Maybe you didn’t connect it to me as a person, like the rest of the world.”

“Well obviously. Everyone knows who Miss Nuclear is. Even the older sisters know you.”

“Fabulous, I have fans among the clergy.”

“What can I do to make you stay?”

“There isn’t anything, Violette. Truly. You’re the friend I need when everyone else just sees the cape and the mask. I appreciate that, and we’ll stay in touch. You still have the internet in here, so I’ll email. Facebook, even.”

“Facebook? You should make an appearance on your fan page. Half the world follows you there.”

“That’s horrible,” I say, placing a pair of jeans into the case. “I’ll need a new name.”

“What’s wrong with Miss Nuclear?”

“I mean a new ‘real’ name. After what happened, everyone knows Annelore Rubeski. We can get food or drinks…or whatever you can get because of the habit. We can figure out my new identity together.”

“I can’t drink for certain. After here, I’m back to Holy Cross.”

“What can I do to make you choose a different path?”

“Now I see your point, Annie. We’ll talk about it when I get out. When you leave,” she says, her voice trailing. “…are you going to use the door? I’ve never seen….”

“Ha ha, because of my intangibility. What a joke. The answer is yes, but the back door. I’ll take a cab to the airport and then a plane to who-knows-where. Although, if Alex will have me….”

“And if she doesn’t?”

“Well, that’s assuming the cops don’t want me.”

“Why would they be after you?”

“For what I did to Ellen. Ellen Richards. I murdered that poor woman.”

“How can they charge you with murder when the victim is still alive?”

I pause. “I don’t know. Does it matter? I’m a murderer. You should be trying to pardon my sins through Jesus or something.”

“Nature is the killer, Annie. Nature is the most infamous serial killer.”

“Is that what they teach you at Holy Cross?”

“No, that’s something I picked up along the way.”

“Your faith seems very convincing.”

“There are many roads to the same goal.”

“The goal being heaven?”

“The goal being whatever heaven you can find in yourself. Heaven isn’t a magical sky kingdom, Annie. Heaven is that place within ourselves where compassion and love can be recognized without all the negative influences brought onto us.”

“I never knew I shared my room with a philosopher.”

“Promise me something, Annie.”

“I can’t do that without knowing what it is.”

“Okay, that’s fair.” She pauses for a long moment as I fold the last of my shirts into the dark lavender case and zip it up. “Don’t take your anger out on Jeffy.”

“On Jeffy? Really? I wasn’t planning on it.”

“You weren’t?”

“Jeffy is just a symbol of hatred, a product of society’s indifference—or abject distaste, really—to something they don’t understand. All of them, they only know one thing. They don’t see the world beyond their immediate surroundings. Different means bad. It’s uncomfortable, unusual, weird. Jeffy saw something he thought was wrong and he took a stand.”

“Took a stand against what?”

“Against something that affronted his crooked values. I don’t know, maybe I’m the one who is wrong. But no, I’m not going to lash out at Jeffy.”

“Oh,” Vio says. She glares at me. “You’re going to take it out on yourself, aren’t you?”

“If Alex won’t have me back after all the world knows who I am…if she can’t forgive me for ruining her life…yes. Yes I will. And this time I’ll do something my intangibility doesn’t instinctively negate at the last moment.”

“So you didn’t learn anything from your two hundred days?”

“I learned that someone like you can—”

“What does that mean?”

“Someone like you, who is grounded in moral black-and-white and can understand how my emotions work.”

“Hate the sin, love the sinner.”

“Super egalitarian, Vio. I’m impressed.”

“Thank you. There’s more to my faith than disliking people who are different. There’s beauty in everyone, no matter how sour they might be on the outside. It’s up to people to find that in someone else and cherish it.”

“Maybe I’ve learned more than I thought.”

“Keep it with you once you leave Bedford.”

“I will. I’ll never forget it.”

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