Ruby walked out onto the front steps and breathed in deeply. She watched as her breath formed a cloud in the crisp fall air. The leaves all around her were dying. She took in their bold colors. It was a beautiful death she thought. A bright yellow leaf fluttered past her in the wind and landed in a puddle. She hoped her death of sorts would be as graceful.
She took in another deep breath and stepped into her new life, suitcase in hand. A bright yellow cab drove her to her new home. As the cab pulled up to the curb she opened the door and saw the reflection of yellow from the midst of the watery sidewalk. The symbolism between the cab and the leaf from earlier was not lost on her. It was her own fluttering in the wind, this ride to her future, and now she was near her end; the end of who she was and the way she had learned to be.
She wanted to jump back into the cab and be driven away to anywhere but here, but she knew that this death was necessary. Just as in nature there has to be a death before new growth can occur and if there was one thing she needed more than anything else it was new growth. New life. A resurrection. The old had to die so that new could come and she was ready. At least that is what she told herself.
Once settled into her new room, Ruby pulled out her journal.
The leaves are all dying. It seems a fitting farewell. I am terrified of this next chapter, this shedding that I will be doing, because I know that just like the trees I will be laying myself bare. There will be nothing left in which to hide myself behind.
I will be exposed and left naked.
I must remember that I chose this. I chose to come here. This process is necessary. I can do this. I am ready and I am terrified.
A knock came on the door. Ruby closed her journal and placed it in her drawer underneath the underwear.
“Yes, I am coming.”
Ruby opened the door to a plump, short, middle aged woman with graying hair. Her name tag said“Beverley”. She was cheerful and kind as she showed Ruby around the complex on the way to the first session with the person that would be her one-on-one therapist.
“This here, is the dining room. Meal times are posted on the door. If you need a snack between meals they always have a basket of fruit and some other odds and ends in the lounge along with bottles of water.”
Past the dining room was the lounge with all the amenities Beverley had described plus some. From there they went to the front desk where she showed Ruby the signing in and out process for leaving the building. For the first 72 hours Ruby would need to be escorted from building to building and after that she could earn the ability to go unescorted, but she would still need to sign in and out every time she left.
The grounds were lovely. Ruby saw many places that she would want to just sit and take in the beauty once she proved she wasn’t a flight or suicide risk. After a short tour they reached their destination. It was an old ornate building. “This originally was a college that was founded in the early 1900’s.” Beverley told her as she led her through the doors. “I just love all of the old architecture myself.” Ruby, smiled her agreement and then felt her stomach turn to knots as she walked through the large glass door and inside. Standing before them was the woman who would be the crux and crucible of her time here.
The woman extended her hand as she said, “Hello Ruby! I am Dr. Mary Robins, it is nice to meet you. Are you ready for your first session?”
Ruby gave a nod as she shook the hand before her. Dr. Robins was well dressed and much younger than Ruby had expected, much prettier too.
Ruby turned to Beverley, “Thank you for showing me around.”
“You are more than welcome! I won’t be here when you are done, so I hope you have a good night. See you tomorrow.” And with that she turned and walked away leaving Ruby with the Doctor and a pit in her stomach.
“My office is this way” said Dr. Robins leading the way. As Ruby followed her down the hallway she noticed her shoes and how much she liked them. They were stylish, yet sensible. If cute shoes were any indicator of a person’s personality she figured she was going to like this woman just fine.
Entering the room Ruby took inventory of her surroundings. There was a couch, two armchairs, a desk, and a couple of bookcases. One of the chairs was very definitely meant for the Doctor, the couch was closest to that chair and the other chair was at the other end of the couch, opposite the Dr’s. The bookshelves were lined with books and some personal photos. The walls were painted a cheery shade of tan with a touch of deep burgundy brown. It was the perfect amount of color to give the room a homey feel and make you forget you were at an institution. There was a large mirror behind the couch. Ruby caught a glimpse of herself just long enough to regret it. She may have been good at hiding behind her put together exterior for others, but she could never hide herself from her own reflection and the truth she saw looking back at her. Yes, those eyes of hers may have been a mirror for others to see what it was they wanted to see, but for her they were always a window and she never liked what she saw inside of them. She made a mental note to avoid looking there in the future.
The door shut behind her and she quickly had to decide where she should sit. If she sat in the chair farthest away she would seem stand offish. That would not be a good impression. The spot closest to Dr. Robins seemed too familiar and vulnerable. The middle of the couch would have to do. It would be safe, but not distant.
Once seated the real panic began to set in. What was she doing here? What had she done? This was too much, she was in way over her head! What had she been thinking? She closed her eyes, slid her hands underneath her legs, and took a deep breath, then another.
“Calm down, you can do this.” She told herself, “Today will be simple, she is just going to ask you simple questions. The hard work will come later, today you will be fine.”
Ruby opened her eyes and let them move from the sight of her own feet over to the pair of cute shoes and then up to Dr. Robins eyes. Her face was kind and her eyes held a gentle wisdom.
“Why don’t I start by telling you a little bit about myself first and see if you have any questions for me.” said the therapist.
She talked of her educational background, work history, and therapeutic style. Ruby took note of every aspect of the doctor while she listened. The quality of the clothes she wore, the manicured fingernails, the rather large wedding set on her hand. The lack of wrinkles and gray hair probably meant she didn’t have any children yet, unless she dyed her grays away. To Ruby she looked like a brown haired therapist Barbie doll, perfectly styled and professional.
Interrupting Ruby’s mental inventory the Dr. asked, “Do you have any questions for me?”
In her own mind she said, “About a thousand!”, but she had no idea what the boundaries or the protocol was of things to ask. She didn’t want to accidentally overstep and then feel the embarrassment and pain of the possible reprimand and awkwardness that would follow. “Only one.” is what she said out loud. “What made you choose this line of work? I have heard most people become therapists, because they are trying to find a way to fix themselves.” She knew the question was rather pointed, but the purpose was to level the ground a little. Ruby knew why she was messed up, but she wanted to know how human her therapist was as well. She needed to hear something that made her a little closer to human, well her kind of a human, imperfect. She needed to know that this woman sitting by her would be able to handle the vile creature she was beneath the surface. Maybe even be able to empathize.
“Well, that is an interesting question.” Dr. Robins took a moment to formulate her answer. “I watched some of my family members struggle with psychological needs who were really helped through therapy and I always grew up knowing that is what I wanted to do.”
That answer was less than satisfying.
“Now, why don’t you tell me about you?” She asked as she picked up a pen and readied herself to write in the notebook that sat in her lap.
“What would you like to know?”
“Whatever it is you think is important to tell me.” Dr. Robins said as she looked at her expectantly.
That question was too broad, too general. She had no idea what she was supposed to find important. She was here to be brave and talk and she had no idea what to say, so she said the first safe and relevant thing that came to mind.
“Well, I am sitting here, so that should tell you something.”
“What should that tell me?”
“That I am broken. A little crazy, maybe. And weak for needing to even sit here.”
“Okay, let’s break that statement down a bit more. What is it that made you broken?”
Ruby pondered this for a moment before answering . “Life? Yes, life. And maybe God.”
“So, if those two things made you broken, what parts of you did they break specifically and how?”
These questions were quickly moving out of the safe zone and into uncomfortable territory, but she made herself answer anyway. “Life broke my will to want to continue living most days. It broke my trust. Life and God both broke my sense of worth. Life has become this thing that I just have to get through until I can finally die. Although, there are moments of happiness, but there is always something lurking in the shadows, just waiting to catch me, bring me down.” Here she had to pause. Here is where the words got tougher to get out and over her lips. “God, well, He created me.” She stopped looking at eyes and stared at the floor. “He created me knowing full well what life was going to give me and He created me anyway. He created me in order to be broken, to be used.” On the word ‘broken’ hot tears burned at the corners of her eyes, “COME ON!” She thought. “What the Hell happened to my simple? My ease into the hard stuff slowly?” Her toes pushed down into her shoes like talons gripping for stability.
“What happened to break your trust and steal your joy? How were you used?”
Those questions went too far. Before the words could even form an answer in her mind the terror came bubbling up. A nauseating pit grew deep in her belly and a sharp clawing feeling scratched at her chest. Just the thought of speaking the reasons out loud had her nails digging into the bottom of her legs. She shook her head “No”. She wasn’t going to answer that. She couldn’t.
Dr. Robins saw her reaction to the question and wrote down a couple of notes while giving Ruby time to form an answer that never came.
“It is okay, we can come back to that later. Why don’t you tell me what you are feeling right now.”
“It is hard to put into words.” Just trying to put emotion into word was difficult. Any words she could find to say felt like a betrayal of trust, a secret that wasn’t supposed to be shared. How does one describe what feels like your insides are being devoured whole when each word to come out of your mouth is equivalent to taking a bite out of your own chest leaving you bloody and raw. She sat blinking and breathing trying to separate herself from the feelings so that she could answer. “Panic. Sheer terror. Torture.” She eventually eked out.
“Those are strong feelings. I would like you to take a few moments to just breathe and then when you are ready you can tell me what makes you say you might be crazy?”
There was much that Ruby could say on that, but not right now, not after all of her internal alarms had been set off. All she wanted to do right now was to close her eyes and make everything around her be gone. She wanted to stand up and leave. Neither of those were an option though. She had come here to battle, to defeat the demons that clawed at her thoughts, but she felt as though she was already losing …failing. Talking had always been hard for her. Writing was the safer option, but a pen can only slay so much.
She looked down at her feet as she spoke slowly, intently. “Sane people don’t beg God to kill them. Sane people don’t need to check themselves into mental institutions. And before you ask, that is what makes me weak. Being here makes me weak, because I can’t figure out how to continue living on my own. I need someone else to help me and that makes me weak. Needing help makes me vulnerable. In my life vulnerability is never safe. Vulnerability IS weakness.”
Dr. Robins looked at Ruby intently, “I don’t see weakness when I look at you.” Ruby looked up into her eyes as she listened. “It took a lot of courage for you to come here. It is very brave to admit you need help and then to find someone that can give you that help. Weakness is nowhere in this room.” She paused for a moment to let the words settle into Ruby’s mind before she asked, “How would you describe this desire within you to both want to live and to die?”
Ruby didn’t even have to think about this one, she already knew the answer. Her whole life she had been living the answer to this question. “It is a war.”
The young Doctor tilted her head slightly and thought for a moment. “Let me ask you this question; how many wars do you know of that are won by a single soldier? You don't have to answer that. In fact I don’t want you to answer it. As we leave here I would like you to think about this, if wars are won by an army, wouldn’t it make sense that a strong soldier would gather other soldiers to help win the battle?”
Ruby let that soak in for the rest of the evening.