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UPSIDE DOWN

MEMOIR OF A TEENAGE REJECT

by Beth Coulter

"Thereís nothing to talk about!!!" I screamed and slammed my bedroom door behind me. I stalked over to my record player and turned on my FAME album full blast. I stormed to my bed and sat on the edge with murder in my heart.

My mother had wanted to know where I had been and I couldnít tell her. I couldnít tell her I had walked through the woods to have a cigarette, and I couldnít tell her what my step-father had been up to in the garage. She was "infirmed" and would have horrible asthma attacks when upset. I could hear her now over the music, wheezing and squeaking my name, and then his name.

"Great!" I thought, "Now heís gonna come in here and do the concerned dad bit. Iíll scream if he touches me."

Sure enough, after a few minutes of calming mother, he knocked on my door and entered without waiting. He shut the record off and sat down next to me. I scooted away from him and sat defensively.

"Why do you deliberately try to upset your mother?" he said with concern in his voice. "Why canít you do things that help her? You know how sick she is. Come on, Angel, will you be a good girl?"

A good girl? A good girl! I was always being the "good girl", thatís why my life was as it was. I might have been pretty I had not weighed 70 lb. more than I should, and was, well, I didnít bathe real often. I wasnít pretty inside and it showed.

I wasnít always overweight, just in the past year or so. I wasnít always so dirty. I was so unhappy I wanted to die. It was apparent to no one but the kids at school what I felt, and they were too busy tormenting me to try to help. High school is a cruel place for those who are "different", and I stuck out like a cat among dogs. 16 is a hard age no matter who you are. It is even harder for me.

My step-father left at long last, and I turned on the record again and sang, "Iím gonna live forever" with tears in my eyes. I wish I could be sure I would, but I was fairly sure no one would remember my name. I was tired, deeply tired inside, the kind a weeks worth of sleep wouldnít cure. I lay down and fell into a deep sleep.

The morning arrived and I waited in the chill autumn morning across the street from the dirt road bus stop. The other kids in the area huddled together, laughing and smoking, occasionally pointing out me in my brown coat, smoking and shivering. This was the ritual. Then once on the bus, it was guaranteed I would sit alone, even towards the end of the ride and the bus was full, some kids chose to stand or sit 3 to a seat. I didnít mind. It was better that way. It was an hour long ride and I preferred to sit and read a book and ignore the looks and taunts.

At long last we arrived at the High School, a small town WASPy sort of place. Life for most of the students involved the latest fashions, football and getting drunk at eachotherís houses. The only life I had outside my house was the drama department. I waded through each day just for that final hour of the school day.

I walked into the auditorium that afternoon and wordlessly started helping Mr. B, the director, with setting up the stage for class. I took a pile of scripts from the desk and placed them on the chairs Mr. B was setting up.

"Antigone?" I asked after a moment. "Isnít that a Greek Tragedy?" wondering because Mr. B didnít do the classics. His tastes ran to Rogers & Hammerstien and contemporary dramas.

"Yes, but this is not it." he said with a smile. "Itís a contemporary drama about a young girl trying to decide the path her life should take. Much like you, Angel."

I looked at the floor and stammered something. Then he said, " You have talent kid. You know how to become the character, not just be yourself playing it. Have faith and you will become whatever you want."

I looked at him sharply to see if there was a condition behind his kind words. Life had taught me that people didnít say nice things unless they wanted something. But he just went back to setting up the last of the chairs as the rest of the class came pouring in the doors. I sighed and took my seat, holding the script in my lap and reading it. It was an interesting play, but I couldnít see myself doing it. I heard Mr. B call out the first assignments in the reading. It was from these readings he would choose who would play who. I always ended up playing a minor character, mostly because I was too young before, and now I was too fat and ugly. I heard my name called to play Antigone, and heard the murmur of disapproval from the class." Mr. B was just being kind," I thought," but he doesnít know what trouble he just caused me."

But I couldnít say no, so I began reading the scene he had picked out. It was between the girl and a guy trying to pick her up at a fireworks display. CJ McCaffery played the boy and I was tongue tied. CJ was the most popular guy in school, a senior who had had the lead in every play since his Junior year.

"So, you like the fireworks?" CJ asked from the script. "I quite enjoy the pyrotechnic display." I replied in a haughty, intellectual voice. "Did you know the Chinese invented the gunpowder that creates the colors?" I continued.

"Angel, CJ, Iíd like to see you standing together while you read." Mr. B interrupted. I could hear the class snicker and whisper, "Poor CJ" CJ stood and smiled at me. I got up, and walked closer to him.

He continued, "No, I didnít know that. I just know I love the color in your eyes."

I gulped and lost my place in the script. The class laughed out loud while I stumbled the next line. Somehow, I got to the end of the scene without making a fool of myself, and when the class applauded, I figured that it was for CJ The class continued with other girls reading the part with CJ I drifted away in my mind till the bell rang. Everyone ran out as I was still gathering my books in my arms.

Mr. B waited for me and walked me up the aisle. "You did very well, Angel. Iím impressed with your interpretation of the character."

Interpretation? I thought. I was just try to get through it without messing up. But I thanked him and ran for the bus.

I walked in the door and immediately heard my motherís voice calling me. "How was your day sweetie?" she asked with a huge alligator smile.

"It was OK." I replied looking at the floor. It wouldnít help matters if I told her how I was deliberately tripped as I left the bus and skinned my knees.

"Well, good!" she said. "Now I need you to vacuum the house, there is a sink full of dishes and you know your Father wants dinner at 6 sharp so you better get cooking. Itís 4 now."

I sighed and put my books in my room. I wouldnít get to them until it was time to leave for school in the morning. It was a rare evening that I got to do any homework. I found it kinda funny Mom & he would get upset by my C average when they didnít give me a chance to do better. But I didnít really care. Grades meant nothing when my life evermore would be a living hell.

I got the chores done, the meatloaf cooked and dishes washed afterwards. Mom went back to bed where I heard the evening game shows start up on her ever present TV and he went to the garage to work on his audio-visual stuff. He repaired it for the school and as a side-line. Mom called for her nightly glass of brandy and I brought her the special 16 ounce glass she used for it. I hated the smell of the stuff, and I hated her for drinking it on top of all the pills she took.

"Go see if your father needs your help." she told me after I had adjusted her pillows and brought her a new book to read during commercials. I glanced at her face, but it was impassive, unknowing. I hesitated, then turned and left. I grabbed my cigarettes and matches and went out to the garage.

He was sitting at his bench, working on the gears of a tape recorder. He stopped what he was doing when he saw my shadow fall across the floor.

"Iím taking a walk." I told him. "Iíll be back to help like mom told me, but I need to take a walk first. OK?"

He nodded his head and turned back to his tools. "Donít disappoint your mother." he said without looking at me. I walked out of the door into the cold night air. I heard an owl hoot nearby and the russle of the last of the fall leaves in the sudden gusts of wind. I walked a ways then stopped to light my cigarette. The ember glowing in the dark gave me the illusion of warmth and I walked on into the woods. I wasnít wearing a coat and the night was colder than I had thought, but I would drag on the filter and feel warmth inside. I was walking nowhere, just like my whole life I thought.

"Donít disappoint my Mother!" I thought angrily. Did she know what he did to me when she sent me to "help" him? This was a new thought to me. Would a mother send her own daughter to do the job she should? I walked faster and faster, trying outrun the intrusive thoughts and the tears that threatened to come into my eyes. I finally stopped, breathless and hopeless. It didnít matter if she knew or not. This was my life and there was no escaping it. I pitched the butt and walked back to the house, to the garage, to my destiny.

The next day was a repeat of the last. I muddled through the day till I got to drama. I once again set the scripts out while Mr. B went through some notes. I sat quietly while the rest of the class came in, laughing and joking. They took their seats with expectant expressions, for Mr. B would announce the parts.

He strode to the stage and sat in a chair in front of us with the cast list in his hand. He smiled and said, "Should I let the tension build?"

"NO!" everyone cried out and Mr. B laughed.

"OK. Iíll make it quick and painless. Remember my golden rule: I cast who I cast because I can. No questions, no complaints, no moaning because you have only one line. Understood?" He waited a moment then continued. "Good. Now the male lead will go to C.J." A great cry rose of cheer and congratulations, some in jest. CJ always got the lead. Cathy Berry and Jenny Lynd both sat expectantly, knowing one or the other of them would play Antigone. I sat with my figures crossed I wouldnít end up on stage crew without a word to say.

"And Angel will play Antigone." he said with a finality that stifled the complaints. "She is the best suited for the role and I will hear no more about it!" I looked at him in terror. Me? Play the lead? Oh God, he must be joking! But he just sat there nodding at me. I couldnít hear another word for the blood rushing through my ears. I know I had to have stood up and read the scene with CJ but I couldnít remember it. I walked out in a daze and waited with my books to my chest, filled with awe and terror over what had just occurred.

Then I felt a blow from behind and my books spilled onto the sidewalk. I didnít look behind me, just knelt and started to gather my books. A voice whispered in my ear, "Youíd better tell Mr. B you wonít do it, you filthy pig bitch. There are better people for it, arenít there?" and I felt a hand grab my arm roughly. I turned and looked at Rosa Martinez, and Cathy standing with Jenny watching. I bit my lip and nodded. "Good Girl" she said with a fake smile. "I wouldnít want to see anyone hurt, you know what I mean, jelly bean?"

I nodded silently again and she let me go. My head was pounding and inside I was shaking with fear, but I wouldnít show it. It didnít matter anyhow. "Good girl." she said again as she walked back to Cathy and Jenny.

"Good Girl" raged inside my head. No, I didnít want to be a good girl anymore. To hell with them all. All the fury that laid deep in my heart came bursting out.

"FUCK YOU!!!" I screamed at them. "FUCK YOU ALL!!!" I stood with my mouth open in amazement at what had just poured out of it. Just then the bus pulled up and silence reigned as we filed on. I took my seat and Rosa took the seat behind me. She whispered threats and curses at me until her stop, then gave me a meaningful glare as she passed me. It meant that the next time she saw me, she would beat the hell out of me.

I sat with the last few riders, no one speaking at this point. The driver turned the radio on and I sat listening to Cat Stevens saying it was time to make a change, and Harry Chapin lament the loss of his son. I was numb at this point, I couldnít think or speak. When the bus stopped at my place, I got out with the rest of the kids, not really feeling my feet, not hearing their voices at my departing back yelling out warnings of the beating I was in for.

I stopped in a grove of pines to smoke one before I went in the house. Was my life always going to be so tense? Was I ever going to get through one day without torment? I drew the smoke deep into my lungs and tried to blow smoke rings. I could never manage it, but I wouldnít stopped trying. To my great surprise, on my second try I made a perfect ring. I stared at it as it floated in the cold air and then slowly dissipate. I could do it, I thought. Not only the smoke ring, but the play. I could start washing my hair and lose some weight. I would surprise them all. I wouldnít have to stay a loser. I dropped the cigarette and ground it out with the toe of my shoe. I had a new resolve in my heart and headed toward the house with my head up and a bounce in my step. I would do it, and everyone would see how wrong they were about me.

To my great surprise, my mother was out of bed and in a dress. There was a man from the church there and he was praying with her. After they said Amen, she turned to me and said, "Youíre late Angel. Brother Johnson waited for you, but heís a busy man. I guess youíll have to do extra praying in church Sunday for my health." There was a smile on her face, but rage in her eyes as I apologized. "I will see you Sunday then Angel." he said, then left.

"Iím really sorry Iím late Mom, but guess what? I got the lead in the play. What do you think?" I waited breathlessly for whatever would come, praise or complaint.

"Thatís wonderful, sweetie." she said in between clenched teeth. "But when would you rehearse?"

"Well, after school, I guess, and some weekends..."

"You would leave me alone all that time when I need you?" she asked with a threat in her voice. "And what about your Father? He needs you too. And how would you get back and forth? You couldnít be expecting me or him to drive all that way for you. Do you? Do you expect to have us chauffeur you around when Iím so ill and he is so busy breaking his back so we can have this beautiful home? You are going to be the death of me with your selfishness. Now go out to the garage and get something out of the freezer for dinner. You will have to defrost it in a hurry if you are to have dinner ready by 6." And with that stormed off to her room to watch her precious talk shows.

I open and closed my mouth a few times in shock. I was being selfish? I blinked the tears out of my eyes and went to her door. I stepped in and asked, "What would thaw out quickest? I donít know what to take out." I looked at her with pleading eyes, begging her to see how unselfish I was. She pulled her eyes away from the screen and looked at me sharply. Then she smiled and said, "Come here and give me a hug, sweetie. I know youíre sorry that you werenít thinking."

I stepped to the side of her bed and leaned down to hug her. As I moved to stand though, her arms tightened around my neck and I heard her almost growl into my ear, "Do I smell filthy cigarettes?" She thrust me away from her and held me tight by my arms. "Do I smell filthy, goddamn cigarettes on YOU?!?"

I broke loose and backed away shaking my head. Her eyes glazed over with anger and an ugly grimace covered the lower half of her face. She started screaming about how her father died of smoking and how she was dying because of all the pollution in the air and now I was bringing filthy cigarette smoke home to hasten the job. She grabbed a vase from her nightstand and threw it at me. I ducked and it glanced off my shoulder before breaking against the wall. My step-father came running in at that moment, and I took the opportunity to run to my room. I shut and locked the door, and sat shaking on the edge of my bed. I wanted to run away. I was living with a crazy woman who was making me crazy. I swallowed the tears that were welling up in my throat and waited for the knock, the knock I knew would come sure as the night would fall.

When it did, I was back to being numb. I opened the door and nodded at everything he said, although I heard none of it. I sat back on my bed while he talked and lectured about not upsetting mother. He sat next to me and put his hand on my thigh. He started to rub my leg as he talked and I didnít move. I sat there staring at nothing. Nothing was what my life was. He eventually stood and said, "Now go apologize to your mother and Iíll go get take out from the diner. Do you want to ride with me?" I numbly nodded my head, said sorry to mom and went out to the car.

We started the 10 mile trip in silence when he suddenly said, "You know what I would really like Angel? Iíd like you to do that little thing with your hand while Iím driving. Wouldnít that be exciting?" He started to breath heavy as he unzipped his pants with one hand. "Come on Angel," he pleaded, "be a good girl." I reached out numbly and did what he wanted, feeling disembodied and remote. When my hand was covered with him, I took a tissue from the box and wiped him off and then my hand. He had pulled over at the last and sat panting. Then he started back off towards the diner. When we got there I went to the girls room and washed my hands with scalding hot water till they were red.

We drove back home in silence and I set the table and put the food out. I picked at my plate while he and Mom talked about her visit with Brother Johnson and how she believed she was getting better with his guidance. I waited till they were both done and had left the room, then scraped my plate into the garbage. I poured Mothers glass of brandy and took it to her. They were lying together on her bed, watching TV. They said nothing to me and I left to go into the bathroom.

There in the medicine cabinet were viles and viles of pills, every size, color and effect available. I took a handful from each vile, placed them carefully in my jeans pocket. I put the viles back in the cabinet and went out to the kitchen. I grabbed a can of soda and walked out the back door. I went to the grove of pines and sat down to light a cigarette and think.

I had gotten the lead in the play, but I couldnít go to rehearsals. Even if I could, Rosa would beat me so completely that I wouldnít be able to show my face for months. I was pretty sure that mom knew just what "helping your father" meant and that it would continue. I felt like Cinderella without a fairy godmother, Anne Frank without a hideout. I didnít have a life, I had my own personal hell no matter where I went or what I did. This was it, my past, present and future.

I shivered at the thought and at the cold biting through my thin sweater. "This is It." my mind said to me, over and over. I felt my cigarette burn my finger, it was down to the filter and I dropped it. "This is it." I said aloud and started pulling the pills from my pocket. I started putting 5 or 6 in my mouth at once, thinking, "This is for not being able to do the play. This is for the years Iíve had to have sex with my step-father. This is for a lifetime of guilt and rejection from my mother." I had reasons for every handful and soon they were all gone. I drank the last of my soda and lit another cigarette. Tears were running freely down my face, unnoticed by me. I didnít feel them, I didnít feel anything. My stomach cramped a little and I laid down in the pine needles and curled into a ball. My eyes were going fuzzy and my head felt light. The cold was going away. I was going away.

My mind started to chatter away at me. What was I doing? Why was I doing it? Couldnít I find another way? I told the voices to go away, it was done. I wanted to sleep, not listen to anymore complaints, neither inside or out. But I found myself standing against my will, walking without wanting to. I was floating around in space and my body was on automatic. I saw myself walk back to the house and open the door. I watched as my legs lurched across the floor and my hand grab for a chair. It fell over backwards and I fell with it, hitting my body about the time it hit the floor. I heard running and yelling but couldnít turn my head or open my eyes. I said out loud, "This was it" then lost all consciousness.

*

I felt myself floating to the service, struggling against the waves of pain in my head trying to keep me back. I was aware of something in my throat. After careful inspection with my mind, I realized it was a tube in my nose going down to my stomach. I heard the beeps and wheeze of the machinery around me I surmised I was in the hospital. I opened my eyes just a crack and the light scratched my eyes like lightning and seared my brain. I squeezed my eyes shut and moaned. My stomach cramped and my throat burned along with the pounding in my head. I heard the squeak of rubber soled shoes rushing towards me.

I felt a cool hand touch my face then take my wrist to feel for my pulse. "Doctor!" a soft voice called out. "Sheís coming to." I heard footsteps coming towards me and nodded at the womans question, "Can you hear me Angel?"

"Iím Dr. Stewart and you are in the ICU of County Hospital. Do you remember what happened?"

I nodded slowly and spoke softly, my throat raw. "Uh, I got sick at home. I guess I passed out."

"Do you know why you got sick, Angel?" she asked with another question lurking behind it.

"Uh, maybe, I donít know, something I ate?" I asked with fear. Was suicide a crime? Could I go to jail? My heart started pounding and I heard the accompanying beeps on the monitor.

"You could say that." the doctor replied. "What kind of pills were they? Do you know?"

Tears came to my eyes, my face burning. "No," I whined, "just stuff in the bathroom." Then I burst out in sobs.

The doctors hand caressed my cheek. "Poor girl." she murmured. "You are going to be all right now. They had to pump your stomach down in the ER and youíve been in a coma for three days, but you are going to be fine now."

I jerked my head away from the caressing hand and turned my face to the wall. Yeah, I was going to be just fine now. I would have something worse than death when I was sent home. Anger started to fill my heart at the unjustness of having my life saved. The doctor reached for me once more, then said, "I know you donít feel well, Angel. You rest a bit, and then letís see if you can eat something after we remove those tubes, OK?"

I nodded stiffly and stared at the green wall. I hate green. It was like a just punishment for messing up my own suicide by forcing myself to absorb that color I hated through my eyes. I didnít want to think past that very second, because sooner or later I would have to face mom and him.

The nurse gently untaped the tube at my nostril then warned me it was going to be uncomfortable when she pulled it out, I should concentrate on breathing in and out of my mouth and not gagging. It hurt when it came out and I gagged till I started to dry heave. Then it was over. The nurse washed my face gently with a cool cloth and helped me sit up a little.

"Shall we try some soup or Jello?" she asked brightly. I sullenly nodded my head, not caring. She trotted off humming a tune and leaving me alone in the room. I looked around at all the machines, the cuff on my arm that automatically inflated every 10 minutes, the IV drip going into my arm, the heart monitor beeping off the beat. Across from the bed was a window that looked out on the nurses station. I saw Dr. Stewart talking on the phone with a chart in her hand. She looked in at me and smiled encouragement. I started to smile back, but she had turned to the desk to write down something. It figured. Trying to get me out of there ASAP I thought.

Then the window was filled with the forms of my mother and her husband. They stopped to talk a moment with the doctor then came rushing into the room. Mom was all made up in her Sunday best with a ton of perfume on. She leaned over me and gathered me in a hug that pressed my face into her substantial bosom.

"My poor baby!" she cried as she stroked my hair, her nails catching in the snarls and pulling it. "Oh God, what did you do to yourself?" I couldnít answer her, I could barely breath pulled against her so tight. She let go of me and straightened up. "Canít you talk anymore?" she asked with a dangerous gleam in her green eyes.

"Leave her be for the moment." my step-father said stepping in. He gave me a gentle hug and whispered, "We were so scared for you Angel. I was so frightened."

I looked at the both of them standing there, Mom looking angry beneath her smile, he looking as if he just found a stray kitten in a gutter. I couldnít think of one word to say to them. Just then the doctor walked in.

"So you see, she is alert and cognizant of her surroundings. Your fears about brain damage were unfounded." She looked at the three of us, sensing the tension, but not understanding it. "Well, Angel, do you think you could tell us what happened? What made you want to kill yourself?"

My step-father pleaded with his eyes for me not to say anything, Mom just looked at me with disgust.

"She was looking for attention again," Mom said. "Thatís all it was, just Angel needing more attention. Right Sweetie?"

I started to nod, but Dr. Stewart stopped me with her words. "This is a bit more serious than attention seeking. Angel managed to swallow enough chemicals to kill a horse and almost died because of it. I think she should tell us why."

I started to tremble and breath hard. I couldnít think or speak. What did the doctor want? I couldnít tell the truth. Attention seeking was as good as any reason. Tears blurred my vision and sobs started rising up from deep inside me. They burst out and I sobbed until my eyes hurt and my nose was running freely. I couldnít take anymore. I would do whatever they wanted just to get out and finish the job right. By the time I was able to just hitch and gasp, the doctor had led my parents out of the room and the nurse was sitting next to me with a box of tissues in her lap and a tray on the table. She handed me a tissue and waited till I had finished blowing my nose and dried my tears. Then she handed me a white plastic spoon and a bowl of red Jello.

"I figured this would be easiest on your throat and stomach." she remarked as I took my first bite. It did feel good, the coolness sliding down and coating my throat. She talked about the weather and insubstantials as I ate the Jello, watching her face for any signs that she would start being mean. But she stayed nice and took the bowl and spoon from me as I finished. "You did a good job on cleaning that bowl." She said with a smile. "Can I get you anything else right now?"

I shook my head and gave her a half smile. She smiled back and left the room. I closed my eyes and drifted away. My head had stopped pounding and I had almost forgotten my fear of my parents coming inquisition.

When I woke, Dr. Stewart was there with another doctor, a man with a beard. "Angel, this is Dr. Debois. He is a psychiatrist and would like to talk to you. Is that OK?" I looked at her then glanced out the window into the hall.

DR Debois said, "Your parents went home for a while Angel. Would you be more comfortable if Dr. Stewart stayed?"

I glanced at her and she nodded at me. I nodded back and they both pulled up chairs near my bedside.

"Can you tell me why you wanted to die?" he started with no preamble.

"I, um, I wanted attention." I said lamely with a shrug.

"GUFF!" Dr. Debois spouted. "I donít want to hear that, young lady. It may be good enough for your mother and father, but I want the truth. It can only help you Angel, if you can be honest. If not for me, then for yourself. "

I had started at his exclamation and his bluntness. I looked him in the eye and spouted back, "Heís not my Father!" I quickly bit my lip and let my head fall to my chest. I couldnít believe what I had just said. "Iím sorry." I muttered.

"There is nothing to apologize for. Are you having a problem with your step-father?" he asked. I said nothing, just took a quick look at Dr. Stewarts face to see if she were angry I had burst out like that. But there was only concern on her face. "Will you tell us about it Angel?" he continued.

I opened my mouth and couldnít get any words out. I thought of everything that had gone through my mind as I took the pills. If I could just repeat all the reasons just like I had in the pine grove, maybe someone could understand. But I couldnít say a word. Tears came back into my eyes and I shook them out. Dr. Debois stood and took my hand. "Maybe itís a little too soon for you Angel. Tell you what, Iím going to have you transferred upstairs to my department as soon as Dr. Stewart gives you the OK, and weíll have time to talk. All right?"

He didnít wait for my reply, just squeezed my hand and walked out giving Dr. Stewart a meaningful look. "All right dear. Let me have a look and a listen." she said and gave me a quick exam. "I think youíll be OK to go on up this afternoon. Will that be OK with you?"

I looked at her frightened and asked in a small voice, "Will I still see you?"

She smiled gently at me and said, "Well, I donít usually work on that floor, but I think I could manage to come up and see you. Will you go and try to figure out how to stay out of my ICU from now on?" She gave me wink like we were coconspirators. I managed a wink back and nodded.

*

The nurse who had given me the Jello pushed me in a wheelchair to the elevator and pushed a button to the sixth floor. We didnít speak to eachother, she just hummed the little tune I had heard before. I finally asked as the elevator stopped, "What song is that? The one you are humming?"

She answered as she pulled the wheelchair out of the elevator. "Why, itís just a Pooh hum. Donít you know what a Pooh hum is deary?"

I shook my head and was glad she was behind me so I couldnít see her expression. I just knew she had to think I was stupid.

"Well, itís just a tune that wraps itself in your mind and wonít let go till you let it out. Itís a phrase from Winnie the Pooh. So--a Pooh hum, get it?"

I heard the smile in her voice and nodded my head to show I understood. Then we were at another nurses station like the one downstairs.

"So this is Angel?" one of the nurses asked. "I hear you almost were a real angel there for a while. You up for a stay with us?" When I didnít answer, she giggled and said, "Well, donít you worry about it none. We donít bite. My name is Jeannie and Iíll be your primary nurse."

The nurse who had brought me up handed Jeannie the chart and then kneeled in front of me. "I donít want to see you back on my floor Angel. Do you understand me?" I searched for malice in her words and finding none gave what was fast becoming my patented shrug and nod. I turned my head to watch her walk away, feeling strangely as if my old life were walking away with her, leaving me with a blank canvas for a future.

I turned my head forward and was met with a thermometer being stuck in my mouth and my pulse being taken. When that was done, Jeannie asked, "Do you require the wheelchair or can you get by on your own?í

I had no idea. I went from bed to chair to upstairs. She took my arm and helped me stand. Then led me to the scale. I trembled in front of it, afraid of the numbers that would scream out that I was fat, but Jeannie turned me around and had me stand on it backwards so I couldnít see what the numbers were. Then she said, "I guess you could use a good shower, Huh?" I waited for the crack about how filthy I was, but it never came. Just a small bottle of baby shampoo, a bar of soap and a washcloth. She led me to a room that had a small shower in it. She walked in after me and after helping me with the ties of my hospital gown, sat in a chair that discreetly sat in a corner.

She smiled at me and explained, "Angel, I cannot have you alone for a single minute. That is one of the rules. When you earn more privileges you will have time on your own, but for now, get used to the sight of me." She motioned for me to enter the shower and for the first time in a very long time I enjoyed the warm water beating on my skin, the fresh smell of the shampoo, the squeak of my hair as the oil and dirt washed out of it. I truly couldnít remember the last time I had liked taking a shower, feeling safe in my nakedness. I finally rinsed off for the last time and turned off the water. I opened the door a crack and reached around for the towel. Jeannie placed it in my hand and I dried myself off. Then I wrapped it around me and stepped out. Jeannie had a clipboard in her hand.

"Off with the towel Angel." she said. I stared at her in shock. The first place I had felt safe and here was this lesbian taking advantage of my capture. She shook her head as though she could hear my thoughts and said, "I need to catalog any scars or marks you have and this is the best time. Letís do in a hurry and get you into some clean clothes. She noted the minor scars on my wrists where I had cut myself a few years before, when my step-father first started on me, and some old scars on my elbows and knees from a lifetime of trips and falls. Then she handed me a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. They were mine and I looked at her in surprise.

"Your dad packed a bag for you and dropped it off a while ago. Seems like a nice man. You get along?"

What a bimbo, I thought, a scowl covering my face.

"Oops, wrong question." she quickly said. "Forget I asked...for the moment."

I had no time to ponder that as we were stepping out of the shower room and Dr. Debois was walking towards us.

"You feeling a bit better, Angel?" he asked. I nodded and shrugged. He gave a curt nod to Jeannie and said, "Iíll take her down to her room now."

Jeannie smiled at me and said, "Iíll see you in a bit Angel. Iím pulling double tonight so weíll talk later." And leaving me totally confused, she walked away. Dr. Dubois was walking down the other way and I scurried to catch up to him. I reached his side and he looked over at me and smiled. We walked all the down the hall when he finally turned into a room. There were two hospital beds and two dressers. One bed had stuffed animals on it and one dresser was covered with make-up and hairties.

He took a seat in a chair and motioned the empty bed to me. "You have a roommate, her name is Shirley. Sheís about your age. I think the two of you will get along." I shook my head at the notion of getting along with anyone my age, but he seemed to ignore it.

"Now I know Jeannie explained to you that you are not to be left alone at all for the while. This is not punishment, but a precaution. You are on a suicide watch,í" I opened my mouth to protest, but he continued, "because you attempted suicide and have proven you are a very unhappy person. So for your safety and our comfort, you will have someone with you at all times. When you are feeling better and safer, you will gain points and at some point in time will even be able to walk around outside by yourself. Of course, by that time, youíll be able to work on going home." He paused and gazed into my face. "Or where ever it is you decide to go after here."

I looked at him blankly, not understanding. Where else would I go? I had to go back home. There was nothing else for me.

*

Five weeks later, I was sitting on my bed writing in the journal that I had been given my first night on the floor. I was over a quarter of the way through it, starting only after I was assured that no one would ask or try to read it when I was away from it. So I had poured my heart, soul and mind into it, what my life had been, what it was now, what I could see it being 10 years from now. There were six girls near my age that were there either because they had attempted suicide, or had gotten into trouble with drugs. I could only sit in silence while they related stories that resembled my life, but I couldnít speak myself. I put it on paper and put it away from me. I didnít need to spill my guts to the doctors and therapists and the other girls. My journal did quite nicely.

"Angel." Jeannies voice startled me out of my writing. I scratched the page and had a flashing moment of rage at being interrupted and causing me to mark my journal. Iíd have to tear that page out now and rewrite it on a new page. That would take..."Angel! Iím speaking to you. Look at me." I raised my head and met Jeanniesí eyes. I smiled sheepishly and shrugged.

"Iím sorry, I was in the middle of a really deep thought. Uh, is something wrong?"

Jeannie gave me a smile that went no where near her eyes, which looked very sad. She sighed and shook her head a bit. She sat on the edge of the bed and motioned me to sit next to her. I did and she took a handful of my long, honey colored hair. She had arranged my third week in to have someone come in to wash and cut my hair and then she gave me some special shampoos that she had samples of to make my hair look healthy.

"So how much weight have you lost total so far?" she asked.

"37 pounds as of last night. Having your stomach pumped is a great diet aid" I half joked. I was pleased with how I look to an extent. I needed to lose a lot more weight, but I had done well in the past month. I enjoyed taking showers and washing then combing dry my hair. I liked the way the male orderlies talked to me, and how the other girls were a bit jealous.

"Uh, Angel...Dr. Debois will be in this afternoon and will tell you this, but I really felt you needed to know before that." She paused and searched my face, my eyes. I was on the verge of screaming at her to just say it. I took a couple of deep breaths and asked,

"Jeannie, what is it? Is there something wrong? Did I do something? Iím really sorry whatever it was, honest, please forgive me, I donít know what it is but if youíll..."

"Angel!" she snapped. I shut my mouth in a hurry and looked at her with fear in my eyes. "Angel," she said again in a kinder tone, "I didnít mean to upset you. Itís just that, well, your insurance is running out soon and you wonít be able to stay here. Youíll have to leave next week and frankly Angel, Iím scared for you."

"Scared for me?" I replied in semi-shock. It was the last thing I expected to hear. I never led anyone to think I was in physical danger at home, I never led them to think anything except I was frustrated with my life and not being able to play the lead in the school play. I was feeling guilty because my mom was so sick and I didnít help her. When asked about him, I always replied, "We get along OK. Donít fight or anything." Dr. Dubois sat and looked at me for a full 5 minutes when I gave him this answer as though waiting for me to say more. I wouldnít because I couldnít.

So no one should be scared for me. "Why?" I asked Jeannie in a voice hard to control. "Why are you scared of me leaving?"

"Angel, you are a beautiful girl with a precious gift. You feel for others so strongly that it affects your own feelings, wants and needs. Iím scared that youíll push this beautiful girl back under filthy hair and baggy clothes and go back to being mother to your mother."

I started at this and glanced at my journal then at her. "No," she replied to my unvoiced question. "I didnít read it. Your mother and step-father had a meeting with Dr. Dubois and myself last evening concerning discharge. Your mother made it quite clear that you ran the household and didnít seem to understand that it wasnít very healthy for you to have that much responsibility at your age. Your step-father seemed a little more understanding, but wasnít willing to voice any opinions in your mothers presence. He did tell Dr. Dubois privately that he was worried that your mothers illness was having a profound psychological impact on the both of you.

"Angel, I need you to be honest with me. If something is going on at home, if you are being abused in any way, I need you to tell me now. If you donít, I canít stop your parents from taking you back."

"Jeannie, I understand what you are trying to say. I canít say anything that would be able to stop them, and what I needed to say is said, in my journal."

"Damn it Angel!!! Journaling is not enough! You need to say it with your voice, you need to let others hear it! Journeling gets you in touch with what you need to say, thatís all! Please Angel, talk to me! Tell me what you tell your book." She knelt in front of me and took my hands into hers. "Please talk to me Angel. Let me help you."

My soul ached to tell her, my heart ready to pour out all the bitter secrets. But my mind said no, I couldnít tell. I had to deal with my lot in life better than I had, thatís all. "Thank you Jeannie." I said squeezing her hands. "You have been such a help to me and I am so much stronger than I was before. You donít need to be scared. I donít want to die anymore. I want to lose the rest of this weight and be attractive and make friends. Then I wonít be around so much to wait on mom, so sheíll have to do it herself. So see, Iím going to be great! Donít worry about me." We both stood and gave eachother a hug. She stood back and gave me a searching look. She smiled, turned and left the room. I yearned to go after her, feeling like a kid in preschool whose mom has just left.

Within the next week there were intensive sessions with both Jeannie and the doctor. Dr. Stewart came up twice to play cards with me and talk about my diet and stress and life in general. A family meeting was scheduled for the night before I was released.

I waited tensely outside in the fenced patio area where patients were allowed to smoke. To my surprise, step-dad was buying cartons and leaving them at the nurses station. I chain lit my third when I smelled Moms perfume and saw his long shadow cross my feet. I dropped the cigarette and carefully toed it out before I looked at them.

He looked at me with a pleading smile on his face, his eyes sad and worried. Mom just turned her Emerald gaze on me and froze me on the spot. "Well, they finally got sick of you, Huh? I told you that your attention seeking rewards would be short-lived. So, youíre all cured of your "problems", right? Thatís why they are sending you home? Because Iíll tell you Angel, I canít deal with another episode like this. If you arenít better, Iíll ship you off to the state hospital. Do you understand?" Her gaze got smoky and distant. I wasnít sure what I should say. I certainly couldnít remember her questions in order and the threat of the state hospital had grabbed me around the throat. I literally was not capable of speech or even coherent thought.

My step-father broke the moment by taking hold of mothersí arm and saying, "We need to sign in yet dear. We just saw you through the window Angel and had to say hi first. Well," stammering in the face of my silence, "I guess weíll go sign in. Um, see you upstairs?"

"Yeah, Dr. Duboisí office. 3rd floor." I turned and walked away from them, towards the door that led to the back stairwell. I got in the door and huddled in the far corner while the sobs ripped their way out of my center. 10 minutes later I was in the visitors rest room cleaning my face and trying to look appropriate for this meeting. All I had to remember was to please everyone.

The meeting lasted over an hour and I said perhaps 3 sentences. It came down to mom saying if I was still so fragile that I ought to be committed to the state hospital and would someone get her the number right away. Jeannie and Dr. Dubois looked at eachother, then at me. I shrugged my shoulders and tried to hide the terror I felt at the word committed.

"Excuse me," Dr. Dubois said while rising from his seat. "None of us want to see Angel locked up in the state institution. She is well enough to go home. But unless she begins to see a therapist, she will try to take her life again."

"Ridiculous!" Mother jeered. "This will not ever happen again because there is nothing wrong with her. She has seen that this sort of attention-getting is painful and short-lived. We will pick her up after lunch tomorrow." And without another word, or even a glance my way, she swept out of the room, her husband following a few steps behind, glancing at us in an ashamed manner.

I stood up slowly and looked at Jeannie and the Dr. for a moment. Then I shook my head and started to leave.

"Wait!" Jeannie called, "Where are you going? You need to process this Angel, you need to express your feelings."

I turned and smiled cynically. "I feel nothing. Everything said was expected and now is time for me to pack. Thanks for trying to help." I continued out, half expecting to be called back, but not surprised when I was not.

I was surprised though by the sight of Dr. Stewart sitting on the edge of my bed. "Hi" she smiled at me. "I hear through the grapevine that the family bit didnít come off to well."

"Yeah, you could say that. You could also say it was a complete disaster. But it doesnít really matter. I knew it would be that way. So Iíve come to pack."

"Could you hold off for 45 minutes or so? I have something I want to give you, but it takes time. OK?" She reached for my hand to help her up and as I grasped it and pulled her up, she reached over and gave me a hug. "Doctors orders--when sadness is the presenting symptom, try hug therapy. Come, itís down in the conference room off the lobby."

I followed her quick steps to the elevator and paused instinctively before entering. I hadnít been allowed on this elevator to the public areas since I was admitted. It was major trouble if found on one. Dr. Stewart reached out her hand and pulled me inside just as the doors were closing. She chuckled a bit then gave me a huge smile.

"Itís OK Angel. You are with me and besides, youíll be released in 24 hours. You have to get used to this stuff again. Ah, here we are!" she exclaimed as the bell tinged the first floor. I exited behind her and looked at the floor and followed her heels. I didnít want to see anyone, I was embarrassed like I had a huge sign on me that read "Psych Patient". I didnít want to see the disgust in everyoneís eyes. We soon came to a door, she opened it and I went inside. I raised my head a bit to see what was there. In the center of the room was a large round conference table with a dozen chairs around it. On the table was a boom box with a CD/cassette player and several CD cases lying around it. I took the seat offered and watched her set up her equipment. She then sat beside me and placed a remote on the table.

"I want to introduce you to a very special woman, Angel." She said as she placed a CD in the player. "Now, Iíve made you a tape of these songs, plus many more, but these are the ones you should listen to now."

She pressed a button and a piano filled the room, soft, sweet, but stirring. A womans voice rose over the music, singing about snow and walking with her father, The angelic voice mesmerized me, but I couldnít relate to the lyrics. Until, all of a sudden I felt tears running down my face and Dr. Stewarts arm around me.

"When you gonna love you like I do?" I repeated to the woman singing. A sob rose in chest then out my throat, choking me till I pushed it all the way out. A howling sound crowded the music out till it was the only thing heard. I sat doubled over, gasping for air. The emotion in the womans voice had released a flood that I had tucked deep inside.

I recovered enough to sit up after a few minutes and could only look at Dr. Stewart. "Wow!" I finally said.

She laughed and said, "Thatís what I was hoping for. Now, Tori can be addictive, but I think she can help you at home. You know, she can tell you the secret of life. Would you like to hear it?"

I gave her a skeptics glance, then nodded my head. The words were a bit hard to distinguish, but I clearly heard "I found the secret to life, Iím OK when everything is not OK". Dr. Stewart pressed a button that searched back to the beginning of that line. "Iím OK when everything is not OK". She smiled at me, and I felt a smile grabbing the corners of my mouth.

"Isnít that the most wonderful phrase?" she asked me as the song ended. "It is so full of hope."

"Uh, yeah." I said softly. I had picked up a CD case and was looking at this beautiful woman on the cover, appearing stuck in a wooden box. That was how I felt sometimes, trapped in a box. Her voice had struck a chord in my soul, this woman knew how I felt.

Dr. Stewart said, "There is one more song Iíd like you to listen to. Then we can go back upstairs." A bumblebee melody on a piano burbled out of the speakers. Then her voice, seeming to talk nonsense, but it was like she was speaking in code. The refrain grabbed at my heart. "Silent all these years". My God!, I thought. This is ME!!! How does she know? Tears filled my eyes, making them glossy. They waited on the brink of my eyelid, poised to splash down upon my cheek. The song ended and I shook the tears from my eyes. I smiled shyly at Dr. Stewart as she sat back observing me.

"I donít know what to say." I murmured.

"No need." she replied. She pushed a cassette tape across the table to me and placed a piece of paper in my hand. There was an 800 number on it and nothing else. I raised my eyes in question to her.

She looked very seriously into my eyes and said, "The day will come when you will no longer be silent about what got you here in the first place. I know you feel you canít say anything now, but when the time comes, call this number. The woman who wrote those songs founded this organization for girls just like you. So put it in a safe place and when you need it, use it. So--itís time to get you back upstairs. OK?"

I nodded and went to the door with her. Before she opened it, I impulsively threw my arms around her neck and hugged her tight. I backed off quickly, ashamed that I had done so, but she reached out and hugged me back.

"Itís going to be OK, Angel. You are going to be just fine, wait and see. You have a wonderful future ahead of you, something to really live for. You donít see it now, but I do. Now come with me. You have packing to do if I recall correctly."

I smiled at her and actually walked through the lobby to the elevator with my head up and a confident stride. This was the most wonderful present I had ever gotten and I couldnít wait to plug in my cassette player and hear more of this womanís wonderful music.

*

I returned home the next morning. My step-father picked me up by himself. "Your mother is not doing well this morning" he said excusing her absence. I sat tense, fists in my lap and ankles crossed tightly. But he said nothing and tried nothing, just drove in silence for the long trip home.

Mom was in bed and I went in to see her as he brought in my suitcase.

"Itís about time you got here." she said without greeting. "So did you have a nice little vacation? Did you get your fill of "attention"?" This last word was laced with acid and I knew better than to reply to it.

"Iím glad to be home mom. Uh, did you miss me?" I asked with a touch of hope.

"Sure did. Didnít you notice how bad the house looks? You need to get started right away with the vacuuming and dusting. It is so bad, well, I couldnít even come to get you this morning. So sweetie, welcome home. School tomorrow. Well--get started!" With that, her attention moved back to her morning talk shows and I turned and went to do the many chores that awaited me.

I finished cleaning and cooked dinner, did everything just like I had never been gone. Nothing had changed, except I hadnít had to deal with my step-dad that day. He scarcely even looked at me and spent most of his time in momís room watching TV with her. Well, I was grateful for that.

The next morning I waited at the bus stop. The other kids avoided me, but were obviously surprised I wasnít across the road like I had always done. I heard a lot of whispers about me, but there wasnít one word directed my way. That was fine, expected, nothing new.

During the day, my teachers were all very kind and solicitous. I was being treated like I was this fragile little thing that would fall apart (and possibly commit suicide!!!) at a disagreeable word. I waded through that day with a growing headache from all the false sentiments being poured over me. I felt like I could barely breath by the time I made it to Drama.

The cast was already on stage. I could see that Cathy Berry had received my role and was over-acting as usual. Mr. B. turned to see who had entered and stopped everything with his cry, "Angel! It is so good to see you back! Youíve lost weight! You look better than ever. Doesnít she guys?" he asked the group assembled on the stage.

"Uh, yeah, Hi Angel, welcome back, lookingí good..." the various comments came floating towards me. But CJ hopped off the stage and came striding up the aisle to me. He gave me a hug (to displeased exclamations from the stage) and said, "Boy Angel, it sure is good to see you back. You are looking real fine. I like what youíve done with your hair."

I didnít know what to say. I certainly wasnít going to say the only thing I had done with my hair was wash it. I open and closed my mouth a few times, then managed a mumbled, "Thank you".

He led me down the aisle to Mr. B who patted the seat next to him. "Take 5 group." he said than turned to me. "Are you all right?"

I nodded and said nothing. He continued, "I couldnít hold the part for you. Youíll need to be on stage crew, but I have a role for you in the next production. I know this is a disappointment, but I am so glad you are back Angel. I would have missed you very much." This was the first mention of my attempted suicide from anyone and I couldnít think of a thing to say. My old stand-by "thank you" was all I could utter and I got up to walk to backstage to see how I could help.

So the day ended and I arrived home. It was as though I had never left, things were as always. Clean, cook, be a "good girl". That night though, when I came in from having a cigarette, he was waiting for me.

"Iíve missed your help Angel." he said with a smile. "Why donít you come out and help me now?" He reached for my hand and started leading me out to the garage. I followed timidly for a moment, but then stopped short.

"NO!" I cried out. "NO MORE! I donít want to and you canít make me! Just leave me alone!"

He stood back in shock then shook his head. "You donít mean that Angel. You are a good girl. You want to please me and your mother. Now come on." He grabbed at my hand once more and I almost let him take it, but then a rage roared out of me and I shoved him with all my strength. I turned and ran up the drive to the road and kept running till I reached the main road, over a mile. I was gasping for breath and tears were running freely down my cheeks as I stood by the side of the road with my thumb out. Iíd heard of the dangers of hitch-hiking and they seemed preferable than what I was leaving behind. A truck passed me, slowed, backed up and stopped before me. A rough looking woman wearing a cowboy hat looked me up and down, then said, "Where you headed, kid?"

"To town." I replied as I opened the door and hauled myself in. "Or anywhere but here, Please." I looked at her, begging her with my eyes to just start driving. She looked at me one last time and put the truck in gear. "Right-o" she said and then turned on the radio. Country-western music filled the cab and I sat quietly catching my breath. I thought maybe if I got to the school, maybe Mr. B would still be around and might help me.

But when the lady trucker let me out, the school was dark and closed. It was a cold night and looked like snow. I felt helpless and hopeless. If I had a handful of pills... I stopped that thought with fear. I would do it again, after all I had learned. This shocked me. I would throw my life away before I had even begun to live. I walked towards the park trying to think of options. I couldnít go back home. I simply couldnít. I had no where else to go. The hospital was to far away and besides, my parents would never permit me to go back there a day after I had been released. They would send me to State if I did that.

I sat on a bench in the center of the park as the snow started to fall. I thought of the hospital and how strong I had felt there my last 2 weeks. I thought of Jeannie and Dr. Debois and Dr. Stewart. DR. STEWART! I remembered that night in the conference room with the music. The number, where was it, where had I put it? "When you need it, use it. When you donít want to be silent anymore." There it was, in my coat pocket.

I walked over to the phone booth and shut the door. It was a little warmer than being out in the snow and I began to rub and blow on my hands so I would be able to dial the number. I knew I was stalling and I knew I couldnít stall anymore. I had a choice now--give up my life or give up my secrets. The womans voice sang in my head, "Iím OK when everything is not OK". Yeah, I would be OK, no matter what.

I took the receiver off the hook and held it to my ear with my shoulder to leave both hands free. In one I held the number, the other dialed "1-800-656-HOPE".

"Hi." greeted a recorded message. "You have reached the RAINN hotline. To speak with a worker near you, please press one." I pressed one and waited while a click sounded then it started ringing. Once. Twice.

"Crisis. Can I help you?" A nice voice. A womans voice. I tried to speak, but all that came out was a sob. "I, I donít know, know what to say?" I managed to get out.

"Thatís OK. Why donít you tell me your name?" she asked.

"Um, my name is Angel, and Iím scared and cold and alone. Please help me." I was pleading with a stranger, but for once my pride didnít rise up and choke me. "I canít do it anymore, I canít do it." I broke down in tears and couldnít hear what she was saying. Finally I was able to listen to her once more.

"Angel, can you tell me where you are? Let me send someone to pick you up and bring you in out of the cold. We can sit and have tea and talk. Will you do that?"

I was afraid. I was very afraid, but I decided for once to trust someone. "Iím at the high school park. Iíll wait in front of the gate if thatís OK. And, And, I need to tell..."

IíM OK WHEN EVERYTHING IS NOT OK