[Author's note: this is a work in progress]
"What are you willing to heal?"
We pass the tall sign as strong hands hold me up. My feet drag across the bleak-colored floor. I alternate between looking straight up at the exposed wooden beams and back to the floor, as the muscles in my neck refuse to work and my head jostles this way and that. It's dizzying and I want to throw up. Correction, I do throw up. The orderlies call out "clean up in aisle 4!", but don't stop.
The tunnels twist and turn and it feels like we're shimmying up a teal-colored colon, deeper and deeper into the bloated carcass of hope and happiness. The deeper we go, the more unsure the florescent lights become, flickering quicker and leaving us in the darkness for longer each time. I wonder what depth of hell we've reached. Except we never take any stairs or elevator. The orderlies just keep walking and drag my increasingly uncooperative body down miles and miles of depressing hallways.
At long last they zero in on a room in a half-lit hallway, one I'm sure is reserved for melodramatic murderers and people who kick dogs.
The door opens and I'm pushed into a pile of a thousand hands. They grab and pull me into their depths. The last thing I see are the smirks on the orderlies' faces. Then the door shuts and plunges all into darkness.
Cold dead hands surround me, grab me, hold me, and I want to scream, but strong hands are pushing on my rib cage and I cannot even take a breath. I suffocate in silence and pass out.
Morning light meanders in between the wire-and-glass of the window and overlays a neat grid on top of my face. I blink and try to remember where I am.
It's not any better once I do remember, once I realize what this place is, and why I find myself inside this claustrophobic room.
"What are you willing to heal?" The phrase swims into the conscious brain and I toss it around a bit.
The door to my room opens and a short older woman enters. "Good morning," she offers automatically. There is no warmth in her.
I sit up in bed.
She comes over and sits on a chair on one side of the bed. In her hands is a light-blue folder. I can see my name on a tab that's facing me. She scans through the contents, then finally introduces herself: "My name is Angela. I will be working with you for the next few days." She glances back at the folder for a moment, as if she'd forgotten some key piece of information in the time it took her to introduce herself. "This is your first time at our facility. Not to worry, we're going to take this slow."
She looks at me expectantly. I nod and say "slow, sure."
"Why don't you tell me, in your own words, why you are here," Angela says. I nod.
"I... I kicked a cat." Angela just sits there and watches me, an expressionless mask on her face. "We were watching the game, I had a few too many, and... I kicked my friends' cat. It was this fat orange tabby, and he kept following me, kept standing on his hind legs..." Unexpected tears run down my cheeks and I take a moment, breathe in, breathe out. "I'd had it with him, and I didn't mean to, but I also did, so I kicked the cat. And I lost my friends, my husband, my work, all in the span of a minute. I lost it all, because that fat fucking cat wouldn't stop following me!" Angela glances down at her notes, then looks up, but says nothing. I'm watching for a reaction, but there's nothing there. It feels like I'm talking to a wall. "They brought me here, last night, after the game," I finish lamely.
Angela just sits there and watches, does her best impression of a statue, and it really grates on my nerves. I have a sudden urge to kick her, too.
"What are you willing to heal?", she asks me. There's no humor or malice in her voice, like she's not even aware of the mantra of this place.