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The Road to Safety (Or Hell)

May 21, 2015

PROMPT: Open Prompt


They made me wait six hours before their system acknowledged my existence and they loaded me into an ambulance.

            “You look nervous,” the round-faced EMT said softly. Her jacket said her name was Jackie.

            I just smiled weakly and tried not to look like I was halfway out of my skin. I felt more like a burrito than nervous, but my body seemed to have other ideas. Fortunately, the pink blanket I was bundled in under the obnoxiously yellow stretcher straps obscured my shaky hands.

            I heard the driver flip on the radio. Jackie kept talking. “It’s not that bad, you know. My daughter went here a little while back-she’s in college now,” she said, and I had to hide my dull surprise that she was old enough to have a child, let alone one in college.

            I turned to look at her, half my view obscured by my grown-out bangs. My hair was thick and dark against the pillow, still wavy from the braid I had had it in until they took my hair tie from me. The guy in the maroon scrubs said it was merely for my safety.

            I tried to see Jackie’s eyes through the glare in her glasses from the fluorescent lights, and as she bent over to lean against the cabin I caught a distorted image of myself in the lens. Gone were the bright eyes and somewhat crooked smile, cheeks painted red with life: that girl had run away to a nicer place. She had been possessed by this creature with near-translucent skin that showed her veins like roadmaps, sunken in cheeks, blank, empty eyes rimmed with flaky day-old mascara and the ugly purple bruises earned from nightly brawls with insomnia.

            I didn’t even react. This face was a familiar one- it had scowled at me for months now every time I stood at the sink in the bathroom, searching in the mirror for the girl who’d gotten lost somewhere along the way to wherever I was going.

            The light winked in the EMT’s glasses, then went clear.

            Her eyes were blue. Pretty.

            “Do you do this a lot?” I asked flatly. No inflection, no emotion. Just cold, black stone. Do you accompany many teenagers right into the bowels of their own personal hell?

            “Yeah,” she replied, smiling like it was whatever. Like delivering people to a mental hospital- sorry, behavioral unit- should be a part of everybody’s daily routine. “It happens a lot more than you think,” she added.

            I moved to pull myself upright, only to be reminded of my position by the pull of the straps. Jackie had apologized profusely as she had secured them, not wanting to make me think that I was being treated as some kind of psychopath that can’t be trusted. It’s just protocol, the dark-skinned driver told me, looking everywhere but at me as she wheeled me away from the comfort of the Spartan holding room my parents and I had inhabited for hours now. I tried to look back, to see if my parents were still standing in the doorway of our little temporary home watching me with sad eyes, but the lady pushing me blocked my last chance as we swiveled around a corner. I turned back around and stared at the gallon bag that holds all that would belong to me in this new world: a tall pair of over-worn black Uggs, jeans with a ragged tear on the left knee, a fancy volume of Wicked and Son of a Witch, and a striped t shirt my mom had made me buy on clearance at Target.

            “Ooh, stripes! This would look perfect with those dark wash jeans I bought you the other day…”

            One glance at her bald head, peeking out from under a blue dollar store hat I’d decorated for her with bubble paint. “You’re so right, Mom..”

            The driver took a sudden right turn, making the world lean to the side before righting itself. “Sorry about that,” she shouted back over her shoulder. I didn’t see why; it wasn’t like she’d been popping wheelies. She just turned. “I’m so used to this route, I almost missed the sign.”

            I didn’t even bother trying to figure that out. The whole night was making my brain hurt.

            My world comes to a standstill, and Jackie opens the doors onto darkness. A dull rectangular light gleamed off to the right, making me think of the entrance to heaven in the movie Bruce Almighty.

            Ha. Irony.

            I barely give a second thought to the fact that this is probably the last time I’ll be outside for a while; I just watch the light reflect on her face as she pushes me towards the faint light, growing brighter with every rattling turn of the stretcher wheels.

            We find ourselves in a lobby of sorts, with an unoccupied front desk, ugly brown couches, and a TV turned on for no one. It’s on CNN; it’s some guy I don’t know with slicked hair and a suit talking about some conflict halfway around the world that I don’t care about.

            I see a scene of a blasted street, the husks of peoples’ homes- dusty walls, gaping doorways- the only things left behind by blood and fire.

            And all I can think about is how that neighborhood is like my me. A mere shadow of what it once was. Uninhabitable.

            I turn my attention away from the TV, instead focusing on the spot of peeling paint on the wall next to me. Maybe this was going insane- making everything into depressing, artistic metaphors.

            Maybe insanity isn’t that bad. Maybe sanity is the one that’s screwed up.

            We’re waiting for my parent-they’d wanted to follow the ambulance here, to wish me good night. Jackie calls my mom and finds out they’d tried to follow but the ambulance had left too quickly; the driver looks unbothered by this. Instead she picks at her cuticles, her eyes on the clock.

            Jackie spits out directions into the phone, and then I’m being wheeled down hallway after hallway until we come to a locked door with a buzzer. A sign, as brown and dull as the wall it hangs on, sports the name of my new home: Children’s Crisis Intervention Service (CCIS). It’s a title that seems like it belongs in a TNT crime drama, not Foster’s Home for Kids with Problems.

            When we’re finally allowed in, I am at last released from my stretcher. I unfurl myself from the blankets- dyed pink, Jackie told me, to keep people from stealing them. I feel virtually naked, a sheaf of papery material that goes to my knees my only protection against the cold, sterile air of the hallway. A woman with a bob frosted like a birthday cake smiles at me warmly and holds the door open.

            I start to go, but Jackie stops me. “Here,” she said, holding out the pink blanket. “Why don’t you take this.”

            I just stare at it for a second. Didn’t she say they had gone to all the trouble of dying these sheets so no one would take them? Was it a joke? Would they take it away from me the second I followed Cake Hair Lady through those doors?

            I looked at her face. There was only this almost motherly kindness looking back at me from behind those reflective lenses.

            I reached for the blanket and smiled thankfully. As she turned to the driver to reset the stretcher, I clutched the blanket and my Ziploc bag to my chest.

            With one last deep breath, I followed the woman into the unknown hidden behind locked doors. 


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