Chapter 8. A Labyrinth of Remorse
Montreal’s Louis-H. Lafontaine Hospital
I grab the book, Labyrinth Lost, its edges digging into my palm tighter as I read the words on the signboard. This is going to be difficult, but I have to rise to the occasion. My friend needs me. I need her too.
“Come on, darling, let’s go see Amy,” mom tells me kindly, sliding her arm under mine.
My smile is more of a grimace, but still we head through the automatic doors. The clean, sharp smell of disinfectant hits me and makes me want to gag. It also stinks of vomit but more like a lingering background stench. Mom takes us to the information stand and asks for Amy’s room. The guard tells us she’s in the psych ward. I and mom exchange a sorrowful look.
“Thank you,” I manage to say to the guard with a nod.
We turn around and walk to the elevators-three of them in a row against the far wall. I always wondered why hospitals are so dull in colours… Probably not to agitate or irritate patients. Still, it’s ugly and boring. I prefer colours on walls. It’s more welcoming and soothing. They should think about that, whoever decides these things. For the patients’ recovery sake, of course.
“Poor Amy…” I whisper.
“I know. But at least you’ll see her,” Mom smiles as she nudges me with her shoulder.
I grimace another excuse of a smile, but avert my gaze. If she can’t see the guilt in my eyes, I might get away with it.
The elevator to our right opens and we step into it. My pulse quickens and my grip on the book is tightening-I’m afraid I’ll ruin them, but I can’t help it. She’ll see how I didn’t protect her, she knows… I’m not a good friend, aren’t I?
I love her, but how could I be?
I stare at the 4 icon as though I could freeze it. But the doors open and I blink, knowing too well I have to step into this. So I do. I take a big and long breath, filling my lungs with whatever I can to sustain me through this. My mom is caressing my back; I’m sure she senses my tension. And fear, somehow.
We arrive at the counter and ask for directions. The nurse tells us to go right, 3rd door straight ahead. The place is in a U-shape. Mom thanks her and we walk to the locked blinded door. We figdet for a few seconds, exchanging uncertain glances before mom rings the tiny doorbell on the side wall. A man in jeans and blue T-shirt peaks around a glass cubicle, his jet black hair sticking in all directions though his wide, owl-like eyes stare right at us. Mom waves at him, and he rushes to us. He quickly slips his ID card in a scanner, then opens the door with a grin, beckoning us in. We rapidly follow, sensing with awkwardness and pressure that we must be fast about it. I guess it’s so patients won’t… leave without permission. For a place that reminds people of prison, I’m surprised to find it’s got white walls, a wide, open-space main room, and besides the patients being dressed in hospital gowns, the staff discuss with them like they’re… well, actual people, and not insane freaks. I realize I’ve been gaping as I took the room and its inhabitants in, my previous assumption replaced with a more positive image, when my mom whispers to me to hand my stuff to the nurse.
Oh, so the guy is actually a nurse! I couldn’t tell with his normal clothes.
Blushing, I offer him the book and slide my bag off to hand it to him as well.
‘’I’m sorry, but you see, for security reasons we must take everything that may be dangerous,’’ he explains with a bright smile.
I almost squint from its brightness. What white teeth! He must have a whitening treatment…
‘’It’s all right,’’ mom says, handing him her out purse.
‘’Are books allowed?’’ I ask with a frown as he takes our items, always joyfully.
This guy is so happy. Why can’t I?
That was selfish.
Still, I’d love to erase what happened to me, and steal his happiness.
He stops as he is taking a step away, and turns his head to me, looking puzzled. Then he glances at the book and a wide smile breaks over his lips. I hate him. I also think he’s pretty handsome, looking so positive and wayward like, so happy. I envy him.
‘’Books are allowed after inspection—it only takes a minute. But pens and pencils are not as well as purses and bags,’’ he adds more seriously.
I frown deeper and open my mouth to ask why, but then it hits me. I open wide eyes and close my mouth.
So they won’t hurt themselves or others. Of course.
I nod quickly several times and offer him a shy smile. Mom and I smile at each other as we wait for them to inspect the book. The guy, Mathias from his ID card pinned to his lapel, enters the protected cubicle using his card again, and shows the book to a young woman with a dark ponytail. She takes it in her hands and leafes through the pages carefully, also checking for seams and inner pockets—she’s evidently looking for unallowed material or potential dangers.
Finally, she gives a firm nod at Mathias, and hands the book back before going back to her laptop. She is so focused, almost drilling her gaze into the screen, I wonder if her discipline comes from a past sport practice. I fiddle with my hands, and tense as Mathias comes back. Fortunately, he offers me the book—and the rascal smiles again. At me, this time. My face flushes instantly and I lower my head after gazing right into his sparkling blue eyes.
‘’The book’s fine. Nothing worrisome. You can go to… Who’s it for?’’
‘’Thank you! Amy Sánchez.’’ I say, clearing my throat.
‘’Right. Well, just walk till the third door to your right. Thank you for coming.’’ He nods as he gestures to the corridor sprawled before us, right after the main room. Then, he lets his arm drop to his side with an audible brush against his jeans, and walks to a patient struggling with a puzzle.
I take another look around the place as we walk to Amy’s room. The main room is full of psychiatric patients all dressed in soft white or green clothes, either lost in their own mind or focused on a task at hand (watching the TV on the wall or doing puzzles… I even see a girl writing on a loose sheet since pencils are allowed only in the main room—there is surveillance).
I snap my head to look before me, and keep walking until we get to the third, open door. When I arrive next to it, I freeze.
‘’Hey, it’s okay, darling… She’ll be happy to see you.’’
Just her words, simple, innocent words, make my eyes well up and my heart sting. I’m afraid Amy resents me for not saving her, for not protecting her properly. Despite my training.
I wipe my tears away quickly with my sleeve and put on a smile on my face, as genuine as I can muster. After all, she’s still my best friend and I love her. I, too, want to see her. So, I step before the threshold. It’s as though there’s a big shadow looming over me from behind, oppressing me. But I straighten up and speak.
Amy’s looking out at the brilliant window. Her expression is glazed, like she isn’t really seeing this place; she isn’t here. My bestie turns her bulging eyes to me, sitting cross-legged on the bed. I hold back a gasp: she looks like a stressed-out ghost! Her usually healthy hair is dirty and dull, darker, she looks like she lost weight, her cheeks are hollowed. She seems to be in a constant state of fear. Oh, my Amy, I’m so sorry.
“Mimi?” her mousey voice calls out.
With a grin on my face, I walk to her and stand awkwardly beside her bed. I fidget and look around before realizing the irritating weight slapping against my thighs.
“Right! This is for you, lovely,” I tell her, offering the novel.
Amy blinks then extends her arms to take it. She stares at it as though she doesn’t know what to do with it, then a small smile appears at the corner of her lips. She puts the book on her lap and traces the cover and spine gently.
I grimace a smile and weakly gesture to the book as though I’m not even sure about this choice anymore.
‘’It’s by Zoraida Córdova, an Ecuadorian. I thought it was nice she’s a Latina too, and she even inserts a lot of Spanish phrases and words in her work—I leafed through it and thought you’d like it.’’ My smile is more assured, more sincere now as Amy’s gazing straight at me. ’’It’s about a bruja and how she has to save her family after they disappeared because one of her spells backfired. Sounds like a good read.’’
I keep my smile plastered on my face and laces my fingers in my lap, watching her reaction expectantly.
Hope I chose well.
“It’s wonderful. Thank you, Mimi,” she says in a slightly enthusiastic voice.
My mother knocks on the doorframe, making us both jump.
“I’m sorry, girls. I hope you get well soon, Amy,” she tells us with a compassionate smile.
Amy gulps and gestures to the faded green armchair in the far corner of the room.
“Please, have a seat, Katharina.”
My mother nods and sits down, taking off her coat. “Thank you, dear.”
Amy looks up at me and it’s like she sees through me. I gulp and fret she knows I failed her. But I say nothing; instead, I rub my arms, trying to warm the chill assaulting me.
“You know you can sit, Mimi. On my bed,” she adds to me in an even voice.
I huff nervously and stutter “y-yeah, right” before sitting at the foot of her bed. It’s not comfortable; the mattress is hard, but who am I to complain? She’s got it worse than me.
“So, erm, how are you… doing here? Are they treating you well?” I ask her, concerned about her treatment.
I look around and take in the bare room and the sick green paint fading away from the walls, flaking off here and there. There’s a window across the room, then another bed, and Amy’s. Each bed is accompanied with a bedside table, a lamp and one drawer for personal belongings. It’s a sore sight, a sterile environment. It’s for safety, they say, but while it’s a bit better than conventional hospital rooms, it’s a far cry from a place to feel comfortable. It’s lifeless, much like my friend has lost her shine, her sparkle of colorful personnality and life-loving attitude. It’s far from being a normal, cozy bedroom. I guess they’re trying both to protect the patients from themselved while giving them an illusion of real bedrooms. I swallow with difficulty before turning my sad gaze to Amy.
Amy sighs and looks down at her fiddling hands, the book now on her small bedside table. She takes a few seconds before answering me. I miss my happy-go-lucky friend, all enthused about everything. She’s lost her spark, and it pains me to see.
“Well, they’re kind to me. But this place feels oppressive… I just don’t like it. With all these crazy people,” she confesses as she steals a glance at me, ashamed.
I purse my lips and put my hand on top of hers. I stroke them gently before leaning forward and embracing her softly, like I always do whenever she’s sad or hurt. Friends stand together, right? No matter what.
Amy lets out a single sob and hugs me back tightly. When we part, I offer her a soft smile and I see we both have a tear running down our cheek. I wipe mine away. I don’t know what to tell her, except that I’m sorry and I blame myself for this. But I doubt it will help her mood, so I keep silent.
“Do they have a plan to do check-ups with you once you’re out? Or are they keeping you for a lil’ longer?”
My friend and I turn surprised looks to my mom. She’s bending over, her elbows on her thighs and staring straight at Amy. She does this whenever she cares or she’s focused. A cloud of love for her floats in my chest.
Amy licks her lips and blinks at my mom. Inhaling deeply, she nods. But she seems tense when normally she’s quite friendly around my mom. Around anyone, really.
“Well, they are keeping me for a few days more, to see the shrink…” she says in a tight voice. “But after that, I can go back home and have weekly appointments. I guess that’s something.”
She offered my mom a weak smile, but mom returned a big one.
“That is great news, Amy! Oh, I can’t wait for things to settle down… for both of you, darlings,” mom says with sadness in her eyes as she looks from me to Amy.
Amy frowns and stares at me, puzzled. “What? Oh, I’m silly. Mimi, tell me how you are!”
Shame submerges me and I lower my head before peeking up with an awkward smile. She mustn’t know all the story. She mustn’t learn I beat myself about it.
“It’s not easy, y’know… The… incident… You… And I just, roam about, I guess. I’m shocked, but that’s normal.”
I chuckle nervously and flick my hand at her. But Amy doesn’t laugh, she’s gazing dead serious at me.
“Oh, poor Mimi!”
Damn, so long for keeping the mask up. It’s like she sees right into me now and she sees past my pretenses. Amy’s always been skilled at reading others and me, better than I do.
She grabs my hand and taps it gently with her other hand. A soft smile is on her lips and I feel my eyes water.
“I-I just wish I could have stopped this…” I say, my voice tight as I suppress sobs. A tear falls down my cheek. “Prevented what happened to us… to you.”
Amy gasps and shakes her head.
“It’s not your fault! He was a madman… I…” she sighs, defeated.
I tilt her chin upwards and fix my eyes upon her brown ones so she understands I’m not kidding around.
“I promise I’ll be better, Amy.”
My mother moves and the sound of her pants crinkling reaches my ears. She’s irritated. But I’m not taking back my words and she knows it.
Amy blinks at me several times before a gleam of understanding shines in her eyes. She opens her mouth slightly but nothing comes out for a few seconds.
“OH! You blame yourself?”
I blink and more tears fall down, which I hurry to wipe away. I laugh at myself lowly. Amy tries to catch my gaze but I make sure to avoid hers.
“Well, I’ve got training and… I…” I sigh and start crying.
“Oh no, no, Mimi…! HE’S the villain, not you, mi querida!”
“She’s right, Miranda,” my mother intervenes. I don’t see her through my tears, but I can tell from her voice she’s got her lips pursed and she’s tense.
“I… I swear I’ll be better, Amy. For you. For us.”
I hope my serious and resolute expression conveys my feelings and determination. My mother sighs.
We hear clothes rubbing against each piece, then a man stands in the doorframe. He’s dressed normally, in jeans with a green T-shirt. I know from the ID he wears near his left shoulder that he’s an employee—but also from the fact he isn’t in scrubs like all the nurses in the psychiatric wing. Something about making the patients feel at ease and giving the illusion they’re not in the hospital.
“I’m sorry, ladies, but the visiting hours are over.”
He smiles at us before walking away. But then a second later, we see him come back. “Oh, Amy, you need to take a bath tonight. It’ll speed up your leave.”
Amy looks troubled by the idea of a bath for a while. But then she frowns and nods. “Will do, Shaun.”
I breathe through my teeth and stand up, blinking away the last of my tears. Confused for a moment, I don’t know how to say good-bye or what to do. So, I turn around as my mother puts on her coat and I stare at my best friend.
“Hope you like the book,” I manage to say with a smile, pointing at the object.
Amy chuckles once and nods her approval. I bend over and hug her tightly. When we finally pull away, I let my hand stroke hers and stare intently into my best friend’s eyes.
I don’t know how, but I will find a way to protect you better. I promise.
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