After her recent failed suicide attempt, her family decided to ship her off to a secluded rehab facility in a small town, between St. Joseph's Shrine and The Trinitarian Brothers Monastery, a kind of community center for all the anonymous groups as well as religious retreats. Various celebrities who didn't want to clean up their drug and/or alcohol addictions in the usual places came here and found peace, sobriety and success of a different kind.
Honesty House wasn't fancy, but the food was excellent, the staff well-credentialed, and the recovery rate phenomenal. As was the cost, but her father's brother, once here under the same conditions, always said, "You get what you pay for." Her family could afford to pay for it. Their exact words were, "It's cheaper than an Ivy League college for four years and a two million dollar wedding, which if you stop trying to kill yourself, we will gladly pay for as well." They were the kind of parents who showed love with money. Not bad people, just distant.
So, the intake shrink was an older woman, who looked much like a kindly reference librarian, reading glasses on a pretty gold chain hanging around her neck, resting on her breasts until the shrink paused in her listening to write something down. She said to call her Lottie, so the girl did. Lottie's clothing was outdated, but elegant and her office smelled like baked gingerbread. The girl felt at ease with this woman whose calm grey eyes made her feel like maybe this was what having a grandmother was like. Someone who listens to you and asks simple questions with great care.
Not surprisingly, Lottie asked first about her mother and father and the girl's relationship with them. The girl could only explain it by describing the house and some of its rooms. Her parents didn't have a bedroom like normal parents. They had an entire floor in the house, up three flights of stairs with smooth, polished wooden railings and carpeted steps with brass bars holding the Persian carpet runner in place. Restrained, just like everything in the house. No one was supposed to go up there unless summoned. For a lecture. Or the occasional fitting in her mother's sewing room. Her uncle said sewing calmed her mother better than any drugs, which he knew a lot about.
It was like a separate world up there, the staff called it "the suite" (which when she was younger, she thought was The Sweet, thus way more interesting-sounding, as if her parents lived in Candy Land.) But the reality was it was from here that her parents ruled. Each had a spacious bedroom, decorated appropriately and at opposite ends of their decidedly not sweet world.
Her father's bedroom was dark blue, nautical, befitting his former military career. An immovable rusty anchor in one corner, Japanese paper money from World War II, framed in glass, a torn and worn flag of Japan, a captain's log which her father said once belonged to a man who rested at the bottom of the ocean, locked in his stateroom, in a sunken ship.
Her mother's bedroom had flowered wallpaper, lace curtains and soft carpeting, all in muted pastels, like Monet's water lilies--instantly calming. The girl had seen the paintings once in a museum and never forgot the feeling. Her mother believed in sunlight streaming through windows and had African violets, orchids and ferns on pedestals in just the right places. Her mother's bed was a family heirloom, handed down from some relative who knew the furniture maker. One of those high four poster beds with a footstool at the side, soft quilts and softer pillows. She imagined her mother carefully selecting a delicate nightgown each evening, then brushing her hair one hundred strokes, at the vanity in the room, made to match the bed.
Her mother's other rooms included one very large bathroom which smelled of lavender and rose water, eucalyptus in the winter, and mint toothpaste. Perfume bottles on a mirror-top table. Everything in this room was white, even the towels. The sewing room was pale pink, complete with a dressmaker's dummy and sewing machine, a shelf of notions--threads of a thousand colors, unusual glass jars filled with buttons and sewing needles, pins with colored tops, a shelf of patterns by McCalls and Simplicity in chronological order. Scissors of all shapes, sizes, and functions. Her mother came from that generation where females were taught sewing, just as they were taught piano and proper etiquette for all situations.
Her father had a study, which was rich with leather and a huge dark desk and a globe of the world on an elaborate stand. Even the walls were dark. The one large window never let in the light of day, blinded and curtained with heavy drapes. When she was little, her father would let her spin the world and then stop any place with her pointer finger. Whatever country or sea her finger landed on began what was her favorite time with her father, sitting on his lap or on the bearskin rug; she would listen with her eyes closed as he described each place and it was as if he had been everywhere, the details were so vivid. (Lottie had interrupted the girl about the rooms, asked about her relationship with her father so that's what she told her.)
The girl continued. Of the two rooms her parents shared, the library and the sitting room, she definitely liked the library best. On rainy days, she was allowed to stay there as long as she wanted. So she loved rainy days. This was where she felt peace like the pastor spoke of how heaven might be. Her parents never told her what books to read, but were both quite firm on how to treat books. With respect. More than once, she retreated there and sat for hours, the chair becoming cloud-like and angels were singing softly as she read Thoreau, Kipling and poetry, history and biographies. She was surprised at how many books of poetry there were, most of them were signed from the author to one of her parents, using their first names. Or they were dated Valentine's Day of some year in the past, from her mother to her father or the other way around.
Lottie was asking her another question, but she was still thinking of the books. Lottie asked if she was okay. (Actually, probably not, she thought but didn't say, since I'm here because I tried to kill myself again.) "Oh, yeah, I guess I'm just tired. Sorry, Lottie, what did you ask?"
"I asked if you liked your bedroom, if you felt safe there?" Lottie repeated.
She gave the same answer she had given every other shrink her parents paid. "My bedroom was painted what my mother called Robins' Egg Blue because they both expected and wanted a baby boy first but they got me instead. My father had built model airplanes and ships for nine months and eleven days until my mother had me in a private hospital. He had insisted no son of his would be born in a military hospital and at least that came true. The airplanes were hung from the ceiling with thin wire and from my bed it looked like they were pointed at me, about to crash. I don't remember being in a crib, but knowing my mother I probably was, with soft sheets that had rocket ships or cars and trucks or ships, airplanes...boy stuff. My baby clothes are still in plastic at the back of the closet. They are mostly blue or striped. The model ships were on high shelves and when they gave me my first set of binoculars, I'd lay in bed imagining the hours my father wasted on such tiny, beautiful details. They never re-decorated my room for a girl, so when my first period started, I figured since I was bleeding anyway, I slit my wrists. So, I would say no, I didn't like my bedroom. Or the blue and yellow bathroom where all the blood was."
Lottie had blinked back what might have been tears, then handed the girl a tissue, who hadn't realised tears were streaming down her own face. She never cried, ever. Lottie was good. "Can I ask you something, Lottie?"
The woman shifted slightly in her chair and said, of course. "What I tell you is secret, right? Like even though my parents pay you, they can't know what we talk about ?"
Lottie set aside her notebook and pen, making up her mind. "Yes, whatever you say will always be just between us, although I must tell you your parents did want to know everything you said. I will also tell you what I told your father about that request. I reminded him how Honesty House helped his brother get back his job as a tenured chemistry professor at the university. I also told him that my integrity was not for sale then, nor would it be now."
The girl giggled. "You said that to my father?" Lottie nodded. This woman was no ordinary shrink, no kindly librarian, no long lost grandmother. She was like the huge rocks that hold the ocean back, protecting a harbour, creating safety for boats and ships and houses of sleeping people. And in this safety, the girl was able to tell Lottie something she had never told anyone. It was about another room in the house. A room that was kept locked and was referred to as the winter storage room, upstairs, on the same floor with her parents. The girl had always guessed it to be a small room, with fur coats, extra blankets, boxes of gloves and mittens...until one rainy day when she was leaving the library. The door was partly open and it was large, rose colored, with a border across the ceiling that looked out of place. One of the maids was in there.
The girl ran down the stairs, headed straight for the kitchen, deliberately knocked over a glass vase full of white roses and babies' breath, watching it shatter on the tile floor. Quickly, she pinched her cheeks to make them red and dashed water around her eyes so the maid would think she was crying. Her parents were out for the afternoon, so she ran back upstairs, screaming for Yolanda, the maid in the winter room. She hurried to the girl, not remembering to shut the room and the girl told her about the broken vase. Yolanda was new and didn't want to get fired, so she took off to clean up the mess in the kitchen.
The girl walked slowly into the room and saw two cribs, pink and lacey, with angel mobiles hanging above them. Pink sheets, pink baby blankets, waiting. There was a small rug next to each crib with names on them. Shelves with dolls and pink stuffed animals, even a handmade doll house complete with tiny furniture and a mother and father. The border across the ceiling had angels as well, and hearts and daisies. She opened a dresser and it was full of baby clothes for girls. But it was the curtains on the windows that suddenly made her ache inside. They were the same material as a dress her mother once made for her, pink and white gingham, with small rosettes along the hem.