JUNE. A SAVANNAH JUNE. HOT. Lush. Rich. Damp, like a satisfied woman. Even in this place of unreality where the trio held court, that fact could not be denied.
It was an odd assemblage they made, yet commonplace, at least here at Cedar Grove, where fractured minds were prodded and patched. One walked tall, cloaked in a posture of importance, willowy flame-red hair brushing swaying shoulders. The other, a birch brown and catlike in grace, appeared cover-girl stylish, pushing the third, silent bronze-toned beauty in a wheelchair. Yet the trio appeared to move almost seamlessly across the lush green grounds of the Savannah, Georgia, facility-embraced by rose bushes, towering magnolia trees, and jasmine vines-wrapped up, it seemed, in the tranquillity of their surroundings. In truth, that was a lie.
A closer look revealed two pairs of eyes, one brown set, one green, both intent and serious, their dual voices barely carried by the feeble breath of the afternoon breeze. It was the third who was their concern, the focus of their hushed conversation. From time to time, they ceased speaking to look mournfully upon Rayne Holland as she sat motionless in the chair, her gaze fixed and unseeing. So they believed.
I know why I'm here, Rayne thought, listening to her doctor and her best friend discuss her "illness" as if she were invisible. They think I'm crazy because I cut my wrists, because I won't talk. I don't talk because they can't hear me. They won't hear me, they never have. I'm just tired, that's all. Tired of all the talk, the emptiness, the betrayals by people who claim to love you. That doesn't make me crazy, just fed up, she concluded, beginning to unfasten the buttons of her pale peach cotton blouse, the tiny white buttons taunting her nut brown fingers with slippery elusiveness. She knew Dr. Dennis would stop her, because for some reason she couldn't stop herself.
"We've discussed this, Rayne," Pauline Dennis said, speaking with a calmness that chilled Rayne, stilling her shaky fingers. "Button your blouse, Rayne."
Rayne released a long, deep sigh, heavy enough to drop to the ground, hitting it like a rubber ball and bouncing back into her chest, until next time. She did what she was told, as she'd always done.
Periodically, as the trio meandered down the paved pathways that ran the circumference of Cedar Grove Medical Center, Gayle Davis, Rayne's lifelong friend, would stroke Rayne's mane of black, crinkly hair with a slender brown hand, almost as you would a pet or a small child who'd wandered into your space in the midst of an adult conversation. Absently.
Rayne hated when Gayle did that. Hated it. It infuriated her so much that she'd almost shouted the words: Stop it, dammit! I'm not that stinking cat of yours, or your neglected daughter. But she didn't. She'd never been able to express her feelings, the emotions that swirled within her. So instead, she screamed the words-in her head-where they bounced around, echoing over and over: Stop, stop, stop . . .
Inside her head was as far as she could go these days-most days, actually. Lately, though, she'd wanted to crawl out, back into the world again. But thought better of it. It was safer just where she was. She gathered her hair in her hands and dragged it in front of her makeupless face, effectively escaping.
"Why does she do that?" Gayle whispered harshly, moving to brush the hair out of Rayne's face.
Dr. Dennis stopped her. "Fix your hair, Rayne," she instructed in a cool monotone.
Rayne emitted another baleful sigh and did as she was told.
"These are all manifestations of Rayne's trauma, Mrs. Davis, her unspoken need to hide, to disappear, get away from whatever is haunting her. They'll slowly stop when we get to the core of her problem."
Gayle shuddered despite the warmth. "What is her problem? It's been two months, Dr. Dennis," she complained, her voice taking on that clipped tone that often grated on Rayne's nerves. Rayne never told her about that, either. "I don't see any improvement." She adjusted her fitted gray linen jacket over her round hips. "Paul and Desi have been gone for almost six months. She was coming to terms with it. And then . . . this. You came highly recommended-as the best." Gayle's voice hitched a notch as if she no longer believed in the laundry list of recommendations attached to Dr. Pauline Dennis's name, Rayne mused, as Gayle patted her head again and continued to push the chair.
Stop, stop, stop . . .
Pauline nodded in doctorlike agreement. "I appreciate your concerns, Mrs. Davis. But you must understand that recovery from a mental breakdown is not like a broken limb where the doctors can give you a timetable for healing. At this point, I'm not quite sure what triggered Rayne's break. She won't talk. I do believe, however, that Rayne's problem dates prior to the deaths of her husband and daughter. Something that was never dealt with. The car accident was only a trigger for her suicide attempt at her father's house."
Gayle stopped short, jerking the chair to a halt. "I've known Rayne almost all my life, Doctor. If there had been some . . . some underlying problem, something wrong, I would have known. She's always been well adjusted, hardworking. Everyone loves Rayne. You've got to do something to help her. We're closer than most sisters."
We were until I found out you were sleeping with my husband, Rayne reflected absently. But it doesn't matter much now-since Paul's dead. She blinked and her thoughts snapped to other things, their voices fading into the scenery.
What was worse than being patted on the head? Rayne wondered. Oh, yes-being spoken about as if you weren't there, she thought, and heard her laughter as the realization chimed in her head. They think I don't hear, I don't feel, don't think. It's not true. It isn't. I write it all down in my journal, every night when everyone is asleep and the nurses are busy skulking in the corners with the doctors . . . whispering, always whispering. Giggles . . . sometimes.
The soothing tones of Dr. Dennis drifted to her, scattering her disjointed thoughts. "Unfortunately, in cases like these we usually discover that the patient, over time, has developed the ability to function quite normally in society, developing a barrier against the world to hinder discovery of what is truly going on with them or often to protect themselves emotionally from further harm." Much as I have done, Dr. Dennis thought as she gazed across the landscape of the mentally ill.
"I just don't understand it. If something had been going on in Rayne's life, some secret or whatever, she would have told me. I know she would." She breathed heavily. "Has her father been here to see her?" Gayle asked as they rounded another curve.
Rayne sighed again.
Pauline stuck her hands into the pockets of her starched white smock, so stiff it barely moved. "No. He's called several times to check on her progress."
They came to the end of the path, the wrought-iron gates, like swirling black storm clouds, the cutoff point for insanity.
Gayle turned to Pauline, the honey brown of her eyes shimmering in the sunlight. "Please, Dr. Dennis, whatever you need to do to make Rayne better, just do it. You don't know the Rayne that I know, that the world was beginning to know. She's a wonderful, caring person with a 0brilliant filmmaking career ahead of her." Her voice faltered momentarily with emotion, like the sound of a stereo losing an instant of power.
Emotion, real or imagined-Rayne couldn't tell.
"Please help her," Gayle pleaded.
Pauline, reading her assurance cue from the watery look in Gayle's eyes, placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. "We're going to do everything we can for Rayne, believe me. Time and patience are the great healers," she said, the line memorized from more than a decade of practiced repetition. "Give Rayne that," she added, the solemnity of her tone calming the jangles in Gayle's stomach.
Rayne almost believed the words. Time and patience. Almost.
Gayle blew out a breath, her bangs responding with a slight flutter. "I suppose none of us have a choice," she said. She came around to the front of the chair and bent down, placing her newly manicured hands on each side of Rayne's face.
"Rayne, honey, it's me, Gayle. Just say something, Rayne. Let me know you hear me."
You hurt me, Gayle, she screamed in her head. You were supposed to be my friend. I trusted you with my secrets, my fears. And you used them to screw my husband! You bitch. Did you hear that?
"We all love you, Rayne, and want you to get better. Your goddaughter, Tracy, misses you terribly."
I had a daughter once, Rayne recalled. Her name was Desiree. My baby. She loved me. But she's gone, too.
As Gayle leaned forward to kiss Rayne's cheek, she frantically raked her fingers through her hair from the nape of her neck, bringing the thick bush forward to shut out Gayle's face. But not before that instant of clarity beamed in her eyes. That instant of pure hatred and pain that reached down with cold fingers deep into Gayle's soul and squeezed, sending shockwaves of ice coursing through her veins. Gayle shuddered, rocking back on her haunches. A feeling of physical violation permeated her.
On shaky limbs she stood, forcing a smile.
"Fix your hair, Rayne," Pauline instructed.
Rayne did as she was told.
"Uh, I'll be back . . . next week," Gayle muttered. "If you need anything, you have my number."
Pauline studied her for a moment. "Are you all right?"
d"Yes, fine." She wanted to run. "I've got to go." She turned and hurried down the last few yards toward escape.
Pauline gripped the handles of the chair, turned it around, and headed back toward the facility. "Gayle's a good friend, Rayne," she said in that cool voice. "She loves you a great deal. And she's very worried about you."
Rayne sighed heavily.
Pauline learned from the weeks of working with Rayne that her sighs were an indication that she was tuning out a comment or situation. It was the only outward sign that she understood, or had any feelings about what was going on around her. At least it was a start. Although this case was difficult, Pauline was intrigued by Rayne Holland, intrigued in a way she was not with her other patients. She knew Rayne heard and understood, was aware of the world. Why wouldn't she speak? What had so traumatized her that she'd rather be silent, shrink into a tiny dark corner of her mind to hide? From what? Who? There was something about Rayne, a familiarity of spirit that drew Pauline to her, a part of her that understood the torment and fear. It was as if they were joined in some intangible way. Pauline shrugged off her moment of frustration and continued down the path, even as her resolve to uncover what lay beneath Rayne's veil of self-protection grew.
By degrees the natural light, the sounds of nature, the scent of flora and sweet rich earth began to diminish to a trickle, like a hose almost shut off but not quite. If Rayne squeezed her eyes shut and thought really hard, she could hold on to her piece of serenity for a few moments more. A few moments before the baby blue walls and the rustling of white stockings brushing against thick thighs, the metallic clang of medicine carts and food trays, the irritating sounds of Muzak pumped in from some unseen source and the cloying scent of disinfectant-a few moments before they overwhelmed her with the weight of their existence.
The moment was gone.
"I'll see you tomorrow, Rayne, for our regular session," Pauline said, pushing the chair back into Rayne's private room. Her haven.
Her room was located on the sixth floor of the facility-as it was called-a corner room that overlooked the garden below. Spacious, and painted in a soft peach-her favorite color-the perimeters at the top and bottom of the smooth walls were covered in a riotous fabric of bursting flowers that matched the short curtains, camouflaging the protective mesh that pressed erotically against the window.
In the morning, when the sun first rose above the trees, the light filtered through the mesh, casting shadows of boxes and diamonds across the walls. Sometimes Rayne would imagine that they were small, secret passageways. Passageways to freedom.
An oversized chintz chair, hugged by several throw pillows, sat on the gleaming wood floor. There was nothing in the room that was personal. No photos or mementos from her life. It was almost as if Rayne Holland's existence began when she entered Cedar Grove. But of course that was not true. She had a life, or at least she thought she did, until it came apart.
Rayne moved languorously across the room toward the window where a row of potted plants sat on the sill. Picking up the water jug, she meticulously watered each one.
Pauline watched, her hands hidden in the deep patch pockets of her smock. Sighing, she turned and quietly closed the door behind her.
Rayne heard the click of the metal against metal. She lowered her head.
I know you're trying to help, Dr. Dennis, she thought, looking up to stare out across the sea of green below. I want you to help. I want to feel again, rise above the dark clouds that push me down, smothering me in nothingness. I'm tired of being tired.
Copy right 2004 by Donna Hill