The Illinois air is much kinder than Louisiana’s: cooler, less sticky. I think maybe I should let myself at least enjoy the outdoors while I’m here. Attached to my assigned lodge, where I live during my stay at the rehabilitation center, is a small patio. It faces the forest and is enclosed by a short wooden fence. The girls who like to smoke, or just like to talk, are scattered around the patio for our fifteen-minute break. I don’t like to smoke or talk, so I have no idea what I’m doing out here. I remind myself that the sun is supposed to be good for mental health or something. Just talk to the girls, smile, try to be happy-ish, stay on the patio.
Two minutes into my forced attempt at being social, my ears and nose already face regret as chatter and cigarette smoke pollute the patio air. I think about whether it would be more exciting to converse with the girls or to wash my clothes for the second time that day. Should I go to the eating disorder class that’s about to start inside my lodge? At least I won’t have to speak to anyone. I could go to the AA meeting in the lodge next door. But, maybe not, because they might have me introduce myself as, “Hi my name is Elise and I’m an alcoholic.” Probably not the best idea since I’m not an alcoholic. I don’t have an eating disorder either. I’m also not religious but still went yesterday to the “Big Book” Reading (it’s a Christian book) because I don’t have to talk while being read to. Perhaps I’ll prefer the sound of my gel pen swirling around on the pages of my coloring book. I could read an actual book, or flip the pages rather, since that’s probably the best a numb mind can do. If I go inside and sit on one of the couches in the lodge’s community area, there’s a 50/50 chance I’ll catch someone having a meltdown. If I’m really lucky, I’ll get to watch another girl get strapped to a stretcher and carried away to the psych ward. I know I sound absolutely horrible, but staring at the ceiling and twisting my hair into every kind of braid imaginable gets pretty boring.
Despite all these exhilarating options, I decide to stay on the patio until our break period is up. On the opposite side of the patio, I spot a girl I have met before, Hannah. In the dim confines of a residential treatment center, I would actually say that she is my friend. This basically means that we sometimes sit together in the cafeteria and have told each other the surface of our damage. Hannah is standing next to a couple of girls sitting in dusty white plastic chairs, so I sigh under my breath, and make my way over.
“Hey guys,” I say as I plop down onto one of the chairs. The girls chime in with welcoming greetings. We begin to talk about the weather, cigarette brands, and what movie we should vote to watch later tonight. I do admit that being outside with the girls is actually a good distraction from the tragic circumstances that fucked us up enough to be here. I identify the girl to my left as the same girl who told everyone in our therapy session yesterday that she once died for two and a half minutes from a heroin overdose and was brought back to life. I watch her now, the way smoke rolls off her tongue as she speaks, the way she winds her split ends around her fingers, the way her eyes fidget from tree to tree as she avoids eye contact with the other girls. I turn around to look at everyone pretending they want to be here. We all feel alone and broken. But at least for fifteen minutes on the patio we are alone and broken together.
There are about five minutes of our break left and I’m realizing I forgot how tiring it is to respond to people when they talk at me. The girls and I reach the wildly intriguing conversation topic of what was for lunch today when something so absurd and unexpected happens. All of a sudden, Hannah places her hand on the fence and rapidly thrusts her body over it. Now facing the forest, her head turns back to everyone. She yells, “Peace out!” while throwing up a peace sign, and then sprints into the forest. Immediately, one of our supervisors jumps the fence and runs after her as another frantically and repeatedly shouts, “Code Green!” into her walky-talky. I look over to see the shocked eyes and dropped jaws of my lodge-mates. What … just happened? Did Hannah just run away? I think Hannah just ran away. Hannah actually just ran away. I cannot believe what I just witnessed. And now, nearly simultaneously, the patio crowd erupts into uncontrollable, loud, cackling laughter. I can’t stop laughing either. It is all I can do.
We all watch as Hannah, in her red joggers and thick black glasses, zooms back across the forest as our overweight supervisor relentlessly tries to catch up. Our laughter intensifies. Girls are nearly rolling on the ground, snorting and hooting and hollering. This is the most intense core workout I’ve gotten in months and my throat is starting to croak. None of us can stop as we see Hannah yet again barrel past us in the distant forest, our poor supervisor halted, leaning over to catch her breath. Another (thinner) supervisor runs to assist in the capture, but still none of us are sure if it will be possible. Hannah must be pumping with obscene amounts of adrenaline or maybe she’s a track star because, with a smile on her face, she’s running like she’s never going to stop. It is evident that she isn’t intending to actually escape the facility (although she probably wishes to) but is just running back and forth, having a blast in the chaos.
Ten minutes and two more supervisors later, she is finally caught. At this point, almost all of the lodge’s residents are gathered outside to watch the show and share in the laughter. Two exhausted supervisors on each side of Hannah escort her back into the lodge. We cheer her on and she smiles at us with wild eyes, looking like she just rode America’s most dangerous roller coaster.