By. Emily Bach
Walking into the hospital for the first time felt familiar. I'd never seen the light shade of lime green that coated the walls or the off-white light that jolted out of boxes in the ceiling. But the aura felt familiar. I recognized the smirk on the face of the girl with pink hair. It reminded me of my own -- perfectly potent yet possibly on the edge of collapse.
The clerk at the reception desk said my name first. Her tongue wrapped around it clinically, without resentment. I hadn't heard it pronounced that way in ages. She called me only to beckon my mother and me for more paperwork, a task as mundane to me as to her. She laughed with a cautious joy at the obscenity of its volume. My mother rolled her eyes, cracking a half-smile.
My dull-tipped pen glided across the papers with a determination only learned through experience. Each stroke was slower than the last. Filled with carefully-crafted legalese, their language felt like a barren patch of land placed in the center of an untamed wilderness. I wondered if my humidity would be enough to upset their ecosystem.
The receptionist finished filing my papers in what she quipped as "record time." I scoffed at the phrase, the soul sound released from my lips in the twenty-seven minutes since I first landed in the waiting room chair. With a face of embarrassment, my mother eyes returned to the receptionist, as if to confirm that my deficiency had not offended her.
We remained in silence for a few seconds before my name was called. My mother left moments later for her car, and I was escorted to the examination room. This one boasted vibrant yellow walls and sprawling green plants. Its glee disgusted me.
I sat in a battered pink plastic chair, like the ones that accompanied our worn-down desks at school. It was surrounded by ten others. I wondered how many other people had sat in them before: how many others had worried that their darkness was noticeable against the vibrant yellow walls.
A slamming door interrupted my curiosity. I turned sharply to see who had brought the loud slam into existence, only to find myself fearful of its creator. My dull eyes shot back to the plastic tabletop in front of me. I studied its fake wooden grain, wondering if its evolution was as intentional as mine.
How many rings of falsehood were necessary to create the perfect image? Was its count larger than mine? Like the collapse of a tree in the forest, a real one, that is, the sound of her voice invaded every corner of the room. She meant nothing more than to make conversation, but its thundering tone swayed my fragile footing. She offered her name, Rahmah, and asked for mine. I answered quietly, worrying that the pitch or volume of my voice would clash with hers. Noticing my unease, she calmly sat in the chair across from me and studied the table where my eyes had been moments before. Together, we traced the lines of the woodwork in silence. Over a matter of minutes, our eyes would intersect for a moment, only to divert unpredictably. Rahmah seemed calm, almost meditative.
The once-vacant chairs were quickly filled as more group members arrived. They chatter overflowed into the space that our silence once held. I felt even emptier. The silence shared between Rahmah and I fell to the lowest frequency. It floated with a buoyancy solely understood by those that struggled to stay afloat.
We remained by the wood-grained table for a few more minutes before Alia, our group therapist, transferred us to yet another new colorful room. We gathered around a new, square-shaped, wood-grain table, its patterning no different from the last. Rahmah perched beside me. Across from me sat a boy with bright red hair and longing eyes. He scanned the group eagerly, sizing each member whose darkness he had yet to meet. This seemed to be a talent of his.
Beside red-haired Rhian slumped a girl with long blonde hair and rosy lips. She seemed to be comfortable, a trait I presumed was only acquired in time. Seven other teenagers crowded around the sides, their presence tainted by different shades of personal darkness.
Some carried deep blue hues, others maroons, others grays. In that room, we merged into a tragically beautiful painting that would have looked solely of blackness to the untrained eye. At first, I wondered if my purple could find root in its color. But, the beautiful thing about blackness is that any other shade blends in effortlessly.
Alia’s prying questions attempted to chip away at the masterpiece that gave us a sense of belonging. She added lighter shades to our palettes, hoping that new activities for self-reflection would show us that we needed it. Some would accept the hues in small doses, as if to ensure that they could be diluted later if it became too bright to bear. Others rejected it outright. Truthfully, I had never considered the possibility of light.
The remainder of the day was filled with similar questions but dissimilar answers. At times, the threatening silence of the room made me miss the cacophony that was only hours old. My sole source of comfort was the pattern that Rahmah and I would follow on the faux woodworked table. It provided a curved consistency to our jagged existence.
We remained voiceless for the day, allowing our eyes to speak the words that our lips could not yet find. Though we did nothing more than copy the lines created by another, Rahmah and I found a distraction in their reproduction. Like painting without a paintbrush, we drew in shapes without manifestations. The following day, Rahmah didn't appear. When I asked where she was, a woman responded concisely, saying that Rahmah was sick. The phrase struck me as ironic, but nonetheless, I understood that my question could not be answered.
I searched for Rahmah mostly in moments when I needed peace, in hopes that she would enter through one of the bulletproof glass doors. I think a small portion of me knew that she wouldn't, that the lines that we had drawn the day before would become a memory strung in combative air. Nonetheless, I hoped. I hadn't done that in a long time.
Emily Bach is a writer and creator with a passion for women’s stories. In her free time, she enjoys exploring Washington, DC, the city she loves and lives in. She can be found on Twitter @emilyjeanbach or on Instagram @emilyjbach.