I: Institutionalised

It was the girl, Kacey, who first spoke to me when I walked in. Until then I had been suspicious of everyone; the other teenagers, those superior to me, maybe even myself to an extent, but when Kacey piped up at my side, revealing herself from where she had faded into a dark smudge in the corner of my vision since I walked in, I believed that she was the only one pure of heart and of intention.

 

None of the leaflets I had received had given me much useful information, and no more was divulged to me when I arrived. The whole deal was remarkably vague, something I thought odd when dealing with people like me. I had seen a picture of the place, an old, three-storey Victorian-style hall, with a large lawn and driveway out front, with rolling acres spread in every direction. More than twice I had questioned whether such a place was suitable for what was going to take place here, but I had never voiced these inquiries. There was no point anyway, as I probably would have got incredibly un-specific answers, which would have just frustrated me.

The lady driving me, the one I could have asked, was the sub-co-ordinator of the institution, and was very understanding of my mother’s debilitating shyness. Apparently more so than I was. I had been outside before without being attacked so I didn’t understand her aversion to stepping over the threshold of the door. Of course, she did not want to leave the house to take or even accompany her own son to the institution, and had been more than happy for this stranger, one Miss Rosenhan, to drive me. She did not try to engage me in conversation past asking how I was today, which I was thankful for. I was much more content sitting in the back of the smart black Volkswagen, seething in my own distrust of the woman and anger at my mother’s antisocial tendencies. It was such a cheerful time back there. I tried not to be impolite, but I have little understanding of impoliteness anyway. However, I answered her questions, but didn’t try to tell her anything past what she asked.

I recognised the drive up to the house from one of the photographs in the leaflet. A road with trees planted on either side. Obviously they had been manually planted – nature has little to no concept of regularity, and the trees were evenly spaced, giving me an immense feeling of satisfaction. We left the trees behind though as the car climbed the slope up to the house, pulling to a stop in front of the wide stone staircase leading up to the front door. I climbed out and took a few minutes to survey the area, the place I would be staying. The wind was stronger up here, and ruffled my hair, feeling like silken hands on my scalp and making me uneasy. I tried to forget about the wind and focussed instead on the area around the house, which I had already taken a liking to. Rather picturesque, just crying out for a practiced hand to capture its beauty on canvas. Deserving of an oil painting certainly. Perhaps in autumn, where I could pick out the shimmering shades of gold in the fields, where I could capture the healthy force of the river cutting through the terrain. As long as a clear day was picked, free of fog and of clouds, I would be more than happy to paint. That is what I have done with my time for the past eight years – I am an artist. I am unable to call myself more than an amateur as I have yet to sell anything I have done. My eye is talented though, and I learned how to express myself much more freely through paint than I have ever managed to do through words and expressions.

I was reluctant to have to head inside the house, but I realized that disobeying Miss Rosenhan for the third time was rude. I followed. She led me into an entrance hall large enough to be a study. There were a great many paintings on the walls. Some were oils, some of people, some of nature’s finest specimens, such as trees or animals. The oils were very well done, the paint laid on thick in places to bring the subject into the realm of 3D. Juxtaposing these, placed right beside them, were amateurish watercolours of the view I had just been observing. These insulted the oils by even sharing a wall with them. They shouldn’t have been put on a wall. I could practically the stiff and unpractised hand as my eye scanned them, swishing far-too-pale greens, untextured blues and never-found-in-nature yellows onto the thick paper. I was more than happy to walk far away from the watercolours when Miss Rosenhan called me to come into her office again.

Her office, like the watercolours, was an offense to the rest of the house. It was nestled between two staircases and was cramped. I could have forgiven the claustrophobic space if the style of the room had been at least similar, but it felt like walking from an ornate house of Henry VIII into a bright closet of a room that belonged in a clinic that was trying and failing to capture that ‘minimalist’ feeling. Too clean, the colours all wrong. The white walls in here were an artificial mixture of blue and grey, not the same creamy-whites from outside. The floor was linoleum which felt uncomfortably firm under my feet in comparison to the carpets from outside.

While I was struggling with the downright ugliness of this room, she told me to take a seat. I did so, dumbly, and tried to drag my attention back to her. I listened quietly as she explained in still vague terms why I was here, what they would try and do for me while I was here, and what formalities we would need to go over together. Amazingly, this provided me with no new information at all, even though she talked for at least five minutes at me.

“I don’t need to be here,” was all I tried to say, but she calmly pointed out that I had agreed to be put on this programme. She took over the conversation again, and asked me for all my personal information so she could check it against the files. I had to say my name (Rüdiger Giehl), date of birth (15th of August 1997) and current school year (Year 13), as well as hair, eye and skin colour. For the last three, I didn’t know why she couldn’t just look at me and see that I had ginger hair, green eyes and very pale German skin. I was sat opposite her. She wouldn’t even have had to move her head.

Although I wanted to, I didn’t say any of this to her. It probably wouldn’t have been the done thing. I simply went along with the ridiculous charade, right up until when she ordered me to stand up and strip down. I looked at her to make sure I’d heard her right, but she merely smiled and asked me to strip down to my underwear again. My brain had previously been simmering away, not needing to think, but it suddenly began whirring. A thousand suspicions rose, and questions lined themselves up in my head. Before I could ask any, she asked me one.

“If you’re uncomfortable, we can do this later. But it needs to be done.”

If my suspicions had been a living entity, they would have been bouncing off the walls in panic, but I agreed to get this over with now. If it was going to have to happen, there was no point in putting it off. My mind screamed at me as I stood. I kept one eye on her at all times as I did what I was told, draping each piece of clothing over the back of my chair. She wanted to take my measurements, a fact she had neglected to tell me when she had asked me to take my clothes off. I doubt it would have put my mind at rest, but it might have been nice to know.

Armed with a tape measure, she recorded my measurements, ranging from my overall height, (183.6 centimetres) to my weight (67.5 kilograms). My mind started to wander when she measured across my chest. My head turned towards the door, towards where, if I had been outside, I would have been able to see that wonderful view again. I started dreaming about what it would look like if the colours had all been reversed. I had stumbled across an extremely talented painter who had the ability to be able to paint in negatives. The original painting was often hard to make out, but as soon as the colours were reversed, a detailed portrait would appear. I was desperate to do something like this. I wanted to know what it felt like to have that skill. To look at black and see white, to look at blue and see yellow. My artistic skill often goes through phases like this, and, when I am stuck in one, I get obsessed over everything about it. I had been introduced to pointillism which had sparked a two-month-long fixation on being able to learn how to do pointillism, the techniques, the materials. After those two months though the novelty wore of and I reverted back to my oil paints. But while she was wrapping a tape measure around every piece of flesh she could find, my mind was on the negatives artist, Brian Lai. If he had painted that view outside, what would it have looked like originally? Would the greens have been bright reds, the greyish white of the clouds a greyish black?

I was shocked back into the real world by the sound of Miss Rosenhan’s voice. She was curling the tape measure around one of my upper arms, the act of which aroused my suspicions again, and she had asked me… something. I did not reply, so she asked me again.

“How do you get along with other people?”

I looked her in the eye as she removed the tape measure from my arm, “I don’t.”

“I hear your childhood was a very isolated experience.”

“Only if you knew company beforehand.”

Curling it around my thigh, and making me very uncomfortable, she asked what I meant.

I couldn’t supress my sigh of impatience, “How is one to know isolation if one doesn’t know company? You can’t have one without the other.”

Clearly, she didn’t understand. The smile she gave me, warm and kind, told me so. She invited me to sit down, which I did after hastily re-dressing myself. She tried to initiate a comfortable silence as we sat there, her looking at me and me remembering only the closeness of another living thing to myself. I did not know her. I studied her as we sat there, tracing her face, her features, with my eyes, noting her high cheekbones, slender and soft jawline, the marks of mascara around her eyes and the thinness of her lips that she had tried to disguise with lipstick. I find looking at someone as an artist much more calming than looking at someone as a person. It removes the need for social interaction, as they are there to sit, and I am there to paint. Logging away the structure of a face is natural for me, as I have done it so many times before. I saw how the lines around her mouth affected her cheeks. I saw how shallow the lines were on her face, but noted the attempts she had taken to hide other lines which I could clearly see around her eyes, between her eyebrows and on her neck. Her eyes were slightly slanted at the outer edges, emphasized by her make-up, but her eyelashes were short despite the mascara. I deduced within seconds that she was in her late thirties at least.

She broke the silence with another question. Whether she had noticed me studying her or not I could not tell. “How are you at school? We’ve got here that you have had certain problems at times, especially recently. I’d like you to tell me about them.”

That was a soft but firm command, and I couldn’t disobey. Still, I took a few moments to think about it before I reluctantly answered. She was in perfect control of me.

“It’s not my fault,” I said slowly. “It’s them not believing me. I felt the Devil touch me.”

She didn’t react with surprise or concern, “What did the devil do, Rüdiger?”

I felt like a child. A stupid child with an overactive imagination who, even after growing up, is still afraid of the monster in his cupboard. All because he believes that the monster exists, because he gives it power and allows him to control him through fear. I am the stupid child. She made me feel 8, not 18. Her eyes, the kindness in them, patronised me and I began disliking her more.

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