There were three chairs lined up in front of her. To my shock, I saw the backs of two other people sitting nervously in the chairs. As I stepped closer, I felt my breath catch in my throat. I knew the balding patch on the back of the man’s head. The messy, unwashed mane of hair on the fidgeting woman.
Snapping my eyes up to Dr. Eriks, I let my voice shoot out, more forceful than I had ever let it be in this office. “What are my parent’s doing here?” I demanded.
Dr. Eriks barely reacted to my question. Motioning one hand toward the empty chair, she said evenly, “Have a seat, Millie.”
I sat down, looking over at my parents. They both sat with their hands clenched tightly in their laps. I could see my mother’s leg shaking. My father kept his eyes glued to his worn sneakers. Looking up, my mother offered me a weak smile.
As you can see, Millie, we are changing some procedures. We have found that,” Dr. Eriks paused to clear her throat, “that those born in the incarcerated world, have an unusually harder time adjusting to true life. I am attempting to weed out those issues. We want you to be an asset to the Nation. You are the good, the strong.”
I silently recited the last sentence with her. Dr. Eriks repeated it often to me I had memorized it. Nodding slightly, I felt my eyes fasten themselves to the lines around her mouth.
Part of the change is doing one of your last sessions with the parental units present. I would like to better know your relationship with them. Ask them some questions. I need to observe items that, well, I was never able to get you to open up about before. We need to be fully honest to make our Nation strong, Millie.” Dr. Eriks settled back in her seat, opening the notepad and setting it neatly on her lap. “Shall we begin?”
Millie, have you been keeping up your journal?”
I thought back to the pages still to be written in. The moments that my pencil froze as it hit paper. I hadn’t written a word in the journal for months now, aside from my daily schedules. I was about to admit to that, when the image of the small stack of fishing papers appeared in my head.
I have,” I said.
Dr. Eriks watched me a moment, then forced a small nod. “Very good. It is important to never keep your issues locked inside. Unaddressed problems can lead to undesired outcomes. Isn’t that right, Leann?”
The sound of my mother’s name shocked me. I had rarely heard her first name used. Even my father addressed her simply as ‘Mom.’ Letting my eyes trail over to her now, I could see her nodding.
Tell me, Millie, are you looking forward to your release?” Dr. Eriks asked.
My tongue suddenly felt thick and dry. “I… I don’t know.”
Why are you unsure?”
The words of my journal entry appeared in my mind. I had read them over and over, trying to find what was wrong. Trying to find what I was afraid to admit. The words seemed to slow, allowing me finally to see what they were actually saying.
And I dread it with every fiber in my body.
I looked over at my huddled parents, then in a weak voice answered, “There will be no one left to take care of my parents.” I could feel the choke of a sob softly escape my mother’s lips. “If I am not here −”
The Nation takes care of all of its convicts, Millie.” Dr. Eriks voice cut into me.
I know. But… my parents… they need me. For all the small things, you know? I just, I don’t know, I just don’t want them to…”
I didn’t add the other reason. The fear that I knew nothing outside these walls. I had learned the history, I knew the laws. I knew the prison rules. Outside these walls though, I didn’t know that life. I didn’t know its rules.
Dr. Eriks leaned back, locking her fingers together in front of her almost flat chest. I felt my voice trail out as I watched her. A strange expression crossed her face. It almost seemed… smug.
Leann,” she said, her voice clipped and clear, “I think it is time you tell your daughter why you are here.”
My heart felt as if it had stopped. I had never been able to bring myself to ask my parents what crime had sentenced them to life in Spokane. Every time I let the question form on my lips, I found myself fearing I would hate them after the truth was finally told. That I would see the true monsters they were, the true criminals who deserved this punishment. I knew my parents were odd. But in my own strange way, I did love them. Would that love leave once I knew the truth?
My mother nodded again, then in a soft voice, barely audible, started. “There were three men. I didn’t like them. So, I jumped them. Knocked one out. The second I stabbed with a knife. Over. And over.” My mother’s eyes were glued to her shaking hands. “It… it felt so good. Over. And over.”
I could hear the crack in her voice. She paused a moment, then went on. “I couldn’t stop stabbing. I wanted to keep stabbing.”
And the third man?” Dr. Eriks asked, her voice cool and expecting.
My mother glanced at my father, then looked back to her hands. “The third man… the third died. Your father killed him. With his hands.”
She started to rock back and forth, muttering unknown words under her breath. I couldn’t breathe. The words sat on the surface, trying hard to sink in as I battled to fight them away. I let my dry eyes trail over to my father. I searched his face for some hint of denial. There was only pain. A tear trailed down his unshaved face.
Dr. Eriks bore her dull eyes into my mother, the hint of a satisfied grin on her tight face. “And do you regret it at all, Leann? Would you take it back?”
My mother shook her head, her hands shaking in her lap. Though her body shook, her voice came out firm and angry. “No.”
I took a deep breath, trying to steady the shake that started to grow inside. Dr. Eriks had always taught me that I needed to be the good and the strong. The Nation needed me. Criminals were what destroyed it, criminals like my parents, and it needed the good to make it strong once again.
At that moment, I didn’t feel strong at all.
My mother’s words still repeated over and over in my mind. I didn’t want to believe them. I couldn’t see my gentle mother stabbing a man until he was dead. I couldn’t let myself accept that she enjoyed it. I couldn’t picture my shadow of a father strangling a man with his own hands. But now, as I let my eyes settle on my parents, that was the only picture that formed in my racing mind. My parents were gone.
I felt Dr. Eriks watching me, a small smile spread on her thin lips. She looked almost amused. At that moment, I hated her.
Is it true?” I begged, hoping it was a lie, a test of some twisted sort.
Lifting her chin, my mother tightened her jaw and fastened her eyes to the ceiling. I could see the glaze threatening to engulf her. Reaching over, my father laid a hand gently on her shoulder. In a soft voice, cracking with tears, he answered with the two words I did not want to hear. “It is.”
Why?” I whispered.
My mother let her eyes finally meet mine. I could see the glaze taking her over. “Because,” she said, her voice slightly shaking. “I wanted to. I needed to. I didn’t like them. I would have killed the third man too, if he hadn’t woken back up and ran away.” A small smile curled on her lips a moment, then disappeared as she tore her eyes from mine and leaned her head back again, staring intently at the ceiling.
Nausea boiled through me. The taste of bile rose in my throat and my vision started to blur. I suddenly felt hot. As if someone had lit me on fire then sat back to laugh as I flailed, trying to survive the murderous heat.
Millie, why do you look angry?”
I slowly rolled my eyes to Dr. Eriks, the hint of a smile still present on her ugly face. I couldn’t form words. For some reason, I had always hoped that my parents were here by mistake. Like Orrin. I had hoped they had been wrongly charged and convicted and someday the truth would let out. Then we would all be set free, finally given the chance to live a normal life for the Nation.
That day disappeared before my eyes.
Millie, do you feel prepared to be released?” Dr. Eriks voice grated at me. It cut through me, the bile still rising in my dry throat.
I let my eyes look back at my parents. My father’s eyes were red, his cheeks shining from the tears that now dried in the graying stubble. My mother still had her eyes glued to the ceiling, her body rocking back and forth. I could see her lips moving, muttering something over and over. In the silence of the room, the words floated towards me.
My baby. My little baby.”
Feeling the heat rise, I turned back to Dr. Eriks. “I am ready.”
Very good,” she clipped, then let the room fall back to silence as she scribbled notes into her book.
I could see the fog drifting into my vision. My mind started to feel heavy and thick. Instead of fighting it, I welcomed it. I let the fog cover the images that still re-enacted before my tired eyes. The final glimpse of my mother stabbing the man, a smile on her face, faded to nothing as the fog took over. I knew I still sat in the chair. I could feel it firmly holding me to my existence. But my mind, my memories, were now filled with my only release.
I slowly became aware of the creak of my parent’s chairs as they rose to leave. I could hear their footsteps as they moved toward the door, the creak as the door opened, the pause as they both waited for something, then reluctantly disappeared.
you can leave now.” Dr. Eriks’ voice bled into my head, nagging and bored.
Without looking at her, I stood and made my way to the door. I felt strange. As if I had no true tie to this place I had called home my entire life. I floated in a numbing limbo, hiding from the hate and questions that hid in the dark corners of my mind.
As soon as I reached the door, I could feel my stomach twist sharply, bile suddenly shooting into my mouth. Gagging, I ran for the small trashcan that the secretary always kept empty next to her desk. My body heaved, emptying the scarce contents of what they called a breakfast into the bottom of the can.
I could hear the protest of the secretary, but ignored it. I didn’t care. Heaving again, I fell on my knees and watched the swirls of liquid in the bottom of the now soiled can. I could feel the heat from the vomit drift up to my face, carrying the strong reek of bile and regurgitated food.
Before I could heave again, I pulled my head back and wiped the corner of my mouth with a shaking finger. The secretary stared at me in sheer disgust. I tried to utter an apology, but my throat was too raw.
, I thought,
please stop looking at me like I am a monster too.
I could feel my face burning in embarrassment, the smell inside the can reminding me of what I had just done.
The secretary’s face strangely softened. Spinning in her chair, she grabbed something, then stood and moved around the desk to bend down next to me.
I realized she was holding out a thin paper tissue and a small cup of water. My hands shook as I took them from her, gratefully swishing my mouth with the cool water.
Don’t worry about it,” she said in a hushed voice. “Not the first or the last time that will happen. Dr. Eriks has… she has a way with people.”
I wiped my mouth with the tissue, then let it drop into the trash can. Drinking the last gulp of water, I placed the plastic cup back into the secretary’s waiting hand. “Thank you,” I managed, my voice coming out tired and rough.
Here’s a mint. Don’t want to smell like puke all day.” I could feel one hand softly rest on my back. The other held out a small mint, its surface white and speckled with blue. Placing it in my mouth, I felt the rush of spearmint spread over my tongue. “You will be alright. I’m sure of it.”
Someone approached from down the hall. The secretary glanced up for a moment before turning back to me. “Here, I called someone to escort you back.” The secretary held out a hand and helped me back up to me feet. I wobbled slightly, her hand on my back holding me upright until I had control of my balance again. “You know. Until you are steady. Take it easy, okay?”
I nodded, confused at the sudden kindness of this secretary who had all but ignored me for years. I self-consciously brushed my jeans smooth as I watched her return to her seat. She didn’t look at me. She only sighed, then picked up the used book and flipped it back open. It was as if she had never moved.
As I turned, I saw Carl standing in the center of the hallway, a small smile on his face. “Intense session?” he asked.
You could say that.” I started to walk, careful to not bump into him. He quickly spun and joined me. I could feel his body a mere inch away, the heat threatening to brush against me at any moment. “I’m okay. You don’t need to escort me.”
I think I do,” he said, his voice closer to me than I liked.
The hallway had more people in it than before. It had to be almost noon now. It was the time of day when inmates flooded the offices for their appointments and treatments. They walked in both directions, some disappearing into random doors while others appeared and joined the lines of white t-shirts. I melted into the line, Carl still close to my side.