I am not an apricot kind of girl, all small and soft; squishy and sweet. No, if I had to choose a fruit to characterize myself, I would have to pick a cantaloupe: a rough exterior, but sweet once you find a way to break me open.
This exercise we’re doing in group therapy today is stupid. Who cares what kind of fruit we think we are? Don’t we need to get down to something more hard-core like why we’re all stuck in this dead-end hospital with its ugly green floors and pee smell? Wouldn’t that make more sense?
But now the therapist – god, she looks as if she’s barely five years older than me – just asked us to pick a flower that might represent ourselves.
Squishy face, across from me, pulls at her mole and says, “Daisies!”
Of course, she’d pick some common flower like that, ones that grow in every field around here. She has not uttered one unique sentence since I got stuck in here. Every day, she squashes up that face of hers and says, “Good morning, Cecille. How are you today?” as if we’re at some country club and it’s time for golf. I haven’t answered so far. That’s my big “problem,” I refuse to talk. But if I did talk, I’d say, “Back off, happy girl. I do not share your enthusiasm for life.”
Yes, that’s the other reason my parents saw fit to put me here. No enthusiasm for anything. No school, no friends, no shopping, no smiles. I have not felt exactly happy in a long time.
“Cecille? What color represents you?” the therapist asks me again and I pick up a crayon and hand it to her. It’s the color of lilacs.
“Very pretty,” she says. “Can you say that word for me?”
I hate it when people talk to me like I’m stupid. Of course, I can say the word, I just don’t want to. I turn my back and stare out the window.
“Lilies, that’s what would best suit me,” I hear from behind me. I know this is David and he’s staring right at me as he talks – shouts – from the far wall. He has impulse control problems and he has to sit away from all of us or else he might get mad and slap somebody. That was what he did at school and here he is.
“Lilies? Tell me more about that choice, David.”
I want to puke. That therapist sounds as if she just read a textbook on “appropriate responses.” Tell her to leave you alone, David! Tell her she’s an idiot!
David clears his throat and says softly, “My grandmother’s garden was filled with lilies and I loved my grandma more than anybody in the world.”
The quiet room erupts into noise. We all shift in our seats at the same time and everybody – including me – stares at David. After all, he’s never said anything besides, “Go screw yourself.”
“Can you tell us more about her?”
I expect this will trigger David’s rage. Instead, he stares out the window at the asphalt parking lot and says, “She was soft and warm. And she gave me chocolate.”
Squishy face sighs. “That is so nice. I wish my mean ole granny had been like that.”
“Is she still alive?” the therapist asks and I’m glad because I want to know, too.
David turns away. “No,” he shouts at the wall. “No, no, no!”
It’s my turn to sigh. So David is grieving. I don’t have to go to some fancy school to figure that one out. But little Smarty Pants won’t ever get me to break open like that.
“Cecille, can you say something to David that might help him right now?”
I look up to see her green eyes staring at me, her eyes the color of the avocados that grow in my backyard on the tree I’ve climbed since I was three. I shake my head. I don’t know what to say.
Miss Pushy walks over to where I am and puts her hand on my shoulder. “Is David your friend?”
I pull away. No fair. Of course, he’s my friend. I know his pain. I try to avoid her, but she asks me again. “Is David your friend?”
I tap my fingers on the edge of the chair. David is looking at me as if he’s going to start tearing up his whole side of the room if I don’t answer. I look back at the therapist and nod.
“Can you tell him that you care?” she asks. “I think David could use some reassurance right now.”
I look back over at David and he’s staring at me like he’s going to pop if I don’t say something.
I lick my lips and gulp. “Sorry.” My voice sounds far away, as if I were calling from a hilltop five miles off.
The therapist puts her arm around my shoulder and pulls me so close I can feel the softness of her sweater as it tickles my arm. “Thank you.”
I look over at Squishy face, who looks as if she’s going to melt, her face is so red. “You talked!” she says, jumping up and down. “I heard you. You talked!”
David moves a little closer to the circle, still half way across the room, but not all the way to the far wall.
“I think we can celebrate our day today,” says the therapist. “I’m happy that David picked lilies because of my name.”
We all look at her the same way: confused.
“Huh?” David says, “What does that mean?”
“My name is Lily.”
David’s face breaks into a big grin, the happiest I had ever seen him and Squishy face hops up and down like a mechanical bunny.
I feel my face shift just a little; I remember this is how I use to smile.