Some of the others just shunned him outright, and that was unsurprising. There are cliques and castes in the mental ward just like in high school. Only thing different is that here the top dogs are determined not by designer clothes and fancy cars, but by how many orderlies it took to put them down when they acted up. It would probably take all of the orderlies in the hospital to put Emmet down, but he never went off on anyone. Never spoke. Shuffled into group, shuffled back out; read or drew until lights out.
I only rarely went off - usually when they were trying to get an IV into me. All my work at staying thin, and they wanted to pump me full of fat... it happened every time the nurses noticed I'd found a new way to hide my food, to fake it. They'd page the orderlies, I'd see them coming at me, and next thing I knew I was in five-point restraints with a bag dripping into me.
And then I'd end up back in group, picking at my bandaid, listening to the others talk about their crises and withdrawals and recoveries. And Emmet would never say a word, and neither did I.
So I started to sit by him in the dayroom. The quiet was calming. I could just sit and read, and every so often Emmet would look over and duck his head a little, which was his version of a wave. I would nod back at him, and that would be it. And we could be out of the relentless parade of bullshit, everyone just telling the doctors what they wanted to hear, all the crazy dramas. We could just be us.
Emmet's drawings were blueprints. I asked him if he wanted to be an architect when he got out; he nodded.
I asked him why he didn't talk. He shook his head.
And okay. He didn't need to. I wasn't going to. I just wanted to know. Because as big and weird as Emmet was, he wasn't stupid, and he was actually pretty interesting. And I wanted... I wanted him to not be hurting.
The ward had been on good behavior for a month, so they decided to reward us with a dance. The tables got cleared out of the cafeteria, and some staffer's boombox got plugged in - instant dance. Lots of staff on the floor to make sure people weren't being inappropriate with each other, but otherwise they left us alone, and soon it was just me and Emmet on the sidelines. I sat next to him, darting looks over; he seemed totally absorbed in watching the others - til he caught me looking. Impulsively, I stood and held out my hand. "Dance with me."
He looked up. "I can't." His voice was low - I had to strain to hear him over the music.
"I suck too. I'm - I'm awkward these days. I get dizzy."
"I don't know how."
"I'll lead." I was holding both hands out now. "Please?"
He did know how. And it turns out you can waltz to hip-hop. And, feeling so fragile... I began to think maybe there should be more of me to hold. Maybe.