“Good morning, Edwina.” A soft voice pulled Winnie out of her restless sleep. “Time to wake up.”
After crying herself to sleep the night before, Winnie had nightmares and had woken up multiple times in a panic trying to make sense of her surroundings, then remembering where she was and crying again.
“What time is it?” Winnie grumbled and rolled toward the wall. “Need more sleep.”
“It’s five o’clock,” the voice said. “We need to get your vital signs and get you weighed, then breakfast is at six.”
“I never eat breakfast,” she insisted. “Need more sleep.”
“Sorry, that’s not an option. While you’re staying here with us you will be waking up at five, and you will be eating breakfast.” Although the woman spoke in a polite tone, the words were stern. Whoever she was, she made for an annoying alarm clock. Winnie already decided she wasn’t going to like her.
Winnie sat up and glared at the girl, who wasn’t much older than Winnie. “I never eat breakfast, and I’m not starting now, so you might as well let me sleep another hour.”
“Hi, I’m Celeste.” The girl smiled.
“I really don’t care what your name is,” Winnie said. “I’m still not eating breakfast.”
“I’m going to be in charge of making sure you have everything you need for the duration of the time you’re staying with us.” Apparently, Celeste wasn’t taking the hint to go away. “Do you need to use the bathroom before we take your vitals and get your weight?”
“Do you have to come into the bathroom with me?”
“Pretty much, yep.”
“That’s not okay,” Winnie grumbled and swung her legs down from the bed. “None of this is okay.”
She padded over to the bathroom and left the door open, just like in the hospital. This was one thing she looked forward to after treatment, privacy in the bathroom. She’d never been a person who would get sick or use laxatives after meals, so she wasn’t sure why they insisted on this. Having been in the hospital for several weeks, she’d lost her inhibitions and was no longer afraid to use the toilet in front of whatever nursing assistant thought it was necessary to listen in.
They wouldn’t let her see the numbers on the scale and she’d learned not to ask. All Winnie wanted to do was go back to bed, but she figured asking for that would get her nowhere, so she allowed Celeste to poke and prod and do whatever other assessments she wanted to do, blood pressure, pulse rate, and blood oxygen level. Neither of them spoke much and Winnie was glad Celeste wasn’t trying to make small talk.
When she’d completed her round of vitals, Celeste smiled and said, “Let’s get you into the shower, shall we?”
“Do I have a choice?” Winnie folded her arms across her chest.
“No, not really.” Celeste maintained her smile but shook her head.
“Then why phrase the sentence as a question?” Winnie smirked when Celeste cocked her head and creased her brow. “Just tell me to get in the shower.”
“I find it more polite to ask someone to do something rather than demand they do something,” Celeste said.
“For the past month I have had zero choice with pretty much everything,” Winnie said. “Why make pretenses? Let’s not pretend I have a choice, shall we?”
Without waiting for an answer, Winnie crossed the small room to her dresser and pulled out a pair of yoga pants and a soft T-shirt along with underwear and socks. She headed for the bathroom, again leaving the door open, stripped down to nothing and got in the shower. At least she had her own shampoo, conditioner, and body wash. Sometimes it was the little things that pulled her through the bad days.
She stood under the hot water longer than necessary, enjoying the steam and relaxation, wondering how much longer she could endure this life and still stay sane. Maybe she was already insane and she just didn’t know it because she was insane. Did insane people know they were insane? Good question. She had no answer.
“You almost done in there?” Celeste called from right outside the curtain.
“Do I have a choice?” Winnie’s rude question was accompanied by her turning off the water and reaching for her towel.
Celeste must have ignored Winnie’s rude rhetoric because she didn’t say anything else, just leaned against the doorframe with her back to Winnie. At least the staff in this inpatient clinic as well as at the hospital politely turned away when she was without clothing or using the bathroom.
Winnie took her time getting dried off and slipping on her comfortable clothing, dreading the next part of her morning. Almost before realizing she was talking, a question popped out. “What if I refuse to eat?”
“They’ll give you a nutritional shake,” Celeste said without emotion.
“What if I refuse that?”
“They might make you go back into the hospital and put a tube up your nose to feed you forcibly.”
“Oh… no, no, no. I’d rather drink the nutritional shake.”
“That or get over your fear of eating.” Celeste turned around and met Winnie’s gaze with firmness but compassion. “Start to enjoy food again.”
“I don’t know how.” Winnie’s quiet voice wavered, and she felt tears prick her eyes.
“That’s why you’re here, Winnie.” Celeste offered a soft smile. “We’re going to help you learn how to enjoy food again.”
“Okay.” Her response was barely a squeak.
“Be gentle on yourself. Day one is not the time to break down about the food they serve you. Try to eat a little bit but realize that right after breakfast you’re going to start working with a counselor and some therapy groups and the nutritionist, and before you know it, you’ll be eating foods you love without anxiety.”
“I don’t even know what foods I love anymore,” Winnie said.
“Here’s your chance to try a little of everything, a few bites at a time.”
“I guess I could do that.” Winnie shook her towel down from her hair and started finger-combing the thin locks. “I need to get past you so I can go find my comb in my suitcase.”
“Oh, sure, sorry about that.” Celeste stepped out of the way and Winnie pawed through her bag, looking for her comb.
When Winnie entered the bathroom again, she realized what was missing. “There’s no mirror.”
“We try to avoid anything that could be triggering,” Celeste said.
Winnie turned around to gape at Celeste. “How am I supposed to do my hair?”
“Would you like me to braid it for you?” Celeste held out her hand and Winnie considered the offer. Why not? She’d lost control over everything else in her life. What’s one more thing? She handed the comb over and sat in the chair next to her desk.
Never having a sister meant never having someone comb and braid her hair. This was a new experience for Winnie and for some reason that brought fresh tears to her eyes.
Ever since she was a little girl, she’d had her hair in a bun almost daily. She wondered if she’d recognize herself in a mirror with French braids on either side of her head. Not that she’d ever have the chance to see herself while living here since there were no mirrors. That also brought tears.
Mirrors were everywhere in Winnie’s life. Every ballet studio had at least one wall that was completely mirrored. She was in a ballet studio every day. That brought more tears.
Celeste never called her out for crying the whole time she was doing Winnie’s hair, but she did take a quick second to bring a box of tissues over to place on Winnie’s lap. Then she calmly went back to combing and braiding.
Winnie wondered how there could be any more tears inside her, yet they kept coming, and coming, and coming. The whole time Celeste was working, Winnie kept crying.
“How does that feel?” Celeste asked, patting the sides of Winnie’s head.
Winnie reached up and found tight little rows of braids, almost small enough to be corn rows. She marveled that time had stood still long enough for Celeste to complete this masterpiece. “I wish I could see them,” Winnie whispered.
“They look beautiful,” Celeste told her in a soft, compassionate voice. “But how do they feel?”
“They feel… beautiful,” Winnie said, looking up at this girl who had spent the better part of the past hour enduring Winnie’s wrath and tears. How she still had the patience to show her compassion was beyond Winnie’s ability to comprehend. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” Celeste reached out a hand to help Winnie from the chair. “Now let’s go eat some breakfast. I’m hungry.”
“You’re going to eat also?”
“Yeah, best part about this job is all the food they give me. I get paid to eat gourmet meals three times a day plus snacks. Plus, a paycheck at the end of the week. Can’t beat that.”
“But you have to put up with cranky girls who want to sleep in and refuse to eat,” Winnie said. “How can that possibly be fun?”
“Eh, give it a couple days. We’ll get into a routine and become best friends and you’ll wonder why you ever hated me.”
“I don’t hate you,” Winnie grumbled.
“You hated me an hour ago, admit it.” Celeste raised her eyebrows.
“That’s only because you forced me to wake up.”
“Wait’ll I force you to eat breakfast.” Celeste patted Winnie on the shoulder. “Then you’ll really hate me.”
“Gee, I can’t wait.” Winnie wrinkled her nose.
Celeste threw her arm around Winnie’s shoulders. “Good thing you won’t have to wait long. I can smell the pancakes from here.” With that, she led Winnie from the room.
“Here goes nothin’…” Winnie grumbled, but allowed Celeste to lead her.