The Crystal Rainbows Centre in Morvale is the local loony bin—home for the ill at ease, nut house, window-lickers playground, or as some chavskanks (who have the experience to know) say: “a bit better than prison, innit.” Almost every kid gets terrorized by some older twat at school with horror stories about the place, about what you might do that will inadvertently get you locked up, and about what goes on there. Inside it looks pretty much like any other part of a hospital and no one’s screaming right now. And I’m here, after all, so I think mostly it’s all bullshit. Although I’m not on the ward, mind you. But Stephani Mitchell was here for anorexia a while back, and she said it wasn’t like they say it is, although she didn’t really want to talk about it of course. Unless you gave her a cigarette and then she’d give you a few juicy bits, but that might have been more bullshit, too. I liked Stephani Mitchell though, she always smiled at me. This shy little half-smile, and she’d catch my eye, but then look down. As though she wanted to say something, but it had got stuck.
Crystal Rainbows herself was a generous benefactor back in 1897 after being cured (several times) of a strange hysteria and angst, that came and went an awful lot like bouts of mania and depression. Every two years Crystal would start to see the sky a little bluer, the Gods a little truer, and become convinced that nobody was a wrongdoer. She’d take in strays—cats, dogs, the homeless, people who saw something they could take advantage of, people she simply loved because they were worse off than her. She was the richest woman in Morvale by a long-trot. But where it came from was a matter of great speculation: she murdered a husband, or married an old one who died; stole it; or was born into it; had cast a spell over the bank teller or the croupier. Did she have close friends who knew the truth? If she did, the locals never found these people.
A portrait of Crystal hangs in the foyer of The Crystal Rainbows Centre, and while she had certainly been a beauty, she was also an eccentric. An eccentric beauty with sadness in her eyes. I couldn’t know if that was artistic license by the artist, who perhaps knew she was prone to fits and starts, or if he captured what was true. I took one last look at Crystal, sensing some mischief in a hint of smirk, before making my way to the Sunshine Ward for ‟The Group.”
The atmosphere was like the girls PE changing room when no one wants to go out running cross country in the rain or pretend to understand fucking hockey.
Some people are surprisingly chirpy about their problems. And then of course there’s everyone else. There were twelve of us in The Group, sitting in a circle, awkwardly looking around. Some holding in tears, others looking moody as all fuck. I was nervous; I sat on my hands, biting my lip. Curls of my mousy brown hair falling in my face, which was perfect because I frankly didn’t want anyone looking at me. The atmosphere was like the girls PE changing room when no one wants to go out running cross country in the rain or pretend to understand fucking hockey. That desperate scramble to decide whether you want to chance making up a bullshit excuse like ‟time of the month” (did I use it last week? Will Miss remember?), or quickly forge ye olde note from the rentals. But you can’t find anything other than exercise book paper which doesn’t look very pro, and you can’t think of an excuse.
You can’t do ‟I forgot my kit,” because the skank cupboard is so much worse. If you genuinely did forget your kit, you might as well just die there and then. Just die. There’s a box of sandwiches in there that no one dares remove and it’s getting greener in there every week, and it’s like it’s breathing ‘cuz it’s all wet now and soon it might explode. I reckon Miss put them in there herself just to make it even more grotesque. I mean who leaves behind these items that make up the skank cupboard, these purported bits of ‟lost property” we’re meant to use as kit? Granny blouses and brown corduroy skirts, knee-length polka dot socks and football boots from the 1970s. Which fucking Morvale High girl dropped them in the changing room, eh? None of them, that’s what I think. It’s Miss, she’s having us on. It’s like a fucking horror movie in there. You open the punched-in grey metal door looking like your average drab Morvale teen, and then by the time you’ve closed it, you’ve got this selection of vile rags in your arms like you’ve done a murder, and you’re gagging and it’s so embarrassing you feel the tears and you’re choking in your throat, and it’s already shit for me anyway, PE, because they love to beat me up and—
That is what it feels like in this fucking group therapy room.
The skinny Gasher boy went first. Gashers are like Emo 2.0, the music gets heavier all the time, mathcore that’s beyond Pifaster-than-light-quantum-whatevers complexity. My friend Lucy likes some of it, dresses a little like them sometimes, but she’s above that kind of cliquey stuff. The Gasher boy’s hair is black, limp, hanging in front of his eyes all combed forward with one stripe of neon pink in it. Stretched earlobes, silver earrings, a lip ring that’s far too big for his skinny face. So pasty white that I instantly saw all the hours locked away in a darkened bedroom, listening to heavy, heavy music with the blu-tacked posters from the magazines of all those bands closing in on him with their angst and hysteria. Black band t-shirt—Ditchovsky in this case, an all female thrash-grindcore-mathhardcore-emoscreamo-neonewromantic band. Or something. Maybe I should look like a Gasher on the outside, I don’t know. I’m a bit of a Neon sometimes, getting a little bit more of something from Lucy but I don’t think I can do Gashcore. This kid though, he’s proper in it. Gash to the max. He’s wearing those skin-tight jean-legging thingies that are covered in zips and chains like old bondage gear, and mad platform trainers that he must have got from his mum.
Tell us why you’re here. We’re listening.
“I dunno where to start really, um,” he coughed, looked at the floor. Clasped his bony hands in front of him, forearms resting on his legs. His hair flopped forward ridiculously with his head leaning over like that. But it was a huge shield, a curtain to hide his face so he could try and get out his wretched feelings.
The two limp group leaders exchanged glances and one of them got up and went after him, looking like a wilting weed that fought so hard to grow between paving slabs, now sadly slumping to the concrete as the rain batters it.
“It’s … They …” His whole body tensed up and he stopped, the silence anxiety-stricken. “I can’t do this,” he said, and, still looking at the floor, he grabbed his bag and pushed back his chair, got up and walked out, slinging his record bag over his shoulder and shoving the door open with all his strength, letting it bang behind him without looking back. Lucky escape. The two limp group leaders exchanged glances and one of them got up and went after him, looking like a wilting weed that fought so hard to grow between paving slabs, now sadly slumping to the concrete as the rain batters it. Dejection. The girl two seats to my right sighs petulantly and exclaims ‘fucks sake’ very loudly. She’s got a proper face on her, wannabe Neon but really a chav throwback. Clown necklace, scraped back hair in a side ponytail, very obvious eyes and ears that have been specially blinged-up, jewels stuck to her face. She’s slouched in her chair, in a way that ensures maximum discomfort, arms crossed, and she most certainly does not want to be here. I looked over as she hissed out another ‟for fucks sake,” with extremely hard k’s. We made eye-contact and fear gripped me. She just looks, we both hold it. Her eyelashes are thick clumps. Eyeliner thick as crayon, it’s all over the place. She puts the necklace in her mouth so the clown dangles over her chin and just stares, mouth open in a sneer. Clown-necklace-mouth. It may be the most menacing thing I’ve ever seen. Then she sucks on the chain before spitting it out and making an ‟uh” noise, looking away with disgust as though I’m the scary one.
“We all know why we’re here, fuck’s sake. We’re wrong’uns, dirties, ment-alls, brokens, happy-shopper-pill-poppers, nutters, ‘pressos, little bit short of a set, gone down the wrong—oi! What the fuck? Seriously, w.t.f., yeah? Aren’t you gonna do something?” A boy with a huge brown quiff, who I suddenly recognize as being Martin Brite from primary school, shouts at the group leaders. There is a general ‟yeah” from about half the group, the rest of us just sit there not really knowing what the hell is going on.
“Everyone has the right to speak here, but yes, please …” the group leader looks at her tablet PC for confirmation, already forgetting which of us is which, “… please, Maria, if you could respect the others and not use harsh language we’d prefer that. The words you use to describe what’s going on here are very interesting, though. I’m not sure everyone here would agree about your categorization of mental health issues. Care to take your turn and tell us what that’s all about?”
Maria huffs. “Yeah, whatever. But don’t expect it to be interesting or nothin’. Dunno why I fuc‑ I mean, why I came. My doctor really bigged it up, that them tablets as well as this would be much better than doing it on my own. What I don’t get right, though, is how does it work? Like, what’s this doing to my head? We’re not menna ask, are we, like we’re just menna trust? I do trust, I like my doctor, so it’s not that. It’s just I don’t understand it. Shouldn’t I feel better by now? It’s been like three weeks. It’s wank. Wonderdrug my fucking arse.”
“It can take time, Maria, I know it’s frustrating. But first let’s get to what made you decide to see your doctor in the first place. You can tell us as much or as little as you like of course, but this works better if we get to know each other. If we share. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself properly, tell us how you found the group and what you think might have contributed to you being here? We’re here to help.” I’m pretty sure I just heard someone gagging.
“Well, I was just feeling down all the time, you know, like, its fucking pointless, innit. I’m doing shit at school, like I can never get the hang of it, in the bottom sets, everyone thinks you’re a pile of toss. My parents think I’m lazy or summink, but it’s not like that. I do try.” Poor Maria, her face started to crumple up like she was going to cry, and she kept blinking away tears, those enormous lashes batting, chain back in mouth, clown dangling and I realize we really aren’t all that different. Me and her, me and the clown, me and the Gashers, me and the Neons.
Maybe we’d all like to play the clown and see what it’s like to just fucking smile for a change. I reach out to hug her.
Tell us why you’re here. We’re listening.