The elevator led straight to the double doors. I stepped off the tile onto the thin hospital carpet, and then waited so Lena and Amanda could walk past me. They'd been here before. And I still didn't know why the hell I was there.
The walls were white on top and about waist high they were painted gray down to the flecked blue carpet. Neutral tones. We stepped into the first set of doors, and stood around, like in an airlock. Lena, a roundish, dark haired, eighteen year old Eastern European immigrant was fiddling with her belt on her jeans. She didn't know if we were going to have to remove our belts this time. Amanda was even rounder, had pink skin and wavy blonde hair with a piggish nose. She was wearing an ill-fitting white tanktop. I knew Lena from a few classes I had with her, and by the way she would make intense eye contact when she talked to me and ask droning questions about my personal life at innappropriate times, I could tell she had a thing for me. Amanda I knew from a different class, but I wasn't aware that Lena and Amanda were friends.
A nurse in a white coat came through the second set of doors after Amanda pressed the buzzer, and she handed us a clipboard with signatures and empty lines below them.
"Please sign in on the clipboard. Also, if you have any sharp objects, I'll take them now."
When I heard those words, I finally had a good idea that we were going into a suicide watch ward. The night before, Lena approached me at an event in one of the gyms and asked me if we wanted to go visit Katie in the hospital, but wouldn't say why she was there. I assumed the worse, and the nurse had just reasserted my assumptions.
I handed her a small black pen knife that I had in my pocket. She didn't say anything about belts though, so when the nurse smiled at us and led us through the airlock, we all had the leather straps wrapped around our waists, still holding up our jeans.
Right through the doors opened up into the main lobby of the ward. To the right was the rounded reception desk like a half circle with a back wall leading into some back room. To the left was an open public space, with tables in the corner surrounded by windows on both walls and a couch and TV directly to the left where we walked into the ward.
"Katie's room's this way," Lena said. It was the first thing any one of us had said since we entered the automatic glass doors at the front of the hospital. Walking through the parking lot, of course, was when Lena first mentioned belts, making my stomach drop.
We followed behind Lena, her jeans cutting just a bit into her sides at her waist, causing the extra skin to billow out a bit. Her hair had auburn highlights and dropped down her back in flowing curls. I never wanted to admit it, but I always found her to be extremely sexually attractive even though the word was that she got around. I think that contributed to my attraction to her, the thought of her experience, but it was also what kept me from ever making a move.
Katie, however, was the opposite. Katie was tall and wiry with short, dyed, light brown hair that was always stringy. She hard a sharp, short nose and thin lips and cheeks, but had these eyes that sparkled and seemed to smile on their own. I couldn't tell you what color they were, I just knew they were dark, almost black, and warm and inviting. She had an innocence about her, the way she giggled and smiled a lot. I had a philosophy class with her and Lena, and her and Lena had been friends since high school.
I didn't how to expect Katie to be. With a demeanor like hers, it was hard to imagine something driving her towards a suicide attempt. But I wasn't naive. In junior high school, my friend tied a belt around his neck and shut himself in his closet when he found out the girl he was dating on the internet for over a year wasn't who he thought she was. And I wasn't too surprised that Lena brought me. I'm a good natured person, easy to talk to, kind and gentle. I high school, I got a call one night from a guy I knew while he was at the hospital. He had just tried to commit suicide and didn't know who to call, so he looked up my phone number. Both Steve and Kyle were still Steve and Kyle. The attempted suicide didn't change that. They were both people who needed attention and understanding. They also both suffered from what I call "suburban outsider syndrome." The particular subculture they emulated encouraged negative emotions and suicide as an option. I was unsure about Katie. Amateur psychiatry offered no quotable phrase, no diagnosis.
I was nervous to see her. We all walked in a single file line, Lena in her burgundy tank top in front, Amanda in back, and me in the middle. For months I had admired Katie from the other side of the class room, only to have Lena make another drunk pass at me when I would run into her on a Friday night. I never really had ever talked to Katie.
"It'll be good for her to see someone else from class," Lena said to me when she approached me about the visit the night before. From how close she was standing to me and the way she was sticking out her chest, I had an idea why she invited me along.
Inside Katie's room, Katie was sitting on her bed in elastic waistband pajama pants and a gray hooded sweatshirt, the tie strings missing from the rivets at the edges of the hood. The bed closest to the window was empty. Her roommate was out for the moment.
"Hi!" Katie shouted when we walked in.
She bounced off of her bed and grabbed Lena in a big hug, and then rotated and leaned over and hugged Amanda lightly. She straightened up and looked at me with her dark eyes and said, "Thanks for coming!"
All I could do was smirk back.
And then I went numb. The girls started chatting, Katie said she didn't really like her roommate, who was an older lady, and Lena said that our philosophy teacher would definitely give Katie some extra time for the paper due the next week. They kept talking, and I know this is going to sound cliche, I really do, but it all seemed like everything was happening underwater. It's easy to read that statement and not feel it, but it's difficult to experience it firsthand. Every sound bubbles and floats away, every word is incomprehensible but you still understand what they're talking about. It feels cold and refreshing but you're not aware that you're breathing at all. And then all three of them are walking out the door to the common room, the one with all the windows and sunlight. And you follow.
"What do you want to do?" one of them asks.
"I dunno, let's play a board game," another one says.
And then you're all sitting around a square table moving colorful pieces around a colorful board, and you look up, and Katie smiles at you, and then it's time to leave but you just got there, and you're back in the airlock and the nurse places a black pen knife into the palm of your hand and you squeeze it once, feeling the nicked plastic against your palm before you shove it in the front pocket of your pants and you're on the elevator and it's bright and fluorescent in there and there might be two other people in the elevator with you but now you're walking out the front door and there's a huge rush of air and I am stepping onto the concrete sidewalk and the air penetrates deep into my lungs and I stepped down off the curb after Lena and Amanda, and I watch as they walked over towards Amanda's maroon Buick. I followed them and climbed into the backseat.
"I was out for a smoke when I guess she sent me the instant message," Lena said as she pulled the seatbelt down across her large chest.
"Really?" Amanda asked as she turned the key and the Buick rattled to life.
"Yeah," Lena said as the Buick pulled out of the parking lot. "I had just gotten back and I was working on a paper on my computer up in my room when I ran downstairs for a cigarette. When I got back I saw she typed to me and it said something like 'if it happened again i'm going to do it.'"
"I didn't think she actually would," Amanda said as the Buick pulled out onto the highway.
"Well I was at the same party earlier, but I had to leave to do this paper. She looked really drunk and was like falling all over the place. But she didn't have that much to drink, so someone must have put something in her drink. I just can't believe that it could happen to her twice."
And my toes curled up, pinching my socks digging into my shoes.
"I can't believe it either."
And my heart broke. The girl with the smiling dark eyes and small mouth had been raped, twice. My heart broke not for the sympathy I had for her, but because I was now powerless. I was no longer the go to guy with the soothing response, the smiling, knowing, easy to talk to comforter. I was nothing. I was nothing because the girl I never talked to but always wanted to had been raped twice at our small in the middle of nowhere Catholic liberal arts institution. And I knew that I could never talk to her, I could never try to ask her out because I would know that she had been raped, and that I couldn't do anything about it.
As the Buick cruised down the road, Lena sang along to Depeche Mode and AC/DC, taking the time to turn back to me and quiz me about both bands and whether or not I like their music. I spent the time thinking about statistics. When you hear about rape on a college campus, it's just a statistic. One in four. There are campaigns, though, women saying things like "I'm not a statistic, I'm a person. I'm a woman." But Katie wasn't a person anymore to me, she became a statistic. She was a one in four, she was a twenty to twenty five percent. And I was a statistic too. I was just another asshole, one in three, trying to pretend that rape didn't exist.