Short Writings by Tarryn Richardson
I am gazing out at the water. My heart is pumping hard through my chest. The water rushing below me, digging away at the earth beneath my feet. Perhaps I should move from this decaying overhang; maybe I would like to be washed by the heavy current. The sky is fading, as if preparing for the credits to roll. Birds are singing, otters are sleeping; holding hands as to not get lost. Lost. There is a deer grazing nearby. The water is rushing under the overhang. The water is dark. It collects the dirt, prizing it from the land, pulling it into the seaweed growing meters beneath the murky surface. I am stepping back suddenly.
Earlier that day.
'Alright Mum, I’ll be out soon!' Sarah shouted from the bathroom, spluttering toothpaste as she yelled.
'Sarah we’re going to be late! I need to get you to school and get myself to work before 9am. If you woke up on time –' A muffled voice burnt through the door.
'I know, I know!' She spat, on purpose this time, and wiped her mouth. 'I’m done.'
She flung the door open to a tall woman with long black hair, dark full eyes and a furrowed brow.
’We won’t be late. I promise.' Sarah flashed a dazzling smile.
They rushed out the door, almost forgetting the car keys, and jumped in the car. The rusty old box took a moment to start before it started to chug down the busy road filled with busses, taxies and other rushed parents and business people, all headed in the same direction.
Sarah’s Mum tapped her indicator on at a red light.
'Now, remember that after school I’m picking you up promptly, so don’t faff okay? And make sure that you have everything you need. I am taking you for a surprise.'
'Then how do I know what I need? If it’s a surprise.'
‘Well, I guess you don’t. But you need yourself. And maybe a change of clothes – if you want.' She stopped.
'Well I don’t have a change of clothes because you rushed me out the door.'
'You don’t have a change of clothes because you woke up late. No worries. It’s not essential.' Sarah’s mum grins and Sarah almost feels as though she is looking in the mirror.
'Okay. See you after school. Without a change of clothes.' Sarah replied and turned to the window to gaze out at the herd of uniforms identical to hers on the side of the road. ‘Love you!’
‘Love you, Honey.’
Sarah shoves open the door, climbs out and shoves the heavy car door behind her. She blows a kiss.
The day was very uneventful. Maths, English, Art, French and Physics, in that order, managed to almost put Sarah to sleep, apart from art: Sarah loves art. The final bell rang and she raced out the door to meet her Mum, engine still running, her face was hosting a strained smile.
'Did you get some sort of treatment while I was at school? You don’t normally look at me like that,’ Sarah laughed, 'What’s this surprise then?' The car slowly pulled out, joining the constant flow of school run traffic.
'It wouldn’t be a surprise if I told you, would it?' Sarah’s Mum replied, without turning to look at her.
'Okay, well, will my friends be there?' She grinned.
'You can’t just ask questions and guess where we are going, that definitely ruins the illusion.' Her voice was jeering. Her knuckles were clutching the steering wheel.
After a short while, Sarah slumped in her seat. She read every sign wizzing past for an emblem of a clue, the car bumped to a holt outside a large grey building. There were several signs to the left of the car which read;
'PATIENT CAR PARK ONLY
RECEPTION FOR OUTPATIENT SERVICES ONLY
ADULT PSYCHIATRIC SERVICES
PAEDIATRIC PSYCHIATRIC SERVICES'
'Are we visiting Grandma? Because you know outpatient means that they don’t live here. Grandma lives here.' The smile faded from her eyes.
'Also this is the patient car park only.'
'Why are we here then?’
A long pause followed. The car buzzed and whirrs underneath them. Sarah’s Mum turns the key and it dies.
'Let’s go inside.'
Sarah’s Mum climbed out. Sarah sat for a moment before sliding out and headed out towards the big glass door, where her mother was already waiting. As they slowly entered, the silence rang in Sarah’s ears. Sarah’s Mum approached the receptionist defiantly and speaks in a hushed voice so she did not disturb the ringing silence.
'Hi, I have an appointment booked for Sarah Willow?' Sarah’s Mum leaned in gracefully and clunked her bag off of the desk.
'Yes, can I have a date of birth please?' The receptionist replied, calmly, professionally and quietly.
'Yes, of course, it’s the 13th of January 2003.' The receptionist punched it into the computer.
'Great, take a seat, you’re all booked in with the paediatric service. Since it is your first time here, there’s a few rules you need to know about. We just ask that you refrain from having phones on loud or playing games or videos with the volume on. By all means use your phones, but no photos or sound, please. Likewise, talking quietly to one another is fine, and if you must take a phone call, taking it outside is required. Apart from that, sit anywhere you like and your name and room number will appear on the board right over there -' she pointed at a TV screen showing hospital notices opposite an audience of weathered chairs. '- there will be no sound with this so please do stay alert. When Sarah’s name pops up, head down the corridor to the left of this desk and the rooms are just labelled one to ten, so it should be easy to find. If you get lost, come back to me and I’ll show you to your room. Okay?'
‘Okay,' Sarah’s Mum smiled through small puddles in her tear ducts, 'thank you.' They both ambled over to some empty seats in the corner of the room.
'Mum?' Sarah whispered.
'Not now, Sarah.' Her eyes focused on the screen.
'Why am I here?' The puddles from her mothers eyes leaked into hers.
'I said not now, Sarah. Someone will explain soon.'
Tears silently streamed down Sarah’s face. Finally, her name appeared on the TV screen in front of them. Both rose.
'Room two. Should be easy to find. Let’s go.' Sarah’s Mum marched down the corridor, slowing at the doors to find door two slightly ajar. Sarah lingered behind as her mother slowly pushed the door to make them known to the kind faced woman inside.
'You must be Sarah’s mum. Is Sarah with you today?'
A tall woman with wild brown curls hopped up from her armchair, a notebook and pen dangling from her side, and approached the door. Sarah’s mum nodded.
'Come on in both of you. My name is Melissa and I am a counsellor with CAHMS. Sarah, could you sit down in that chair opposite me? And Mum you can sit over there in that one.' She pointed at another armchair behind the door. 'Sarah are you alright with your mum sitting in for the first half today? I will ask her to leave about halfway through, standard procedure, but it’s up to you if she stays after I have introduced myself a little bit.'
‘And,’ she continued, ‘if you feel uncomfortable leaving Sarah alone with me, I am happy to request another practitioner attends in your absence. Would you like a chaperone?’ Melissa’s dark chocolate gaze flicked between both Sarah and her Mum.
‘Uh, Sarah, you okay on your own?’ her mum asks.
‘A chaperone won’t be necessary, thanks.’
'Great, so Mum, if you stay for now, I ask you not to join in unless you are asked to do so, this helps me to really hear Sarah, but with the comfort of her mother here. Then, once I have completed the blanket assessment, I will ask you to leave so that I can ask some questions that might be difficult to answer for some patients. Sound okay?' She smiled.
'Sounds just fine. Thank you.' Sarah’s mother perched on the edge of the armchair, clinging onto her handbag like a small child with a stuffed toy.
'Right. So, Sarah, my job is to help children and young people with anything they might be finding a bit hard to manage on their own, okay? Being here does not mean that there is anything wrong with you, it just means that you need a boost. You may have a mental illness or some difficulty that can be resolved with talk therapy or cognitive behavioural therapy, which I will explain at the end, but first, before we go through your options and what you might benefit from, I want to know what the problems are, in your own words, so that I can get an idea of what brought you here.' Melissa poised her pen, expectant and neutral despite the absurdity of the situation.
Sarah could see her mum’s puddles returning in her peripheral.
'I don’t understand,’ Sarah answered.
'What part don’t you understand, Sarah? It’s okay to ask questions or for me to explain things differently.'
'I don’t understand why I am here.'
'Did your Mum bring you here today?' Sarah nodded. 'Do you think it would be helpful if your Mum spoke first?' Sarah stared at the chair her mother was perched on. 'Sarah, I need a clear answer from you before I ask your Mum to speak.'
'Yes. Sorry,’ Sarah laughed despite her anxiety, ‘I give my mum permission to speak.'
'Can you shed some light on this, Mum?' Melissa confirmed. Sarah’s Mum leant so far forward she almost slipped off the chair.
‘Uh, yes. See, Sarah has these – moments – where she isn’t quite herself.' Melissa nods. 'She can’t remember them at all afterwards. She’s not the kind Sarah that we know and love. It’s like she has been taken over.' Sarah’s mum stared directly at Melissa. She never glanced at the armchair that her daughter was bound to.
'What does Sarah do in these ‘moments’?'
Sarah’s mum shuffled in her seat.
Sarah’s puddles overflowed.
Her Mum continued. ’She throws things, and shouts and wants to hurt people –'
'Mum! I don’t!' Sarah screamed, leaping up from her chair, gushing salty water from her eyes as horror faded over her features like a storm cloud.
'Sarah you do love, but like I said you don’t know you’re doing it! You don’t even remember afterwards, what you’ve done -'
Melissa interrupted, calm and stern.
‘- Okay, I think it might be time for your mum to step out. Sarah, I would like to keep you here and have a chat to you. Now I know where to start, I can continue with the assessment process and get some information from your Mum in a moment, okay?'
'Fine.' Sarah slumped down into the armchair as her mother left the room, crying. The door slammed behind her. 'How can I be here against my will? There’s nothing wrong!'
'Sarah, you’re under sixteen, therefore a parent or guardian can bring you as long as it is in your best interest. In order for me to find out if it is in your best interest, I need to continue my assessment. If I agree with you, that there is nothing wrong, we will never need to meet again and it will be as if you never came.'
'And if you agree with her?'
'Then we will need to talk about other support options. I understand this is scary.'
'You understand nothing!' Sarah launched up again.
'Sarah,' Melissa instructed, 'Sit down and we will complete the assessment. In an hour you will be able to go home regardless of the outcome of the assessment.'
'Fine.' She heavily thumped herself down on the ever more uncomfortable chair.
'Good. Now here’s a questionnaire I would like you to complete, it shouldn’t take very long. Score these ones one to three –' Melissa pointed out the top half of the dull white page, then swooned to the bottom half '- score these ones one to five. Answer as honestly as you can. I’ll give you a moment while I go and speak to your mum in another room. Is that okay?' Melissa stood.
'Yes. That’s fine.' Sarah replied as she gritted her teeth. She took the pen from Melissa’s outstretched hand. Melissa left.
Sarah scanned the page first. It was filled with questions like; I am better off dead. Rate one to three; I experience extreme emotional changes often. Rate one to three; I am scared I will harm people that I love. Rate one to three; I experience periods of time that I don’t remember. Rate one to three.
'This is ridiculous.' Sarah muttered, but she filled in the questionnaire none the less. 'Surely everyone has some things they can’t remember. Otherwise I would remember being born,’ she laughed.
After Sarah had completed the questionnaire, she glanced up at the clock, Melissa had only been gone for five minutes. Sarah decided that it would be sensible to have a look around. Reluctant to leave her seat and be told off again, she ran her eyes around the room, stopping on a large black and white poster parading a smiling face in the white half and an angry face in the black half. Text floods the pictures with a note saying;
‘Calling all CARERS!
AT GREYSTONE MENTAL HEALTH CENTRE
SPECIALIST SUPPORT FOR FAMILIES SUPPORTING people WITH PERSONALITY DISORDERS.’
The door abruptly interrupted Sarah’s bland reading materials.
'I got some information from your mum. How are you getting on?' Melissa smiled and pops herself back down in her armchair.
'Fine, I’m finished.' Sarah handed the paper back but pockets the pen. Melissa read it carefully, scanning the numbers gracefully, as if she had memorised the contents of the printed text and was merely adding in Sarah’s answers. Melissa jotted down some numbers in her notebook and added the paper to her notes.
'Great. So I can see that you are not having any difficult thoughts at the moment. But you have recognised what your mum told me about having blocks of time missing from your memories. Do you want to tell me a bit more about that?'
'I mean I can’t tell you because I can’t remember them. Doesn’t everyone forget things sometimes?'
'That is true, but it is unusual that people would black out entire hours without the influence of drugs and alcohol. Do you use drugs or alcohol?'
'No!' Sarah responded like a bullet being shot from a gun, 'I don’t. I mean some of the other kids at school do but I think it is stupid.'
'Good to hear. That’s really important for us to assess what you might be finding difficult to cope with. Having blackouts where you can not remember the things you’ve done in those spaces of time can be a coping strategy for some people. It blocks out trauma or can be the result of trauma. Trauma is when -’
‘- I know what it is. Its when something bad happens and you think about it afterwards forever.’
‘That’s right. Have you experienced any trauma’s that you can think of? Could be any time in your life, even if you don’t think it matters.'
'The most traumatic thing that’s ever happened to me was my Grandma coming into the inpatient unit here. And I’ve got to say this might be the new trauma if you really want one. This definitely takes first place.' Sarah scowled.
'So your Grandma is here. What is she here for? If you don’t mind telling me,’ Melissa asked.
'She has dementia. But she used to have two people in her head. Two personalities I guess. One day she was Joan and the next she was Julie. But Julie would never remember Joan and Joan would never remember Julie. You had to ask whether she wanted tea or coffee when you got in to visit her – that’s how you would know. I mean she probably still has it but now she doesn’t remember my name or her own, and she had two to remember.' She laughed.
'Is she your mums mother?'
'Yes, but why does that matter?'
'Because I was wondering if your mother grew up with her mother behaving like that? That might have been difficult for her.'
'She did. She was the oldest too – oldest of four. So she did a lot of looking after.'
‘Do you think that influenced your Mum to bring you here? Perhaps I’m putting words into your mouth, though. You go on and explain these chunks of time you have missing. When do they happen? Have a think out loud.' Melissa softened in her chair, expectantly.
'I don’t know,’ Sarah paused, 'The last chunk I don’t remember was… I guess it was after my exam.'
'What do you remember before and after?' Sarah rested back in her seat. 'I remember getting home and seeing the open revision book for biology on my table. It was an afternoon exam so I did some cramming before the exam. I forgot everything I knew about red blood cells the moment I opened the paper and that was the first question. So I skipped it. Then I skipped the next one because it was a part two of question one. Then I started to cry. Then I got myself together and answered the other questions. I definitely failed that exam. When I went home the stupid book was on the table…’
'What happened when you saw the revision book?'
'I threw it on the floor and cried.'
'And then I remember waking up from a nap in my bed, still in my school uniform.'
'Do you remember getting into bed?'
'Not exactly. I just remember crying. I assumed I cried in my bed, got tired, and went for a nap.'
'I see. I spoke to your mother about this too. I asked her about the last time you blacked out and she happened to mention the same experience. She mentioned a few others too but it is good that she noticed the same event. Mum said that you did indeed throw your book on the floor and cry –' Melissa glanced down at her notebook. 'But after that the experience differs. You were throwing things and crying – luckily all soft things – and she came upstairs. You said that you would “do something” her if she didn’t leave you alone, that it was her fault because she stopped you revising for dinner. That it was your brothers fault.’
Sarah started to cry.
'I don’t have a brother. I didn’t do that!'
'That’s what I find really interesting. You don’t have a brother, but your mother did mention that she was expecting a baby boy when you were small. That’s where she believes the baby brother may come from. It’s common for children to suppress things they don’t understand and now that you are older you can understand it – but it’s a very unpleasant thing to remember, and it must have been very difficult for your family.' Melissa continued.
'I sort of remember that. I remember being told I’d have a baby brother. I can’t do this. It’s not true. Maybe it is my Mum who’s crazy, maybe she’s finally got what Grandma has!' Sarah mocks.
'That is possible.'
'Then why aren’t you psychoanalysing her?' Sarah glared at Melissa directly in the eye. Her pupils dilated until her eyes were black holes in a sea of bloodshot white. It was as if her pupil has eaten her iris.
'Shut up!' Sarah screamed. She stood up rapidly. Melissa grabbed both of Sarah’s arms, gently and skilfully, disregarding the book and the pen, letting them splash all over the floor like dirty water. Sarah was bound to one spot, crying.
'Sarah. Where are you?' Melissa asked after a few minutes of arms thrashing and tears.
'In your office,’ Sarah muttered.
'That’s right. Now, can you go and sit down please.' Melissa stated firmly, releasing the firm grip. Sarah sat. 'Good. Now can you tell me what just happened?'
‘No, I can’t' Sarah replied.
I am running towards a river. I can hear sirens behind me, out on the road, but I am in a small forest. I don’t know why I am running, but I know I have to. I know I have to because if I don’t I will do something… or. I am wearing my school uniform and I have a pen in my pocket that doesn’t belong to me. I notice that it is engraved. It reads:
I don’t know how it got into my pocket. I stop running for a moment to examine the pen. I must have got it when I was visiting my Grandma. She’s at Greystone. Behind me I can see the large grey building. I had never noticed how appropriately named it was.
I don’t remember why I am here. I am sure I did something wrong. I remember asking to go to the bathroom. I remember running. I don’t remember from who. I think I have been running for a long time because my legs ache and my breath feels like the air has been cut. It looks like the sun is about to set. I only left school at three. That should be an hour ago. Mum said I had a surprise after school. This must be part of it. I check my watch. It says eight o’clock. The river is loud. I can see animals all around me. I think I will just go and look out for a while. Maybe my surprise was to watch the sun set.