After the expected lecture from my father, I was free to go. I had learned by now how to undo all of my IV’s and other attachments. I gently tugged at the needle in my inner elbow, sucking in a breath, as always, when the air hit the tiny hole. I made the bed so that next time I came in, it wouldn’t be wrinkled and uncomfortable. I then slipped into the clothes that had probably been sitting in here for weeks without me noticing their absence.
The stairs were made of some sort of metal. That meant that whenever I made my way back up to the world of ‘happy’ illusions, my feet nearly froze off. By the time I reached the door, my teeth were chattering.
Something different happened then, something I never could have predicted. I hesitated. Before opening the door, I looked back down at the lab my parents kept me in. What would happen if I stayed down here? There were so many bad things that happened at the bottom of those steps, but what if I stayed? I wouldn’t have to face the terrors of the outside world again. No more shaky hands behind closed classroom doors. No more sweat dribbling down my neck while riding in the car. No more dateless nights because of the dark and the suffocating closeness of movie theaters. The only thing I would have to fear down here would be the room.
Could I handle it? Living with only one fear that I knew was coming? Or would it be better to go through this door, and have the possibility of facing my other fears?
My hand was already resting on the handle.
It was a couple months before my parents decided it was time again. They used to have to trick me, telling me that they had bought me a surprise and it was waiting just on the other side of the door. Each time I knew that they were lying, but I wanted so badly to believe that they wouldn’t ever subject me to that again, that each time, I fell for it. My dad would shove me back into the room and slam the door. Then all the bad things would happen all over again.
For the past two times, they hadn’t even bothered. They didn’t trick me, or bribe me, or anything. All they did was tell me that they needed me and, of course, I was there. It’s weird to think about it now, but honestly I thought it was normal. I knew that the kids at school didn’t have fears like mine but I thought, if they did, that their parents would do the same thing. I thought that all the people with phobias would be treated like I was—in the name of finding a ‘cure’.
But I was so wrong. I learned that on the day of the sixth test. My parents had warned me that morning. They said I could even stay home from school if I wanted. That maybe that would make me more comfortable and their test would finally be a success. I said no. I knew I’d miss quite a few days afterwards, my body recovering from the shock. I numbly wondered if I would die early from all the strain on my heart. That was how I did everything that day—numbly. That is, until seventh period.
That was when Dawn Peirce walked in.