Jenna’s Rainstorm

I listened without amusement to the therapist’s clock. It was supposed to resemble an antique mantle clock, but the mahogany was a cheap veneer and the clock face was cardboard painted to look like mother of pearl, which of course, looked nothing the fuck like mother of pearl. His crappy clock sat on an actual white mantle, which was not a good match for the dark clock, come to think of it, and all of this was over an electronic fireplace with little orange pieces of fabric that “flickered” in the least convincing flamey way possible. Oh, but I was supposed to be totally authentic with him.

This was all bullshit.

Nobody even owned ticking clocks anymore. I’m sure when he checked the time it was using his FitBit. He must have read somewhere before he lost his hair and began his attempts to deceive his clients with clocks and combovers that crazy people need noise, all the time, or they’ll go even more insane. I’d rather have just sat in the quiet. I’d gone whole 50-minute sessions without speaking but then the good doctor just upped my dosage of whichever drug of the month was supposed to make me a more tolerant-of-bullshit person.

He tried to stifle a yawn, but I knew he was as bored as me. I’d burned twelve minutes ignoring him and his clock. I’d throw it in the fireplace but wasn’t a real fucking fireplace.

I sighed, shifting in my seat. At least the furniture in this room was comfortable, unlike the pissed-on, puke-stinking chairs in the patients’ lounge.

Finally he spoke. He couldn’t take it anymore. He probably loathed the mantle clock as much as I did.

“What is on your mind today?”

He was careful not to say my name because I might go off on him again.

I gave him a quick glance of eye contact and continued my boycott against words. Maybe I should talk. He already caved; I beat him for today. I don’t want to get in a power struggle with him, but what else do I have? They’re not giving me my freedom anytime soon.

I spoke up.

“On my mind today, on my mind, let me see…How about you let me walk out of here? I mean we’re not exactly getting anywhere, doctor, and I know I’m ready.” Try not to look too earnest. Make him think you’re not invested, Jenna. He was always trying to read me and I hated it. Nothing put me in a fit of mental gymnastics than trying to outthink his stupid interpretations.

“That’s great to hear. Why do you think you’re ready?”

Because I cannot play another fucking game of Connect Four with Spiegelman, you asshole, and because you’re keeping me from my freedom and my fucking self.

In general, I attempted to hold a hard line between my unadulterated thoughts and what I said to people because other people have no sense of humor and okay, I could be a little intense. But I had earned my intensity, damn it.

My thoughts spilled out of my mouth. He smiled because he’d gotten the truth out of me. I tried to calculate how much longer he thought I’d be in the ward. It would be that much more time until I could get back on hormones, reclaim my autonomy, live on my own. I tried not to show him how crushed I was for my lack of discipline.

“You could play a different game with him, Jinn,” he says. Now he thought he could throw my birth name around at me. That pissed me off. Royally. Queen-of-motherfucking-England-with-entitled-inbred-children pissed. He knew I didn’t go by that. He knew. He was trying to get to me.

All of his therapy certificates hung on the wall and I just knew his parents had paid off the schools. Outside his office, a patient I liked named Catherine was throwing a fit, so I started a countdown when the guards would be on her: in five, four, three, yup. A crash as she hit the floor, I didn’t even have to witness it because I’d seen it in action so many times. Then a hush and the whisper sound of her clothes sliding on the floor as they lifted her up. She must have been easy to carry; she was basically a skin bag of bones in a dirty flower print dress and fuzzy slippers that had lost their fuzz a decade ago.

“You know it’s not about the game, and you know that’s not the name I use,” I said, feeling defiant.

He looked at his clipboard, his pen poised to take notes but he never wrote anything down. I was sure that in graduate school he won a distinguished award in use of props.

“Transsexualism is very rare,” he said. I get it. I do. You think you can deny who I say I am and I’ll have some kind of breakdown. But it is who I am.

“Well, lucky you, then. And lucky, lucky me.”

“Have you thought about working through your anger, Jinn?”

Have I thought about splitting open a sack of entrails over your head and giving you a new hair style, why yes I have, actually. Good goddamn, Dr. Johnston.

“Have you thought that maybe I have something to be angry about?”

“What are you angry about?”

“I’m angry that I was attacked by my boyfriend but I’m the one in a mental ward.”

“Well, but he’s dead.”

“I should have just let him kill me, is that what you’re saying?”

“I don’t have an opinion on that. A court decided you were guilty of his death and a judge sentenced you to this institution to help you. But you are mired in your anger, still.”

“That is a curious rewriting of history, doctor. And the jury was set against me because they saw a gay relationship and they hated both of us for it. And as you already fucking know the prosecutor made me out to be some Transylvania Transvestite on a killing spree. I just need them to take my appeal and then hopefully I can get the hell out of here.”

He gave me a look that suggested my appeal would never happen. Does he know something I don’t? At trial I had a shitty public defender who was in way over her head. At least I found a couple of decent folks for my appeal, but the criminal justice system is in no hurry to liberate a Turkish trans woman with a big mouth and a short temper.

I got another question from him but I was done. As usual this had gone nowhere. Modern mantle clock showed three minutes left for our session. I stood up.

“I think we have a little time left.”

“Enjoy yourself,” I said, and I walked out to the lounge.

Today he didn’t ask me about my power. I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or if I should be worried, like it didn’t matter to him what I believed.

Things were pretty much how I left them, save the absence of Catherine. Kyle and Marcy were weaving brown leather belts at a small plastic table that I hated because one of the legs was uneven so it was always tipping back and forth at the slightest touch. Jonas was zoned out watching Doc McStuffins—I didn’t judge, I’d lost myself in that show, too, because it is awesome—because he said it’s the only thing they put on in here that had any Black people in it. There was some new person on the ward, a physics professor, or so I’d heard, reading a stack of books on the couch under the picture window; the story went that he had a nervous breakdown in the middle of a lecture, and started asking his students to get the roaches off of him. Most of us in here also had broken some law, so I wondered if he took out any students in the process, or if the snobby trustees at the university were just too uncomfortable to let him try outpatient therapy. I’d tried to talk to him once or twice but he couldn’t get out of his books, his fuzzy eyebrows fluttering about like anxious butterflies. Other people were here for a little while and then gone, on short three-day holds or a two-week stay until they reached a therapeutic dose of their antidepressant before they’d be sent home. They weren’t even worth talking to if you were a long-timer like me. It would be like naming a livestock animal that will eventually be sent away to the slaughterhouse. Don’t get vulnerable or you’ll be vulnerable, duh.

But in the room I saw a brand-new, hot off the presses new person, talking to the charge nurse. We didn’t usually talk to Nurse Freida because she didn’t allow it. I looked for a visitor or employee badge on his chest, and then I realized that he was one of us on the ward. He was chubby, with a goatee that was going to look pretty overgrown in a few days, and he was smiling. Like, not fake smiling. This intrigued me, as did his pretty little hands. A shot bounced around my head—what if he’s trans? I guessed he stood at about five-seven. I shuffled a little closer, pretending to be interested in the magazine rack because OMG what could People have in it this week that I suddenly need to read—and try to hear his voice. Is it froggy trans guy voice?

I don’t think I’ve ever been this excited to maybe meet a transmasculine dude, ever, but in this cesspool I was willing to give it a shot. Hopefully he wouldn’t be one of those “You don’t understand the lesbian community like I do” assholes.

I couldn’t quite hear him, so I gave up all pretense and walked up to him and the nurse.

“Hi, I’m Jenna,” I said, sticking my hand out at him. Information retreival in action.

“I’m Thomas,” he said, shaking my hand. Firm grip, not mushy or clammy. Eight points out of ten on the greeting. Voice was in the male range but not anywhere approaching deep bass. I decided on the spot that he was definitely trans.

Nurse Frieda was not messing around with me, though.

“Jinn, do you need something?”

“Just saying hello. I’m enacting good social skills, I thought you liked that sort of thing.”

Thomas cracked another smile. I was going to like this guy. We could be besties.

Nurse Frieda took a half step toward me, cutting me off from the newbie.

“I appreciate that. You can speak to him later. Thank you.”

“Enjoy Nurse Frieda while you can,” I said, walking away.

I headed back to my room and flopped on my bed, which rattled and clanged in protest. I shared a room with Kyle, and fortunately we were both pretty tidy. Under my mattress I kept my journal, which I had to encode otherwise Doctor Shithead would read it and use it against me. I was working up a spell to break out of here, and after careful thought and consideration had decided that a flood would be my best option. I stared at the ceiling tiles for a quick minute, then dug the book out from my bed. Trapped in its pages was a contraband pencil. I should have hidden the pencil somewhere else but then it’s not convenient for me to write in the journal when I had the time. And all they could do is take it from me.

I curled up in the corner of my mattress, leaning against the wall, and then I pulled out a magazine article from Time that I snagged earlier this morning. The staff never noticed because they cut out the pieces they think we can’t handle, but nobody documents which pages are gone and which should be there. If they were gonna be nazis about our reading they should at least notate shit like the third reich did. Amateurs.

This article about wiccans and Stonehenge was, I decided, the last piece I needed for my spell, though of course I did require a few physical objects to make the spell happen. But I’d figured out where to get those, it was the chant that I’d had trouble with so far.

I read the article carefully, circling a few words in the piece that made their own secret sentence only I could unscramble.

I began writing. I could taste the anticipation of breaking out later that night.

Third letter, first letter, second, fourth, fifth, then repeat for each word I wrote down. Second line, reverse. Third line, backwards and skip every other letter, then I wrote them at the end, which was the front. Done.

I sat up straighter, looking at my spell. I flipped the pencil over in my fingers, a little memory of second grade coursing through me when I first learned pencil finger tricks, and I smiled. I’d be ready tonight. I’d have to do it before the room doors locked at 9:00 PM, which would give me two and a half hours after dinner finished.

I can do it.

I put the pencil in a long horizontal gap behind the baseboard under my bed, and I slipped the journal into my pillowcase. Lunch would start soon so I’d be locked out of my room. Venturing back into the lounge/nonlounge I saw that all of my ward mates had latched onto Thomas like leeches in a warm pond. He looked overwhelmed.

“Back off, back off, honestly, give a man some space,” I said, pulling him away toward the French doors that led to the garden outside. It was a pretty day—bright, light green new growth on the hedge, two squirrels chittering over an acorn. A few wispy clouds cruised high in the sky.

I released him after I’d gotten us away from the swarm.

“There you go,” I said.

“Thanks,” he said. He’d felt very soft under his summer weight chartreuse sweater and I thought that if he was on testosterone, it wasn’t working very well for him.

“So what brings you here?” I asked like I was some kind of entertainment director. I could point him to all of the wonderful amenities here, like the painstakingly laid black and white tile floor, or the mysterious sack of leather belt pieces, ready for weaving whenever the urge struck. Or perhaps he’d be interested in the classic children’s literature section of the book shelf, with any and all swear words meticulously blackened out by the staff. I awaited his answer.

“I tried to kill myself.”

“Well, you didn’t manage it, I suppose.”

“I suppose not.”

“Well good. Did you try to kill yourself because you’re trans?”

“Because I’m what?”

Benny, one of the orderlies, ushered him away and made a face at me.

“Thomas, have a seat over here. Jinn is a good guy but he doesn’t always understand when he’s hurting somebody’s feelings.”

“I’m not a guy,” I yelled over to Benny. “Good greased pig don’t make me wipe you out in my flood, Benny.”

Benny helped Thomas sit down and then came over to me.

“Don’t wipe me out in your flood, please.”

I told him I’d consider it. Overall I liked Benny but he was a bit of a nervous mother hen. Lots of puffy fluttering over nothing.

By lunchtime fat clouds had rolled in. It was fine by me if everyone thought I was a joke, that this was a regular layer of cumulous cover. I knew it was final preparation for my spell. I suffered through an hour of group therapy, trying not to make eye contact with Spiegelman lest he sucker me into a game of Connect Four before dinner. I couldn’t say no to him and I didn’t know why. Maybe it was because he wore a series of homemade knit sweater vests with reindeer or bunnies or moose on them. What did a man like that have to look forward to?

Thomas didn’t say much in the group—it was standard practice to leave newbs alone the first few sessions of group. I listened to Kyle moan on and on about his abusive father and permissive mother. Marcy twirled her auburn hair and talked about never wanting to leave the security of this place. I couldn’t comprehend how she could feel that way. Catherine was back among us, looking hollowed out from earlier, saying she was plain numb. I wanted to give her a hug. Catherine never got any visitors, like me.

Maybe Thomas wasn’t trans, I thought, which was a disappointment and a little bit of a relief. Then a roll of thunder cracked above us. It was my signal, and the end of group. We were dismissed by the social worker, a lovely woman with the unfortunate name of Henrietta.

I dashed back to my room and ripped the spell out of my journal. I was ready, so ready.

Lightning brightened the air for a second and the next clap of thunder echoed through the room. Two people shrieked; even the nurses on shift looked a little nervous.

I walked to the French doors, which had started clattering in the push pull of the wind.

“I call to my sisters, my ancestors, my goddesses,” I said.

“Jinn, settle down,” said Benny.

“I call to my mother and her mother and the mother before her.”

I didn’t really need my piece of paper. I could feel the magic swarming around my fingers and palms.

“Jinn, you need to calm down and come over here,” said Nurse Frieda in her most authoritative voice.

“I call on the waters of the earth to cleanse this space. I call on the movement of the air to purify and rush in. Take down the gates, take down the doors, take down the devils that bind us.”

“We need to sedate him,” I heard the nurse say. I needed to finish my spell before they could pierce me.

“I call upon the waters and the women from before me to release me, release us, with my life I pray, bring yourselves upon us.”

The doors flew open, pushed aside by a rolling wave that covered the dingy tile, rolled over the furniture, swept away the staff, lifting them off their feet and rolling them over in somersaults, back to the far end of the ward. But the water didn’t knock me down, even though it was past my knees. And it didn’t chill me, even though I could tell it was frigid. I looked back and saw the other patients in a corner of the room, with Jonah in front holding back the tide. I’d always guessed he had some magic in him.

I strode into the dark outside, feeling the spray of the rain on my face, and although nobody could hear me over the storm, I knew what I’d said.

I am out of here, motherfuckers.




Categories: ev's writing, Writing


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