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I lay on the floor of my messy room, watching the bright colors on the fan blades spin. Two weeks into summer vacation and already there was nothing to do. This was bad.
I brought myself to clean my room. Suddenly, I couldn’t sit still. And before I knew it, there was nothing on the floor. I kept doing household chores until there was nothing left.
That’s how I ended up searching all of the drawers of the kitchen for any source of entertainment. That’s how I got a hold of a long-necked lighter, the kind used for birthday candles.
Something, someone else took over. It started with a paer towel in the sink. Then some card board. A few old pieces of paper. My parents came home to see me watching a little toothpick house burn in a pile of ash. I admit, it looked pretty bad.
But not as bad as they made it.
A few days, a couple of serious conversations and a pile of paper work later, I was packing my bags for Clear Waters Institute for Troubled Teens.
Ever tried packing your life into a suitcase? It’s hard. I had no idea how long I was going to be gone, so I packed carefully. Plenty of clothes, my favorite jacket, and a few things that actually mattered. I packed my iPod, headphones, pictures, a notebook, and a pen.
Dad drove me. We drove up the mountain until there was no service, him reminding me the whole way that this was for my own good and that I would be home soon. We stopped at a fairly nice building, surrounded by tall pines and a small lake a short hike away.
A few people watched us pull in, apparently enjoying the fresh air. Too many looked as if they wanted to kill me, and one boy was having a heated conversation with himself. I shuddered. How did I end up here?
Dad wasn’t allowed in. A nurse led me to a stern looking woman in a security uniform. I was forced to give up my suitcase and watch as she took my belongings, telling me how each of them could harm me or others. My clothes could offend people. Someone could be strangled on my cables; my picture frames could be smashed and used as shanks. I could have them back when I received the green light. At least no one would give others ink poisoning and fatal paper cuts. How would I survive!
The nurse made me change into loose, white, one-size-fits-all scrubs and took me to my room. The hallway we were in gave me some hopeful glances of kids laughing and playing games.
But I wasn’t staying in Meadow Ward.
I was headed to Sunset Ward.
It wasn’t nearly as inviting.
My room had three other bunks in it. They all looked occupied. One girl lay on her back, muttering to herself. My bed was underneath hers.
I had just enough time to sit down before it was time for lunch. I grabbed a tray and shuffled through the line. Spaghetti. And salad. I noticed that all of the utensils were plastic.
“Hey! New kid!” I turned to see a boy my age waving frantically at me.
I sat next to him. Two other kids sat at the table. One stared at me uncomfortably, a girl who looked a bit older than me. A 13 year old boy was scribbling random symbols furiously on a piece of paper.
I tried my food. The spaghetti was undercooked. The salad was okay.
“Phil Wheatherby, 14 year old suicidal bipolar freak show and recurring patient here at Murky Waters.” The first boy told me, holding out his hand for me to shake. “What chu in for?”
“I’m Marie Seaney, 14. I lit a bunch of toothpicks on fire.”
“Oh, a budding pyro? Been a while since we had one of you around.” He began to introduce his friends. “This is Emily. In her mind, sounds have colors.” He said it like it was something magical.
“It’s called synesthesia.” Emily scolded, and then turned to me. “Your voice is orange, like the morning sun.”
“Um, thank you?” I replied, not sure how to respond.
“And Thomas thinks aliens want to kill us and harvest our brains.”
Thomas looked up, smiled a half-hearted smile, and continued scribbling.
“So, you set toothpicks on fire. Noob.” I didn’t take Phil’s comment very offensively. “Most recently I tried to jump out my tenth story apartment window.”
“Pleasant.” He went on to describe life at Clear Waters, and even gave me a tour after lunch.
Afterwards, we talked in the library. An idea popped into my head, itching to get out.
“Ever just try lighting yourself on fire?” I asked.
“Sounds painful,” Phil looked at me, not judging but with a look of pure acceptance. “Maybe you are just as f---ed up as the rest of us.”
I laughed. This might not be as bad as I thought.