We sprawled out on the floor between the beds, squeezed hands, and then rolled over so we could scoot underneath our respective mattresses. The light from the hallway flooded the otherwise darkroom. Each of us had a single crayon clutched in a fist; mine was red, Shauna’s was purple.
“What should we write?” I stared up at the bottom of my mattress, squinting in the low light.
“Ourselves,” she replied simply. “Shauna. Was,” she dictated as she wrote each word. “Here.”
I raised the crayon above me in the small space and pressed it down against the white fabric. It seemed to me, in that moment, like the words I would write were very important. They would be there forever, while I would most certainly not be.
Slowly, carefully, I began to write.
Shauna was one of those cute preppy girls I would never have been friends with outside the eating disorder treatment center. On that first day, I sat sullenly on my bed, resenting her mere existence in what had been a single room for me for two whole days. She sat on her bed, staring at me, her feet dangling over the edge and swinging back and forth in a way that made her entire body bounce—all the way to her curly blonde cheerleader ponytail.
I raised an eyebrow.
“I figured.” I pulled my book back out from under my pillow and started reading.
“That’s rude,” she informed me, flopping back across her mattress.
I didn’t respond.
“What do we do for fun here?”
I blinked in her direction, slowly. “We aren’t here for fun…” I let my voice trail off in a way that indicated my feelings on how ridiculous she was.
Shauna sat up, leaning on one arm, and glared at me. “I’m going back out where the couches are,” she informed me before flouncing off.
This continued for a few days; after meals, I would read on my bed and she would loiter in the couch area, talking to anybody and everybody but me. Which was fine with me. I preferred my space solo. I talked to people when I had to, but I avoided it as often as I could. When they took us to the cafeteria for our three meals a day, I stuck to the back of the line and I sat by myself. Because I could. Because it felt right.
Or maybe not right, so much as appeasing. Maybe I was just afraid.
After we had been roommates for a week or so, Shauna stood in the doorframe one day and folded her arms in front of her chest.
“So, I mean, obviously. No one wants to be here and all. But you could at least try and have fun once in a while. Get out. Do things other than read.”
I laid my book down across my lap, still open. “Why would I want to do that?”
“Oh, I don’t know.” She rolled her eyes. “To maybe get out of here at some point?”
“I don’t see how my hanging out on a bunch of couches is going to get me out of here any faster than sitting on my bed reading a book is.”
“It shows initiative.” She sat down on her bed, staring at me. When I didn’t answer she asked, “What are you reading?”
I picked the book up and turned it so she could see the cover.
“Speak. Good book.”
I nodded, wishing she would let me get back to it.
“That’s it!” She got back up, snatched the book out of my hand, and tossed it back on my bed.
“Come on.” She tugged on my shirt sleeve.
“What? Where?” This was the most words I had said to any one person the entire duration of my stay.
“Out. About. Be here.”
I reluctantly got up and followed Shauna out to the bay of couches, where we perched in front of the television that was playing some crazy cartoon show I had never seen before. I folded into a corner, holding a pillow to my chest and staring at the television while the other girls stared at me. Shauna was talking to everyone, and I admired her for it. The easy way that she could just float in and out of the conversation. I wanted to be like that. Better.
On the third day Shauna pulled me out into the bay of couches, I didn’t put up a fight. I even put down the pillow and attempted conversation.
Sometimes all it takes to get the ball rolling is a little push.
Sliding back out from under our mattresses, we crawled up into our beds and pulled the covers around us.
“Good night,” I told her, staring out the window through the bars at the stars beyond.
“Good night,” Shauna replied.
When I got up the next morning, she had left for her therapy appointment. She never came back; I never got to say goodbye, and I never saw her again. That’s the way it is with some people, I think. They flit in and out of your lives so quickly it is almost like they were never there, but they leave a change behind that is permanent. I knew Shauna a short time, but she changed me.
The words I had written on the underside of my mattress the night before echoed through my head that entire day, and for many afterwards.
I am here, and I will love myself today, tomorrow, and forever.