I’m sorry I haven’t contacted you in so long: I know we said that we’d write every week to make sure I was still coping outside the centre, but my former emotions overwhelmed me as soon as I returned home.
Four months. Four months in that bleak and dismal prison, trapped by boredom and nurses and schedule, hurled between private counselling and group therapy, and I never told you. I never told you what had led me to fritter away my existence in that abominable, stagnant, festering sore of a clinic, filled with ‘emotionally distressed young adults’. I never told you about my room.
Loss. Total and unbearable loss – that’s what I feel – all I can feel – whenever I approach it, thinking of her. Matilda. Those beautiful three syllables, like intoxicated fairies dancing on your tongue…
When we first found it, that ramshackle old air-raid shelter, built into the gentle slope of the river bank, wrapped up in a blanket of turf, it seemed as if we had stumbled upon Narnia! Our very own magical kingdom, a secret room where imaginings could crash into reality. That room, embellished by our adventures, exists nearly more in my mind than in real life now, even as I sit here at this very moment, writing to you in this dark and musty child-trap, I barely recognise its existence.
Do you remember if I told you there was a river at the bottom of my garden? Anyway, there is: more of a stream in all honesty, probably about as wide as the corridor leading from your room at the centre to Janice’s office- the lair of the ‘chief juvenile psychoanalyst’. A sluggish, wretchedly slow river, constantly viewed in sepia tones of muddy grey, reminding one of the
Styx if ever such a river existed. Now, if you managed to squelch through it for a few minutes, clamber up the bank till you reached a thin ridge, then kept trudging along for roughly half a mile, you got to the shelter.
It didn’t look like anything much from outside, just some sort of oversized badger set, but inside, once we’d taken over, it was magnificent. From floor to ceiling, stunning, enthralling faces from all our favourite novels begged us to join their stories, promising us safety from the rest of the cruel world. Those drawings, once seeming so vivid, vibrant with vitality in rainbow crayon splendour on A3 paper, now yellowing, peel and flake off the walls in disgust at what the room has become. Imperceptibly slowly, the shelter has begrudgingly sunk into disrepair since I left, like one of those ancient Roman towns, which began as a roaring market place, but eventually gave in to the deathless march of time.
I hate to go there now, but the memories linger on, poignant, breathtakingly innocent and pure. Despite my intense loathing of that place, I am drawn back there, like a fish to the lure, every single day, just as when we went together, laughing and playing, for minutes which lasted lifetimes, hoisting ourselves onto the pirate ship of the mahogany chest of drawers, or seeing legends unfold as we stared at the light-marbled sloping ceiling, lit by the gold-precious scented candles from her dining room. And then, we would go back to school the next day with a knowing look between us, of our secret room. And so I still sit there for hours, utterly alone, but transfixed by memories of what used to be.
We tried to meet at least twice daily to turn that old, decrepit hulk into something ethereal. My worthiest offering to this sacrificial temple was the carpet. Mottled blues and greens intertwine with opulent magenta hues arrange themselves into flowing forms of trellised vines, cradling blooms of the Platonic rose. Threadbare patches from concurrent nights of story-telling dapple the fabric. Every few steps, it folds over itself, exhausted from the effort of forcing its monstrous bulk into the elven hollow.
The workmen had dumped the carpet out on the front drive. My parents had gone out to dinner, presumably to celebrate the fitting of the new carpet in the living room. Treading carefully, I heaved the carpet onto my shoulders and snuck away with that shepherd’s floral waste, under the little bridge facing my house, wading through the river, then up the mud-stained, grass patchwork slope, half-running, half-falling until I collapsed into the shelter with the soaking wet rag. Matilda had already arrived, and, on seeing my bedraggled form struggling to hold this mountainous mound of a carpet, over twice my size then, she transformed into a cackling hyena for around ten minutes before she finally helped me to lay it down.
Every day we met there. Every day for seven years. And I still go there, but it is a painful experience now, to see the paint we so cunningly stole from the art department crumble away to nothing; to see the rain pile in and drown the furniture, drown the happiness, drown her memory, killing, killing, killing. I look up now as I write this, and I see the mould encrusted ceiling, and the farmyard themed cabinet with its woodworm infested pastel pigs and sheep, glowing in the torchlight, casting all I see in its harsh reality. The childhood comforts now show pure malice. I can still sense her, even now! I can hear her footsteps approaching, tantalising, teasing, I can feel the warmth of her breath, smell the lavender of the fresh candles she brings from home to ‘enrich the ambience’, and, if I close my eyes, I can see her face, but not her beautiful, carefree smile. I see only the tortured, bloody, contorted scream of the girl, left over from when, as I crept over the top of the shelter, crawling so she wouldn’t see my approach, the earth took her back, swallowing her whole, crushing her body and my soul.
I don’t know why they let me out.
How can I become better? How can I fix my mind, my life, my room? The only thing that could improve that disgusting hovel of a wreck would be to burn it down, paint myself with flames, to be with her as ashes and dust. Everything is beyond repair.
I’m so sorry
. Goodbye. Bethany