No one has told me where group meets, but as I pass the north hall I see Ginny and JoAnne hovering outside a door near the end of the hall. I know they both are Rosenberg/Butler patients, so I turn and go to meet them.
“Am I early?” I ask, thinking the door is locked, like everything else around here.
Ginny giggles in an uncomfortable way. “No, he’s in there. Just no one wants to go in first.”
“I’ll go,” I begin, but JoAnne stops me.
“You don’t want to do that. He always notices and then you’ll be in for it.” As I wonder what she means by that, she grinds out her cigarette—at that time smoking was allowed everywhere, even in hospitals—in the ashtray attached to the wall. She’s not really supposed to be smoking in the hall; by the rules it’s only allowed in the common room. That’s a rule, however, that all the smokers break.
“I’ll do it,” she says. “He’s going to get me anyway.” She opens the door and goes in.
By that time a cluster of other patients has arrived and we all troop into the group room after JoAnne. Aside from the excess of chairs, all drawn up in a circle, it could be any living room. There’s a big coffee table in the middle and a few occasional tables, complete with plastic plants, arranged around the walls. Most of the chairs are the folding type, but there are a few comfortable armchairs, which are quickly claimed. I find a place in the corner of an overstuffed sofa and sink into it, hoping not to be noticed.
Dr. Butler is standing in front of one of the armchairs. He is a tall, lean man with a James Bond aura: craggy-featured and immaculate in his dark suit and tie. I think that he and Dr. Rosenberg couldn’t be more different if they had planned it that way, and for all I know they did. I will learn later that they also have the game of good cop/bad cop down to a fine art. But I do not watch much television, so at the time I do not recognise the strategy.
When we have all filed in and found places he sits and picks up a stack of charts from the end table at his elbow. There is a moment of tense silence; everyone but me knows what is coming. I look up into Dr. Butler’s eyes in the instant before I realise no one else dares to, and I see something cold there. Quickly, I look at the ground.
“So JoAnne,” he begins without preamble. “I hear you had some trouble over the weekend.”
“If you mean that I fell off the wagon, yeah, I did.” JoAnne is trying hard to stand her ground, but everyone can hear the tremor in her voice.
“And why did that happen?”
“The same reason it always happens. The husband, the kids. They want too much from me. Hell, I’m in a mental hospital. You’d think they could give me a break once in a while. But no, it’s do this and do that and why can’t you. And then my mother joins in with all her bitching and moaning and wanting me to make things right for her. I just want a little peace and quiet.”
I think what JoAnne has described sounds very familiar and I can see why she might turn to the bottle for solace, the same way I turn to cutting myself although I know it’s self-destructive. I think her family need to learn to stand on their own collective feet instead of making JoAnne the scapegoat for whatever is going on with them.
But Dr. Butler says, “JoAnne, you know you can’t get better if you don’t follow the program. That means no drinking. You can’t blame your family for what is essentially your problem.”
“Well, how is she supposed to solve her problems if her family won’t back off?” Ginny cuts in with some asperity. I’m surprised; she’s always struck me as timid.
“You know what we keep telling you. You can’t change others. You can only change yourself.”
I can see the sense in this but it still makes me want to scream. How do you change yourself if no one is held accountable for what they’ve done to you? Just up and leave? Sometimes that’s not so easy.
Like a snake darting, Butler focuses his gaze on Ginny. “And how was your weekend?”
“Oh, it was great.” Even I can hear the false note in her voice. “Lance and I didn’t fight at all. I think he’s getting excited about the baby, finally.”
“So you had nothing to be crying about when you came off pass.”
There is, as I have mentioned, no privacy here. I knew Ginny had lain in bed crying again Sunday night. So did JoAnne, but neither of us would have told. It was probably the night nurse.
Ginny’s face crumples. “Yeah, he’s getting excited about the baby, but now he’s talking about taking it away from me. He says a kid shouldn’t have a crazy mother. But I think a kid shouldn’t have a dad who hits on his mother whenever his socks aren’t folded right.”
“Right on, girl,” says a large black woman I don’t know.
“So what are you going to do about that?” Butler asks in an almost threatening tone, as if not having a plan would mark Ginny down for some dire punishment.
“What can I do? I can’t leave Lance! I have nowhere to go, and besides, I love him.”
“Now that is crazy,” says Dominick from my OT group.
“Don’t call me crazy!” Ginny snaps back.
“Ginny, you’re getting hysterical. If you can’t control yourself, we may have to cut back on privileges.” Butler cuts in just as she’s getting going.
I’m shocked. Hysterical? I know hysterical, and Ginny isn’t even in the outskirts of that city. I decide I have to watch what I say to this man very carefully and not let my emotions run away with me, no matter how much I might be prodded.
And that’s how group goes. One by one, Butler reduces us all to tears and then threatens us with taking away privileges—visiting rights, walking passes, weekends out—if we don’t fall into line. The only one he leaves alone is me. I sit through the whole hour trembling in fear that he’s going to ask about my weekend, but he doesn’t. Even he respects the taboo surrounding Annie’s suicide attempt. Or maybe I’m just so new that he doesn’t have anything on me yet.
I’m wrong about that. When group finally ends, after what seems like much more than an hour, I remember that I have to ask him about the special diet. I swallow and wait for everyone else to leave before I face him.
“Katie, isn’t it?” His voice is almost kind, but having witnessed group I know better than to trust it.
“Yes, I need to ask you…”
“You’re the one who doesn’t eat.”
That again. Is that how I’m going to be known here? Katie who doesn’t eat? “Well, there’s a reason for that, you see…”
“You know, there’s a name for that. Anorexia Nervosa.” I can almost hear the ominous minor chord in his voice.
I want very much to roll my eyes. I know about Anorexia—a girl in my school was Anorexic—and I know I don’t have it. I may not eat as much as other people think is good for me, but after years of being teased for being fat, who can blame me?
“I’m not Anorexic. I’m hypoglycemic and a vegetarian. I can’t eat the food on my tray. I need a special diet.”
“Who told you you were hypoglycemic?”
“My pediatrician. He had tests done…”
“Well, I think we’ll have to repeat those tests just to be sure. I’ll put you down for a five hour glucose tolerance in the next day or two. In the meantime, try to eat a little more.”
I see red for an instant. I’m beginning to feel like all this emphasis on my eating is a vast conspiracy to make me gain back the twenty-five pounds I lost over the past year—pounds that took me from the realm of hideous fatty to just about bearable to look at. I know better than to say anything, however. I don’t want to get into a power struggle over my weight—that really would make people think I was Anorexic. Anyway, Dr. Butler has already smiled his shark’s smile and left.