Episode 14


Kildegarde, Philadelphia

Group Therapy

A gathering of about a dozen bedraggled individuals sat on folding chairs arranged in a circle like the faces of a clock. At hours three through seven, three black girls, one white-passing Latina, and a gender non-conforming South Asian person, huddled in their oversized Kildegarde hoodies trying not to be noticed. At twelve o’clock was a man who had a passing resemblance to Richard Gere at his sexiest-which is to say at any stage of life once he’d gone grey-and a zen temperament to match. Dr. Vanderbilt, a psychotherapist with a specialization in trauma and addiction, was the kind of head shrink anybody would love to have if recovery was on their mind. When it wasn’t…he was more of an obstacle to a timely release than anything really useful. He had been blocking Lea’s efforts to get the fuck out of Kildegarde, PA and back to civilization before her hair turned grey. She’d rock that shit better than Vanderbilt, but she wasn’t looking forward to it. This was her sixth in-patient experience in as many years. Someday they’d figure out drugs weren’t the problem. Drugs were the only solution she had.

She sighed into the neck of her hoodie and flicked at the lint on her plain pyjama pants. She didn’t see much use in getting really dressed if she was only going from group to the rec room and back to bed.

Dr. Vanderbilt adjusted his glasses over his kind cow eyes. “This is your sixth session, Lea. Would you like to share some of your past experiences?” The same question he’d asked her for weeks. She was just here to satisfy the terms of her plea deal. Nothing was going to change. Nothing in the world changed.

“You don’t want to hear what I’ve been through,” she said when she saw his patience was starting to fray around the edges. She didn’t want him mad at her. He was about the only person with power over her who hadn’t written her off as shit on day one.

“That’s why you’re here, to talk about what you’ve been through. We’re here to share our experiences to show that we’re not alone.”

“Suffering is a team sport,” she intoned, voice high-pitched and falsely bright. “Love it!”

Dr. Vanderbilt cocked a brow at her. She thought she saw a smile but she wasn’t going to push it. “Onwards, then. Don’t think I won’t ask again.”

“Looking forward to it, Doc.”

“Siddha, would you like to go next?”

Sid winced but answered anyway. “Not if she’s not going. Why should I spill my guts when she never does? Why should any of us? What makes her so special?”

Siddha, who preferred Sid but hadn’t got up the guts to tell the doctor as much, seethed. They was always seething mad about some injustice or another, few of them ever those directed at themself. Sid sat at ten o’clock to Lea’s two. They wore fuzzy socks on their feet and had opted for one of those hospital robes that made them look like the psych facility patient they were all pretending not to be. Sid was self-destructive, a perpetually recovering alcoholic, a cokehead, a chronic self-harmer. They hated who they were, and how the world treated them, and showed that in all the ways they put themeslves last on the list of people who needed to be defended. It showed in the long thin scar that sliced the brown skin of their throat. How desperate do you have to be to try to slit your own throat? How much pain must a person think they deserved to try that?

Lea liked Sid and Sid’s dark sense of humor and their gift for sneaking contraband in their binder. Lea did not like how much Sid hated themself. There wasn’t a thing in them to hate; the world had taught them different. The world was wrong.

“When I was twelve, my family died. My sister killed them,” Lea said to redirect the conversation when Sid had started to fidget.

“What was your family like?” Manuela, at eight o’clock, asked her.

“Whacked. Into some real weird shit and….they were pervs, druggies. Kiddie diddlers and whatever, but they were my family.”

“They hurt you.” Wallace, this time. Trans dude. Shy. Great smile. Lea wished she could hold his hand. She didn’t hold hands, though that wasn’t her thing when anybody asked.

“Hurt a bunch of kids. Dunno if they got to her, but she got mad and she started taking people out, left and right. I was there and I just remember the smell of the house burning. Grass burning. Food burning. Sheets burning. I don’t remember much screaming, which is so weird, because there must have been screaming. People don’t just stand there and die, right? I think about it all the time and I dream about it sometimes and I think I can imagine what it would have been like to hear them scream. And it’s sort of comforting. That’s weird. I know it’s weird.

“And I know my family was backwards as shit. They were so fucked. They were religious nutjobs. Believed in…in the end of the world and all that shit. But they were my family and she killed them.”

Sid shifted on their hard plastic chair. “You mad at her for it?”

“I should be. I’m mad that they’re gone, but I’m not mad she got us out. I miss her too much to be mad. I wish she was here so I could tell her that. She must think we hate her when she’s the best thing that ever happened to us.”

“Your family was on that cult shit, huh?” asked Manuela.



“Zodiac. We believe that our stars are our guides.”

“Still do?”

“I don’t know what I believe anymore. I don’t know if there’s anything worth believing in and if it is, it doesn’t care about me. I wouldn’t be here if it cared about me.”

“Maybe you are here because something gives a damn,” offered Sid. “You could be dead with everybody else. You could be in a ditch. You’re alive and that means there’s still time to get better and find hope.”

“When you gonna apply that good advice to yourself.”

Sid bristled. “My sister didn’t kill my family.”

“No, but they almost killed you. That makes them trash.”

“They sent me here to help me. They love me.”

“Love is not a promise of perfect treatment. They can love you and be ashamed of you at the same time.”

“Fuck you!”

“So what? Fuck me, I don’t hate you. I don’t think you’re stupid or ugly or fat or lazy. I know what you’re like and what you’re worth and that’s so much more credit than they give you. We all know what you’re worth. You’re awesome.”

Sid withdrew and hugged their knees. “Whatever.”

“I don’t care if you believe me. Just wait till I tell you every day. You’re going to wanna stab me after I’m done telling you how much I like you.”

Sid grunted, looking spooked and unsure. “You don’t like anybody.”

“I’m not a cliché, but thanks for that.” Lea rolled her eyes. “Can we make a deal, y’all? No bullshit. Tell Sid they’re the shit, so we can move on.”

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