Walking down the stark, dreary corridor, I sift my memory for anything recognizable. Nothing is familiar, and if it were, these halls showed nothing for it, distanced far from my mind by both time and will power. We stop at an unfinished, unwelcoming wooden door, the receptionist giving it a sturdy beating.
Without shame, she looks at me, her eyes scrutinizing me from head to toe. Her look is almost one of disgust. I look away, pretending not to be bothered.
“Here we are, Ms. Menet,” she snapped.
Peering back, I was close enough to see a glimpse of a simply scripted Harry on the nape of my escort’s neck. It is hard to imagine anyone getting close to that woman. At the moment, I certainly was not feeling any warm and fuzzy sentiments. Those distracting insights were cut short as the door in front of me opened.
We are greeted with a flash of a smile belonging to a short, plump woman. After a quick, “Hello, how are you, dear?”, and without waiting for a response, she waddles toward a sloppy, leaning tower of towels and other unrecognizable items.
Carmel. I see her name stitched, barely visible, on her blouse just below the collar. Out of this vast confusion of used goods, she picks what she thinks is suitable for me, and I am handed a gray, drab gown. I quickly grab it, avoiding any more unnecessary eye contact, as shivers prickle down the back of my spine.
I can’t do it. Of course I can’t, well I mean, I just could not do that again. I have no choice.
My unhappy chaperone, glad to release me into someone else’s capable hands, abruptly exists the room, leaving me alone. I know I’m not alone. I have to do it.
“Honey, uh, Joelle, is it? You, honey, are gonna need to put that there gown on, and take these here pills before we start,” she insists as she passes me a dixie cup and points to a change stall in the corner of the room.
All of a sudden, the scene before me plays in my mind, and I see myself walking toward Carmel. There is a cup. Déjà vu, I think they call it. Now I am walking, no, I am floating, toward her. She is talking to me- I see her lips moving.
“Sugar, you’re looking pale. You ok?”
My world in slow motion is gone. I compliantly grab the cup and peer at the two pearls rolling on the bottom, hoping that they will tranquilize my shaking nerves. My dixie cup has yellow bubbles of faces smiling at me. Nice. Smiling, happy faces looking at me: a shameful, unworthy soul.
What the hell. I knock the pills back in one quick act of denial, pushing my thoughts aside. Last time, these so called prescribed medications did not do a thing. Last time.. yes, it should have been the last time.
“Darlin’, you got yourself there some ten or so minutes to get dressed. Then we’ll get started,” Carmel mumbled, more to herself than to me.
“Alright, ten minutes,” I murmured back, into the air. Never again.
The change stall, really just a flimsy piece of cloth, remains the only barrier between Carmel and I. Looks like an old bed sheet to me.
Slowly, I tease off my loose soccer jersey, the garment pulling the rest of my hair out of what was once a hair-do. I place the elastic around my wrist and tousle my hair in my hands. The release makes me feel a bit better.
A moment later, I am out of my jeans and into the gown. My long legs are freckled and slightly gangly; they appeared as if they still belong to a child. An inch lower I forcefully will the gown to go, tugging at the bottom. I am transformed.
Joelle, this is it. This is the last time. I was that girl, the girl in the gown, just two years ago. And like a blind person who knows how to find a way through the dark, my hand knowingly glides down my body until it rests on the small swelling below that only I could notice.
Behind that thin curtain-cum-sieve, the memories make their way in.