***Please note that this one is quite a bit rougher than my usual style, but it serves the plot of the series.***
Continued from Part 2 Confusion
Part 3 Welcome to The Institute
It was about 2 weeks after I was found naked in Central Park with missing memories, when the buzzer rang. I was home alone. Jenny was at work, and I was trying to keep busy.
Even though I’d managed several nights now without valium, my new therapist wasn’t ready to ok my returning to work. My therapist actually wanted me to go see a neurologist, thinking that I may have suffered an undiagnosed concussion the night of the animal attack.
“Hello?” I said into the intercom since I wasn’t expecting anyone.
*Hi we’re from ~~~~~ insti~~~~, can we ~~~ up and tal~~~*
“I’m sorry I didn’t catch that, there was a lot of static,”
*Diana ~~~son? 6 weeks ago ~~~~~ attacked~~~~~. We are wit~~~~, can we come ~~~~ talk with you?*
“Yeah, I’ll buzz you up.” I said, giving up on actually finding out who they were till they got inside since whoever they were they already seemed to know who I was.
“Hi.” The friendly red haired lady said when I answered the door. “I’m Stephanie, and this is Gerald, feel free to call me Steph. We’re from the Jaager Institute and Retreat Center. We got a report that you were attacked by an unidentified wild animal a month and a half ago, and also were found unconscious in Central Park a couple of weeks ago.”
On an intellectual level, I knew that I should be cautious about sharing information with random strangers claiming to be from some organization I had never heard of, but I just really felt like I could trust them. Even with the hypersensitivity to smell fading, I still noticed they smelled like family.
“Yes, that’s correct.” I said, stepping back and holding the door wide for them to enter, “Come in please. How can I help you?”
“Actually, we thought we might be able to help you.” Steph said as she and Gerald settled onto the sofa. “The Jaager Institute and Retreat Center is dedicated to helping victims of wild animal attacks with recovery and long term support.”
“We’d like to invite you to one of our support group retreats the week after next.” Gerald volunteered with a smile.
We sat and chatted for ages. Strange as the whole thing was, it felt amazingly natural. I was able to open up about stuff I hadn’t even told my therapist yet. We were still chatting when Jenny got home.
“Hi Diana.” Jenny said cautiously when she saw we had company as she took off her shoes and light jacket. “You didn’t mention you’d be inviting anyone over.”
“They kind of just dropped by,” I said, possibly a little too enthusiastically. “This is Steph and Gerald from, what was the center called again?”
“The Jaager Instituted and Retreat Center.” Steph explained. “It’s a nonprofit organization for helping victims of wild animal attacks with recovery and providing long term support.”
“Really?” I could tell from Jenny’s voice that she was unimpressed. “And how exactly did you find Diana?”
“The institute keeps an eye out for situations like this.” Steph answered cryptically.
“There is going to be a retreat in a couple of weeks at the center. It’s upstate a bit north of Cooperstown. Steph and Gerald say that I can ride with them and another attendee.” I explained.
“Uhu, and are you planning to bill Diana’s insurance for this retreat?” Jenny asked suspiciously. “Because we’re having a hard enough time with them already.”
“The Jaager Institute and Retreat Center is not a medical facility, so we don’t have any contact with your insurance provider.” Steph explained.
“So you will bill her directly for services provided?”
“You don’t need to worry. The institute is fully funded through private donations.” Gerald added just as cryptically as Steph had.
“So you expect Diana to give you some kind of suggested donation to attend this retreat?” Jenny kept pressing. “She is on unpaid leave.”
“Donations are completely voluntary and not expected.” Gerald assured her. “We have some very generous beneficiaries, so it’s not necessary for attendees to pay. We just ask that they take a turn at chores like doing the dishes or cooking since the retreats don’t have staff.”
“Ok…. Can you just excuse Diana and me for a moment so we can discuss this.” Jenny steered me towards the bedroom, leaving the door cracked and positioning herself where she could see them.
After glancing at them several times to make sure they were just sitting and waiting, Jenny whispered at me, “Why did you let them into the apartment? I’m not sure if it’s a scam, or if they are in a cult, but there is something really off about them. There is no way you should be going on a retreat with them.”
The thing was that I both knew everything Jenny was saying was perfectly reasonable, but also completely wrong. “I can’t explain this to you, but I know I can trust them, and I am pretty sure I need this.”
“You’re getting better, you don’t need this. Just keep seeing Dr Stewart and I’ll keep working on getting the insurance to approve the neurologist and PT for your arm, and you can be back at work soon.” Jenny pleaded with me. “I don’t want another bad thing happening to you babe.”
“I…. it’s just… they smell right.” I knew Jenny wasn’t going to understand. She didn’t say something every single time I brought up smell, but she didn’t believe a human could just suddenly develop extremely heightened smell receptors.
“You need to stop believing that you can tell what people are thinking by how they smell.” Jenny sighed.
“UHM, EXCUSE ME, BUT WE CAN HEAR YOU.” Steph called from the couch.
Jenny let out an even more frustrated sigh as she walked back towards the livingroom, and said, “You can’t expect me to just trust you.”
“No, of course not.” Steph agreed unfazed.
Then Steph bent down, the red curls that bounced just above her shoulders swinging down and obscuring her face as she started rolling up her pant leg. She stretched out the scarred flesh for us all to see. There were dimples where deep puncture wounds must have been.
I looked down at my arm. My scar was very similar, just a little fresher, a little redder.
“I was attacked by an unidentified wild animal as a teenager after getting lost during a ski trip. The retreats have been a life saver for me, and many others.” She shared then nudged Gerald.
“I was a biology major studying bats in college doing field work. I went off away from my lab-partner to find somewhere private to pee and it jumped me from behind.” Gerald unbuttoned his shirt a bit and pulled it down revealing a fairly similar scar on his shoulder. “We just can understand what Diana is going through now in ways people who haven’t been through this can’t. We are pretty much just a support group that meets about every 4 weeks.”
“You mean once a month?” Jenny said furrowing her brow, causing Steph and Gerald to exchange a slightly nervous glance.
“Pretty much, but it doesn’t start on the same day each month.” Steph said once again back to being cryptic. “Listen, we’ll leave some information and how to contact us. Diana doesn’t have to decide right away. See how you feel in a couple of days, and give us a call if you need to get out of the city and share a few hearty meals with people who feel the same way.”
And with that, they left Jenny and I to talk about it.
“I still don’t trust them.” Jenny said after we saw them get in the elevator. “Just because they have scars that look like yours doesn’t mean they aren’t a cult or something.”
Maybe Jenny was right. Maybe I didn’t need the retreat anyway. I was feeling better, calmer. I’d probably feel even better next week.
When the next week came though, I wasn’t feeling better. The craving for meat was coming back. The desire to just walk and walk in the park was coming back. I was becoming more irritable again, and the smells were getting overwhelming again.
It was a few nights before the retreat was scheduled, and I was back to needing valium to manage to stay vaguely calm in the evening. After dinner, I picked up the brochure from The Jaager Institute and just looked at Jenny saying nothing.
“If you think it will help, call them in the morning.” Jenny said, finally giving her blessing. “I’m still nervous, but I googled them and there aren’t any bad stories about them, so hopefully they are pretty harmless. I’d rather you stay here and work with Dr Stewart, but you’re an adult and get to make your own decisions.”
The morning of the first night of the retreat, Steph and Gerald along with another guy, Tom, picked me up in a minivan. Tom seemed to be a friendly but quiet guy, who looked to be in his early to mid 60s. I said goodbye to Jenny and grabbed my purse and the backpack full of loose comfortable clothing and basic toiletries that they had said was all I needed to bring.
The drive up wasn’t nearly as bad as I feared it would be. Everyone had the same problem with feeling trapped in the car, so we stopped super frequently just to walk around, or to get a bite to eat. We all enjoyed having the windows down, even though it was getting into fall weather.
I felt so much less crazy too. Everyone talked about the scents they were catching. On one of the stops to walk, Gerald suddenly chased a squirrel till it bounded up a tree.
Eventually we turned off the public roads onto a long winding private dirt road with lots of warnings against trespassing. The tall wrought iron gate that Steph had to unlock with a key was a bit intimidating, but everyone else was totally calm about it, so I put it out of my mind.
We finally pulled up to the Jaager Institute. Aside from the small sign on the front lawn, it looked like a classic gilded age Adirondack fieldstone and timber frame lodge with several out buildings. Gerald, who was taking a turn driving, pulled around the side of the lodge and parked in a small gravel lot. There were several cars there already. Along with the other New York state license plates, I saw plates from New Hampshire, Vermont, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and even Ontario.
A stunningly beautiful woman with an air of authority that I had a feeling came from more than just age came out one of the doors to the lodge to greet us. She was tall and slender with short dark hair that had a streak of gray so perfectly placed, that I wondered if it was really natural. Gerald and Tom bounded over to the woman, and shared warm greetings, before heading into the lodge. Steph walked more slowly hanging back with me.
“Steph my darling.” The woman said as she reached us and gave Steph a half hug, then left an arm draped around Steph. “And this must be the young lady you told me about.”
“Yes.” Steph said with a smile leaning into the companionable embrace. “This is Diana. Diana, this is Liz, the director of the institute and the hostess of the retreat.”
“Hi.” I said in a small voice. I knew I should say more to be polite, but I suddenly felt extremely shy.
“I’m so glad we were able to find you in time for this retreat and you agreed to come.” Liz said to me, smiling. “Hopefully it will just be the first of many retreats. This retreat, I have asked Steph to stick with you and show you the ropes. Kind of like the buddy system from camp and field trips. You’ll be her roommate for the week. Ok?”
“Yes. Thank you.” I responded as I nervously twisted the strap of my backpack.
We started walking towards the lodge. Liz still had an arm draped over Steph’s shoulder as we made the relaxed stroll.
“Steph, you still haven’t gotten a haircut.” Liz said in a motherly tone as we slowly made our way towards the lodge, and stroked her hand over Steph’s red curls. “This is getting way too long, it’s almost down to your shoulders.”
“I know I should have.” Steph said, the smell of contrition oozing off her. “I just…”
“Remember what it was like last month, it’s going to be even worse now that it’s a little longer.” Liz said.
“It looks good though, doesn’t it?” Steph asked hopefully.
“Hmmm,” Liz let out in a dubious tone and stroked Steph’s head again. “We can discuss it more tonight. Why don’t you show Diana up to your room.”
Once inside the door, Liz let her arm fall away from Steph’s shoulder and walked towards the great room, while Steph led me towards the stairs. We climbed the rustic curved stairwell to the second floor where Steph took me down the hall to a small room with a pair of twin beds, each with a pile of linen on a chair next to it.
“Why was Liz asking about your hair?” I asked a tad fearfully, maybe Jenny had been right about this being a cult and conformity was part of the brainwashing, as Steph and I were making our beds. “That’s not a rule or something is it? We don’t have to get our hair cut short, right?”
“No, it’s not a rule, just a suggestion.” Steph said lightly as she started jiggling her pillow into the pillow case. “Liz is just worried because I have trouble managing to get the tangles out of my hair when I don’t keep it short.”
“Ah,” I was relieved for myself, even though I felt bad that Steph was having a hard time with her already fairly short hair. “I had to get mine cut a few weeks ago because it had gotten so badly tangled the night in the park. It used to be about 4 inches longer with much subtler layers.”
“It looks really good the length it is.” Steph offered the wistful compliment as she regarded my chestnut hair, which now didn’t even reach the bottom of my ribcage. “I hope you can keep it unmatted.”
I sat down on the foot of the bed I’d just finished putting sheets on. I tried running my fingers through my hair and encountered numerous snarls from having rode for hours with the windows down. I thought to myself, I should probably comb it out now.
“Thanks,” I said, as I started looking for my comb. “I’ve been a little undecided about whether or not to keep it this length. Nancy in HR from my job had suggested that it might be easier for me to get to work on time looking presentable with shorter hair, and I do want to convince her I’m ready to return to work as soon as possible.”
“If you decide not to keep it that length, it will still look good shorter.”
“I meant keep it this length as opposed to growing it back out, not getting it cut shorter.” I said as I looked up from my search for my comb.
“Oh,” Steph responded, managing to sound both apologetic and doubtful at the same time.
“Hey,” a smiling person appeared at our door. “Jim’s making hot dogs.”
My stomach growled and I suddenly didn’t care about finding my comb. I looked over at Steph who was suddenly smiling and walking towards the door leaving her clothing only half unpacked and put into drawers.
“Is there anything vegetarian?” I asked out of habit as I followed.
“Do you want something vegetarian?” Steph asked, this time just doubtful.
I sighed with a touch of frustration, because I didn’t really.
After the afternoon snack, Steph and I were both pretty tired, so we took a nap. When we woke in the early evening, we got back to unpacking. I’d put all my clothing away, and was just unhappily holding the ziplock bag full of way too strong smelling toiletries, not sure what to do with them when there was a knock on the door. I got off the bed and opened the door.
“Hi, I’m here to have a little chat with Steph.” Liz said serenely.
“Ok,” my voice came out small again as the sudden shyness returned. “I’ll go find something to do, so you can have privacy.”
“Don’t fret. It’s not really private, and I’d like to have a quick word with you after.” Liz stated with the casualness that came with confidence.
She swept into the room, and went to sit on Steph’s bed, patting the seat next to her invitingly. Steph sat next to her, close, comfortable. Liz brushed her hand down Steph’s back in a rather maternal manner and leaned in close to talk with Steph. I tried to just keep to myself and pulled out my phone to play CandyCrush.
“Steph darling, why are you letting this get so long.” Liz stroked a hand through Steph’s hair. “It’s going to be so hard to manage over the retreat, you’ll be miserable by the end of it.”
“I just wanted it longer.” Steph said in a small voice. “It was stupid wasn’t it?”
“It wasn’t stupid, it’s understandable. I’ve had moments of wanting to grow mine long too.” Liz assured her. “It just never really works out well for people like us though, does it?”
“I know.” Steph conceded. “I thought maybe I could handle it down to my shoulders though. I’m so sick of looking like little orphan Annie when I don’t style it carefully.”
“You know there’s another direction you could go in that would be less Annieish. Instead of trying to grow it longer, you could get it cut shorter than you usually do.” Liz brushed some of the coppery red curls behind Steph’s ear as Steph whimpered and frowned at the suggestion.
I was keeping my head down, only sneaking occasional glances. I found myself having the strangest mix of feelings I could barely sort through. One element was easy to identify, I was relieved that Liz was having this discussion with Steph instead of me. There was a definite dread that my own long somewhat tangled hair was about to be the next topic of conversation though.
I also found that I was jealous of the intimacy that Liz was clearly sharing with Steph. I wanted to feel the tips of Liz’s fingers brushing back my hair from my face. Then I felt guilt for having those thoughts, when I had Jenny waiting for me at home.
Liz pulled the clearly unhappy Steph more closely to her, draping her arm once again over Steph’s shoulders.
“I don’t mean like the way you came to me. Just something with more shape and structure to it than you had.” Liz’s voice had a soothing candace.
“I just want to try to have a bit more length.”
“Of course. How about we see how tonight goes.” Liz proposed. “If you do ok, and don’t have any mats in the morning, then we’ll give the whole week a try. If you have a really hard time tomorrow morning, then we can do something with this then. Ok?”
“I guess.” Steph agreed, giving Liz a hug.
“Now let me go have a little chat with Diana.”
Steph nodded as Liz got up. I saw Steph brush a tear off her cheek quickly before getting back to what she was doing before Liz had shown up.
“So Diana,” Liz sat herself at the end of my bed and smiled at me as she placed a hand on my knee. “How is it going so far? Did you get enough to eat?”
“Everythings been fine.” I say still nervous, though I’m not sure how much of the nerves are about fear and how much is that I’m finding myself incredibly attracted to Liz even though I have a girlfriend I love.
“I noticed that all the toiletries you brought have fragrances.” Liz said in the soothing tone. “Do you find that bothers you?”
“Uhm, actually I do.” I admit. “They’re the same ones I have used for years and years, and I always used to like them. I keep hoping the weird sensitivity to scented things will go away as the concussion heals.”
“We are all really sensitive. If you like, we have some natural unscented products and old fashioned home remedies that you might be happier using. It makes it much easier to make yourself get into the shower occasionally.”
“Now, I also thought I smelled valium.”
“I have a prescription.” I said a bit defensively.
“I’m not accusing you of anything, I don’t find it at all surprising.” Liz assured me. “But, I am hoping we can make you comfortable enough up here that you can manage without using them for the week. Save them for when you’re back in the city.”
“They’re the only way I can manage to not go running around the park late at night when I’m not doing well.”
“Let’s say feeling restless instead of saying not doing well.” Liz gave my knee a squeeze. “One of the main reasons we hold these retreats is to give ourselves a safe place to go out and run around half the night. That’s why the institute is located here in the middle of nowhere. There are miles of trees between us and the next house. The institute owns plenty of land, including the entire lake and its surroundings. Behind us is pretty much empty state forest. And the gate keeps people from coming too far up the road.”
Then Liz added, “Tonight, I’ll be going for a nice long hike. Steph tends to prefer to jog. I want you to come along with one of us. Or maybe we three should all go together.”
“What about wild animals?” I asked nervously, considering that was how my issues started.
“Don’t worry, there’s nothing out there that’s not very afraid of us.” Liz chuckled at a joke I didn’t really get. “So, if we go out and burn off the restlessness, do you think you’ll be good without taking the valium tonight?”
“I can try.” I said smiling, because simply going out to bask in the moonlight sounded so much better than taking some valium just to numb the desire.
“Wonderful.” Liz said, giving my knee another squeeze.
All the anxiety that I’d had at the beginning of the conversation dissipated. Liz had actually offered me things that sounded great, and hadn’t said anything about my hair. I guess the haircut suggestion was just for Steph. Liz didn’t get up to leave though.
“One more thing before I go.” Liz wasn’t finished. “I notice that you have very long hair, and it’s already pretty tangled. Are you sure you’re up for managing such long hair? We’re going to be spending most of the week doing physical activity. Do you have the patience to untangle it every day so it doesn’t get badly matted? I’d be happy to take you into town for a haircut to make managing it easier.”
“I’ll be careful to keep it from matting.”
“Ok, we’ll see how it goes.” There was something about her tone that suggested she didn’t actually have much faith in my ability to keep my hair unmatted.
She got up, gave my knee a pat, and said, as she walked towards the door, “I need to go check in with a few more of the pack, I’ll see you guys after dinner.”
During dinner, then afterwards when everyone headed outside, I noticed that I seemed to be the only person with hair past my shoulders. The person with the next longest hair, which just brushed her shoulders, had very smooth very straight shiny jet black hair that was the kind of texture that pretty much never tangled. It made me both feel like I stood out, and very worried about the future of my beloved hair.
Steph and I first went on a moonlit hike with Liz, but then Liz excused herself to go sit in some lawn chairs with a group of older attendees, including Tom who rode up with us. Steph and I were still far from exhausted though, so we kept running through the woods in the moonlight.
Eventually, we found ourselves leaning against a tree a squirrel had just run up, panting and trying to catch our breaths. Slowly we both sat at the base of the tree. It was several minutes after I had finally caught my breath that I nervously opened the conversation.
“What did Liz mean when she said something about the way you came to her?” I asked.
Steph drew in a long shaky breath before she answered. “I told you about the bite I got on the ski trip, I didn’t tell you about what happened in the aftermath. I wasn’t exactly a perfect teenager before the attack, but I wasn’t a really difficult one either. I guess I was kind of typical. The night on the ski trip, I had snuck out past the chaperones to meet up with a boy, but I lost my way and never made it to where we were supposed to meet. After the attack, I was agitated and irritable, and restless. Well, you know, I’m sure you’ve been the same?”
“Yeah, I have been.” I kept my answer short so she could finish the story.
“Well, when it got to the point where I was sneaking out each night to just run around Central Park, my parents didn’t know what to do. Then when I came home naked and couldn’t remember the night before, they took me to Bellevue.” Steph took another long shaky breath before continuing, she was beginning to give off a potpourri of fear, anger and pain. “So, I was committed to the psych ward.
“They just had me pumped full of tranquilizers and antipsychotics, I could barely function. I spent a bunch of time just laying on a bed drooling, or sitting in the day room in front of the TV drooling. Anyway, I spent none of it trying to comb out the tangles that were already in my hair from running around the park, nevermind the new tangles my hair acquired when they checked me for lice at admission or while I was in a drug induced haze.
“So, I don’t even know what day this happened, but the Dr orders an EEG. I don’t suppose you’ve ever had an EEG?” Steph asked and paused her story.
“No, never.” I answer.
“Well, it involves putting little electrodes all over the scalp. Usually, they just part the hair and a gel that holds the electrode to the scalp also keeps the hair out of the way. Generally it’s a painless, easy, non-invasive test. Generally, the only consequence is you have to wash the sticky stuff out of your hair.
“The doctor and the nurse, just stood outside my room talking about how annoying it was going to be to get me prepped for it. My scalp had to be clean, so my tangled hair had to be washed. There was no way the EEG technicians were going to be able to part my hair to place the electrodes close enough to my skin with all that matted up hair there, so it would have to be combed out. But the nurse didn’t have hours to untangle an *uncooperative* patient’s hair. And besides, if she went to the trouble, I would probably just have it tangled back up in no time anyway. And it really just needs to all be shaved off.
“Cool as a fucking cucumber doc just says to the nurse, ‘If you can get permisson from the parents for the hair to be shaved off even though it’s not medically necessary, we’ll just put in an order for the hospital barber to come up and deal with it. If they say no, then you need to get her ready.’”
Steph paused for several minutes and took a few more ragged breaths, the scents of fear, anger and pain intensified. Then she continued. “Who knew hospitals just have barbers on staff?”
I wasn’t sure if it was an actual question or a rhetorical one, but I answered, “I had no idea.”
Steph signed and returned to her story. “I had great hair. I loved my fucking hair. Every single person except my mother, who complained about how hard the curls were to manage, thought my hair was amazing.”
I heard Steph swallow, looked over and saw the wetness glistening on her cheek.
“You can see the color and curls. The color was even a bit more intense back when I was younger. And it was long. It brushed the top of the waistband of my jeans, it was so long.
“Well, at that point what was going to happen sunk in and I actually did become uncooperative. I don’t know, maybe the meds were low at that moment, or my body was just adjusting to them, or the adrenaline burned through them, but I am suddenly a lot closer to functional. I’m screaming and shouting and saying ‘no, please don’t shave my head.’ I’m promising that I’ll get the tangles out if they will just let me try. It took 4 staff members to wrestle me into the goddamn little windowless room with nothing but a mattress on the floor.
“I could hear the nurses station from the room, even though I don’t think I was supposed to be able to. They called my mom and asked permission in the most misleading way, ‘Hi, Mrs Cowan, this is Nurse Laura and I just need you to ok something. Stephanie has been having a hard time with keeping her hair combed, and we’d like to allow her to go visit the hospital hairdresser to get it trimmed a little shorter, but she can’t do that unless you give Stephanie permission.’
“One of the other nurses laughed about calling it a trim. They sat there joking about how she’d convinced my mom to let them shave my head, so they didn’t have to try to help me with my hair.
“Then they left me in the little room for hours waiting for the barber to come up. You know, if they’d have just let me wash and condition my hair in those hours and given me a good comb, I probably could have gotten it untangled enough for the EEG to work by myself. Maybe even fully combed out.
“So, the barber finally arrives, and there’s no way I’m going to cooperate. They held me down against the mattress and I feel this prick in my thigh, and within minutes, I can barely move at all. I’m pretty aware of what’s happening, but I’m all floppy. I’m still objecting and saying ‘no,’ but the words are coming out as a slurred whisper.
“They lifted me into a wheelchair, strapped my hands down. Just one nurse stays, and the barber comes in with his kit. And the barber and the nurse, they’re just talking about me like I’m a potted plant that needs pruning, not a person.
“The barber mentions that he’s never been asked to shave someone for an EEG before, asking does it need to be shaved all over, just in spots, etc. Nurse answers, ‘That’s cause you don’t really have to shave patients for EEGs, usually they just stick the things in between the hairs. This one’s just such a mess that’s going to be hard, and besides the hair is so gross at this point it might as well go anyway. I don’t want to try combing it.’
“Barber says ‘So, do you want it shaved, or just I cut off the really matted parts?’
“It was an out, a chance for me to be left with at least some of my hair, but you know what the fucking nurse says. ‘Who cares, you ain’t getting’er ready for a beauty pageant. Shaving it makes my day easier, since I have to get the scalp clean. Whatever you do though, make it fast because you want to be gone before that shot we gave’er wears off. She’s mad as hell and stronger than she looks.’”
Steph was really crying at this point, and I was so angry, I could hear my blood pounding. The smell of Steph’s emotions was nearly overwhelming.
“So, barber says to the nurse, ‘I’ll just buzz it off with the clippers then, but I’ll skip cleaning it up with the electric razor since that takes time.’
“And that was that. He flips on the fucking clippers, and they are so fucking loud, and I’m trying so hard to say something intelligable. I want to offer to cooperate if he will just not cut it totally off. Tell him I won’t struggle if he just cuts out the mats. Trying to promise to sit still if he just bobs it. Beg for him to just leave me something. But all that’s coming out are soft slightly slurred murmurs and no one’s listening.
“He grabs my forehead, with his huge rough hand, and just moves my head around. He puts that fucking machine right at my widow’s peak and I feel the blades just scraping across my scalp. Then I feel air on my scalp.
“When he was done I mostly had stubble. He wasn’t being careful at all, so there were a few slightly fuzzy patches, maybe a quarter of an inch or a half inch long. Stubble everywhere else though.”
I wait a few moments to be sure Steph is done, still smelling the intense fear, anger, and pain coming from her.
I simply say, “Ass holes.”
“Liz came and got me a few days later. I was a mess. Practically bald. Drugged into a stupor, or maybe dissociated into a stupor. She brought me here in the nick of time.”
“It sounds like she was too late, not in the nick of time?”
“Yeah, that one’s a little hard to explain till you understand our condition a little better.” Steph said cryptically, standing up and wiping her tears off on her sleeve. “I need to run more, how ‘bout you?”
To be continued…