To me, she was perfect. She was the kind of woman every man wanted me to be. She was tall and beautiful with long blonde hair and even longer legs. Her gorgeous smile revealed two rows of perfectly straight, shining white teeth. She even had a perfect set of tits; the kind guys drooled over and constantly reminded me I would never have.
She could have been a model. She could have been a beauty queen. She could have been Marilyn Monroe. Instead, she was a mental patient. A person just like me. A person who seemed strangely at home sitting in the cafeteria surrounded by other crazies. None of it made any sense to me.
I couldn’t help but wonder what she was in for. I wanted to talk to her, but the adult and adolescent units weren’t allowed to mix outside of the weekly addiction support group meetings. If I tried to approach her in the cafeteria, the nurses would be on me in a second. I decided to ask one of them about her instead.
My favourite nurse in the ward was a guy in his late twenties named Stew. We all liked him because he was honest with us about how active he used to be in the party scene. His overindulgence in ecstasy had fried his serotonin, he said, so now he could only speak in a deadpan, monotone voice. It could happen to us too, and that’s why we should stay clean and use our gifts to help others who were struggling with the same issues.
The next time Stew came around for checks, I decided to ask him if he knew anything about The Blonde Girl in Red.
“Why can’t we talk to anyone on the adult unit?” I asked.
“Nina doesn’t want them giving you any ideas,” Stew said, referring to the Head Nurse. “She wants you to get better, not worse.”
“What if it wouldn’t make it worse? What if it would make it better?”
He raised his eyebrow at me.
“Do you have someone in mind?”
“Yes. That blonde girl. The really young one. I can’t get her out of my head.”
“Ahhh,” he said, nodding slowly. “Yes, I know her. I know her very well. This isn’t her first stay in the hospital.”
“Why is she in here?”
“You know I can’t tell you that,” he said. “Why did you even bother to ask?”
“Because I want to know.”
Stew continued to check my vitals without saying a word. He was tricky in this way. He liked to wait for you to give him all the information willingly instead of pushing you with a series of annoying questions.
“She’s not supposed to be here,” I said. “She’s too beautiful. Too pretty. Too perfect.”
“Maybe that’s her problem.”
“That doesn’t make any sense. How could she be unhappy when she’s the most beautiful woman in the world?”
He smiled at me.
“Mental illness can affect anybody,” he said. “Don’t forget that Marilyn Monroe had it too. She was an Icon. Everybody loved her. Every man wanted her. Every woman wanted to be her. You can’t even imagine what it’s like to be objectified that way. There’s a reason why she took her own life.”
I nodded at him but didn’t say anything in response.
“Don’t be judgmental of her,” Stew continued. “She’s been through so much. It breaks my heart every time I see her back here. She’s still so young.”
“What’s wrong with her?” I asked again. “What did she do? Why is she here? Is she on drugs or something?”
“I can’t tell you that, Betsey. All I can say is that the two of you have a lot more in common than you think. Now, I want you to stop focusing on her and worry about you. I don’t want to see you back in this place again. None of us do. Do you understand me?”
He smiled at me and picked up his clipboard. He finished my check and moved on to the next patient.
The next day at breakfast, I tried not to stare at the Blonde Girl again. I sat with my back to her and found myself deep in conversation with another girl from my unit instead. She was freaking out about her upcoming history test in school, so I offered to help her study for it.
“So, Alexander the Great was Persian, right?”
I furrowed my eyebrows at the question. The last thing in the entire world I wanted to think about was Persians. My ex-boyfriend was Persian. He was part of the reason I was here in the first place.
“No,” I said angrily. “He was Greek.”
“No he wasn’t! I remember this from history class. I know for a fact he wasn’t from Greece.”
“And I know for a fact he wasn’t Persian. He conquered all of Persia, yes, but he wasn’t Persian himself.”
“You’re both wrong,” a third voice suddenly chimed in. Both of us turned around. The Blonde Girl was standing behind us with a smile on her face. “He was Macedonian.”
My mouth dropped open in surprise. I couldn’t believe my eyes.
“How do you know?” the other girl asked.
The Blonde Girl gave us a sneaky smile.
“My father is a history professor,” she said. “I like to read a lot.”
I was speechless. Before I could regain my composure, a nurse from my unit intervened.
“That’s enough for now,” she said. “Ya’ll know you’re not supposed to talk to one another. Come on now, Liz, it’s time to go.”
“Liz?” I exclaimed. “Your name is Liz?”
The Blonde Girl nodded at me and smiled.
“It sure is,” she said. “Your name is Betsey right?”
I was stunned.
“Yes… it’s short for Elizabeth too.”
“Well… what are the odds?”
She smiled at me mysteriously again. For a moment I wasn’t even sure she was real. After all, we were in a mental hospital. It was possible she was just a figment of my imagination. Maybe I was a figment of hers too. Was she my alter ego, or was I hers?
“I said, that’s enough!” the nurse said. “If you don’t separate yourselves right now, I’m taking away your radio privileges.”
Liz smiled at me one last time and walked away. When I looked for her the next day at breakfast, she was gone.