Apr 11 2013 10:30am
Check out Sketchy by Olivia Samms, first book in the Bea Catcher Chronicles, out on April 30 from Amazon Children's Publishing:
Bea's life has been a mess ever since she got kicked out of private school and sent to rehab. Now clean, Bea is starting over at Packard High School, in a city shaken from two assaults on young women. The latest victim, Willa Pressman-the one who survived-doesn't remember a thing. But Bea has a disturbing new “skill”: she can see-and then draw-images from other people's minds. And when she looks at Willa, Bea is shocked by what she sketches. Bea might be the only one who knows Willa's secrets-and who can take down the killer before he strikes again.
It was the pom-pom the boys spotted first. The metallic strands were tangled around a batch of tall cattails. The rain-soaked cheerleading skirt, hung to dry, was draped over a wild lilac bush. A size 7-1/2 white tennis shoe lay wedged in mud at their feet, at the edge of the creek.
The boys, sophomores at Packard High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan, were cutting class. Mason got a hold of what he thought was some weed. Joey was pissed at his mom and dad for grounding him that weekend over a bad grade on a chemistry test. So they cut PE, lunch, and study hall—not really classes, they justified—hiked down to the creek a mile west of the school, and lit up some oregano-laced pencil shavings.
Believing he indeed felt a buzz, Mason untangled the lone, soaked pom-pom from the cattails. “Stand up, sit down, fight, fight, fight!”
Joey snorted with laughter and held the cheerleading skirt up to his body, kicking his legs high into the air until he tripped on the muddy tennis shoe. He fell, his knees hitting the wet ground first. His upper body followed—his head slapping against the cold, pale flesh of her right thigh.
She was on her back at the edge of the creek, lying beneath an old, wooden, waterlogged canoe. Only her bruised legs were exposed—splayed, one bent over the other, posed in a twisted triangle.
Joey jumped up and vomited. “Oh my god, what the fuck is that? Who is that?”
Mason inched his way over to the body. He snapped off a branch from the thicket, poked at the rotted canoe, and pushed it toward the water. The wood broke apart, splintering, floating away downstream like a group of innocent bystanders.
Her torso was wrapped in a moldy blanket. Her head was tilted to the side, her neck swollen with red welts and bruises. Her normally sleek blond hair was now brown, caked with mud and strewn across her face like a dirty mop. Her eyes were blindfolded with a black scarf.
“Is that who I think it is? Is she . . . is she fucking dead?” Joey asked.
Mason bent down, pulled her hair off her face, and lifted the scarf from her eyes. He placed his fingers on her neck, below her ear, feeling for a pulse.
Willa blinked a swollen, bloodshot eye at him and grabbed his ankle.
* * *
I am fifteen minutes late, and I feel like everyone is staring at me. Please, please don’t look at me—I don’t want to be here. I don’t belong here, I silently scream to them. I’m seventeen and should be out with friends, having a good time, doing stupid shit that only seventeen-year-olds do.
Oh yeah, that’s what got me in trouble in the first place—the stupid shit.
I find an empty metal folding chair in the back row and sit, hoping the meeting will continue on, but the chair squeaks on the linoleum floor as I scoot it forward. One of the fine-tipped pens holding up my piled, black kinky nest of hair falls to the ground. I pick it up, and the dozen silver bangles on my wrist jangle. My sketchbook falls out of my vintage-sixties fringed handbag with a thud. So much for sneaking in the back.
They continue to stare, and the mediator—the man in the front of the room, wearing a ridiculous Hawaiian shirt—says, “Welcome! Aloha!” He smiles and nods at me like an idiot bobblehead, and he waits. They all wait for the words I don’t want to say.
Fuck it—whatever. “My name is Bea, and I’m an addict and alcoholic.”
I hate those words and only say them because I’m ordered to—an order enforced by this ridiculous “club” that I’ve found myself thrown into because of my parents.
“Hello, Bea. I understand you get your three-month chip today.” Hawaiian-shirt man smiles. Everyone in the room claps as he walks over and hands me a cheap-looking plastic chip. I roll my eyes and drop it into my purse.
They’re all phonies—plastic, like the chip—a bunch of losers. A housewife in khakis two sizes too small; a grandma in a muumuu that no doubt smells of mothballs; a trucker guy wearing a wifebeater—all sitting under the flickering, fluorescent lights of St. Anne’s recreational hall. Strong coffee percolates in the back kitchen; it stinks of despair.
They continue on with their own dramas and leave me alone, so I settle in as best I can, crack open my Moleskine sketchbook, a new one from my dad, look at the time on my phone, and write:
21 minutes . . . sober
Hello new sketchbook :) Welcome to my life . . . Beatrice Washington’s horrible, crappy, sucky life!
Thankfully I am out of rehab—finally—but my first night of freedom? A stupid AA meeting! aka . . . ASSHOLES ANONYMOUS
I spot a couple of smokers at an open side door, polluting the crisp, clean, autumn Michigan air, unable to tear themselves away from their nicotine fix for even an hour. One of the guys is cute—in his twenties or late teens, like me. Regardless, he’s more my type than the lowlifes who fill the hall. And I haven’t seen a member of the opposite sex my age, especially a cute one, for more than three months.
I try to get his attention. I concentrate on his shaggy brown hair, his wide-set eyes that squint when he inhales his cigarette. I will him to look at me. LOOK AT ME, GOD DAMMIT. I blow it out to him like a paranormal cloud of smoke. Look at me now! Look! At! Me!
But he doesn’t.
I think about joining him for a smoke (having picked up the habit at rehab). But I’d probably trip or something, attracting more attention, more stares, and more judgment. And that is so not what I want. What I want is to wake up from this nightmare and have the last three months of my life back.
But since I don’t possess the supernatural power of time travel, I will try and make the best of the hour, make myself more comfortable by placing my leather bomber jacket that I bought at the flea market for thirty-five bucks under my butt for extra padding.
I’m sitting between a granny knitting baby booties and a trucker with major BO. He’s sound asleep . . . drooling and snoring, gross!
A redheaded woman walks up to the front. She’s one of the younger ones in this morgue—in her late twenties—and she thinks she’s hot, you can tell. You know, big boobs, big hair, and tons of tats. But her look obviously works for the trucker next to me, as he suddenly wakes with a start and sits on the edge of his folding chair, lapping up every word coming out of her crooked, pencil-lined lips.
Her name is Karin, she says, “with an i instead of an e.” She’s giggles, like she’s just made a joke. “And I’ve been clean for four years now.”
Applause from the losers. The trucker goes nuts and slaps his dirty paws together, almost hitting me.
Fearing for my safety, I move my chair away from him and a bit closer to granny (I was right about the mothballs), and I begin to doodle in my sketchbook. Karin “with an i instead of an e” continues on with her story. She chokes up a little. I look at her and think, Is that really necessary?
In an instant, the image of a sleeping kid barrels through my head. It starts at the back of my eyeballs and fills my brain, shoots down my right arm and possesses my hand, and I draw the sleeping child as Karin continues, sharing with us the reason she is here at St. Anne’s church on this shitty October night in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
“My rock bottom? When one of my tricks beat my face in—yeah, smashed my nose, broke a cheekbone. It was horrible getting beat up. But the worst part was when I got home. I forgot to call the babysitter and found my three-year-old asleep in my bed—alone. I left him by himself that night,” she cries. “That was it. Everything became crystal clear in that moment—looking at his innocent, perfect little face, knowing that he wanted, needed his mama to clean up her act. I did. And I have never looked back.”
I slam my sketchbook shut.
Holy crap. I drew her sleeping kid.
It’s happening again.
* * *
My mom stands over me, over the toilet, watching me pee into a little plastic cup, making sure I don’t dip into the toilet water and dilute whatever she suspects I have taken.
“Christ, Mom, I just got out of rehab this afternoon!”
She doesn’t say anything.
I notice the dark circles around her eyes. The worry wrinkle between her eyebrows seems to be sinking deeper and deeper into her Italian olive skin, embedding itself into her forehead, cracking her face in two, and I feel compelled to say, to lie, “The meeting was good tonight, Mom. I may look for one with a younger crowd, though—they were all pretty old—but it was good.”
“Finish up, Bea, I’m tired.”
It doesn’t matter what I say, the truth or a lie. She doesn’t believe a word out of my mouth—nothing—ever since that night three months ago. Her eyes are set, staring at the prism-shaped cardboard stick that she has placed in the urine-filled cup. And she waits, sitting on the edge of the tub, picking at her paint-stained fingernails. One minute. Two. Three.
And as she waits, I see her relax bit by bit. The minutes tick by. She’s noticing that none of the horizontal lines light up underneath the nefarious drug headings, and gradually the crevice between her eyes starts to fill in and her face solders back together again.
My urine is poured in the toilet and flushed, the cardboard stick and plastic cup tossed into the trash.
She sighs and hugs me, smelling of garlic and olive oil. “I’m glad you’re home, Bea. Now get a good night’s sleep. You have a big day tomorrow.”
Shit. I’m trying not to think about that—starting my senior year, three and a half weeks late at a new school, the massive local public school, Packard High. Great. Just great.
“Um, excuse me?” I ask the woman behind the cafeteria food counter with the purple hairnet and googly eyes. “You wouldn’t happen to have anything vegetarian or anything, you know, healthy?” She looks at me as if I’ve asked for caviar, grunts, and points at something fluorescent green.
“Oh. Never mind. I guess I’ll have that.” I motion toward a pile of something red and beige. I think it’s lasagna.
After paying for the plate of mystery food, I take in the vast and seemingly endless high school cafeteria. Packard High is a school with two thousand and something students. Damn, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people in the same place all at once. Where the hell do I sit?
I pass table after table and see people’s mouths moving up and down, chewing, probably whispering, “That’s the rehab rat. She was kicked out of that fancy private school. What’s with her hair?” Table after table—jocks, bros, stoners, pretty girls, nerds, loners—I can tell they all shun me like the herpes virus, like I have a red circle around me with a line drawn diagonally through it.
Ah . . . an empty table by the trash cans—just fine with me, and rather befitting, I’m sure, in the eyes of the teenaged masses.
I pile my wild, thick, Afro-slash-Italian-American, out-of-control dark hair on top of my head to prevent it from dipping into the sludge on the plate and fasten it with a couple of pens. It promptly falls out and into the faux lasagna. I sigh, lose my appetite, and write in my sketchbook:
I blame everything on my hair . . .
The pretty girl posse (they’re at every school) pose at the table across from me. They, of course, have thick, luxurious, blow-dried hair and wear ridiculous cheerleading uniforms. I mean, everyone must know that they’re cheerleaders—do they really have to advertise it? They giggle to themselves, dart their long-lashed eyes at me, and whisper.
And, as if on cue, I’m thrust back to Athena Day School for Girls—the school I was kicked out of—and hear the taunting, cruel words from elementary school. Look at the Chia Pet! Beaver-head!
I was born an artistic accident—sort of like one of Jackson Pollock’s chaotic drip paintings—and was cursed with a combination of nappy Afro hair (from my dad) and thick, coarse Italian hair (from my mom). I’ve tried cutting it short—that’s when I first heard the name “Chia Pet.” Grew it shoulder length—hence Beaver-head. I tried everything. It consumed me, playing with my hair. After a while, I gave up and let it grow long, wild, and free.
And here I sit, alone at a table near the trash in a public high school cafeteria. I’m already behind in classes, already anticipating the attached label of “Druggie Chia Pet Beaver-head.” Nightmare material, right?
What the hell. I can handle it.
I sit up a little straighter and “pen” my hair back up. After going through a rehab detox, this is nothing. They can’t hurt me. Nothing, no one can.
Speaking of hair, some odd-looking dude with an Andy Warhol ’do and a camera around his neck is sashaying toward me, holding a paper-bagged lunch. Oh great. He’s smiling and waving like he knows me, and now, oh shit, he’s sitting down next to me.
“Bea? Beatrice Washington?”
“What? What did I do wrong?” I can’t help the knee-jerk reaction.
“It’s Chris. Chris Mayes.” He purses his lips. “You don’t remember me?”
I so want to be left alone. “I don’t know. Should I?”
“Art camp, last winter break? I for sure remember you. You were like the best artist in the class. I sort of bleached my hair since then.”
I squint my eyes and make a triangle with my hands, blocking out his hair. “Oh, right! Chris, of course. You were into photography.”
He holds up his camera, points, and shoots. “Still am.”
“Damn, you look nothing like yourself! You didn’t bleach it, Chris—you fried it.”
“Ha ha. Very funny.”
“Yeah . . . I remember you—those skinny-ass jeans and the skinny, sexy ass inside them.”
Chris plops his foot up on a chair, pointing at his colorful high-top Converse sneakers. “And these?”
“I can’t believe it! You still have those?”
“Give me a break, Bea. Of course I do. They were hand-painted by a talented young artist—namely, you.”
I finger the design—a red dragon, a few obscenities in purple, surrounded by gold and green swirls—painted when I was definitely high on something. “If I do say so myself, they are pretty damn cool. A little gay, but cool.”
“Well, that would be me. Gay and cool.” Chris puts his foot back on the ground. “You wouldn’t believe the compliments. You still painting?”
“Ah, no. Been a little busy . . . rehabbing.”
“Oh, of course . . . of course you have. I’m sorry, that was rude of me.”
“No, no, Chris. No worries. I’m thrilled I actually know someone in this penitentiary. I had no idea you went to school here.”
“It’s unfortunate, but I do.”
He looks down at my plate of food. “Holy Christ, Bea, what are you doing, eating that crap? Are you trying to poison yourself? Die young?” He tosses my tray into the garbage. “I’m going to have to lay down some rules for you. Rule number one: never, ever eat the food here. The woman who doles it out?”—he looks over at the googly-eyed lady—“The rumor is that she never graduated from high school, resents us all, carries a spray bottle of antifreeze in her pocket, and spritzes it on the food. Here, have half of my sandwich.”
“Shit, that’s gruesome. Okay, thanks, Chris.” I happily take half of his peanut butter and jelly sandwich. “How did you find me, anyway? There’s like a gazillion people here.”
“Are you kidding? Your hair kind of stands out!”
“Um, look who’s talking!”
Chris suddenly goes serious on me and plants his elbows on the table, resting his chin on his hands. “To tell you the truth, I was looking for you—heard through the gossip chain that you were coming sometime this week. They kicked you out, huh? Athena Day?”
I choke on a clump of peanut butter, and Chris hands me his water bottle. “Yeah. Athena Day School for Bitches—just got out of rehab yesterday.”
“Wow, that’s pretty heavy.”
“Tell me about it. But I’ve been sober for three months—exactly three months, one day, and twelve hours.” I look at the time on my phone. “And now fifteen minutes.” I sigh.
Chris smiles, holding up his hand for a high five. “That’s awesome!”
I question returning the slap.
“Uh . . . Bea? I’m waiting. You’re not going to let me hang up here all alone, are you?”
“I’m not used to that, getting high-fived for being sober. Not from the people I hung out with, anyway.”
“Well, poo on them. They’re all at Bitch School, while you’re here at Packrat High! Whoo hoo—high-five me already!”
The gazillion bangles on my wrist crash like cymbals as I slap his hand.
Chris likes the sound. “Nice.”
“A nickel per bangle.”
“I see you haven’t stopped your hot retro look.”
“Never, are you kidding me? Man, I missed my clothes—been wearing sweats for months.”
“Did I happen to see vintage Doc Martens under the table?”
Now it’s my turn to lift my foot. “Good eyes. Fifteen bucks, eBay.”
“Get out of here.”
I stand. “And this silk chiffon scarf I’m wearing around my waist? An original Yves Saint Laurent. I googled it—an old woman at a garage sale had no idea what she gave me for a dollar fifty!”
“Shut up! And that skirt . . . to die for.”
“Fifties petticoat, in black!” I do a little curtsy for him and sit back down. “Trippy, don’t you think? Thought it was perfect for my first day of school.”
Chris beams. “You are the answer to my prayers, Beatrice Washington. I’ve been looking for a model.
“Yeah. I’ve been looking for someone to shoot—get my portfolio together, you know, for college. And all the girls around here are so . . . boring.”
“College? Shit, that’s the last thing I’m thinking about.”
A cheerleader passes our table on the way to the trash and gives me the snooty once-over.
I give it a go and say, “Hi, my name is Bea. What’s yours?”
She flips her flatironed hair over her shoulder, rolls her eyes, and rejoins her posse.
“How typical. They hate me already, and I haven’t even done anything yet. It’s my hair.”
“Your hair is fierce, Bea! Rule number two: don’t speak to the cheerleaders unless you are spoken to first.”
“They’re harmless. Besides, they’re in mourning.”
“What do they have to be sad about?”
“Oh my god! You didn’t hear about the rape?” Chris whispers.
“What rape? Who was raped?”
“Shhh!” Chris leans in closer to me. “Just the most popular girl in our school, Willa Pressman. It happened a few weeks ago. Raped, left for dead. She’s like the school’s rock star, head cheerleader, elected homecoming queen.”
“Is she here? With the other cheerleaders?”
“Which one is she?”
“The blonde in the middle of the pack.”
I look over at the cheerleader table. The girls hover over a frail-looking girl.
“Wow, she looks really zoned out. Is she okay?”
“I heard she was choked and beat up pretty bad—unconscious. A couple kids found her down by the creek.”
“Shit, that’s gruesome. Why in the hell is she here—back at school so soon?”
Chris shrugs. “I guess they think it’s important for her to act ‘normal’ . . . whatever that means.”
“They catch the guy?”
“Nope. He’s still out there, and I guess she doesn’t remember anything.”
I shiver. “That’s creepy. This is like the second attack in the past year.”
“You mean that other girl, in the Arboretum last spring? But she was killed, and who knows if it was even the same guy.”
“Yeah, who knows . . .” My mind wanders off, and I get caught in a stare.
“Um, Bea, you still with me?”
“Yeah.” I shake off the stare. “It’s just scary.”
“I know, and everyone’s wondering if Willa is going to show up to be crowned at homecoming Friday night—if she’ll be able to handle it—you know, the spotlight, all the attention.”
“You’re not going, are you?”
Chris sighs. “I have to. I’m working the concession stand—service-learning hours.”
“Oh yeah, I need those, too, like a million of them to graduate.”
The bell rings.
Chris yells over the bell. “What class do you have next?”
I scramble in my bag for my schedule and laugh. “Art.”
“Jinx. So do I. How cool is that? We’re in the same class then.”
“Thank goodness, you can lead me there. This school is so huge, Chris—like a maze. I ended up in a shop class instead of algebra this morning.”
Chris laughs. “Rule number three: stay away from the dudes in shop class. They all have woodies!”
“Chris! That’s disgusting!”
“Depends on how you look at it.” He giggles. “Don’t worry, Bea. Stick with me. I’ll help you master the Packrat maze and keep you celibate.”
* * *
The desks are arranged in a circle, and it instantly reminds me of arts-and-crafts therapy at rehab. Jesus, was it lame. We’d have to sit in a circle and take turns sharing our “feelings” while gluing Popsicle sticks together, or something just as idiotic.
Chris and I take our seats, and the art teacher walks into the middle of the circle, tossing random objects on top of a lopsided table: a stapler, a pencil sharpener, a chipped coffee cup with lipstick stains. She takes hold of someone’s ratty backpack and adds a ruler as the final touch.
“That’s Mrs. Hogan,” Chris whispers. “She is also the librarian and the school nurse. Budget cuts. She knows nothing about art. And don’t get too close to her . . . her breath smells like rancid brussels sprouts!”
“Okay, everybody listen up.” Mrs. Hogan stifles a yawn. “I’d like to welcome a new student in our class. Ah”—she reads from a piece of paper—“Miss Washington, Beatrice Washington.”
Chris applauds the welcome, and I eyeball him. With my left hand under the desktop, I pull on a strategically placed hole in my black tights, ripping them, snagging the hole bigger, and wait for the whispers and finger-pointing.
But no one seems to take notice, no one gives a shit—they’re all absorbed in their own worlds. A couple of kids text on their phones, a girl files her French-tipped nails, an obvious stoner naps, and my introduction thankfully fizzles away as Mrs. Hogan drones on. “Okay, class, today we’re going to draw a still life. Notice how the light hits the objects, where the shadows fall.” She makes herself comfortable behind her desk, delving into a gossip rag.
I look at the chewed-up number-two pencil on the desk, sigh, pull a pen from my hair, and begin to draw the still life on the wrinkled, lined piece of paper in front of me.
I take on the fabric folds of the backpack’s dark green canvas when she catches my eye—Willa, the cheerleader, the girl who was raped. She sits across from me, eye level above the planted backpack.
I study her milky white skin, the pale green and yellow bruises peeking out from the top of the cream-colored turtleneck underneath her cheerleading uniform. Her pink glossed lips are slack and open; her blue eyes, glassy and wet, are frozen in a heavy-lidded stare. She looks like a frightened, wounded deer.
Her pencil dangles from her right hand. Her head cocks slightly to the left as her gaze shifts away from the still life. It’s as if she sees something—someone. I watch her breathe—even, steady, one, two, three. Exhale—one, two, three.
And in that moment, looking at Willa with my pen in my hand, a man’s face explodes in my head, flashes in front of me. It shoots through my head and down my arm to my hand. Long nose; full, defined lips. He is staring at me, in me, through me. I see his sculpted high cheekbones, his chin—pointed, no beard, smooth complexion, his round wire-rim glasses, his dark brown eyes. I see them.
I draw them.
My hands tremble a little as I stare at Willa again. He’s there, in my head, maybe in her head? And now in front of me, on paper.
Then I look down.
Oh my god! It’s Marcus. Why did I draw Marcus?
I drop my pen. Chris leans over to pick it up and notices the sketch. “Who the hell is that?”
I startle at his question and turn over the paper, hiding the drawing. “It’s nobody. Nothing.”
My head throbs. I rub the back of my neck, take a deep breath, and look at Willa again. Her eyes blink open and closed, her lids droop—and she goes down, down on her desk, her blond mane covering her skinny arms.
I turn the paper over and peek at the sketch of the face. This is so creepy. Why did I draw him when I looked at her? Why is this happening to me again?
* * *
The school bell rings, and my first day at Packard High is over—and I managed to stay out of trouble. Whoo hoo.
Chris walks with me to my car—a kick-ass Volvo sedan junker. “So . . . what do you say we start off where we ended last winter?”
“Like the last half a year didn’t happen? Would love to.”
“So we’re BFFs, right?”
“Were we ever best friends, Chris?”
He shrugs. “Sure we were . . . don’t you remember?” He slugs me in the arm.
“Careful. This cardigan is at least fifty years old.”
“Sorry.” He pats my arm. “Hey, Bea, I was thinking . . . how about you help me out in the concession stand on homecoming? You need the hours, and I could use the company.”
“Yeah, right. Me, at a homecoming? No way, Chris.”
“Why not? You have something better to do?”
“AA.” I roll my eyes.
“Come on, please?” Big smile.
A couple of bros pass us. They look our way, snickering, and I think I hear the words “queer-ass faggot” whispered.
Chris ignores them, but I know he heard. His cheeks redden, and his smile disappears.
“Hmm . . . you know, I do need those service-learning hours, Chris. I guess it’s either that or tutoring little kids with lice or something gross like that after school.” I shudder at the thought. “I hate kids.”
“Oh my gosh, Bea, can you imagine picking nits out of your hair?” His smile returns. “Or you could choose to help file library books on the weekend with Mrs. Halitosis Hogan.” He’s laughing now.
“Okay—you one-upped me,” I concede. “I’ll join you on one condition.”
“You name it.”
“You can’t look sexier than me, okay? Look at you in those jeans.” I tease.
“Can’t promise you that.” He sways his hips. “Am I blushing?”
“I don’t know, because the glaring white light from your hair is blinding me.”
“Hey! I won’t make fun of yours if you don’t make fun of mine, Chia Pet.”
I gasp. “How did you—”
“You told me a lot during art camp, Beaver-head. You were just too high to remember.”
“Anything I should worry about?”
“Rule number four, Bea: what happens with Chris stays with Chris.” He gives me a kiss on the cheek. “Remember to pack a lunch tomorrow.”
“Will do, BFF.” I slug him back.
* * *
I hook my right leg up and around the lowest branch and I climb. It’s been a while, but I clamber up the stable, strong limbs, shredding my tights even more, until I settle in on one of the large, majestic boughs. It cradles me.
The tree is a massive sycamore on the front lawn of my house. She’s been a trusty friend over the years. I have climbed her, watched her grow and fill out—her branches splayed in all directions, reaching out for me—even when I wasn’t there for her. And I wasn’t the last couple of years.
I light up a cigarette and blow the smoke away from the crinkly, triangular-lobed leaves. My thoughts are whirling around and around in my brain—trying to make sense of this drawing thing. I write in my sketchbook:
I’ve always been able to draw—can draw anything I see in front of me, but now . . . what I draw seems like it’s in other people’s heads, and then it’s suddenly in my head!
But Marcus? In that girl Willa’s head? Why?
I pull the sketch out of my bag. It’s his face—Marcus’s face for sure. A pang hits my belly, hard.
What the hell is happening to me?
Am I nuts?
The first time it happened was at rehab. Everything was a blur—a horrible, nightmarish blur—the sweats, the insomnia, the jitters. I kept busy, tried to distract myself with drawing, always drawing. I found that my hands stopped twitching when I drew and kept me focused, a little more in control. I carried my sketchbook everywhere—I told them it was my bible—and it sort of was. They banned pens and pencils, thinking that we could use them to hurt ourselves (or others). So I hid my pens in my hair, holding it up. It was the first time I ever appreciated the density of my hair. I drew whenever they weren’t looking—especially in my bedroom at night.
“Bea, stop it! Stop drawing me! I look like shit,” Janine, my roommate at the rehab, scolded me one night. “Oh god, I feel like shit.”
She was shivering, going through alcohol withdrawal. And I was sketching her.
“You’re a good subject, Janine, you don’t move from your bed.”
“Move? Are you kidding me? I wanna die, I feel so crappy. Just stop it, you bitch!”
I didn’t listen to her. I had to draw. I had to draw the faded, floral spread that covered her body; her dirty blond hair tied loosely in a tangled ponytail. I studied the pattern of blemishes on her face, the shape of the Big Dipper, and BAM! It felt like an electrical shock. It zapped, exploded in front of me, filled my brain. A baby, a tiny baby—a fetus—curled up inside Janine. And I drew it—I had no choice but to draw it. It controlled me, owned my right hand.
The room started to spin.
Janine lit up a cigarette.
“I, um, I don’t know if you should smoke, Janine.”
“What the hell? Mind your own fucking business!”
“I could be wrong, but I . . . I think you may be . . .”
I passed out.
It was confirmed the next day with a routine urine test. Janine was eight weeks pregnant. She had a hunch her nausea wasn’t all about withdrawal and asked to switch roommates. She never spoke to me after that, but whenever I ran into her, she’d looked at me sideways, her left eye squinting.
That was the first time. But it kept happening.
I discovered my next roommate was still using. Her robe—that’s what I saw, what I drew one night when I looked at her. But I didn’t share that information—I wanted to check it out myself. Sure enough, when she was taking her shower the next morning, I found packets of cocaine sewn into the lining of her robe. I would have taken some—hell, yes I would have—if it weren’t for the morning nurse bursting into our room to take my blood pressure.
That roommate didn’t last long. Not long enough for me to score—not long enough for me to numb myself dumb, to stop the images. She was busted by lunch—didn’t pass her urine test—and was thrown out of the facility.
I was honestly relieved when my pens were discovered and taken away by the director of the rehab. She did a pop-visit to my room one night. I was just doodling, but she yanked the pen out of my hand, seized my sketchbook, and leafed through it.
And then she saw it . . . a sketch of a man’s menacing fist—poised—ready to punch something—someone. Her.
I had drawn it while studying her one day as she checked in another shaky, weepy addict. She tried to cover the bruises on her face with makeup, but that fist, that powerful, threatening fist set down in a drawing on a page in my sketchbook, exposed her. Exposed her painful secret to me.
“It’s okay,” I said. “I won’t tell anyone if you don’t want me to.”
She swallowed—her hand touched her face—and she bore her eyes into me. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” her voiced cracked. “But you are not getting back your pens or this book, young lady!”
I was banned from drawing anything—even during arts-and-crafts therapy—and was never assigned another roommate. I was pissed but secretly happy for the punishment—relieved to have a break from the images.
I thought it was all about my withdrawing from the drugs, like a hallucination or something.
But now it’s back, this strange power. Back with a tsunami force.
I can draw the truth out of people . . . literally.
Text copyright © by Olivia Samms