There is a sad and accusatory sound that echoes down the strange smelling hall, as if my shoes are wincing in pain and rebellion, begging me not to walk in the direction I am forced to go. These begrudging, trudging steps will take me to the final commitment. I realize there is nothing else to do.
We are twins with obligatory rhyming names: Penny and Jenny. I remember the carefree day that summer when we were poised on the precipice of adolescence, still full of fantasies about the world. We sat in warm, green grass, weaving clover chains and sharing our budding thoughts on the meaning of life, boys, parents, and why the police had carried off a down-the-street teenage neighbor.
Grandma said it had something to do with drugs. Mama whispered some much told gossip about a knife…or maybe it was a gun. We were too naïve to know exactly what that meant back then--in that small town--in that tiny bubble of safety and innocence where we grew and absorbed.
The trial was big news. It was hard to keep the dirty details from two curious twelve year olds. We saw the thin, dissipated, ex-football player on the news. His eyes were bloodshot and rimmed with dark circles. He shuffled in his leg irons like a trapped and cowed animal.
Father warned us we sure had better never get into any trouble like that. He had called us to his desk where he sat to lecture. The effect was sobering. We sat stunned and silent as he listed the horror of all the evil things that could happen to us if we disobeyed that rule.
“If you never touch drugs or alcohol,” he bellowed, “you don’t have to worry about losing your ability to make coherent decisions.”
He made us promise we knew exactly what saying no to mind-numbing substances meant. While he was on a roll with dire warnings, he said that included any immoral intent regarding our states of virtue. Our heads stayed tucked as our faces flamed in red hot embarrassment. To seal the deal, he asked us to raise our hands and promise. We would do almost anything to get out of that stuffy room and up to the security of our ruffle-curtained room.
My sister and I, frightened and confused, talked way into the night. We decided to make our own pact. She tore out notebook paper from her spiral binder and wrote with her special purple-ink pen.
We do solemnly swear we will never take illegal drugs or drink alcohol or smoke anything, including cigarettes. It’s stupid to be out of control and hurt our bodies that God says are holy temples. Doing those things is dumb, and we are not dumb. Signed: Penny and Jenny Marche.
That seems so long ago. Our parents are deceased now. At least they saw us graduate from college, but the secret we kept from them is that one of us broke the pledge…big time. They will never know who is now a raging alcoholic, an abuser of every drug you can imagine, an immoral walker of the streets, looking for money in all the wrong places.
We are twins, yet we are separate entities and responsible for our own behaviors. Each will have to stand before God and give an account. One of us must admit to ignoring how we were taught to strive for integrity and honor, to be honest and clean, to be sober and diligent. Both us are paying an excruciating price; one for the doing and the other for the helpless witness of it.
My reluctant footsteps take me to a door I must enter, but there I stop and lay one hand on my pounding heart. I do not want to do this. After several seconds of deep breaths, I enter a cheerless room that smells of antiseptic. A man in a white coat sits behind a big desk. My sister is already there. She keeps her eyes averted.
The doctor speaks in a low but commanding voice. “In accordance with the court’s ruling, you are to be committed to this institution for a period of one year, or until a board convenes and recommends an early release.”
He pushes the legal commitment paper to the edge of his desk and leans across to offer his pen.
One of us reaches for it; one of us sobs quietly. I’m relieved the ink is not purple.
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