Kayla, Karma and My Nights in Group Room 2.
We yearn for instant karma. The petulant child in us wants the worst to happen right away to those who wrong us.
Our adult selves, however, know that instant karma is a rarity. The Universe plays a long game, a poker match as opposed to a roulette spin. When we believe that what goes around comes around, we know that our cheating lovers and unjust bosses will get their comeuppance eventually. We might have to wait, so we prepare ourselves. History teaches us to be steadfast in our quest for karma’s justice.
It may take years, but that Facebook notification telling us that our ex-boyfriend’s marriage has turned into a messy divorce is the highlight of our week. Our snobby high school classmate who never invited us to weekend ragers not being able to lose the baby weight is obvious evidence of cosmic retribution.
We can’t wait to discuss at our weekly religious exercise, otherwise known as gathering at whatever purveyor of bottomless mimosas has the shortest wait.
Since we know karma to take its sweet time, we are often surprised when justice is served immediately. A year ago, during my stint in an all women’s residential treatment center, that bitch karma slapped my freckled face at turbo speed. I hit the ground as hard and fast as one of those cage-fighting UFC women, whose hair is braided so tightly it seems like their scalps might actually split in half.
Winter is historically my worst season, and last year was a distinct lowlight. I experienced one depressive episode after another, abandoned my waitressing job, and couldn’t maintain any kind of stability amidst my emotional turbulence. I made daily suicide threats, followed by one attempt.
When I awoke after taking a fistful of sleeping pills, I called the intake department of an all women’s treatment center and was assured I could get the help I desperately needed. A suicidal 20-something with no control over her life? I would be in good company. My circumstances and insurance coverage earned me an all-expenses-paid stay in what many would still call the looney bin.
I arrived and, to my surprise, was assigned to a room with only one other resident. Mel was funny, kind and, most germane to this story, used an iPod and headphones to sleep at night. A few days later, we returned to our room from group therapy and were surprised by the presence of Amanda, our new roommate.
Amanda was fresh out of the hospital and was on what I assumed were horse tranquilizers, because she slept upwards of 20 hours a day.
The first night with Amanda, I dozed for all of one hour because of her incessant snoring. I looked over at Mel, sleeping soundly thanks to her music, and considered taking her headphone wires and strangling myself with them. The next day, my lack of sleep made me unfocused and agitated during groups.
Annoyed was an understatement, as I had gone from having the most tranquil room in the lodge to now the noisiest. I pulled a doe-eyed staff member, who was at least six years my junior, aside and demanded a room change. She obliged, and I went to my room to collect my things. To my surprise, Amanda was actually awake and immediately noticed what I was doing. “Lucky! Are you leaving?” she asked me.
I fidgeted and finally mustered the courage to tell her I was just changing rooms. “Well… why?” she asked feebly, nearly bringing tears to my eyes. I tried the old It’s not you, it’s me, but I could tell Amanda felt completely dejected. It’s not like she could control her snoring, and here I was, demanding to be moved away from her.
As I packed, I apologized profusely, and though Amanda told me I needn’t worry, I couldn’t help but feeling like the world’s biggest piece of shit.
That night I slept soundly in my new room, not knowing the hell that would befall me the next day at the lodge’s community meeting. When the time came during the assembly for residents to air their grievances, two of my new roommates raised their hands and demanded they be allowed to change rooms. When asked why, their complaint sounded familiar.
They had gotten next to no sleep, were agitated, and had to change rooms because they knew the situation would not get better.
Turns out, Amanda and I had something in common. We were both snorers, nighttime culprits, depriving our roommates of rest while we ourselves slept soundly. Finding out you snore is difficult to handle with grace, but finding out by way of two screaming, overmedicated girls with a history of emotional instability is a fate I wish for no one. I skipped my next group to bawl in the hallway.
It was the fastest karma turnaround I had ever seen. I was a UFC fighter kicked to the ground, and I knew I deserved it.
That night, I noticed that one of the group therapy rooms, complete with a large couch, was empty. I set up shop and relaxed, relieved I would not be disturbing anyone’s sleep.
The next day, the lodge welcomed back a wide-eyed, 18-year-old named Kayla, who was returning from the hospital after a suicide attempt. She was perhaps the cutest person I had ever met, and was equally as sweet. I felt bad giving her a cigarette during a smoke break, as I somehow felt a responsibility to keep such a young, fresh face from going down the perilous tobacco road.
As the rest of the smokers laughed at someone’s therapy-related joke, Kayla shared with the group that her mom was on her state’s most wanted list. The smokers exchanged quizzical looks, and Kayla seemed to realize how out of place her comment was. She tried to backtrack by saying, “She’s not a bad person… she’s just… had a hard time. She’s trying to do better.”
I nodded, told her I understood, and finished my cigarette.
Due to the severity of Kayla’s self-harm ideations, she was required to sleep in a common area where a staff member could keep an eye on her. She knocked on the door to the group room where I had taken residence. “Can I sleep in here with you?” she asked, in a voice so soft I could barely hear her. “Sure,” I said.
I went on to warn her, “… but I’m in here because I snore. I left my room because I kept the other girls up all night.” “It won’t bother me, I promise,” she assured me. She insisted I keep the couch, so we pushed two large armchairs together to create a sleeping nook of sorts.
We spent the next few nights together in Group Room 2. I would tell her funny stories before we went to sleep, usually related to the failures of my romantic life. To this day, she remains the best roommate I’ve ever had. She laughed at my jokes, didn’t complain that I was too messy, and was unperturbed by my snoring.
One morning I awoke early for coffee, and paused before I left the room. Kayla was sleeping peacefully, cocooned in multiple blankets in the den of the two armchairs. I looked at her and wondered what would happen to her when she left treatment. She looked so safe before me, and I was angry at whatever ugliness had convinced her to hurt herself.
We battled a lot of the same demons, her and I, but I knew the world would not forget me when I re-entered it. I was too loud, too educated, my family too fortunate. I would not be forgotten. I would be able to pick up the pieces and leave the cycle of mental and emotional strife. I felt bad for thinking how much more difficult it would be for Kayla to do the same. Where would she go after this?
With her home life being unstable at best, would the world forget her and let her fall through the cracks again? I gazed upon her that morning and imagined the probability of her losing her way. How easy it is to get lost in the chaotic shuffle of this world. Days ago, in this very same lodge, karma had given me what I deserved.
As I gazed upon her, I asked the Universe to please deliver Kayla the strength and security that she deserved. Wherever she is today, I hope she’s as safe and warm as she was that morning in our fortress of Group Room 2.
Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those in treatment.
Emily Cavaliere usually lets partying and shitty men get in the way of her writing. She is trying to stop, however, because when she trades her beer for a pen and paper, she remembers that she is pretty damn talented. She has an English degree, and has the debt and waitressing experience to prove it. Her New Year’s resolution is to watch every movie Michael Keaton has ever made. She’s a generalist in a world of specialists, and spends a lot of time wondering if Greta Gerwig would like her. Emily is working on her first novel about how smartphones have changed our brains and what we can do to take back our own minds. Being raised Catholic, she often feels sad and weird for no reason. This is her first official published work. You can connect with her via Twitter or email.