Sit up straight. Don’t put your elbows on the table. Excuse yourself when you pass wind, when you burp. Don’t fidget. Don’t bite your nails. Don’t whine. Don’t be rude. Stop being childish. Stop interrupting… stop… don’t… don’t…
There’s so many rules to the human condition, it’s a wonder we don’t all go crazy.
So, how did I end up in a mental hospital? Yeah I’d like to know that too. I’m not sure if it’s the rules of life that brought me here, or the fact I couldn’t face them anymore.
Or maybe, it was because I was found wandering around in my underwear reading Hemmingway one Winter night. The police found me three streets from my house and my folks knew that the rules of The Community had gotten to me and it was time to put me where all the others had been placed who couldn’t handle life.
However, as I looked out the window of the day room dressed in the white track pants and shirt they gave me, I still had those rules screaming through my head… but at a much slower pace. It must have been something they put in the water – or the pills they were feeding us – that slowed down the pace and pounding and screaming torture the rules attacked our brains.
But I did find that we weren’t permitted outside. Even on the lovely, sunny days, we were kept indoors and away from the windows. I don’t know why, but the staff kept us in the darkened cells of our rooms until the late afternoon when we were allowed to wander the halls again… and I never saw my family either.
Not until one day, I saw my brother in the day room. He stood as I entered smiling. Then, I realised it. Why they never let us outside. Why we were never allowed to see family. The Rules oozed out of his pores and screamed into my ears. I could hear them all without him even opening his mouth!
Don’t… don’t … stop it! Stop it!... stop…it!
“No! Don’t! Stay there!” I back up against the wall as he stood, his smile faltering on his face, replaced by tears as I looked at him with terror written all over my body. I wished I could have hugged him… let him close, but I couldn’t. He was doused in The Rules of Life and I was trapped in this prison of not being able to absorb them.
“Sis, please… it’s me.” Tears rolled down his cheeks. He reached out a hand from across the room. A gallant effort on his part to connect; and he knew I wasn’t scared of him, I was scared of what I could hear coming out of him, “You can hear them can’t you?”
“The Rules of Life.” He said, “You hear them all the time.”
I crumbled crying, “They scream at me.”
The next moment, he was by my side. His arm was around me, supporting me as I slid down the wall, “I know.” He whispered, “I used to hear them too. I was in this prison too once. But there’s a way out.”
I almost couldn’t look at him, “Please tell me… nobody will help me here.”
“Of course they won’t. They expect you to do this on your own.” He said, “You have to accept them and face them head on. During sunny days, do they lock you in your rooms?”
My eyes finally looked into his, “Yes.”
“The sun is the cure.” He smiled, “It helps you get better.” Assisting me to my feet, he walked me to the lounge where he had left a box on the table by the window where the sun had come out, “Come and sit by me at the window… come and get better so you can see the family again.”
I let him walk me to the brightness of the sunlight, holding my brother’s hand. He sat down, patting the puke brown vinyl next to him, “Come on, sister.”
It was warm to touch as I sat down and let the sun warm my skin through the window. I was there a few moments when the staff noticed and they rushed to grab me, but stopped, with one muttering, “Damn, we’ll have to let her go now.”
Another answered him, “Yep, she cured all because of what she’s learned.” They picked up their clipboards and made their notes about me and the Rules to Life, “First, though, we have to instill her with her rules again… as her living without rules to life isn’t good for her.”
My brother rose from the seat, leaving me there as the sun’s light filled my vision. I felt its warmth fill my vision completely, and then I took a deep breath.
“First thing’s first, after we’ve replaced everything vital to her being human, we’ll take her back to Earth.”
“Are you sure that’s wise?” my brother asked, “On Earth her brother is dead… while here, I’m alive.”
“Yes, she’s still alive there but we just took her mind somewhere else.” Another voice answered, “So, no matter what, she’s imprisoned at some point somewhere.”
I opened my eyes and found myself in a hospital bed. There were bars on the windows and a nurse watching over me. She watched in amazement as I looked over at her and smiled, “You’re back with us.”
“What’s the date?” I whispered.
“You’re the first one to wake up.”
“The first one of what?”
“Don’t you know?” she smiled, “From the prison ship on planet Earth. Here are the Rules of Life you must learn:
Sit up straight. Don’t put your elbows on the table. Excuse yourself when you pass wind, when you burp. Don’t fidget. Don’t bite your nails. Don’t whine. Don’t be rude. Stop being childish. Stop interrupting… stop… don’t… don’t…”