Something strange is going on at the Wellness Centre. It’s not a normal place, not at all—for starters, there’s the sinister British spelling of the word “Centre”—but something else is happening, something beyond the everyday oddities you get accustomed to if you spend some time here; which, if you do, means you’re not so normal yourself.
For example, I go to the Centre four times a week: twice for my transcendental meditation class; twice for therapy. That’s right, there’s actually an array of legitimate doctors and psychiatrists that co-exist here alongside the Eastern, Holistic, Alternative, and straight-up bonkers health practitioners who comprise the whole of the Wellness Centre. And I can say “bonkers” with some love. I’ve tried a lot of things to manage my depression. I should capitalize that. Depression. The big D. Flanked by its small-d minions, my low-grade disorders—anxiety of course, and there’s a brief catalog of compulsions that come and go as they please through my head. I’ve run through the available roster of treatments, both traditional and esoteric, most of it useless for me, until I hit on my current mix-tape of meditation and psychiatry, which works, or it mostly works, or it works for now.
The disorders are what I inherited from my father, who had an OCD army of them, was more or less ruled by them, until he died. The Depression, well, in a way I got that from him too. At least, I’ve been diagnosed with it since he killed himself when I was fifteen.
The Wellness Centre occupies a surprisingly large complex right at the base of Park Heights, where Beech Boulevard terminates at the extreme western end of Sunset Boulevard. I’m not sure if the Centre is actually still in the municipality of Park Heights or is technically in the sprawl of LA or Santa Monica or whatever. There’s a concrete wall around the grounds and there’s a gatehouse: both are neglected, disused. The gatehouse has a lifted barricade that looks like it will never swing down again and blacked-out windows, behind which someone might have been watching, decades ago. Here and there, rebar juts out from the low cement wall like exposed bone; and there’s graffiti over a lot of it—I think I saw a Class of ’77 tag once when I was walking around out there, smoking a cigarette.
The whole place used to be a movie studio lot, a long time ago. My history of it isn’t great, I think this was in the silent film era. A producer and millionaire, Sangster Quence, built up the grounds, yes, I remember now—it was called Quenceland—there’s some photos of it in a display case by the front reception desk. Then Sangster Quence disappeared or something, his empire fell apart, and the buildings remained derelict for a few decades until the California Department of Public Health bought it and converted it into some kind of asylum—yeah, creepy, I know—which didn’t last that long either, I heard there were deaths and abuses, though who knows what’s urban myth and what’s not. Then the private holistic health consortium that now runs the Wellness Centre bought the place, and the weird practices moved in, and that’s where we are now.
Why did I start to realize that something troubling was occurring at the Centre? It was because of Tess’s mom, Barbara. I saw her going out the door at the back of D Wing—that’s the main building across from the parking lot, where the doctors’ offices and x-ray rooms and blood labs are situated—and out of curiosity, I followed her to the door, and watched her through the window in it. She hurried across the strip of brown and yellow dead grass that separates D Wing from a long, single-story outlying building I had never been inside or ever thought much about. Right before she entered that long, low building, she turned and glanced around furtively, as if she was hoping no one was watching, though in fact I was watching.
At that moment, I didn’t particularly care. I had just come out of an appointment with Dr. Carey, my psychiatrist. I was in a peculiar headspace of my own. It was just chance: Tess’s mom went right past me without really seeing me, opened the back door, and slipped through it and went out to the other building.
A few weeks later I was at the reception desk, talking to Nasrin about my appointment schedule with Dr. Carey. Nasrin is the well-loved main receptionist of the Wellness Centre. She uncomplainingly does the work of three or four people. I think they’re always trying to hire additional receptionists and they never work out, and it kind of seems like Nasrin has always been there and always will be. She’s a master of the art of putting you in your place with a sweetness that makes you thank her for the verbal slap in the face.
“Love your hijab...