Shiloh sat motionless in the lobby of the psychiatric facility. She hadn’t been there in months. The orange, plastic chair had a bent leg which made it tilt slightly to the left. Still the same. The only thing different was the girl behind the counter.
Shiloh’s hair fell around her shoulders. She allowed a few locks to hang over her face. Her maroon hooded jacket and sweat pants sported a bright-yellow devil holding a pitchfork. It was fall, and football season was in full swing. In Tuscaloosa, the crimson tide rolls. In Tempe, they fear the fork. She peered out at the room from behind a veil of hair. A bunch of weirdos, she laughed to herself. And here she was—one of their frequent flyers. A teenager lay passed out on a couch. A middle-aged man paced back and forth, talking to himself. Two older women engaged in an animated conversation near the entrance.
Shiloh had an appointment to see the new intake officer, Emilia Wong. She’d cut herself badly this time. Cutting was a coping mechanism. It was a pain she could control. Visits to mental health units afterward had become routine. She knew what to expect. They would question her, check her meds, scold her a little, and maybe console her, and then release her after a few days. She thought the whole thing was a bit patronizing, but they did what was required by law. That way, whatever she did, they wouldn’t be held liable. She just wished she knew why she had done it. Life had been good lately. Charity was great. Her job at Mocha’s was great. Frank was great.
The only trigger she could think of was a dream she had the night before. She woke up terrified. In the dream, she was in a dark room with a high-domed ceiling, like a temple. There were no lights. Clusters of candles lit strange patterns around the room. The flames flickered like the eyes of a cat, and suddenly that was all she saw, everywhere, all around her—eyes. Thousands of them, staring, mocking, trapping her. She remembered feeling cold, like she was naked. She felt small, like a little child. Her arms felt like birds’ bones—thin, delicate. She hugged herself. A man came out from the dark sea of eyes wearing a priest’s robe. He was smiling, but his sagging skin looked dead, gray and waxy. And of all the eyes in the room, his were the only ones she could not see. Where his eyes should have been, there were two black holes. She woke up screaming, looking into those dark, empty sockets.
Later that day, she went into the bathroom and looked at her reflection in the mirror. She closed her eyes to blink, but when she opened them, she had the razor in her hand, and the sink was covered in blood. If she hadn’t done it so many times before, she would have fainted. This time, she simply wept and cried out in a weak voice for Charity, who came into the room, gently bandaged her wrist, and silently hugged her the way she’d done many times before.
Emilia’s office was a ten-foot square section of the lobby set apart by a temporary wall. A beige partition, four feet high, made up the lower section, and a bank of Plexiglas windows lined the top. Emilia sat at her desk, her eyes fixed on her computer screen. She did her best to ignore the schizophrenic man tapping on the window, trying to get her attention. She had already answered his questions. He would have to wait his turn. She brushed back her long, black hair and rose from her desk. She unlocked and opened the door to the waiting area and walked toward Shiloh.
Seeing Emilia approaching, Shiloh swept her hair away from her pale-green eyes and sat forward abruptly, tracking Emilia’s movements. She blinked a couple of times and looked up at the intake worker and then down at her left wrist, which was bandaged, but no longer bleeding. Her dark skin made the white gauze dressing all the more obvious. Shiloh’s eyes closed. After a moment, she opened them. Her pupils dilated and then constricted, adjusting to the light in the room.
“Hello, Miss Martinez. My name is Emilia. I’ll be doing your intake. I need to ask you a few questions.”
“That’s fine. But my name’s not Miss Martinez. It’s Roxanne.”
“I’m sorry. I thought your name was Martinez.”
“I know. Shiloh—Miss Martinez—she’s a sweet gal. But she happens to be busy right now, so you’ll have to talk to me.
“Alright… Roxanne. I’d like to do your intake in my office. It’s right through this door.” Emilia turned and walked to her cubicle. Roxanne followed her and took a seat in the chair beside the tiny desk. After closing and locking the door, Emilia took her seat behind the desk, then began typing on her computer. “So, Miss Martinez, I’m sorry—I mean, Roxanne—are you currently having any thoughts of harming yourself?”
Roxanne smiled and nodded slightly.
“Do you have a plan?”
“Roxanne always has a plan.” She leaned her forearms on her knees.
“May I ask what your plan is?”
“You’re new here, aren’t you?” Roxanne grinned.
Emilia’s face flushed. “Yes, I am. Why do you ask?”
“I know most of the intake workers, but I’ve never seen you before. I would remember you.”
“Well. It’s only my second week.”
“Yes,” Emilia said. She felt herself losing control of the interview. She looked back at the computer.
“You’re a fast learner.”
“Thanks. Roxanne, can you tell me about your plan to harm yourself?” Emilia spoke in a monotone, all business, resting her fingers on the keyboard, slightly annoyed.
“My plan? I’d like to get my hands on a long, sharp knife… maybe a sword. Then I was thinking I’d kill a few people and then kill myself.” Roxanne leaned back and crossed her fingers behind her head. She glanced up at the ceiling for effect but watched Emilia closely while she talked. “Won’t get high marks for originality, but I could pick up some style points if I execute it right.”
“You’re having thoughts of harming others?”
“No, I’m not having thoughts of harming others. I’m having thoughts of killing others, as slowly and painfully as possible.” Roxanne made a slicing motion across her throat with her index finger and smiled at Emilia, showing all her teeth.
“I see. And how long have you had these thoughts?”
“Since the day I was born.”
Emilia typed a lengthy note before moving on to the next question. “Roxanne, do you feel safe where you’re living now?”
“Most definitely. Cause I’m the baddest bitch on the block and nobody screws with—”
“Are you currently hearing voices?” Emilia interrupted.
Roxanne snorted. “Hearing voices? That’s so rich—isn’t everyone?”
“I’ll take that as a yes.” Emilia looked at the clock. She had another intake to do, and Roxanne was toying with her, wasting time. “May I ask what the voices say?”
“That depends on which ones you listen to.”
“And which ones are you listening to?”
“Well, personally, I like Becky. She’s a great storyteller and funny as hell.”
“Becky? Who is Becky?”
“She’s like me. Another one of the girls.”
“Roxanne, what mental health diagnosis do you, I mean, does Miss Martinez have?”
“Shiloh has multiple personalities. There are some other things too, like anxiety and depression.”
“Okay. Thank you.” Emilia typed more notes before continuing. “Have you ever tried to harm yourself?” Roxanne pulled up her left shirtsleeve, revealing the bandage and a forearm covered with scars in various stages of healing. Emilia continued typing. “Can you tell me about the last time you tried to harm yourself?”
“I took a swing at a Tempe cop about a month ago.”
“That sounds more like an assault than a suicide attempt.”
“Things didn’t go like I planned. He was supposed to shoot me, but he hit me with his Taser, and I pissed my pants.”
Emilia thought the best way to avoid laughing was to quickly move to the next question.
“What about the bandage on your arm?”
“Oh, that,” Roxanne rolled her eyes. “Becky does that.”
“Are you, I mean, is Shiloh currently using any illegal drugs?”
“Not right now.”
“Has she used any in the past?”
“Yeah, heroin mostly. But unlike Sid Vicious, she got off the H.”
“Do you drink alcohol?”
“Why? Are you buying?”
“No. I’m not offering you a drink,” she said giggling. “I need to know if you, I mean, if Shiloh drinks.”
Roxanne leaned forward, emboldened by the laughter. “You’re a hot tamale, Emilia. I like your style. If you’re single—hell, even if you’re not single—I’d be happy to take you out to dinner and show you a good time.”
Emilia ignored the comment and made more notes. “Are you currently taking any psych meds?”
“Do you have my bag? There’s a list in it you can copy.”
“That’s great. I’ll have security get it.”
“Do you have any medication allergies?”
“Have you ever been sexually abused?”
Roxanne’s eyelids fluttered. Her pupils dilated. She scowled. Her face flushed red. She took a few deep breaths, then exhaled slowly. “Yes. Yes, I have,” she said, forcing the words out in the calmest possible voice.
This is an excerpt from my book, The Gates of Shiloh.