A Danger to Herself and Others(5)

Wherever he is, Jonah is probably still eating Cheerios for breakfast.

Allowance 3: Clothing and bathing.

There’s no closet in this room. No furniture at all other than the two beds. They bring me a change of clothes every other day. The cloth is paper thin, and the pants are held up by a short string that I have to double knot above my hip bones. I think the clothes are specifically designed so that you can’t use them as a weapon. The string on the pants is so short that you couldn’t even wrap it around your neck to strangle yourself. I suppose you could wrap the legs of your pants around your neck and tie them tight if you really wanted. But then you’d be found naked from the waist down, and that might be worse than staying alive in this place.

Then again, the pants are so thin they’d probably rip into tiny, useless pieces before you could do any real damage.

Once a day (or so), a (female) orderly brings me a bucket of water and a washcloth so I can give myself something resembling a sponge bath. The orderly doesn’t look away. Maybe most patients wash themselves with their clothes on, but I strip naked and scrub myself clean, just to show them I’m not ashamed.

Dr. Lightfoot tells me that I’ll probably get to take a shower soon. But she never explains the delay, and I’m not about to ask. It’s too obvious that she wants me to, and anyway, it’s easy enough to guess that it has something to do with my being a danger to myself and others.

There are other allowances, of course. But let’s call those the big three.


A little background.

I was born seventeen years and approximately one month ago (like I said, I don’t know exactly what day it is) in New York, New York, to a pair of adoring parents, Byron and Margaret Gold. I’m an only child, and my parents brought me with them to the sorts of places and events that other parents hired babysitters for: going to the theater or to fancy restaurants, on luxurious vacations during which I always got my own private hotel room, no matter how young I was.

I came to California in June of this year for summer school. Not the kind of summer school for delinquents who won’t graduate without extra credits, but the kind for kids who are so smart and so studious that they choose to spend their vacations living in dorms and taking classes at one of the most prestigious colleges in the country in order to get a head start. If I’d been allowed to complete the program this summer, I’d have accumulated nine credits to put toward my college education. And I haven’t even started my senior year of high school.

After I was brought to this place, my parents came to visit me. I’d been in California for more than six weeks, but so much had happened that it may as well have been six months. My mother had a perfect tan from spending her weekends in Southampton back in New York. Her hair had been highlighted recently; the strips of blond were still bright and yellow, not the brassy color they always faded to after a few weeks in her naturally brown hair.

She hugged me, and I smelled her perfume and shampoo.

“It’s only temporary,” she said. “Just until everything…passes.” Maybe she would’ve cried if she hadn’t gotten her semiannual Restylane shot into her tear troughs a few days prior. (I recognized the telltale shadowy bruises beneath her eyes that meant she’d had a recent trip to the plastic surgeon’s office.) For days after her injections, she’s scared to cry, or laugh, or sleep on her side—anything that might affect the way the filler sets under her skin.

My parents’ lawyer tried to keep me from getting sent here in the first place, but eventually he gave up, saying that we had no choice but to let this thing play out for now. He’s the kind of attorney who usually deals with wills and estates—family law, that kind of thing—but my parents are good clients, and he’s authorized to practice law in both New York and California.

I nodded calmly. I’d never had a temper tantrum, not even as a baby—a fact all three of us were proud of—and I didn’t want to break my streak. Anyway, like my mom said, this was only temporary. (Let this thing play out. Just until everything passes.) Plus, I knew my parents had made plans for a trip before any of this happened. They were going to spend the last two weeks of August in Europe, even though my mother had always said that’s the worst time of year to travel on the continent.

My mother is the kind of woman who says things like on the continent.

My father wrinkled his nose, as though he could tell—despite the fact that I’d stashed the bedpan beneath the bed—that I performed all my bodily functions in this room, which is almost the same size as my mother’s walk-in closet in Manhattan. (I’ve counted my steps in that room too: nine long by six across.)

“I’m fine, Dad,” I said. I let my lower lip quiver a tiny bit. Just to show him that no matter how much I was trying to be strong, no matter what had happened to make them send me here, I’d always be his little girl. I fingered the plastic bracelet on my wrist, the one they’d given me when I arrived, with my name and an identifying set of numbers, the kind they give to hospital patients.

He put his arm around me and squeezed. I knew he was proud of me for being so brave, for taking this on with such maturity. (My parents have always praised me for acting grown-up. The inside joke in our little family is that I was born mature. Mom’s voice, full of pride: Hannah was even a mature baby!)

“I’m glad you’re getting to see more of the West Coast,” Dad answered finally. Maybe he thought this was the kind of place where they take us on field trips. Maybe he thought I’d already waded through the tide pools in Monterey, admiring the flora and fauna.

Alyssa Sheinmel's Books