It was unnerving to see it there. In all of its ugly glory. The wall itself had always been bleak and out of place. Now it was painted and out of place. In its own way it was oppressive, but also freeing. At most it extended thirty feet across, but after that the desert opened up behind it leaving nothing but flat opened land to the base of the mountains. Before there was ever a reason for the shrine Sheila used to come here with her friends all of the time.
Sheila looked at the wall for as long as she could – for a moment it felt like a standoff. The sunlight reflecting off the gold patch, seared through her retinas. She didn’t have much time. Or maybe she had all the time in the world. Sheila wasn’t sure if anyone still came around. The institution didn’t play the news. The last Sheila had heard of the wall and the incident that had occurred, newscasters were covering it as a political movement. It hadn’t been. It had been a lonely girl, a broken girl, selfish in her ways. A girl who wanted to be as physically dead she was emotionally. Sheila’s fist tightened around the cell phone she was holding. Her clipped nails bore into the palm of her hand. Impressive given how short the nurses cropped them.
Sheila walked toward the wall. Sweat formed above her brow. She felt her shirt clinging to her clammy chest. Less than fifteen paces to go. The rotting cloth of the rain-soaked teddy bears wafted into her nose. If she didn’t get caught being outside of the institution, she would be caught by the lingering stench alone. Swallowing her shame, Sheila approached the wall. A noise overhead caught her attention. Sheila took a sharp breath in, “I’m sorry,” she whispered as she exhaled.
Dropping the phone she turned on her heel and took off. The wind picked up as the chopper caught up. She was never going to be able to outrun a helicopter, but she would certainly try. Pumping her fists Sheila pushed her legs off the ground. It had been too long. Thinner than when she went in, but horribly out of shape, cramps began seizing her sides. Court-ne-ney. Inhale through the nose. Exhale through the mouth. A short gasp of breath through and out of the mouth. Start over. Inhale through the nose. Court-ne-ney. Her friend’s name keeping her on pace. Sheila kept pumping. Kept pushing. She ran until the police car came to a half skid across the sand covered concrete area. She stopped. Hands as raised as she could get them, as Sheila dropped to her knees she woke from her nightmare.
Scheduling was complicated with so many patients and so little resources, there was always a wait, even with most patients living onsite. There was also the lack of caring, but Sheila had a feeling that wasn’t specific to this facility. Matilda has been with Southern Pines since before it’s name change. When it was still called Southern Point Needles until a journalist pointed out the vulgar irony with the facility homing the suicidal teens, druggies, and the combo patients. Sheila waited outside her therapist’s office. According to the prescriptions she could write, she was actually a psychiatrist, but Matilda wasn’t as cold as the other ones Sheila had met. The term therapist suited her much better. Besides, everyone was on a prescription of some sort here, what difference did it make to Sheila if hers came from a doctor, a psychiatrist, or one of the other patients?
Sheila pressed the sides of her feet into her chair. Criss-cross-apple-sauce. A lot had changed in two years. Much like her life before, Indian style was now a thing of the past. Keep. It. Simple. Stupid. Short and sweet. Don’t overthink. Don’t be crass or raunchy. If watching four seasons of 70s game shows while being institutionalized had taught her anything, it was just that.
First they covered the basics, primarily that Sheila was no longer a danger to herself or to anyone else. Then the hospital covered their own ass, by mandating three outpatient therapy sessions in the two months following her release. After the “necessary evils” were covered as her therapist called them, Matilda put down her forms and leaned forward toward Sheila. “Is there anything else you want to talk about,” she said, “before I do a final sign off?”
The wall, she thought, is it still there? “No,” she said. Does Courtney’s blood still stain it? Does mine? “I think I have everything under control.” Have the news anchors, the conservatives, or her family figured out the truth yet? “My medications are stabilized, and I have my techniques.” Do they know that I killed her? “My aunt who runs an apartment complex has an apartment and a job for me.” Sheila leaned forward to mirror her therapist. Matching and mirroring, a skill she learned from the state attorneys in court. “I just really want to say thank you for everything you’ve done for me. It’ll be hard,” Sheila gave a wavering smile, “but I know I can do things right this time.” Because at the very worst, everyone I loved is dead or gone, there will be no one left to stop me.
“Very good, Sheila. I’m proud of you. You’ve achieved so much,” the therapist said sitting back into her chair, a self-praising smile spread across her face as she reached for the release papers. “Having an exit interview, and considering all of the work we’ve done and where you are now Sheila, you have my ‘okay for release.’” They stood. Her former therapist pointed toward the door. Walking behind Sheila, she waited until she was almost out of the door before putting her hand on her shoulder. Without saying anything, Matilda gave it a squeeze before pulling it away and closing the door.
Sheila’s aunt was waiting by the front desk later. Standing there her long, thick black hair – kept but free – caught everyone’s attention. Sheila’s hair was the same color, but not the same texture. It had been damaged from weekends of frying it flat before she had been locked up. While the curls had come back, so had the untreated frizz. Sheila had been in less than a year before she tried swallowing her thick mane. She fought through her gag reflex and had gotten a large section of it down, but she could still breath. She would have to count on it clogging her throat and forcing her to choke on her throw up if she really wanted to die. Before she could figure out how to keep going a nurse came in, and pulled it out. The nurse hadn’t told any of the doctors, but she had hacked off most of Sheila’s hair. Instead of a hug, her aunt reached out and rubbed the ends of Sheila’s hair in between her finger tips. We’ll fix it, her smile said, we’ll fix it all.
For as quiet as her aunt had been in the hospital she was making up the words on the drive from the parking lot .She talked about the missing years – “I can’t believe it’s been eight years since I’ve seen you.” She talked about her children – “you’re all just about the same age. They’re going to love the life right out of you.” She gasped in her horror, “that was insensitive. You’ll be safe here. It won’t be like home. It won’t be the same as with my brother. I’m sorry I ever left you with him.” Sheila didn’t think about things with her father, but she did remember that during her pregnancies, her aunt wouldn’t come around. The last time they had been together – her aunt, her husband, Sheila and her father had been when she was five. Even her aunt’s first born had been there. For a moment Sheila wanted to ask whether or not she was, but her aunt talked on and on and on and on. The moment was gone. Instead the car ride was filled with the rules for the apartment. The rules from Sheila’s doctors. The rules for working from both her aunt’s handbook and from Sheila’s doctor. For almost the entirety of the two hours Sheila said practically nothing. Counting the isolated plants and trees, Sheila wondered if it was because she was getting nervous or something to make her aunt’s chatter tolerable. As the car slowed to a stop, Sheila’s heart picked up the pace. She was surrounded by shrubbery, and it wasn’t enough.
A large, pointed rock sat a foot next to the car. Sheila meandered toward it, doing her best to make it look like she was taking in her new home. Pressing the arch of her flip flop onto the rock she heard her therapist’s voice in her head, not that kind of coping skill. Sheila released her foot from the rock as the sound of her aunt’s footsteps got closer. “First, I’ll show you my home,” she said, “and then I’ll show you to yours.” A smile lightened her face more than the afternoon sun. They had been close. Like sisters. Not as close as Sheila and Courtney had been, but the result had been the same. They had been close once, and then they weren’t.
Taking a deep breath Sheila followed her aunt inside her home. “No one is home,” she said, “the kids are at school. We’ll do dinner later tonight. After they’re home from activities, and the homework is done. You’ll be settled in by then.” Rocks broke up the desert-like landscape making a path to the front door. It wasn’t so much an apartment complex, at least not one like Sheila had ever seen. Instead, there were groupings of homes – small, one bedroom types, in intricate clusters that wove throughout the complex. Her aunt’s house was set off to the side, the front door was technically on the block around the corner. While the houses that Sheila could see ranged in warm colors, her aunt’s house was a faded bright green. The garage was blue. Sheila hoped she couldn’t see it from where she was staying.
The inside of the house radiated warmth. Everything her aunt had crammed into shelves or hung on the wall was about family or love. Everything was the same shades of red, orange, or yellow that colored the houses in the complex. It was on the verge of too busy for Sheila with only the two of them and the stuff, she shudder thinking of what it would be like when her cousin’s got home. As if on cue a rumble barged in the front door. A flurry of black hair, tan skin, and indistinguishable voices radidated through the house. Sheila made out the shape of her aunt as she made her way toward her. Quickly, she grew blurry. “I gotcha,” her aunt said pulling her in for a hug. “Too much, too soon right? I forget they had a half day today. I’m sorry,” she whispered into Sheila’s hair. Sheila pulled away and nodded. Lining up behind her aunt were three identical boys, beefy and athletic looking, and two girls, while not identical were clearly sisters. “Come meet your cousins,” her aunt said sweeping her arm down the line. “Then I will start making us lunch.”
The family talked at Sheila throughout lunch. They talked to her about their classes, their friends, the complex, and even their mother, despite her sitting at the head of the table. Chloe, Sam, Izzy, Ryan, Bryan, a different Sam names rattled off their tongues as quickly as Sheila lost hold of them. Between bites of rice and beans Sheila gave the occasional grunt of understanding. Even if she hadn’t been completely overwhelmed, her attention was focused on the meal. Large bowls cluttered the table filled with all of her favorites: yellow rice, red cargamanto beans, leftover sancocho, and patacones. Sheila’s soul warmed with each bite. Her aunt and cousins were negotiating. “Tomorrow is another half day,” one of her cousins whined. The rest joined in, “it will be okay – we’ll all be there – Sheila will love it – please, please, please” “ALRIGHT,” her auntie shouted holding up her hands in defeat. “Go to the fair, take Sheila, but -” she paused as she threw her napkin onto the table “no trouble, and you’ll all home before 11. Understood?” Like a table of bobble heads, her children nodded. Squeals of glee escaped them one by one. Dropping her spoon into her stew, Sheila felt a wave of nausea take over her insides.
The bright lights invaded Sheila’s brain through her eyes. She had already taken three, or four, of her pills. They were supposed to help calm her down. Bring her back to center. Silence the quiet rage and endless depression that filled her brain. The lights leaping from the fair prevented Courtney, her chosen therapy visual, from weeding out the bad thoughts and the good in her mind like flowers in a garden. Courtney was as dead in Sheila’s mind as she was in real life. The lights – if only they would dull. Sheila felt a sharp pain and looked down at her hands. Half moons glowed red in her palms. “Need a drink?” Sheila looked up at one of her cousins. It was either Andres, Angel, or Alejandro. Sheila nodded her head. “The whole point of the fair is let -” he paused, running a shaking hand down over the arm holding his flask, “loose.” A smile stretched across his face. “Besides, some of our friends are meeting us they’re obnoxious drunks if you’re stone sober.” Sheila reached in her pocket. One pill left. There was supposed to be more. “Thanks, A” Sheila said reaching for his flask. “Alright,” he shouted! Sheila swallowed her pill with the cold, wrenching taste of whiskey. Holding her breath until her stomach subsided she followed her cousins to a group of people waiting for them in front of a ride.
The walk to the ride seemed longer with each step. The colors from the fair swirled around the air. Weaving in and out of their group. The triplets were leading the pack, two of them had girls clinging to their sides. The oldest of the siblings, the first born girl and closest in age to Sheila, had drifted off with a man significantly older than them. It was as though her cousins from home, sweet, silly, immature had grown as the night darkened. They became actual teenagers, the kinds who drank, partied, and had sex. Sheila wondered if this was normal for all teenagers. Normal was not something Sheila had much experience in. But if this was being a normal teenager, maybe she could do it. Sheila felt a bump on her shoulder. Turning her head it looked like it could be one of her cousins. If only the fair would stop spinning so much. The man smelled like pizza, Sheila began to follow. A hand grabbed hers, pulling her forward. “Not one of us,” a girl’s voice said. “Come on, cousin.”
While waiting on the stairs leading up to the ride, Sheila was introduced to her cousins’ friends. They were all so much taller than she, even the girls were thicker, more athletic and curvy. With each step their faces blended together. The lights from the ride bled together, reflecting off the rain cloud of cousins and friends. A dark cloud thickening with rain, waiting on the other side of the rainbow. Sheila saw herself as the lights did. Small, sharp and pointy. Her movements were disjointed. Not only did she move against the group, she was seemingly fighting against herself. Like a thin ray of light fighting its way through the darkness. She was a sliver of rainbow that had broken away. Refracted. She was the rainbow. She was Rainbow. Rainbow’s spirit lifted with the ride. If the thing clutching her would only let go she could be free. She could soar through the air. Away from the clouds. The clouds that were now surrounding her. Darkness encased her, shrouding the light. Stifling her screams, Rainbow felt herself plummet to the ground. An arm swung around her, leading her up and down, flouncing like turbulence. The smell of pizza swirled in the forest of her nose.
Sheila groped around in the darkness. A pounding ran through her head nailing her eyes closed. She was certain looking back on it that one of the many rules she left the institution with was not taking her medications with alcohol. Her hand touched hard, textured flesh. She yelled as she drew back. “It’s us,” her auntie voices soothed the room, “me and your uncle.” Sheila fought to peel her eyes open. Shades of blue formed through her eyelashes, transforming to furniture, walls, and people. Two people, looking very intensely at her. “Here,” her aunt said passing her a glass of water, “drink this. You need it.”
Propping herself up, Sheila took the glass and looked at it. “Your uncle is going to talk to you, then I’m going to come back and find out what you want to do. I love you Sheila, but I am not okay with this.” Sheila looked at the rim of her glass. Words escaped her. As she dragged her eyes away from the distraction, she watched as the door closed firmly behind her aunt. Sheila exhaled. She looked at her uncle. A face so similar to her own. The history of what happened to his sister, Sheila’s actual mother. Sheila shuddered as her eyes sank into her uncle’s. She had been five when she heard the words. Drunk, rape, daughter, bastard. The last time she had seen her uncle had been earlier that day. It wasn’t until years later, when Sheila figured it all out. The implications, the meaning. The familiar connection. Not too long after that had her auntie stopped coming around for good.
“Mija,” her uncle spoke. His voice, like his hands were hard and textured. Softness lingered behind them. Sheila’s body stiffened. Too familiar. Too fast. Too much. Her hand shot out, groping for her pills. There had to be some left. There had to be some there. Like a security blanket looming out in the distance. The nurses as the institution would leave her one pill a night on her night stand. Nothing more than a low-dose sleeping pill, but they worked. Sheila wanted to sleep through this moment. If she couldn’t be dead, she would at least be numb.
Her uncle cleared his throat and held up a prescription bottle. “These,” he said looking at her. Sheila nodded. “Why?” Tension ran up through her throat. It restricted. “Drink your water,” her uncle said. A dribble of water ran down her chin, finally it broke the barrier. Lukewarm water cascaded down Sheila’s throat. She could feel the wetness on her chin and inside her mouth. Soft and fluffy, her hand ran over her comforter. Three more textures to go, she thought to herself. Use the coping skills, then get a pill. Delayed gratification. Rewarding positive skills. Anything to make it through.
Reaching out Sheila touched the back of her uncle’s hand, “rough, solid. Firm but movable.” His eyes squinted as he watched his niece’s face soften. “True, they are working hands,” he said. He had read the encyclopedia of Sheila that her doctors had sent home with his wife. It was a technique, a skill for coping. Feel five textures. Count five colors. Making lists to calm and refocus. He nodded at her. She ran her fingers through her hair. Strong and dry. Lastly, over a raised scar. Jagged and soft. She cleared her throat. “Partly habit, partly because – just too much,” Sheila said nodding at the pill bottle. Her hands made small circles as she spoke.
“When I was a kid,” her uncle nodded as he spoke, “I went away for six months. Young and stupid, the wrong friends. You’ve seen the made-for-tv movies I’m sure.” Sheila relaxed her shoulders as she listened. “Going away I learned habits. I met new friends, worse than the ones I knew before. It was a lot. Being there, inside the detention center at first.” Sheila thought about her first few months at the institution. It was a lot a first. But then the game was discovered, the players recognized. Every day was strategized and played to win, because winning meant leaving.
“I had gone in a boy, some silly lost little shit. I left wearing the rule of the game seared into my skin. My old friends were pussys and couldn’t keep up with me. I saw nothing but opportunities through my rage. Who could I hurt? How could I win?” Sheila looked at the thick head of hair sprouting from her uncle’s head as he dropped his head to the floor. Dark and black, lonely strands of a silver and gray hiding in the thicket. He picked his head back up. His eyes were glassy. Sheila felt his sadness wash over her. “Going in was an adjustment, but coming back out. The rules are different out here. It’s not a game of get out. It’s a chance to live. To do better. It’s harder than adjusting to life inside those walls.” Putting down the pills, Sheila’s uncle took her hand. For a moment he said nothing.
Sheila felt the pain swirling around her. It was almost unbearable. Breathing in through her nose, she tried to push through. “Your cousins are morons. But they are worried about you. Carmella said one of her friends watched you try to unbuckle yourself from the ride last night. When you got off, you were barely conscious and were led away by a group of strangers. Andres and Angel found you laying in an alleyway passed out, surrounded by doped up homeless kids.” Sheila felt her face burn. The sound of chants rang through her ears. The taste of stale pepperoni slid over her tongue. “We want you to stay. We want you to get better. Alejandro told us he had given you alcohol not realizing what he was doing. This isn’t the institution anymore, Sheila. It’s not a game. We are here to help you, but only if you want the help.” A chill swept over her as her uncle’s hand pulled away. Standing up he looked at her pills as he placed them on the nightstand, “Your aunt will be back in a minute.”
A scream rang out through Sheila’s head. Her body tensed and released. Game or not, the ability to scream internally had been a gift from the institution. Sheila wanted to die. She had played the game to leave and get her greatest level of freedom. Courtney was gone. Her angel was dead, practically at her own hand. Sheila wasn’t supposed to be saved. She looked at her pills. Only enough for a ticket back to the institution. As she heard her aunt’s footsteps coming down the hall, it seemed like help was inevitable for the time being.
Sheila dragged her feet down the rocky path. Two weeks. That was the deal she made with her auntie. It was the date of her first outpatient session back at the institution. If Sheila worked hard and communicated with her aunt and uncle, found a routine and took responsibility for her job and her own well being, the appointment would be only that. If she couldn’t or wouldn’t, or if it became much too much, they would talk about readmitting her. Sheila, lost in her thoughts, replaying every word of the conversation, slid on a loose rock. Catching herself a plume of dust kicked into the air. Chalky grit covered Sheila’s teeth. She licked it off, causing herself to cough. “Gotta watch the dirt around here, miss,” a voice called out.
“I see that,” Sheila quipped back. “Who are you?” Raising her hand over her eyes she could see a young man standing in the road. “I’m Berto. I work here, for your aunt. Been friends with your uncle for years. He’s friends with my dad. They asked me to show you around.” Sheila scoffed quietly. “Okay,” she said making her way across the road to meet him. Up close, she could see his face, slightly weathered from a life filled with hardship and laughter. Still good looking, not much older than she was. “First things first,” he said, “let me at least show you where you’re staying. Your aunt mentioned the sun got ahead of her before she could show you.” The two walked halfway down the road. A comfortable silence between them, Sheila took in the mountains off in the distance. The movement of the buildings, the street, of Berto’s arms and legs as he walked. Suddenly, he stopped. Sheila followed his gaze.
A sea blue house, somewhat connected but also removed, stood in front of them. Sheila breathed in the calm. “This is it,” Berto said gesturing toward the home. “It’s a little smaller, more outdated, than most of the other ones. A little more disconnected, but it’s still a good one. Your stuff’s already inside. We can go in and check it out, but I’d rather walk you through the rest of the development. Go over the rules and job once more,” Berto paused. He watched as Sheila’s eyes took in the house before her. Her eyes were wide, slightly glistening in the sun. A smile twitched at the corners of her lips, she strained to keep it suppressed. Berto cleared his throat. Sheila’s face relieved itself of any emotions. “Would that work for you?” Sheila nodded. As the started to move, Sheila looked over her shoulder, down the block. She could still see the corner of her aunt’s house. It was still ugly, an insulting jarring color against the landscape. At least it was a constant.
The rest of the tour was quick. Berto had kept his same melodic pace, but with bursts of instructions, tips, and rules it moved faster. Sheila hadn’t said much. She made sure to ask an odd question here and there just to show she was listening. When the tour was over, Berto walked her back toward the first bend in the road, the one directly between her new home and her aunt’s. “Any plans for the rest of the day?” Sheila raised an eyebrow, “I figured I’d just get to work.” Berto laughed. “That’s fair,” he said checking his watch. “It’s just about my lunch time. If you want, you can come with me. I’m going to this BBQ place in the next town.” Sheila’s mouth watered. She still felt worn out from the day before, and with the exception of lunch at her aunt’s, she hadn’t had decent food in a lifetime. Her stomach rumbled. “BBQ it is,” Berto said nodding toward her abdomen. “Then you can come back and get to work.” His eyes laughed along with his Santa-like rumble.
The drive out of the complex and to the hole in the wall was beautiful. Mountains, dessert, and highway. Her aunt had picked a beautiful place to live. Neither of them was particularly chatty since getting in the truck. Mostly, Sheila had listened to bits of sports radio coming in and out of play. Berto had pointed out a few highways and side dirt roads. Most of them leading to a natural wonder of sorts. One of which was a short cut to the wall. “You know, the one that had all that media attention a while back. The one where that girl died.”
White noise clogged Sheila’s head. She felt her teeth digging into her lip. The glint from a sign caught her attention. She turned her head to follow it. “Snake sign caught your eye?” She heard Berto’s voice make its way through the deafening sound. Sheila nodded her head. While looking around for more things to count, catalog, and list Sheila learned about an artist who had crafted the snake from street sign metal. The posts, all of which he had stolen from intersections not properly labelled, had been bent by accidents. He mixed and matched the ones he wanted, the ones that fit, fixed them together and installed it, illegally, on the side of one of the least dangerous roads.
“What the artist didn’t realize is that it’s too far out to truly make a difference,” Berto continued. “But, I know the guy who did it,” he said with a slight chuckle, “since then he’s started branching his way closer to civilization.” Sheila had missed some of the more important details. But from what she gathered, the artist was a pompous idiot. Self-serving and scared. There was only one other artistic protest statement piece she knew of, and it was a fraud. It had been built too long for anyone to truly remember why or how it had gotten there. And political leeches took a tragedy, a homicide and turned it into an example in political awareness and protesting among the ethnic youth. The blood boiled in Sheila’s ears, for a moment. It was all she could hear. Digging her nail into her wrist, the pinching sensation drained the noise, bringing her back.
“Cool,” the word escaped as a whisper. “Yeah,” Berto said looking at his passenger. Her eyes were slightly glazed over. She looked so close and further away than the stars. He put his hand on her shoulder. “We’re here,” Berto said, “if you still want to grab lunch?” Sheila shook her head. In front of them was a shitty shack. Made from wood, weathered over time. Large plumes of smoke erupting from the chimney. “Smells good,” she said unbuckling herself. “Definitely ready for food.” The two hopped out of the truck and made their way inside.
“Hello Berto,” a bartender sang from behind the bar. Her bright yellow dress with white polka dots, topped by her sweet southern twang made her stand out from the dark, sticky place. “Ooo, you brought a friend,” she said shuffling over to their table. “Hi dear,” the woman said gathering Sheila’s hands up in her own. “I’m Naomi. Berto’s a regular here. Like my son. What would you like to eat, do you need to see the menu?” Sheila looked from Naomi to Berto. Berto cleared his throat, “I’m gonna explain the menu to her first,” Naomi’s face blushed, “but then we’ll be ready. Thank you so much, Nai.” Gently putting Sheila’s hands back on the table Naomi threw hers in the air, “of course! I’m so sorry! I just get so excited sometimes. It’s that Georgia Peach thing they always talk about with us Southern girls. Let me get you the menus.” Before Sheila or Berto could respond, Naomi was halfway across the bar.
“She means well,” Berto said in a low voice. “Just very southern and very excitable.” Sheila bit back a laugh, “I can tell.” Berto smiled and gestured around the room. “Your uncle was the first person who took me here. I was young. My father had just passed. They used to come here. Now it makes up 40% of my diet. Your aunt does another 40%, and I fill in the rest with beer and gas station snacks.” Sheila gave him a once her, she remembered what he looked like walking. “You must do a lot of handy work since I can smell the fat rendering from here.” This time both she and Berto laughed. Naomi politely left the menus on the table and backed away. The laugher only beginning to trail off, Berto handed Sheila a menu. Reaching for it, the hem of her sleeve pulled back. Faster than Naomi had left, the joy disappeared off Sheila’s face as Berto’s eyes ran the trail of her scars.
“Hello Sheila,” Matilda said closing the door behind them. “It’s been a little over two weeks since your release. Before we get into the particulars, how has it been?” Sheila settled into the couch. Fear ran its way up her legs, making a beeline for her heart. Taking a deep breath in Sheila focused on Matilda. She looked different than the countless times they had talked together. “Okay,” she finally answered. “I love my apartment. It’s more of a house actually.” Sheila pulled her legs up onto the sofa. Crossing them, she added, “my job is great. I’ve started to get to know some of the people in the complex. Not everyone wants to friend the maid, but most people are kind.” Matilda smiled, “that’s good to hear. Personally, I would be thankful to have anyone else keep up after me at home.” Sheila felt herself smile, something that was coming more natural to her these days.
“Are you doing anything else, other than working?” Sheila processed the question, in therapist terms, Matilda was trying to assess what hobbies she had picked up. Checking to see if any other them were more harmful than helpful. “Yes and no, I guess.” Honesty couldn’t hurt at this point. That was something Berto had taught her. “I’ve started making friends. At least, with my cousins. My aunt has three boys and two girls. The boys are triplets. The oldest and youngest are the girls. We’re all somewhat close in age. They go to school though, which I don’t. But I’ve been to a football game. Two of the boys play, one does the stats, and the two girls do cheerleading.” Matilda made a note, and smiled. “Well that’s good. Have you thought more about school?”
Sheila nodded. Berto had told her about night courses that the school offers for anyone who wants to get their GED. “My friend, his name is Berto. He got his certificate through the same school my cousins go to. I’m not sure I’m ready yet, but I think I would like to try next year.” Sheila had gone as far as getting the papers, but Courtney wouldn’t be in her classes. They had always been in classes together. Matilda smiled again. “Berto?” Sheila felt her eyes roll. “My aunt said it the same way. We’re friends. We work together.” Sheila paused, readjusting her legs. “Friends are good to have,” Matilda added. Sheila nodded, “they are. He is. He knows about -” pulling up her sleeve, Sheila waved at her wrist. “He knows about her, the wall, and here.”
The wall. It was supposed to have been a date. A first, official date, they had toured around the area. Berto showing her a bunch of different art openly hidden in various places. The wall was their last stop. She had tried to say something, but the closer they got, the less she could speak. Finally, as her nail dug into her wrist, piercing the skin she broke. Crying into his shoulder, Sheila told Berto the events leading to that night, the way her blood poured out on the wall, on to her clothes. The way it stained Courtney’s white jacket as she tried so hard to get Sheila to let her stop the bleeding. The way is mixed with Courtney’s blood as she fell off the wall trying to save her friend. “They called it a protest. Hardly, it was manslaughter, and the wrong person had died,” Sheila sobbed. He held her until she could breath. After he lifted her wrist, and kissed it lightly. “No one should have died that night, but accidents happen. Your friend wouldn’t want you to waste the opportunity you’ve been given by trying to save her. She might have died, Sheila, but she did save you. That was what she wanted. To lose both of you, especially now, that would be a waste. When you’re ready to accept that, things will get easier.”
“Sheila,” Matilda said nudgeling. “Sorry,” Sheila said tensing her shoulders. “He’s a good friend. When I’m ready to accept that it shouldn’t have been me, and that I deserve happiness -” a sniffle ate up the rest of her thought. “It’s okay to cry, remember?” Sheila nodded. She hated crying. But it was a step in healing. Even if she hated it. Taking a moment, Sheila counted the orange items in the room. There were six: some of the rug, the numbers on the clock, Matilda’s bracelet, the leaves on the computer screen, the leaves on the calendar, and Matilda’s mug. “He took me to the wall. As a date. For now, until I’m ready, we’re working on friendship. After everything. I doubt that I’m capable of being loved.”
“Love is a hard thing to accept sometimes, Sheila,” Matilda said placing a box of tissues onto the table separating them. Sheila reached forward and plucked one from the box. Holding onto it for dear life, Matilda continued. “But you seem to be aware of what your feeling. How are you dealing with these feelings?” Sheila thought about it. “I try to remember my skills. The counting of objects, list making. The ones that are good for me.” She paused looking down at her feet. The souls burned with her secret. “I take my medications, and talk to my aunt when I need one of the extra ones.” They had all agreed that for now, the best course of action, was for them to keep them. If it was bad enough, Sheila would be forced into telling them. At first it was embarrassing, and almost impossible. The night at the wall, with Berto, it forced her to take a step back. Running down the block to their house, the faded bright green a beacon of hope, Sheila dropped to her knees in front of them. Right there on the porch. Through tears she stuttered out that it was all too much. After she took her pill. She told them the story, as much of it as she could bear.
Afterward, they walked her home. For the first time in her life that she could remember, Sheila was properly tucked into bed. The calming feeling of home wrapped around like a blanket. She slept like a happy rock. “I still have some bad coping skills,” she heard herself say. “Sometimes I walk barefoot on the rock path outside. I wait until I find a sharp one and dig the arch of my foot into it. But I’m working on it. I’m trying not to,” Sheila said softly.
“You’re trying,” Matilda said. “You recognize what you are doing, and you’re trying.” Sheila looked up from the floor. Matilda smiled at her. Maybe she hadn’t been such a stupid cow afterall. “You know we need to go through some routine questions,” Matilda continued, “but I’m happy to hear that things seem to be moving forward for you. Small steps get us to the same places as big steps, Sheila. That’s the important part to remember.” Sheila nodded. Matilda reshuffled the papers in front of her and took a sip before reading starting the questionnaire. She regained some of her usually stuffiness, but asking people if they thought about hurting themselves or others couldn’t really be done in Mary-Poppins manner.
“Thank you, Sheila. That wraps up your session for today,” Matilda said clicking her pen off. “Let’s make your next appointment for four weeks. I think it will give you time to acclimate a little more, and give us a better perspective on how you’re doing.” Standing up, Matilda gestured to the door, “will that work for you?” Sheila nodded and made her way out. Pausing for a second, Sheila turned back around to face her therapist, “thank you,” she said. Whipping back around Sheila walked toward the check out station up front to make her next appointment and pick up her refill prescription. Eventually, she wouldn’t be seeing Matilda anymore. But at least this time Sheila knew it was because of protocol and not because she would have checked out of her life.
Seeing Sheila walking down the hall, her aunt stood and met her at the desk. “You didn’t have to wait for me,” Sheila said. “I didn’t, but I did find an interesting book at the shop down the road. It’s equal parts smut and mystery. I figured it would pass the time.” Sheila laughed at her aunt. “I’m telling your husband,” she said putting her change back in her wallet. “Hi Sheila,” the receptionist said as she hung up the phone. “Sorry about that, we’re scheduling you for four weeks. I have to check Matilda’s calendar, and grab your script. But it’s $30 for today.” Sheila nodded as the receptionist got up to get her prescription. “You can tell him all you want,” her aunt said as Sheila fished her money from her purse. “If he’s smart he’ll be just as scared as he gets excited.” “Gross,” Sheila said with a smile. “Go grab the car, you dirty auntie. I’ll be right out.” Sheila’s aunt laughed as she walked away. “Here you are dear,” the receptionist said. “Now to make an appointment, and some change,” she added looking as Sheila’s two twenty dollar bills.
“Finally,” Sheila’s aunt called from the car, “what took so long?” Sheila opened the car door, “they were having second thoughts about keeping me,” she quipped. “God forbid, mija,” her aunt shouted! “Just a joke, auntie,” Sheila said. “Seriously,” she added, her hand resting on her aunt’s arm, “I’m trying. It sucks, and it hurts sometimes, so much. But I’m trying.” Putting the car in park, her aunt threw off her seatbelt and reached over, embracing Sheila. “That’s all we can ask, Sheila. You’re gonna get there.” Sheila hugged her aunt, ignoring the shift stick digging into her ribs. Pressing her face into her aunt’s hair she dried her eyes. Crying was still a no-no in public. “Come on,” Sheila said pulling away, “let’s go. I have a half day, and I’d much rather get lunch with Berto than sit here hugging in a parking lot.” The two pulled away. As Sheila buckled her seatbelt her aunt chortled, “lunch with Berto, huh?” Sheila rolled her eyes. “Yes, lunch with Berto. The last time we went I had just left here and food isn’t free outside of those walls,” she said hiking her thumb backwards toward the institution. “Okay, whatever you say,” her aunt said through laughter. “For the first time in a long time, I say let’s go home, Auntie.”