Exchange Rate: 1-Jeff
Exchange Rate: 2-Allyson
Exchange Rate: 3-Jeff
Exchange Rate: 4-Allyson
Exchange Rate: 5-Jeff
Exchange Rate: 6-Jeff
7 – Allyson
“Full name?” Dr. Mahesh asked, her pen pressed to the sheet in the manila folder, eyes on Allyson.
“L’Tasha Allyson Mosley.”
“1126 North Clark Circle in Borah.”
“L’Tasha, do you know why you are here?”
“My name. It’s Allyson. No one here calls me L’Tasha.”
Dr. Mahesh frowned. “Why not?”
“Because it’s too black.”
“I see.” The doctor wrote notes on her intake sheet, glancing up every few seconds to gauge the teenage girl’s interest in what she was writing. Allyson stared ahead, but it wasn’t a glazed, fixed stare, the kind she’d seen too many times from patients who had threatened or attempted suicide.
Allyson finally looked over at the doctor behind the desk. “Do you?” she asked.
“Allyson, I’m an Indian doctor in southern Idaho. When I’m not at work, I wear a plain sari and receive odd and sometimes unpleasant stares from others. On special occasions, I wear a Paithani, a special, very colorful sari with little bits of cosmetic glass and beads. I imagine that even you would stare at such a sight.” Dr. Mahesh’s voice was soft, her accent very light, and her expression was one of genuine sympathy. “I’m too dark,” the doctor continued, looking down at her hand, “so I have a good idea of where that leaves you.”
Allyson wanted to be angry with the woman. Dr. Mahesh was Indian, not black. Everyone expected Indians to be smart doctors, or at the least, hard-working convenience store owners. She came from a privileged family, no doubt. Full ride scholarships through medical school were rare. Allyson wondered if the doctor’s parents had worked until their fingers or their toes bled just to put their daughter through eight years of school, or if they had simply written a check to the university each semester.
“Are you planning to hurt yourself again?” Dr. Mahesh asked after the silence had stretched to almost a full minute.
“Why did you want to hurt yourself tonight?”
Allyson laughed without humor. “Where would I even begin? Your shift ain’t long enough, Doc.”
“Have you ever attempted to harm yourself in the past? Thought about it?”
“Who hasn’t?” Allyson asked. “Are these questions you have to ask, like it’s a law or something?”
“Why do you ask?” Dr. Mahesh looked up from her notes.
“I’m just saying,” Allyson said, shrugging and looking at the far wall. “What kid my age hasn’t thought about it at least once? If you’ve had the same experiences as me, then you know what it’s like to be fifteen and different when all you want to do is fit in and have the same kind of friends everyone else has. These are stupid questions, is all.”
Dr. Santhi Mahesh remembered seventh grade, her weird Indian clothing, her funny accent, her dark skin separating her from the majority of her classmates, the specific shade separating her from others with dark skin. Hispanics wanted nothing to do with her. The black girls had been merciless to her. Even others descending from the Indian subcontinent had snubbed her. They’d been born in America. They spoke perfect English and Hindi. The fact that Santhi also spoke Bengali and Punjabi earned her a derogatory nickname, her cultural peers accusing her of being uppity.
“I agree,” Dr. Mahesh said, closing the manila folder and laying her pen on the desk. “The question is, do we need to intervene? We can’t just let you go so you can jump from a bridge again.”
“I’m not doing that again,” Allyson said with a shiver.
“But we don’t know that,” Dr. Mahesh said. “Tell me what happened that led up to this, and what happened tonight, so I can make a proper recommendation for your treatment and release.”
“How long am I going to have to be here?”
“Well, you have to have this mandatory evaluation. I can recommend you be held for up to seventy-two hours for observation before I have to petition for your involuntary admittance.” Dr. Mahesh frowned. “But an evaluator from Health & Welfare can drop the mandatory hold we have on you if he or she feels you truly aren’t a threat to yourself or others. Of if your parents demand your release.”
“So it’s the welfare guys I need to lie or pretend to so I can get out of here?”
Dr. Mahesh leaned forward. “Allyson, you seem like a very intelligent young woman. You can lie to me and to the evaluator. I won’t even argue against it if you do. But you won’t be getting the help that you need. You’ll simply be back on the street and having to face the same problems that put you in the chair you are currently sitting in.” The doctor leaned back and scowled even more deeply. “Next time, there might not be someone there to catch you. Or maybe you slip before anyone even knows you are gone.”
Allyson glared at the doctor. She didn’t want to sit in a loony bin, doped up on anti-psychotics that made her into a drooling zombie. She didn’t want to sit around in a circle and listen to everyone else’s problems, and she especially didn’t want to have to tell anyone else hers. The man, Jeff, had saved her life. Something had changed in her when he pulled her to safety. Allyson Mosley wanted to live, but she didn’t want to live at the Snake River Psychiatric Care Center.
“Think it over, Allyson,” Dr. Mahesh said, rising from her chair.
“That’s it?” Allyson asked. “Assembly line doctoring? I get seven minutes of your time and I’m shoved out the door?”
Dr. Mahesh said back down. “I assumed you didn’t want to talk. It’s after three in the morning. I’m here until seven, and you’re most likely our only intake tonight.”
“I…” Allyson was caught off guard, expecting to be shrugged off, the doctor making an excuse to get back to her erotica novels or TV show or whatever she did during the dead hours of a typical graveyard shift. “I’m not sure where to start.”
“How about start with today. Tonight. What made you decide to walk out onto the bridge?”
Allyson talked to Dr. Mahesh for more than an hour. She only cried once, and that was only when she told the doctor about how her hands and feet had slipped from the pole and she had begun to fall. Her face was blank stone at every other detail, from her worthless, abusive father, to the constant fights that would erupt into screaming matches with Steve, almost always ending with her mother punishing her either physically or emotionally. Allyson confessed that the worst abuse she received was whenever her mother would threaten to ship her back to Florida to live with her father. Words couldn’t describe the betrayal that she felt knowing her mother would choose to send her back into an extremely violent environment just to be free of the burden, so she could focus even more attention on Steve.
“Goddamn it, Allyson,” Maralyn Mosley hissed, feeling her hand twitch as if on autopilot and ready to to slap her daughter. “What the fuck is wrong with you?”
“Hi, Mom,” Allyson said, her expression cold. “‘Hi, honey, we were so worried. We didn’t realize your life was so screwed up that you’d try to kill yourself.’”
Allyson’s mocking tone made her mother’s hand rear back from her lap. Steve reached out and gently grabbed his wife’s wrist, giving it a squeeze to remind her they were being observed by two doctors and a nurse from across the waiting room.
“Oh good God, Allyson,” her mother said, trying to keep her voice from rising. “Your life is so hard. You’ve got a roof over your head, clothes on your back, and food to eat. We let you do… this,” she said, gesturing to her daughter’s hair, “and put that shit in your face. What more do you want from us?”
“Allyson,” Steve said, crouching down next to his wife, “I—”
“Shut the fuck up, Steve,” Allyson said sharply. The doctors and the nurse were staring at them, whispering to each other. “You don’t get to say shit.”
“You ungrateful little bitch,” Steve shouted. “I work my fuckin’ ass off for you and your mother! So your lazy ass can sit around and watch TV and whore for boys on the—”
“HEY!” Dr. Mahesh’s voice pierced through the family’s shouts. The little doctor’s voice was surprisingly clear, full of authority that was used to being obeyed. “I will ask you to leave if you cannot keep from shouting at each other.”
Allyson, her mom, and Steve exchanged hateful stares, but all three kept their voices down until Dr. Mahesh returned to the desk on the other side of the room.
“Listen, Allyson,” Steve said, using his smooth voice, the one he used when he talked her mom into doing whatever he wanted. Allyson wanted to kick out with her foot and knock the smug, in-control look off his face, but knew it would only make things worse. “What’s the problem? Is someone picking on you at school? Just tell me who it is, and a few of my friends will pay them a visit.”
“You can’t just suddenly act as if you give a shit,” Allyson said, glancing at the doctors before looking at her mother’s husband. Allyson would never, ever call him stepfather. She’d die before ever calling him dad. “And what are you going to do? Go beat up a bunch of high school kids?”
“Well, what did you do to them to make them come after you?” her mother asked, the accusation in her voice clear.
“I didn’t do anything to them!”
“You must have done something,” Maralyn said. “No one just picks on you for no reason, Allyson.”
“Who was it?” Steve asked again. “Just tell me one name and I’ll make sure he tells everyone else.” Steve’s expression relayed the fun, the glory he’d have at beating up some high school kids with his buddies from work. He looked at her, his mouth curling into a snarl. “Did they call you that word?”
Allyson hated the man, but the one thing she couldn’t hate was his distaste for anyone hating another because of skin color. Soon after Allyson and her mom had arrived at the Greyhound station in Twin Falls, Steve had gotten into two fights and almost a third, all people that he knew well, had known almost his whole life. Steve’s friends either kept their racist jokes and comments to themselves from that point forward, or they were no longer friends with Steve Chambers, married (dating at the time) to a black woman. The jokes and snide comments Allyson had overheard from Steve’s social circles had dried up, but she knew better when it came to the way they talked whenever Steve and his African wife and African stepchild weren’t around. Allyson wasn’t big enough, tough enough to fight grown men, or even three high school girls at once.
“Janelle Peterson,” Allyson said, not answering his other question. He already knew the answer to it.
“What?” Steve asked, confused at hearing a girl’s name.
“You let a girl bully you so bad you wanted to kill yourself?” Maralyn asked, her voice full of disbelief. “Why didn’t you kick the shit out of the little white bitch?”
“Because that solves everything,” Allyson said, feeling the tears welling up at what she was going to tell them next.
“It solves letting your ass get beaten up until you want to jump from a bridge. Toughen the fuck up, Allyson.” Her mother’s words were full of loathing.
“I can’t fight three of them at once!” she said, her voice rising. She saw Dr. Mahesh take a step forward in her peripheral vision and held up hand to let the doctor know everything was okay. “I can’t fight every girl in the school except Rosie.”
“What did you do to get three girls beating on you at once?” Maralyn asked.
“Jesus Christ, Maralyn,” Allyson said, her teeth grinding together so she wouldn’t scream in her mother’s face. “Why is it always my fault? Is that how disappointing I am to you? That three girls kicked the shit out of me in the gym and it’s my fault? Don’t you even want to know my side of it?”
“I’m sure it will make you look like an innocent angel, right?”
Steve licked his lips then opened his mouth to say something, but Allyson cut him off.
“So the color of my skin is something I can control? Well Hall-a-fuckin’-luja.” Her voice began to rise again, this time both doctors walking toward them. “How about you take me to whatever clinic that can change my skin color then? Make me white like everyone else! Then maybe they’ll leave me alone! How the fuck am I supposed to not be black?”
Steve shrank back at her screaming fit, but her mother leaned forward, mouth open to reply. Maralyn clamped her jaw shut when Dr. Mahesh stepped in front of her, cutting off her view of her daughter. She looked at the lab coat next to the short Indian woman and saw a tall man that had a mobile phone in one hand, thumb poised over the screen.
“You need to leave now,” Dr. Mahesh said, not moving when the girl’s mother tried to lean around her. “Now.”
“Fine,” Maralyn said, standing up, practically towering over the smaller woman. “We’ll be taking my daughter home with us.”
“I’m afraid that isn’t possible,” the doctor replied, her voice businesslike.
“Why the hell not?” Steve asked, regaining his alpha male persona. “She’s our daughter. You can’t hold her here against her will. Or ours.” Allyson wanted to laugh at the smug, almost lawyerly look that was plastered on his face, as if he’d just presented the smoking gun to a jury.
“I can if she is a danger to herself or others,” Dr. Mahesh said, not even looking at Steve. Her eyes were locked on Maralyn’s. “Allyson,” the doctor asked without looking at her, “are you feeling like you might hurt yourself or others?”
Maralyn’s scowl, which had been focused on the Indian woman, shifted to her daughter. She tried to force a smile, but could feel her lips locked into a straight line.
“If you let me out that door, I’m going to kill myself.” Allyson held her mother’s stare for a few seconds before adding, “I’ll stab myself in the neck and choke on my own blood with the first pencil or knife or broken bottle I see.”
“You little bitch,” her mom said, barely more than a whisper.
Dr. Mahesh grabbed Allyson by her arm and led her away. The male doctor blocked any attempt to follow them, his thumb still poised over 911. Allyson looked back once before being guided down a hallway. Neither her mother nor Steve looked concerned in the least. They looked angry, their accusatory stares meant to shame her, belittle her. Instead, Allyson felt her own anger, and a new feeling, one that had been absent before Jeff had talked her out of letting go: resolve.
Allyson looked up when she heard the door open. Dr. Mahesh entered the observation cell and walked to the end of the cot that looked straight out of an old prison movie. The doctor stared at Allyson for a while until she became uncomfortable and sat up. Dr. Mahesh sat at the end of the bed and looked at the teenager in the dim, diffused overhead lighting.
“I’m sorry that you have to stay in this observation room until your twelve hours is up,” the doctor said softly.
“It’s okay,” Allyson said, hugging her knees. “It’s better than going home.”
“The problem is, you’ll have to go home eventually.”
“How long can you hold me?”
“Because of your professed suicide threat, seventy-two hours.”
“The same as before,” Allyson said, exhaling loudly.
“Unfortunately.” Dr. Mahesh’s face looked old and sad in the muted lighting. “I can recommend to the Health & Welfare advisor to get you enrolled into a thirty day inpatient program.” She put her hand on Allyson’s forearm. “You’ll still have to go home, but it’s thirty days, maybe thirty-two or three if we stretch it out. Maybe after thirty days you’ll feel better. Maybe after thirty days, they’ll feel better.”
The doctor’s unspoken accusation was loud and clear to Allyson. Thirty days would give her a chance to get her jumbled thoughts in order, to decide what she wanted to use her newfound resolve on. The end result was getting the hell out of Idaho, but that was two and a half years away when she turned eighteen and could go and do as she pleased. Thirty days, not even thirty months, she thought to herself, would be enough change her mother or Steve. She’d have to learn to deal with them the same as she’d have to learn how to deal with her classmates. Allyson decided to use some of her resolve to not let anything another person said divert her from her goal.
“Sure,” Allyson said, smiling, “sign me up. What’s the food like?”
“It’s not that simple,” Dr. Mahesh said, removing her hand. Her voice became businesslike, the same as it had been in the waiting room. “The advisor has to deem it necessary to enroll you in the program. They’ll look at your family’s finances, and if your parents can’t afford it, the state will pay for it, since it is a medical necessity.” Allyson gave her a confused look. “You said yourself, if we let you out, you’ll harm yourself. We need to keep you here. Your parents will have to pay the state back, but they’ll be able to do it in payment plans.”
“Lay-a-way psychiatry,” Allyson muttered. “That will go over real well.”
“Maybe it will be a lesson that they have learned? To listen to their daughter?”
“Steve’s not my father,” Allyson said automatically. “He’s not even my stepfather. He’s my mom’s husband. Maralyn’s husband.”
“I see,” Dr. Mahesh said gently. “If they harm you or threaten you, there’s always foster care.” Dr. Mahesh’s tone let Allyson know what she thought of the foster care system. “You don’t really have a lot of choices, Allyson. I still think you’re a smart young woman. Life is never easy, but if you can tough it out for the next couple of years, you’ll see that things get better. You’ll thank me one day for telling you this. Every day, you’ll thank the man who saved your life once your life starts to improve.”
Dr. Mahesh felt uncomfortable, embarrassed, at her speech. She’d seen hundreds of patients in her four years at SRPCC, and used to give the speech to everyone that sat across from her during the intake interview. She hadn’t given her little speech in almost a year. There didn’t seem to be a point in it for most of her patients. There didn’t seem to be a point in it for the young girl next to her on the observation cot. Maybe this one is the one it will work on, she thought, feeling a smile cross her lips. Dr. Mahesh reached out and squeezed Allyson’s wrist then stood up.
“I’ll start the paperwork for Dr. Jansen on the next shift. He’s a good man, and he’ll understand. When the evaluator comes to see you, just be honest. Don’t overact or exaggerate. They usually don’t question our requests for emergency inpatient treatment. The state doesn’t like to be sued if a patient is let go instead of being admitted and hurts himself or someone else. Get some sleep. I’ll see you in twelve hours.”
The click of the door closing was followed by silence. Allyson laid back on the cot and stared at the baffles that diffused the lights behind them. She glanced over at the observation window, then up to the camera in the ceiling, before turning on her side to face the wall. Thirty days, she thought. She fell asleep quickly. Instead of dreaming of falling into the canyon, she dreamed of Jeff and his family. They seemed so happy as they chatted and laughed during a backyard barbecue. Allyson was happy too. None of the guests stared at her. No one whispered behind a hand near her. No one was afraid to sit next to her, to touch her, to listen to what she had to say.