Insanity in Islamabad
Ivan Serge Mooh Mooh
"Is this your trick? You force people in here and trap them in this white room with your fancy awards, and you repeat yourself 'til they talk or something?"
Content warning: sexual assault.
Alicia Anastasia Reykjavik sits behind her neat brown desk, a thick manila file in front of her. She reads it intently, taking notes in a white notebook as she does.
Many university degrees hang on the white walls of the office. A Bachelor's in Sociology from Dartmouth, next to a Master's in Pre-cognitive Psychology from Oxford with a concentration in cerebral kinetic augmentation, and a Doctorate from Harvard in human behavior about ethological heuristics. A Myriad of awards and citations donning a plethora of colors crowd the walls next to the degrees: including four from the American Psychological Association, three from the British Psychological Society, and one from the New England Journal of Medicine.
The office lacks anything intimate or personal: no pictures of pets or family members, no flowers, no paintings, nothing.
All that lies in this space that Alicia inhabits far too often are white, soul-absorbing walls, a broad mahogany desk; with a matching chair behind it, and two snow-white leather chairs in front of the desk.
Alicia turns her head from the manila file to her notebook like clockwork, her writing hand working in unison with each change. She continues to read, flipping through the pages while writing. This pattern goes uninterrupted for thirty minutes in the utter silence of her office.
She stops reading when her eyes land on a particular detail in the file; she purses her lips: curious. She leans back in her brown leather chair and closes her eyes, thinking to herself: Hmm, this should be interesting.
Alicia opens her eyes again, her thoughts collected.
She reaches for the white phone on the side of her desk.
"Bring her in now."
Four Marines in green camouflage uniforms open the door and walk into her office; shackling noises follow from the hallway as the last one enters.
Behind the last Marine is a tall, blonde woman in an orange jumpsuit, chained and manacled at her hands and feet.
Her eyes are a light green color, and her blonde hair is uneven. Her cheeks are hollow from malnourishment. The skin on her hands is thin, pale, and flaky. Her nails are in dire need of care and attention.
The tall blonde walks into the office, the handcuffs, and chains on her hands and feet clank together with each step she takes. She shuffles into the office until she stands in front of Alicia's desk.
Alicia gives the blonde a genuine smile, a gesture which the blonde doesn't reciprocate.
Alicia extends her hand forward, indicating towards one of the chairs in front of her desk; the blonde's green eyes follow the gesture.
"Please, Nicole, sit."
Alicia's voice is kind and gentle.
Nicole's green eyes return to Alicia with defiance in them.
The Marine closest to Nicole roughly grabs her by her chopped blonde hair and pulls her towards the chair. Nicole doesn't bother resisting or showing any signs of visible pain or discomfort. The Marine pulls her by her hair into the left chair in front of Alicia's desk.
"That was quite unnecessary, Frank. I know it's difficult for you to resist behaving like a troglodyte, but from now on, please put more effort into restraining yourself...particularly in front of me. It's crass and distasteful. Also, my work requires privacy. You and your Marines are dismissed."
Frank, now standing next to Nicole, shakes his head, his face stern with refusal.
"I'm sorry, ma'am, I can't do that. It goes against protocol. This woman is a class five prisoner. She can't be alone without my direct supervision."
Annoyance flashes across Alicia's face, disappearing as quickly as it arrived.
"Frank, who do you think wrote the protocol? I was not asking for your permission. I will not repeat myself."
There is ice in Alicia's voice that turns the blood in Frank's body cold. He nods his head in agreement and turns to walk out; his Marines turn to follow.
"Before you go, do unshackle Nicole. It's discourteous to chain up a compliant prisoner."
Frank turns back around and opens his mouth, beginning to protest, but he stops himself when he sees the look on Alicia's face.
Her visage is like stone, and the blue in her eyes pierces through him.
Again, he simply nods his head and does as he's been instructed.
Frank frees Nicole from her wrist and ankle confinements, being sure to unlock the chains linking them all together as well; they fall onto the white tiled floor loudly.
Nicole starts to massage her wrists, trying in vain to rub out the deep, red circles the cuffs have formed around them.
"Thank you, Frank. Now disappear." Alicia says, her tone authoritative and dismissive.
Frank nods his head for a final time.
"Understood, ma'am. We'll be right outside. You know the protocol if you need us."
Mere seconds later, Frank and his Marines are gone, and it's just Alicia and Nicole left in the silence of the office.
"Thank you," Nicole says.
Alicia smiles genuinely at her again.
"Of course. The staff here isn't particularly great, and the Marines here are even wors-"
"Who the fuck are you?" Nicole demands, cutting Alicia off.
Alicia smirks at this.
"Straight to the point, I see. Very well, Nicole."
Alicia picks up the manila file on her desk; she opens it and begins to flip through it.
"My name is Doctor Alicia Reykjavik; you can call me Alicia. The court ordered a psychological evaluation. You've been charged by the United States Marine Corps with an Article 118 for the murder of a fellow Marine. Your defense is pleading your case by arguing the aforementioned action resulted from insanity. A defense of insanity requires a thorough psychological evaluation of the individual setting claim to it. I am to give the commanding officer of your previous unit my recommendation of your mental state upon completion of this session."
"So, you're some kind of shrink?"
Alicia's face twitches with annoyance that as quickly dissipates; she hates that word: shrink.
"Not exactly in the sense you are proposing, but yes, I am a psychologist. My area of expertise primarily being cognitive psychosis."
"That's a lot of words just to say shrink."
Alicia's jaw tightens, but she forces herself to loosen it.
"Well, you now know who I am and why I'm here. So, don't you think it's only fair that I ask you who you are and why you're here?"
Nicole looks around the office, her green eyes glossing over the degrees and awards hanging about everywhere.
"I don't know, doc. You're the shrink with all the fancy fucking degrees, you tell me?"
Alicia says nothing in response. She puts down the Manila file and picks up her notebook, opening it and jotting a few things down. Nicole watches her do this.
"You're facing a military court-martial for murder. This will result in either a conviction of life in prison at best or summary execution at worst. You have nothing to say about that?"
Nicole keeps rubbing her uncuffed wrists; she shrugs her shoulders.
"I know. Pretty... insane, huh?"
Alicia again writes in her notebook.
As she writes, she asks Nicole a question.
"Are your wrists hurting you?"
Nicole looks down at her reddened wrists, suddenly realizing she's unconsciously been rubbing them the entire time; she immediately stops.
Alicia notices this; she says nothing but adds the observation to her notebook.
"I've been through worse things," Nicole says.
"Like shit, you couldn't even begin to imagine, doc, even with all your fucking degrees."
"Call me Alicia."
"You said that already."
"Is this your trick? You force people in here and trap them in this white room with your fancy awards, and you repeat yourself 'til they talk or something?"
Alicia writes more observations into her notebook; this annoys Nicole.
"Or maybe you just sit there and write shit down in that stupid fucking book of yours and give people the silent treatment."
Alicia stops writing, shrugs her shoulders, then looks up at Nicole.
"Maybe I do," Alicia says.
"Well, none of your fucking shrink shit is gonna work on me. I killed Rodgers. The pig deserved it. End of story. That's all you're fucking getting out of me about that shit."
Alicia notes something in her notebook before speaking again; as she speaks, she closes the notebook and places it on the brown desk in front of her.
"So, let's not talk about 'that shit' then. Let's just talk about you for a while. In your file, it says you were at the top of your class from Parris Island. You left basic training as the company honor graduate. You became a Fleet Marine; you had near-perfect pros and con scores, high First Class CFTs, and PFTs. You even went on to earn meritorious promotions from Lance Corporal through Sergeant. You were an exemplary Marine. My question is: why did you join in the first place? The Marines aren't exactly known as the easiest branch out of the six, especially for women."
"In case you haven't noticed already, doc; I'm not an average woman. I don't do average shit. I joined the Marines because they're the hardest branch. If I wanted an easy life, I would have gone to college like you."
Alicia nods her head in agreement.
"You make a valid argument."
"Insane people usually don't do that, do they?"
"And you're sure that's what you are? Insane?"
Nicole doesn't respond immediately; she pauses to think for a moment before finally saying, "That's what my lawyers say."
"Your lawyers aren't in this room with us...and also, just like when you are with your lawyers, everything you say in this room stays between us. You're protected by doctor-patient confidentiality. Like your lawyers, I share the power of privilege over all the conversations we have."
Nicole eyes Alicia suspiciously again.
"No fucking way. I don't believe you. You're not an actual doctor. You're just a shrink."
Without looking behind her, Alicia points at a degree on the wall using her thumb.
"That degree from Harvard says otherwise."
Nicole rolls her eyes.
"You think just because you have a couple fancy fucking degrees, you can understand people."
Alicia shakes her head, refusing the notion.
"No, quite the contrary: because I can understand people, I have a couple fancy fucking degrees."
"If you say so."
"It also says in your file that you've been deployed twice to combat zones. The first was in Iraq and the second in Pakistan. How did that first deployment go?"
Nicole leans back in the white leather chair, her head tilted up at the ceiling. She stares absentmindedly at it.
"I was a Corporal, newly promoted. It was the first time I'd ever left the country. Iraq was a shithole. Everything there had been bombed out because of drone strikes. The roads no longer existed, IEDs were everywhere, dead bodies rotting in the street; you wouldn't believe the smell shit like that made when it rained. That country was a fucking mess."
Nicole nods her head in agreement.
"Yeah, that is war. I was deployed with a logistics squadron at the time, aiding the fight alongside the infantry by sending supplies and coordinating with allies in the area. When they needed a point person for a patrol, I'd always be the first to volunteer."
"What's a point person?" Alicia asks.
"It's usually the youngest Marine in any given platoon or unit, and basically: it's the person who walks in the front of a patrol, scouting for danger. In most cases, this is likely the person who gets," Nicole snaps her finger, "killed first."
"That must have been scary."
Nicole shakes her head, refusing the notion.
"Not really. Death was around us all the time, whether it was in an IED being one step away or a sniper hiding with his scope in a bombed outbuilding. You just accept the fact that you can die at any moment, and you make your peace with it. It's that simple. I guess they never taught you that at Harvard, huh?"
Alicia smiles, "No, I must have skipped class the day they were teaching that."
Nicole smirks a little at Alicia's response.
"Is that all that happened during your first deployment?"
Nicole tilts her head further back in the chair.
"Well, I mean, I did get shot during the very last patrol I did with that unit in Iraq."
"I saw that in your file as well," Alicia picks up her notebook again and opens it, "you were saved by a certain Sergeant Landon Paxton. You got shot, and he prevented you from bleeding out."
Nicole nods her head.
"You were awarded a purple heart and a bronze star after your deployment."
Nicole nods her head again.
"Yeah, after that deployment, it finally felt like the Marines had accepted me. You have no idea what it's like to be a woman in the Marine Corps. Especially a tall blonde one at that. All the dumb shit I had to put up with: the fucking jokes, the constant backhanded compliments. After I got shot, that all changed. It finally felt like I was one of the fucking guys. I even thought I had made a friend, something I didn't know was possible until then."
"Who? Sergeant Paxton?"
"Yeah. He and I got close after that deployment. He was a complete idiot, couldn't drill to save his life, and a crapshoot, but he always took care of his Junior Marines, no matter what. Their safety and the mission came in that exact order. I always admired that about him. I followed the rules to the letter, Landon didn't. On our last patrol, when we made contact, and I got hit, it's standard operating procedure when in a firefight with the enemy to create a position to return fire. Landon didn't do that. Instead: he left his sector of fire and ran ahead of the platoon to save me. As always, breaking protocol... this time for me."
"Sounds like a good Marine."
"If you say so," Nicole says curtly.
Alicia stares at Nicole for a moment, then writes something in her notebook.
"You were on active duty for six years, and during the entirety of that time, you were a stellar Marine. Your performance was always exceptional. I also noticed in your file that it's only immediately after your second deployment, the one in Pakistan, that your performance starts to regress for the first time ever. Why is that?"
"Why do you think?"
"I don't know. That's why I'm asking you."
Nicole straightens up and stops reclining in her chair, her face and eyes now directed solely at Alicia.
"You said everything I say here stays between us, right?"
"Indeed, I did."
"So, you can't tell anyone anything about this at all without my permission?"
Alicia pauses momentarily before answering.
"That's precisely what I'm saying."
"Not even my commanding officer?"
Alicia nods her head.
"Not even him."
Nicole continues to stare sharply at Alicia, debating whether to believe her or not. Eventually, she gives in and begins to tell the rest of her story.
"After Iraq, the Corps sent me to a new platoon. I was stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina with an artillery unit. When I got there, I ran into Landon, and about a year later, we deployed together again. That deployment changed everything."
Nicole starts involuntarily squeezing her hands open and closed. Her long, dirty fingernails digging into the pale, calloused, white skin in the middle of her palms.
"What happened during that deployment?"
A shiver runs down Nicole's spine, causing her to jitter momentarily.
"In Pakistan, our unit fired the artillery at coordinates that came in from headquarters. We were the direct support for the Marines on the ground. Our unit was really good at this, we had the best call and response time in the entire company, and a large part of that had to do with...him."
"I assume by 'him' you're referring to your Executive Officer at the time: First Lieutenant James Rodgers."
"Yeah... him!" Nicole puts venom behind that last word.
Realization suddenly dawns on Alicia.
"Oh, I see now."
Nicole doesn't hear Alicia, her mind no longer in the office.
"We were in the capital city. The First Marine Division had captured it about a month prior. We used it as a base of operations to combat the enemy as the main artillery support unit. It was supposed to be the safest place in all of Pakistan for Marines...and for a while, it was...until it wasn't."
Nicole's fingernails dig deeper into her pale skin. The inside of her palms starting to turn crimson.
"Since we were the best artillery unit in our company, the CO would occasionally give us all liberty. Usually, during that time, our entire unit would go to someone's tent. We'd all talk about how much we missed being home, how hot Pakistan was, or how much we all secretly wished we had joined the Air Force because they had air conditioning. During all this, Marines would drink, we'd talk shit, we'd laugh, and make the best of a bad situation. War is stressful. Doing shit like that during liberty kept us sane."
Nicole's palms start to bleed, the small droplets of blood falling down the leather of the white chair and landing on the floor.
Alicia sees this but says nothing. Allowing Nicole to continue talking.
"One night, when we had been granted another liberty period, we all gathered in his tent. Since he was an officer, he had more space and better digs than us. We talked and joked around a bit, and we drank. Usually, I didn't drink, but we were all really happy that night: the deployment was almost over, we were killing shit, and we were all still alive. All of that was worth celebrating. So, I drank a bit, so did everyone else, especially him."
Nicole's fingernails dig deep and hard into the center of her palms, the blood no longer flowing out in small droplets but rather as a tiny, steady stream down the side of the white chair.
"He was shitfaced, but so was everyone else. They were all so fucked up that someone actually played Miley Cyrus's Party in The U.S.A. It started blaring in the tent, and we all lost our shit. Grown, combat-hardened Marines, throwing our hands in the air and singing along like middle school teenagers. I was buzzed, but I wasn't drunk. I remember looking around as we danced, as we laughed, as we talked... I remember thinking: this is why I joined, to belong. To not feel out of place, to be part of something bigger than myself. There, at that moment, with those Marines, I wasn't some freakishly tall blonde. I was a Marine, through and through. I had earned my stripes. These were my brothers, and I was their sister. These men would die for me, and I would die for them. I felt totally and completely safe. It took me going to Pakistan to feel that."
The blood continues to fall out of Nicole's palms, down the side of the chair, landing in a very tiny puddle on the white tiled floor.
Finally, Alicia intervenes.
Nicole's head jerks back a little, her green eyes awaken from their trance.
"Huh?" she says.
Alicia points to Nicole's left hand, then her right.
"Your hands are bleeding."
Nicole looks down at her hands, both of them resting against the edges of the chair. She sees the blood but almost doesn't seem to recognize it.
"Oh yeah, I am." Nicole whispers.
"Hold on. I have something for that."
Alicia reaches into the third drawer on the right side of her desk and brings out a first aid kit. She then walks over to Nicole, taking the seat next to her in the only remaining chair. She starts nursing and bandaging Nicole's right hand.
Nicole doesn't resist the treatment.
"I'm fine. They're just scratches. They'll heal." Nicole says while still not pulling her right hand away.
"I'm sure they will," Alicia says kindly.
For a few minutes, neither woman speaks.
Silence fills the office again, along with the subtle sound of blood dripping down onto the floor from Nicole's chair.
Alicia works on Nicole's right hand tenderly and with great technique. When she's finished applying the bandages, she turns her attention to the left hand.
It is Nicole who breaks the silence in the office first.
"Alicia... have you ever been raped before?"
Not at all phased by the question, Alicia continues to work on Nicole's left hand.
Nicole nods her head slowly, tears beginning to form in her eyes.
"Is there a psychologist trick you can do on me to make me forget?"
Alicia tightens the applied bandage on Nicole's left hand.
A silent tear falls from Nicole's right eye.
"They don't teach that at Harvard? You must have skipped that class too, huh." Nicole says softly.
Alicia doesn't respond. She keeps working on Nicole's left hand.
"Eventually, everyone started to get tired and leave his tent that night, one by one. Then, it was just him and me. I was buzzed and tired, and he was completely shitfaced. My tent was really far from his, and I knew it would take forever to get back. So, he offered me his rack that night while he slept on the floor. This was definitely against protocol, a junior male officer and his female Sergeant sleeping in a tent together? No matter how someone looked at it, it would appear wrong. But I... I trusted him. We were in a warzone. We needed each other for survival. He was my Executive Officer...I thought I would be safe with him. So, I accepted. That night I slept in his rack, and he slept on the floor... at least... in the beginning, he did."
Nicole's body starts to shake and tremble, her mind no longer in the office again.
Tears fall in rapid succession out of Nicole's eyes. She doesn't bother wiping them away.
"I didn't even feel it when he... I just woke up... because I felt some pressure on top of me... and he was there...he was there, and he was...inside me."
The tears continue falling, her green eyes wide, the pupils in them completely dilated.
"I froze... I didn't know what to do," Nicole's voice quivers, "I was terrified... I was so scared... I just laid there... I laid there, and I let him do it... I let him... I let him rape me."
Nicole's trembling increases, Alicia abates attempting to dress the wound on her left hand.
"When he was done... he just rolled over and fell back asleep in the rack with me. I didn't move until he woke up the next morning."
Nicole takes her shaking, bandaged right hand, and wipes her left eye with it.
"He didn't even remember what he did... he didn't even remember... there was blood all over the sheets and all over him... and he still couldn't remember that the night before... he had ripped my virginity from me."
Nicole's tears start to subside.
"We never spoke about it, and for a while, I didn't tell anyone. I even tried to convince myself that it didn't happen, but every time I saw him... it all came crashing back to me... his smell... his breath... his sweat... all of it. Months after that deployment, I remember thinking: If I washed my body hard enough, that I could bathe it all away, that I could forget it all. I never did. No matter how many showers I took or how hard I scrubbed, he was still there, inside me, ripping it from me all over again."
Nicole tightens her jaw. Deep sadness now fills her green eyes.
"Then I finally got the strength one night to tell somebody... so I told the only friend I had ever known: Landon," Nicole shakes her head in dismay, some tears beginning to leak out of her eyes again, "And you wanna know what he said?"
Alicia nods her head slowly.
"He said that it was too late to do anything about it now... that I should have said something months ago... that I should just forget the whole thing and pretend it never happened. He said this way, it would be easier for everyone involved, especially me. That an investigation into it would hurt platoon cohesiveness and be detrimental to mission accomplishment."
Nicole scrunches up her face, hurt by the words she's forcing herself to relive, "because no Marine will ever want to be in any unit with the girl who cried rape. It was taboo to speak about it... if you got raped, you kept your mouth shut and kept it moving, all for the sake of unit morale and mission success. That's what Landon told me... that's when I finally realized in the end... I had never meant anything to him. I would never be a true Marine in his eyes. I would always be a girl first. Landon had never been my friend at all. To him, I had always been some liability that the unit might have to deal with one day."
Nicole sniffles, wiping her tears again, this time with both hands. The bandages on the right hand coming undone.
"And so... for a while, that's what I did, I kept it moving... until I couldn't move anymore."
Nicole gulps with a pained swallow.
"I thought about killing myself, but I never had the strength to pull the trigger. I spent so many nights after that day trying, but I was always too fucking weak to do it."
She chuckles to herself while wiping her tears.
"Then the day finally came when I went into work one morning, and we were running some kind of rotation drill... and he smiled at me... he flashed those perfect fucking teeth at me... it was like he already forgot what he'd done to me... what he'd ripped from me. That's when I blacked out."
Nicole lets out a deep sigh.
"When I came to, I was on top of him with my Desert Eagle. The weapon was warm, and nine bullets were inside his chest. I'd emptied my entire magazine in him... and now because of that... I'm here. The only people who know why I killed him are Landon, my lawyers, and now you. I told my lawyers not to tell anyone about what happened to me. I don't want anyone else to know... I don't want anyone else to know that I'm the girl who cries rape."
Alicia says nothing. She reaches out and takes each of Nicole's hands and places them on her lap, taking her time as she redoes the bandages on each hand.
Nicole watches Alicia work with tears in her eyes again.
"Alicia, you're the one who went to Harvard, so you tell me: doesn't surviving rape make you insane?" Nicole asks tearfully.
While still tending to Nicole's hands, Alicia shakes her head, refusing the notion.
"No, Nicole, surviving rape makes you a survivor."
✽ ✽ ✽
Ivan Serge Mooh Mooh is 23 years old. He is an Enlisted United States Marine. He is a graduate of Pace University. This is his first published work. Ivan lives in New York.