Shannon O’Connor


The Roommate

When I was 16 going on 17, I went to Russia and went insane, but that is another story for a novel or two. What I want to write about now is the first time I was in the hospital. My roommate, once I moved to the open unit, appeared to be a sweet woman who held prayer meetings with her friends who came to visit her. Her name was Carol. She was convicted of murder a few years later.

After I was out of the locked unit, my head still buzzed with thoughts of God and why the world is so demented. Carol was about my mother’s age, and her husband and daughter came to visit her. The daughter’s name was Katrina, and she talked to me about music and things. She wanted to be a singer.

I thought Katrina was interested in being my friend because she knew I was in touch with God. She looked older than fourteen; she appeared about eighteen. Her hair was long, and she had black roots with dyed red hair. She looked like she forgot to dye it, because she might have had other things on her mind for a couple of months.

“Wow, I heard you danced in The Nutcracker,” she said to me. Word had gotten out in the hospital that I had been in the Boston Ballet's production of The Nutcracker when I was a kid and everyone talked about it. I had danced in the show when I was nine, but I hadn’t taken any dance classes in four years. They didn’t know that there were more interesting aspects of my life that I could talk about, like how I went to Russia and how I was destined to save the world.

There was a guy in the hospital, Matt, who was older than both Katrina and me who liked Katrina. She stopped coming to the hospital because I think her parents didn’t like a 20-year old man looking at their 14-year old daughter. Katrina never told me about her sister or why her mother was there. I didn’t know why anyone went to the plastic castle that passed for a hospital with the tank full of goldfish that spoke to me, telling me that everything would be okay.

Carol’s husband Paul was Italian, unlike Carol, and he discovered that I liked Pepperidge Farm Brussels Cookies, and he brought them to me sometimes. I thought he was being kind to me so he could be saved when I got out of the hospital. I would be magnanimous with everyone who was nice to me when I was released.

But Carol’s eyes would glaze over, and she would take a handful of pills, and she would sit and stare when Katrina and Paul weren’t there. She didn’t understand where she was or what she did. I thought she was like another mother to me when we slept in the same room. But she wasn’t. She was a stranger, and a murderer who had shot her own daughter to death.


Three years later, I still drifted in and out of the hospital. I wanted to believe I was in touch with God, I was a fish gasping for air coming up to the top of the tank; I took classes, I had a job at a coffee shop. I went shopping and I bought CDs, I bought clothes and shoes, and I tried to live like a regular person who had never been driven insane by a trip to Russia.

One ordinary day in February, I was watching TV with my parents and I saw Carol’s face on Current Edition.

“What happened?” I said. “That’s the woman from the hospital, Carol. She was my roommate.”

“It turns out she did a terrible thing,” my mother said.

It had been on the news that on February 14th of that year, Valentine’s Day, the same day I left for Russia, Susan shot and murdered her sixteen-year old daughter Krystal, then tried to shoot and murder Katrina and kill herself as well. She told Katrina that she wanted them to all be together in heaven.

Carol and Katrina lied and told everyone that Krystal committed suicide. Krystal’s friends were the ones investigating what happened because they said she would never have committed suicide. They said Krystal was a happy person, a normal teenage girl, who would never shoot herself in the head on a cold Valentine’s Day morning when she was sixteen.

Shockwaves went through my body. I slept in a room with a murderer. She killed her own daughter, and was crazy enough to lie about it.

She could have killed me.

She could have thought I was her daughter, and might have strangled me in my sleep with a blanket or a pillowcase.

How close was I to death in that room in the hospital? How could I have been a victim in a version of psychotic filicide? I was sick enough, but the people in the hospital put me in a room with a woman who had shot to death a daughter who was the same age as me.

But the people in the hospital didn’t know. They didn’t know that Carol had murdered her daughter. She was completely insane, maybe more insane than me.

My parents were upset that she had been sleeping in the same room as me. I couldn’t tell anyone because I didn’t know how to explain the story.

Carol ended up going to jail for the murder of her daughter. The day of the trial, Katrina spoke in the courtroom, “My mother doesn’t need jail time, she needs therapy. She needs help. She’s sick.”

Katrina kissed her mother on the lips in the courtroom. Her father, Paul, put his arms around Carol. I saw it all on the six o’clock news.

I pitied Katrina. I didn’t know if she’d be okay. I knew that this is the kind of experience that could screw her up for the rest of her life. Her mother in jail for murdering her sister, both gone, her alone with her father. Would they torture each other? Would they love each other? There was no answer than I could find.  I tried to envision the best.

My hopes for them did not come to fruition.

I moved on with my life, I stopped going to the hospital, and I decided to go to school to study something completely different from me: marine biology. Studying the life of the ocean became my calling. I moved to San Francisco and left Boston behind with its crowded streets and rude people. I went to the opposite of Boston, where everyone was laid back and nobody knew that I used to be a crazy girl.

I did wild things when I was alone in San Francisco, I experimented with men and women, I got an aqua tattoo of an octopus on my back; I did cocaine, though it wasn’t stylish anymore. I stayed away from heroin because I knew my fish friends needed me.

I went to strip clubs with friends from time to time. I didn’t mind looking at women or men. I regretted watching women, though, when I saw her.

There she was, I would know her anywhere, Katrina, dancing on a stage, fully nude, her hair still long and two-toned, but blonde and black, on her ass a giant yellow butterfly tattoo. I didn’t know what to think or do; I just stood there and gaped. I remembered everything, her mother, her father; the picture of her sister Krystal on TV. I didn’t want to remember, but it all flew back at me.

I saw her grasping for her money like a fish flapping her fins, and I ran out of the club and to my car. I’d had too much to drink, and I didn’t think I could drive, but I sat in my car stunned at the outcome of her drama.

I took some deep breaths. I tried to think of beautiful things, but the sight of Katrina’s naked breasts still shone in my mind. How did she come to this? What brought her to the West Coast? I didn’t have the nerve to talk to her. She might not even remember me.

After that, I decided to stay out of the strip clubs of San Francisco, and spend more time on the beach, looking at the ocean, trying to find peace in my mind that had been to a dozen different galaxies in the past, but had landed back on earth, where I didn’t think I was God anymore, but that didn’t matter because I knew myself and what I wanted, and that was to simply look at the color blue until it hypnotized me into sedation.

read Shannon's biography

return to issue 3: january 2017