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THEMAGICNUMBER OriginallypublishedinMoondanceLiteraryMagazine JewelBethDavis "Ifyoushownoimprovementintwentyonedays,Iwillinsistonyourseeing Dr.Saxontodiscusselectroshocktherapy.Dr.Koroffsmiledatmebenignlyashe saidthis,aglazedlookinhiseyes.Healwayssmiledatmebenignly. OhIsee,wheneverythingelsefails,youvealwaysgotgoodoldshock therapytofallbackon,Igrumbled.Anyway,howwouldyoubeabletotellifIwas stilldepressedinthatstate?Idbeazombie. Dr.Koroffsmeasuredreplywasunruffledasalways,Wedoourbest. Inwardly,Iscreamed,NO!Ifeltablockoficesittinginmystomach.Theblock begantopushupintomychest,movingtowardmythroat.Ihadseentheelectric shocktherapyscenesinOneFlewOvertheCuckoosNest.IpicturedJackNicholsons characterbeingstrappeddownagainsthiswill.Theleatherstrapsremindedmeofthe timeIwasinthehospitalatageninewhenmyfingerhadbeenpartiallyamputated.

A cruelnurseusedleatherstrapstoharnessmetothebedtocontrolmysobbing, refusingtocallmyparentswhenIawokeaftersurgeryinthemiddleofthenight.The imageofthosestrapsstillfilledmewithhorror.No.Eveninmypresentfog,Iknew thedeepestpsychoticdepressionwaspreferabletothat.

2 Dr.Koroffpatientlywaitedforaresponse. Youhavetobekiddingme.Shocktreatment.YouthinkIneedshock treatments?Ipaused.Noresponse.Youdo,dontyou?Noway.Thosethingsreally screwpeopleup.YouthinkImscrewedupnow?Goahead,justattachthewires,flip theswitchandthenseehowscrewedupIllbe,Icried,protestingtoDr.Koroffwith thelastounceofpositivewillIhad.ButcouldIcontinuetoobjectaftertwentyone moredaysofdarknessandselfhatred? Threeweeks?Thatsit?Twentyonedaysandthenzap!Icontinued,Jeez,I didntrealizeyouthoughtIwassuchalostcause. Well,Dr.Ksaid,Iwouldnthaveputitthatway. Whichway?Idemanded,thezaporthelostcause? Either.Itsnotapunishment.Imtryingtofindawaytohelpyou.Getyou better.Iknowyoudontlikefeelingthisway. Well,Icountered,thatsexactlywhatitfeelslike.Athreat.Youretryingto scaremeintogettingittogether. Well,hesmiled,isitworking? Maybe,Irepliedwithaminimalsmileandthenpaused.Whythreeweeks? Imputtingyouonanewmedication.Ifitsgoingtowork,wellknowin threeweeksatthelatest. Shit,Ideclared,yousuck. 2

3 Iknow,hesaid. Dr.SaulKoroff,mydoctoronSouthOne,wasaverysweetmanwhoworehis straight,browngrayhairverylong,asiftocompensatefortheeverwideningbald areacrowninghishead.IhatedthattheimageofBozotheClownenteredandre enteredmyminddespitemygoodintentionseverytimeImetwithhim.Hewas aboutforty,veryslender,ofmediumheight,andhiseyeswerethesoft,liquidbrown type.Sosad,theyseemedinconstantmourningforthesufferingofhispatientsthat allhisbrillianceandeducationcouldnotassuage.Yet,therewassomethingabout him,atinyglimmerinthecornerofeacheyethatcarriedanothermeaning.Andone sideofhismouthappearedtotwitchslightlyasthoughhehadtoworkveryhardto keephissmileundercontrol.Dr.Koroffseemedtofindusamusing,hisresponseto thefoolishnessofbothhumanityandpsychiatry.ThethingIlikedaboutDr.Kwas thathefollowedhisowninnermetronome.Heseemedtofloat,notwalk,downthe hallsoftheward,likethoseghostsinfilmswhosefeetnevertouchedthegroundbut hovered.Often,visitorstothewardwouldseeDr.Koroffmeanderingaimlessly throughthehallsofSouthOneasifinatranceandmistakehimforoneofthe patients. Whatsthatguyinfor? Hesashrink.

4 What?Youmeantheguywiththeclownhairwhowandersthehalls?the visitorswouldsay,shakingtheirheadswitheyesnarrowed.Hescantbeadoctor. (Pause)No,really,whatsheinfor? AsIsattheretryingtofocusonhiswords,IfeltsorryforDr.Koroff,whocould notfindawaytohelpmeandwasfrustrated.Dr.Rutledge,ontheotherhand,Idid notfeelsorryfor.Theonlydoctorwhoadministeredtheshocktherapy,Rutledgewas pompousandboringwithaBritishaccentwhoseauthenticitywassuspect.Hedwhiz byofficiouslyinhiswhitestarchedshirt,adarkwaistcoat,anavyblazerandadaily colorshiftingbowtie,usuallyredwithpolkadots.Once,IdescribedhimtoFrannie, myfriendontheward,Thatdoctorofyourswiththebowtie;hesanegotraveling onthecurrentsofanelectricpowertrip."Imadeabuzzingnoise,ZZZZZZZ!Get it? Surprisingly,Franniewasntamused.Thatsnottrue,Frannieobjected.Hes coolandagooddoctor. Sure,youhavetosaythatbecausehesyourdoctor.Butwatchhimwalk aroundtheward;hethinkshesGodsgifttotheelectriccompany. Well,Franniesaid,asmallsmilebetrayingher,maybeheis.Dr.Rutledge wasaspecialistinshocktherapyandbelievedsoblindlyinitsbenefitsthat,from whatIdwitnessed,fewofhisregularpatientsescapedtheelectricity.

5 Timeracedbyatasnailspace.Feelingsodetachedfrommybodyandmind,I wasdetachedfromtimeaswell.Itwassodifficulttofocusonkeepingtrackofthe days.Myabilitytoconcentratewasnonexistent.Mymindwasfragmented,piecesof imagesflyingaround,slippinginandout,beforeIcouldprocesswhattheywere. Whatsthedate?IqueriedFrannieonourwaytoGroup.Franniewasonly sixteenyearsoldanditamazedmehowclosewedbecome.EitherIwasterribly immatureatthirtyoneorshewasoldbeforehertime. HowthehellshouldIknow? Well,then,whatstoday?Whichdayoftheweek? Idontknow.Whatdifferencedoesitmake? Jesus,youreabighelp!Ithoughtforafewminutesandthen,Howlong haveIbeeninhere? Idontknow.Amonth,maybetwomonths.No,wait.Youwereadmitted rightafterRick.Itmightbethreemonths.Maybenotquite. Threemonths!Jesus.Threemonths. Sowhat?Youredrivingmecrazywiththisquestioning. Notpossible;thatwouldberedundant,Irespondedsnottily.Frannie swipedatmewithherbighand.Iwasntfastenough.Ow!Hey,nurse,Frannies abusingme.Thenursewiththeshortredhairpretendednottohaveheardme,likea parentignoringhersquabblingchildren.Thepsychiatricstafftreatedthepatientslike 5

6 adolescentsandIdnoticedthat,despitemyformerpositionsofresponsibilityinthe outsideworld,Idoftenbegunbehavinglikeone.ItwasonlywhenIactedcrazythatI couldforgetthedeadlyweightofmyillness. Myillness,howdoIdescribeit?Ifeltoutofmybodymostofthetime.Here butnothere.Ihadsomuchdifficultyfocusingthatformuchofthetime,in conversation,Imissedsixoutoftenwordsinasentence.Ihadbuzzingsoundsgoing oninmybrainallthetime.Sometimesmusicwithstatic.WhenIwalked,itfeltlikeI waswalkingupanddownsmallhills,despitetheflatterrain.Nothinglookedthe same.ThewallsseemedtomoveinandoutabitalthoughIwasntsureofthat.Even whenitwassunnyandbrightout,Icouldntreallyseecolorsanymore.Everything wasshadesofblackandgray,likeourTVinthefifties.Ithadthatgrainyconsistency too.Despitefeelingoutofmybody,mybodybotheredmeallthetime.Icouldntget comfortable.IfIwerestanding,Idhavetosit.Sitting,Istood.Muchofthetime,itfelt likenowherewasright.Imovedfromplacetoplaceandstill,itfeltlikeathousand antswererunningupanddownmyextremities.Therewasnorelief.Icouldnteven read,whichwasalwaysmyonemodeofescape,nomatterwhat.Now,Ireadthe sameline,thesameparagraph,thesamethreewords,andIdecodednomeaning whatsoever.Thewordshadnosignificanceandmylifenolongerheldany.Icouldnt evendecipherwhatwasgoingonintheprogramsonTV.Icriedwithoutceasingfor weeksatatime.IcriedandcriedandcriedbecauseIdleteveryonedown,especially 6

7 myself.NomatterhowmuchIcried,Icouldntstop.Ineverfeltbetterfromthe release.Sometimes,Ifeltnumb,nothingatall.Thethingsthatusedtodefinemydays anddelineatemyhoursseemedtohavevanishedintoawhitishgraymistaroundme. Myreading,school,mydog,theatre,dance,conversingwithfriends,makinglove withmyboyfriend,watchingTV,all,allgone.AndwhenIlaydown,dayornight,I couldntsleep.Visionsdancedaroundmyhead,psychicgarbagethatmadenosense. Voicessayingnonsensicalthings,slippinginandoutofmyconsciousness,floatingas thoughupanddownJacobsLadder.IdwakemyselfupjustasIwasfallingasleep, inaterriblepanicwiththesureknowledgethatsomethingreallyterriblewaswrong. Anditwas.Icouldntgetbacktome,onJewelSt.,JewelCity,inthecountyofJewel, thestateofDavis.Lookingforlaughswithfellowinmatesseemedtobetheonly thingthatconsumedmymindforevenashortwhile.

No,seriously,whatsupwiththedatebookquestions?Frannieasked. IhavetokeeptrackofthedayssinceIstartedmynewmeds.Itoldyou,ifIm notanybetterinthreeweeksfromthen,Saulisgoingtomakemegetzapped.Not onlythat,butmyinsuranceisrunningout. Oh,shit,Ididntknowaboutyourinsurance.Youregoingtohavetoleave soon.Youcanleave,waitalittlewhile,andthengetreadmitted.

8 Areyounuts?Icantfocusenoughtopickoutmyclothesinthemorning! HowamIgoingtobeabletocookformyself,paymybills,drivetothestore?Im alone.DavidisinS.Africa,forchrissakes.Ihavenoonetohelpme.IdbeluckyifI madeitawholedayoutsidethisplacebeforeIdrunscreamingdownthemiddleof thestreetlikealoon.AndwhatwouldIdobymyselfallday?Icantwork,Icant read,IcantevenconcentrateonTV. Allright,allright,calmdown.Yourenotleavingthisafternoon.Itwasjustan ideaiftheinsurancekicksyououtofhere.Maybeyoullfeelbetterbythen. Yeah,sure,right.Haveyouseenanysignofthat? Look,whatsthebigdealaboutshocktreatments?Practicallyeveryonehere getstheTreatmentatsomepoint. Thebigdealis,IwanttohavesomeusablebraincellswhenIgetsprung.Id liketofinishmyMastersprograminthiscentury. Yougotplentyofbraincells.Youcouldaffordtoloseafew.Besides,you admittedyourselfvoluntarily.Youwerentcommitted,right?Dr.Kcantforceyouto haveshocktreatment. Youdontgetit.Mostofthetime,Icantthinkstraight.Withtheinsurance breathingdownmyneck,hecanbringpressuretobear.Hestheonewhomakesout thereportstotheinsurancecompany.Wewerebothsilentforawhile.Irubbedmy fingeraroundmylipsoverandover.Itfeltvaguelygood. 8

9 IthinkIllgoaskCarolthedate,Isaid.Shesmorelucidthanthetwoofus. ItwasDaythree. TimewasarelativethingonSouthOne.Itwasastruggletokeeptrackofthe daysbuteachoneseemedtodragonmercilessly.Thepressureofmyimprovement deadlinemademefeelworse.Tocounteractthisobsessionofmine,FrannieandI tookonvariouscommunityprojects.Itseemedtohelpmyblackworldtemporarily. Sylvia,aseverelydepressedwomaninhermidthirtiesrefusedtowashor changeherclothes.Herhairwasafrenzyofteasedtangles.Attemptingtomake ourselvesuseful,FrannieandIbathedherandwashedherhairforthefirsttimeina month,thentrimmedandcurledit,despitethewomansdrowningcatlikescreams. Stop,Sylviascreamedpiercingly.Yourekillingme.Yourebothtryingto murderme.Help!Thenursescamerunningbutbackedoffhidingtheirsmiles. Withthehelpofdullscissorsandelectriccurlers,herhairbecameadarkshinymass ofcurls. Youareachenius!Franniesaidaboutmyhandiworkwithacombanda soupconofVO5hairspray. No,Icountered.Itisyouwhoaretheechenius!Westoodtogether, admiringSylviawhohadquieteddownandwasstaringatherselfinthemirror.At EveningMeeting,thecommunityapplaudedtheresults,andSylvia,inspiteofher vociferousprotests,lookedpleased.Ifeltgoodforamoment.Franniewinkedatme. 9

10 Eveninapsychward,wewerehotshits.Thenithitmeagain.Iwasntimprovingand wasgoingtohavetogetshocktreatments.ItwasDayFive. Incommunitymeetingonemorning,severaldayslater,apsychoticnamed Annieputhercigaretteoutontheinsideofmyarmfornoapparentreason.I screamedinpainfromtheburnandtheinjusticeoftheattack.Whenthenursesasked herwhy,Anniegiggledandsaid,Shelookedlikeanashtray.Aftersheleft,weall movedtotheothersideoftheaccordiondividerintothecafeteria.Iwasfixatedon whyAnniechosemetohurt.Maybeshedidntthinkofitthatway.Shewasprobably seeinganotherrealityorIjusthappenedtobetheclosestpersonwhentheidea possessedher.AsdeeplydepressedasIwas,IcouldnotcomprehendthewayAnnies mindperceivedtheworld.IperceivedtheoutsideworldasIalwayshadbutfroma smalldarkplace.Itwasmyinnerworldthathadchanged,becomedistorted. Thefluorescentlightinginthecafeteria/communityroomgaveallofmySouth Onebuddiesasicklyyellowishtinge.Wesataroundoneoftheswirlpatterned Formicatableswiththepointycorners,allofussmokingupastormexceptTina whodneversmoked.Thesmokewassothickitfilledtheloungeandhoveredaround uslikeanightinLondon.Franniehadoneworkbootedfootonthetable.Ilooked aroundthewalls,whichwerecoveredwithlightyellowwaterproofwallpaper. Jesus!Couldnttheythrowupapictureortwoonthesewalls?Theyare unrelentinglydull. 10

11 Yeah,Carolrepliedsmiling,theyremakingmedepressed. Veryfunny. Justthen,AnnietheFirebugwalkedintothecaf.Theyhadntevenputheron theacutesideafterherattackthismorningbutsheseemedcalmenough,probably chockfulloftheheavystuff. Me?IaddressedAnnieangrily.Me?Ofallthepeoplehere,youthoughtI lookedthemostlikeadirtyashtrayfullofbutts? Uhhum,Annierepliedsweetly. IleanedovertoFrannie.Shemaynotbeascrazyassheappears.Itcouldall beapretense. Iknow.IdkeepaneyeonherifIwereyou,commentedFrannie. Gee,thanks,Iresponded. Tinawasfuriousformysake.Ofallthepeopleherewhocouldlooklike ashtrays,Jewelistheveryleastofthem. Tina,yourenothelping. Well,youknowwhatImeant. Anniesaidwithgreatconviction,Ashtraysshouldbeemptiedoutonceina while.

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12 Weallstaredather.Well,shehasapoint,Rick,thesaddestsixteenyearold Idevermet,declared.AbouttheashtraysNotyou.Notsurprisingly,mywobbly selfesteemplummeted.IwasntimprovinganditwasDayseven. Thecarnivalactsonthepsychiatricwardcontinuedaroundmeasthedays passedby.MyfriendLeonid,ablondemuscularRussianinhislatethirties,was readmittedafterhisreleaseamonthbefore.Hewasthereinthemorningwhenwe gatheredforourtraysofhospitalfood.Directorofthestateballetcompany,hewas handsome,blonde,brimmingwithtalentandblatantlyheterosexual.Hehadbattled orenjoyedmanicdepressionmostofhisadultlife,dependingonhisperspectiveat thetime.Hiswife,Sonya,alsoadancer,hadbroughthimbackinbecauseofhislatest bipolarescapade.IntheRecRoomthenextmorning,Leonidgleefullyrecounted,I wasattendingapartyatthehomeofaverywealthysupporter.Veryposh,hesmiled, savoringthesounds,histhickaccentdeepenedbyhisdanksmellingfilterlessRussian cigarettes. Allright,Iprompted.Whathappened? Longdriveway,bigcolumnsoutfront,spiralstaircaseinthevestibule. Fantastic,heexclaimedwithaflourish.Champagne,food,withoutend.Theyhad Stolichnayajustforme.Ihadgreattime.Weleftabout2AM.Onthewayhomeinthe car,mywife,Sonya,askedmewhyIwasclankingeverytimeImoved.Proudly,I displayedeverypieceoffinesilverIhadabscondedwithfrommypatronshome.I 12

13 fooledeveryone.Nooneknew.Mypockets,mypants,evenmyshirt,Istuffedallwith silverware.Nooneknew!Hisexpressionchanged.Sonyadrovemestraighttothe hospital,notevenstoppingtogohomefirst. Oy,Iempathized. Yes,exactly. Carol,alanky,longhairedhousewifeabittoothin,withaClaymationface, said,Iwouldvegoneforthejewelry. Goodpoint,Frannieagreed. Isupposepaintingswouldhavebeentoobulky,Iinterposed. Yeah,Franniesaid.Andhardertofence. Howwouldyouknow?!bothCarolandIrespondedaccusingly. YouareALLmissingthepoint!!Leonideruptedinfrustration.Imadeit pasttheowners,thebutlerandthemaidswithoutasound. Yeah,yeah,yourethemasterbutbutwhatwereyougoingtodowithall thatfancysilver?Frannieasked,confused. Leonidflippedausedmatchoverhisshoulder.Savoringthedarkcloudsof smokedeepinhislungs,heproclaimed,Inart,itisthepath,notthedestination.He lookedsignificantlyatme. Yes,Iagreed,theactressanddirector.Process,notproduct.

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14 OHHHH,CarolandFranniebothrespondedbutFrannielookedatCaroland shrugged. Wewereallsilentforamoment.Hetookalongpullonhiscigarette.Besides, itjustseemedlikegoodideaatthetime.Now,notsomuch. Suddenly,withoutwarning,Ibegantopanic.WhycouldntIimprove?What wouldhappentome?ThedoortotheShockTreatmentRoomhadbeenleftopenfor somereasonwhenIpassedbythismorning.Oh,God,please,notthat.ItwasDaynine. Justthatmorningincommunitymeeting,ayoungfrecklefacedwomannamed SueAnnhadinterruptedthesomberproceedings,screaming.SueAnn,plainwith lank,dullblondehair,wasusuallyaquiet,shy,unprepossessingChristianwoman. Now,sheleaptontoherchair. "ALLOFYOU!"SueAnnshrieked."LISTENTOME!Ihavehadoralsexwith thedevil!" Alltheheadshadturnedinoneswiftcommunalmovementandwerenow trainedonSueAnn.IcouldntbelievewhatIwashearing.Herewassomething rivetingcomparedwiththeusualblanddriveldeemedappropriateforcommunity meeting. "Thedevil!"SueAnncontinuedherharanguefromthemakeshiftpulpit,

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15 achairuponwhichshestood."TheDevilhasenteredmyvaginaandtakenpossession there!"Somehow,itwasalwaystheChristianwomenwhowereobsessedand imprisonedbysex. Frannieleanedovertomeandwhisperedloudlyenoughforeveryonetohear, "Oh,yeah,shewishes!"Thecommunitymeetingeruptedinhilarity.Itwaslike holdingyourbreathforawhileandthenbreathingagainwithgreatgulps.Ifeltguilty forlaughingatSueAnn'spsychosisinducedconfession.Iwantedtoseethelaughter asaharbingerforhealingandrecoverybutIhadnohope.Thedepressionwouldnt allowitandhopewastheonlyreasonwhyanyofuscontinuedtoslogthroughthe excruciatingpainorpeasoupdrearinessofeachday. Ontheotherhand,itwasfunny.Letsfaceit,ItoldFrannie.Sexwiththe Devilwouldreallybehot. Yougotthatright.Sizzling. SueAnnpreachedon,IfornicatewiththeDevileverynight.SueAnnslank, dirtyblondehairobscuredhereyesbutshepusheditawayfromherface.Ilookedat hereyesandsawthattheyglitteredwithvisionsnotofthisworld. Undermyhand,IhissedtoFrannie,ItsoundslikethatSatanhassomestaying power.Franniehiccupped,tryingtocatchherbreath.Ipoundedherontheback.It givesonepause:whatwoulditbeliketohaveoralsexwiththedevil?Likegivingthe

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16 devilhisdue?Ipaused.Ormaybelikesuckingonahotballfromthepennycandy store. Foodforthought,"Frannieresponded,raisinghereyebrows.Webothhowled. SueAnnwasledawaysomewheretoreceiveashotofsomethingpotent, ThorazineorStellazine.ThenurseshurriedlymovedthemeetingintotheWrapUp phaseanddismissedustoourcigarettesandcoffeesincetherewasnopossibilityof calmingusintoappropriatebehaviorafterSueAnndroppedthatbomb.Iwas disappointedthatstaffhadremovedher. Damn!wasFranniesonlycomment.Thatcouldhavekeptusgoingfora week. Oh,hell!Icomplained.Iwasdyingtohearmoreaboutthedevilandhis lovemakingtechniques.SueAnnstheonlypersonIveeverknownwhoshadfirst handexperience. IknewmydesireforcomicreliefatSueAnnsexpensewouldbeunacceptable outsidethesewallsbutseemedcompletelyappropriatehere.AsViktorFranklwrote, Anabnormalreactiontoanabnormalsituationisnormalbehavior.Hereonecould sayorthinkanything.Thedoctorsandnursesseemedtoexpectthat.They encouragedustofulfillourrolesasmentalpatients. Idraggedmyselfonwardthroughthedaysandweeksofalternatingpanics anddeaddrearyblackdepression,unabletoreadorwriteorconcentrate.Itwas 16

17 agonybeingunabletoread;ithadalwaysbeenmysaviorineverydifficultsituation. ThewordslookedlikeArabictome.Iknewwhatthemeaningofeachwordmeant butIcouldntcomprehendthemeaningofawholesentence.TheonlythingIcould forcemyselftofocusonwastheWordJumblethatIdsurreptitiouslyripoutofthe wardnewspapereveryday.TheJumblelisteddifferentwordswiththelettersall mixedupandyouweresupposedtosortthemouttomakearealword.Allthewords togetherwouldcompriseanotherwordorphrasethatdescribedtheaccompanying picture.ItwaspainfultomaketheefforttoconcentrateandgiventhatIwasina MastersprogramatWesleyan,humiliatingthatittookmehourstocompletethe puzzle.Somedays,Iwasntabletocompleteitandthosedayswerereallyblack.I knewithadbeenalmosttwoweekssinceDr.KoroffhadhadtheShockTreatment discussionwithme. IsatforhoursatoneoftheFormicatablesintheRecRoom,drinkingcoffee, smokingcigaretteaftercigarette,crumplingupthepacksandtryingtofocusona Jumblewordforthirtysecondsbeforehavingtostartalloveragain.Ibecameso frustratedthatIslammedthepaperdownandoverturnedanentireStyrofoamcupof badjavaonmyself.Brownstains,spreadingliketentacles,coveredmyWesleyan sweatshirt.Isatthereunmovingandunabletocareformyself,andthought,Ihave stainsonmyclothesandonmysoul,whichlaunderingmayormaynotremove.Wouldit evenbepossibletolaundermysoulafterallithadbeenthrough?IwonderedifI 17

18 couldeverstartfreshandnew,hopefulandoptimistic.Wasitfeasibletoleaveallmy habitualnegativebehaviorsandthinkingpatternsbehind?Icouldntevenfocuslong enoughtothinkaboutthissoIletitallfloatawayonthecloudofmycigarettesmoke. Everyday,Dr.Kcheckedinwithmetoseeifmystubbornnessabouttheshock treatmentshaddissipated. Howareyoufeelingtoday?Dr.Kasked,nodding,hislargebrowneyes slightlyunfocused.Itsbeenabouttwoweekssinceyoustartedthenewmedication. Nothingschanged.Whywontitchange?Iwailed. Youstillhaveaboutaweekleftonyournewmedicine,heresponded, tappingapenagainsthislargeforehead.Thenhestoodupandpattedmyhandashe floatedoutoftheroom. Stoppressuringme,Iretortedbravelyathisback,butintruth,Iwasfilled withdreadandanxiety.Hedidntrespond.Hejustfloatedaimlesslytohisnext appointment. Thenextday,myfriend,Tina,wasmovedtotheAcuteSide,betterknownas theCuteSide,strappeddownandtranquilizedintooblivion.Why?Noonewould answermyquestions.Somethingmusthavehappenedthatmorninginhershrink session.Concernedforher,IlookedinonTinafurtivelyasIpassedbyherprivate room,onlyallowedtoenterthathallowedcorridoronthepretextofweighingmyself onthedoctor'sscaleatthefarendofthehallway.Whydtheyputthescalethere?Heavy 18

19 withmystery,theCuteSidewasofflimitstoeveryonebuttheCutesandtheir caretakers.Incertainways,IenviedTina.Shedidnthavetoattendtheendless communitymeetings,grouptherapiesanddemeaningoccupationaltherapiesthatshe andIdcalledpatronizing.Ifsheweremoreaware,shedhavebeenthrilled. Thecommunitygrapevine,alwaysreliable,wasdisseminatingthenewsthat TinawasscheduledforTheTreatmentthatafternoon.Thethoughtofthatmademy stomachturnacidic.SelfabsorbedasIwas,Icouldntthinkofitinanywayother thanhowitaffectedme.Tinaisareadmit.Whatcouldsheexpect?Shesschizophrenic.Im merelyclinicallydepressed.Theresabigdifference.Tina,beautifulTina,withthethick, lushblackhairandsnapbrightmind.IwatchedthemwheelTinaawayonagurneyto thesecretroomweallavoided.Thenextday,Tinaemergedfromherordealand wasimmediatelyreleasedtotheCommunitysideagain.Whatgavemegoosebumps wasthatsherememberednothingabouthertreatment.Cheerfulandextremely vague,sheseemedmorezombiethanhuman.Seeingherinthisstate,Ifeltsoforlorn. Isthiswhatsinstoreforme?IsthatwhatIlllooklike?Oh,God,pleasehelpme. Afterthatday,Tinaneverquitereturnedtothepluggedin,highenergy, creative,vitalwomanIdmetonmyfirstdayinthehospital.Whetherthatwas becauseofTheTreatmentorherprogressiveschizophrenia,Ididntknow.Soonafter herTreatment,TinawasreleasedandcametovisitmeonSouthOne.Sheinformed mewithnoshamethatshetriedtoreturntoschooltoteach.Theyfoundme 19

20 wanderingthehallsduringclassesinadisconnectedstate.TheysaidIwasparanoid andspewingprofanities. Wereyou? Probably.Theyretiredmeafterthat,shesaid. Theverynextadditiontoourbandoflikemindedloonieswasapriest,Father GiovanniCappomaggi.WecalledhimFatherJoe.Heworethecollarwithoutthe blackattirethatusuallyaccompaniesit.Hehadthatasexual,unmasculine,outof focuslookthatpriestsseemtodevelopovertime,withblackwavyhairgrayingover histemplesandadarklytannedface.Assoonashearrived,Itriedtodeducewhya priestwouldbeinapsychiatricward.Hadhedonesomethingwrong?Hadheasked tobeadmitted?Washebipolar?Priestsandnunswerepartofasecretsocietyand werethereforefascinatingtome.Jewishnesswasallaboutalustforlife,not asceticism.SodiscoveringthegoodsonFatherJoebecamemynewpetprojectthat week.IobservedhimascloselyasIcouldwithoutbeingobvious,anotherprojectto distractmymindfromtheimpendingdeadline.Bychance,Ifoundmyselfgoingoff thewardtothehospitallabwithhimforweeklybloodwork.Leonidaccompaniedus aswell.Leonidwastellingoffcolorstoriesaboutadancerwhoseboobsfelloutofher costumebodiceonstageandFatherJoesurprisedmebythelustinessofhislaugh.As wewaitedfortheinterminablehospitalgearstogrind,Idecidedtobe straightforward,toapoint.FatherJoe,didyouadmityourselfvoluntarilyorwere 20

21 youcommitted?Intheoutsideworld,Iwouldneverhaveaskedsomeonethat, especiallynotapriestbutthesewereuniquecircumstances. FatherJoewasonlymomentarilysilencedbythequestion.Iwascommitted, hesaidsimply. Buthow?Whomadethatdecision? Well,mybishopfirmlysuggesteditwastimeformetotakearest.Father Joesvoicewassopleasantitwasalmostasifheweretalkingaboutsomeoneelse. Imsorry,FatherJoe.IhopeIhaventupsetyou. Notatall.Notatall.Asitturnsout,Imhavingthetimeofmylife. ButFatherJoe,Ipersisted,Youseemperfectlyfinetome. Yes,wellIamfineinsomewaysandnotinothers. Verycryptic,Ithought. Hecontinued,Sadly,IwasbecomingsomewhatcontroversialintheDiocese. Itwaspoliticallyshrewdtogetmeoutofthereforawhile.Iponderedifitwerea parableofsomekind. Ah.InoddedmyheadinawaythatIhopedwasempathetic.Iwishedhe wouldkeeptalking.TherewasntmuchmoreIcouldaskhimwithoutblatant rudeness.Whywouldadioceseneedtogetaseeminglysanepriestoutofthepublic eye?

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22 FatherCappomaggi,thereceptionistcalled.FatherJoestoodwithout hesitationandfollowedanurseintothephlebotomylab.Damn. Backontheward,Isnoopedaroundwiththepsychtechsandwasableto wheedlealittleinformationoutofoneofthedaypsych.techs.Youknowmytalking aboutthisisagainsttherulessoyoudidnthearthisfromme,hetoldme.Thefirst nighttheFatherwasadmitted,Iheardhimprayingaloudforforgiveness.Youre right,hedoesappearprettyhealthybutyoushouldknowthatpeopleherecanlook finebutbeverysick.Thatwastrue.SomeofthenursestoldDr.KorofftheythoughtI wasfaking.Theproblemwas,ontheoutside,Ilookedfine.IcantverbalizethewayI feelontheinside.ItrytodescribeittoDr.KbutIcant.Thewordsdontexisttodescribethe constantlyshiftingmentalsands,thenightmaresthatplayacrossmymindsscreenduringthe dayortheauditorygobbledygookthatplayslikeaBOSEradiowithoutcease.Atleast,Idont seemtohaveaccesstothewordsanymore. IneverdiscoveredwhyFatherJoehadbeencommitted.Yearslater,whenall thechurchscandalsbroke,IwonderedwhetherthiswasFatherJoesillness.

Imnotdoingit.Youcantmakeme,Ideclaredinthemorningspsychiatric session. HowoldamI?

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23 ItwasDaySeventeenandSaulwaspressuringmeagainabouthavingshock treatments.Dr.Koroffjustshookhisheaddisapprovingly.Thisisnotalongterm facility,heremindedmeinhislow,softvoice. Iknowthat.Ido.ItsjustthatIfeelstronglythatshocktherapywouldbethe worstpossibletreatmentforme.IdontknowwhybutIjusthavethisfeeling. Well,hesaidevenly.Youhaveaboutfourdaysandthenwellrevisitthe subjectseriously. EverywhereIwentthatweek,Ifeltliketherewasabigswordabovemyhead hangingfromathread.IdtoldFrannieaboutitaweekago.ShedjustnoddedandI figuredshewasntreallypayingattention.Ifeltnoimprovement.Ifanything,I seemedtobeworse.IdwokenupthatmorningasIdideverymorningwondering whereIwas.Ithitmelikeajolt.IwasinahospitalandIwasverysick.Mylifelooked likethejaggedpiecesofamirrorthatwouldneverfittogetheragain.Theyreflected backtheshatteredindividualthatwasme.Ihadnofutureotherthanmovingfrom onepsychiatricprogramtoanother.Ihadnohope.Isatupinbed,myheartbeating furiously.Suddenly,itfeltlikemysoulwasliterallyflyingoutofmybody.MyGod,I thought,Imlosingmyconsciousmindandtheyllbeabletodoanythingtheywanttome.It wasaterrifyingfeeling,anightmarefromwhichtherewasnoexit.Iranoutofmy roominmynighty,franticanddesperate,towardstheNursesStation.Helpme!I shrieked.Itshappening! 23

24 Twonurseslookedoutoftheglassdoorswithsourfaces. Please,comeout.Pleasehelpme!Imlosingmyself.Dontyouunderstand? Mymindisleaving. NurseSaggettreluctantlyopenedthedoorandapproachedthedesk.Whatis it,Jewel?Wereinthemiddleofchangeover.Wellbedoneintenminutes. No,itshappeningnow.Youdontgetit,Icriedbreathlessly. Sherespondedsuspiciously.Whatshappening?Whatareyoutalkingabout? Mysoul.Mysoulisleavingmybody.Helpme,Ibegged.Itwasavisceral feelingofsomethingphysicalflyingoutofme.Nothinghadeverbeensofrightening. Icollapsedtothefloornexttothedesk,moaning,Pleeease,helpmeeeee. Theyleftmeonthefloorasotherpatientspassedbyandcalledmydoctorwho wasdueinsoonanyway.Beforehisarrival,Dr.Koroffcalledinaspecialprescription foraheftytranquilizer,whichthenurseadministeredtomeasIwasflailingonthe floor.Itbegantodoitsjobandeventuallythefeelinglessened.Iprayedferventlythat Istillhadmysoul.Now,whydontyougobrushyourteethandgetdressed?Itllbe timeforbreakfastsoon,NurseSaggettsaidandbustledofftofinishchangeover,my painfulordealasmallbliponherradarscreen.Later,inoursession,Dr.Korofftold meIdbeendepersonalizing.Ilookeditupinthemammothdictionaryinthelibrary. Itwasdefinedasapsychologicalstateinwhichsomebodylosesasenseofpersonal identityandoftherealityoftheworld.Yes,thatwouldbeme. 24

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Franniehadbeendischargedfromthehospitalatsomepointintheweek before,onthesamedayasanotherfriend,SweetRick,had,andIfeltabandonedand bereft.Others,whodcomeontothewardfarsickerthanI,hadrespondedtothe medicationsadroitlyandleftveryquickly,leavingmefeelinglikeaterriblefailure. Thethreatoftheshocktreatmentswasalwayswithme.Iobsessedabouthowthey wouldaffectme.Iwascertaintheywouldharmratherthanhelp.Then,without warning,Franniewasback,readmittedtogothroughdetox.Ifeltguiltyaboutit,butI wassogladtoseeher.Normally,astrappinghealthymusculartallblonde,she appearedlistlessandsmallerthanherfivefootteninchathleticframe. Thatnight,IsatbyFranniesbedinthedarkesthoursofnight,holdingherbig powerfulhandwhilethepoisonsinhersystemthrashedherphysicallyandmentally topieces.ItwasstrangethatnoonehassledmetogotomyroomafterlightsoutbutI didntquestiontheunusualfreedom.IjustwatchedFrannie.Shewasinpain.Icould seethat;anyonecouldseethat,andyetthenursesdidnothingotherthanstopinthe doorwayforsecondseveryfewhourstocheckforsignsoflifeandthenreturntotheir coffee,cigarettesandgossip.Everysooften,Iwouldgoouttothenursesstationand begthemforhelp.Theywereunmoved. Whatthehellgoodareyou?Ishriekedatthenursessmokingbehindtheir glassdoor,Thatsright.Haveanotherciggie! 25

26 Thisplaceisnuts!Nuts!Ithought.Everyoneinhereisinsane.Andnotjustthe patients.Whatkindoflifeisthis?Thenursesdonttrustthepatients.Thepatientsdonttrust thedoctorsandnurses.Theytreatuslikechildrenandexpectustobehavelikeadults.They wantusbiddablesowereovermedicated.Theyhavenocluewhatworksandwhatdoesntso theytryeverynewmedicationonusthatcomesupthepsychiatrichighway,testingitonus blindly.Formany,thesideeffectsofthemedsareworsethantheillnessbuttheprofessionals donthavetotakethemsowhatdoesthatmatter?IrememberedpoorCarolsjawhad lockedupfromoneofthemedsshedreceivedandshedhadtowaitlikethatforhalf adayuntiltheycouldlocateherdoctorwhowasoffthatday.Wehavenodignityand nosayaboutourlivesunlesswegetbetterandleave.Isthatsane? Furiously,IwalkedbackintoFranniesroomandstoodbyherbed.Frannie wasoffallmedicationsfordetox.Detoxisanuglyexperience,likechoosingtowalk throughasnakepitthoughyouknowyoullbebittenmanytimes.Isensedthenurses feltthatwhatshewasgoingthroughwaspoeticjusticeforheraddictiontodrugsand alcohol.Thenightworeonandsheravedtoherfather,nowdeadforseveralyears, whodbeenhitbyacarashecrossedthestreetrightoutsidehisownhome.Daddy, pleaseforgiveme.Imsosorry,Daddy,shecriedoutplaintivelywithoutwakingup. IknowIsaidIwassorrybeforebutthistimeImeanit.Iwonderedwhatthese countlessunknownsinswere.

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27 Shehallucinatedforhours.Jewel!Thereheis!MyDad!Omigod!Mydad cameback!Cantyouseehim?Hesstandingrightthereatthefootofthebed,for Chrissakes!Ilookedattheplacewhereshepointedandflailedandwonderedifhe werereallythere;thatsomelossofinhibitionsallowedhertoseehim. Igrabbedherflailingarmstostillthem,whichtookallmystrength.No,I cantseehim.Whatareyouapologizingfor?Whatdidyoudo?Butshenever answered.Shewasntreallyconscious.Shehallucinatedmanyotherthingsthatnight, bears,snakes,frightening,horrificmonsters,bugscrawlingallover.IfeltlikeI experiencedeachhorrorwithher.Ifeltitchyallover,andscratchedthenonexistent crawlingbugs.AllthewhileIprayedforherandwonderedwhatGodthoughtof substanceabuse.AndIwonderedwhyIprayedtoaGodwhoallowedmetobe tormentedthiswayandblessedmeonlywithagony.Youngasshewas,Franniehad madeachoice.Ihadntchosenthisbutitwasminenevertheless.Franniewasonly sixteenyearsoldbutIdneverexperiencedherasayoungperson.Apparently,shed usedupherchildhoodinthepursuitofchemicalescape.Idneverrealizedhow seriousheraddictionswereuntilthismomentbecauseshedcamouflagedherillness sowell.Thoughthenightseemedunending,eventuallyofcourse,thedawnbroke andshefinallyquietedandslept.OnlythendidIreturntomyroom,tootiredtothink ofmyowncondition.

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28 Severaldayslater,thevoiceofJim,theflaminggayhairdresserwithspiky bleachedblondhairandbandagedwrists,broughtmeabruptlyoutofmy disassociativereverie."Cocktailtime!Cocktails,everyone!Jimwasveryfunnybut walkedthefinelinebetweenhumoranddesperateselfloathing,betweenlaughing uncontrollablyandsobbing.Wedallwalkedthatlineattimesbuthelivedthere. Somegoodytwoshoesintherecreation(akasmoking)roomwhined plaintively,"ButI'mnotallowedtohavealcoholwithmymeds." "Ofcoursenot,yousillyNellie!Jimsaidwithgreatbonhomie,Youmustbe newhere." Iintervened,"That'sjustJim'swayofannouncingthatthemedcartsinthe hallway.Jimlikestofantasizeaboutwhereheis.OrshouldIsay,isnot?"Hetouched mycheekfondly. ThehuskymalenurseswitchedofftheTVwithoutaword,reinforcingour ownbeliefthatwewereinconsequentialsubhumansandnotworthyofrespect. "Whodoyouthinkyouareanyway?TheAyatollahofEntertainment?!" Jimobjected.IchalkedoneuponanimaginaryblackboardforJimwhobowedtome. Theexodusfromthesmokingroomwasswift,abreakinthedreary schedule.Thelonglineformed.Jim,too,lefttheroomandjoinedthelineobediently. Ilingered,purposelylightinganewcigaretteeventhoughIhadjustextinguishedthe

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29 last.Finally,Iroseveryslowlyandnotedwithsatisfactionthatthefewremaining patientsinthehallwaycouldnotbesaidtoconstitutealine. Eventually,Istoodbeforethemedsnurse.Automatically,Iputmyhandout withoutaword.Thenurse,thoughfairlynewtothehospital,hadalreadyadoptedthe propercondescendingstaff/patientphraseologyandtoneofvoice.Well,NurseJudy, goodforyou.Youreveryadeptatlearningtherulesofthepsychwardgame.Abigpartof myproblemwasthatIdalwaysbeenincapableofplayingthegamealthoughIknew therules.Iadmiredthosewhocould.Itmadetheirliveseasier.Deepinmyown thoughts,Ismiledtomyself.Thatwasamistake. "Youappeartobefeelingbetter." "No.Thesame.Noimprovement." Thenurse'sownsmugsmiledisappeared,replacedbyalookofindignant anger.Thenurse'sexpressionwasanaccusationthatIwasperverselychoosingto remainill.Icouldntreallyblameher.Ididntunderstandmyowninabilitytoheal undertheconstantbombardmentofchemicalandtherapeuticattention.Itmustbemy fault.WhycantIgetwellwhensomanyothersdo? AsIliftedtheminutepapercupofwater,Igazeddownattheupturnedpalm ofmylefthand.Sevenorangecandies,twowhite,oneyellowwithgreenspecklesand oneimpotentmultivitaminthatI'dpracticallyhadtosellmysoultoget.Thenurses consideredvitaminsadangerouscontrolledsubstancesoIdhadtoremindDr.K 29

30 everydayforaweektoaddthemtomymedlist.Iswallowedtheprettycandiesallat once,feelingthemadherelikegluetothebottomofmythroat.Askingformorewater annoyedthenursessoIconcentratedfiercelyinordertopoolenoughsalivatoforce thempastthewindpipewheretheywerenowlodged. "Didyouswallowthem?Aretheydown?"thenurseprobed. "Yes "Allofthem?"thenursepressed."Areyoucertain?" "Yes.Icouldfeeltheangeratherquestionsrisingfrommychestintomy throat.Theangerrosetothetopofmythroatandseepedintomybraincavity.Iwill controlmyself. "Letmesee.Openyourmouth,"saidthenursewiththeconfidenceofonewho expectedimmediateobedience. Wasthatsteamspewingfrommyheadnow?Itlookedliketheheatwavesreleasedwhen youopenedaveryhotoven.Iunderstoodnowwhycartoonsalwaysportrayedangerthat way,thehead,asteamingpressurecooker. "No,"Isaidsimply. "What?!"themedsnursethoughtshemusthavemisheard. Withgreatdignity,Irepeatedquietly,"No.Youcannotlookintomymouth.I saidIswallowedthemandthatsallyouneedtoknow."Whosaidthat?

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31 Angry,threateningdroppingsfellfromthenurse'smouthbutIpaidno attention.Shechitteredatmethreateningly,themeaningiceclear.Ignoringher commands,Iturnedand,shakingvisibly,transportedmysmokingbodytomyroom. Afterthefact,worriedthatIdcommittedsomeunforgivablecrimeonthePsych Ward,IthoughtImightbeejectedwhenIstillcouldntcareformyself.Ihadmerely refusedtocomplywithapatronizingdemandandIfeltwhat?Proud.StillIknew whatthenextdaywas Thatnight,justbeforebedtime,Frannieteasedme,Thatthreadattachedto thatswordhoveringaboveyourheadisgettingmightythin,mightythin. Notfunny.Shit,Ithoughtyouhadntheardme! Oh,Iheardyoualright.Howsthecountdowngoing? Tomorrow,Ireplied,mystomachawashindread.Itriedtoswallowthe nausearisinginmythroat. Tomorrow,huh?Wellthen,shepaused.Iwaited,hopingforanideaorat leastascrapofcomfort.Sherosefromthewornsofa,Illseeyoutomorrowmorning. Night. Well,whatcouldFranniedoaboutit?Shewasinherewithme.Itwasthelast nightofmyreprieve.IwenttobedwithmynightmaresofJackNicholsonandI gettingshockedoverandoverformyonlycompany.

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32 Iopenedmyeyesthenextmorningandasconsciousnessslowlyreemerged,I knewinstantlythatsomethingwasverydifferent.Isatupgingerlyinthenarrow singlebedthatcrackledwithanymovement(theplasticshrinkwrappedmattresses wereinfamousforwakingpatientsinthemiddleofthenightastheyrolledoverin theirsleep).Itriedtopinpointwhatitwasthathadshifted.Iscratchedmyhair, archedmybackandranmytongueovermyflannelteeth,stallingfortime.Suddenly, Iknew.Iknewpreciselywhatitwas.Intenseshockwavesofrealizationreverberated throughme.Thegrayblackcloudssurroundingmyheadhadliftedenoughtomake anoticeabledifference.Thewhirringinmybrainhadrecededsomeashadthesifting, floating,insistentanxiousthoughts.Thefloorseemedlevelagain.Changingsensory perceptionswasoneofthemorefrighteningdisturbancesIdexperiencedduringmy deepdepressions.Alevelterrainonwhichtonavigatewouldbeahugeplus.The feelingofleadenweightsattachedtomymuscleshadbeenreplacedbyothers weighinglessandIcouldmovemorefreely.Incontrast,Ifeltalmostlight. Forthefirsttimeinfifteenweeks,IknewthatIdgetwell.Theknowledgeboth paralyzedmewithfearandmademeshiverwithexcitement.Idhavetoreturntothe worldoftheliving.Thoseleftbehindwouldhavetocopewiththequestionablejoys ofdoctors,nurses,cafeteriafood,phoneprivileges,cocktailcarts,M&Mmeds,plastic slabspretendingtobebeds,endlessmeetings,ironcladschedulesandTheTreatment. Notforme,TheTreatment.Ihadotherthingstodo.WillIbeabletogetbackintomy 32

33 Mastersprogram?LikeScarlettOHara,IdecidedIdthinkaboutthatlater.Iwould missmyfriendshereterribly.Previously,Iddismissedthementallyillasnutjobsbut IdbeeneducatedhereaboutpeopleandlabelsthatIcouldnthavelearnedanywhere else.IdmissthesewonderfullydamagedpeoplebutIwouldntmissanythingelse. Ithrewonwhateverclotheswerenearestandrushedoutoftheroomtomy muchanticipatedappointmentwithDr.K.AsIseatedmyselfnexttohisdeskinthe smalldoctorsoffice,Icouldhearmyheartinmychestandwonderedifhecould. Saulsexpressionreflectedhisexpectationthatnothingwouldhavechanged,Sohow areyoudoingthismorning? Actually,Ipaused,notknowinghowtobreakthismomentousnews. Yes?Hischocolateeyesweresuddenlyalert. Imbetter. Wellherespondedafteramoment. Yes,well,Irepeatedandwebothfellsilent.

Sowhyhadthingschanged?Iwondered.Wasitthenewmedication?Itwouldbe amiracleoracoincidenceifitwere.Thethreatoftheshocktherapy?Maybe.The supportofmydoctorandfriendshere?Allofthoseelementscombined?Ididnt knowandhonestly,Ididntcare.Itdidntmatterwhy,onlythatitwas.

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34 Ireenteredmybedroomheadingforthebathroomtobrushmyteeth.Ibrushed slowly...tremendouslysavoringthesimpleactivity.Ilookedatmyreflectioninthe mirror,awarethatIhadnotreallydonesointhreemonths.Icombedmyhair...my pretty,thick,auburnhair.Ismiledatmyprettyhair.

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