In the spirit of not letting mental illness define yourself or how you see other people. Diagnosis isn’t a label or an identity. That is what 2016 taught me.
I heard a schizophrenic
Patient say inner beauty
Is better than putting on
A plastered face
That a little electricity
In the right place
Can make a difference
Even if only a microvolt
Piles of cases, papers
Stitched into a history
Peppered with mild doses
Of diazepam and loxapine
In the corner sits
A standby defibrillator
The switch with a red light
But can precaution
save the fated?
I do not know.
But I do hope.
So I started interning at a neuro-psychiatric hospital and this was inspired from the happenings inside.
I decided to write something a little sinister and this put me in a very intense head space. Thank god it was only a short story…
The faucet was dripping again, making an echoing sound effect in contrast with the police sirens. The blanched curtains which usually looked so starved of an inkling of colour were permeated with flashes of red and blue through the cold glass of the windows.
I sat in the living room staring mildly, waiting for the impending knock at the door. All at once it seemed too quiet yet too loud. My eyes cut toward the clock in the centre of the mantelpiece. 5.am. But I thought it was four.
Suddenly there was a knock at the door. “Excuse me ma’am?”
I walked over to answer it almost automatically, preparing to face this confrontation calmly. It wasn’t as if I had to expend much forced effort. My hands weren’t shaking. I hadn’t shed any hysterical tears. I couldn’t feel anything, just numbness. That clock could very well read 4 a.m for the rest of my life and I wouldn’t even know nor care.
My hand gripped the doorknob and twisted it to reveal a rather young police officer with a grim expression on his face. For some reason, I thought of how I would have found him attractive had I met him in a bar or at a coffee shop. Now, not so much.
“Are you Cara Welsh, daughter of Anne M. Welsh?” He asked, referring to his phone which no doubtedly had all the information he needed to judge me and my hapless situation. DMV records, personal details and bank details all for him to interrogate me. He’d have read that I graduated top of my class at law school so he wouldn’t meander around the irrelevant details before diving into the hard hitting questions.
I allowed him into the living room, switched on the light to reveal a haphazard and messy home. It’d been long since anyone had come inside and it surprised me how I could still be so embarrassed. I should have known better than that. It’s not as if it were the best time to spout out nonsense about how I hadn’t expected company.
So sorry, I didn’t expect the police tonight. Maybe next time I’ll make dinner.
As expected, Officer What’s-his-name cut right to the chase. “As I understand it, your mother passed away in the early hours of the morning, around 4 am.”
“That’s right.” My voice sounded hollow.
“It appears there are some concerns about the circumstances surrounding her death.” He said.
I’m sure there are, officer.
He must have spoken to my lovely neighbour Barbara Motes, whose nose had to be pried out of my business with a pair of pliers. She’d always disliked me. I once overheard her saying that I was always a little off. So different from my jovial and friendly mother. How little that woman actually knew.
Yes, many would consider my mother a pleasant person. Yet, that was only when her medication was tuned right and even then there were chances of her mental illness creeping out from the suppression of modern medicine to make my life miserable.
My father, the deadbeat, had left a long time ago and as a teenager I began to understand why. He couldn’t handle being the husband of a degenerative schizophrenic. I couldn’t stand being her daughter. This, I assumed, was the key to the so-called concerns surrounding her death.
“I just need to ask a few questions about your relationship with your mother.” He started off.
I knew exactly why he was here and decided to make the bottom line clear. “I didn’t kill her.”
He was slightly taken aback with the bluntness of my declaration of innocence. “I hadn’t said you did…I know it was a suicide.”
I looked away, towards the clock. 5:04 am. On returning my attention back to his initial question I said, “My relationship with my mother was fine, officer. Not great, not terrible, it was fine.”
My answer seemed to have steered him into resuming his set of prepared questions and he immediately jumped to the second one. “Your mother suffered from schizophrenia?”
“Yes. For the past 29 years.”
“You’re the one who takes care of her?”
“Anyone else help out?”
There was no immediate family who cared about either of us; those bridges had long been burned by my mother’s yearly episodes in which she cut off all contact with people who were supposed to be considered family. I understood why they stopped trying after a while. I didn’t blame them.
“It must have been difficult.” The officer said as if he gave a shit. It was a prompt to speak about how lonely and overwhelmed I must have been all these years, trapped in a house by obligation of duty and forged love.
“It was difficult.” I grudgingly admitted, giving in.
Difficult is a fucking nice way to put it. Difficult is when your mother refuses to make time for you or get to know you but my mother was a downright nightmare. I grew up listening to her say hateful things to me. She called me a whore for an entire year. The worst thing was that there were times when I believed her.
Her abuse, however, was not only in the verbal form. I once woke up in the middle of the night with her hands gripped around my neck, squeezing the life out of me. I’d never felt so terrified. It was the look on her face. She looked…determined. She told me later that it had been for my own good. Occasionally I wonder if it had been a mistake biting her arm to get her off me.
And how she made home a dirty word and dirty place was shocking. She cooked meals that contained insects boiled in them. Either she was so careless that she didn’t notice them creeping into the pot on the stove and when she stirred its contents or she actually intended for them to there. I like to think it weren’t the latter but I could never be sure. Eventually I got used to picking them out and continuing to eat the food as if nothing had ever been wrong with it from the start. That was what came to mind when thinking of a home cooked meal.
Bringing me back to the conversation was another question,“Your mother attempted to commit suicide two times prior to her death?”
I nodded, mentally recounting the incidents.
The first attempt was in the bathtub with a knife that slashed her wrists. I’d come home from school one day to find her there. The sight of her spilled blood and her limp body caused me to vomit before calling for an ambulance. They managed to save her. I couldn’t begin to explain how relieved I’d been when I saw her conscious in her hospital room, thinking the worst was over.
Little did I know that I would be there again in a few more years after her second suicidal attempt when she swallowed a bunch of sleeping pills and the doctors had to pump her stomach. This time I questioned when the next time would be. I never imagined it would be for good.
Third time’s the charm, huh, ma?
I’d come to know that she never tried the same way twice. If anything I learned while growing up, it was ways to kill myself. I’d seen enough and learned from my mother’s mistakes. It would be very easy to off myself if I chose to do so. But I never did.
The officer cleared his throat and asked, “Your mother died of poisoning?”
“Yes.” I confirmed what he already knew. “I woke up to find her in the…kitchen. She drank a quart of ammonia.”
He nodded sympathetically. I wanted to say he didn’t know a fucking thing about me to do that. Instead I said, “Is there anything else you need to know?”
His gaze lingered down to the floor where a cockroach skittered across his shoe and into a pile of old pizza boxes. Finally he asked, “How did this happen?”
It seemed like such a preposterous question. As if I could just explain it in a sentence.
“Had your mother not been taking her medication?” He elaborated.
I thought for a moment. “Truthfully, it’s possible. I sometimes forget to check and she can be a little sneaky. You know, pretend to take them.”
She’d let them stick to the underside of her tongue to trick me into believing I was actually watching her. And what really boiled me over was how proud she was when I caught her throwing them out later. Like a kid who pulled the wool over her parent’s eyes. Being lulled into a false sense of security by a mental patient doesn’t do well for the good old trust issues. It was perhaps why I didn’t have a single relationship that lasted longer than a few weeks.
At last Officer What’s-his-name seemed satisfied with my answers, getting up from his seat slowly. “Alright. I’m sorry for taking too much of your time. You see, it’s a formality. We have to look into the circumstances of the suicide and exclude you from any fault at hand.”
“I understand.” You dickwad, now leave my house.
His little interrogation had served as an unwelcome walk down memory lane that I wanted to end as soon as possible.
Showing him to the door and closing it behind me, I wondered about the soul and what happened to her when she passed away. Would she be punished for committing suicide? Or was it possible that death was a blessing and she was finally free?
The sad truth was that I didn’t know my mother. I had a very up close and personal relationship with her schizophrenia and it did not tuck me into bed safely at night. Her dying wasn’t even a tragedy, knowing that that awful parasitic illness was gone forever… from my life at least.
As I heard the police car drive away and the blanched curtains were stripped of the red and blue shades dancing about on them, I walked over to the kitchen and examined the contents of the ammonia bottle my mother consumed.
You see, ammonia shouldn’t have killed her the way it did. As far as I knew, that only happens when you mix bleach into it. And when you unlock the kitchen cabinet containing hazardous chemicals for anyone to use. For whatever use that may be.
That is how it happened, officer.