Compassion from an Unexpected Source

Robin Cunningham Health Guide
  • “Mission Man, Mission Man, run and hide if you can, run and hide if you can.”

    His arms extended like wings, Lenny dove at me like a fighter plane, threatening to touch me.  He knew this would precipitate an elaborate series of operant behaviors necessary for me to cleanse myself of his contact.  He veered away at the last second.

    “Stop, please stop.”

    I was a unique target for ridicule.  The girls never threatened me as did Lenny and many other boys, but they thought the harassment, as well as my cleansing rituals were great fun and egged the boys on.  Even the teachers got a kick out of watching me tiptoe from class to class in an effort to avoid stepping on cracks in the hardwood floor.
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    Lenny circled wide and dove like a Kamikaze pilot.  Certain his intention was to make physical contact, I ran the last two yards, stepping on cracks all the way, and escaped through the doorway into the mechanical drawing lab for my next class.  As I entered my books and papers slipped from my hand and hit the floor with a bang.  My English binder broke open scattering papers in all directions.

    No one offered to help gather up my school supplies.  No one wanted to be associated with me, although tormenting me had become a popular extracurricular activity.  It was my freshman year at North Central High School and the entire student body knew me as “Mission Man” or “Crazy Cunningham.”  They didn’t believe God had given me a sacred mission, but were convinced that I was stupid, insane or both.

    Mr. Myers looked over his glasses at me with the glare that he reserved for students he considered fools. 

    The bell rang as I gathered my papers.

    “We’ll begin when Mr. Cunningham has pulled himself together,” Mr. Myers announced, his voice dripping with disapproval.

    I could hear the class snickering.  Ron Johnson climbed down from his stool and picked up my physics book.

    “This is much too heavy for you,” he said.  “Let me help.”

    He tore a page out of the middle, wadded it up, and then threw the book back onto the floor.

    The entire class burst into laughter.

    “That’s enough Johnson,” Mr. Myers said.  “We haven’t time for this.  Remember, your final project for this interim grading period is due at the beginning of class tomorrow.   Your project will be marked down one grade for every ink smear or smudge.  The lab will be open for two hours after school today for those of you that need the extra time.  You won’t have the pleasure of my company.  Mr. Latimer will cover for me, but don’t expect him to help you.  As you all know, he’s the auto shop teacher.  Now get to work.

    I shared a double, side-by-side drafting table with Ken Beers.  He was wildly popular with the girls, one of the socially elite.  All the boys followed him wherever he went.  He was also an excellent draftsman.

    I ran into trouble with the first attempt to ink my project, creating a rather large smear.

    “Wait,” Ken said.  “You’re right-handed.  You need to ink from right to left, behind your T-square not in front of it.  That way you are much less likely to smear the ink.”

  • “I can’t ink from right to left.”
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    “Try it.  You’ll get the hang of it in no time.”

    “I can’t do anything from right to left.  Everything has to be left to right.”

    “Why not?”

    “I have to move from left to right because it symbolizes moving to God’s right hand and salvation.  Moving right to left would be moving out of God’s favor and ensure my damnation.”

    Ken and I hadn’t talked much during the term, but he’d heard enough to know he didn’t understand me.  Yet, he’d never made fun of me like the others.

    “My aunt talks the way you do and she never leaves home.  You got a lot of guts coming to this school.  They’re eating you alive.”
    Ken finished his project a half an hour before the period ended.  It was perfection.  I had two ink smears in mine and was nowhere near finished by the end of the class.  Even if I had completed the project, because of the ink smears the best grade I could hope for was a C.  I could not take advantage of the extra lab time after classes, so I filed my project in its storage box until tomorrow with a sense of futility.  I was certain to get an F.  Mr. Myers would grade our project in the morning and return these to us in class.

    We had all begun our next project when Mr. Myers returned our last one with our grade prominently displayed in the upper left hand corner.  When he got to our drafting table he stopped.

    “Well, Mr. Beers you’ve gotten yet another A+.”

    Turning to look at me he spoke quietly.

    “Mr. Cunningham, I must admit I did not think you could do it, but you’ve gotten a C.  If the two smears weren’t there you’d have gotten an A.  Except for those smears, your work is excellent.  Better luck next time.”

    I stared at my project in disbelief.  Someone who did excellent work had completed it for me.

    Mr. Myers turned to look at Ken again.

    “I understand you worked in the lab after school yesterday.  You’ve never had to do that before.  I guess I’ll always wonder why.  I would hate to think you were doing anything foolish.”

    * * *

    The perspectives on schizophrenia I can provide are not those of a psychiatrist, psychologist or licensed clinical social worker, but rather a consumer and family member.  I have walked the walk on both sides of the street.  As such, I can speak with experiential authority.  It is my objective to share with you, as best I can, what my experience with schizophrenia has been like on a day to day basis, i.e., to compare notes with you.   Equally important, I will also make observations about being a family member and advocate based on my own experience.  Any observations or comments you choose to make in return will be of great value.

Published On: March 27, 2007