Maybe it’s my mother and a distant aunt on her front porch, sipping lemonade after a strained reunion. Mom is proud, shows her a copy of Schizophrenia Digest with my byline; proffers copies of my expert blog entries and latest poetry.
“You know,” Aunt Hestia says, “I had what she had, and I cured myself.”
It’s a soft spring day. At that moment, the sky stops spinning. The sun goes out.
“I had what Christina had, and I cured myself.”
Mom places her glass down on the table. “Christina sees that everyone who goes off meds gets a little sicker each time he goes on a drug holiday. She herself was free only three months.”
“Did she try, with a doctor, to go off them? Did she try?” Aunt Hestia’s eyes are bright as the lemons. She wears a white housecoat with pearl buttons, pours herself another cool glass. She motions towards my mother, who places her palm above her own glass.
Mom can’t reason with the woman who acts like Socrates and poses 20 questions, pushing at her further and further. I learned about this dialogue when my mother returned from the trip. It wasn’t news to me.
Mom had mailed Aunt Hestia a copy of my poem, “What She Said,” when it was published in Sweet Lemons, an anthology of Sicilian American and Canadian writers. My aunt mailed me a copy of a poem she wrote in response, called, “What I Say,” boasting: “Drugs are crutches/We get used to/But easily learn/To live without.”
Though I tried to correspond when she included her e-mail at the bottom of the poem, I decided to do a slow fade after three or four messages. On the phone with Mom, I told her about this. “It’s just as well,” she understood. “Your intuition about her anti-medication stance was correct.”
Such has been my first inkling of a frosty reception to my life’s work. In one of her e-mails, Aunt Hestia wrote: “Your psychosis was evident when you came to visit at twelve years old. You sat on the edge of my bed like a figure in an Edvard Munch painting.”
After I recounted this, Mom said, “How dare she tell me how to raise my daughter. Did she ever have a child with a condition like yours?”
How does someone cure herself? If she had indeed done so, wouldn’t she have the duty to help other people cure themselves, too? I’m not of the mindset that one’s personal achievement is a solo incident; it has an effect on others. Mine would be a hollow victory if I were in it only to better myself, and then walked away from others who were struggling. I gladly share my life in the hopes that I can uplift and inspire others to make positive changes in their own lives.
My therapist, Max, told me that when my memoir is published, most people will respond favorably, but an unlikely few won’t be receptive. I’ll have no control over this, except to develop a thick skin. Already I’ve built up a strong ego. Sometimes, though, I’m just a human being with feelings.
After I hung up with Mom, I felt bummed out. I called a friend, who unloaded his woes on me and then apologized for dominating the conversation. He had to hang up because his cell phone was fading out.
So I went into the kitchen and cleaned the night’s dishes. I came back to the living room to write this entry in longhand in my Lotta Jansdotter journal. I remembered something I wrote in an earlier notebook: “Forgiveness is the last provenance of a well mind.” I’ve come to forgive myself for having the illness, and most of all, I forgive the schizophrenia for causing a fracas in my brain.
Perhaps I could one day forgive Aunt Hestia. Not today. As I sat on the couch, I cried silent tears. Though she had no right to judge the effort I put into trying to get better, I still cried.
That soft spring day, Mom quietly packed up her shining photocopies, got up from the wicker chair, and headed out into the saffron sunset to drive home. She left her lemonade glass half full.
Published On: June 18, 2007