Editor’s Note: The following is the fourth in a series of personal appeals that Los Angeles-based writer and artist Jane Engleman wrote to her doctors earlier this year about the state of her physical and mental health and her philosophy of healing. The letters will be published over several weeks.
She addressed this one to a psychiatrist after seeing a recent assessment of their meeting, but sent it via the Keck USC medical center portal in hopes that additional staff would read it.
October 22, 2020
It is the opinion of my hepatologist that a transplant might be a solution to the terrible weakness and fatigue I have been experiencing. As I understand it today, one obstacle might be my history of attempted suicide and my refusal to comply with psychiatric force based on my experiences. I have written three previous letters which I hope will be included in my medical records, [and] that all doctors and staff at Keck USC be invited to read them. And I hope that we are aligned in the goal of these ongoing discussions, which is the restoration of my body and less confusion between myself and the medical establishment. I need to live; my history will be explained in the coming days. For now, I will seek to find a living donor once I am on the liver transplant list. For the moment, it feels necessary to leave the concrete dimension of science for the abstract dimension of storytelling.
WOMAN KILLED IN THE PARK, LEAVING FIVE CHILDREN
Recently, a woman who had taken her cousin’s five children down to the park was solicited by a man who used to be her friend. She refused to give him her new address. So he waited behind the bathroom until she was alone and killed her.
This had not been their first encounter. Stephanie had actually dated three of Christopher’s younger brothers over the past few months, attracted by their lifestyle of wealth and education. Stephanie loved concerts and plays, and loved the road trips. Sometimes she wondered what it would be like to marry in. And Christopher’s family loved her, wanted the life in her freedom, the music she played at their parties on a red lacquered Scandalli accordion.
But the more Stephanie got to know these four men, the more uncomfortable she became, and in fact, she began to be afraid of them.
Frankly, Stephanie was so poor, and not because of a lack of opportunity or intelligence. Her life had been hard, but she had found community, friendship, and respect. Well, she could have done so much better, gotten a degree in music or anthropology; she could scarcely afford shoes or medical insurance. She chose instead to play blues on an accordion and take care of her cousin’s children. Half the time her cousin didn’t even pay her. Christopher became obsessed with wanting to end her suffering and to make her his wife.
But she was free, full of life, music, and emotion. When Stephanie wept, she sobbed. When she laughed, she fell over. When she danced, she dreamed. When she made love, it was exclusive and it must have been exquisite, so he began to drool. She wasn’t afraid of sorrow anymore. She wasn’t afraid of instability or uncertainty. She had her Spirit and her friends. The children loved her and called her Auntie.
Christopher had always been driven to more than enough. Striven for excellence in his work for justice which requires so much labor and careful detail. When he laughed with Stephanie, he forgot why he had entered law in the first place. He forgot the pain. She danced him until he craved the life in her living- room parties. He began to think of himself as a machine, but stuck. If he stopped, how would he keep the respect he had worked so hard to achieve? And could a woman change the world with a potluck, one honey bun, one child at a time? World problems are huge, complex.
Oh, but Stephanie had developed so many, many gifts. He envisioned her an elegant socialite in a gown of respect with degrees and connections, his financial freedom their collaboration of perspective, a model of humanity, had she been his.
So Christopher began the program to change Stephanie. And he began to see the more he pushed, the colder she became, the attraction she had noticed began to drain.
Anyway, he gathered his friends at his Country Club to celebrate the proposal. In his arrogance, he had decided to pop the question as Stephanie came through the lobby on her way into the lounge. He wasn’t even really looking at her, staring over her head at the mirror fat with the faces of his grinning buddies. Casually, he asked her to spend the rest of her life with him, never dreaming she might say no.
Stephanie became deadly quiet, like a puppet of wood. He could see his friends straining their necks around to watch them through the glass.
She shook her head. “You don’t remember the times you slapped me, went behind my back, lied to my friends about my reputation? And Christopher, have you ever heard me, or listened to a word I have said?
“You see my cotton rags and you want to give me polyester. You won’t hear of my sorrow or the pain of my people. You want to close my suffering down; you want to take away my winter; then steal the fire that warms you so much.
“But, Christopher, honey, there is no lotus without the mud. There is no spring without the winter. We used to say the best peaches come from sheepshit.
“And you do not race a thoroughbred you have not trained and cared for. You get out and ride to feel her, same wind, same sweat, same clods of dirt coming up from her hooves. And if she’s a little skitty, you walk her next to an old fat mare out to the track, and then you let her run. Run!
She giggled ruefully, “I mean, hey, Christopher, even if you just want a nice fuzzy pet, you don’t clean up a feral cat with a bat.
“Baby, the finest orchids love the heat and the rain, rain, rain, rain, rain. But if you can’t take the weather or the foggy craigs, just sleep down under in your warm safe box in a box in a box of psychotropics, but I ain’t laying down there with you.
“I hope we can still be friends, but I am actually done.” Turning out through the arches, past the fountain, she began the long walk away down the long driveway.
He found her three weeks later in the park enjoying a Friday with the children. They were all joking and laughing, but the laughing wasn’t so mean as he heard in the office. Stephanie’s clothes were from Goodwill, and the food on the table came from the 99 Cent Store. He watched her fondly.
But Stephanie wouldn’t even tell him where she had moved. She wouldn’t give him her number. Christopher left the park to get a little drunk and came back. When she left the picnic to go to the bathroom, Christopher was waiting in the shadows, calling her terrible names very loudly, hoping she’d be humiliated, but nobody was listening.
She approached him gently. Taking the tip of his gold tie, Stephanie carefully placed it between his lips. “I don’t need you,” she whispered sadly. “And you do not need me. You need help. Leave me alone.”
Suddenly he was pulling her toward him and pushing her back, slamming her back, back, back against the blocks. She twisted away from him and her head broke, her face a mess of bruise and tears. He lifted her up in his arms in a panic, arms wrapped desperately around the small, lithe strength of her back, to feel her life soften and drain away into that same gray emptiness he felt every single day without her.
Yeah, so the story was, there was a woman who took some kids down to play in the park. A man came over to solicit her devotion. She refused, based on how he treated her. So he killed her. Is that so different than refusing a woman an organ-transplant lottery ticket, based on her psychiatric history rather than on current reality? And this is because she refuses to comply with your cultural evaluation, treatment, and psychiatric force?
Rape is to Love
what Bombs are to Peace
what Behavioral Eugenics are to Mental Health.
I apologize for my country for your student loans and your hours and hours of slog and dedication. Loving is so easy. I choose noncompliance with psychiatric force. You do not need me. And I do not need you. You need the help of practitioners from the Asian, the African, and the Indigenous educational systems, preferably the practical actual help you get on the street. You need a good spanking and a cup of chamomile honey. I hope you choose to let me live, whether or not this life includes a liver transplant or a continuing discussion of the celebration of diversity.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.