My sister was diagnosed as a “delusional, paranoid schizophrenic” the year she entered college. My sister probably was a delusional, paranoid schizophrenic but her “delusions” were probably sourced in subconscious replays of things that had happened to both of us when we were kids, when our grandfather rented us out to his cronies. Her claim was “men are after me.” Men wanted to have sex with her, she said. It’s not much of a stretch to see the connection between those events.
She’d been sent to a psychiatrist as one of her instructors had complained about her stalking him. He had been an art teacher where we’d gone to high school and she’d developed a crush on him. He was married and a genuinely good guy; all his students liked him a lot. She’d liked him so much that, when she graduated, she enrolled in the college where he’d gone to teach. He ended up having to file a complaint against her, thus it was that she earned her diagnosis and was expelled.
She spent some time wandering around New England, perhaps trying to find someplace to fit in, but she never did. She ended up back at home, in Pennsylvania. Still looking for someplace to fit in, she discovered — I don’t know how — the Hare Krishna community which embraced her, no questions asked. A year or so in, a young male member of the community asked for her hand in marriage which she accepted only because, within that community, sex was allowed only for the purpose of procreation and then, only once a month.
She became pregnant quickly, with a boy child, and then informed her husband that that was it for sex. He was never to touch her again. Divorce ensued. Ultimately, she ended up moving to Los Angeles, to the temple there. Our parents were divorced by then and my mother supported her.
For reasons unknown, she became attracted to a man who had an exercise program that was televised across the United States. He was a very effeminate man and so, perhaps, felt safe to her. His shows happened to be televised from a station in LA and she determined to join the show, which she did. In her mind, he was as attracted to her as she was to him and for some reason she felt — every night — that he would be coming to visit her at her apartment. She would get dressed up nicely and dress her son up nicely as well — every night — and they would sit and wait. The man never came, so she decided to take matters into her own hands, went to the studio one day, preproduction, and basically attacked his secretary in order to get to see him. Police were called; she was locked up. Her son was put into protective care.
At that point, my mother, daughter of the man who so thoroughly managed to screw both her daughters up, flew to California, had my sister released, and then returned, with my sister and her son in tow, to her home in Florida. Our parents were divorced by that time and my mother was living with all our younger siblings who were still in school. They did not appreciate my sister’s presence and it was no wonder. While they were off at school, she would ransack their rooms, throwing out anything that she thought might be an instrument of evil, things like Parcheesi and Monopoly. Her presence turned the household upside down. She wanted to go back to California but my mother knew that she’d have to be medicated if she did, so there were more visits to more psychiatrists and ultimately some drug got her behavior somewhat under control.
Her son graduated from high school in Florida and moved as far away as he possibly could, halfway around the world and my sister finally returned to LA where my mother got her settled in another apartment. My sister and I had been, as everybody used to say when we were kids, like two peas in a pod, but as we’d hit our teenaged years we became two dramatically different people and she came to despise me, denigrating my overtly sexual appearance regularly. But as I grew older, and, thank heaven, wiser, she deteriorated, and my heart ached. So, I visited her in California once. It was a melancholy yet sweet experience.
She was pathologically thin and it looked as if she were wasting away. Her apartment was that of a hoarder with barely room to move. But she was nice to me; she didn’t call me any of those horrible names that she’d called me when we were in high school. I didn’t know if she’d forgiven me or just forgotten. I didn’t care.
My mother was supporting her then but, when my mother died a number of years ago, the money she’d left my sister ran out quickly. LA is an expensive place to live. She had no one and nothing else besides herself by then. My kind and gentle husband suggested that we could find a place near us where she could live and we arranged, with help from some of her friends at the temple, to get her on a plane that would carry her cross-country to an airport where we could pick her up.
She stayed with us for a while — the cats loved her as she was pretty much a constant lap for them to sit on, but it was clear that we’d have to find her a place of her own, which we did. We live in the middle of nowhere so “close” means forty-five minutes away, but that was okay. It was a small apartment in a small town and she be able to navigate the town on foot, albeit slowly. She had arranged, though, to have the entire contents of her apartment follow her by moving truck so we had to acquire for her as well, a large storage unit.
Once a week my husband would go down to her apartment and help her fix whatever needed to be fixed — and something always did. And once a week I would pick her up and drive her to the nearest shopping area — about an hour away — where I would oversee her shopping experience. It was a daylong event as she had to read literally every word on every label of everything she purchased. But we’d established this routine and it worked well… then winter came. She couldn’t take it. She was skin and bones and even with the heat turned up as far as it would go in her apartment, she was freezing.
Thus began a search for some kind of establishment where a delusional paranoid schizophrenic who was frail and sickly could somehow have some kind of a life. I enlisted one of my brothers in the search because my husband and I were coming up empty-handed. A friend of my brother’s pointed us towards a place in San Antonio, Texas, which my sister could afford on the disability payments I’d finally managed to get for her. (That’s a whole ‘nother story in itself!) She would have access to public transportation and shopping as well as to medical care.
My husband was her ‘mover’ this time. I was in charge of transportation to the airport. He would call me once he got everything settled and I would get her on a plane… which proved to be no easy feat. The airport was a good 6-hour drive from our house so we spent one night on the road. But we made more stops than I can count the next day between the place where we’d spent the night and the airport. She insisted on one stop after another for various reasons. It almost seemed as if she was trying to miss the plane… she probably was. The trip culminated in a high-speed run with me — in my early 70’s — pushing her in a wheel-chair. We got there just as the passageway to the plane was closing.
My husband picked her up on the other end and got her settled in. He taught her how to use a laptop so that she could stay in touch easily. Little by little she learned her new surroundings. She actually had much more freedom to get around there than she’d had living in the country. She kept me busy printing out pictures of Krishna, some for her — laminated — and some for her to send to her friend in prison (a fellow Hare Krishna who’d murdered her mother) — not laminated.
She claimed that the Hare Krishna Temple in San Antonio was filled with bad people. She never visited. She did — by way of phone and Email — keep in touch with her old friends in LA. She’d been estranged from her son, having trashed his home in anger over his marriage years before. Now he lived only an hour or so away from her but nothing I could say to him could convince him to see her.
Things weren’t perfect but they weren’t too bad. She’d been sure, while she had been living near us, that men were sneaking into her apartment and drugging her so that they could have sex with her but that stopped in Texas, though she was still convinced that people were whispering “bad things” to her at night.
We communicated literally every day… at least twice. Then, on accident, she cut her leg. She trusted neither doctors nor hospitals and refused to be seen. The cut turned septic and still she refused to get medical treatment. By the time I’d finally talked her son into going to her, it was too late to save her. He got to spend about a day with her before she died. That was in early November of 2019. Her ashes are now becoming part of our woods except for those that reside in a small decorative jar in my car, because one of the last things she’d written to me in an Email was how much she wished she were with me again, riding off to the grocery store to go shopping. (The thought of that at still makes me cry.)
Simply because she’d had so much stuff, a lot of it hadn’t fit in the moving truck my husband had driven to Texas for her so a lot of her belonging were still in the basement of the small apartment where she’d lived for a while when she was here. A few months ago my husband brought me five boxes of books that had been among what she’d left behind so that I could sort through them to see if any were donate-able. As I picked up one of the books, a small piece of lined paper fell to the floor. It was written on in pencil, in my sister’s hand, tiny and delicate.
This is what it said: “Mommy says, when you hear those voices, remember to put on those noise-cancelling headphones I sent you. If the voices go away then you can know that there really are voices outside of your room. If the voices don’t go away, it means that they are inside your head, coming from you, and you can feel safe.”
It broke my heart… but only when the anniversary of her death rolled around this year did the full impact of that note hit me…. to have to live like that… every day a constant struggle with yourself and reality… to have to fight for your own sanity inside yourself… to be forced to acknowledge that you didn’t — couldn’t — know what reality really was!
I have thought of my sister very differently since then, as though she had been a kind of warrior for herself, almost like when she was a child and tried relentlessly to fight off the men who were raping her. I always loved her — even though that love lessened a bit in our teen-age years when she seemed to despise me and was very vocal about it — but that note… whew.
I cannot even imagine the burden she carried as she navigated life.