True Story: The Interrogation

Susan sat on her bed as the man and woman, who appeared to be graduate students, asked her to answer some questions. The worst ones were the rotating blocks. Susan was never spatially capable except when she had her period, which was the only way she had been able to pass her drivers’ test on the fourth try. But Susan did not drive now, after the accident with an older man named Rappaport.  He was very angry at her and not interested in knowing that his last name was one of a famed Rabbinic dynasty. My not driving will save lives, Susan told herself, and she never drove again.

Susan knew the reason for her spatial problem: Estrogen. It actually interfered with spatial abilities, she had read. It dropped during one’s period. Susan knew everything about hormones. It had been her project in 9th grade, during which she had studied every single hormone then known, its effects and every known hormonally related disease. She could not think of Kennedy without also thinking Addisons — disease of the adrenal cortex.

It was agony answering these questions. Of course they were IQ tests. What did they think she was, stupid? Susan was on a massive dose of Haloperidol  (along with Lithium Carbonate, Klonopin and Cogentin). The Cogentin was supposed to soften the effects of Haloperidol (popularly called Halidol). Being on Halidol was like having a heavy mask affixed over one’s face. Susan could not read, could barely write, and could focus on her surroundings with only the greatest of difficulty.  Her legs also ached terribly. Yes, she was really out of it. Trying to do those IQ texts were incredibly torturous.

Susan begged her captors to please stop but they refused.

This was even worse than the MRI, which was bad. Lying in a tube for forty-five minutes while it made clink clink clink. And then there was an artifact with the first results so she had to do it all again although this time they gave her a red pill as a sedative.

Then Susan saw her chance. They showed her a picture of a boy looking longingly at a violin.

I know what that is, said Susan to herself. That is the TAT!

Susan’s woes had begun in the fall of 1985.  First came the depression and then it shifted in mania such as when she performed The Raven poem from memory. Her hormone project had also been done when high and featured a figure she called Hermie the Hermaphrodite to show both male and female endocrine glands.

And then in 10th grade her Machine Politics project had been done in a state of nervous breakdown. She had always found bossism interesting especially after reading Mike Royko. But the project had been overwhelming and had been written in a trance like state at 2:15 am in the morning. Ms. Powers said she had never seen anything like it in her entire career, even more than her impassioned projects on US policy in Nicaraugua, robber Baron Jame J. Hill, the policies of the New Deal, and Mailer’s The White Negro.

Around this time her teachers were troubled by her artwork. Early projects of a lemon-squeezer, some apples, a butterfly, and a pineapple had been well and fine, but then Susan had done a self-portrait in which drops of blood were spattering down her face, just like someone who had been shot at by a firing squad.

In addition to her art teacher, Mrs Kraus, the other concerned teacher had been Dr. Cook, Susan’s not at all secret crush from ages 16 to 18. Susan would stare endlessly at Dr. Cook’s Volvo, although she had never been interested in automobiles earlier. But Irish Gemini Dr Cook was a kind and responsible person, handling Susan’s dramatic love avowal (and insistence that time travel was real) quite well and was helping her become a much better writer and even lent her A Skeleton Key for Finnegan’s Wake and had introduced Susan to the works of James Baldwin. Susan took strongly not only to Go Tell It On The Mountain, but had an impassioned reaction to Sonny’s Blues and at College had attended a stunning performance of The Amen Corner.

For her senior year in High School Susan had written an ambitious but flawed novella, featuring an African American heroine, a gloomy mathematical theorist named Schubert Greenberg, a romance going badly in California between a man and his Hispanic girlfriend, Juanita, and describing a man going up and down the streets all day because he wanted to become mayor. 

Ingenious, Dr. Cook had said, appreciating the bad allusions to Woolf, Joyce and Susan’s attempts to combine the Irish conflict and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into a symbolic form A-. Susan had called the story Dusty is the Trail and performed the US Marine’s song instead of reading from the story. Dr. Cook had been her psych ward phone call. But her husband picked up and she was not there. Just as well.

Meanwhile in high school Things were getting even more strange. Susan acquired an Ibsen fascination and started blabbing about how Nora behaved in Dollhouse  encapsulated the way the US behaved in Vietnam. Could she do a project on that? Ms. Powers shook her head.

How about a project on the musical Hair? asked Susan. Her parents had seen it in London and said there were naked people in it. She had been playing that record all the time and it had taken over her. That song about Donna, not very good perhaps, was hard to stop hearing. Ms. Powers liked that better. 

In the end Susan studied the student protests at Berkeley, arguing that for all the various movements, opposition to Vietnam was the uniting factor.

Then came the Israel trip at age seventeen. In her bunk, Susan who had never been suicidal before felt a strong urge to throw herself off her bed and die and also throw herself to the ground in front of the group. The coordinator promptly called Susan’s mother to take Susan home. The day was February 7.

It was in Jerusalem in which a singular event happened. Susan experienced a panic attack of such proportions that she was convinced she was dying. Never would she feel anything like that again.

Susan already had a psychiatrist, a Dr. Greene, who had a large picture of a very depressed Virginia Woolf on her wall. Dr. Greene had outsourced a Dr. Ridberg to run psychological texts for Susan. First he asked her what kind of animal she wanted to be. A swan, I suppose, said Susan. They mate for life. Or maybe an elephant. Then again, I’ve always seen myself as a giraffe.

Susan was shown the TAT and also the Rohrshach. In the report, it was stated that Susan was attracted to both male and female imagery and that she had a tendency to an spend an enormous amount of time interpreting small details, as if that was a bad thing.

These are graduate students, said Susan to herself. They are taking advantage of my powerlessness to get data for their precious little project. Well guess what, I am going to have my revenge. I am going lie and oversexualize every single one of my answers. Your study will be totally flawed!

From that moment onwards, everything Susan said was sex, sex, sex. She had fun with it making up highly sexual interpretations of the ink blots. Susan’s favorite moment was when she looked at a picture and said, “This man has no penis.” Susan had got this idea from a Saturday Night Live skit in which they applied these lyrics to Guantanamera.

Susan fought back in other ways. She refused to wear hospital garb or shoes. When she woke up complaining of her leg pains and the night staff attacked her she fought by kicking until she landed into solitary again. 

Earlier she had refused food.  Now she was strictly adhering to her vegetarian diet, which severely limited her options. She attempted artwork best she could and played music, especially the Chris de Burgh given by her friend Bill who visited her everyday and took her to her favorite place, the Museum of Science and Industry, for one last time, on her day out.  

And Bill had brought her a balloon and rainbow plastic squishy thing to celebrate her 19th birthday. Susan would not be released until June 14 and that was long away. (For her 20th birthday Susan celebrated her freedom by going to her very first showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show at the International House. Because once you lose your freedom, you never look at life the same again.)

No one had ever fought harder than Susan in the known history of the psych ward, the nurses had said. Although when one nurse had taken Susan out, she hugged a tree and the nurse laughed about it with the other nurses afterwards.

The nurses as a whole were rather stupid or rather sadistic, or both. All except Teresa Kielbasa (AKA Polish sausage), who was not a nurse but an MPH — she was wise and kind and compassionate. Susan’s main resident doctor was the rather tall but pleasant Vicky Nee. Overall, Susan learned what white privilege was at the hospital,  because she could feel the difference now that she was just another crazy. 

Susan’s first roommate had been Irish and was 28 but looked 18. She was diagnosed with something called Borderline and was an Axis II patient. Susan, who was Axis I, did not know that meant. But Susan and the roommate had to be separated. Not because they were fighting. Because they were getting along far too well, they were colluding. The roommate shared her incredibly difficult past which was rather mind-boggling. 

And they stayed in touch for awhile after the hospital. The roommate then started calling herself by a different name, Kokopelli-Mana and was upset when Susan responded using the new name.

There were many other interesting characters: P, the elderly Jewish schoolteacher,  with whom Susan also corresponded until her demise, A the low IQ teddy bear like man who loved Susan’s stuffed lion, who said all his family did was smoke cigarettes and drink coffee, there was J who had schizophrenia and tried to do a jigsaw puzzle with her without the frame, A the African-American young woman, who sang a duet of Second that Emotion with Susan when it came on the radio, the lesbian couple who recommended eating red meat and listened to sappy music, and B, the bipolar who kept going on and on about Progressive Rock, whatever that might be.

It turned out that Susan’s IQ was 110, which they told her, to comfort her, was above average. Susan laughed. You don’t get a certificate on the American High School Math Exam with that kind of IQ . She could have had an even higher score but the exam was such that you got penalized for wrong answers so she had limited herself to those she was absolutely sure about.

Towards the end there was a bingo game at the ward. Within minutes, Susan realized that there was a way to arrange things and win every time. But she was not greedy. She won twice and then stopped.

Susan also broke all records in the History of the University of Chicago by returning to her studies in the very next Quarter. Most students took two years off. And as Susan walked down the Graduation aisle, on time, many were shocked. But Susan could have graduated even earlier, thanks to placing out of Phy Sci among other things.

Susan’s new psychiatrist was Dr. Fisher. Dr. Fisher lived right near the Farrakhan headquarters. She had hoped it would reduce crime but it didn’t. 

Dr. Fisher had had quite the life.  She was a rabbi’s daughter. She had dated Carl Sagan as a student but found him arrogant even then. She knew a famous Hollywood personality who got out of the draft by filling in homosexual and then erasing it. 

Dr. Fisher was very interested in trying to figure out why Susan was so scared of sex.

Dr. Fisher and Susan had a non-traditional doctor-patient relationship, which was probably not a good idea therapeutically but may have been good for Susan. It was a kind of friendship which would include years of correspondence and phone calls even after Susan left Chicago. It was amplified by the fact that the sessions were in her home which meant Susan saw her son, daughter, and husband all the time.

Which meant, to Susan’s sorrow, she could not take Mr. Sinaiko’s famous Jane Austen class because he was Dr. Fisher’s husband. But Dr. Fisher shared this tidbit of his, “The world is divided between those who love Pride and Prejudice and those who love Emma.” Susan didn’t like Emma, except for the word game parts.

With Dr. Fisher’s encouragement, Susan marched into the hospital one day and purchased for the sum of $10 one sheet of MRI photographs that had been taken of her. Susan didn’t really know what to look for in all that gray matter, but felt quite the triumph. She wrote in large letters on the enormous manila envelope hosting her photographs: FRAGILE: BRAINS INSIDE.

But for many years, until she learned what mystical initiation was all about, this would be a key trauma. To commemorate, every year for some time, Susan wore a black band in her hair for the whole five-week period. And enjoyed reading Closed Institutions by Erving Goffman. 

And wrote out a detailed complaint letter to the Hospital about all that they did wrong with her helpful suggestions for them to improve such as by not having nurses smoke on the job, by introducing pet therapy or having a spa day for the residents. Aside from a few activities and a pool table (which despite her lifelong fascination with the mathematics of it from that Donald Duck film she was terrible at) there was almost nothing to do. Susan also noted that Dr. Kodesh had overbilled her parents when she never actually saw him but once. 

Susan, whatever animal she really was, had a memory like an elephant. It was both a blessing and a curse.

Little did Susan know that her psychiatric adventure was merely practice for the Big Event to come, during which Susan’s skills in resistance would be tested time and time again by forces nowhere near as benign as a merely boring, abusive, negligant, overbilling Psych Ward.