My name is Sean Adler. Has Melissa told you of me? She has told me enough
of you to provoke me into writing. She often talks about her earliest
memory, the day you brought Tony home nearly ten years ago now. Just as
often she speaks of the altogether different mood in the house when you
brought Katie home seven years later, a mistake. Accidents can surely
be happy, but this one wasn't. Your husband had already planned to leave
you and this wasn't going to stop him. But he stuck it out through the
pregnancy figuring he would be awarded all three kids. He wasn't awarded
the kids, was he?
Of course he was shocked, but
the gavel came down and he couldn't take it back. Still, no one could
blame him for leaving. Melissa couldn't even bring herself to hold it
against him. How could she? She wanted to go with him. Did you know? And
at the time she was newly twelve years old and so legally old enough to
decide for herself which parent to live with. But there was no choice.
After all, if she went with him who would take care of Tony and little
Katie? Not you. Not good enough anyway. And then there was the guilt.
Guilt about envying her father for being able to escape. Guilt about the
anger she felt because it hadn't worked out the way he planned. No, she
couldn't leave. Who would take care of you? Not you.
What would you have if not
your kids? What are you if not a mother? Certainly not least of all, Melissa
is the only one of your children old enough to know that you haven't always
been the way you are now. She has recited to me dozens of snap shot memories
of her grade school years when you worked at the public library (back
when you were able to work). She would walk there after school to wait
until 4:30 when your shift was up and watch you "pirouette"
(her word) up and down the aisles looking for the proper decimal in Dewey's
She would snuggle into beanbag chairs in the children's section and giggle
too loudly with fright when you would sneak up on her from behind a bookcase
and pounce with
tickling fingers on her ribcage. Do you remember Ms. Johnson? Melissa
That is her real mother and she clings with teenage tenacity to the hope
that this mother will return. But lately I see even this hope beginning
to fade. I see it evidenced by the
amount of time she spends here now. When she first started dropping by
it would be onlyoccasionally and she would not stay long as she would
want to get home to make sure Tony and Katie were fed and not watching
too many or inappropriate television programs. But now she is over as
often as I let her. Anything not to have to go home. Don't you wonder
where she goes after school? Has she told you? Well, I'd rather have her
here than taking those long walks through the city she uses to avoid home
life. Of course she feels guilty and apologizes incessantly for being
here, but she is really not much of a bother. She will sit quietly for
hours so as not to trouble me. For lack of anything better to do, she
does her homework. She is actually quite bright and her grades have improved
immensely, though she assures me you "aren't all that concerned with
Perhaps I should tell you how
I came to be concerned about Melissa. It is a story you don't know, and
I hope it will help legitimize my reason for writing to you. Please picture
a frightfully skinny brunette girl sprinting up an alleyway. Clutched
in her hands is a small, pale blue Tupperware bowl filled with prescription
medication. There are anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, pills to aid
sleep and pills to counter-act the side effects of other pills. She runs
four blocks before exhaustion creeps far enough into her hysteria to make
her realize that she must do something. She turns and pounds on the very
next door. No answer. She sees a light across the alley, runs to it and
pounds on that door. The young man on the other side of the door is so
startled he nearly drops his textbook. He gets up to answer the knock
hoping it is the girl he met in the Student Union last week. Instead,
he cracks open the door to find a young girl with a tear streaked face
holding a small, pale blue Tupperware bowl. She stands two paces back
and turned sideways as if ready to scamper up a tree with so many skittish
The young man unchains the door and raises one bewildered eyebrow at her.
In one breath she blurts, "I took these from my mother she tried
to kill herself my brother and sister are still there." He takes
the bowl from her outstretched arm and examines the
kaleidoscope pattern of pale orange hexagons, sky blue spheroids, half-green/half-yellow
capsules and chalk white squares each imprinted with a capital "D".
"We'll call somebody."
She goes in and sits in the chair closest to the door. He calls 911.
"Um, hi. A girl just knocked on my door saying her mother is attempting
And so on the call goes with the student playing middleman between the
trembling girl and the patient operator. It is settled that the girl should
stay put for now and that the police and an ambulance would be sent for
her mother. An aunt would be notified to pick up the children who, the
operator was made to promise, would not have to ride in the back of a
squad car. The aunt would then pick up the girl at the student's apartment.
So that's what happens.
During the eternity before the first policeman arrives, followed shortly
by an anxious aunt, the young man gives the girl a blanket and she turns
down the soft drink he
offers. Mostly he monitors her catatonic stare and her shaking, wishing
he had some Kleenex and that someone would hurry up and get there already.
People come and go that quickly. He can't seem return to his books. Two
weeks later she shows up at his door again. She immediately launches into
thank-yous and apologies for the previous incident, but doesn't get out
more than three sentences before bursting into tears. He invites her in
and gives her a blanket (hold the soft drink) and the box of Kleenex he
recently resolved never to be without. He cooks for her a simple meal
and gets her laughing after a bit. He learns her name. He offers to ride
with her back to her aunt's
place, but learns that the reason she is back in the neighborhood is to
prepare the apartment for her mother's arrival home tomorrow. After only
two weeks! So he walks with her the few blocks and helps her clean the
apartment, which "always gets this bad
before mom goes into the hospital," she explains.
The next time Melissa stopped by she got through her thank-yous and apologies.
She even brought me a box of Kleenex to replace the half box she used
up last time,
telling me that I should buy the good kind with lotion in them so they
won't make my nose sore. So she started dropping by now and again, usually
in a somber mood and
hungry, and we developed a friendship, of sorts.
Still, for eight months now I've expected you to bang on my door, accuse
me of some impropriety and forbid your daughter to return here. I figure
most parents in their right mind would be protective of their fifteen
year-old daughters that way. The fact that this hasn't happened makes
me thankful that it was indeed my door she happened upon, instead of another.
Mostly I just try to listen and help her with her homework. After
hearing what she's been through, I don't mind doing what I can. But also,
I'm in no
position to do any parenting. I gather you aren't either. Melissa's father
on the other hand seems, well, fatherly. I've had the opportunity to talk
with him a bit because I let her call him from here, since you won't let
her call him from there. Wisely, he asked to meet me. After his suspicions
were cleared, he thanked me for letting Melissa call and for offering
her a refuge from you. He sends me money every month for the phone bill
and some extra for the kids (knowing that if he sent it to you they would
never get it). He has told me that all of his efforts at legal enforcement
of his two weekends per month visiting rights have been met with judicial
jargon equivalent to "tough beans." In addition, in the preliminary
hearings of his constant lawsuits to obtain outright custody, he is told
that your medical records are inadmissible, as though you had perhaps
a heart disease, not a degenerating mental illness.
This mistaken legal equivalency is the critical one for the children.
A single mother with a heart condition need not have her children taken
away from her. While some accommodations may need to be made as her disease
progresses, the mother will remain the same in essence and intent. In
fact, treatment is administered with this preservation of identity as
its specific goal.
This same sensible "quality
of life" approach has been taken in the treatment of your disease
with surprising inefficacy. While you are also given regiments of pills
and therapies intended to make you "yourself" again, you do
not experience physical pain or a shortened life expectancy if you do
not comply. With these motivations nonexistent and none other imposed
on you, what then is supposed to create your desire to obey doctor's orders?
The unfamiliar might assume that an innate desire to be well arises at
the same time and to the same degree as any sickness, and that you would
simply want to take the Novane as one might want to take aspirin for a
However, the advanced state of your particular illness renders you unable
to realize you are sick in the first place. I think you honestly believe
that nothing is wrong with you (though this letter is an attempt to convince
you otherwise). This belief works out quite wonderfully for you. If the
heart patient suffered no immediate symptoms, nor any long-term ill effects
due to her disease, then it wouldn't be much of a problem would it? Your
disease, then, is not much of a problem for you since the malady itself
has made you oblivious to its symptoms.
The notion that it is "all in your head" becomes precisely wrong,
it is everywhere but. When a mental illness reaches such a profound state
it becomes a social disease. The symptoms of it can only be observed by
those you have social interaction with. Sadly, due to their unfortunate
proximity, most of the behavior symptomatic of the advanced state of your
illness is inflicted on your children.
Over the months Melissa has told me the details of not only your last
stay in the hospital, but of all eleven of your stays. She recounts to
me stories yet more bizarre
than systematically emptying your prescription medication into a Tupperware
bowl with the intent of committing suicide in front of your children.
Driving 60mph down city streets, with Tony in the car, to the corner market
because you were out of cigarettes.
Almost burning down the old house because you left a plastic spatula in
the oven next to the casserole, "for convenience" you told investigators.
Putting your declawed house cat outdoors last February.
Unfortunately for the kids, these simply crown months of increasingly
erratic behavior. I find it appalling that not one amongst the army of
psychiatrists, psychologists, case workers and counselors who have reviewed
your case history has ever given regard to the impact this cycle of hospitalizations
has on your children. Yet, time and again each of your incidents is treated
as separate from the last. You are given the latest-greatest combination
of medication and your children
are given back to you to go through it all again.
Well, fine for you. But what of the children? What of the missed school
days because of late nights trying to make mom stop crying? What of the
missed homework and failed classes because no one is checking up? What
of the missed meals? What of the sorely missed father? What of the dread
of going home? What of the lack of friendships caused by the simple inability
to invite a classmate over?
How do you rebuild the self-confidence destroyed as a result of all this?
How do you tell a child it's not her fault? I do not feel sorry for you
Ms. Johnson; you are not the victim here. The children, your children
are the victims and they are victimized by you.
Melissa tells me you are as bad now as you have ever been. I hope that
you are not so far gone that the written word is incomprehensible to you.
At the same time, I do not wish that you are well either. Your children
don't need to go through it all again. Not one more respite in the County
Mental Health Complex just
until it is determined that you are not a threat to yourself or anyone
else, then out the door. Don't force them to pretend nothing happened
upon your return. Spare them the
nervous anticipation of the impending next time. Your children still have
a chance. The time has come to send them to their father.
If I believed in Jesus I would say a prayer against your demons. But I
don't. I do believe that there is a power somewhere strong enough to forgive
you for your life and that it will. Do you understand Ms. Johnson? Do
it right this time, and not in front of the children. I write to beg you,
please, not in front of the children.
-- Carl Posto