Schizophrenia

Allen Kopp

The hallway was a gray tunnel with a black-and-white tiled floor. The boy kept his eyes on the window at the end to keep from having to look into any of the rooms as he passed them. When he and his father came to the last room on the left, his father pushed open the partly closed door and they went inside.

He hardly recognized his mother. Her hair was flat and dirty-looking, without the curl that he was used to seeing. She sat in a chair beside the bed, unmoving. Her face was very pale.

“Say hello to your mother,” his father said.

The boy stepped forward two steps. His mother moved her eyes away from a spot on the wall and looked at his face and then looked away again, as if she didn’t recognize him, or, if she did recognize him, she wasn’t interested.

“Shock treatments,” his father said. “It takes a while for it to wear off.”

“Hello, mother,” the boy said. “How have you been?”

He touched her lightly on the wrist, believing that his touch might wake her up, but she didn’t respond.

“I don’t think she knows me,” the boy said. “What should I do?”

“Don’t do anything,” his father said. “She’ll remember later that you were here.”

“Why does she have to have shock treatments?”

“Schizophrenia.”

“I don’t like this place.”

“I don’t like it, either, but she’s where she needs to be.”

The boy sat in one of the straight-backed chairs against the wall. “Will I have schizophrenia, too, because she does?” he asked.

“I don’t see it in you the way I always saw it in her,” his father said, “but we’ll see. The first sign I see that you’re that way, I’ll have you committed.”

“When will they let her come home?”

“Maybe not for a long time yet. We’ll have to get along without her the best we can, at least for the time being.”

“Don’t you think she’d get well quicker at home?”

“How would we be able to take care of her?”

“I don’t know. Maybe the doctor could stop by every now and then and see how she’s getting along.”

“Doctor’s don’t do that.”

“I think she’d be all right,” the boy said, “if she just didn’t have to sit by herself in this dark room.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” his father said, sitting down and taking a cigarette out of his pocket and lighting it.

“If she would just say something to me to let me know she knows who I am,” the boy said.

“Why is that so important?”

“I don’t know. It feels funny to have your mother stare off into space and not know who you are.”

“I think it’s good for you to see her this way.”

“Why?” the boy asked.

“You need to know what things are really like. Then when she comes home and seems normal, you’ll have the picture in your mind of what she was like when she wasn’t normal, and you’ll know what to expect when it happens again.”

“Maybe it won’t happen again.”

“Maybe not, but it’s something you’ll always be thinking about.”

“I just want her to be the way she was before she got the way she is now,” the boy said.

Outside a lawn mower roared past the window. She turned toward the sound and pushed herself up out of the chair. The boy and his father watched her closely as she shuffled the few steps to the window in her old-lady booties.

“She can walk!” the boy said.

“Of course she can walk,” his father said. “There’s nothing wrong with her legs. It’s her mind that’s diseased.”

The boy went and stood beside her, to help her if need be. She watched the man outside pushing the lawn mower, first one way and then the other. When he was finished with that section of grass and went farther away where she could no longer see him, she turned toward the boy.

“I know him,” she said. “I used to go to school with him.”

The boy smiled at her and helped her back to the chair, happy that she had shown some signs of life.

“Do you want me to go get you a Coke?” he asked when she was sitting down again.

She shook her head and the boy was further encouraged.

“I think she does know who I am,” he said.

Soon visiting hours were over and the boy and his father had to leave. As they walked past the nurses’ station, two nurses were sitting there, a young one with red hair and an old one with a scowl on her face. The boy’s father stopped and leaned casually on the desk.

“Well, hello there!” the redheaded nurse said when she looked up. “How’s your wife today?”

“Just peachy,” the boy’s father said. “Is her doctor in today? I’d like to have a word with him.”

“He was here earlier,” the nurse said, “but now he’s gone. He won’t be back until tomorrow. I can leave him a note telling him you’d like to speak to him.”

“Would you?”

“Of course!”

“You know my name?”

“Yes, I believe so,” the nurse said. “It’s Mr. Dunlap, isn’t it?”

“Mr. Dunlap has a first name, you know.”

She giggled and her face turned a deeper shade of pink. “I think I know that, too,” she said. “It’s Dick.”
“Hah-hah-hah!” he laughed. “You get a gold star!”

“I’m very good at remembering names and faces,” she said.

“I suppose I should feel flattered. Your name is Miss Hull, isn’t it?”

“My friends call me Vilma.”

“That’s an unusual name, isn’t it? I don’t think I’ve ever known a Vilma before.”

“I think my mother knew somebody once by that name.”

“Well, it’s very pretty.”

“Why, thank you!”

“Well,” he said, “visiting hours are over and I have to leave, but I’ll be seeing you again real soon.”

“Why, yes!” she said. “I’m sure to be sitting right here the next time you come in.”

“I look forward to it,” he said with his most charming smile.

On the way home, the boy asked his father, “Who was that woman?”

“What woman?” his father asked.

“That woman you were talking to.”

“How should I know? She’s a nurse.”

“Do you think she’s pretty?”

“I don’t know. I guess so. Why?”

“Her lips were really red.”

“Were they?” the boy’s father said. “I didn’t notice.”

“You seemed to like her.”

“It always pays to be friendly to people.”

“You weren’t friendly with the other nurse sitting there. The ugly one.”

“What are you saying?”

“Why were you only friendly with the pretty one?”

His father took the cigarette out of his mouth and looked at the boy. “I will not be cross-examined by a twelve-year-old who doesn’t know anything!” he said.

For the rest of the day the boy gave his father the silent treatment. He refused to eat with him at the table. In the early evening he locked himself in his room, took off all his clothes except for his underwear, and examined himself in the mirror for any signs of schizophrenia.

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