It was that night or
the night after that she saw a rat. Later when the lawyer helped her get
she saw a doctor's note that there was possibly a mouse
or even mice in the apartment on MacDougal Street but there wasn’t a rat,
hed written in her chart. Not a single rat.
It would just figure,
that his story would diverge from her own. But anyway. She saw rats. First
just one. And actually
first she didn’t see it, she just heard it. A rat. She had the baby up
on the loft bed with her. The loft bed had been built by a guy from Scotland
who lived in the apartment before her. He was handy. Michael could never build
a loft bed. He couldn’t even put the crib together. They’d hired
someone. She put the baby over by the wall so that he wouldn’t fall off
the loft bed and die. She wanted very badly to keep the baby alive. There were
boxes at the end of the bed. Storage. She didn’t have storage so she put
the boxes on the ledge around the bed. Michael was somewhere else when she saw
the rat. On call. Lying in the loft bed, she could reach up and touch the ceiling.
At first, she felt claustrophobic in the loft bed but not now with the baby.
That feeling wasn’t there or maybe it was that she didn’t notice
her own feelings anymore. The baby made little noises as he slept. Michael was
hardly ever there. She’d been off Klonopin and Ativan for months because
she was pregnant and then breastfeeding. Sometimes she drank wine. A doctor said
it was OK. He said it would help her relax. He said beer, too, but she hated
beer. In Ireland the doctors gave women Guinness in the hospital. To bring in
the milk. When she knew the baby was asleep, she listened. She listened to the
sounds of the construction site next door. Work was winding down. Just one glass,
though. She could look out the window to a brick wall. Dymphna was surprised
that she’d taken Nardil throughout the pregnancy. Lyle said it was OK.
Dymphna was surprised that he would put a young girl on an M.A.O.I. at all, but
then, Dymphna wasn’t a shrink. She did have her opinions. Lizzie felt high
sometimes on the Nardil, she told Dymphna.
“Hypomanic,” Dymphna said. “It’s
a side effect.”
“I like it.”
The baby was asleep but
Lizzie would be awake for hours, even with a glass of wine, because she couldn’t
take a Klonopin or an Ativan and it was impossible to get anywhere near sleep
without one. Her heart
was beating very fast, because of the wine, she guessed. Wine was counterindicated
M.A.O.I.s but everyone Lizzie knew who took an M.A.O.I. broke the rules,
often: coffee, chocolate, wine, beer. Derek Lipton, a unipolar she’d
known on the short-term ward, said that he even ate hot dogs and had these
blood-pressure-lowering pills he would take to reverse the effects of the hot
Lizzie didn’t want
to take those but did worry a little bit about the wine. Her heart was beating
so fast and her mind was racing. Lyle always
put it that way: “your
mind is racing” or “racing thoughts.” This is what
he meant. A thought after a thought after a thought and even counting
from one hundred still
she had to force her mind or her thoughts back to the counting, over
She heard a rustling sound
near her feet. She pulled her feet up to her
chest and curled herself around the baby. She loved watching the
baby sleep. Sometimes, with the baby, she was so unbelievably bored; other
was fascinated and couldn’t imagine being interested in anything
else, not ever again. She put her face close to his. She kissed his cheeks.
he slept he pumped his little mouth as if he were nursing. He was dreaming
of her. He was perfect. What do they know? She told Dymphna that it made
how much she loved the baby and Dymphna asked what she meant by that and
Lizzie said she didn’t know. Dymphna said be careful. Lizzie said
she was sure she didn’t have postpartum even though they’d
been so afraid for her with her “history” (as they kept
referring to it) and then an unplanned pregnancy. But Lizzie insisted
she was fine.
Because she was. Because
the baby was perfect and sometimes in moments like this one when
she was with the baby, the two of them, she had the feeling that
she was invincible,
that she could do anything. Dymphna told her that Sophie Freud had
this—a mother’s passion, she called it—adding that Lizzie
might want to read Sophie Freud. Lizzie said yes, she did.
The thing about the rustling
was that it could have been from outside. She told herself this after hearing
it for a second time.
But then she
heard it again and was sure that the rustling was paper and that
the papers were nearby,
like in a storage box. Like at her feet. She didn’t think
of a mouse or a rat, she thought of a person. How a person could
fit in the box, she
know. She pulled the baby to her chest and climbed down from
the loft bed. She remembered a poster she’d seen at a gallery
once, it was used to recruit soldiers before WWI, a photo of
an Irish woman falling into
the ocean, holding
her baby to her chest. An Irish woman who had been aboard the
Lusitania when it was bombed by the German submarine. ENLIST
the poster read. Just
word next to the painting of a beautiful young woman like a mermaid
falling into the sea, her baby to her chest, her arm not letting
go, not even in
wasn’t easy climbing down the ladder with a swaddled baby
against her chest but she was getting used to it. She opened
the curtain and turned
the light on
in the kitchen. She heard a movement behind the sink or the stove.
tell. It wasn’t a rustling now but a scratching. She held
the baby tight. She creeped to the stove and she could see not
one but two rats,
and one white, circling some crumbs that had fallen from the
When she woke she was in the E.R. in Washington Heights.
baby?” she asked a nurse who was putting a blood pressure cuff around
“He’s with your husband. He’s fine.”
Lizzie saw a curtain
pulled shut. She could hear people talking on the other side of the curtain.
a wall of glass at her feet. She could see two women, nurses
probably, behind the glass.
the E.R., honey,” the
nurse said, after she’d written down her stats.
“How did I get here?”
The nurse shook her head.
“You don’t know?”
“You walked here. You carried your baby. You were talking about rats. You’re one lucky girl.”
“The baby is OK.”
“Seems to me he slept through it all. You’re one lucky girl.”
When she woke again she heard a nurse speak loudly into the phone, describing
another patient: “She has a history, multiple hospitalizations.” The
nurse who was speaking had silver hair. Her tone was less clinical than dismissive.
A history. Lizzie didn’t imagine, not until much later, that the nurse
was talking about her.
She was taken in a van to a private hospital in Westchester.
As hospitals go, it was lovely. It had
a campus. On
one wall hung a board listing activities: yoga classes and nature walks. Lizzie had never been in a woodsy hospital that offered yoga. She wanted to see her baby. Michael said he would visit.
The hospital had a specific philosophy, described by an antonym: D.B.T. A
lot of the activities involved learning acronyms.
A nurse led a group called Assertiveness Training.
“Today we will learn how to get our needs met.”
The nurse wore small round glasses.
“One way to do this is to use D.E.A.R. M.A.N.”
On the dry-erase board
set up in the living room she wrote the letters of the two words in a very
font, all spaced far apart.
Mostly Lizzie waited for Michael to call. She waited
for Michael to tell her when he would bring the baby.
said he would
bring the baby.
in the Westchester hospital for a week before she
taught herself how
long she could allow herself to even think about
the baby. When she thought about the
baby for a minute too long, or even thought about
Michael who said he would
bring the baby, her whole body started to ache and
she felt like she was missing an
arm or a leg and that if she didn’t have the baby back in her arms or on
her chest like the drowning woman she would die. She was sure of it. She would
die right there. That was how it felt, she told Michael, who didn’t answer.
maybe it would have been better to die than to
feel that thing that was more than loss or emptiness or need. It was death
itself. In life. She couldn’t
But then that moment passed,
in the way that Lyle taught them, back when she was aboard the S.S.: he taught
them to watch the moment. The moment
of suffering or the moment of joy. Do not
get attached to the moment, Lyle would say. And so Lizzie convinced herself not
to get attached to these agonizing moments
that promised death. Instead, she watched them.
She taught herself not to think for too long about the baby. At first this
felt like a betrayal but then she
discovered that she could do it. When she saw
that she could do it, she realized that she was a terrible person, but she
let that thought be there, too, a thought,
and she didn’t get attached to it. She
refused to get attached to the thought, the knowledge,
that she was terrible. She guessed that this
was how terrible
people lived with themselves. It was possible,
Lyle told her that she
had not allowed herself to move on from her own mother’s
death. That she held on to the horror of it for
ten years and that it kept her from life.
He told her, only after some months had passed,
that this was why she was aboard the S.S. Lyle.
He called it complicated-grief syndrome.
She told him that it would be a betrayal. He
agreed that grief was noble.
But it was Dymphna,
told her that
would have wanted her to live. Dymphna
who told Lizzie that her mother would
not want her
to be grieving, still.
The next group Lizzie attended was called
B.A. Lizzie didn’t know what
B.A. stood for. It didn’t seem like it mattered, the decoding of the acronyms.
Sally has volunteered to present her B.A. to the group.”
therapist leading the group was named
Gretchen. She’d been there, doing
crafts of some kind at a table with patients, when Lizzie was admitted to the
private hospital. Lizzie didn't like her, but tried not to get attached to that
A woman stood up to present
her B.A. She wore too much makeup, was sickly thin. There were serious scars
on her arms. It was all pretty standard.
Behavioral Analysis is one of my
fave D.B.T. skills. So, thanks, Marsha!”
young woman smiled and shook
her hips in a cheerleaderish way that made some of the patients smile. Lizzie
felt sometimes that she was in an afterschool special or a movie on the Lifetime
network, for all the weird sentimental pathos
of the place. But then she would
remember it was her life, and that made it even worse. That her life could
be a Lifetime movie, completely devoid of irony or
humor. She hoped Sally would finish
And so yesterday I did
my B.A., with the aim of—and I quote—aiding
the practitioner in understanding
and/or eliminating both Destructive & Quality
of Life–Interfering behaviors.”
Lizzie guessed that Sally was
a performer, a dancer, maybe.
spoke with a
weird lilting inflection
and she occasionally
wink and smile.
“OK, OK. So.
I had to wait until after the breakup to do this. But. Well. The precipitating
factors of the breakup. The pre-identified
Destructive or at least Q.O.L.I.
behaviors. Well, the B.A. allowed me to see more clearly and thus reflect
upon—I mean with my D.B.T. coach—the behaviors
that led to this breakup
and its aftermath. And I came to understand it.”
watched Sally stop, then drop her notebook, and put her hand to her face. She was crying, weeping
in a heavy way that made Lizzie feel bad about comparing
the whole thing to an afterschool
special. She didn’t know a thing about
Sally or what it was like
to be her.
“Sally. Can you verbalize what you
are feeling right now?”
spoke from the back
of the room. It was a living room
or a sitting room,
well-appointed with Queen Anne’s chairs
and a coffee table, a far
cry from the plastic institutional
furniture of the S.S. But
it was a terrible place,
Lizzie decided an hour into
her stay. Why did
Gretchen have to say verbalize,
Sally took a
deep breath and then
“I pushed him
away. It is a habit of mine.
It is beyond habit. I know
it about myself. In the way
that you can know or understand
yourself but this doesn’t
mean that you can do anything
to change it. To change yourself.”
wanted to run
from the room, screaming. She looked at
two women on
the floor in front of Sally, both nodding
wildly as she
spoke. She expected one to shout
“I mean self-knowledge.
What if it does not lead
to change? Maybe it gives
you a greater tolerance or
compassion or empathy
for yourself and your flaws,
but on the other hand maybe
it makes these habits more
difficult to bear especially
if at the time you couldn’t
have done anything differently.
Like, you are not surprised.
Like you saw yourself walking
right into it.”
put her head
in her hands and listened to the wind
which was blowing the branches and the leaves
on the large
trees just beyond the glass. The leaves
mostly, though a few had turned yellow.
be a mild winter. The clouds were low. A cable
in front of one window. On the back of
where Lizzie sat there was a tiny plaque engraved
words From the Family of Magdalena Marriott 1988.
Can you tell us about the
“I am telling you.”
Gretchen wasn’t convinced.
“You said that it was your favorite skill. I want to hear how it worked
“I am susceptible. I extinguish things. Whatever.”
Sally was looking
straight at Gretchen now, her cheerleader demeanor
gone. She looked pissed off, out of nowhere;
there was an intensity about her that Lizzie admired though she
done anything to be anywhere else at that moment, to be out of this particular
“I trace this to a particular if errant manifestation of my fear. My fear
of losing the love object. It is the same fear I feel over the potential loss
of the love
which causes me to behave in a way that makes actual that very loss. Do you see?
“I think you are over-intellectualizing
Sally,” Gretchen said. “Why don’t you draw the B.A. on
so we can all understand.”
“But why do I continue to enter
relationships with intimacy as the goal? Well, there are a few reasons.”
You delude yourself.” Lizzie mumbled from the back row. She didn’t
to speak it aloud.
“I delude myself by thinking it will be different
Sally was looking right
at Lizzie now, who still didn’t
“I think that if say the love object could possibly understand
she might then be able to show me compassion and forgive my superficial—because
She looked possessed
in a way that
was holy. She was
a seeker, Lizzie
thought. She admired
her. She wanted
her to get out
of this place.
She was too good
for it. We are
all too good
for this place,
stand up and
board. She hated
you, Sally. Thank
you for sharing.”
looked at her
then and said, “There
is something so sad
about the way
and then end.
You know that?
It makes me feel
nodded and gestured
for Sally to sit
down. She put
her hand on her
you, Sally. I’m
of us can identify.
a chance to share.”
a ripped t-shirt.
her boots as she
watched her sit
on the floor
next to the
holding her notebook
to her chest.
didn’t tell Michael not to
He didn’t smile. Lizzie didn’t
know if he was angry
or sad. Lizzie held the baby,
the perfect baby, and
tried very hard not
to get attached to the feeling
of the baby’s perfection.
Lizzie said, “Don’t,” because it hurt too much to
hold the perfect baby and then to let go. Lizzie, back with herself
and her own incomplete body, looked around at the other patients in the
on couches and watching television. They were watching Friends. They were
always watching Friends. Friends made everything so much worse. She had always
Friends, which evoked in her an excruciating sense of her aloneness.
She wasn’t sure why she hated it so. Maybe she hated the apartments
they lived in. Or the way the laugh track would always sound after they said
usually wasn’t funny or real at all. She wondered how all of the patients
could watch the Friends without feeling completely betrayed and deeply
sad and even more alone than they must already feel, as psych patients.
If she took enough
Ativan or Klonopin or Thorazine she could probably also watch Friends and
tell herself that she liked it. Sally was not watching Friends,
Lizzie noted. Lizzie especially hated the one Friend who acted ditzy.
If Lizzie herself were
type-cast as a Friend, she would be this Friend, the ditzy one. Everyone
else loved this Friend and she realized it was perhaps misanthropic to
feel so disturbed
by the Friends. Most of the patients watching the Friends were overweight.
All wore pajamas or sweatpants. Many laughed when the laugh track went
a Friend said something clever or ironic or silly. Lizzie wondered how
you could actually laugh in real life at the same time that the laugh
if you had genuinely wanted to laugh, wouldn’t
the sound of the laugh track keep you from actually laughing?
there—and Gretchen had gestured to the women watching Friends—were “career
patients.” Lizzie had tried to ignore this but it stayed in her mind.
The idea of a career patient. She heard Gretchen say that a lot of them were
on their illness, on the idea of being sick, on the idea of suicide. A lot
of them had been trying to commit suicide for years, Gretchen said, and Lizzie
seen her mouth twist when she said trying to. And so ended up in
hospitals, over and over, Gretchen said. It was a cycle, she told the intern.
They go in and out of hospitals, day programs. Sometimes they actually do
themselves, but not always. They end up here. Over and over again.
trying not to listen and then deciding that she hated Gretchen. That was
last she could remember of it. Until now. Looking at the women laughing at Friends and recognizing something. Women who also had babies somewhere, babies of
husbands or parents had taken custody. Husbands who wanted divorces.
Or the women without babies, the women who would never have babies because
would never do a thing except try to die. She admired those women in the
It was their protest she admired.
had assigned “The Dead” and—though she hadn’t really
understood then what an epiphany actually was—she did now. This was one.
that she was becoming a career patient. That she had to stop trying
to kill herself. Or that she had to kill herself. But that she could no
live in this liminal
state and spend days or weeks in woodsy hospitals where everyone spoke
in acronyms and watched Friends. That this was far worse than death.
She was Gabriel in “The
Dead.” Only she was a lot younger than Gabriel and there wasn’t
any snow softly falling or falling softly.
She remembers The Death
Class now, which was her favorite class ever, with the teacher she loved
so much she would
turn bright red any time shed stop in for office hours; the teacher
who read the last line of Joyces story as if the classroom were a
words were gospel. Lizzie wanted so badly to understand his gospel, to
be moved in the way her teacher was moved, this same teacher who cried
when she read parts
of Beloved aloud, a book that also made Lizzie cry. At the time,
she didnt understand “The
It was now, here in the
living room of the woodsy
hospital, that she
what seemed so obvious
she wondered how she couldnt
have seen it all