The kindly looking fellow in the light blue shirt pulled me aside moments before my presentation at the library.
Your book has made me do a lot of thinking, he said.
Oh? I replied.
Yes. About mental illness. My mother took her life. My brother is a schizophrenic.
He pulled out a bottle of pills from his coat pocket. These are mine, he said.
A safety net for sanity.
Later, from the front seat of her truck, a woman spoke of her dead father. She refers to his death as self-murder, not suicide. Suicide is far too clinical for the violence created by her father’s mental illness.
Until you have lived with someone who has suffered from the delusions, the paranoia, the insomnia, the fury, the isolation, and the near comatose silence, you have no idea how mental illness breeds violence.
Andrea Yates does not want out of prison. She feels safer locked away behind bars, watched over every minute of every day than she would in a rambler house in the outskirts of Houston or Dallas with nothing but the memories of the days she tried to take her own life but failed and ended up taking the lives of her five children instead.
For Andrea Yates a loss of memory might be a welcome peace.
Every year on my birthday I remember the boy who shot himself with his mama’s handgun. He was 14. But he was not, his father insisted, mentally ill. He just made a bad decision. An impulsive one.
We shared the same birthday, the boy and me.
I know a journalist whose son took his life. I didn’t know the boy but I have seen photos of him. He was lovely to look at. Handsome in that GQ kind of way. His momma misses him still. She always will.
I see her lying there sometimes, in ICU, all alone. Charcoal smudged across her face, ashen tattoo of the attempt she made to kill herself. I took a white cloth, wet it and scrubbed her face clean. Then, I stood there bedside, hands hovering over her, and prayed a prayer of healing for my friend.
It was her I was thinking of when I wrote Mother of Rain.
Fiction is transcendent. It allows us talk about the things that would in most any other form of narrative, silence or divide us. It is speaking in tongues. There’s something holy and mesmerizing to it. The best fiction can enable us to see each other as the Creator sees us. In all our glorious humanity.
What have you read lately that transported you to a holy place?