This book counts toward the following events/challenges: Social Justice Book Club,
20 Books of Summer, Nonfiction, and the 2016 Southern Literature Reading Challenge.
Additional quote and comments on my Others' Words of Wisdom page.
Having worked in the mental health field as a
minds, and lives mirroring John and Angela's existence.
The scene of this crime was Brownsville, Texas. A town on the border of the U.S. and Mexico, and often in the news.
My maternal aunt suffered form paranoid schizophrenia and I was with her and my uncle (her husband) when she experienced her first mental/emotional 'breakdown.' We were traveling. I was 8 years old. I remember she had locked herself in the bathroom of the hotel room and was literally hysterical; there were sounds coming from that small room I had never heard before. My uncle asked me to pack up everything, that we needed to leave as soon as I could complete that task. I will never ever forget the image of him kneeling in front of me as I sat on the bed, asking me to do that. (Throughout his lifetime, he bragged about my maturity in that chaos, and my skill in doing what needed to be done.) And, yes, I am tearing up as I write this. I miss him...and my aunt. Let's just say that throughout the remainder of my aunt's life she was heavily medicated and would, every 3-5 years, experience an emotional/mental 'breakdown' that would necessitate institutionalization to strip down the 'pharmaceutical soup' and reformulate it to enable her to 'successfully' live in society once again. Until lithium was developed--that seemed to prevent these intermittent institutional stays. Though to others, it was rather obvious that she was 'different' even with the meds. These treatment periods could last anywhere from 3-9 months and were, of course, devastating to my family. But there! Right there! That was the difference for my aunt: she not only had a stable family, but that family (mainly her mother) also had the financial resources to pay for her treatment(s). My uncle had health insurance through his employer, but especially back then, there was little to no coverage for mental/emotional health. I have spent my life in gratitude that she had these advantages, because without them...she could have easily become a 'John' or 'Angela.' Honestly. I could write a book about the ways in which her mind, as she would relate to us in her more lucid/"sane" times, would literally "play tricks on her." She would shake her head and say "It's so scary to think my mind can do that to me. But why? Why can't I control it?" To her credit, she was one of the few such people in my experience, who consistently took her medications and faithfully attended her doctor/therapy appointments throughout the years. I am in awe of her ability to do so and always will be, it was such a gift, and so unusual. Her greatest disappointment was her inability to work. Though, again, to her credit, she kept trying until it was obvious she just couldn't handle it. And again, this was the difference. She had financial resources provided by her family (husband, mother, sister) to enable her to live comfortably without the need for wages or 'public assistance.'
I spent so much time detailing my aunt's situation to contrast with the situation of many, I believe the definite majority, of people who are similarly afflicted in our society. What happens to those with NO social support network? NONE. No family, or...only family similarly dysfunctional, which is so very common, and...perhaps most damning of all...NO FINANCIAL RESOURCES. I am always appalled at the people who "joke" about just going on "disability" or "welfare" and chucking all the stress of working full-time (or more than full-time) and 'taking it easy.' If you think that is true, you know nothing about it. Trust me. Nothing. And without advocates to educate and aid them in applying for and hopefully obtaining public assistance, so many people suffering from disabling afflictions are left...alone...helpless...and eventually...hopeless. Fortunately, Angela and John did have access to food sources, so they and their children weren't 'starving,' though it isn't as if they had a refrigerator full of food, either. They were going to lose their apartment due to inability to pay rent. I don't believe it is ever revealed whether there was any public assistance funding available for housing, or if they had ever applied, but if they had, they evidently did not "qualify." And that brings us to one of John's main disabling characteristics as an adult...addiction/drug use.
I will try to not get on my soapbox about public assistance for addicts, but I definitely have one and can get on it at any time, if you're interested! ;) What is most important about the addiction is to understand what lead to it and to realize so many people do not have the capability to change their behaviors without intense and consistent intervention, and even at that, the majority are unable to shake the addictive behaviors permanently. It just is not possible for them to make the mental/emotional adjustments necessary to "quit." (Please reread that sentence. It is true!) And until you get to know them personally, are around them on an almost daily basis, you cannot truly realize their mindset. And it is the mind and/or mental health that makes the difference. To say this is a complex and complicated construct is such an understatement. I had a client admit to me that she preferred illicit/illegal drugs to the 'socially acceptable drugs'/pharmaceuticals. I knew her well enough by then to understand--the other drugs simply made her "feel good," and the pharmaceuticals did not. I could not fault her for that honest analysis. Though she did eventually realize "the drugs" made her totally dysfunctional and she really wanted to care for her children in a functional manner. At least she was trying. I am now crying as I write this. She died about two years later. But...she had tried. Kudos to her for doing that and I hope her children have a realization of her extensive efforts on their behalf, even if she was ultimately unsuccessful. All any one of us can do is try.
Beyond addiction, which develops for a myriad of reasons, differently for each individual, there are so many other factors to consider with regard to John and Angela: learning disabilities, cognitive impairment, and 'possession' by evil spirits. John had struggled through school,
Of Brownsville, Tillman writes: