#52weeks52stories: Week 42
Word prompt: schizophrenia
Word count – 1313
Reading time – 6 mins
Anna Furlong was a weirdo.
At least, that’s what she’d been called for most of her thirty-seven years.
Sometimes people were kind and referred to her as offbeat or quirky, but no one had any use for kindness or manners in the new social climes. Taunts of kooky, strange and crazy no longer fazed her.
Anna knew she was special. Her Aunt Sadie told her so… right before the family had her aunt committed to a mental institution. Sadie Preston was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic with a high probability of being a danger to herself and others.
Anna’s thirteen-year-old heart broke watching her beloved aunt sit in the straight-back chair in the corner of the family room while her parents, Tarla and Deacon Furlong, gathered the few things Sadie was allowed to take with her.
Motionless as a Greek statue, Sadie did turn her head when Anna stepped on that one squeaky floorboard across the doorway.
The stone face disappeared, replaced by the sparkling eyes and the mischievous grin Anna loved so much.
They held each other’s gaze for only seconds before Sadie held out her hand to the young girl.
Anna rushed to her aunt, wrapping her arms around her neck.
“I was hoping I’d see you before I left, Anna-banana.”
“I don’t want you to go, Sadie-milady.”
“There’s nothing can be done about that now, child. I doubt they’ll bring you to visit me, so never forget how much I love you. You are the daughter I was never blessed with.”
Anna pulled away, her face wet with tears. “I don’t care what they say, milady, you’re not crazy as a road lizard.”
Sadie chuckled and swiped at the tears on Anna’s cheeks with her thumb. “I see my brother-in-law still isn’t shy about sharing his opinion of me.” Her smile faded. “Anna, I am sick -”
Anna tried to protest.
“No, let me finish. I’m sick and everyone knows it, even you, Anna-banana -”
“But, milady -”
“Please, child, hush. We don’t have much time. I’m not going away because I’m dangerous. They’re locking me away because I’m an embarrassment. The old pills don’t work for me anymore, Anna, and I need such high dosages of the new pills I can’t think, can’t function, so I stopped taking them.”
Images of her aunt arguing and railing at voices only she could hear flashed through Anna’s mind.
“Ever since I turned twenty-three, I haven’t been quite right in the head, but it’s not only me, Anna..” She grasped both of Anna’s hands and pulled her close. “Several of the women in our family have dealt with or are dealing with different levels of schizophrenia. As far as we can tell, it began with your great-grandmother—the one you were named after—Anna Preston.”
Anna stiffened in horror and tried to pull away from her aunt, but Sadie held on.
“I know this is a shock, baby, but you have to listen. I left a journal in your closet under the black shoe box. It contains some of our history… of those of us who are… sick. Your great-grandma, her cousin, Bertha, Bertha’s daughter, Lois Jean, me… and your mother.”
Anna’s face crumpled. “Mama? I don’t understand, milady. Please -”
“I wish I had the time, Anna-banana, but you must read the journal, and don’t let your mother see you with it. I told her I burned it by mistake twelve years ago.”
“I’m scared, Auntie.”
“I am too, baby. I wish your mother had talked you last summer when you complained of headaches and hearing voices. But, she’s lived in denial most of our lives and said you were too young for it to be schizophrenia. When you didn’t say anything else about hearing voices I thought she was right.”
Anna averted her eyes and her aunt shook her. “Anna, no! It did happen again, didn’t it?”
She turned back to her aunt as her eyes welled with tears again. One simple nod caused the tears to spill, leaving new tracks on her face.
Sadie pulled her into a tight hug. “I’m so sorry, baby. So, so sorry. I hoped and prayed this ugly thing would never touch you.”
She paused, hearing footsteps in the upstairs hallway.
“We’re out of time, Anna. Promise me you’ll read the journal. Promise me!”
The lump in her throat made speaking impossible right then and another nod was all she could muster.
“It’s time, Sadie.”
They both turned to see Deacon Furlong’s massive frame fill the doorway.
Sadie averted her eyes as the voices told her Deacon was Satan intent on killing them all and she had to kill him first. To stay safe. To keep Anna safe. Instead, she shook her head and stood, pulling her beloved niece into another tight embrace.
“I love you, Anna Rose Furlong. Never forget that.”
She released her niece and strode across the room with her head held high. She pushed past her brother-in-law in the doorway without a word and walked out the front door to the car.
Anna closed the journal.
Now in her possession for over twenty-five years, she’d had the family keepsake longer than any other family member.
She caressed the dark burgundy flowers hand painted on the thick fabric cover. This beautiful book held the story of her family and its joy and celebrations, births and losses from three different centuries.
It also bears witness to the anguish and cost of mental illness to women with like minds and tortured souls.
From Anna Preston who was seen as fragile and eccentric and lived most of her life on her own terms, to her cousin, Bertha Riley Williams who never acknowledged her illness and lived life in a riotous circle of confinements to prisons and mental institutions until drinking herself to death before her sixtieth birthday.
Bertha’s daughter, Lois Jean, took her own life after her diagnosis of schizophrenia and the man she loved walked away.
Anna’s mother, Tarla Furlong, with a few exceptions, lived a normal life on medications that affected everything from her temperament to her weight. But her need to control and fear of being ostracized ensured Tarla never missed a pill right up until her death last year.
Unlike her sister, Sadie Preston, who grew weary of higher and higher dosages just to be normal and gave in to the mania… and lost her freedom. The irony was that after Sadie’s committal, she was medicated every single day, only showing the presence of mind during Anna’s visits.
After Sadie was sent away, it took another eight years for the disorder to fully manifest itself in Anna. Because she had the misfortune of finding doctors who believed in less traditional medicines and more homeopathic treatments, it took another two years for Anna to find new doctors and have a manageable life.
She finished college with a degree in library sciences.
She met a man and they planned to marry, but his family didn’t rest until they’d torn the couple apart.
Always upfront about her illness, Anna had a small supportive group of friends who made the taunts and shunning from others bearable.
And she had milady, never missing a weekly visit in seventeen years.
But there would be no more visits. With only Anna at the graveside, Sadie was laid to rest yesterday morning.
And now Anna was not only alone, but she was also the last family member diagnosed with schizophrenia. She had five distant female cousins who were living happy, healthy lives. While men aren’t immune to the disorder, none in her family had ever shown any signs.
Folding the journal in her arms, she hugged it one last time then slid it into the desk drawer.
Anna hadn’t decided which cousin she’d pass the journal on to but it would be passed on because life goes on.