Open Letter to Harold I. Schwartz, MD, Psychiatrist and Director in Chief of the Institute of Living at Hartford Hospital Behavioral Healthcare

April 16, 2014

Dear Harold Schwartz, Director of the Institute of Living at Hartford Hospital

I believe that I was profoundly harmed by the treatment I received in 2013 on Donnelly 2 South at the Institute of Living at Hartford Hospital, and that what the staff did to me was not only unethical and cruel but that it crossed the line into illegality from the very first. Psychiatric patient abuse is a pattern in Connecticut hospitals, but it was most egregious at the Institute of Living because the staff told me that they knew what they were doing was wrong but that they would get away with it anyway.

That I know I was a difficult patient never justified staff behavior towards me. I was loud and upset and hard for them to deal with, yes. That is precisely why my Psychiatric Advance Directive (PAD) was written out the way it was, and why I made my medical and psychiatric history online so available. When ill, I am frightened and paranoid, which makes me easily roused to irritability and hostility. I know this, from a distance as it were. But knowing this now does not mean I was in control of my emotions. I am by nature neither temperamental nor prone to temper eruptions or throwing things. In addition, I am extremely modest, hardly one to disrobe or urinate in public. My friends and family have at times variously labeled me “stoic” and “peacemaker,” which should tell you a lot. But that I disrobed and urinated on the floor on Donnelly 2 South both horrifies me and concerns me because these behaviors point to something going on distinct from my psychosis: they point to my having been subject to abuse and trauma at the hospital itself.

Let me make it very clear that if I have behaved in such ways before it was only in response to similar extreme circumstances – as when i was subjected over and over to restraints and seclusion in a horrific and sadistic fashion at Manchester Hospital in 2009 and similarly at Middlesex Hospital in 2010. It is too bad that when Sanjay Banerjee MD and Amy Taylor MD took it upon themselves to violate my HIPAA privacy rights and investigate my previous admissions, without my permission (which I expressly refused to grant) they failed to make the connection between the abuse, and my subsequent behaviors…It turns out all they drew as a conclusion was that if those hospitals could use restraints and seclusion ad libitum, so could they. It didn’t seem to matter to Dr Taylor in particular that in 2009 and 2010 measures such as seclusion and restraints not only didn’t work, they made things worse. Not surprisingly, when Dr Taylor followed these examples I regressed completely, just as my PAD predicted.

I was admitted to Donnelly 2 South, and I came in with a very detailed Psychiatric Advanced Directive as I said. I made it very clear that my online electronic medical record was also available. It included documents such as my narcolepsy diagnostic consult and special documentation assessing my need for a higher than usual dosage of Ritalin, written by my former sleep specialist, Mary B O’Malley, MD PHD who was also my psychiatrist from 2000-2009. Included as well was a letter she wrote to my present psychiatrist, Dr Angela Cappiello, explicitly stating her conviction that I do not have a personality disorder, NOS, borderline traits, or otherwise.

According to Dr. Sanjay Banerjee he read every page of these documents. That is what he told me. He even praised me, saying he wished every patient would come so prepared. Moreover, when he spoke with Dr. Cappiello, he brushed off my concerns about anyone misperceiving me as having a personality disorder. My brother, Philip Spiro, MD, himself a psychiatrist, brought up the same matter when in discussion with Laurie Denenberg, LCSW, but her response was much the same: “Personality disorders are not a part of the picture here. We intend to honor her PAD. We are glad that she has had the foresight to prepare such a document.”

If this was so, then how did it come to pass that Amy Taylor, MD wrote on my history and discharge summary that I have a “long history of Borderline personality disorder” and herself diagnosed “Personality disorder NOS with borderline traits”? I was being treated for four weeks for an active psychotic disorder Axis 1. In any event, she could have no way of knowing whether or not I had a personality disorder, given an active an Axis I diagnosis.

On or around February 4, 2013, I walked in frustration away from the quiet room where I had been held captive for nearly three weeks, strolled down the hall, looked out the window and slowly retraced my steps back to the quiet room, which I had been expressly told was NOT a seclusion room (the definition at Hartford Hospital’s Institute of Living of a seclusion room is a “room to which the door is locked.”) But when I arrived I was confronted by a cohort of staff who proceeded to 4-point restrain me to the bed, even though I was quiet and put up no resistance. Not wanting to give them any reason or justification, I passively lay down on the bed and placed my own limbs out for the restraint cuffs, saying, (I quote my journal entry made later that evening): “For shame. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves. I am not and never was a danger to myself or others.” Their response was “ You refuse to follow directions so we do not know what you will do. This is not punishment, Pamela, this is what your behavior brings on every time.”

From that point on, the threshold for restraints was extremely low. They always restrained me, spread-eagled, so tightly I couldn’t move a muscle. They never permitted bathroom breaks or even used a bedpan, instead they made me defecate in my clothing. They never even let my hands free to eat. I would fall asleep rapidly after three routine punishment needles in the buttocks: Haldol, Ativan and Benadryl—whether I just had my regular meds or not, and they would invent reasons to maintain me in restraints even after I had been asleep for hours. When I woke, groggy and hardly dangerous to anyone, they would grill me with questions that I could not answer. They would then use my inability to respond as reason not to let me out, even when I asked, as the chart recorded, in a “soft sedated voice” for release. They would re-inject me, to put me back to sleep instead.

In the evening on Jan 5th, for the second time that day, they brutally restrained me for throwing half a graham cracker at the wall. Then, as usual, they left me like that for six hours, even after I fell asleep. But in point of fact, though, I could never earn my way to release from restraints by good behavior or quietly, calmly asking for release. I had never done anything to earn my way into them in the first place. I was never violent until they threatened me. They refused to release me until I literally cried, “Uncle” when they told me to.

As to those vaunted “shows of force” what did they expect? Presented with a cohort of threatening staff personnel I saw one thing: an impending assault.  I know they anticipated my panic; they said as much in my chart. Isn’t that the point of a planned “show of force” – to induce fear and panic? Why else do it? So why should it be any surprise, when I defended myself when they forcibly, physically grabbed me? When they stuffed me into a body bag and were trying to tighten the straps, surely you can understand why anyone would bite the hand of an attacker whose digits came near the face. I had done nothing but refuse to enter the body bag willingly. I simply was passive. I did not fight or resist until they grabbed my body and assaulted me.

But none of it should have happened. My Advanced Directive explained in exquisite detail exactly what to do and what I respond to better than fear tactics and force. In fact, It is beyond me, knowing that one of the admission diagnoses I came in with was PTSD, how anyone could possibly approve in advance, permission to use restraints and seclusion “just in case they are needed”. Why not counsel the person asking for this advance “right to restrain” to do all in his power not to restrain me and to work with the PAD instead?

Here’s what SAMHSA the substance abuse and mental health services administration publication has to say on seclusion and trauma:

“Studies suggest that restraints and seclusion can be harmful and is often re-traumatizing for an individual who has suffered previous trauma…

“Further, there is a common misconception that seclusion and restraint are used only when absolutely necessary as crisis response techniques. In fact, seclusion and restraint are most commonly used to address loud, disruptive, noncompliant behavior and generally originate from a power struggle between consumer and staff. The decision to apply seclusion or restraint techniques is often arbitrary, idiosyncratic, and generally avoidable.

“Moreover, some studies indicate that seclusion and restraint use leads to an increase in the behaviors that staff members are attempting to control or eliminate.

I have been traumatized, and not just by hospitals. I was date-raped three times in my twenties and experienced traumatic domestic abuse by a long-term roommate. The cover sheet on the PAD made very clear that due to these trauma issues, I could not tolerate being secluded or restrained without serious consequences: regression and serious worsening of symptoms. Unfortunately, as soon as the staff saw fit to use physical methods of coercion and control on me from the first time a staff member grabbed me and pushed me with his lower torso, I ceased improving, and my symptoms went downhill. Did they really think they were being kind and compassionate?

Staff violence begets violence….

I tried to get help even when on the unit, at least I tried when I was free to, to make calls or leave my seclusion… that is to say, forced three -week-long stay in the quiet room last winter. I made many calls to the hospital’s patient advocate office, but the sole time anyone made contact was when the advocate came to hand me some paperwork – I believe I was actually in 4-point restraints at the time — papers I could not read about the forced medication hearing. I needed her advocacy, but she never responded to my panicked calls in any way that was helpful to me. I wanted her help, but she never came by to ask me what I needed. She was less than useful, the fact that I had to go through her, essentially a hospital employee, and her refusal to respond, contributed to my ongoing panic and desperate feelings of aloneness and depression. No wonder Dr. Sanjay Banerjee attempted to force ECT on me, without any prior discussion of it with me whatsoever.

And where did the ECT discussion come from? My PAD states in no uncertain terms that I will refuse ECT under any and every circumstance. My brother would be my conservator if Banerjee had sought to go down that road, and he would never have made any decision to counter my wishes on that subject. If Banerjee really read my PAD, he would have known that. I have already had FORCED ECT and it traumatized me terribly. Also it failed to work.

Banerjee had stopped my 75mg of the antidepressant Zoloft during the first or second week I was there. “Do you really need that?” he had asked, “You don’t seem depressed to me.” Obedient, and in any event glad to get off any medication at any time, I shook my head, assenting to the change.  A week later, instead of reinstating the Zoloft, Banerjee blamed my sudden “depression” on my refusal of the anti-seizure medication, Lamictal, a drug I had not taken in 6 months. Now he was applying to force me to take ECT, something I was terrified of, and to have calculated brain damageIt was this threat, and the brutality with which the decision was handed down, that started the downhill course of my IOL stay.

The very next weekday, all hell broke loose. When I entered the conference room, I pushed some important notes across the table that I wanted Dr Banerjee and Laurie Dennenberg to read. They refused, claiming that I threw the papers at them. Instead, Dr Banerjee proceeded to berate me, and told me how he had consulted with other hospitals and providers and had read my records against my instructions and Advance Directive, thus violating my HIPAA rights. Moreover, he threatened me with a behavioral treatment plan that would not permit me to do art or writing unless I “behaved.”

I hit the roof, telling him I would sue the hospital and complain to JCAHO, then summarily left, slamming the door, an act that stemmed from feelings of utter impotence, because I couldn’t actually say in words anything more effective.

It could have ended there. I could have been left alone, to cool down and calm myself. But, no, Dr Banerjee had to write for stat meds again, and even though I was on the phone and trying to find someone to talk to, to calm myself, I had to be physically dragged off the chair I sat on, away from the phone and brought to the floor in a physical struggle (because they had attacked first, i.e. physically grabbed me, I defended myself, instinctually). They could have waited for me to finish the call. They could have waited to see if I calmed myself. I was not hurting anyone or even threatening anyone or myself with harm. All that I had done, in terms of physical threats, was to throw a lightweight chair at the wall. And that, it was clear to everyone, was intended not as a threat to anyone. Furthermore, it was done and over with. I had left that area and gone to my room. I had then come back and now sat on the chair by the phone, speaking to my interlocutor on the other end. There was no need to pick a fight or encourage a struggle. A wait-and-see policy could have successfully guided the situation to a better resolution not only for the situation at hand but for the entire hospital stay. As the poem by Dylan Thomas goes: “After the first death, there is other.” Once they decided to use four—point restraints, there was no going back. The first time broke everything,  So they used them again, and again, and more and more freely and without justification but for convenience and punishment.

Back to Feb 5 or 6, after sleeping for six hours, I was taken out of restraints  conveniently just in time for a visit from Dr. Angela Cappiello, my outside psychiatrist. Observed by my 1:1 monitor, I only dared whisper and dared not tell the doctor the full extent of the abuse that had been happening. Nevertheless, she took one look at Amy Taylor MD’s behavioral treatment plan posted on my wall, and told me that it would be impossible for anyone, even someone who was well, to follow it properly. She was so worried about me, and about my ability to complete the treatment plan’s requirements, even for the required “24 hours,” that she intervened. The next day, the single day that Dr. Taylor planned to be out of town, Dr. Cappiello asked Dr. Mehendru to evaluate me for discharge, telling her that she feared a power struggle had been set up that I could never win.

When Dr. Mehendru came to see me, at first I was angry, as the chart indicates, thinking she was just another Taylor flunky, preparing to use more restraints and seclusion, But when she asked if I would like to go home, I took one look at her, saw sincerity in her eyes, and burst into a smile, ready to say yes to anything. Miraculously “cured,” I left the IOL that very same day, less than 12 hours after being released from 4-point restraints and not 4 hours out of seclusion.

However, I was not well. Within two weeks time, I was back in the hospital, this time admitted to Yale New Haven Psychiatric Hospital, via their emergency room. Over the next 3 weeks I experienced an entirely different kind of care. At Yale I did not find a staff ready to fight or try to seclude or restrain me.

I was still the same person with the same problems, loud and angry at times, even “violent” to property in my frustration, and still psychotic, yet they never responded with a show of force. Why would they? At Yale it would be absolutely anathema to deliberately frighten a patient. What would be the purpose in that, they would think. They also never pushed me into a seclusion room or strapped me down in punitive 4-point restraints, or any of the other ill-advised responses that my PAD explains are the worst things to do to anyone who is struggling, scared and paranoid. In point of fact, Yale Psychiatric Hospital’s Washington Square unit does not have a seclusion room. They also have a “restraints-free” policy, so they didn’t use those at all either.

The Institute of Living on the other hand with its “We only use restraints and seclusion if we have to” policy, restrained me countless times, and for many more hours than was even legal. When I woke up that last morning, the room opposite me was occupied by yet another person in 4-point restraints! That is because once you allow staff to use restraints a little, it only takes a little to use them a lot. And once you sanction the use of restraints and seclusion at all, it is only time before someone abuses them and abuse becomes the norm.

 

I would like your response to this letter, I have sent it to many people within the state government and outside of it, But you may have the first response. Also you may be interested in the youtube video of my artwork  which can be found at this site:

Prior to when you allowed the staff to body bag and restrain me, when I had done nothing wrong but leave the non seclusion quiet room, and you refused to come to my assistance, you had asked to see my artwork. Instead you left me to be tortured. Well, here is some of the art you might have seen had you rescued me from my abusers.:

Sincerely

Pamela Spiro Wagner

The final one you never saw in featured in the post below this one.

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Four-point Restraints at the Institute of Living, Hartford Hospital for 19 hours +

Restrained at the Institute of LIving for Not Following Directions....Dr Amy Taylor presiding

In Restraints at the Institute of Living, Hartford Hospital, 2013, for Not Following Directions….Dr Amy Taylor presiding

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New Portraits of African Americans by Pamwagg

This gallery contains 4 photos.

       

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YouTube Video: Mental Hospital Treatment and Abuse -Reality in Art

http://youtu.be/TftG2AzPx1k

This time you should be able to view this on an Iphone or Ipad.

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Why I am Opposed to Involuntary Outpatient Commitment or IOC

Takedown on N-7

 

I have been diagnosed with schizophrenia for nearly forty years and was forcibly medicated and involuntarily hospitalized many times over those decades. Ordering me to take an “anti-psychotic” medication and then physically compelling me to submit to IM injections never got me to a point where I saw the “error of my ways” much less helped me to recover. How can that be? Take my 3-week stay at Yale New Haven Psychiatric Hospital in the summer of 2013. Because I refused the prescribed Zyprexa, I was repeatedly held down and forcibly injected with IM Haldol, a so-called first-generation “anti-psychotic.” Call Haldol an antipsychotic if you will or be honest and  just call it a behavioral management drug, it subdued me, yes, it did indeed. It stupefied me. And in the end I cried “Uncle.” But before I surrendered and submitted to their demands, I only got worse, regressing to a degree so pathetic I find it hard to believe it now. But that this happened was a connection the doctors and staff never made,, not even when after I was forcibly injected, I would strip, defecate and write on the wall with my feces.

 

It seems obvious, at least from my experiences, long and manifold, that involuntary treatment does not work, at least not the way people think it will or should. Over the short run, you can indeed make a person take medication (which is what this is all about in the end, drugs, not something like psychotherapy being forced on anyone…). You can threaten a person with hospitalization “or else,” and frighten her into swallowing pills. And if she does refuse, you can hospitalize someone for refusing and medicate her against will just as you do now to certain in-patients.

 

You can, if coercion is your game, put certain involuntary in-patients into 4-point restraints, pretending that her very resistance makes her a danger to others, punishing her for fighting the team that holds her down. You can even inject her with so-called “depot” drugs that once in the system continue to work for as long as a month.

 

Clearly, people break, faced with threats and coercion and many eventually come to accept treatment “voluntarily,” at least for a time. They may even appear to “get better”. Nevertheless this sort of improvement is often shaky at best.

 

Involuntary — forced — treatment is the worst possible thing you can do to a person with a serious psychiatric condition, especially schizophrenia. Symptom improvement will likely be temporary, even with medication “on board.” I have yet to meet anyone who actually gained that magical “insight” via coerced medication… And given the side effects of all the known drugs, very few people who are not voluntarily in the system consent to take them for long — for good reason.

 

Moreover, as recent research has shown, there is every reason to suspect that psychoactive drugs, especially the so-called antipsychotic drugs, are far less efficacious in promoting real and permanent recovery than we have been told. However, the effects of trauma and the aftermath of involuntary treatment can be disabling, even permanent. I know; I have been there. As a result of my experiences with forced treatment I now suffer from PTSD in addition to the diagnosis of schizophrenia.

 

Although at present I choose to attend outpatient treatment, I do not always comply with taking medication, especially when it make me feel bad. I won’t even take meds that others claim alleviate my symptoms. If a drug makes me feel horrible inside, I assert the right to refuse it.  Sometimes treatment can be worse than the disease. Alas, because of this, I have, while in-patient, all too frequently been subjected to forced medication hearings, hearings which I believe I was pre-determined to lose, the deck being stacked against me.

 

At the former Hospital of St Raphael’s in New Haven in 2004, I was not only forced to take the atypical antipsychotic drug Zyprexa, despite the fact that the medication had caused me to gain 60 pounds, elevated my cholesterol and triglycerides sky-high, and made me pre-diabetic. The probate judge, on the instigation of my in-patient psychiatrist, also ordered that I undergo involuntary ECT otherwise known as electro-shock treatments. I was so terrified of the side effects and the real brain damage ECT was inflicting on me, that I literally awoke,mornings, with excrement in my underwear.

 

In the more recent past, my experience at Manchester Memorial Hospital in Manchester, CT was just as horrendous. This, along with an equally brutal experience, at Middlesex Hospital in Middletown, Connecticut 6 months later combined to such trauma that I was diagnosed with the additional problem of PTSD. As recently as the winter of 2013, at Hartford Hospital’s Institute of Living, I was threatened with forced ECT, kept in seclusion for three weeks and restrained for nearly twenty hours multiple times. Why? Because as the record states, I was unpredictable and “did not follow directions.”

 

I would like to tell you about the Manchester Hospital experience in a little detail, as I believe it will give you a “taste” of where IOC, when taken to its logical conclusion, can and  will lead.

 

I was admitted there on a 15-day physician’s emergency certificate (PEC), and the attending,  a certain Dr Benjamin Zigun,  summarily took me off the two-antipsychotic drug combination, plus an anti-seizure medication and the anti-depressant I had come in on. This drug  “cocktail” had worked for me since 2007 without  distressing side effects. I was not only willing to take it but I felt it helped me function better than I had in years. But the psychiatrist at Manchester Hospital decided, and I quote, “since you are here, by definition your current meds aren’t working. I will put you on something else.” Did it matter to him that I had already been tried on nearly every other drug on the market, old and new, and none worked as well and with as few side effects as the Abilify/Geodon combination I was then taking? No, he was the doctor and the doctor’s decree was law.

 

As a result of his ministrations, the “offending meds” were removed  and I was again  ordered to take Zyprexa, despite its known and severe side effects. Over the next few days, I continued to refuse it. Naturally, having been abruptly withdrawn from all my usual medications, I began to decompensate further, having nothing in my system.  A forced medication hearing was held. For some reason, Dr Zigun decided I would not be given Zyprexa after all, but one of the oldest neuroleptics in the PDR, Trilafon. When I objected, he said only that if I refused even a single dose, I would be injected in the buttocks with 5mg Haldol.

 

All too familiar with Trilafon’s side effects — from akathisia’s maddening restlessness to a constant fine tremor in my fingers, I refused to swallow the pills. But neither would I willingly lie down to take a needle full of “vitamin H,” Haldol being a drug just as awful as Trilafon if not worse. So I resisted, physically, when it came to the nursing staff grabbing me and pinning me to the floor. I fought them when they so much as approached me with the punishment hypodermic.

 

At first, they just overpowered me, injected me and walked away. But after a few such tussles they started calling “a code” to bring in the goon squad.  I do not know how many times this happened but the goon squad consisted of several people including uniformed security guards . Without a pause, they would barge into the room, assault, restrain and inject me, despite my terrified screams.

 

This sort of violent encounter happened so many times, along with predictable and regular use of 4-point restraints and/or solitary confinement, where I would be locked in their dark, cold seclusion room, that I literally lost track of time. Indeed, but for whatever I managed to record in my journal after each episode, and from their single-viewpoint one-sided hospital chart, I would have no idea what happened during most of that entire three week period at Manchester Hospital, though from my bodily reaction when thinking about it, I know something very bad happened.

 

Why do I tell you this? Because this sort of aggression, even torture is what forced medication and involuntary treatment lead to much more often than you may want to believe.

 

If H.R. 4302 passes in the Senate and expanded IOC is instituted in the states where it is now allowed, how precisely do people intend to treat a person with a “mental illness” who does not to want treatment? If a person refuses to leave her apartment to be hospitalized, and is able bodied and physically strong, do they propose to assault, even Taser her, though innocent of a crime? Once she is unconscious and no longer able to resist, do they then intend to hospitalize her against her will so that she can be forcibly medicated, with the threat of  4-point restraints as a back-up if she continues to resist. Or perhaps they expect that trauma itself to scare any individual into compliance?

 

I am not against all psychiatric treatment. I am definitely not against all psychiatric residential treatment facilities ( including hospital psych units…) But we have curtailed the availability of in-patient beds at present to our detriment, even as we have allowed drug company research scientists and providers to focus almost to the point of tunnel vision on the medical model. This has brought us right to this notion that if we institute IOC, and can force a given individual to take medication, we will be working on a problem that has a real and objectively verified solution. In point of fact, however, there is absolutely no proof that antipsychotic drugs lower violence on the streets or have any effect at all on the incidence of violent crime.  That said, if a national IOC law mandated forced treatment, and hospitalization, where are the psychiatric beds to follow through on that mandate? Downsized, in most states to ghosts of their former abundance.

 

If this is what supporters of H.R, 4302 anticipate and believe in: IM injections, four-point restraints and all, then  I must ask: When will you learn that you cannot treat anyone with violence and expect the outcome to be a desirable one?  What you propose to do is to subject persons with psychiatric disorders to more trauma and violence than ever. You want to expose them to a“treatment” that is just euphemism for brutality.

 

I fought back, tooth and nail, biting and clawing the goon squads that descended upon me and attacked me, intending to shackle me by the wrists and ankles to a bed, because as they told me, “ I didn’t follow directions.  Yes, I resisted. Who would not have? I was terrified. What did they expect me to do, politely thank them?

 

This sort of coercion and cruelty masquerading as care doesn’t help anyone get better, it only chases them the heck out of Dodge and as far away from “treatment” as they can get. Oddly enough, little do “Escapees” from treatment such as these know that they might be the lucky ones. As longitudinal studies of treated and untreated individuals with schizophrenia are coming to light, it has become apparent –even Thomas Insel, head of the NIMH admitted this on his blog — that treating – medicating — schizophrenia long-term has had unintended consequences, one of which has been to inhibit complete recovery. By contrast, those persons who walked out or were forced out of treatment, “back wards patients,” seemingly hopeless — it turns out that these people to a much greater degree than those who stayed in the system, recovered on their own, without help, largely by stopping their medications.

A majority of these “lost souls” found themselves only after they ceased taking medication and ceased consuming mental health services. Because they became wage-earning, productive citizens and not mental health service users, many are now “lost” to the mental health system. To experience so few symptoms as to be unknown the to  provider community despite past illness, surely this must be accounted the best of all possible outcomes.

 

IOC works — or doesn’t work — according to a medical model that imposes medication on the unwilling, with no end point, insisting that mental illness is no different from diabetes. But as Dr Insel has admitted, this is not true and apparently never was. New models are needed. Violence is no solution, nor does it cure anyone to impose treatments of dubious value and great harm on those who are different from some mythical “norm. “

 

 

(I sent a version of this to Connecticut’s Senator Blumenthal and several other people, including the New York Times, without response, so I am posting it here for public consumption and comment.)

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Dreamrly’s COLLECTIVE Dream Art Magazine Has Launched

Kelli in Fractured Colors

Kelli being Drawn by Artist, in Fractured Colors – a blind contour study filled with color

I received the announcement below from Kayla Bowen today and thought I would pass it on. Dreamrly’s COLLECTIVE magazine is available either in print on demand or in a digital format. While I am one of the featured artists / poets, that is not the only reason I publicize the launch. I believe that dreams speak volumes, both to us and about our selves, and if we learned to listen to them, we might learn a great deal…

COLLECTIVE 2014 Launch Edition is Now Available

Launch edition 2014 features 108 full color pages, including:

  • Submissions from 40 contributors from all over the world
  • Three distinct galleries of visual art work
  • Interview with archetypal dreamwork analyst Laura Smith
  • Collaborative dreamwork feature with blogger Rita Kowats
  • An excerpt from Painted Over White, a novel by Katie Abrams
  • An excerpt from The Magic Pattern screenplay by Maria Isabel Pita and Dr. James Kroll
  • A complete section of poetry

Head over to www.collectivedreamartsmag.com to check it out!

You’re Invited! COLLECTIVE Launch Event

If you are in the Nashville, Tennessee area, consider coming out to join us Sunday, April 6 from 2 – 4 pm at Art & Soul on 12th Avenue.

 Copies of the magazine and launch poster will be available for purchase. We’ll have snacks, networking with other dream and creative arts enthusiasts, two interactive dream art stations, and an opportunity to see the cover art installation and meet cover artist Wayne Brezinka in person.

Do you have questions about the event or need more information? Email editor@collectivedreamartsmag.com.

Also a new Dreamrly/COLLECTIVEARTS contest:

“Fall Awake” Poster Series Campaign

COLLECTIVE is launching a poster series to raise funds for the magazine and to raise awareness about dream work and the visual arts.

The launch poster is available now on the web site.

COLLECTIVE is also hosting a poster design contest to select three additional poster designs to complete the series. Winners will receive $50 and 5 poster prints of their design.

Are you interested in submitting your design for the series?  Learn more.

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Chained: New Art

Chained - colored pencil painting

Chained – colored pencil painting

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Original Art: How NOT to Treat Schizophrenia: with sound

 

Trying again…

Still not playable on ipads or iphones, not sure why.  I think the sound will work. for what its worth…

Youtube video with sound available for all devices here:

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How Not to Treat Schizophrenia or any other Mental Illness: Slide Show

No music or sound, sorry. Best viewed in small screen as the conversion to Quick-time made the files smaller and hence less crisp when seen on a large screen…I’m sorry but this doesn’t seem to be viewable on an ipad..Dunno about android devices. At least I notice that the controls are unavailable on my ipad at any rate…Will try to find another format that will work and re do it…SO SORRY!

 

Youtube video with sound here :

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Blackbird landing on Snow

Blackbird landing on Snow

Blackbird landing on Snow

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Happy Holidays Everyone!

Happy Holidays 2013

Happy Holidays 2013 – painted with markers and acrylic paints

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Parrots PAinting

Parrots in Gouache for Elizabeth (for Christmas)

Parrots in Gouache for Elizabeth (for Christmas)

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Michelangelo’s “Dawn”

Sculpture of Dawn on tomb of Lorenzo de Medici by Michelangelo, drawn by Pamela Spiro Wagner, aka Pamwagg, 12/6/2013

Sculpture of Dawn on tomb of Lorenzo de Medici by Michelangelo, drawn by Pamela Spiro Wagner, aka Pamwagg, 12/6/2013

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I draw what I want to whether it is correct or not…

I draw what I want to whether it is correct or not...

MichelAngelo’s Moses without the horns…

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New art: The Watchers

The Watchers  and The wimter Tree of Creation

The Watchers and The Winter Tree of Creation

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Nail Polish BIrd Wading on Acetate Mirror Water

Wading BIrd

Wading BIrd

The bird was  first made of paper clay with floral wire legs, then I added a layer of modeling paste and  white glue. I painted it with nail polish, hence the lack of good detail as nail polish brushes leave a great deal to be desired! The water is a piece of blue acetate film glued to a mirror (both of which I used because i had them lying around…), in a serendipitously rippling pattern. The “shore” is actual dirt mixed with polymer matte medium, which also glued a few stones to the mix (just in case you wanted to know! ). The whole deal is glued to a box top to get it off the “ground.” Do click “Like” if you like this! (It took a whole lot of doing to get it even half right.) Thanks!

 

By the way, HAPPY THANKSGIVING! And to those who celebrated it HAPPY THANKSGIVVIKAH

 

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NaNoWriMo – I finished it, and I’m a WINNER! But now what???

I did it! 50T words in a month...Now to actually finish the thing!

I did it! 50T words in a month…Now to actually finish the thing!

I want to finish writing the novel now that I have started it, and perhaps using the same agency I used for DIVIDED MINDS, if they want it, find a publisher. But we will see. I may have 50T words, and more, but who knows if it will be marketable at 100T words, and whether or not anyone will publish it. I may post another chapter here or not…I dunno. Doesn’t seem like it gets many readers (from my reading of the blog stats.) Anyhow, I don’t use the stats much because so far as I can tell much of blog land is a popularity contest of Like me and I will Like you back. And who knows who actually reads anything? So if I have a few loyal readers, that is all I care about. YOU, I  mean, who is there actually reading what I write. Thank you!

 

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New Art: Study

Study/ Etude (or Your guess is as good as mine...)

Study/ Etude (or Your guess is as good as mine…)

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NaNoWriMo Installment #5 We Are Hope’s Family: November Novel

Continued from yesterday:

Ah, what was Hope always saying? Life is a beach? He hadn’t quite understood her before, but now he did and it surely was. Life is a beach. But it isn’t any pure coral white beach, with sunny skies and clear azure waves. It’s just an old beach of a beach and then you die.

Fuck.

Prem rarely used profanity, so when he thought this word, it appeared in his mind separated out, as if in a paragraph of its own, highlighted, in bold.

Fuck.

What was the point in living if you were only going to die, ignominiously, and end up with your toe tagged in the morgue like any television corpse.  It hardly seemed worth it. What was he doing, why did he bother worrying about all these people in Building 22, who were just going to die and end up tagged at the toe themselves? How was it worth it, trying to hold the building together that was trying to fall apart after a hundred years of being mortared and bricked into existence? And how worth it was it anyway, just to upkeep a community of twelve individuals who many of them had rarely-to-never paid a cent into society, but only drew from it like the proverbial parasites that some, like Martin the skinhead, called them.

Martin had hardly a peg-leg to tap out that tune with, however, being something of “parasite” himself, Prem observed. But being copper had never stopped one saucepan from calling another tarnished, not in Prem’s experience. And just why hadn’t the disabled paid into society? Had any of them ever tried to get off disability? Was it their fault? Or was it the fault of a society that encouraged, even forced permanent disabled status on them, and with it concomitant poverty? Who could get out of the disability snare once caught in it? No one who had lived in Building 22 had ever, so far as Prem knew, outgrown or out-earned disability. In fact, the residents were forever finagling ways to earn just up to, but not beyond the strict earning limits placed on them, just so they could maintain disability and their subsidies and their small but stable incomes.

What a miserable trap. You could get a regular but miserably small income for life, if you agreed to be disabled by the system. But in order to get out of the trap, in order to try to earn a living and make your own way, you would in a stroke lose both the place you lived and your regular income, all for a life of insecurity and instability. And this at a time when nothing was secure or stable except the fact that there was no safety net, and no one cared about people in need except a handful of overused charities and churches. So who could blame a disabled person for deciding not to even try to work but to stay on disability and remain impoverished? Who could blame them when that meant at a minimum a roof over their heads and food on the table. It was a devil’s bargain, but Prem could see how sometimes the devil could appear a better partner than the faceless ghoul of potential homelessness and hunger.

“Earth to Prem, earth to Prem,” called Ernie while Beanie smacked her bony hands and made a resounding clap in the tiled lobby, startling Prem from continuing his thoughts.  He stared at them, realizing that of course the two women in their own persons made hash of his argument: They had both had had long working lives and deserved more rather than less of what they got out of the system. Nevertheless, it did not completely detract from his argument that two elderly women on social security were trapped in poverty just as the non-working disabled were.

“What were you thinking that took you so far away?” demanded Ernie, never one to keep questions to herself.

“I, I,–“ Prem didn’t know how to respond.

“Aha! You really were thinking something. It must have been juicy!”  Together the two ladies crowed.

Suddenly, Prem decided to take the question seriously. “Actually I was thinking about something. It wasn’t juicy, not the way you think, but it was – I don’t know how to put it. Can I ask you a question?”

“Sure.” The two spoke at one time.

“Okay, then. Tell me when you disagree with me. First of all, this is a society of “haves” and “have-nots,” right? I mean, we have huge inequality, you can see it right here — this building, Number 22, compared to others down the street is just one example.” Prem stopped as if one of the women had spoken. But he saw at once that they were simply waiting for him to go on so he continued, “Clearly it’s no good simply to give a “have-not” everything he or she needs. That’s just what we do now, and in my opinion it leads nowhere but to misery and protracted disability.”

“What if the “have-not” isn’t disabled, but just old? What if the “have-not” works full-time but isn’t paid enough to live on? There are a lot of other ways to be a “have-not” than to be disabled.” These objections came from Beatrice Bean, whose fingers held an imaginary cigarette. She pretended to suck on it, then flick the ashes.

“You’re right. I guess I am a little obsessed with the disability issue. But let me go with just that part of it. If the “haves” somehow could help the disabled “have-nots” gain a set of skills – any set of skills — to become “haves” like themselves, wouldn’t that be better?  There are plenty of skills that can be marketed. You don’t need to go to a regular workplace these days to earn a living.”

“I really hate that word, ‘marketed’,” Ernie interjected. “Why does everything have to be for sale? Why must everything be reduced to a matter of money?”

“Because it’s a capitalistic world, that’s why. You and I may not agree with it but we’re stuck with it, and until we can live in a world without money, the have-nots need to learn how to earn.” For all the conviction in his voice, Prem was not that comfortable defending capitalism, especially knowing how avarice had despoiled the natural world he loved so much.  But he knew that capitalism had ruled for centuries, and that it wasn’t going to change in his lifetime or the lives of these two women, so it was to all intents and purposes, a fact of life.

“So you are going to teach all the disabled people in Building 22 how to get a paying job? Good luck!” said Beanie with a wry smile. “I don’t personally think anyone here is going to thank you very kindly for it.”

“But don’t you see? That’s precisely what I mean.”

“What do you mean? Why should anyone thank you? If you have an apartment, a social worker, food stamps…you have it made in the shade. Why should you want to work?”

“Because people would feel better about themselves if they could work, that’s why…” Prem said, lamely. He then realized that he had made the mistake of so many do-gooder liberals, believing he knew what was good for those he wanted to help better than they did themselves.  But how could he know how they felt without asking them? How could he know whether they felt bad about themselves now or would feel better about themselves working? He hadn’t spoken to most of the residents about the matter. In fact, it had only been Hope, the second floor resident and artist, with whom he had spoken in any depth. It was she who had been so passionately outspoken about feeling trapped in “the System.”

Even as he thought about it Prem realized that things were complicated. Yes, Hope was an artist, and he felt she should be able to sell her work and keep the income at the same time, but wasn’t she also often ill and unstable? It seemed to him that she was hospitalized for weeks at a time, and as frequently as twice a year. What would she do without disability payments when she was ill, he wondered, and how would she survive or cope even as an artist during the inevitable lean times if her disability payments were cut off? Yet she was the tenant who resisted staying on disability, even as it was clear to him that she could not afford to chance getting off it, not unless she could sell paintings regularly or for large sums of money, something that was not likely to happen. People like Hope weren’t discovered by museums or fêted by the rich and famous to be made rich and famous. No, they simply did art and made art alone, steadily, keeping the faith that it was worth it simply because art to them was like food for the rest of us.

Hope wasn’t going to quit painting or making her sculptures just because no one “discovered” her. Hope did art because she had to do art or die. Period. If it sold, well then, good. But so far as Prem knew, Hope had never tried to advertise or sell in the manifold ways that “working artists” sold their art: by marketing themselves and their art in such a way that people come looking to buy. It wasn’t that she would not sell. Prem thought she might be very happy if someone wanted to buy a piece of her artwork. It was simply that she had other things on her mind than making art in order to suit the purchasing public. And what about the others in Building 22 – were they so very different? What did he know? Did he know enough to draw any conclusions at all?

“It’s just such a vicious cycle,” he said, as if finishing a thought he had started aloud.

Beanie seemed to have followed him. “Yah, I agree. But some of these folks have two or three strikes against them before they started out in life. Can you blame them for seeing a tiny fixed income for life better than the insecurity of not knowing whether you can earn anything at all?”

Ernestine Baker seemed to disagree. She counted off on her fingers, as if reciting a litany, “Darryl, Kashina, Bryony, Giorgio, Feder…and that strange woman, Hope. What cases. I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes for a second. I can’t imagine being one of them for a day, not even if you paid me. Talk about unfulfilled lives and unrealized potential!”

“But what are you saying?” remonstrated Prem. “That their lives are wasted? And if they are wasted, whose fault is that? Why have the disabled been allowed not to do something with their lives? That’s my entire point. Look at Giorgio. He was a talented auto mechanic. He wasn’t in the system all his life. He has skills. He just can’t use those skills right now. Feder has savant expertise that surely could be used somewhere productively. Bryony already works three days a week, and Kashinda is so young that it would indeed be a terrible waste if she never learned to do something with her life, except smoke pot. We created a real monster with Federal disability benefits: the same limitations that promote permanent poverty promote never getting better.” Prem could feel himself getting passionate, and wondered just where that came from. Why did he care so much? Why he sounded almost hysterical…

“Okay, what’s going on, Prem?” asked Beanie, peering at him with more than a little concern. “Why don’t you draw up a chair, sit down with us, take a load off…”

Baker, abashed, chimed in, “You want a drink, Prem? The beer is on me.”

His face warm, Prem had felt a sudden but urgent need to be gone. To be anywhere but here. Ashamed of himself, he apologized to the two older women and literally backed away even he spoke, forgetting entirely why he had returned to Building 22 at such an hour in the first place. By the time he remembered the water pressure situation that had occurred just that morning, he was halfway down the block with an old cassette tape playing Dave Mallett’s “Pennsylvania Sunrise,” a song that always made him yearn to hop a train and go places, never to return.

Pennsylvania sunrise…ten degrees at best.

Peerin’ from the window of a club car heading west.

After mornin’ glory…money for the miles.

Someone said I’ll do this for a while.

 

_____________

 

I promise more action in the segments I will share in upcoming days. I won’t share the entire novel but I will share some parts of it, enough to entice. I now have c 120 pp.  double spaced 37000wds.

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NaNoWriMo – Additional Installment #4 November Novel

A piece from the middle of WE ARE HOPE’S FAMILY

In 2011, late October, Prem at 45, walked the hallways of his building, still only the manager, still earning a monthly salary from his father with whom he rarely spoke, and then only to discuss matters concerning the building’s upkeep.  He could not afford to go on vacation, or to buy a new car. He had never bought a new car in fact, but kept his used Honda on the road well past the time when others of his former socioeconomic bracket — that is, the friends he had grown up with — were trading in and up. He never thought in those terms, socioeconomic brackets meant nothing to him. He was just Prem Mukherjee, and he had more in common with the people he worked with, and for, than those who bought new cars every other year and cared about that sort of thing. But in point of fact, he had very little money to put in the bank or to support a family, had he had one. But Prem never married, never even found a woman he could fall in love with. Somehow none ever measured up to whatever standards his mind seemed to set, if he set any. He wasn’t sure he set standards, only that he was so busy and he just never socialized, never seemed to be looking for a partner and no one appeared before him to dazzle him. Perhaps he was meant to be alone. He never minded much, but the prospect of growing old alone, when he couldn’t work and might be ill didn’t feel right to him either. Nevertheless, whom could he meet and fall in love with and how was that ever going to happen?

If he thought about it, there had been a few women who had appealed to him over the years, but they had always been so unattainable for one reason or another that he had scarcely tried. Thinking them either too-career oriented or too wealthy to look at a (poor as a church mouse) Building Manager like Prem, he shied away from making his interest in them known. What would he do with a rich woman, anyway? He could not keep her happy, not if it meant dinners out at restaurants or the theatre or other expensive entertainments. His own idea of entertainment was a walk in the park or dinner by the fire in his apartment and reading a book aloud to one another, or just talking about each other for hours…

Yes, it was possible there was someone who would like things like that, but he hadn’t met her yet. On the other hand, he hadn’t met many women at all, so how could he know whether or not there was someone out there for him. Ever since the rupture with his father years before, he had thrown himself into the work of Building 22, and all the complexities inherent in dealing with Eleven disabled or elderly individuals. He had learned much along the way about Social Security and federally subsidized rent, not to mention the troubles and headaches of maintaining a 100-year-old structure in a world where most such buildings were torn down and replaced with new ones. How could he have found the time to meet someone, the right Miss Someone, when he had had so much to do that was so vitally important to twelve lives all that time?

Eleven lives? Well, it was more than eleven, in fact, in all those years, since people had come and gone in the 24 years since he had taken on the responsibility for the building and its upkeep. There had been deaths, and there had been moves too.  And the weird thing was that for the most part the moves-out had been almost as sad as the deaths. Building 22 was a little community, and while people might keep to themselves, for some were loners by nature, nevertheless the tenants knew one another at least by name and no one to his knowledge was ever ostracized or openly disliked, except once, not so very long ago. That tenant, Martin, was an irascible young man, with discernable emotional instability, a self-described “skin-head.”

The police were summoned on several occasions. Once it was to break up what had threatened to become a fist-fight between on the one hand Martin, spindly, shaved-head twenty-something with a pigeon breast and arms that were too long for his body, and Darryl Strakesley, the Building 22 resident who was, of all the residents, the most fully employed – he worked 30 hours as an usher at the Cinema Deluxe – and the least independent at one and the same time. Darryl, who had Down syndrome, was squat as a fire hydrant and nearly as immoveable. He was also almost always unflappable and this was a good thing, given his congenital heart condition, so when Prem heard that summer that Darryl had been begging Martin, the skinhead, for a fight, he knew something was wrong. Something had to give or worse would happen.

Prem wasn‘t there the day of the Darryl-Martin Brawl, as it came to be called. That day, city hydrants had been shut off in certain locations, lest children using them for sprinklers waste too much water when the region was in the grip of a simultaneous drought and heat wave. Building 22’s water pressure suddenly failed and none of the upper floors had running water. This would have been a disaster in the making at any time of year, but during the summer, in a heat wave, nothing could have been worse.  So Prem spent all afternoon fighting with the water company and the electric utilities in order to get their plumbing functioning again. It was only when he returned to Building 22 early that evening, to check on residents and make sure that the water pressure situation had been resolved, that he learned what had happened.

“Darryl took a swing at Martin,” old Beatrice Bean peremptorily informed Prem the moment he stepped into the lobby. Beanie, dressed in a lightweight housecoat, was seated in an inexpensive folding camp chair, the kind with a pocket for soft drinks, near the elevator.  She did not get up when he came towards her as her gnarled feet were blue-veiny and swollen from the heat, but she did reach out to shake his hand. “It wasn’t Darryl’s fault. How could it be? Darryl wouldn’t hurt a cockroach. Martin does these things to people. He makes you want to clock him.”

Beanie wasn’t alone. Seated with her, in a similar camp chair holding a cold beer, was her friend Ernestine Baker, who had been Beanie’s best friend for as long as Prem had known them. Superficially, they looked like sisters, both being tall and having masses of extraordinary white hair that would have made them stand out anywhere. But of course there were differences too, and it only took a second glance to see that Ernestine was both thicker and a little younger. Ernie’s voice was also higher and sharper than Beanie’s, who had once been a smoker and even now occasionally enjoyed a butt or two when she was offered one.

At 75, Ernie was not, for all that, the healthier of the two. Prem knew that she had had diabetes most of her life, and now suffered from complications that would set most people back but which Ernie took in stride, largely he thought from having anticipated them as possible if not absolute likelihoods in her future. Ernie lived on the first floor, apartment C. (Beanie, on the other hand, lived next door to Hope on the second floor in A). When she stepped on a thumbtack, and her toe became infected, for a while it seemed that nothing could go right. She lost the toe and then her entire left foot and was in rehab for three months before they released her, wheelchair-bound. But being Ernie, she refused to stay seated, and was up on crutches and mobile before the end of the year.

“Halloo, Premjit Mukherjee,” hailed Ernestine, half-rising, to air-kiss the manager. “You missed a ringside seat a few hours ago.”

“I hope no one was hurt,” said Prem, his brow once so smooth now deeply furrowed as if with permanent worry. “With his heart condition, Darryl should not be fighting anyone. You all know that. And with Martin of all people.” He remonstrated gently, but the look on his face was nevertheless puzzled and full of sorrow.

“Oh, Prem, never you mind,” answered Beanie. “No one would let Darryl fight Martin. At least we wouldn’t let him if we could stop him. But the operative word here is could.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, for one thing, Darryl is a grown man, and while we try to keep an eye on him for Morelline, we can’t watch him every minute of the day. Besides, he never needed that before. It’s just this Martin person. He’s a nasty, spiteful snake if ever I saw one.”

“Martin’s a problem, I grant you that,” Prem said to Beanie. “But he has a disability, and you have to learn to live with him, or at least get out of his way so he doesn’t bother you. He has a right to live here just like everyone else.”

At this, Baker and Beanie glanced pointedly at each other with raised eyebrows. Then they turned back to Prem and exaggerated their attention. Sensing their intent, he lowered his chin into his chest, looking at them from under a knitted brow. “Wait a minute. That’s not fair. I know he’s not been very nice. He’s—he’s –“

“Premjit, Martin boasts openly that he’s a skinhead,” said Beanie. “He hates anybody who isn’t white and whatever else neo-Nazis are supposed to be. I know a lot of haters want you to be ultra-Christian, but in this case I think Martin hates even Christians …” Beanie sounded weary, as if tired of trying to explain Building 22’s animosity towards Martin, as if tired of explaining why skinhead philosophy was actually not as decent and reasonable a way of thinking as any other.

Prem made a wry face and nodded. Shrugged. Then seemed to apologize for shrugging. “I’m sorry. I know. I know. I don’t like Martin’s talk anymore than you do, really, Beans. But it isn’t right for me to take sides against a legal tenant. You know how I feel; you know me. Do you think I would approve of the things he says, the things he does? But…”

“But what?” asked Beanie. “But let Martin badger Darryl into fighting, and then stop Darryl from fighting, both at the same time. Just keep the peace so you don’t have any headaches? Is that it?”

Prem looked at the old lady with her swollen feet thrust into rubber flipflops of the cheapest kind. He could all but see the lightning flash from her eyes. He smiled. “Yeah, that’s about it. I don’t like headaches, you know. I like a nice cushy job, no troubles, no probs. Don’t get involved in anyone’s life, just do your job, collect your pay check and go home, watch Geraldo on TV…”  He struck a pose as if opening a beer and letting it slosh down his throat. “Ah, good!”  He made a gargling noise.

Beanie visibly relaxed. “Okay, okay, ” she said. “You get it. I should have known better.”

“So tell me what happened here today, Beans, Baker. Martin got Darryl riled, that much I gather. And I can see how that would happen, what with his racist talk and manipulating.” Baker cracked open another cold one from her cooler, distracting him. After a long sweltering day, Prem was tired and thirsty. He wished she would offer him one, but of course no one would think of offering the building manager anything like alcohol, not even an icy cold beer on a hot day. Resigned, he finished his sentence. “But how did it go so far, and how on earth did it end peaceably?” Ernie Baker snorted. “Peaceably, my foot. Oh, excuse me — I don’t have a foot. Well, my ankle, then. The police had to practically pull them apart. It was only because Darryl weighs so much more than Martin, and is so much bigger that Martin didn’t get away with saying the things that he said. I think he expected he could blab whatever filth he wanted to just because Darryl has Down syndrome and it wouldn’t matter. Did he think Darryl was also deaf? Next time he’ll think again.”

“What happened after the police stopped Darryl from hitting Martin?”

“Well, they were going to take him downtown, especially when that little shit wanted to press charges. But Morelline, Darryl’s mother, you know. Well, you know how she is, she persuaded Martin that she just ‘might-could’ look into a few things he was involved in, and she would, you know, if he went ahead.” Beanie stopped to glance at her friend Baker, who took a swig of beer and shook her head.

“Morelline once worked in government. She knows how to get information and Martin knows it,” Ernestine added.

Beanie continued, “Anyhow, by the time she was through the police were able to leave without taking Darryl, and that skunk Marti slank off somewhere with his tail dragging. It was a sight to see. I tell you, the rest of us tenants had a party on the rooftop afterwards. All that was missing were the fourth of July fireworks, which was just as well since I didn’t think we needed any more explosions for rest of the day!”

As Beanie finished her sentence, the elevator down the hallway thumped into service. There was a hum and a light went on signaling that someone on Floor 3 had summoned the car.  With a rapid whoosh it descended and when the door opened, a short squat man with a solemn face and the characteristic features of Down syndrome exited the elevator, Darryl Strakesley.  His mother, a tiny dark-skinned woman wearing a yellow dress followed him, her black hair neatly cropped against her head, gold hoop earrings completing the ensemble. Morelline Strakesley at 55 always looked exquisitely well put-together, and few suspected that she bought everything  she wore at Goodwill or thrift stores, her carefree days on a government salary having been many years before.

“Darryl. Mrs Strakesley. How are you?” Prem greeted them, the only two residents who shared a unit in the building. It must have been tight quarters for a single man and his mother to live together in one apartment, but they managed without discernable trouble. Each time he had seen their premises the place was neat and clean without being inordinately immaculate. The nice thing was that there was always a place for Darryl’s projects – he had learned in school to make potholders and to weave simple placemats, of which he made sets and sold them on the side. His small looms were set up in the living room, even though that was where his mother Morelline slept each night on a pull-out sofa bed. Morelline, who had once, so it was rumored, worked for government intelligence – whatever that meant to whomever it was told –was now too ill to do more than care for Darryl and spend her spare time reading and keeping up with the news, which fascinated her.  She had few people with whom she could converse about such things, but she read voraciously and widely, and she was on a never ending quest to find a cure for Darryl’s heart disease before it was too late.

As for her own problem, although it was clear she could no longer work, she would not see a doctor, convinced that it had been doctors who had caused Darryl’s Down syndrome. So while she wheezed and had trouble catching her breath, could scarcely walk sometimes due to swollen ankles and legs, she would only use her relatives’ extra inhalers for her asthma or ones they didn’t need. Or that other people gave her from their own supplies. Somehow she managed to get them when she felt she needed them. And somehow she kept on going, though the wheezing was never much relieved, it felt just a little better, and she felt better because she wasn’t paying doctors just to make her worse. Unfortunately, moving at all was often the triumph of matter over mind for Morelline, when Morelline’s body was the matter at hand, refusing to knuckle under and give in to her demands. It was clear that she detested asking for help at any time, but she especially hated it when she herself was in need, unable to breathe and wheezing like a broken bellows.

This evening, however, she must have been better, because she smiled and said that they were going out. Darryl didn’t have to work and it was unpleasantly warm indoors and so nice outside that she and her son were taking a stroll in the park, where crowds and summer lights kept it safe late into the night. Surprisingly, she said nothing about the incident earlier in the day. Even Darryl seemed no worse for the wear, sporting a coat and tie and a pair of old fashioned seersucker trousers. Together they looked like an adorable mother- son pair, going out on the town together on an ordinary summer night. No one could have known that the son had nearly been arrested that afternoon for assault, or that the mother had once worked, so it was rumored, for the CIA, and thought nothing of using the fact of her past employment to threaten someone, albeit someone menacing her son, into silence.

Prem and the others watched as Mrs Strakesley led Darryl through the double doors of Building 22’s lobby into the darkness of the street outside.  On the one hand, he didn’t know whether to be proud of the woman or afraid of her. On the other hand, he knew she was fiercely and defiantly protective of her son, and that she would die before letting anything bad happen to him. Darryl may have been unfortunate in certain circumstances of his birth, but he was also blessed with a mother who was determined to make a life for him as best she possibly could, given all that she had to handle. Whether or not this was good for him, Prem thought, it was impossible to say. But no one could deny the single- minded force with which she forged ahead toward her goal. Prem worried though. He worried about Darryl if anything should happen to Morelline, and he worried about Morelline because she seemed sicker than even she was aware. He didn’t know a great deal about asthma, about COPD, one of the seemingly popular and common diagnoses of the modern age, but he clearly remembered from his pre-med days the symptoms of chronic congestive heart failure: shortness of breath, easy fatigue, edema. Not to mention potential kidney failure that could add to the catastrophic nature of the illness. He was careful, however, even privately, to remind himself he was not a doctor and that Mrs Strakesley stringently avoided seeing doctors, so that even if he was right, and even if she knew what was wrong, she would likely refuse treatment.

 

(TBC)

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