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Later. Siera watched Cathy say, “Hi everybody, welcome back. We’re discussing schizophrenia.”
The camera turned on Siera. All she could think about was how she looked. The makeover people had performed a miracle on her appearance. They even gave her a red blouse and khakis to wear. Is it enough, she wondered. Will they all see how crazy I am.
Siera’s hands always shook a little from her medication. Now, as she looked into the camera’s dark eye for the first time, her whole body shivered. She hoped the people watching didn’t see her trembling.
Cathy walked across the talk show set, sat down next to Siera on a big white sofa, and said, “It’s okay Siera. You don’t have to be nervous. We’ve got a ways to go, and we all want to hear your story.” Cathy’s voice sounded straight out of a Sofa Mart commercial.
The talk show diva put her hand on Siera’s shoulder and gave her a look of well-rehearsed concern. Her plasticity made Siera shudder anew.
“I’m mentally ill,” Siera said. “Not mentally deficient. You don’t have to patronize me Cathy.”
For a split second, Cathy Kipling, the demi-goddess, the queen, actually looked shocked. Siera didn’t want to make her hostess look like a fool, but she was sick of everyone treating her like child.
A studio audience member cleared her throat. Cathy and Siera looked toward the stadium seats opposite the stage. Some of the show’s spectators wore shocked expressions too. Others suppressed conspiratorial grins. Somehow, those sneaking smiles gave Siera the strength she needed to continue the interview.
“I’m sorry,” Cathy said sincerely. “I…I…didn’t mean to come off like that.”
A moment of silence ensued. Siera thought it would’ve been a perfect time for a commercial break, but none came. Cathy’s producers really loved that kind of awkwardness. It leant a realistic veneer to Cathy’s contrived controversies.
Finally, Cathy said. “Let’s move on. Shall we? You’ve got a story to tell.”
Siera said. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to sound so mad.”
“Oh nonsense.” Cathy flopped her free hand at Siera. “I’m so stupid when it comes to this stuff.”
Cathy’s audience giggled. She reached forward to pick up a stack of note cards from the glass coffee table in front of her. She flipped through a few of them, frowned, and threw them over her shoulder.
The audience laughed again. Siera smiled too.
“So,” Cathy said. “I had some questions prepared, but I think it’s better if we just wing it, don’t you?”
“Sure,” Siera shrugged. She looked down at her hands. They weren’t shaking.
“Well okay then. Tell me a little bit about your disease. You’re bipolar schizophrenic, right?”
“Yeah. Some people see those as two different illnesses, but, with me, they’re one and the same.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, my moods swing up and down. That’s how it is with bipolar people. You’re extremely energetic one minute. And the next minute you could care less about yourself, let alone the world. Sometimes, when I get really depressed, I get afraid. Then I start seeing things.”
Cathy cut in. “And that’s when the schizophrenia starts.”
“Uh huh.” Siera nodded.
Cathy sat up suddenly, as if realizing something. “Okay,” she said. “Hold that thought while we take a commercial break.” She turned her head toward America’s fixated gaze. “We’ll be right back folks. Thanks for staying tuned in.”
Cathy looked back at Siera questioningly. She said, “Seriously. I don’t know much about schizophrenia Siera. I’m sorry about that whole talk show hostess personality thing. I didn’t want to treat you like that. I’m really not…”
Siera didn’t hear the rest. Her mind’s bubble came back again. She wished she’d told Cathy’s audience what her illness was really like, instead of giving them some description you might find on a mental health website.
It—this—was like being smothered under layers of clear pillows until she could hardly tell what was going on around her anymore.
With that last thought, her head began to tune in and out of reality. She knew this feeling very well. Her apathy became a portal in her mind, by which horrible creatures might enter the world.
From a distance, she felt her hand grip the arm of Cathy’s couch. Cathy was still talking too. Siera’s body was nodding its head, but her mind gasped and screamed beneath all those clear pillows. If she couldn’t get a grip, then she would lose her grip on everyone else’s reality. Then she wouldn’t be able to see Ray.
Cathy turned her head in slow motion toward the black, mechanical orbs at the edge of the stage. Her voice echoed across the vast void in Siera’s awareness. “Welcome back everybody,” the hostess said. “We’re talking to Siera Stevens about her bipolar schizophrenia.”
A shadow moved on the edge of Siera’s vision. When she tried to focus on it, she didn’t see anything. That’s right, she thought. Nothing’s there. You can make it go away. You can un-believe it.
Shadows smoldered around the undulating fringes of her see. The studio began to broil. As a last resort, Siera clamped her eyes closed and remembered Ray. And she found she had control for a moment. The room was hot, not broiling. The apparitions around her stopped materializing.
Cathy looked over at Sierra and asked, “Are you okay?”
Siera kept her mind’s eye fixed on Ray. She could control her movement just enough to look at Cathy through her bubble binoculars. “Uh…yeah. I’m okay,” she lied.
Her voice sounded robotic. Everyone would know she was having an episode if she couldn’t speak like a person.
“Okay then.” Cathy looked at her strangely. “When we left for the break, you were talking about what causes you to see things.”
“So, when you experience this…” she rolled the words out with her hand “…this sort of distance from the world you were talking about, what kinds of things do you see?”
As if in response to Cathy’s question, the shadow creatures started materializing again. But they were no longer at the edges of Siera’s vision. Instead, they popped out of reality itself like hidden humanoids in a 3-D art picture.
Sierra had inadvertently dropped Ray’s memory. So she tried to focus on Cathy’s face because it was the closest, realest thing at that moment. It would be all over if she acknowledged the manifesting monsters all around her. She’d open a portal to hell, the demons would stream out, and she’d never see Ray again.
Her son’s image came back to her. She wrapped her hope around him and clung to him with all the heart she had left. Her bubble became thinner. Her mind-made portal stopped growing. The demons froze.
A half a minute had gone by in the world outside Siera. Cathy just figured Siera needed a little time. “It’s okay,” she said to Siera. “If this scares you too much, you don’t have to talk about it.”
Siera swallowed and said, “I see demons.”
The fiends took full form now. Myriad serpentine humanoids gnashed their teeth and slashed their claws at her. They were still ethereal. And they seemed to dissolve when she looked directly at them. But that just meant that more of them appeared in her outer field of view.
Cathy reached down and patted Siera’s leg. “So, I don’t want to make you relive any of your episodes…”
Too Late, Siera thought.
“…But could you describe what the things you see look like.”
“Demons.” Siera saw the things crawling all over each other, filling every empty space in the room. “They’re definitely demons.”
“Okay,” Cathy nodded, waiting.
Siera kept Ray in her mind and said a silent prayer. She hadn’t gotten lost in her inner hell just yet. She could still control herself. That’s good, she thought. Talking about them might help.
Siera told Cathy, “Think of all the horror movies you’ve seen. Then, try not to think of the bad ones with cheesy special effects.”
The audience laughed.
She continued, “Then picture the creatures that made you most scared: the monsters that hide in dark, deserted dreams and pounce on your mind when you’re alone. Then imagine hundreds of them everywhere, crawling over each other, wanting to do horrible things to you.”
Siera’s tormentors cackled. Some sounded like moaning cats. Others growled and gurgled.
Cathy said, “It sounds like violent movies allowed you to visualize your demons.”
“No,” Siera said. “For me it wasn’t movies. I’ve seen hundreds of them. And they usually make me want to puke or yawn.”
Cathy smiled. Her audience giggled on cue. Then she got serious and probed further. “What was it then? What caused you to start seeing things?”
“There was no specific cause,” Siera said. “But an old pastor of mine used to give these sermons. He told us to be afraid of God’s wrath. And he could describe hell like…like it was right there just waiting to swallow us up if we were bad.”
Cat eyes and claws closed in on Siera. Her eyes went wide and she shuddered.
Cathy grimaced at her interviewees fright and asked, “You’re still a Christian?”
“Yes.” Siera managed a smile. “God has done so much for me these past twenty years. I can’t thank Him enough.” The demons at the edge of Sierra’s vision snarled and hissed.
“That’s wonderful,” Cathy beamed. “But let’s talk about these sermons.”
Siera could smell the demons now. Their scent was a slop of sulfur, feces, halitosis and fungi. She heard their scales chaffing and their claws swiping past her ears. They were very close.
Speak, some of the demons hissed. Speak of the sermons.
Okay, Siera said in her head. Just please leave me alone this time. I’m begging you.
The demons cackled.
Siera said to Cathy, “Father Jones—that was his name—used to tell us about hell in Sunday School. Some days, he’d tell us about heaven and the angels. Other days, he’d talk about devils in hell.” Siera paused to look around nervously. The demons writhed, slobbered, and moaned all around her.
They were waiting to pounce.
“Go on,” Cathy said.
“Father Jones had this gift for describing things. I could see what he spoke. Sometimes, I saw angels with golden armor and flashing swords. They flew through the clouds on white wings, waiting to descend on Lucifer and his legions in the last days.”
Cathy said, “You had a vivid imagination as a child.”
“Yes,” Siera nodded “I did. And…it went both ways. I could picture both heaven and hell.”
Cathy asked, “What did Father Jones’s demons look like?”
Siera’s eyes darted in all directions. Flesh-eating grins flashed at her from every part of the studio.
“There’s not just one kind of devil,” she said. “They’re all the grim colors and shapes you can think of.”
Cathy smiled and asked, “No pastel pinks or fluorescent greens then?”
The audience laughed.
Siera stared at the demons closest to her and tried to image their scales being pink. Despite herself, she laughed too. The fiends howled in pain at the sound.
Taking heart, Siera spoke on. “No. None of them look like that. They all have cat eyes, bat wings, crow claws, and wolf fangs. But a lot of them try to look like things that have scared me.”
“Like What?” Cathy asked.
Siera saw a gray alien standing in front of her. “Sometimes they look like aliens,” she said. “You know. The ones that abduct people.”
The alien came at Siera. Its teeth were needles. She flinched and looked away.
Cathy stared at her, concerned. “You look like you just saw something right now?”
Siera said, “They’re always there waiting. Sometimes I just feel them, but they’re there. They’re always here.”
Cathy realized that her questions had probed a little too deep for primetime television. She hoped she hadn’t just stirred this poor woman’s psyche into another ‘episode.’ Siera’s parents had warned her about that.
“I’m sorry,” Cathy said. “But I really have to go to another commercial break.” She looked at the cameras. Stay tuned folks.” The Cathy Kipling Show’s theme music sounded all around them.
A few of the audience members sighed, as if Siera’s story had been a little too much for them. Cathy smiled as warmly as she could at Siera. The woman was pale, skinny, and blue under her makeover. “You look cold, Siera. Would you like a jacket or something?”
“No, I like to be a little cold. Thank You,” Sierra said, exhaling. Maybe her body was freezing. But her head was hot. For now, the demons danced in the darkness and flames, which hung over the studio like a ghostly veil. But they didn’t come closer. And they didn’t attack. She thanked God for that.
Siera imagined that the possibility of seeing Ray had kept them away. She’d carved and painted an image of his face from the obsidian in her mind. Now, she fixated on his boyish bust to keep from collapsing into the hellish hole hanging inside her reality.
The demons faded to the edges of Siera’s see again. They didn’t cackle or hiss anymore either. And the studio didn’t smell so much like a pig farm anymore.
Siera’s fear faded. Reality came into focus again. She started to notice her surroundings for the first time.
America saw Cathy’s studio as a cushy living room. Three white couches formed a square cup around a big glass coffee table. Other, smaller glass tables lined the backs of the sofas. White vases with flower bouquets sat on each of the periphery tables. An artificial wall with a landscape painting made up the background.
Organized anarchy reigned outside The Cathy Kipling Show’s cozy center. People with jobs Siera would never understand hurried in cris-cross chaos across the studio. Brick walls and concrete floors composed the studio outside Cathy’s cream carpet square.
Cathy’s Executive Producer Mike Goldberg emerged from the disorder and walked toward the two women. A makeup pit crew finished freshening Cathy up as he approached. Siera watched the stylists dissolve into the crowd. Then she looked up at Mike.
Mike had curly black hair and blue eyes. He wore a gray business suit, which conformed smoothly to his muscular physique. He handed Siera a glass of water and and looked at Cathy, disappointed. “What are you doing, Cathy?” He asked. “It’s time for the next guest.”
Cathy gave him a hard look. “I’m not finished talking to Siera.”
Mike sighed. “For once just give me a break Cathy. There’s no way to get the other guests in if you don’t wrap this up now.”
Cathy sighed. “I don’t care. Look at the audience. They’re riveted.” She put her hands up in bunny ear quotes to pay homage to words used in lame movie trailers. “And I have a sixth sense about these things. We’re going to get good ratings for this one.”
Siera’s demons had receded for now. But they were still in the background, waiting to reemerge “ I don’t want to be a burden,” she said.
Mike said, “Oh, don’t feel that way. We love having you on.”
“Mike and I go through this all the time,” Cathy said. “If I listened to him, I’d still be winning daytime Emmy’s instead of ruling primetime. Please stay. Share some more.”
“Okay,” Siera said, looking around. The demons were hidden in the Where’s Waldo book of reality’s fabric. “I think maybe talking about it has been a little therapeutic anyway.”
Cathy stood up and looked down at Mike as she poked her finger into his sternum. “So that settles it. We keep her on because it’s good for her and us.”
Mike put his hands in the air and said, “Fine whatever.”
The Cathy Kipling Show’s theme music sounded to announce the end of the commercial break. Mike moped off the stage with his hands in his pockets.
Cathy turned toward the camera and said, “Alright folks, we’re back again. And I’ve got a special surprise for you. I decided we should hear more of Siera’s story.”
The audience applauded.
“But you all know me: I just can’t leave those other guests hanging. So I’m going to make my exploration of schizophrenia a two part series.”
“Schizophrenia is a more complicated disease than I or any of you 0would’ve guessed.”
Many audience members nodded on cue. Others said “Uh huh.”
“But anyway,” Cathy continued. “Lets get back to what happened to make you the way you are Siera.”
Cathy sat down, scooted next to Siera, and looked at her kindly. “There had to have been something that pushed you over the edge,” she said. “What made you finally lose it?”
Siera looked way off, beyond the walls of the studio. She still felt the demons. “I guess a lot of things made me crazy,” she said. “And my memory has holes in it. So I don’t exactly remember my first episode. The doctors think my schizophrenia became a disease when I was about eighteen.”
“Please,” Cathy said. “Tell us your experience.”
“Okay,” Siera said. “But I’ll have to stop if I get upset.”
Cathy put her hand on Siera’s knee and said, “Don’t worry. We’re here for you.”
Some of the audience members clapped.
Siera squeezed her eyes shut and sat for a minute. Then, she began quietly.
“When I was eighteen, I enrolled at Burshall College in Iowa as an honors student. I didn’t know what I wanted to major in yet. So I signed up for a bunch of general courses.”
“Before college, I lived a pretty structured life in my hometown.”
“And where’s that?” Cathy asked.
“Superior, Wisconsin,” Siera answered. “See. In high school I studied and played sports. I didn’t have much of a social life. And, even though I had to maintain a high GPA to keep my scholarship at Burshall, I wanted college to be different.” She paused.
Cathy tried to encourage Siera with a compassionate expression. Unfortunately, Siera had seen the same fake look on more than one therapist’s face.
Siera continued anyway. “I went completely crazy my freshman year. I mean…not crazy, crazy. But wild crazy.”
A few of the audience members said “Uh huh” under their breaths.
“I partied every night,” Siera said. “I drank and dated a lot. And when I got my grades for that semester, I only passed one class with a D+.”
“Ouch,” Cathy said.”
“It was my own fault,” Siera said. “Thank God Burshall gave me another chance. They said I could retake the courses I’d failed. If I did well enough, they’d reinstate my honor’s scholarship.
“I didn’t want to waste the chance they’d given me, so I really pushed myself the next semester. I even applied for a graduate tutor in biology and physics.”
“Let me guess,” Cathy said. “The tutor was a guy. And he ended up tutoring you in…other subjects.”
“Yes,” Siera sighed. “His name was Matthew Singer. He helped me a lot with biology and physics, until we started dating.”
“Wait,” Cathy interrupted. “Matthew Singer. That name sounds familiar. I heard it in the news somewhere.” She tried to remember for a moment. “Never mind.” She waved the thought off. “Go on.”
Siera said, “I was young, and I fell in love with the idea of Matt. Everyone who knew him said he was going to be a revolutionary scientist like Einstein or Hawking. He, on the other hand, was distant and withdrawn most of the time. I had to flirt with him a lot to get him to ask me out on a date.”
“You became a couple after that?” Cathy asked.
Siera nodded. “I was like an academic groupie to him. I loved him desperately, but he never felt the same way. He just wanted…”
Cathy finished Siera’s sentence. “Sex.”
Siera nodded. “He was a work-a-holic. His mind was always on his research. We didn’t have time for much else than sex. Then, a couple months later, he just up and left.
“I found out later from his friends that he’d gone to Washington D.C. But no one would tell me what for.”
Siera’s eyes shined with tears in the studio light.
Cathy said, “It’s okay, take your time.” Mike stepped onto the set and handed Cathy a box of tissues. Cathy plucked a few and gave them to Siera.”
“I’ll be okay.” Siera sniffled, dabbing her eyes with he tissue. “I’ve been through this a million times with a billion different psychiatrists.”
“I’m here,” Cathy said. She put her arm around Siera.
Siera almost smiled, despite herself. The talk show hostess’s compassion was a little too rehearsed.
Siera said, “The worst news came about a month after Matt left. I’d almost gotten over him when I started getting sick some mornings—usually when I was thinking about him. The nausea got worse and worse. I thought something was really wrong with me.
“Morning sickness,” Cathy said.
Siera nodded. “I went to a doctor on campus and found out I was pregnant.”
A woman in the audience murmured, “Oh no.”
Siera heard the echo of distant demons cackling.
“Did you ever find him?” Cathy asked.
“No,” Siera shook her head. “He never really wanted to be involved with me. He had his life and career ahead of him too. I didn’t want to ruin that. So I never told him.
“As a result, I fell into depression during pregnancy. Doctors say the dark mood came from both hormones, and Matt’s leaving.”
Siera paused and looked at Cathy. The hostess just nodded that she should go on.
“My pregnancy was rough,” Siera said. “I slipped in and out of dazes all the time. I’d stare at nothing for hours. My parents took me to several specialists, but no one could figure out what was going on.”
Cathy asked, “Were you living with your parents again by then?”
“Yes,” Siera said. “I wouldn’t let the doctors run any tests that might hurt my baby.”
Cathy said, “And during this time, you began to see these demons?”
“No. My episodes were shorter back then. I only remember blanking out. All I did was stare at nothing.”
“When was your first hallucination?” Cathy asked.
“I started seeing things during my son Raymond’s birth.”
The audience gasped. Siera’s invisible demons mocked them.
“When I gave birth to Ray, I was already checked in at Crossman Medical Center for psychological observation. My parents thought I’d become suicidal. But I’d never hurt myself while I was pregnant. Anyway, the hallucinations…”
“Take your time,” Cathy interrupted, patting Siera’s hand. However, the hostess’s tone seemed to say, get on with it.
Siera said, “Raymond came a couple days after he was supposed to. I had an episode while giving birth. I could tell there was something going wrong in my head. I was scared, and my mind wanted to go blank, but I had to see my son before I went.
“I thought I was going to die.”
Siera breathed hard. The demons phased in again.
Cathy said, “Take it easy. Breathe a little.”
Siera’s cheeks turned red. “Sorry. This is a little embarrassing. I had my first delusions when Raymond was crowning. I didn’t see demons though. I saw my guardian angel. The light of God beamed down on Raymond from heaven. My angel blessed me with a smiling son.”
“Sounds like my kind of delusion,” Cathy said. The audience grinned. The demons chortled. “What does your angel look like?”
The demons hissed and faded.
Siera’s face looked mystified and childish as she said, My angel’s got eagle wings, which are white instead of brown. She wears a long, creamy gown with a blue cord to cinch her waste. She’s got beautiful blonde hair. Her face is always…blurry. So I don’t really know what she looks like.”
Cathy squinted at Siera. “And you’re sure your angel is a delusion?”
Siera sighed. “I guess so. My doctors would be worried if I said no.”
Cathy said, “It sounds like you’re not sure. Heck, I’m not sure.” She put a hand on her chest for emphasis and grinned at her audience. They shined awestruck smiles back at her.
Siera looked sad. “Yes,” she sighed. Like a digital recorder playing back, she said, “I’m sure. Over the past 19 years, I’ve come to see that everything I experience in my episodes is delusional. I mean, the demons and the angels seem real at the time. The pain and pleasure they inflict seems real too.”
Cathy said, “This angel seems like a good hallucination.”
“Nuh uh,” Siera shook her head. “The doctors say that no delusion is good. When I see the angel, it means I’m about to completely lose touch with reality.” She sounded like she was reciting from memory, rather than speaking from feeling. “I have to give up the angel if I want to lose the demons.”
“Do you believe in angels?” Cathy asked with a dreamy look on her face.
“Yes. But I try to do what the doctors tell me. I try not to believe in the ones I see during episodes.”
“And what about this Matt guy? He never found out about your son.”
“No. His college friends told me he went out east for government research. They didn’t know where. I tried to find him. But he just vanished.”
Cathy stood up and looked at her audience. “Wow,” she said. “I can see by the audiences faces that you’ve moved a lot of people Siera” Cathy’s eyes filled with tears. She put her hands up to her mouth. Siera felt like crying too. Cathy said to her, “Thank you so much for sharing your story.”
Softly, Siera said, “You’re welcome.” Then gravity drew water strings down her cheeks. Mike stepped in front of America’s eyes again to hand both her, and Cathy tissues. She sniffled and dabbed; sniffled and dabbed.
“I want to help you in some way,” Cathy said. “But there’s not a whole lot I can do for your sickness.”
Siera said, “You helped by just letting me talk.”
The demons were silent. The audience sighed.
Cathy said, “I have a few things I want to give you for being on the show.”
Siera gave the hostess a surprised look. “No. I don’t need anything. I just want to go home and see my son.”
“I understand.” Cathy switched from sincere self to hostess. She sounded like she was reading cue cards as she said, “I can tell you love Raymond very much. I bet he loves you too.”
Siera nodded and dabbed her eyes.
Cathy’s voice was all game show hostess as she said, “That’s why I’m sure he won’t mind if we send you on a seven-day cruise to the Caribbean.”
The audience cheered. Siera looked pained. She just wanted to see her son.
Siera’s expression confused Cathy. She hadn’t met a guest yet that didn’t like cruises. Still pandering to the audience, she thought, If she doesn’t like cruises, she’s bound to like this other stuff.
Cathy said she would help Siera find Matt Singer if he was alive. She also gave Siera a Volkswagen Beetle. But Siera didn’t want those things either. She’d given up hope of finding Matt a long time ago. And she didn’t even have a driver’s license any more.
Of course, she didn’t have the heart to tell Cathy all this. Instead, she nodded her head and pretended to be thankful as best she could.
The camera’s zoomed in on Siera’s pantomime appreciation. Good enough for TV, she guessed. The demons had disappeared, but she could feel them peering at her—waiting.
Cathy said to the audience, “I’m afraid I have to go for now folks.”
The audience mocked moans.
“I know, I know,” the hostess said. “It’s hard for me too. Thank you all so much for watching.” She turned toward Siera. “Also, I thank Siera Stevens for sharing her story.”
The audience applauded. Cathy spoke over their clapping. “We’ll have other patients with schizophrenia throughout the week. I hope you all have a good evening.”
The audience cheered.
“And remember,” she smiled and pointed at America. ”You hold the power to make the greatest difference in your lives.” Her show’s theme music sounded.
Siera’s shoulders sagged. She said a silent prayer:
Thank you, God, for getting me through this.
In : Stories
Tags: unthinking delusions novels stories schizophrenia drugs dealers talk show hostess
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