I want to say how sorry I feel, but nothing about this gives rights to my feelings. This is her story.
“Schizophrenia, that’s what they said. I thought that meant Virginia had different people inside her. I thought she would look like every bad TV movie about sick people.”
Helen shakes her head. Though she faces me, her eyes look past me to some unknown point.
“I just didn’t know how much I didn’t know. She didn’t so-called split personalities, like I feared. One doctor said Virginia had a disorganized mind. That did not set well with me. It gave me nothing to hold onto.
“Well, they scanned her brain. They used fancy words. They gave us a million tiny pills to manage. But Virginia didn’t care. Not truly. Oh, she’d take medicines some days. She’d even try to talk about her sickness. Then she’d turn around and be angry and scared. She’d say we were ruining her life and insist nothing was wrong with her.
“After her dad died, she told the doctors I murdered him and was trying to slowly kill her. I loved that man.”
Helen drifts away again. My chest constricts. Questions swarm but I fear raising any. I fear scaring Helen from the conversation.
I work up enough courage to split the silence. “The doctors didn’t believe her, did they?”
“What?” Helen says. She seems to have just noticed my presence. “No. We’d been a knitted community around our daughter. The doctors, my husband, and me. They had to report her accusations. Well, we live in a small town. Everybody knows everybody else. The police had been called to Virginia plenty enough times to know she couldn’t be trusted.
“That sounds awful, doesn’t it? I should stand by my daughter in everything she says. But I can’t. Does that make me a bad mother?” She looks straight at me. For a woman who cannot trust her own daughter, it seems ridiculous she might trust my opinion.
“No,” I say. “From what I saw today, you do stand by your daughter. I’m sure my mom hasn’t believed everything I’ve ever said. Maybe it counts even higher that you remained through all of it.”
Helen shifts in her seat and inhales deeply.
“Not every day is like this, you know,” she says. “Some days, it’s like I had a bad nightmare. Some days, it’s like I’m the one with a disorganized mind.
“For six full months before the tape online, Virginia had been working as a sales clerk. She took her medicine, even if she didn’t want to. She made me breakfast that morning. Can you imagine?”
I can’t. The woman I met could barely function.
“She couldn’t have been in better spirits when she left for work that day. Then stuff happened so quick! Life the next morning was completely different.”