We made the trip back to hospital three more times during the next two weeks, and each time required more time off school. And didn’t that serve them for stirring the hornets with their suggestion of ADD. Not that I was missing vital lessons.
Exams had been taken, this was mess-about time. Almost all our year would be leaving, only a few returning for the sixth form college. Most were headed to City College, Hermione included. We promised we’d text, and meet in the city at weekends. And though I was going to Agricultural College, where I wouldn’t know anyone, I’d be staying with Aunt Maggie, with Rachel and Donovan next door. I was quite looking forward to it—if I could get rid these overheard thoughts. But before that, of course, there was that ordeal of the Leavers Prom.
“No, Arwen, you won’t be going.” My mother’s refusal landed on me with a high dose of relief. She said, “Never had such in my days—it’s an Americanism and we don’t need it here. It’s school, just school, not university. Besides, have you seen the cost of those dresses? Just for one night? Then who’s gonna take you, who fetch you back? And have you a date?”
She needn’t have laboured it, I didn’t want to go. And I wouldn’t be the only one missing. Hermione’s parents had denied her, too.
Three more trips back to the hospital before the next appointment with my friendly psychiatrist, Madeleine Penner. Two head-scans (a PET and an MRI), and various blood tests.
“We need to rule out any underlying physical causes,” she’d said. I caught the word ‘paralimbic’ which I mistook, at first, as ‘paralympics’ and wondered what that had to do with me.
I also netted her tentative diagnosis, though not till after I’d left her consulting room.
I hadn’t been entirely truthful about the voices. It wasn’t that I’d lied about hearing other folk’s thoughts, nor how it screwed up my head when I needed to concentrate—nor how it wasn’t nice to hear what people were thinking. I mean, you just don’t need to know. But I’d kept quiet about the actual voices.
These weren’t disembodied voices, they weren’t delusional. Neither were they my projections. They were real, I could source them. Neither did they intrude without my consent. I had to work to get them. I had an exceptionally developed sense of hearing, is all; a dab ear for eavesdropping. I could hear where others could not—through solid brick walls, in the house across the street, two floors up in this hospital. But it didn’t come without some effort on my part. I had to focus, to concentrate—I had to want it.
My mother had wanted to get away from that place asap (she’d been embarrassed by the ruckus of wanting to come in with me). So as soon as I emerged from Madeleine’s office, she was away, barely noticing if I was with her or not. I was not. I stopped outside the waiting room to retie my shoelaces—not that they needed retying but it gave me a chance to listen. Madeleine was dictating her notes on some kind of recorder: a Dictaphone, or maybe her phone. I knew that was standard practice, seen on many a TV drama. I didn’t catch all that she said—some kid in the waiting room was causing a fuss. But I heard enough.
She totally trashed Dr Snide’s diagnosis. The session had revealed nothing to support his suggestion of schizophrenia, not in any of its forms. Though I was glad of it, I did wonder how my mother would react. That’s the diagnosis she’d been pushing for, though I didn’t understand why. I’d caught nothing in her thoughts to explain it.
She said of the head scans she’d ordered, then added that she doubted a physical cause. I had failed to present supporting symptoms. She didn’t say what they were though she did remark of my intelligent articulation. I liked that.
Then came the actual diagnosis. “There is sufficient to suggest dissociative identity disorder. I need to probe now for possible childhood trauma. And has she ever been hypnotised? Her personality assessments suggest high suggestibility. Has she had counselling in the past? Has her mother? A practicing witch—This case, with her family history, must never be leaked from this office. Santa Maria! What a can of worms that could open.”
I could listen no more. The hospital was a maze of corridors and I didn’t want to lose track of my mother. That would only make her more angry at me. But what was dissociative identity disorder?
“I’m gonna sit in the back,” I said when we got to the car. “Get a better draught through.” The storm, brief as it was, had done nothing to clear the air. If anything it was even more sultry, with breathable air at a premium. But my real reason was so I could hit the internet without her knowing—she thought I oughtn’t do that on my phone: it’s not what they’d bought it for.
Wikipedia supplied definition:
Dissociative identity disorder, previously known as Multiple Personality Disorder, a mental disorder characterized by at least two distinct and relatively enduring identities or dissociated personality states that alternately show in a person’s behaviour, accompanied by memory impairment for important information not explained by ordinary forgetfulness.
I stared at my phone, trying to work out what that meant in real terms. I figured it meant that some part of my psyche, unbeknownst to me, knows this person called Gillan. But who the fuck was Gillan? And apparently that part of me that knew Gillan was angry with him. Bewilderment. I knew nothing—which of course was proof of Madeleine’s diagnosis.
Mum swerved to overtake an aggregates lorry. My phone slipped from my fingers and dropped to the car floor. I squiggled down to retrieve it, but it kept slipping away. I had to wipe the sweat from my hands before I could grasp it.
“You okay back there?” my mother asked with a quick glance at me in rear-view mirror.
“Yea, I’m good.”
“You look pasty to me. A trying day? Best have an early night.”
She hadn’t yet asked what the psychiatrist had said. Maybe she was saving that for when Dad was there too.
But she had been right about me being pasty. I felt acutely nauseous. Car-sick? The heat? Fumes from the road were particularly strong, more than I’d ever noticed before. Or was it the reality that there was something wrong me; that I did have a psychotic disorder?
. . .
Shit hit when Dad came in for his tea. He signed for my mother to hold back the food.
“No, I can’t stomach food till I know what’s happening. Is she or isn’t she schizoid?”
“Well if she is, it’s not from my side of the family,” said my mother. “There’s never been madness amongst us Brookers.” The look she gave my father . . . I didn’t need to catch her thoughts.
“But dementia isn’t madness,” my father defended. I half expected him to stick out his tongue. “And it only comes on with old age—not in a kid of sixteen.”
“Excuse me,” said my mother adopting her superior tone, “but what of your Aunt Eddy? Dementia praecox, wasn’t it? More commonly known these days as schizophrenia. So don’t tell me there’s only dementia in your family.”
“Whoa there!” I said, getting between them. “I do not have schizophrenia. Defo. Penner said. All right?”
I couldn’t tell them the true diagnosis, though at some stage they’d have to know it. But at least my mother’s reaction finally clued me in to her preferred diagnosis. Though I couldn’t buy into her attitude, she obviously thought that schizophrenia could at least be blamed on my father. Anything else might reflect upon her as the nurturing parent. As to Aunt Eddy, all I knew of her was she died a year before I was born.
“So what has this Penner-fella suggested? Hypnotherapy?” my father asked. “You’ve got to be over this before September.”
“More tests,” I said. “First rule out a physical cause.”
“Physical?” My mother blanched. “They’re talking about brain tumour or . . . ?”
“But you’ve not been having headaches. Have you?” she asked somewhat belatedly.
“No more than usual,” I said. “No more than anyone whose parents are fighting.”
“We’re worried for you,” my father said. Yet, again, I caught his real fear, that of being accused of child abuse. Yet with my father that kind of accusation just would not stand.
Then, after all that g’boody, I didn’t want to eat, so I went to my room and took down the rune-wand from my cabinet of curiosities. I didn’t know what it was, but something about it offered me comfort in some odd kinda way. A link to the past, and to this land that would one day be mine—if I didn’t die of a brain tumour first.
But then came a thought, and that with some force: If there’s a part of me doing things that I’m not aware of . . . But the bodies were found on the Devon-Dorset border, three hundred miles away. And it’s not me who swings the sword. It’s me who’s beheaded.
Next episode, Failan And Son