“You gave us quite a turn, there, young lady.” She didn’t know if it was intentional or a result of the drugs, but the speaker was backlit by a diffuse white light coming in through the frosted…and barred…window behind him. It gave him an almost luminous, angelic appearance. She squinted her eyes to reduce the glare and looked away, her eyes burning and tearing in the harsh light. The man rose from his chair and pulled down the blinds, tempering the brightness and she felt some of her tension leave.
“Your pupils are still dilated,” he said, returning to his chair. “It may be another day or two before you being to feel like yourself again.”
She was in no mood for beating around the bush. “Who are you and where am I?” she asked.
The man, whom she could now see was rather large and shaggy and clad in corduroy trousers and a white lab coat…she could not focus her eyes well enough to read his name tag…laughed shortly.
“Dispensing with the small talk, I see. Very well then, I’m Dr. John Kendall and you are in the psychiatric unit of County Hospital. Anything else I can tell you?”
She closed her eyes and shook her head, a wave of disappointment washing over her. She had failed. And now her worst nightmare had come true…she was going to have to face her mother over this… An involuntary shudder passed through her.
“Cold?” Dr. Kendall asked. “Would you like a blanket to wrap up in?”
She shook her head. “I’m not cold.”
There was a long silence between them, the doctor obviously waiting for her to step into the breach. The silence ticked on until finally she opened her eyes and looked in his direction. “Are we done, then? Can I go now?”
He smiled briefly. “Well, I guess that is up to you, but I thought you might like to talk about this…” He paused and waited.
She let a minute of silence pass. “About what?”
“Miss Janssen, it isn’t every day we get a beautiful seventeen-year-old girl in here suffering from a near-fatal overdose. Suicide attempts by young, intelligent, attractive girls such as yourself aren’t all that common, you know. I’d like to know what brought you to this.”
Another long silence ensued during which she turned over ways to give him the greatest amount of information with the least amount of effort. She still felt deadly tired and in no mood for an exhausting extended chat. “I’m pregnant,” she finally said, by way of explanation.
He nodded. “We knew that. Your mother seemed very concerned as to the condition of the baby…”
A short, cynical snort of laughter erupted from her lips, causing him to raise his eyebrows in interest. “You find this amusing?” he asked, his voice mild.
She sighed. She really didn’t want to talk. She was tired. She shook her head.
He waited again for her to speak, and when minutes had passed and she did no more than slouch in the chair with a glowering expression on her face, he took the initiative. “Perhaps you’d like to tell me what I said that you found worthy of a laugh?”
She sighed heavily. Obviously he was not going to let this go…who knew how long he might keep her here, picking at her wounds until either they bled or she screamed? She turned her head slowly to look at him. “My mother having any kind of concern over this baby is hysterical,” she said bitterly, “considering that last month she tried to force me to have an abortion in Mexico and now demands that I give it up for adoption. Concerned…sure, she was concerned…that I might not miscarry.”
“I see,” he said, putting his fingertips together thoughtfully and slowly nodding his head. She wondered if his technique was as transparent to other people as it was to her.
“And how do you feel about this?” he asked.
She looked at him incredulously. “It isn’t obvious?”
“I’d rather you told me so there is no misunderstanding.”
She shrugged. Why not? “All my life my mother has taken away everything I loved or had an attachment to. My toys…my dog, my cats, my parakeet that I raised from a fledgling…even my father. And now she wants to take my baby away,” she paused and looked away, her face shadowed. “I’d rather be dead.”
“So you are angry with her?” the doctor prompted.
“I’m not allowed to be angry,” she replied.
“Then you are feeling hurt…betrayed?”
“I’m not allowed to be hurt…or to cry.”
“So what are you feeling, then?” he queried.
She looked back at him, steely-eyed. “Nothing.”
A week passed. She learned the routine of the ward, was befriended by a pregnant inmate near her own age, Pat, and was informally adopted by an older woman who had always wanted a daughter, Nan, who had made a suicide attempt to escape her abusive husband. Pat and Nan seemed lucid and well-grounded, just victims of circumstances beyond their ability to control and she felt a kinship with them and their situations. Nan, in particular, she empathized with. A woman with no real education, no work experience, and a minor child at home, Nan was wholly dependent on her abusive, miserly husband who treated her like a servant and kept her without any kind of funds. She was amazed at Nan’s ability to be cheerful and caring with the others in the ward whereas she was so wrapped in her own misery and fear, she could think of little else.
Visiting hours brought Pat’s boyfriend and his buddy Rich, a cute red-headed Marine who, because he felt like a fifth wheel with Pat and Rod, chatted with her. Nan’s husband arrived and she was astonished to see that the man was in a wheelchair, his body bent and gnarled with rheumatoid arthritis. But Nan’s fear of the man was palpable, her normally sunny disposition transformed into a grey timorousness. It was strange to see someone transform before her very eyes, to become someone she barely recognized, just because a certain person entered the room. She wasn’t sure how to take it…and she wondered if the same thing happened to her…and then her Mother walked in.
She felt herself go instantly wary, like prickly spikes had suddenly popped out all over her body and each one had a sensor at its tip. The room felt suddenly dark and close, as if it had shrunk down to just the two of them and the space they occupied. A nurse touched her on her elbow and she jumped, startled. “Your mother would like to speak with you.”
She almost stepped forward, propelled by years of compulsory obedience, then halted herself. “Do I have to?” she asked. The nurse shook her head. “I don’t want to…” She could feel a sense of panic building within, a compelling urge to cut and run for safety, but the nurse’s hand on her arm restrained her. “She is going to yell at me, call me names…”
The nurse shook her head. “Dear, if your mother causes you any distress, we will ask her to leave.”
“She won’t go. You don’t know her, what she’s like…”
The nurse patted her arm reassuringly. “Visiting hour can be stressful for some,” she said. “That’s why we bring in some of the orderlies from the men’s side,” she said, nodding at several immense white-coated men lounging in the doorways. “If your mother declines to leave on her own, these gentlemen will help her out. Now come and sit down and talk with your mother.”
“How long are you going to keep goldbricking in this place?” were Mother’s first words, spoken only after the nurse was out of earshot. “Do you have any idea what this is costing me? Christ on a crutch, you could feed the entire population of one of those banana republics on what this place charges per day!”
“What do you want?” she asked, more abruptly than intended.
“Well, 'Hi, Mom, it's great to see you too!'" her mother said sarcastically. "I want to know when you are going to stop conning these people so they will release you. I know they can let you go after 72 hours and it’s been a week, so you must be doing something so they will keep you here…playing on their sympathies or just play acting.”
She sat there silently, her mouth half open at what she was hearing.
“Don’t you give me that stupid look!” Mother hissed at her. “I know you and I know what you are up to and it’s not going to work!”
“What?” she asked, unbidden anger straining her voice. “What am I up to? I wish you’d tell me because I have no idea, myself! You think I want to be here? You think I like institutions? You think this is what I was intending?”
“Of course,” Mother sneered, one side of her blood red lips curling. “Those things you took wouldn’t kill anybody, just make you sleep for a long time. The active ingredient isn’t fatal. So if that was your real intent, you certainly botched it! But I think you knew what you were doing…in fact, I know you knew what you were doing. It was another attention-getting device, another grandstanding play, another bid for sympathy. ‘Look at poor little me, pregnant and unmarried, and my mean old mother won’t let me stay home and parade my little bastard around for the neighbourhood to gossip over. Boo hoo hoo!’”
She stood up from the table. “I think you’d better go now.”
“Not on your life, girlie. You are going to hear me out. You tell that doctor what he needs to hear and get yourself out of here this week or I will make you sorry for the rest of your days that you defied me like this!”
She turned and started to walk away from the table, her face a tight, blank mask. She heard the chair scrape as Mother abruptly stood. “Don’t you turn your back on me and walk away, you insolent little bitch!” she heard her mother say. “Come back here…get your hands off me! Just who the hell do you think you are, grabbing hold of me like this…unhand me, you son of a bitching bastard!…I’ll have your job for this…”
She closed the door to the day room and went to her bed, a very slight smile playing at the corners of her mouth.
“I hear there was a bit of a disturbance at visiting last night,” Dr. Kendall said after she had been sitting silently in his office for nearly ten minutes. “You want to tell me about it?”
She shrugged. “Nothing to tell, really. My mother came, I didn’t say what she wanted to hear, she went off. Normal.”
“That’s normal for you?” he asked.
“No,” she answered with a mirthless smile. “Normal would include her clobbering me a time or two, but even she knows not to do it in front of witnesses. Might make her look bad instead of me.”
“Did you ever hit your mother?” he asked. She shook her head. Another protracted silence enveloped the room.
“You want to tell me why you did it, then…took all those pills?” he finally said. “You nearly died, you know.”
Cocking her head, she quirked up one corner of her mouth. “That was the point, you know.”
She nodded and looked down at her chewed fingernails.
“Why not look for other solutions to your problem?” he asked. “Girls get into your situation every day…they don’t try to kill themselves.”
“They obviously don’t have my mother,” she replied dryly.
“Look,” the doctor said, “you don’t seem crazy to me. In fact, you seem pretty normal, all things considered. How about I write you a prescription for some tranquilizers and spring you from this joint?”
She looked up, alarmed. “And go where?”
“Why, home, of course.”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“No, I’m quite serious. You don’t belong here…this place is for really crazy people who are a danger to themselves and others. You aren’t crazy and I really don’t think you are in serious danger…you’re just under a lot of stress and didn’t have an effective way to cope…”
“I don’t think you want to do that,” she interrupted softly, studying her ugly hands.
“Why not?” he asked.
She did not raise her head, but her voice was dark, heavy, bleak. “Because if I have to go back there, I’ll make sure I am not found out the next time.”
It is difficult to deal with a narcissist when you are a grown, independent, fully functioning adult. The children of narcissists have an especially difficult burden, for they lack the knowledge, power, and resources to deal with their narcissistic parents without becoming their victims. Whether cast into the role of Scapegoat or Golden Child, the Narcissist's Child never truly receives that to which all children are entitled: a parent's unconditional love. Start by reading the 46 memories--it all began there.