she’s leaving home


jade 1
Art by Jade Hutchinson.

Author’s Note —

This story is based on a true experience from the perspective of a parent with a college-age daughter experiencing a first psychotic break.

A facsimile of these events occurred back in 2009. Sarah’s initial diagnosis was schizophrenia, and after some very difficult years, she seems to have found her way back into the world, with often astonishing insight into what keeps her healthy. She will finish her undergraduate studies this spring. My wife and I are immensely proud of our daughter’s courage and her determination NOT to be defined or stigmatized by her “condition.” 

Recently retired, I spent my working life as a college professor and filmmaker.


Eva stumbles down the long hallway, which stinks of disinfectant, the dogged and overweight desk clerk beside her breathing heavily as a deep-sea diver, her flip-flop-clad feet slapping dully against carpet.  

“Sorry,” the woman says. “I have to know you really are her mother.  I have to know she wants to see you. That’s the law.”

Eva hears her voice respond (“I understand”), a tin echo over her pounding heart. What is it she understands? Nothing. Not the reason Sarah stopped attending classes, nor why she sat for weeks in her room smoking marijuana and talking to the walls, why she looked and smelled so bad when she never had before, why she refused to shower, why her roommate fled weeks ago, why she threw her keys in the dumpster as they left the dorm yesterday –cackling! –why she goes on and on about spirits and ley lines and –-

They are at the door.  The woman knocks. Under heavy breasts, sweat stains her tank top, fat folds over her waistline. She knocks again.  

“Who is it?” asks a voice. Frail. Reedy.

“I’m with a woman who says she’s your mother.”

“Go away!”

Sarah had always been cautious, since she’d been quite young. She took chances, with a new higher slide in the playground, or the deeper end of the pool, or the time when the training wheels came off the bicycle, but always, gauging her odds, wise beyond her years about potential danger

“Can we talk?”

The door opens, just a crack. There’s the girl, in filthy Che Guevara T-shirt, looking even smaller than usual, face smudged, nasty grin frozen to her lips.

“Is this your mother?” asks the clerk.

im hearing omens in the pebbles. but i still havent seen a fucking fairy! back track ive never shot up only once i had a seizure but i think its my drug of choice…

The two of them, they’d been practically twinned. Shopping – a couple of clothes horses, that’s what Thomas called them. Nature walks. Painting together. Cooking together. Bonding in the kitchen. And Thomas, he had his own intimacies, adventures, from hikes to ball games, movies, conversations about books.

And now, what?

Sarah looks at Eva, too long, time suspended, eyes boring, and then, like a switch thrown, vacant, as though whatever it was that was looking had been stolen away or inhabited by something alien.

The desk clerk fidgets, wanting to be elsewhere, sucks at her index finger, nods, her voice false and bright, choosing her own answer.

“OK then! You want to see her?”

Sarah goes on staring at her mother.

frank hurricane is like woah-eeezzzzy stoked like i like totally need to talk to him about some wagons some wagons

“I’ll leave you two then….OK? “ says the clerk. She backs away, trots back down the hallway, her gulps of breath the last sound to disappear.

the jabberwocky has to be the only artist dark ness there is a grid yes i went to loch ness and didnt see any monsters

Sarah cracks the door open an inch wider, maybe two.  Behind her, the unmade bed, the single bedside lamp placing her almost in silhouette, the television, muted, some beer commercial, young people half-naked, frolicking and flirting. In the corner by the window, a canvas suitcase, closed.  Beside it, a large backpack, contents spilled to the floor, a cornucopia of clothing, books, candles, “sacred” stones.

Eva enters, and shuts the door behind her. Tries a smile.

“What do you want, mother?  Why are you here?”

The smile becomes a grimace. Blood rushes to Eva’s face. Why is she here? What does she want? Anything but this, to see her soul’s issue, flower of her womb, in rags before her.

“I am worried about you.”

“I’m not your puppet anymore.”  

“What happened last night?”

“I can go my own way.”

“Let me help.”

“I need some space. “

Eva takes a step toward Sarah. She backs away quickly, genuine alarm. Raising an arm to fend off -– what?

As though she’s seen something no one else can, something in her mother’s face. Something horrific. Backed onto the bed, Sarah stares up at her mother wide-eyed. Terrified.

i dont believe in gods i dont believe in masters i have no alliances the trees are mostly real cool i am not a shaman my mother is not a demon and there is no demon plague

“Tell me, honey.”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

its OK my mom is watching cuz shes got me in a diaper and backed up till the crows come home.

“You look awful,” Sarah adds.  


“Like a demon, mama. All you lack is the horns. But you can’t command me anymore. Who asked you to come?”

“I saw the dean.”

“You saw the Devil.”

“I thought we’d said goodbye, Sarah.  You said you’d be in Cleveland.”


“The dean told me the campus police brought you here.”

“The dean,” she spits, losing the grin.  “Why are you speaking with him? Whose side are you on?”

“What happened last night?”

“The pig police wouldn’t let me sleep on the common room floor of Andy’s dorm.”

“Was Andy there?”

“He’s in Cleveland!”

“He’s here.”

“That’s a lie!”

Eva reaches her hand back against the sink behind her for support. Feeling faint.

“I just saw him. This afternoon”

“That’s a fucking lie! You should see yourself, mama.  You look ridiculous.  Why are you pursuing me?”

Memyselfi&I meow meow, theres a bunch of us….lets have an orgy!????

Eva finds a piece of wall and sinks to the floor, her back to it, legs stretched out on the carpet in front, thinking I look like an off-duty marionette.

“I told you.  We are concerned”


“Your father and I.”

i am in love with a canine i dont get skid marks but my dad does i am way too fucking innocent and way too misperceived but but: i understand the issues at hand.

“My father!”

Sarah lights a cigarette. Inhales deeply.  Hears something, cocks her head up and to the left, though Eva has not spoken. A little bemused smile plays on her lips, unnerving but better than that circus clown rictus of good cheer.  As though she’s heard a familiar tune in the next room, muffled by the wall and the distance.

but i could have made it thru the portals we will meet again on the other side let me know when your down for that seance because there’s too many dead rising without me pardner

Eva gets up and sits beside her daughter on the bed.  Reaches one arm gently around her. Sarah allows it. Eva takes her daughter’s hand in hers with the other. Sarah flinches, pulls back her hand, does not push her away. They sit like this for a spell. Silent. Rigid.

“Baby, why don’t you come back with me?  Stay at my hotel? Rest a bit?”

Sarah shakes her head sadly.

“You really don’t get it, do you?  I’m going to Cleveland.  I’m leaving home.  You remember that Beatles’ song? I played it over and over in high school, it made me cry then. She sings: “she’s leaving home after living alone for so many years?” That one?

And  continues:

“She (we never thought of ourselves) is leaving (never a thought for ourselves).’ Remember, mama? Remember?”


“What are you and dad doing together anyway?  You don’t even like each other…”


Eva pulls Sarah tighter, but this time the girl slithers out of her grasp, paces up and down once, then again, moves to the window. Peers through the blinds into the mercury- vapor-lit parking lot. Stubs out her cigarette on the windowsill. Holds her mother’s eyes, daring her to say something. Sits on the windowsill. Stares.

“I want you out of my room, please… “


“Now! Now!”

Sarah’s face darkens. A sudden bundle of aggression, she rushes her mother from across the room and pushes Eva off the edge of the bed.  Eva stumbles, staggers, struggles to stay on her feet. Rises clumsily, fending off Sarah, who pushes her, shouting , “I mean it! I mean it! Out!  Out!”

“Sarah don’t—“


recovering unto death. I go Rain, i witnessed you at birth…heard your voice in my head and im in the clan, headed by a black man with mickey mouse ears and the united STORM party. i occupy this life!



Outside the motel, on the dark deserted boulevard, Eva sits, witless, in her rental Focus. Now she’s crying, hugging herself. Now she’s dozing.  Now she jerks awake.  Now she’s calling her husband in Costa Rica, where she would have been on this night, but for those terrifying Facebook entries. “I need to see what’s going on,” she’d told Thomas the night before her flight. She grabs the coffee she’d collected from the McDonald’s drive-through — just before it closed – now gone cold.  Takes a sip and grimaces.  Rolls the window down and tosses it. Scrabbles through her bag to find the crumpled printouts of those crazy entries that Sarah made only last week. Was it a week? Could it be only a week?

I am a totally helpless damsel. I am east of the sun and west of the moon. I will not go to blue moon mountain not alone. I am at the corner of dog and god save me i am your only child. I am way too fucking innocent and way too misperceived.”

We thought the girl was all grown up. We let her go with confidence.  Now, suddenly, all of us must congregate, here at the corner of god and dog. Shall we drum together, beat rhythms on the mailbox there? Paint graffiti on the corner walls? Pass around a bottle of Thunderbird? Sing songs? Hang out here, around the village well, the bottomless well of madness?

Three thirty AM. Eva lifts her head from the page in time to see Sarah emerge, tiny against the night. Huge pack on her back. What happened to the suitcase? Sarah, alone on the vast boulevard, starts off in one direction, then turns, comes back in the other. Passes the car, oblivious. Heads off, into the maw of motels and closed car dealerships and darkened fast food chains. The phone rings.  Again, the husband. Thomas. In Costa Rica.

“What’s going on?”

“She just came out of the motel.  What should I do?”

“You have to follow her. Don’t lose her. Maybe call the police.”

“She doesn’t have her suitcase.”

“Forget about that.”

“She’s so crazy!”

“I booked a flight for the morning.”

They’d spent most of their sabbatical in Costa Rica, enjoying a new freedom. Daughter off to college, no jobs or obligations to others for a year. Then a trip to South America, a trek in Patagonia, the beach in Brazil, the hill towns in the wilds of Peru. Thomas had gone ahead, after returning to Philadelphia from their trip, to begin construction on some land they’d bought with retirement in mind, just a few years ahead. He was already past 60. They’d been late starters, with their one child.  Suddenly, though, the field has changed. The globe has shifted on its axis.

All plans put on hold….

Eva does follow. What else can she do? She follows at three miles an hour, most pathetic of detectives. When was the last time she’d slept? Not since the night before last.  Her head rings, a clanging bell. Not even time for tears, until now, though her husband had wept like a spigot when they first spoke.  I’m an automaton, a plastic avatar, a gamepiece in a game with no rules, she thinks, her own mind running. Peeking out at the incomprehensible, the impossible, the unacceptable, from inside this two-ton rented steel box that looks and smells and feels like a discarded fast food wrapper.

Sarah plows on, eventually crosses the boulevard, the streetlights lined up behind her like sentries on review. She disappears into an all-night convenience store, and emerges with bottle of Mountain Dew. Drinks. Considers. Stops on a corner, seemingly confused. Sits on a low wall. Stands. Sits again. Stands again. Checks her phone. Types something into it. Chooses the road for the train station.

peace peace peace for everyone. health and family all around. heres to old langsyne i am not paranoid, the computer is not watching me, its not an alien, i am not being beamed by aliens and i never was and never will be i went to loch ness and didnt see any monsters

Eva dials the police.

“My daughter, I think, is having a psychotic episode.  Is there any way you can intervene?”

She hears a chuckle on the other end.

“That’s funny?”

“How old is she, ma’am?”


“Is she a danger to you or herself?”

“No. Well, yes. I can’t say. I’ve never seen her like this. “

“She’s a student at Berkeley,” she adds.

No reply.  More voices in the background. Indistinguishable.

“We’ll send a patrol car to look for her.  Where are you located?”

Eva tells them.

“But – I have to say this, ma’am — there’s probably not much we can do.”

“Well let’s just see. Thank you, officer.”

With her customary feel for synchronicity, Sarah arrives at the train station seconds before the cruiser. Seconds later her mother’s Focus appears. One policeman remains in the squad car. The other approaches Sarah slowly, looming over her, the small girl, the big cop, the huge pack.  Eva exits her car, and stands watching, biting her lip, from behind the driver side door.

The policeman asks Sarah her for an ID. She produces it, readily. No fuss. He examines it. Hands it back.

“You sure you two don’t have something to talk about, young lady? You and your mom?”

“Did she call you?” Sarah sneers, jerking her head towards Eva.

“Your mother?”

“That’s what she calls herself.”

Eva, unhinged, rushes forward, and kneels in front of Sarah.

“Sarah come with me you’re having some kind of episode, you need rest, and maybe to see a doctor. We need to talk, honey, baby, come with me.”

She informs the police that Sarah is having a breakdown.

Sarah laughs. Responds crisply:

“Listen, officers, with all due respect, I have no history of mental illness. I have no criminal record. I’m a free citizen. I’m waiting for a train which is due in a few minutes. I’m headed for the airport, and from there to Cleveland, where I have a lover. Maybe she’s the one who’s crazy. Think of that? Is there anything else?

The cop puts a wiry hand on Eva’s shoulder. Addresses Sarah.

“Is this your mother?”

Sarah sighs. Yes. The mother.


“And” – to Eva – “this is your daughter?”


“May I go?” Sarah asks.

The policeman, for all that it matters, speaks to Eva with a tone of compassion.  Regret. Like someone who has been in this place before. Perhaps more than once. Perhaps personally.

“She’s right, ma’am.  There’s nothing we can do.”

Eva’s face contorts, dissolves to tears. Shoulders heaving.   

In contrast, Sarah, impressed with her own performance, heads for the platform.  “Thank you officers,” she calls, briskly. Over her shoulder. Beneath the pack. And then – she can feel it — something washes over her.  A moment of lucidity.  Washes her clean, free, a break in the heavy cloud of whatever horror had her in its grip.

I walk these streets like a ghost. Like a succubus. Creature of the night. Alone in this screaming silence.

A train whistle blows in the distance.  The policeman returns to his cruiser, a hesitant stride. The cruiser circles, colored lights flashing, blinding, and departs. The train pulls into the station, first of the day, a double decker. Not a soul in sight. A hint of gray on the eastern horizon. Sarah boards the train, humming.

Something inside that was always denied

For so many years…

With her mother still watching, bent to the platform, the train departs for points unknown.

my name is Sarah. not alfie, not lucy, not spider, not sarah, not jillian, not juniper,

not jo…


The author of this piece is anonymous. The art is by Jade Hutchinson. For more of her art, please visit


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