It was a year after the breakdown that led to my psychiatric treatment at Eastern Long Island Hospital. I’m not a believer in burning bridges, but when you abjectly humiliate yourself by emailing a psychotic rant to all your friends and co-workers, it doesn’t much matter what you believe.
The email was rife with paranoia, accusations, and delusions: it assumed that, through some legal mechanism best known to the fairy godmother in my head, I was suing my aunt’s former pharmaceutical company for product liability; it espoused a highly self-righteous position regarding claims about the efficacy and safety of the medications I’d been prescribed, drawing liberally on Ralph Nader-style consumer safety rhetoric; and it presumed to defend myself against criminal allegations that no one was making against me in the first place.
The email didn’t just go out to all of my friends and co-workers; it went out to the scholarship coordinators at the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation which, five years earlier, had agreed to foot the bill for my Columbia Law School education. I never finished law school: after a frank conversation with the Dean of Students, it was decided that I probably didn’t belong in a program that could induce me to compare my legal writing instructor to Cro-Magnon man in a memo assignment.
Soon after my discharge from Eastern Long Island Hospital, things started falling into place. Less than three months after my return to the community, I moved from living in a group home to a house with only two other people. Less than a year after discharge, I started working for other mentally ill residents at my housing agency.
Unfortunately, my delusions were never completely laid to rest. On Christmas of 2011, approximately 15 months after returning from the hospital, I became psychotic. I took a client who had no family to spend the holiday with to a Chinese buffet. When I asked him what he wanted to do after lunch, he replied that he wanted to go to Smith Haven Mall. This innocent remark was sufficient to trigger my psychotic break: the name of the street I grew up on was “Smith Place.” “Smith Haven Mall,” therefore, had to be the code word for a rendezvous point where I would be meeting Executive Director of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, Matthew Quinn. Quinn, who I read about on the internet, was a Fordham Law School graduate, and the dual purpose of the meeting would be to develop a legal strategy for defending myself against criminal charges and help the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation sidestep any negative publicity associated with the delinquency of one of its former scholars.
My client asked to go to Smith Haven Mall right as I was about to open my fortune cookie, a clear indication that the restaurant was part of a covert network dedicated to establishing my innocence. I left a $20 tip for a waiter who brought us two plastic cups and drove west with my client in the company vehicle on Route 58. As we approached a sign for the Long Island Expressway, I realized that this highway commonly known as the L-I-E must be the road to exposing all the LIEs that were being spread about me. I got on the Expressway and continued driving until I noticed a sign for the William Floyd Parkway, which had to be the next leg of our trip. This was evident from the fact that, two days earlier, I came across a leather jacket-sporting plush doll named “Floyd” in a box of my childhood belongings. Driving down William Floyd Parkway, I scrutinized every sign, license plate, and bumper sticker I passed like a compulsive gambler with a scratch ticket.
Suddenly, I spotted a road sign demarcating a 45 MPH speed limit. “What could this mean?” I wondered. “Well, 59th St. and Broadway in Manhattan is the location of Columbus Circle; 5 times 9 equals 45; and Christopher Columbus is practically synonymous with freedom. That’s promising. And wait! Here’s route 27: 2 times 7 equals 14, and 14 plus 45 equals 59. That’s it! I’m going the right way!”
At this point, my brother called to wish me a merry Christmas.
“Thanks, Jamie. I can’t talk right now.”
“Okay. Give me a call later.”
I ended the call. “Our cell phones must be bugged. Why else would he be speaking in code? But what was he saying? ‘Merry Christmas.’ What did he mean by that? Christmas is the 25th of the month. Maybe there’s some sig—yes! Route twenty-five! The rendezvous point is located at the intersection of Route 25 and William Floyd Parkway!”
But as I noticed a sign marking the entrance to “Smith Point County Park,” I realized the Christmas hint was just intended to point me in the right direction and Matthew Quinn was waiting for me at this park to help me make my “point.” While by no means certain as to what my point actually was, I had vague premonitions of a private jet and an exclusive interview with Charlie Rose someplace where I would be immune to extradition. Quinn’s role would be to give me a crash course in speech and debate to prepare me to win the case in the court of public opinion.
Just as I was reviewing my talking points, I caught a glimpse of a license plate whose first three characters read “E-R-R.” I swerved the vehicle away from the park entrance and continued south on William Floyd Parkway, weaving in and out of lanes. It was clear that I misinterpreted the cosmic signs that surrounded me and the Cooke Foundation wouldn’t stick its neck out for me any further than it already had. Incarceration was inevitable: all I could do now is reduce my sentence. I passed a sign that read “Apple Rd.,” a reference to my niece, “Fiona.” Either my family was trying to remind me that I had a lot left to live for or law enforcement was holding out the promise of leniency as a “good cop” tactic to persuade me to turn myself in. I reflected on a saying by Mr. Spock from Star Trek the Original Series: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.” So while I would have much rather died than serve out two consecutive life sentences, subjecting my family to the news of my death was unthinkable.
I drove to Stony Brook Hospital, left my client in the company minivan which I double parked outside the emergency entrance and went into triage. I had no trouble getting into the psych ER: “schizoaffective disorder” might as well be the password to a psychotropic speakeasy. I was anxious to determine which of the emergency room occupants posing as mental patients was the judge deciding my case. It had to be someone who did not speak to me, since any interaction between us could be construed as bias and result in a mistrial. I turned to face an Indian man sitting beside me who had not uttered a word since my arrival and announced “I’ve had a family-rectomy,” mistaking the pain it caused my family to speak to me for fear of being charged with aiding and abetting.
At this moment, a nurse told me she learned that I left an individual without a driver’s license stranded outside in a green minivan. I acknowledged this absently as if she told me I had something in my teeth and would have gone back to subverting the judicial process had she not then asked me to drive him home. Even then, I remember thinking she must be at least as crazy as I was asking someone in my condition to drive.
Stony Brook Hospital transferred me to St. Catherine of Siena’s Medical Center where I spent most of my time deciphering coded transmissions from the television in the day room. They discharged me oblivious to the fact that a CNN correspondent informed me of a conspiracy to rig the Republican presidential primaries.
I could tell you about how I resumed working part-time when I got out of the hospital; how I once again moved from living in a group home to a house with two other people; how I landed a full-time job that I somehow managed to hold down for the past ten months; and how I got into Stony Brook University’s MSW program, all in just a little over a year.
But you’d probably think I’m crazy.