"Schizo!!!"

Last night, 7 PM. Place: our local community college. Event: theatre department’s performance of Lanford Wilson’s play, Book of Days. Ben has a nice size role in this, including a page-long monologue he worked hard to memorize.  Ben, who has been hospitalized seven times in his lifetime for various degrees of psychosis, has come far enough to be in this, his second play in one year.  He may major in theatre.  No future in it? I do not care. Ben is completing six credits each semester, and is not cracking under the pressure.  A miracle.

Few know how much of a miracle it really is. Certainly not the 20-something girl seated in front of us, head to head with her boyfriend.  They’re looking at the program before the house lights dim for the start of the play.  “Ben Kaye,” says the boyfriend. “I know him.”  “Me, too.” says the girl.  She rolls her eyes and adds, “more like – Ben schizo!”, her tone a schoolgirl taunt.

I am shocked. I am shocked at how shocked I actually am. And hurt.  Here I sit, so proud of Ben, so thrilled to be attending this play that he has worked  to memorize and perform.  He is part of something, my child whose illness adds countless obstacles to socialization, to caring, to focus, to belonging somewhere.  And this – this ignorant girl. How dare she! I want to grab her by the wrist, take her out into the hall, and educate her as to how brave my son really is. I want to make her sit down and read about schizophrenia.  I want the stigma to stop.

I share my thoughts with my husband and daughter. Ali looks at this girl, my Cruella de Ville, and takes in her appearance: fishnet stockings, too-short skirt, heavy make-up, superior sneer. “Mom,” she says, “all I can say is – consider the source.”

Later I will see that Cruella will behave without manners throughout the play: whispering to her neighbors, texting, leaving and re-entering the theatre many times while the play is in progress. Sacrilige. Consider the source, indeed. I don’t want to hate this girl, but I do. She has insulted my son.

After the curtain call (and Ben has performed really well, thank you very much), Cruella runs up to Ben and gives him a big hug. Hypocrite or friend? I don’t know, I don’t ask. But it softens my heart a bit toward her.  She can’t help her own ignorance.  But I want to wipe this stigma away with the truth. I want Ben to have the respect he deserves. I want this for every brave person coping with mental illness.

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