Read Installment 1 here



Janice Barrett

     I can’t fight back, have no breath to plead. She pulls out a butcher knife. The one we use at Christmas and Thanksgiving to carve every turkey. The wide 16 inch blade looks more like a guillotine above my head and I know mom’s hand is positioned for that kind of thrust.

     I look away, waiting for the blow I know will come and see my 11- year-old neighbour’s face pressed against our glass front door, Girl Guide cookies in her hand, eyes wide.

     “Run. Get out!” I yell.

     She’s frozen like me.

     “Get out now,” I bellow louder.

     Startled, my mother puts the knife down just as the cookies hit the cement front stoop and my neighbour disappears from view.

     Mom sits at the kitchen table with pen and paper. “What’s happening to me? What am I doing? There’s something wrong with me,” she says. Mom mumbles symptoms to herself, scribbling them on the page. As the list grows longer, mom becomes more agitated until she crumples the paper up and throws it. “There’s nothing wrong with me,” she screams.

     I run out of the house, down four blocks to the doctor’s office, burst through the door and say, “I need to see the doctor.”

     “Do you have an appointment?” the receptionist asks.


     “Take a seat.”

     I can’t sit. I pace back and forth in the crowded waiting area. I stay quiet while another name is called, and a man follows the nurse down a hallway.

     My body shakes and my head vibrates until the man comes out, and then I scream at the nurse, “I have to see the doctor.”       

     “What’s wrong?”

     “My mother tried to kill me.”

     The nurse leads me into the doctor’s office. I relate my story to the doctor who advises me that mom is paranoid schizophrenic and warns me that in her present condition she may be suicidal. He reassures me that at the end of the day he will stop by my house to examine my mother.

     Fearing for Mom’s safety, I run back home to check on her. She is sitting beside the record player, smiling her big-toothed grin with Elvis stuttering, the lyrics caught in the scratches on the vinyl. Mom not noticing. Mom stuck in her own groove trying to block out her voices.

     Afraid that Mom will overhear me on the phone, I leave to find a phone booth and call Dad’s office in Kitchener, a 40 minute drive from our home in Stratford. It is two hours before the office will close. I am told he is out for the day. He left no contact number where he can be reached. There’s no one to call. I don’t know why we had to move here away from family and friends. 

     And I’m not calling my sister Jackie at university. She’ll want to come home. One of us needs to escape this life. Dad’s no help. It’s up to me.

     I’m relieved when the doctor finally arrives to examine my mother.

     “Can’t you turn that off,” the doctor motions to the record player while Elvis stutters.

     “It helps keep her calm.” My words breathy, pushing past the overwhelming emotion of letting go of the responsibility to have someone else in charge. Relief at last.

     He moves his stethoscope over mom’s back. “At least change the record.”

     I welcome the excuse to walk away. I pull the record stand over by the couch and sit down. It would have been easier to sit in mom’s chair to sort through the records, but I won’t sit in her chair doing what she does, afraid that it will turn me into her.

     They are talking in quiet tones. Mom almost whispering her answers. I can breath again. I don’t care what they’re saying. He’s taking over, so I don’t have to be in charge any more.      

     When the doctor finishes, he sends mom over to her chair by the record player. I put on The Beatles “Hey Jude” another one of her favourites. The lyrics, ”to make it better,” vibrating through my body while I walk to the dining room table. The doctor is talking to me, but it’s the Beatles I hear singing better, better, better. The sound escalating better, better, better and I’m afraid to hope.

     “Where’s your father?

     “I don’t know.”

     “When does he usually get home?”

     “Not until late. Not until mom goes to bed.”

     We discuss the need for her to be hospitalized.

     “She is paranoid schizophrenic,” he says and advises me which mental asylum she will be put into and the procedures he will implement. I take notes to relay the information to my Dad when he shows up.

     “How old are you?” he asks.


     “Do you have any relatives or adults that can stay with you here until your father gets home?”

     “No. There’s no one. We just moved here.”

     The doctor speaks to me like an adult and all of the decisions are made by the two of us. He writes his phone number on a prescription pad, rips it off and hands it to me.

     “Have your father call me when he gets in,” he says. “If anything else happens before he gets home, get out of the house and call me.”

     “Thanks,” I say, watching him walk out the front door.        

     Dad gets home at 11pm.

     “Where were you?” I ask. “I called all over.”

     “I had to go vote. It’s election day.”

     “You left me by myself when you knew this was the worst mom has ever been. You didn’t even leave a number where I could reach you.” I glared at him in silence until he looked down at his scuffed oxford shoes.

    “I had an obligation to vote,” he says.

     “What about me?” I yelled. “You have an obligation to make sure I’m safe.”

     “It’s my civic duty to vote.”

     His words knock the fight out of me. How can I argue my life is more important than voting? Why would I need to? Why can’t he see? I can’t hear the lame excuses that are more important than me. It will hurt too much.


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