DRINKING TEA WITH AN EMPTY CUP
a performance art piece.
Adrienne Cahill Warren
San Francisco Ca
San Francisco Chronicle
San Francisco General Hospital Mental Health Rehabilitation Facility
There now that’s more than enough information for you to Google. What follows is what Paul Harvey would have called, the rest of the story.
2004Adrienne Warren had just gotten out of San Francisco General Hospital's psychiatric treatment center. She had a plane ticket and a destination -- her childhood home in Bangor, Maine.
What the 39-year-old artist, who suffers from paranoia and delusions, didn't have was anyone in Maine who wanted her. Now she's back in the city, the treatment center locked to her, with no place to call home.
Warren was discharged two weeks ago from the center, which has come under fire recently for rushing patients out the door in order to empty the building and dismantle its program -- a cost-cutting move by city health officials.
She headed to Maine, thinking she could do a little writing in the comfort of her family's wood-frame home.
Her arrival in Bangor took her family -- an uncle and grandmother -- by surprise. They hadn't seen her in 20 years. They said they couldn't afford to support her. They told her she wasn't welcome.
But then, they didn't know she was mentally ill.
Warren fled early the next morning to the bus station, where she bought a ticket to San Francisco. She arrived several days later.
Warren headed back to the only home she had known for the past year -- a brick building known as the Mental Health Rehabilitation Facility, on the grounds of San Francisco General Hospital.
But its staff had to turn her away.
Warren, whose hazel eyes are framed by strawberry blond hair, sat down on the curb in front of the facility, three small suitcases at her side.
"What am I going to do?" she asked in a trembling voice.
CAN'T GO BACK TO CENTER
One thing she cannot do is move back into the treatment center, which is not accepting new patients. The city has proposed closing the program by June 30 and converting the building into a residence for mentally ill people who don't need around-the-clock care.
Liz Gray, who oversees patient placement for the Community Behavioral Health Sciences division of the San Francisco Department of Public Health, defended the decision to discharge Warren.
"She was functional," Gray said. "We had been in contact with the family and other agencies in the state."
But Wally Warren, Adrienne's 57-year-old uncle in Bangor, said he had never talked to anyone from the treatment center. He said his niece simply appeared "out of the blue."
He was angry with his niece, he said later. He hadn't seen her in 20 years, and he wasn't happy to hear she planned to move back into the family home where he cares for his elderly mother.
"I told her I couldn't stay in the same house with her," he said.
But Wally Warren didn't know his niece was mentally ill. He didn't know she had spent the last year in a locked treatment center for people with severe mental illnesses.
He didn't know that the story she told him -- about enduring months of harassment, surveillance and death threats by a drug dealer in her Tenderloin neighborhood -- ended with her setting her apartment on fire.
UNCLE UNAWARE OF TROUBLES
"Boy, oh boy," he said. "I had no idea."
He had known nothing of her life -- or her troubles -- in San Francisco.
"I feel guilty that I instigated her going back out there to San Francisco, " he said.
But Wally Warren said his family in Maine has its own share of problems.
"I don't think my mother can go back into the role of caregiver," he said. "She is 88 years old. She is living out the last days of her life. So it would have fallen on me to do it. And I couldn't do it -- emotionally or economically."
He said his niece is one of three children abandoned by their parents some 30 years ago, and she was the one who suffered the most.
She became the "lost daughter" of the family. Until she reappeared last month.
Wally Warren, a sculptor who works in a cabin north of Bangor, said she left a note on the kitchen table when she fled the family home.
Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2003/05/03/MN299438.DTL#ixzz1vIXirgtK"When I was a child, how I envied Etienne and Joshua (her cousins) having a father they could touch," she wrote in blue-green iridescent ink. "I remember your woodsmoke and laughter, hands that created such colorful whimsy. I will always love you for these memories. I will always love Nanna (her grandmother) for the stories she gave me."
MORE NEWSShe also left a set of color photographs of her recent paintings with the note, which ended with an apology.
'SORRY FOR CAUSING YOU PAIN'"I hope you find your laughter back," she wrote. "I am sorry for causing you pain, disturbing your peace. It was not my intention. I will not disturb you again. Perhaps that is why I came back, to say goodbye."
When Warren returned to San Francisco a week ago, she found out she couldn't move back into the treatment center. But they did let her sit down in the lobby for a few minutes.
Sitting on a couch, Warren took a sheaf of papers from her black shoulder bag. It was a 30-page, typewritten story, titled "Drinking Tea With An Empty Cup." In the prologue, she wrote:
"Ok, so you're probably not going to believe me. Well I knew that. I tell you all my life I've been called insane and worse. Used to upset me, now I find people's persistent belief in my insanity amusing. Just another sign of my madness, I suppose. The account of events I'm going to tell you here is true but you may think of it as a fiction if you like."
It is the story of a solitary artist besieged by death threats from drug dealers who have installed cameras in her ceiling, listening devices in her walls and a device that whirrs beneath her floor.
It is the story of a woman who hides in the basement for hours, terrified of the three men who are pursuing her with guns.
And finally, it is the story of a woman who decides that her only viable option "to get out alive" is to set her apartment on fire.
BACK IN S.F. WITH $10
When Warren returned to San Francisco with only $10 in her pocket, a staff member at the treatment center found her a temporary bed in a shelter.
He gave her the phone number of a crisis clinic she could contact to get back in the bureaucratic queue for future psychiatric care.
He called a cab and reached into his own pocket for the fare.
Warren loaded her vintage luggage -- one she had whimsically decorated with Dr. Seuss characters -- into a white Luxor van.
The cab driver dropped her off at a South of Market shelter.
But Warren never checked in.
A couple days later, she turned up at the front door of the treatment center again, hungry, sleep-deprived, shivering, sunburned.
Someone let her inside. Someone wrapped her in a blanket and made a cup of tea. Someone called the hospital police, who escorted her out of the building and offered to take her to the psychiatric emergency room.
Recently, she checked into a cheap Mission District hotel.
E-mail Kathleen Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org.This article appeared on page A - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle
A summer day in the park, the sun is shining the birds are singing, the air is sweet, San Francisco not exactly the summer of love.
“Have you given any thought as to how you want this to end? Burt asks me.
And with one stupid question reality comes crashing back in.
I open my eyes and sigh giving Burt a rolled eyed glance of annoyance. I am sitting in the patio of a mental institution, surrounded by the other residents, the shufflers the mumblers the droolers, the screamers are kept up on the third floor with heavier medication so it’s a mostly quiet bunch of wandering misfits here. San Francisco is supposed to be the land of OZ, so of course I end up parked at the island of misfit toys..
Burt is a slim man of comfortable middle years, with short sandy colored hair and a neatly trimmed beard (don’t know what it is with psychiatrists and beards really but so many in the field seem to sport them like it’s a uniform requirement for the degree.) He is dressed in docker office casual.
Burt is a very nice man. He seriously has the whole Alan Alda Sensitive guy thing down pat. He tries really really hard to be helpful. Not because it’s his job, he cares, he really really cares. He seriously has the whole Alan Alda sensitive guy thing down pat. I feel bad for him. There is no way he’ll be getting out of this scarred. The evil side of my nature is quite looking forward to it. There was a time when I didn't think this way, but I was much younger then. Now I must confess I am developing a taste for watching people suffer from self inflected wounds.
‘Have I thought of how I want this to end? Stupid question. Given the situation it would be odd if I hadn't He can’t help it; everyone in the psychology field is trained in the art of stupid questions.
I keep hoping that he will go off script and ask a question that isn’t in the book. But like most educated men he sticks to what he’s been taught with more lock step belief then a bible carrying minister. This is the part of the book that’s about getting the patient to feel like a participant in their therapy. Helping the patient to express their goals and to help them to set those goals in rational achievable steps. He thinks of it in terms of partnership.
“Yes.” I reply with a slightly exasperated sigh. Oh I know what’s coming next, stupid questions are like potato chips, you can never have just one.
“Well how do you want it to end?”
And there it is.
I roll my eyes and give him the thin lipped smile of annoyance.
“How do you think I want this to end? I want the superman ending of course.”
“The superman ending?”
“Yeh, you know.” I stand and take the classic poise, hands on hips, wide commanding stance, with square jawed determination I gaze out to the horizon and proclaim in Shakespearian tones,
“And the American way.” Burt joins in to finish the last line.
“There you go.” I flash him a grin a sit back down.
“Do you think that will happen?”
(Help the patient examine their goals irrational heights with reasons guiding light)
“Ahh well, let’s see. I’ve lost my apartment; all that remains of my worldly goods is stuffed into two suitcases. My former landlord Richard J. Boccie may still be trying to kill me.”
“Oh I’m sure he’s no longer trying to have killed.” He gives me a meant to be comforting smile.
“Yes well, as you believe the Boccie is nothing more than a legitimate Italian American business man, who has never ever been involved with organized crime, money laundering, drug smuggling, dealing, street gangs or contract murder, I must say that your opinion that he is no longer interested in my death is as surprising as it is useful. But thanks for playing.
“As for myself, I can’t help but wonder: When someone puts out a contract on one’s life does that contract have an expiration date? You know like a coupon? A reasonable person would have given up on me by now. But then Boccie hasn’t exactly been a reasonable person. So I can’t help but have some doubts on the matter.”
“Now to continue, I am currently committed to an insane asylum, excuse me, a mental health rehabilitation facility, because, of course, no one believes that my former land lord Richard Boccie is trying to kill me.”
“So to sum up gotta say it ant looking great for the home team Have to say that the most likely outcome right now is me winding up as another homeless bum adrift on the streets of San Francisco.” I lean back in my chair grinning.
“Oh I’m sure that won’t happen.” Burt the optimist avoids all ugly reality with outright denial. I have often wondered how he manages to stay so cheerful despite the world so consistently disappointing his fluffy kitten dreams.
“That’s nice of you to say but I have no reason to expect a more comfortable ending to the story.”
“Why are you smiling then, if it looks so bad?” (Cheerfulness, a sure sign of mental illness. Well he had me there. Cheerful people piss me off)
“Well Burt any time the facts of the matter begin to depress me I remind myself of the story of the Thief and the Flying horse.”
“The Thief and the Flying Horse?”
“Yes, it’s a cool little story; would you like to hear it?”
Of course he would. It’s his job to listen, and I am an entertaining nutter. I light one of my camels and begin the tale.
Once upon a time, in a kingdom no one remembers anymore. There lived a thief.
He was charming rouge who lived for the wit of the game.
Well, there came a day, as it comes to us all, when his wits failed him Caught red handed; he was hauled in chains before the King.
Now the King had lost some pretty baubles to the thief before and as Kings have long memories and short tempers there was no time lost in contemplating the thief’s sentence.
OFF WITH HIS HEAD the King roared.
You’re Majesty. The thief called out boldly to the king. Doffing his imaginary hat and bowing most extravagantly
I am a thief. A great thief.
He boasted with pride unrestrained by any hint of humility.
I have stolen much in my life, gold jewels, and more than a few kisses. He winked and the Kings old nurse near blushed to fainting.
I have also, as you know my lord King, stolen from you.
Strange plea for mercy, which brags of the offence, muttered the King.
In my travels, I have also stolen a secret or two.
The thief paused
Spare my life, my lord King, and in one year,,,,,,,
Teach your horse to fly.
Well Kings do like to put on a fashionable show.
Very well. The King agrees, “But, if in one year my horse does not fly, I will have your head for the royal spittoon.
Later that day the thief is in the stables getting g acquainted with the Kings favorite horse. When an old friend of the thief bribes his way into the stables to speak with his friend.
Ohh man you have really screwed yourself this time. Teach a horse to fly. Teach a horse to fly? I know you man, you can’t even ride a horse. Do you even know which end is the front?
The thief gives the horses head affectionate pet, smiles, and says
Well, you know, a lot can happen in a year. The King could die, there could be a war, a revolution, the King could convert to a religion that forbids execution. We could become best friends and he won’t want to part with me. I could escape.
Or if all else fails, maybe the god damn horse will fly.
Burt drops his pen and laughs.
“So like the thief you never give up hope?”
“Hope? Good lord no. Hope is a trap.”
“Yes. In hope your imagination stops. You spend your time hoping for a thing to happen or for a thing not to happen. Either way you’re trapped in that place. The thief is aware of what is and open to what could be. He isn’t hoping for anything, but is ready to respond. Like when he stood before the King and was condemned, he didn’t bother hoping that it would not happen, he took what did happen and created out of it a possibility. I don’t hope. Far from it, as I’ve said I have a very pessimistic view of how this will end for me.”
Then why do you smile?”
“Because I believe, as the thief believes that an open imagination can create possibilities out of even the worst of circumstances. I suppose that belief confirms that I am indeed delusional.”
He laughs again. His more guarded laugh. He feels uncomfortable when I laugh about my mental illness. He would be happier if I took my insanity with a greater sense of seriousness.