Girl Interrupted
Susanna Kaysen

contributed by April

People ask, How did you get in there? What they really want to know is if they are likely to end up there as well. I can't answer the real question. All I can say is, it's easy.

Every window in Alcatraz has a view of San Francisco.

Scar tissue has no character. It's not like skin. It doesn't show age or illness or pallor or tan. It has no pores, no hair, no wrinkles. It's like a slip cover. It shields and disguises what's beneath. That's why we grow it; we have something to hide.

Suicide is a form of murder - premeditated murder. It isn't something you do the first time you think of doing it. It takes getting used to. And you need the means, the opportunity, the motive. A successful suicide demands good organization and a cool head, both of which are usually incompatible with the suicidal state of mind.

The motive is paramount. Without a strong motive, you're sunk.

The debate was wearing me out. Once you've posed that question, it won't go away. I think many people kill themselves simply to stop the debate about whether they will or they won't.

Actually, it was only part of myself I wanted to kill: the part that wanted to kill herself, that dragged me into the suicide debate and made every window, kitchen implement and subway station a rehearsal for tragedy.

I associated meat with suicide, because of passing out at the meat counter. But I knew there was more to it. The meat was bruised, bleeding and imprisoned in a tight wrapping. And, though I had a six month respite from thinking about it, so was I.

When you're sad, you need to hear your sorrow structured into sound.

Robert Lowell also didn't come while I was there. Sylvia Plath had come and gone. What is it about meter and cadence and rythmn that makes their makers mad?

"Stop acting out", a nurse would say. They were not above pinching us or giving us a Daisy-like poke to try shutting us up: nurses nips. We didn't blame them for trying, and they didn't blame us for being ourselves. It was all we had - the truth - and the nurses knew it.

Mainly though, when we looked at the student nurses we saw alternate versions of ourselves. They were living out lives we might have been living, if we hadn't been occupied with being mental patients. They shared apartments and had boyfriends and talked about clothes. We wanted to protect them so that they could go on living these lives. They were our proxies.

We did our best to control our snarls and mutterings and tears when they were around. Consequently they learned nothing about psychiatric nursing. When they finished their rotation, all they took with them were improved versions of us, halfway between our miserable selves and the normality we saw embodied in them. For some of us, this was the closest we would ever come to a cure.

Whatever we call it - mind, character, soul - we like to think we possess something that is greater than the sum of our neurons and that animates us.

It's a long way from not having enough serotonin to thinking the world is "stale, flat and unprofitable"; even further to writing a play about a man driven by that thought.

What does borderline personality mean, anyhow? It appears to be a way station between neurosis and pychosis: a fractured but not disassembled psyche. Though to quote my post-Melvin psychiatrist: "It's what they call people who's lifestyles bother them."

I wasn't convinced I was crazy, thought I feared I was. Some people say that having any conscious opinion on the matter is a sign of sanity, but I'm not sure that's true. I still think about it. I'll always have to think about it.

This time I read the title of the painting: "Girl Interrupted at Her Music".

Interrupted at her music: as my life had been, interrupted in the music of being seventeen, as her life had been, snatched and fixed on canvas: one moment made to stand still and to stand for all the other moments, whatever they would be or might have been. What life can recover from that?

... the entirely credible yet unreal Vermeer light.

Light like this does not exist, but we wish it did. We wish the sun could make us young and beautiful, we wish our clothes could glisten and ripple against our skins, most of all, we wish that everyone we knew could be brightened simply by our looking at them, as are the maid with the letter and the soldier with the hat.

The girl at her music sits in another sort of light, the fitful, overcast light of life, by which we see ourselves and others only imperfectly, and seldom.