Several years ago on my oldest son’s birthday, I spent the day as doctor for hire. A regional clinic had lost their psychiatrist. This happens all too often in community psychiatry and many patients were running out of medication. The for-profit agency where I was working asked if I could spare a day. It sounded like a simple, straight forward request so I said “Yes, I can spare a day so that patients don’t go without their medication.” Short, simple answer to a very complicated dynamic because as it turns out these folks had “lost” their caregiver about three or four times in the past year. They were constantly being asked to retell their stories, reinvent their lives and mental illnesses anew.
“I don’t want a new doctor or new diagnosis or anyone to ask me about the crack house I grew up in and the crack house I’m living in now,” she almost screamed at me but didn’t. Instead, she mocked me, taunted and teased me and did say, “Just you try and get me to take your fucking meds.” Her name was Janice LaGrange and no one had warned me how psychotic she was and especially not how much she hated doctors. Nobody briefed me on the war she waged daily against the world, her dealers and family and last but most importantly, the anger she directed against her providers. Everyone knew but me and I learned pretty quickly especially when she told me to go fuck myself for the 10th time in less than an hour and finally just got up and flounced out. I thought I was doing an evaluation, neat, timely and accurate so she could stay on her medicine and keep her disability check but she thought something else. Her thought about what we were doing trumped mine, handily and neatly.
Later, when I was out for lunch, I saw something that caught my eye. Really took my breath away. A robin egg blue 1957 Chevy just like the one I rode in my grandfather’s tobacco fields. Swinging my legs off the tailgate as we bumped down country lanes and driving it much much later with my Father in his Clean and Green parades were favorite memories. My father had given me the truck before he died but I never took possession. As it turns out, someone else got it. I was looking for a replacement. I tucked a note under the windshield wiper asking if it were for sale and how much. “Call me,” it said, “I want to talk to you.”
And he did, call. As I picked up my cell, I guessed and hoped and prayed that it was him and taking my hint from the area code displayed on my cell, I answered. “Hello,” a voice almost as old as Methuselah’s rumbled. He was proud to show off his truck. It had been in the family since the beginning as had mine and he loved it too. So I jumped up and ran out to the parking lot. One therapist stayed in the interview room and four were in the administrative office next door. Thinking more about the truck than the safety of my personal belongings which were lying next to my chair with my coat thrown over, I chased my dream of going backwards in time. Did I truly believe I could ride down those dusty dirty fields flying over ruts bumping and dragging my feet again? Yes, well maybe. Once a small cousin actually bumped up and off that truck’s gate landing in the space in between the stalks of tobacco and we had to bang on the back window, hard and loud, yelling, “Stop, stop William fell out!” “What?” was the first and second reply we got until finally he got the message and slowed way down so William could hop back up. I wanted to do that again but of course that didn’t happen.
But I’ll tell you what did, happen. Janice LaGrange snuck back into the interview room and dug around under my coat. I guess the social worker had to go to the bathroom. Anyway, she found the spunk, the courage and the organizational skills to slip back into that interview room where she seemed so paranoid and psychotic and so really not there at all and stole my wallet and checkbook. Just that, not my whole purse. That would have been too obvious.
So while I was out there chatting about, “oooaah I just love this truck and can you believe it is the same color as the one I rode in as a child and would you be interested in selling it,” I had a bit of hope that this man, he had to be 95 if a day, would want to sell. There was no way he could drive it. So while I was out there negotiating and selling myself, Ms. LaGrange lifted and bought something of her own.
I returned, the social worker was still out. Not only that, but I ran into Ms. LaGrange coming out of my office with a huge grin on her face like she had won the lottery and I had bought her the ticket. Strange, I remember thinking as I passed her. She looks much more satisfied and happy than she did earlier. And she was, especially with my wallet, $3 cash and all my credit cards and checkbooks. Now why was I so low on money again, Momma wanted to know when I told her the story.
Luckily, I went straight to my purse for a piece of gum. Not a common habit for me to chew in front of patients but one I decided to indulge in that day. Was that my guardian angel directing me to the bottom of my always oversized and overstuffed purse? You’ll never convince me otherwise. And immediately, I knew something was missing. My beautiful waxed wallet was gone. I looked again and then a creeping suspicion laid down and the flashing grin of “gotcha” played itself back over my eyes and I knew.
First I called my husband, “Go to the cupboard in the little den and look in the top drawer. A copy of all my credit cards will be there. Call them all and cancel now. A paranoid crack addict just stole my wallet.” “What,” he said, and then the usual, “that can’t be.” So I said it again and he did.
It was really good luck that I needed that gum because the second call was to the police. They were there in less than five minutes. We had the building on lockdown. Her grin was fading but only a little. They questioned me and then they questioned everybody in the building. There were several extra rooms not in use so a search was conducted, even the trashcans were turned upside down and over.
I told Ms. LaGrange that we knew she had taken my wallet and checkbook and that if she returned them, nothing would be said but “thank you very please.” “I promise, no charges,” I pleaded. But of course that did absolutely nothing but turn that same “I just won the lottery grin” onto her face and nothing else. Then I told her the building would stay on lockdown until my wallet and checks showed but she didn’t give a you know what about that either. She knew she had us. All of us. Me, her mentor, her therapist and the clinic administrator. She was crowing. Since the search revealed no evidence, the police figured she called her buddies and dumped the contraband out a window before I even returned to the building. So much for undifferentiated schizophrenia. My diagnosis was changing to Cocaine Addiction and Paranoid Personality Disorder. I dropped the psychosis and disorganized from the differential.
I left in defeat that day. I had been working with chronically mentally ill patients and aggressive juvenile delinquents for years and I had never been trespassed upon. Never been kicked or spit on. I’d never been hit, hardly ever had a patient miss an appointment. So this was a low blow, a tough, sad moment. I was angry and outraged the next morning when the three of them tried to make a withdrawal at an ATM. “Why can’t you arrest them?” I voiced my frustration. “They have my card and you have the video?” But that’s not how it works. I guess it’s too simple, just makes too much sense. You tell me, please because I’ll never understand.
The outrage and pain continued for months. There was extreme embarrassment and extra work entailed. Closing all your checking accounts and changing credit cards is a sure fire headache. First there was no way to get money except go to the bank. Since I was working most of the time that was next to impossible. Then there was meticulously remembering the checks that had been written but not cashed. Of course I had just paid the month’s bills. Fortunately, since I had just paid them, I remembered 8/9 checks written and gave a list to the bank. “Don’t worry,” the clerks will be given this information and even though your account is closed, we will honor these.” “Thanks so much, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this.” That is until the phone started ringing off the hook with creditors trying to track me down and receive payment. I wasn’t even listening to them at first, figuring they had the wrong person but when they persisted and grew in number, I started paying attention. The last straw occurred when the bank bounced a $15 check for my 25th high school reunion. ‘Great,” now Lumberton will be talking about their graduate the doctor who doesn’t have $15 in her checking account.” Six months later I was still sorting out financial promises when the church accountant called and said they tried to cash a check three times. “It just keeps coming back insufficient funds,” she queried. “Yes mamn it does,” was my answer, “let me send you another one.”
I raved in fury. How dare they? It was unbelievably inconvenient. I had been such a giver and doer to take my day off and stand in for another psychiatrist. They had been unprofessional to have me see crack addicts and not tell me. They should have helped me secure my purse or at least warned me to take it when leaving the building. On and on the ranting and indignation continued. For the bank to handle the affair so incompetently added insult to injury. It grabbed me hard and I would not let it go.
Two things made it worse. One, it happened when I was looking at my “grandfather’s” truck. The one my father gave me before he died. Two, it was my oldest son’s birthday. The day had started out so lovely. I got up early and meditated to him. Then grabbed our dog and together we lit a candle and Skyped, singing Happy Birthday to You at the top of our voices. Yes, dogs can sing. And that special day ended with Janice, a missing wallet and nine bounced checks and creditors calling for months. I didn’t want forgiveness for anyone. I wanted revenge. I was angry. I wanted someone to hurt like I did. I wanted someone else to spend hours after a long day at work tracking down creditors and trying to convince banks that no interest or penalties or late fees should apply. Calling my classmate in Lumberton saying, “Can I still come, can you hold me a place? I promise another check is in the mail.”
Ms. LaGrange didn’t just grab my wallet, she highjacked both my spirit and goodwill. Also my peace of mind. And I let her. I continued to let her steal more each day. Luckily, I was reading Care of the Soul by Thomas Moore. He tells a story about the time he was inconvenienced by a car accident. The car at fault was not insured and for some reason his insurance was failing to pay. He was furious. His spirit had been highjacked too. He spent months, like I did, trying to sort it out and it just kept tangling more and more. So this is what he did and eventually it is what I did too.
He built an altar to his anger and disappointment. He put a candle, a little car and a stick figure representing himself, his insurance man and the driver of the other car. He lit that candle and he meditated and then he prayed. Not for peace or forgiveness. He just prayed, “help me accept this Lord.” He lifted up all the players and he let go of the results. That’s pretty much what I decided to do too. No point in letting her steal my cash, checks, credit cards and my equanimity, I sat in front of my enemies and lifted my heart in prayer to Ms. LaGrange, her drug addiction and mental illnesses, to her and her accomplices, to our goodwill, to her ability to live a full life, for needs to be met without theft and on and on. Finally, I lifted up their children and their children’s children, their ancestors and their ancestor’s ancestors until finally one day, it ended.
Over and over I prayed for everyone involved, asking for release. It took awhile but of course this incident never stopped robbing me until I was able to live without angst and anger. Ah, lessons learned once more and again. Ms. LaGrange and her friends live on page 112 in my poetry book by Rumi. And every May 14, she is lifted up in glory and praise for teaching me a lesson about living in harmony. Folks can only steal from you if you let them take something that isn’t replaceable. Something that you never have to give and if you forget, you can always take back. That something. As it turns out she gave this gift instead of taking away. And I thought she stole my wallet.