-Excerpt IV: Hyena Subpoena, cd/book (2014)

Impressed by the imperturbable power of elephants, Mona recalls the psychiatric evaluation that somehow sent her spiralling down the rabbit hole of institutionalization.

  1. Seeing the Elephant Cat Kidd

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SEEING THE ELEPHANT

When you turn fourteen they send you to see a certain
Dr. Schwartz, of whom there turn out to be two.
As your luck would have it, rather than the city’s
alleged expert in adolescent psychology, you get the
sixty-year-old cynic who admits to your mother he
has no previous experience with adolescent girls –
jokes he’ll likely live the longer for it – then twice
alludes to the fact he’s heading out on sabbatical as of
that after-noon, just as soon as he’s finished with you.

He’s got a furrowed brow and a slate grey beard with
two white stripes like tusks growing down from either
side of his mouth. Behind him stand cavalcades of
leather-bound books with wrinkly knees embossed in
golden filigree, on such topics as abnormal psychology
and hypnotherapy, plus a few university degrees and
a pair of bifocals all in golden frames.
From across the expanse of his dark wooden desk
he raises a bushy brow at you and asks, Why you
aren’t wearing any socks. You didn’t feel like wearing
socks, was the truth. You’re wearing your usual black
canvas shoes from Chinatown, they’re soft inside and
you didn’t feel required socks, actually.

“But don’t you care if your feet get cold?” sounds like
a trick question to you, so you sit staring silently at
that eyebrow to see if he’ll raise it again, but he
swivels his grey leather armchair around to a whole
new strategy.
“What about the little elephant?” he asks,
waving his index finger over your left closed fist,
“What’s significance of the little elephant?”
Your hand seems to open automatically, traitorously,
revealing a tiny grey elephant of molded plastic,
the size of a cat’s ear or a toy soldier. A child of some
other era has bitten its face, leaving it pock-marked
and askew.
The truth is that Molly, your best friend in the whole
world, who’s just been moved to another school because
the grown-ups all thought the two of you were
spending too much time together, had given you the
elephant. So yes, it has all kinds of significance.
You’re not sure which bits he wants to know,
and whether it’s any of his bee’s wax, actually.

“D’you mean what does it represent symbolically?”
you ask.

Symbolism, as you well knew, was a literary device
whereby an object or motif took on a deeper
significance than what it appeared to have on the
surface of things, coming to represent a character’s
secret fears and desires. This was one of the most
interesting parts of English class, when the teacher
would suddenly reveal all these hidden meanings in
the poem or story, and you’d wonder whether the
writer was putting all that in there on purpose,
or whether it was just made up by English teachers
so they have something fascinating to teach which
might otherwise never occur to most people.

“Sure,” says Dr. Schwartz, “what does the elephant
symbolize to you?”

“D’you ever see that movie The Elephant Man?
Me and my best friend Molly saw it once.
I can’t remember the exact words because it was
a long time ago, but there was a part where John
Merrick, whose name was actually Joseph like my
grandfather? says sometimes he thinks his head is
so big because it’s so full of thoughts. Then he says,
What happens if thoughts can’t get out? Maybe his
head is lumpy like that because his biggest thoughts
are trying to push their way out.

So, then he builds this little paper church,
but the whole time most people still think he’s
a circus freak whether they dress him in a tuxedo
or lock him in a cage. He just doesn’t fit in anywhere.
So then at the end of the movie, he looks at these
pictures on the wall of his hospital room?
There’s someone sleeping peacefully, not all propped
up on pillows like he has to do, because otherwise he’ll
either suffocate or break his own neck from the
weight of his head. But he moves the pillows away
anyhow, just to be like a normal person, even
though he knows it might kill him and it does.
He’s only twenty-seven when he dies,
just like Jimi Hendrix.”

Any mention of death or suicide is, of course,
one of the things Dr. Schwartz is listening for.
It doesn’t bode well that you identify so strongly
with a deformed adult male who died over a hundred
years ago, but he doesn’t have time to probe the issue.
He only has the therapeutic hour, which is drawing to
a close. He really doesn’t know enough about your
situation to say whether you’re in Serious danger of
harming yourself or anybody else, but he does know
which forms require only his signature to make the
whole damn thing not his problem. To him, what you
represent is the last piece of paper he has to sign
before jumping in a cab to the airport. He’s got a
bright new Hawaiian print shirt and sunglasses
waiting in his desk drawer.

Your mother had not expected to be just leaving you
there at St. Paul’s that afternoon. You don’t even have
a toothbrush or a change of clothes, she explains,
but is told to worry about those things later.
They preferred to keep an eye on you, was how
they put it. After your mother leaves they make you
change into a flimsy blue gown with no back, then sit
you in a wheelchair just to take you down the hall,
which at first you think is totally ridiculous but soon
the red syrup they gave you in a cup starts to feel
like space travel. They put you in a starchy blue bed
sectioned off by curtains, with a window opening
onto the streets of downtown Vancouver.
It wouldn’t be too difficult to just climb out of here,
you think, but then suddenly you fall fast asleep.

Your mother didn’t know and neither did you,
that this appointment would be the first and only
time you ever meet this Dr. Schwartz or any other
Dr. Schwartz. His only role in the whole downward-
spiralling snowball was to be the admitting
psychiatrist, after which he disappeared –
never to be held accountable for anything that
happened to you from that point onward –
as though he’d simply backed into a lever releasing
a trap door, and you’d fallen down through a hole
in the floor to the world on the other side of the two-
way mirror, where everyone knows what you’re doing
all the time but somehow they read it all backwards.