S3: Fine Line - Episode 19 - Ernest

Episode Information

[Intro Music]

Narrator:  Welcome to Season three Fine Line narrative histories about mental health and mental illness, a traveling exhibition and weekly podcast edited and hosted by Michael Nye, supported by Kronkosky Charitable Foundation. May you find insight and understanding in these voices. Episode nineteen, Ernest.

Ernest:  I loved exploring, uh, adventurous. Oh, I loved getting off and trying to feel as if I was lost in a different world. My first room that I grew up in had bookshelves all across the wall, which were covered with these old Harvard Classic books that my grandmother had kept outside. My room was a tree, and it was very high. I could open up the window and climb down into this big bush, and, uh, the inside of it was kind of hollow, and I could hide there, so I could look out into the backyard, but I didn’t feel as if anyone could see me if I was in the bush. I grew up in Austin with my grandparents on my mother’s side. My grandparents had told me that my parents had schizophrenia. I didn’t know what that was or what it meant. The way that my grandmother portrayed it was this evil thing, this, this evil, awful disease that happened.

And she cursed God for this disease that she called schizophrenia. My first memories of my mother and father, Karen and Carrie were, uh, they would hold up in the back bedroom and, uh, just smoke cigarettes and listen to music and talk all weekend. There was a haze of cigarette smoke all across the room. Karen was always very lovable. She would just say, oh, Carrie, Carrie, Carrie, Carrie. Oh, Carrie, Carrie, Carrie. And she would stroke his hair and you could walk by the room and just hear him talking about everything and anything. I mean, just everything and anything. I, I just knew them as these two interesting people that hung out at my house.

Karen’s condition was completely different than Carrie’s. I don’t see how you could have called it both schizophrenia. Carrie was just very disassociated from the world. Karen’s condition was a little bit different. Hers was more of a paranoid. It was this fear of the world around her, a paranoia that people in the world were out to get her. Karen was always very hyper. Uh, she was full of energy, full of, uh, full of projects. Millions of them would come out. She could play the piano brilliantly. Even after a year of never touching a piano, she could sit down and play a piece of Mozart from memory completely without a single mistake. I saw Karen and Carrie as a little mini vacation. I loved it when they came over, and I looked forward to Karen and Carrie coming over for the reason that when they were there, they always stuck, stuck up for me.

If, if my grandmother was ever angry or irritable about anything, Karen and Carrie would both say, grandma, leave him alone. Don’t make him do these chores. They always took my side and I loved it. I don’t, uh, I don’t feel any anger towards my parents. I feel no resentment. I feel no regret for what has taken place in my life. The world is full of people making excuses about how they’ve turned out bad or how they’ve failed at this, or failures in their marriage or their job because of these tragic events that have taken place in their lives, or this hurt or this pain that they somehow need to release you. You never hold onto it to begin with. You just accept it. I see such a fine line between the sane and what is deemed insane by society. Both my parents had brilliant minds. They were brilliant people, and maybe there was one portion of their mind that was a little lacking when it came to dealing with a traumatic situation or a pressure. I mean, when you think of someone like Carrie, who was so mathematically inclined and so talented scientifically, but at the same side, being so artistically inclined, those, those are skill sets that usually come, either one or the other, not both.

I never, ever would’ve expected that Carrie would’ve, uh, taken his own life. I’m, I don’t feel that what Carrie did was selfish. I can’t begin to understand any pain that he felt when he was becoming clearer again, he’s free of any plague of whatever society had placed upon him. And he doesn’t have to feel scared or regretful of anything that’s ever happened. I think, uh, maybe in that sense, I see his passing as a, as a freeing of his spirit.

[Outro Music]

Host:  Ernest is an explorer like his father, Carrie, camping in many places around the world, both of Ernest’s parents, Karen and Carrie had schizophrenia. Ernest tells a story as a child when he was visiting his parents. He would put his ear next to a closed door, listening to his parents, talking to each other, cigarette smoke, drifting underneath the doorway. Ernest said, I never had any regrets. Just love my parents for who they were.

My wife Naomi, and I knew Ernest’s father Carrie very well. He was an athlete, artist, leader, naturalist. He was a natural poet. He went to the University of Texas, majored in architecture at the age of 20. Carrie built a house that was featured on the cover of an architectural magazine. One year later, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Carrie once told me, I just can’t go on delivering the mail every day. What is forgotten is lost. How can we hold on to voice and story and image and presence? Thank you, Ernest, for your compassion, for your wisdom and understanding and your presence. Every person, every place is a map to somewhere else. I’m Michael Nye. You can go to my website, michaelnye.org/podcast for portraits and transcripts. Thank you for listening.