Electric Shock — A Mental Health Short Story
Written by Jean Lee, translated into English by Veronica Liu
My niece, Louise’s husband just passed away. He was only 30 years old. Hearing this news is like being hit by lightning. It seems only yesterday when I was at their wedding.
Now Louise is left with a two year old and another child on its way. Their dad will not be around to share the pain of child birth and also the first of all the different stages that a baby will go through. What kind of fate is this for Louise?
Louise and my second adopted daughter’s birthdays are only a few months apart. When they were growing up they had play dates. My brother was busy with work, and spent very little time with his wife and Louise. One day when he was home for breakfast, Louise asked her mom if it is okay for this man to eat at their house.
During the summer months, my sister-in-law would take Louise to spend time at Grandma’s … my mom would tell me after that even with all her grand children altogether, Louise is the naughtiest of them all.
A few years later, my brother and my sister-in-law relationships were falling apart. My sister-in-law turned her attention to religion for support. Louise of course started attending a Christian school. When she misbehaved, her mom would tell her that God will not give her blessings.
When she told me about this, I asked about Louise’s reaction. She said Louise cried. She was probably in 2nd or 3rd grade.
One year we had a party at the beach for my adoptive daughter. There was a child that almost fell in the water. Louise grabbed her long braid and saved her. The child didn’t even cry from the pain of being pulled, probably she was scared.
Like most kids, Louise started learning how to play the piano. Her mom had set up a schedule for her with different activities at different time slots. I was very curious that even for summer holidays, the schedule was so fully booked. I thought about how lenient and easy I am with my own kids.
When the kids were in middle school, my sister-in-law and I were talking about having a birthday party for Louise. “What about next Sunday?” I suggested. “No, we have church.” answered my sister-in-law.
Louise questioned, “Why can’t we skip one day?” You can tell that she is upset by her facial expression. I thought to myself, Louise is starting to rebel, just like kids at this age. After this, because of our live and our schedule, we’ve grown apart and spend less and less time together.
One winter, we celebrated my father’s birthday. I took the kids and got a ride with Louise and her mom. In the car, Louise showed me pictures of her friends. There were a lot of them. I realized then that she is very sociable and has a lot of friends.
One hot summer, my sister-in-law came to visit and I asked about Louise. She told me the day of her high school graduation, her friends came and she left with them and had not yet returned. I asked if she was worried. She said she can only pray to God for Louise’s safety. I guess she has totally accepted this fact.
On Thanksgiving Day, my sister-in-law called and said Louise called and told her that all her friends went home for Thanksgiving so she is all alone. I asked her how she spends the time. She said her friends got her a job at a company and the boss said he will pay for her tuition if she is willing to go to college. So Louise agreed, working part time and going to school part time.
When my mom turned 90, Louise came back to celebrate. By this time, she already had a boyfriend. While she was cutting the cake, she asked Grandma if she is turning 21. Everyone laughed.
The day Louise got married, it was a big affair. Her friends celebrated this occasion at a western hotel. And on another day, they celebrated with family and friends in a big Chinese hotel.
The next time I saw Louise, she already has a baby. Her dad helped with the feeding. It looks like they have a very close relationship.
I asked about my sister-in-law. Louise said she went to South America to spread the words of God. Louise’s father (my brother) had a look of disdain on his face.
One day I was thinking of Louise when Dee stopped by. She said she has been sad because of the passing of Louise’s husband. I was confused and I asked her what she was talking about. She said, didn’t you know? He passed away the day after the fire at your brother and sister-in-law’s store.
“Oh, is it really true?” I was in shock and Dee just stared at me.
“What kind of illness?” I asked. She said, “Something about the artery.”
I couldn’t listen to her anymore. I immediately called my husband and told him to find out from my brother if indeed Louise’s husband passed away. He asked who told me the news. I stopped him.
“Just make the call,” I said.
I was hoping that this was only a false alarm, but my husband called back and confirmed the news. He told me not to call to see how Louise is doing. She was trying to stay calm and get through this especially with the baby inside her.
“She doesn’t need any extra stress.”
“When is the baby coming?” I asked. “Next month” he said.
I picked up the phone and called my daughter and told her the bad news. I said make sure you promise you are going out to get your groceries, and then I will tell you. “Yes, I promise.” So I gave her the bad news, unbelievable news. I told her to be strong and continue to do what she needs to do, not worry about how people are going to look at her.
Our misfortune is really nothing. “Yes, our misfortune is nothing”, she repeated.
She left to pick up a few things.
My daughter’s paranoia is back, almost two months. Her fridge is empty now. So telling her to go pick up food did work after all. It was like an electric shock.
In my mind, I think to myself: what if I am too lenient towards her?