By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
And in some ways, Elizabeth Faber is now where her parents have long wanted her to be. She is safe. Patton State Hospital, a few miles east of San Bernardino on Highland Avenue, looks like a mental hospital in a bad '50s movie -- floors tiled in institutional green, paint peeling from the moldings, fluorescent lights that cast a gray pall over all who sit under them -- but there is also evidence that it is a relatively humane environment, certainly more humane than jail. In the small reception area next to the soft-drink machine, two posters, one in English and one in Spanish, declare the civil rights of the mentally ill. The staff are friendly, protective of their patients. ã
Most important of all, Elizabeth seems to be doing well.
She weighed 145 pounds at the time of her arrest, and has clearly put on another 50 -- too much weight for her 5-foot-7-inch frame -- and she looks uncomfortable in her body. Her eyes are watery, and her hands shake, a side effect of her psychotropic cocktail: Depakote, Prozac and Risperdal -- "for the voices," she says. But she is lucid and talkative, insightful, perceptive about her illness. She is charming, even fun, and after the second visit, candid and reflective.
"It was terrifying," she says of the morning she killed Zelazo, "because I didn't know who was talking, what they were saying. It was like the walls were on fire, and I really thought the safest thing would be for him to be dead." Elizabeth's upbringing was vigilantly Christian, and so were her voices: They talked of Satan and Jesus and Armageddon; they ordered her to pray. Her religious beliefs these days are more complicated, and "not the norm," she says, but still vaguely Christian: She believes that all the gods, from the Sumerians to the Hebrews to the Greeks, culminate in Jesus. Apollo is the one she admires most. "He's a good friend," she tells me. "He sticks by you in times of trouble." She has not been praying to Apollo lately, however, "because I don't feel worthy."
She is taking classes at Patton, and working with a therapist, whom she looks forward to seeing on Friday afternoons. In her classes, she is learning that "ambivalence leads to bad decisions" -- that her inability to act decisively has led her to impulsive and destructive behavior. She believes that an involuntary commitment might have changed the course of her life, but that support at the right time could have, too. She was not at her most alone during her various crises, she maintains, but during her pregnancy -- when she was doing well.
And of all the many cracks Elizabeth fell through, that one's the widest: As a new mother with a documented history of mental illness, she was somehow left alone to raise her child, hiding in the plain sight of a presumably supportive community. "I just think that in the joy of pregnancy I seemed okay to everyone," she says. Even to her parents. I think of her father's weariness when I asked him about Elizabeth's future a few months after her verdict. "I'm tired," he told me. "We're all tired." It's possible that in the relatively brief period of Elizabeth's pregnancy, when she had a roof over her head and her sense of hope, her parents took the opportunity to tend to their own lives.
"We want to think of mental illness as something you can take a pill for," says Sally Zinman, "something you can get rid of with the right medication. But it isn't that simple." This is the same culture, she reminds me, that once awarded the Nobel Prize to the man who came up with the idea of drilling three neat holes in a raging lunatic's frontal lobes. We want to pinpoint the gene, observe the abnormality in brain tissue, the chemical imbalance in the brain; we want to build the right facility and develop the perfect drug. Unfortunately, what Elizabeth Faber's story starkly documents is that none of those answers will ever be enough. Solving the crisis of the manic-depressive living under the freeway overpass, or the schizophrenic who pulls a screwdriver on a nervous cop, or the next young delusional mother who decides her baby is better off dead, takes more imagination and courage than any one solution -- legislative or medical -- can offer.
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