Clean and Elegant

Clean and Elegant

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Dear Vincent, Thank you for responding to my hysterical phone call.

Dear Vincent,

Thank you for responding to my hysterical phone call. I think I found the perfect new apartment to live in. I will just need to get slightly richer and also, a washing machine. So far I’ve felt somewhat better for almost two days. In French, the parts of my body have different ages, while in English, they are different ages. The difference, it could be significant.

When I was fifteen years old, I wrote my memoirs in a scrapbook for Mrs. Cameron’s grade twelve English class. Being a gifted child, I took the class when I was in grade eleven and since I had skipped grade two, I was younger than everyone else. Halfway through the semester, I crapped out with an overdose on laxatives, and ended up going to a psych ward. For much of my homework that year, my teachers let me off the hook, though this didn’t make that much sense, as I still made time to go on 15k punitive runs with ankle weights. But I did complete the scrapbook. Like so many teenagers, the scrapbook is unfathomably intense, awkward, vulnerable, poignant and exquisite. At the end, I expressed having gained so much insight from the hospital and held such hope that I would get over so many of my dysfunctional patterns.

When my father read it he said, “You write well when you write about yourself. I’m sorry you had to go through that.”

I joked and said, “Well, I’m much wiser now,” which wasn’t true since I’d graduated from laxatives to puking, from the gym to long distance running, and was now down to the weight I always thought would render me happy, but in fact left me strung out and neurotic.

“No, you didn’t gain any wisdom or insight,” said my dad, never one to provide false praise. “But you write well when you write about yourself.” I do not tend to show my dad all that much of my writing. Otherwise, writing is not all that embarrassing. Only a little bit.

Inside the scrapbook, at the end of the story of my life, I’d made a super intense yet beautiful and highly teenage collage.
With Mr. Sketch Smelly markers, I’d begun with an upside down rainbow. I’d considered rainbows to have symbol of my life, if for no reason other than my childhood obsession with the Wizard of Oz, and my childish desire to fly above the rainbow with Dorothy and the bluebirds. Just like in the song, above the Mr Sketch rainbow was a perfect clear turquoise sky, painted thickly with oils, and speckled with yellow petals of flowers someone had brought me in the hospital, and the psych ward craft room feathers. Below were a bunch of fragments. Angry conflicted oil paint from art therapy, a big red x. My trademark Crayola designs emblematic of the hundreds of homemade greeting cards I used to give. A patch from my sister’s childhood Rainbow Bright sheets. And a squiggle of orange and yellow pipe cleaner that symbolized something deep, like rage or conflict, but I can’t remember exactly what.

On the next page, I’d drawn a right-side up rainbow and written the words to Over the Rainbow with a special silver pen. Shiny quarter note and hummingbird stickers also decorated the page.

Then there was an excerpt from my grade one journals from Mrs Vanden Bosch’s class.  I’d drawn a rainbow according to the colours in the song, “I can sing a rainbow.” Under that rainbow stood a row of tiny humans outlined in pencil and coloured in with crayons according to the song’s colour scheme. All the tiny humans had circles for hands with five little nubs for fingers. They all wore top hats. Mrs. Vanden Bosch had granted a green circular sticker and a check mark for my respectable printing of the song’s lyrics, “red and yellow and pink and green, purple and orange and blue I can sing a rinbow.” I only misspelled one word, and forgot the period after blue.

My fifteen year old memoirs contain very few spelling mistakes. A few pages before the angsty collage, I summarized what the psychiatrist Dr. Roberts had concluded were my main problems. Dr. Roberts wore her hair in a bun that was so tight it looked like it was pulling on her face. Her skirts were similarly tight and oppressive looking and all the patients shuddered whenever they heard her coming down the hall in high heels. I used to call Dr Roberts the Nazi Psychiatrist, though maybe the Wicked Witch of the West would have been more accurate, and it would have matched the clever Wizard of Oz motif in the story of my life. But Wicked Witch or Nazi, Dr Roberts left me with decisive conclusions about my life, and some of them still feel almost true.

May 2001, Erica Schmidt, age 15:

“Dr Roberts concluded that because I based all self-worth on external praise, I created all this stress for myself trying to please others. I’ve prevented myself from growing as an individual and I’m stuck at about 12 years old instead of 15 or 16. I changed my personality around different people trying to be the person they wanted me to be and now I don’t know who I am or what makes me happy. I would change my voice and had a bad habit of speaking in an ‘infantile voice’ trying to seem cute, na├»ve and innocent. She said that not everyone will ever like me no matter how sweet. She said that sometimes too sweet is yucky.”

So often I remember the words, “too sweet is yucky.”

Two nights ago, on the Insomnia Bed, I yelled out in my sleep, because I was dreaming I had cut up the angsty teenage collage into small pieces. Chunks of my sister’s Rainbow Bright bedsheets were scattered everywhere. Though I woke up relieved, the rage I’d felt in and at the collage made sense. For now, nothing is quite destroyed, but I think I will avoid that page in the scrapbook.

September 15, 1993, Erica Schmidt, Age 8:

(Grade Four, Close to the Peak of My Life, Mrs Fournier’s Class)

“As soon as I woke up I decided I’d feed my fish. I got out of bed and got the fish food. I hadn’t even looked at my fish but when I did… Yuck! One of my fish was on the glass it was dead. The other two had black spots. (they looked sick) I told Mom. I found out that two of them died because when Mom took them out two were dead. The other one is fine. I bet it will be as tough as goldie my old fish. She went down the drain and came back alive. Isn’t that amazing.”

See you Wednesday, Vincent!

Love, Erica.

The End.

Vincent was my therapist from October of 2016, and May 2017. After we ran out of subsidized sessions, I began to write him daily imaginary emails.

I called the project, "Mondays without Vincent," and it turned out to be quite healing. You too can write imaginary emails to Vincent. In fact, if you'd like, you can send them to me, on any day of the week.

My secret address is: ericaschmidt85(at)

Let me know if you’d like a response. The correspondence can remain between us, or else we can share it here with others and maybe it could be healing for everyone.  Love, Erica. 

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