drinking tea with an empty cup


chapter one

the end


a performance art piece.

Adrienne Cahill Warren

San Francisco Ca

San Francisco Chronicle

San Francisco General Hospital Mental Health Rehabilitation Facility


Adrienne Warren had just gotten out of San Francisco General Hospital’s psychiatric treatment center. She had a plane ticket and a destination — her childhood home in Bangor, Maine.

What the 39-year-old artist, who suffers from paranoia and delusions, didn’t have was anyone in Maine who wanted her. Now she’s back in the city, the treatment center locked to her, with no place to call home.

Warren was discharged two weeks ago from the center, which has come under fire recently for rushing patients out the door in order to empty the building and dismantle its program — a cost-cutting move by city health officials.

She headed to Maine, thinking she could do a little writing in the comfort of her family’s wood-frame home.

Her arrival in Bangor took her family — an uncle and grandmother — by surprise. They hadn’t seen her in 20 years. They said they couldn’t afford to support her. They told her she wasn’t welcome.

But then, they didn’t know she was mentally ill.

Warren fled early the next morning to the bus station, where she bought a ticket to San Francisco. She arrived several days later.

Warren headed back to the only home she had known for the past year — a brick building known as the Mental Health Rehabilitation Facility, on the grounds of San Francisco General Hospital.

But its staff had to turn her away.

Warren, whose hazel eyes are framed by strawberry blond hair, sat down on the curb in front of the facility, three small suitcases at her side.

“What am I going to do?” she asked in a trembling voice.


One thing she cannot do is move back into the treatment center, which is not accepting new patients. The city has proposed closing the program by June 30 and converting the building into a residence for mentally ill people who don’t need around-the-clock care.

Liz Gray, who oversees patient placement for the Community Behavioral Health Sciences division of the San Francisco Department of Public Health, defended the decision to discharge Warren.

“She was functional,” Gray said. “We had been in contact with the family and other agencies in the state.”

But Wally Warren, Adrienne’s 57-year-old uncle in Bangor, said he had never talked to anyone from the treatment center. He said his niece simply appeared “out of the blue.”

He was angry with his niece, he said later. He hadn’t seen her in 20 years, and he wasn’t happy to hear she planned to move back into the family home where he cares for his elderly mother.

“I told her I couldn’t stay in the same house with her,” he said.

But Wally Warren didn’t know his niece was mentally ill. He didn’t know she had spent the last year in a locked treatment center for people with severe mental illnesses.

He didn’t know that the story she told him — about enduring months of harassment, surveillance and death threats by a drug dealer in her Tenderloin neighborhood — ended with her setting her apartment on fire.


“Boy, oh boy,” he said. “I had no idea.”

He had known nothing of her life — or her troubles — in San Francisco.

“I feel guilty that I instigated her going back out there to San Francisco, ” he said.

But Wally Warren said his family in Maine has its own share of problems.

“I don’t think my mother can go back into the role of caregiver,” he said. “She is 88 years old. She is living out the last days of her life. So it would have fallen on me to do it. And I couldn’t do it — emotionally or economically.”

He said his niece is one of three children abandoned by their parents some 30 years ago, and she was the one who suffered the most.

She became the “lost daughter” of the family. Until she reappeared last month.

Wally Warren, a sculptor who works in a cabin north of Bangor, said she left a note on the kitchen table when she fled the family home.

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Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2003/05/03/MN299438.DTL#ixzz1vIXirgtK“When I was a child, how I envied Etienne and Joshua (her cousins) having a father they could touch,” she wrote in blue-green iridescent ink. “I remember your woodsmoke and laughter, hands that created such colorful whimsy. I will always love you for these memories. I will always love Nanna (her grandmother) for the stories she gave me.”


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CA Health Care Crisis

Mentally ill woman left without a homeSF General psychiatric ward on brink of closing

Closing clinics called ‘recipe for disaster (5/01)

Millions live without health insurance (3/16)

$34M slashed from S.F. health budget (2/19)

Homeless alcoholics clog ERs (1/19)

There now that’s more than enough information for you to Google.  What follows is what Paul Harvey would have called, the rest of the story.

Chapter one

The End

A summer day in the park, the sun is shining the birds are singing, the air is sweet, San Francisco, not exactly the summer of love.

“Have you given any thought as to how you want this to end?  Burt asks me.

And with one stupid question reality comes crashing back in.

I open my eyes and sigh giving Burt a rolled eyed glance of annoyance.  I am sitting in the outdoor patio of a mental institution, surrounded by the other residents, the shufflers the mumblers the droolers, the screamers are kept up on the third floor with heavier medication so it’s a mostly quiet bunch of wandering misfits here.  The patio area is quite nice, an open air court yard, with the chain link fence rather nicely hidden behind decorative trees and hedges.  Actually as mad houses go the accommodations while not ‘mad house club med, are not, on the whole all bad.  Rather like a lower middle class college dormitory, complete with roommate with questionable personal grooming habits.

Burt is a slim man of comfortable middle years, with short sandy colored hair and a neatly trimmed beard (don’t know what it is with psychiatrists and beards really but so many in the field seem to sport them like it’s a uniform requirement for the degree.)  He is dressed in docker office casual.

Burt is a very nice man.  He seriously has the whole Alan Alda Sensitive guy thing down pat.  He tries really really hard to be helpful.  Not because it’s his job, he cares, he really really cares.   I feel bad for him, there is no way he is getting out of this scarred .

‘Have I thought of how I want this to end?  Stupid question.  And it is at moments like this when I don’t feel so bad for him.  I hate stupid questions. Given the situation it would be odd if I hadn’t.  I tell myself, he can’t help it, everyone in the psychology field is trained in the art of stupid questions.

I keep hoping that he will go off script and ask a question that isn’t in the book.  But like most educated men he sticks to what he’s been taught with more lock step belief then a bible carrying minister.  This is the part of the book that’s about getting the patient to feel like a participant in their therapy.  Helping the patient to express their goals and to help them to set those goals in rational achievable steps. He thinks of it in terms of partnership.

“Yes.”  I reply with a slightly exasperated sigh.  Oh I know what’s coming next, stupid questions are like potato chips, you can never have just one.

“Well how do you want it to end?”

And there it is.

I roll my eyes and give him the thin lipped smile of annoyance.

“How do you think I want this to end?  I want the superman ending of course.”

“The superman ending?”

“Yeh, you know.” I stand and take the classic poise, hands on hips, wide commanding stance, with square jawed determination I gaze out to the horizon and proclaim in Shakespearean tones,

“Truth, Justice,,”

“And the American way.”  Burt joins in to finish the last line.

“There you go.”   I flash him a grin a sit back down.

“Do you think that will happen?”

(Help the patient examine their goals irrational heights with reasons guiding light)

“Ahh well, let’s see.  I’ve lost my apartment; all that remains of my worldly goods is stuffed into two suitcases.  My former landlord Richard J. Boccie may still be trying to kill me.”

“Oh I’m sure he’s no longer trying to have you  killed.”   He says. He gives me a meant to be comforting smile.

“Yes well, as you believe the Boccie is  nothing more than a legitimate Italian American business man, who has never ever been involved with organized crime, money laundering, drug smuggling, dealing, street gangs or contract murder, I must say that your opinion that he is no longer interested in my death is as surprising as it is useful.  But thanks for playing.”

“As for myself, I can’t help but wonder: When someone puts out a contract on one’s life does that contract have an expiration date?  You know like a coupon?   A reasonable person would have given up on me by now.  But then Boccie hasn’t exactly been a reasonable person.  So I can’t help but have some doubts on the matter.”

“Now to continue, I am currently committed to an insane asylum, excuse me, a mental health rehabilitation facility, because, of course, no one believes that my former land lord Richard Boccie is trying to kill me.”

“So to sum up gotta say it ant looking great for the home team  Have to say that the most likely outcome right now is me winding up as another homeless bum adrift on the streets of San Francisco.”  I lean back in my chair grinning.

“Oh I’m sure that won’t happen.”  Burt the optimist avoids all ugly reality with outright denial.  I have often wondered how he manages to stay so cheerful despite the world so consistently disappointing his fluffy kitten dreams.

“That’s nice of you to say but I have no reason to expect a more comfortable ending to the story.”

“Why are you smiling then, if it looks so bad?”

(Cheerfulness, a sure sign of mental illness.  Well he had me there.  Cheerful people piss me off)

“Well Burt any time the facts of the matter begin to depress me I remind myself of the story of the Thief and the Flying horse.”

“The Thief and the Flying Horse?”

“Yes, it’s a cool little story, would you like to hear it?”

Of course he would.  It’s his job to listen, and I am an entertaining nutter.  I light one of my camels and begin the tale.

Once upon a time, in a kingdom no one remembers anymore.  There lived a thief.

He was charming rouge who lived for the wit of the game.

Well, there came a day, as it comes to us all, when his wits failed him Caught red handed, he was hauled in chains before the King.

Now the King had lost some pretty baubles to the thief before and as Kings have long memories and short tempers there was no time lost in contemplating the thief’s sentence.

OFF WITH HIS HEAD the King roared.

You’re Majesty.  The thief called out boldly to the king.  Doffing his imaginary hat and bowing most extravagantly

I am a thief. A great thief.

He boasted with pride unrestrained by any hint of humility.

I have stolen much in my life, gold jewels, and more than a few kisses.  He winked and the Kings old nurse near blushed to fainting.

I have also, as you know my lord King, stolen from you.

Strange plea for mercy, which brags of the offence, muttered the King.

In my travels, I have also stolen a secret or two.

The thief paused

Spare my life, my lord King, and in one year,,,,,,,

I will

Teach your horse to fly.

Well Kings do like to put on a fashionable show.

Very well. The King agrees, “But, if in one year my horse does not fly, I will have your head for the royal spittoon.

Later that day the thief is in the stables getting g acquainted with the Kings favorite horse.  When an old friend of the thief bribes his way into the stables to speak with his friend.

Ohh man you have really screwed yourself this time.  Teach a horse to fly.  Teach a horse to fly?  I know you man, you can’t even ride a horse.  Do you even know which end is the front?

The thief gives the horses head affectionate pet, smiles, and says

Well, you know, a lot can happen in a year.  The King could die, there could be a war, a revolution, the King could convert to a religion that forbids execution.  We could become best friends and he won’t want to part with me.  I could escape.

Or if all else fails, maybe the god damn horse will fly.


Burt drops his pen and laughs.

“So like the thief you never give up hope?”

“Hope? Good lord no.  Hope is a trap.”

“A trap?”

“Yes.  In hope your imagination stops.  You spend your time hoping for a thing to happen or for a thing not to happen.  Either way you’re trapped in that place.  The thief is aware of what is and open to what could be.  He isn’t hoping for anything, but is ready to respond to what does happen.  Like when he stood before the King and was condemned, he didn’t bother hoping that it would not happen, he took what did happen and created out of it a possibility.  I don’t hope.  Far from it, as I’ve said I have a very pessimistic view of how this will end for me.”

Then why do you smile?”

“Because I believe, as the thief believes that an open imagination can create possibilities out of even the worst of circumstances.  I suppose that belief confirms that I am indeed delusional.”

He laughs again.  His more guarded laugh.  He feels uncomfortable when I  laugh about my mental illness.  He would be happier if I took my insanity with a greater sense of seriousness.


4 responses »

  1. As the author of The Other Side Of Ugly – with the desire to find sanity in my humanity, I love this chapter. My favorite part: “… imagination can create possibilities out of even the worst of circumstances…” Those words ring more truth than the average human understands. Thank you for pointing this out.

    • thank you so much for your kind comments. Big big huggs and poptarts. and remember in your search for sanity in your humanity, we humans are the only animal observed to worship Gods, to have faith in unseen things, we are there for Earths insane animals. lol

    • thank you so much for your kind comments. Big big huggs and poptarts. and remember in your search for sanity in your humanity, we humans are the only animal observed to worship Gods, to have faith in unseen things, we are there for Earths insane animals. lol

      • Ill take those pop tarts and hugs! And of all the things I do know, this is the biggest and most important. While offering confession at the Vatican, my daughter was told by the priest-out of the blue-for no apparent reason at all, “I have a word for your mother from God, tell her He says we are not here alone together to suffer for nothing. She’ll know what it means.” And I do…

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