Every week, Lake Voice features work from the Storytelling Project. This project is a storytelling partnership between a group of young Duluthians who live with some kind of disability (mostly traumatic brain injuries) and various UMD students who help these people write their stories.
One hour spent with this group shows how important it is to build community connections and execute service-learning projects the way they are really meant to be done.
This week from the the Storytelling Project comes the story of Sandrea Mitchell who shares a raw account of her life story. Mitchell talks about the struggles and fear of her mother, life in foster care, her diagnosis of Schizophrenia, the inner struggles she faces, and how she has been able to come to terms with, and overcome these experiences.
Please note that this story contains violence, some swearing, and mentions of drug use.
By Sandrea Mitchell, in collaboration with Satya Putumbaka
When I was two years old, my mom tried to drown me. They were taking me away. She said she wanted no one else to have me. So she tried to kill me and my uncle stopped her, ‘cos it was at his pool, and his name was Uncle Claydo. I found out when I was about 12 that she tried to drown me, and I shot myself seventeen years old and it happened young and I was going through depression, changes, and I never told nobody. And I wonder why tell her now.
She’d probably say just get over it. I don’t know what she is capable of sometimes. My mom’s real sick. And she told me that later and I was just like oh wow. I didn’t get it until I was older and realized she was gone out of her mind.
People were sick, and that’s just how it is. And I grow everyday and I learn about myself. And I just found out I have schizophrenia last year. My grandma was a paranoid schizophrenic and they diagnosed me as a schizophrenic. I got my first hallucinations was when I was on meth, and that was after my accident. I heard screams. It was a bad hallucination. I blacked out. I went into a sweat.
“Your brother, Jeffrey. How do you spell that?”
“He’s three years older?”
I think four. Cos I’m twenty-five and he’s twenty-six, twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twenty-nine—yeah it’s 4. I think he’s twenty-nine. Haha. That’s bad.
“Tell me about you and your brother.”
Well we’re really close.
He’s got my back and I got his back. And I could tell him anything but I wouldn’t open up to him about shooting myself for a long time, cos he didn’t wanna believe it. So I just kept that a secret for many years until he wanted to ask questions. But then he was like I know. He made a rap song about it. It was really touching. He knows how to rap.
“Do you still have the rap he made you?”
“How do you—”
He wrote it and then he put it in on a CD but it’s all scratched. I think
I need a new one.
“So he’s like over ten years younger than you?”
“Do you have any other siblings?”
“Mhmm. I have my older brother Geoffrey, my olderr sister Cece (Ciara), and it goes—the oldest is twenty-one Decola-how do you spell that? I don’t know! . Decola? But I know it’s got cola in it c-o-l-a—me and my sisters never got along-- they were mad that my dad let me drive his car.”
“So when did your mom Debbie adopt you?”
When I was twelve? Twelve? I lived with as a foster child since I was two though. I was taken away when I was like two.
“Why did they take you away?”
Because Geoffrey told my grandma, and my grandma told the police what was going on.
“What did he tell your grandma?”
I would’ve beat her ass. What the fuck you doing? That was sick of her. I don’t know if it was the drugs or what she was on or the schizophrenia, bipolar. I don’t know what made her do that. But she did it. And I don’t remember her doing that to me. I don’t. I was too young. I just remember the stabbing, that’s it. I blanked that out, my childhood. But I don’t remember. I don’t even remember her trying to drown me. I was just told that.
My mom. I was scared of her? Was I always scared of her?
The same scare I get from her is when I fight from her. That feeling. It’s real. When she scared me, I just didn’t wanna fight her, but she would hit me, fight me, cuss me out. And that feeling that she gave me was a scared feeling like panic like oh my god, what’s gonna happen. Cos she never knows what’s going on. And when she was alive, before she died, she snapped at me for opening the car the wrong way. Like when I opened the back door she said why are you sitting in the back? And that was the whole day. Just tripping.
“So you were sad, the day she was passing? When was the day she wanted to talk to you? The day before she died? That was it?”
Yep. We had a talk. We smoked some weed. She was in pain.
“Was there a change in your relationship before that?”
[Shakes head no.]
“Were you always scared until that day?”
[A couple nods yes.]
Well, before I shot myself—the day before I shot myself I went to see her, and I thought it was weird cos I just got in a fight with Eric. And I had a black eyes and a busted lip. And so I went over to her house and she said you should stay. And I said no I’m okay I’m okay I just miss you guys and I left some clothes here and I picked up my clothes. I didn’t wanna tell her what I was thinking about, but I planned to kill myself. I wrote a letter. I wanted people to know. And my little brother Monty screamed when I left, it was so weird, he said don’t leave. And I said why you crying, I’ll be right back. But really, I was gone.
Do you wanna see where I shot myself?
“Yeah I do—oh yeah I do, just one second. Let me. Oh wow.”
Yeah it looks funny.
[There’s a small dark-spotted groove in this side of her head, a subtle indentation left by one bullet after she put a gun to her head.]
“Do you ever touch it?”
[She smiles and shakes her head no.]
“Do you ever think about it?”
I don’t know. I think about it like how I used to think about it. I used to drive, never had a job, did a lot of community service—forced to do it. Got in fights, stole, and a riot. It wasn’t me though. But I know those feelings. Like I can feel it. Here, at the back of my head.
“When did you find out that she tried to drown you?”
“Who told you?”
My brother tried to tell me, but he couldn’t. My godmom told me. He didn’t want to talk about it.
“Who’s your godmom?”
Daphne. The lady that she stabbed, my mom stabbed her. She stabbed her too. Daphne got a scar from it on her stomach. It’s bad.
“How did she tell you?”
She was asking questions cos I had a dream about a clown drowning me, and I had that dream again that day. Why did I dream of a clown drowning me? She thought that was weird. I was like why did I keep having that? It just scared me, freaked me out. And she was like I gotta tell you, and she got all serious.
She said you know what, I shouldn’t be telling you this, your brother should, but I don’t think he’s gonna. Your mom tried to drown you, to kill you.
And I was like no. Where’s Geoffrey? I went to him and he said she told you? And that’s how I knew. And I was sad that it really happened. Why didn’t they tell me this before? And I was kinda mad, but I don’t keep grudges. I understand why they didn’t tell me. Cos I still talked to her.
“You seem like you’re removed from it now.”
Oh yeah. But now I really understand everything. People are sick, and that’s just how it is.
So was I always scared of her?
I never said anything bad about her to her face. But I never really talked to her. Me and her, we opened up on the day before she died. She apologized, she said she was crazy, and she said she put us through hell. She’s really hurt that Geoffrey don’t love her for what she did to him. And she told me that, only me, cos I was the only one in the room, she was on her death bed and had the oxygen tank on her but I could still understand what she was saying, and she said she believed in me. And I was like, don’t say your goodbyes.
But she passed the next day. I had a really bad headache. Do you know that a butterfly was flying in my face? And I was like get the hell out when I was outside smoking my cigarette and the butterfly was in my face.
Our relationship changed when she just wanted to talk to me, just sat down and was like this is how I feel. She never did this. I always thought of her as a hard woman that was mental, and I don’t know why she did it at that time. But I needed that.
And at her funeral, I cried. And you know what’s weird? When my dad died, I didn’t cry. Cos I thought he was okay. I cried a lot at my mom’s funeral. She never had the time, never thought about saying how she felt toward people. And a lot of people didn’t like her. And a lot of people were scared of her. She was lonely.