Allow me to begin this by introducing myself. My name is Gwen Reid, but it used to be Gwen Harper. I am twenty-five years old. I have a three year old daughter named Paige. My therapist suggested I start writing this journal as a way to cope. I know journals are supposed to be a private thing, but I plan on (hopefully) getting this thing published, because I think it will help others.
Now let me go back to the beginning, when I was nineteen:
I was in college, working towards a bachelor's degree in psychology with a special emphasis in schizophrenia. All of my friends were telling me I was graduating in unemployment; you have to have at least a master's to actually use a psychology degree. But I was fortunate in that I didn't necessarily have to go to college. As the oldest in the Harper family, my parents were planning on handing down their very successful bookshop to me and taking an early retirement after my graduation, which was just fine for me.
I didn't want to be a psychologist, anyway. I just wanted to be able to understand my sister.
Maggie was my twin sister. Identical twin sister, in every way except one: when we were five, she was diagnosed with childhood onset schizophrenia when her vivid 'daydreams' and 'imaginings' turned violent and she took a pair of scissors to her leg because she had hallucinated that spiders lived in her veins.
The doctors feared for Maggie's safety, of course, but also for mine and our little brother Eric's safety as well. They didn't feel it would be prudent to keep Maggie at home. For a while, my parents moved us from our two story Victorian in Virginia to a duplex with my mother, Eric, and I on one side and Dad and Maggie on the other.
But that arrangement ended when Maggie managed to unlock the garage connecting the two houses and come into our side, where Mom just barely caught her covering Eric's face with a pillow due to the voices telling her to kill him. Eric was only eight months old at the time.
From that point on, Maggie resided at Bennington Sanitarium. She was their youngest ward in history. She was better there, if only for the steady stream of medication they gave her. She was safe, though, and my brother and I were safe.
The truly unfortunate part of Maggie's story is that she was a musical savant if ever there was one. She may have been only five, but she had mastered the piano, violin, cello, and flute. Now, I don't mean that Maggie had lessons for all of these things. The piano, yes, but we both did. I picked it up quickly, but Maggie picked it up immediately, by ear. Our piano teacher was impressed, so she tested other instruments. It was like Maggie was meant to play them.
In Bennington, when she was having good days, she mastered other instruments. By the time we were nineteen she could play 17 instruments perfectly, including of all things a didgeridoo. I can't even imagine how many she'd be able to play if it weren't for all the time she spent locked away in her brain's machinations.
I know it seems like this story should have started when I was five, but I've chosen to start it at nineteen because that was the first time I realized I was not alone.
I was visiting Bennington because mine and Maggie's birthday had been that Tuesday, but Bennington only offered visiting hours on Sundays so we had to wait until then to bring Maggie her birthday cupcakes and her presents.
I remember how petulant Eric was. He was only fourteen at the time, so I couldn't really blame him.
"I hate coming here," he grumbled. "It makes me feel like a freak."
"Maybe it's haunted," I told him. "Like all those sanitarium ghost stories you like to read." A fascination with old tuberculosis and psychiatric wards was about the only thing Eric had taken from Maggie living in Bennington back then.
Mom and Dad had bought Maggie a HAPI drum, which is kind of like a truncated steel drum. I knew they'd rather get Maggie more elaborate instruments, but Bennington only had so much room. Their common room area for the patients already had an organ my parents had 'donated', which really meant they bought it for Maggie but had to allow others to use it, too.
Eric had put together a photo album of his most recent accomplishments, which included him joining the varsity football team despite being a freshman in high school. We never told Eric that his older sister had once tried to kill him.
And me? I bought Maggie clothes. I visited her more often than the other members of my family, so I was the only one who realized how ragged and threadbare Maggie's clothing was becoming.
"Happy birthday, Maggie, honey," Mom said when we walked into her room. It was immediately obvious that Maggie was not having one of her good days.
It was always hard seeing Maggie on her bad days. It was also pretty weird, considering that it was like looking into a mirror. The same auburn hair and hazel eyes reflected back to me. The same soft bow shaped lips, only Maggie's were snarling.
She was muttering to herself while she rocked back and forth on her bed. The nurse attending to the wing where Maggie's room was started apologizing profusely.
"I'm so sorry, I know y'all came to celebrate." She looked back worriedly at Maggie. "I suppose it wouldn't hurt none if y'all tried to talk to her."
But I knew better. I knew that Maggie, the real Maggie beneath all that, wouldn't want us to see her that way. She would be embarrassed when her hallucinations ended, if she remembered us coming. So I excused myself and left my parents and an unwilling Eric to try their best.
I liked Bennington. Is that a weird thing to say? That you like a sanitarium? The staff tried to make it more homey than hospital-like. There were homemade quilts on a lot of the couches around the hallways and even though they were fake, there were flowers on all the tables. I was going to go outside and take a walk in the gardens Bennington had, but I was stopped on my way through the commons area.
"Oh, Gwen! I was hoping you'd be here today!" It was Diana Reid. She'd been at Bennington for about four years, but she'd never had any visitors even though she got a lot of letters from her son.
"Gwen, come here, honey. I want you to meet my Spencer."
I knew a lot about Spencer Reid before I met him. I knew he was a genius. I knew he had graduated high school at 12; college, for the first time, at 16. He had a master's degree by the time he was 18, when he gained custody of Diana and had her committed to Bennington when it was obvious her schizophrenia was worsening. Spencer had joined the Behavioral Analysis Unit of the FBI earlier that year, around his twenty-second birthday. Diana Reid was, if nothing else, a proud mother who loved to gush about her son.
What I didn't know about Spencer was that he would have translucent brown eyes that reminded me of brown sugar or that he'd be overdue for a haircut and have to keep pushing his too-long hair behind his ears.
"Hi," I said. "I'm Gwen Harper." I smiled at him. He was adorably nervous. I guess being around people who weren't encumbered by social propriety so often during my visits at Bennington had taken away any shyness I used to have. Let me tell you, if you want to meet some truly honest people, visit a psych ward.
"S-Spencer Reid," he said, standing and fumbling a tiny bit to shake my hand.
"It's nice to finally put a face to all of Diana's stories." Diana patted the seat beside her, so I sat down to join them.
"Mom," Spencer said, "you don't have to tell everyone you meet about me."
"Of course I do, Spencer! You're in the FBI. You're a national hero in addition to being an egghead. How can I not brag?"
I could see that Spencer was uncomfortable, so I smiled at him to try to put him at ease. He blushed and dropped those brown sugar eyes to the floor and I swear my heart just melted for him.
"Is this your first time here, Spencer?"
"Uh, yeah. It is. I've been, um, really busy the past few years." Spencer was shy. It was cute.
"Being as great as you are takes a lot of time, baby," Diana said, reaching over to smooth Spencer's hair where it had fallen forward.
"What do you do in the FBI?" I asked, because I really was curious. All Diana ever told anyone was the Spencer was an agent, but not what he did exactly.
"Oh, I work in the Behavioral Analysis Unit. We study the behavior and patterns of people in order to catch dangerous persons, like serial killers. Did you know the average person walks by thirty-eight murderers in their life time?"
I didn't mean for the surprise to show so much on my face, but I felt my eyes widening.
"Oh!" I said, utterly floored. "I'm going to be locking my doors a lot more often now."
I knew exactly why Spencer hadn't been visiting his mother, and neither of them had to say a word for me to figure it out. I knew because I had felt the same way I was certain Spencer was. Most people with schizophrenia begin showing signs in their early twenties.
It was something I'd been fearing since around my sixteenth birthday.
"Gwen, could you show Spencer around a bit? You know they don't let us wander unattended too much around here."
"Oh, sure, Diana," I told her with a smile. Diana was a sweet woman. She taught literature classes to the other patients, and sometimes I would sit in on her lessons after coming to see Maggie.
So I showed Spencer some basic things: the gym, the art room, the cafeteria. Then I take him out to the garden, where I intended to go in the first place. I was really surprised my parents and Eric were still in Maggie's room. Maybe she had come out a bit to talk to them. Or maybe they were doing what they often had to do, which is talk at her and pretend at conversation.
"It's a nice place," Spencer said.
"Yeah," I agreed. "You don't have to be scared to visit her, you know."
Spencer looked absolutely shocked at my words, like he thought I'd read his mind or something.
"I'm not—I mean…"
I smiled at him and placed a hand on his arm. "It's okay. I know it's scary. I'm scared, too. My identical twin sister is in there. How can I not be scared I will be, too? I just wanted you to know it gets a little less scary, and you're not alone in being scared."
If I'm being honest, it almost looked like Spencer was going to cry.
"Excuse me," he said when his phone began to ring. "That's probably a case."
He started walking away quickly, but before he flipped his phone open to answer it he turned back to me and said, "Thank you."