How My Sister Cured My Writer’s Block
By HELEN SHEEHY
So I call her on Sunday morning. I ask the usual questions about her week, and then I say, I’m stuck. Send me just one sentence. Can be about anything. It doesn’t matter.
There’s silence. I wait.
All right, she says.
I wait. Nothing. A week later, I call again, and ask, Did you send my sentence?
That’s great! How long did you work on it?
About 20 minutes.
Were you thinking or writing?
That’s what she does. I’ve never taken 20 minutes to write a sentence. I write fast, and then I rewrite. She writes everything in her head before she puts it down on paper. The small envelope is pink. I slit it open. There’s one folded page. And her familiar slanted script, as if she has etched each letter one by one.
She has placed the sentence I asked for smack in the middle of the page. Twelve words. Each word timed and set to detonate.
My 73-year-old sister graduated magna cum laude from the University of Oklahoma. She became a speech therapist, but she always wanted to be a writer, a poet.
Then suddenly, everything went to hell. Voices started speaking to her. Evil, rough, threatening. Sometimes they came from the television; sometimes they came from inside her head. Talk therapy, antipsychotic drugs, electroshock, months in the state mental hospital, months in a group home — none of it worked. There is no cure for paranoid schizophrenia.
For the last 22 years, she has lived in a nursing home in our hometown in Kansas. I live half a continent away in Connecticut.