This is a paper that I wrote in college:
I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, by Joanne Greenberg is a beautifully and poignantly written book about the inner reaches of a tortured mind. As I read this book, I was able to identify with the protagonist, Deborah Blau. She brought me to the cliff, and left me at the precipice of my own precarious sanity. Deborah has a tumor. Her family believes that the operation to remove it was successful, because they want to believe that the tumor is gone. But they inadvertently sacrifice Deborah at the altar of their own selfish desire for a perfect daughter/grandchild. Since the truth has been crushed beneath the weight of denial, Deborah must accept the lie and create a new truth that only she can see; a world within a world, a mystical place called Yr.
I identified with Deborah, because I also suffer with an unseen tumor. I too, am endowed with the stink of oozing poison from my own nganon, a Yri word, “nganon was a concentrate which was defined in each person by nature and circumstance” (Greenberg 134). Deborah believes that her nganon is poisonous, and this belief is validated by the treatment she receives from the outside world,
“Deborah was sure that there was another proof of her intrinsic unworthiness. This proof lay in the world, in the simple, daily matters of an earthly youth. It was the seemingly magic force which attracted her to others. One had to choose or be chosen as a partner at camp, a seatmate at school, the member of (in a certain order of importance) in all kinds of cliques and groups and classes. A semblance of membership in the Earth-world had to be served. Deborah had found that she could meet the demands of this membership only with the tainted, the very poor, the crippled, the disfigured, the strange, the going-insane. These pairings-off were not planed or thought out even secretly; they came about as naturally as the attraction of magnet and metal, yet many of the fragments which had been drawn together thus knew why in their hearts and hated themselves and their companions” (Greenberg 150).
This passage shined a light of recognition within me as words were put to the feelings that simmered beneath the surface of my own volcano. I believe that Deborah created Yr because it was the counter-balance of the pain within her urethra; a word that she may have overheard as a small child who was suffering beneath the lies of the white-coats and oblivious relatives. This precocious child realized that her non-existent, excruciating pain was given the name of urethra, so she created the painless (at least at first) world of Yr.
Deborah had an inner mirror to reflect truth, but the lies hit that mirror with such force, it shattered; leaving only broken pieces. In Deborah’s world, lies are truths and truths are lies and the great chasm between the two is the middle-world; the collect, the conduit between the lies of the outer-world and the twisted truth of Yr. The child, Deborah, was caught in the crossfire. She created Anterrabae (the falling god with the beautiful, flaming, blue hair) because of the bottomless pit of her unheard cries and the burning pain of the urine that flowed from her urethra; giving credence to Yr and Anterrabae, falling continuously with fire and beauty, lies and truth, with comfort and condemnation; validating her poisonous nganon.
Deborah tried to tell them all about the awful pain between her legs, but nobody believed her! She was filled with shame; and in this, I know her pain. I was molested repeatedly by a beloved and respected member of a small society. He was a spiritual leader; a pious Southern Baptist preacher. He was flamboyant, charismatic, and fiendishly brilliant. He was my father. When I tried to tell the truth, nobody believed me. Not even the judge that I drew a picture for (the drawing was a graphically detailed picture of a penis with a vasectomy scar). I was eight years old. The judge ruled that I had been coerced and the charges were dropped. I was sent back to that monster, and nobody heard my cries either.
I did not create a Yr, but I did create a secret place. My secret place was a soft, floating, blue plain of non-existence. I went there often as a child, not so much as I grew older. Still, the volcano within me had to be fed and the fire released. I did this through scratching, burning, cutting, sticking pins into my navel, and binge eating. The binge eating was not a release; it was a temporary plug to keep the flow in check…and to feed that damnable wandering uterus!
Joanne Greenberg awakened my dormant volcano. I fed and released, but I came to the end of her book, purged, it only temporarily. My nganon still poisons every person that I stupidly allow myself to love. I have known a Dr. Fried. I loved her. I gave her a glimpse into my secret place and she was not repulsed. She liked me. She told me so, but then she died. Her death was not temporary and it was not physical. Now there is a new Dr. Fried. She has won my trust, but I know that she too, will die. I kill them all. Because what is death, but separation? The more I need, the more my nganon oozes out of me. Eventually it touches and destroys. I know it is inevitable. I brace myself for the fall, but I am never strong enough to gracefully endure the final thump of landing. So in a sense, I have also created an Anterrabae. The falling god within me is my defiant desire to show them all! To be smarter than every nose-picking, finger-pointing, snickering member of the Earth-world who only have barely enough sense to distance themselves from me, to never attempt to know me.
I stand outside of the windows of the Earth-world with both of my hands upon the glass. I am screaming with all of my might, but the only ones who hear me are the ones who must eventually die from my poison. Like Deborah, I scream to be heard but I fear those who hear.
I was astonished by my classmates as they talked about how they hated this book. It was so engrossing for me that I read it twice. I was moved to tears, both in positive and negative ways. I saw within its pages the self that I almost was. My salvation was my anger. My sanity was my ability to recognize that anger, embrace it, and inflict it upon anyone who refused to acknowledge that pathetic little person, with her hands against the glass.
I was particularly moved by the part in the book where Deborah was taken to the hospital for her sprained ankle. When she talks about the reaction from the other nurses, the nurses from the “outside world”, how they looked at her with disdain; as if mental illness was some form of leprosy.
This stigma of mental illness has not ebbed with the passing of time and I have felt its sting. I have also been branded with the label of mental illness. The stink of it follows me everywhere I go. I lie about it. I deny its existence. And I refuse to accept it. Maybe therein lays the disorder. I refuse to accept the label because I know that the world’s truths are lies. I have fought valiantly for my sanity and the shards that fall from the shattered mirror of my truth get handed back to me, if only but one or two at a time. I gather them from books (like I Never Promised You a Rose Garden), from exploring various religions, philosophy, and even from the latest Dr. Fried. I am pasting those shards back into my broken mind and though it is cracked, missing pieces, and brown with age, it is my mirror. It reflects my truth. It is my sanity.
The prison and punishment of Yr (that started out as a safe place) is the heavy price that Deborah paid for the freedom of insanity. Again, I know this because the “safety” of my secret place cost me a great deal. It is the reason why, at 47 years old, I am finally in college. My flower is slowly pushing its way up through the last of the winter’s snow. I know that it is still vulnerable to any sudden frost. The Deborah within me shivers and fears, but though we fear, Deborah and I have a hidden strength that is disguised and distorted. Because even though the first spring flowers seem frail and vulnerable, the truth is: Spring flowers are the strongest of them all. They are the ones who take the chance to bloom in defiance against overwhelming odds.
If you wish to buy this book, click here.
Greenberg, Joanne. I Never Promised You a Rose Garden. New York, New York: Signet, 1964.