Callaloo 24.2 (2001) 401-418
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from Vol. 14, No. 2 (Spring 1991)
The Evening and the Morning and the Night
Octavia E. Butler
When I was fifteen and trying to show my independence by getting careless with my diet, my parents took me to a Duryea-Gode disease ward. They wanted me to see, they said, where I was headed if I wasn't careful. In fact, it was where I was headed no matter what. It was only a matter of when: now or later. My parents were putting in their vote for later.
I won't describe the ward. It's enough to say that when they brought me home, I cut my wrists. I did a thorough job of it, old Roman style in a bathtub of warm water. Almost made it. My father dislocated his shoulder breaking down the bathroom door. He and I never forgave each other for that day.
The disease got him almost three years later--just before I went off to college. It was sudden. It doesn't happen that way often. Most people notice themselves beginning to drift--or their relatives notice--and they make arrangements with their chosen institution. People who are noticed and who resist going in can be locked up for a week's observation. I don't doubt that that observation period breaks up a few families. Sending someone away for what turns out to be a false alarm. . . . Well, it isn't the sort of thing the victim is likely to forgive or forget. On the other hand, not sending someone away in time--missing the signs or having a person go off suddenly without signs--is inevitably dangerous for the victim. I've never heard of it going as badly, though, as it did in my family. People normally injure only themselves when their time comes--unless someone is stupid enough to try to handle them without the necessary drugs or restraints.
My father . . . killed my mother, then killed himself. I wasn't home when it happened. I had stayed at school later than usual rehearsing graduation exercises. By the time I got home, there were cops everywhere. There was an ambulance, and two attendants were wheeling someone out on a stretcher--someone covered. More than covered. Almost . . . bagged.
The cops wouldn't let me in. I didn't find out until later exactly what had happened. I wish I'd never found out. Dad had killed Mom then skinned her completely. At least, that's how I hope it happened. I mean I hope he killed her first. He broke some of her ribs, damaged her heart. Digging.
Then he began tearing at himself, through skin and bone, digging. He had managed to reach his own heart before he died. It was an especially bad example of the kind of thing that makes people afraid of us. It gets some of us into trouble for picking at a [End Page 401] pimple or even for daydreaming. It has inspired restrictive laws, created problems with jobs, housing, schools. The Duryea-Code Disease Foundation has spent millions telling the world that people like my father don't exist.
A long time later, when I had gotten myself together as best I could, I went to college--to the University of Southern California--on a Dilg scholarship. Dilg is the retreat you try to send your out-of-control DGD relatives to. It's run by controlled DGDs like me, like my parents while they lived. God knows how any controlled DGD stands it. Anyway, the place has a waiting list miles long. My parents put me on it after my suicide attempt, but chances were, I'd be dead by the time my name came up.
I can't say why I went to college--except that I had been going to school all my life and I didn't know what else to do. I didn't go with any particular hope. Hell, I knew what I was in for eventually. I was just marking time...