The Guardians: An Elegy for a Friend
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"An unidentified white man was struck and instantly killed by a Metro-North train last night," reported the July 24, 2008, edition of the Riverdale Press. This man was named Harris, and The Guardians―written in the years after he escaped from a psychiatric hospital and ended his life―is Sarah Manguso's heartbreaking elegy.
Harris was a man who "played music, wrote software, wrote music, learned to drive, went to college, went to bed with girls." In The Guardians, Manguso grieves not for family or for a lover, but for a best friend. With startling humor and candor, she paints a portrait of a friendship between a man and a woman―in all its unexpected detail―and shows that love and grief do not always take the shapes we expect them to.
stop, of course, at the appointed time, but I so faithfully believed what was written on the misprinted schedule, I didn’t see it stop, didn’t for a moment believe I could possibly be in the wrong place. * * * We went back to the spot in the earth just above where Harris’s body is buried. The granite headstone stood with a white linen sash covering part of his name. There isn’t just one unveiling. Every moment is the unveiling of the preceding moment. We might as well take the veils for
I’ll just be living in both places now, with all my friends and everything the same, but with a few additional things, like palm trees, freeways, and sun. I’m in denial not that Harris is dead, but that he isn’t alive. * * * The worth of a single man’s life in New York State is a few hundred thousand dollars. Harris’s sister told me she’d refuse to be involved in any legal proceedings, if there ever were any. Harris’s parents gave me permission to write this book and dedicated a bench to him
referred to the psychiatrist by nurses because of difficulty getting to sleep. No evidence of aggressiveness or self-injurious behavior was charted that day in the nurses’ notes. The psychiatrist prescribed haloperidol, 5 mg three times a day. Nurses’ notes that day stated, He was very anxious about being in the hospital and threatened to kill himself if he gets up the nerve. At 10:45 p.m., notes stated, He has regressed during this shift in all assessment areas. His hygiene is poor. He refused
clinical definition narrows: Ibid. The dimensional approach to defining psychosis: See H. J. Eysenck, “Classification and the Problems of Diagnosis.” torment, restlessness, pulling or drawing: See R. E. Drake and J. Ehrlich, “Suicide Attempts Associated with Akathisia.” “Some of the best definitions of akathisia come from the medical literature on the use of reserpine as an antihypertensive in the mid-1950s.” See David Healy, Andrew Herxheimer, and David B. Menkes, “Antidepressants and
plastic rings flecked with dark yellow. I don’t know if he ever cleaned it. Why do I remember this? * * * The dictionary defines psychosis as the abnormal condition of the mind, which doesn’t narrow it down much. The clinical definition narrows it down to a loss of contact with reality, but how does one make contact with an abstraction? The diagnosis depends on the report of a person whose reports are, by clinical definition, unreliable. Hallucinations and delusional beliefs may accompany