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  • Writer's pictureCatherine J Rippee-Hanson

The Cast of Characters

Updated: Aug 29, 2023

Like the cast in a play, sometimes the supporting characters tell the story.

by Catherine J Rippee-Hanson

Many dark nights were spent behind buildings in a local shopping center by my brother who suffered from schizophrenia, anosognosia, and homelessness. He was, however, never alone. Over 3 decades, he lived with voices and delusions like characters in a play. He was never alone because they were his constant companions. As part of his story, these characters were part of his reality. I could see them in my mind. I recognized each of them as real. I can still feel their presence and wonder how his life would have been if he had access to the right care and support. While his story was often difficult and strange, his characters kept him company throughout. They also distracted him and prevented him from making the right choices.

Ultimately, these characters became his downfall. They were a burden, not a blessing. They were not comforting; they were a hindrance. They were not companions. They were a source of pain and misery, and he wished he had never met them. They were a sign that he could not escape his own fate. He could have taken a different path, but instead he was pulled deeper by voices and fixed delusions into psychosis. He was pulled further in the wrong direction. He was held back by his cast of characters. No one else could see them around him but my twin and me. We saw them every time we talked to Mark. He believed they were real.

In Mark's mind, Osama Bin Laden was still alive in the year 2022. He could not be convinced that he was dead. He had long held a fixed delusion that prevented him from signing any ROA that would have legally allowed my twin and I to get information from his doctors and social workers, because he believed that if he agreed to any legal papers, Osama Bin Laden would kill his entire family. It affected his ability to freely choose what he needed. His decisions and relationships with all of our family members were now at odds. He was stuck in his own fear and paranoia. He was unable to see past his fear, and no amount of reasoning or support from us could help him move forward. We tried to help him but his fear was too strong. He was never able to fully recover from the trauma of his experiences. He was always looking over his shoulder, unable to move on from his fear.

He was followed by a wolf who breathed fire. The wolf was relentless, chasing him. Whenever he stopped, the wolf exhaled a stream of fire, forcing him to keep running, keep moving. He felt like he was running forever and had no hope of stopping. Although the wolf sometimes disappeared for long periods of time, he always returned. The wolf's relentless pursuit left him feeling exhausted, but he was determined to find a way to escape, and to complete his mission.

He was guided on his mission by the latest protocols via telepathic information from UFO's. Mark thought the aliens were our family ancestors, at least those with Rh negative blood types. I, my twin sister Linda, and he all shared the same blood type. Mark was convinced he was chosen for the mission to save humanity from planetary destruction. He accepted the mission with all his heart and soul and was determined to succeed. He was determined to not let the mission fail, no matter what it took. He was ready to do whatever the aliens asked of him in order to save humanity. He was willing to risk his life and make the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good.

The baby left beside him on his bed, crying, was abandoned When he first called me and told me there was a crying infant lying on his bed, I was terrified. I actually thought someone left a baby in his apartment. At the same time, he talked to me and tried to calm the baby. Immediately, my hair stood up on the back of my neck, as I couldn't imagine someone leaving a baby with a blind man. In a hushed voice, he said, "It's okay... Yes, it's okay... and he begged me to help him because he couldn't care for the baby. I rushed over to his apartment and found him alone. There was no crying baby that night. He had heard the sounds of a crying baby in his apartment all day, and he was certain someone had left a child with him. He was confused and scared, and he had no idea what to do. I assured him that everything was going to be okay, and I stayed with him until he calmed down.

The doctor led him into spiraling despair. Since his motorcycle accident in 1987, Mark had seen hundreds of doctors. Having undergone more than 65 major surgeries, including 24 brain surgeries, the doctor was a composite of them all. It is not surprising that his name changes occasionally as Mark explained to us what was happening. Many times, over more than 3 decades. He would be attacked by the doctor so that parts of his brain could be removed. Despite this, he developed an approach to dealing with this particular character based on the fear he had during those long years. On occasion, Mark was passed by others with his hands above his head while on the streets. The way he waved at them made them think he was conducting some nonexistent orchestra. For an hour or more, he remained in that state. Though some people found it amusing to see him waving his arms at the heavens as he sat on the sidewalk by a busy intersection, each time, he was literally living in a nightmare. He described how he defended himself from the doctor with two big machetes. Despite slashing and slashing, the doctor would not die. He always returned. These experiences changed his perception of the world around him, and he had developed a personal strategy to deal with such terror.

(2021) James Mark Rippee at the bus stop in Vacaville, CA. He is blind. He had schizophrenia, anosognosia (He didn't know that he was ill) and was gravely disabled. Here he is in psychosis. Part of his psychosis was auditory hallucinations (Voices) and Delusions (False Beliefs) In this video, Mark is fighting the doctor who he believes is cutting out more pieces of his brain. Mark's responds by using two machetes, one in each hand to slash back at the doctor.

Devilish demons warned him not to trust anyone who offered to help him. In Mark's world, suspicion and persecution reigned. Mark's vocal cords were used by the robot soldier to bark orders. Delusions and hallucinations intertwine into the perfect storm of symptoms that make up psychosis manifesting in real people. I've seen it. I've heard it. An almost hour-long phone message from Mark with a monotone, syllabized, robot-like voice was one of the scariest phone messages I've ever heard. It was as if something had taken over his body and mind. He was a prisoner in his own world. He was a victim of robot soldier control. Mark's narrative is a compelling one, exploring the terrifying world of psychosis and its impact on the lives of victims and their loved ones.

There was always an imposing presence in the background. 'Big Steve". He was a legend at 8'9". As he hunted Mark, he wanted to kill him. Mark was frightened but determined to stay alive. He used his agility and quick thinking to evade Big Steve's clutches time and time again. Persecution and fear permeated Mark's world. The FBI kidnapped him and held him and our father in a safe house against his will. He believed that he and our father worked for the FBI. There was a shootout on the porch of a house and people were killed. He described it in extensive detail. It was all tied to a military or law enforcement conspiracy against him. Mark escaped from the safe house but slipped into hiding, running away from the FBI and Big Steve. Mark could never find a secure place to hide, living in constant fear of being found. He had no choice but to run. He moved from place to place, but no matter where he turned, he could never outrun fear.

In the still of the night, sleeping in a vacant lot or behind the county building the ever-present danger was Eddie; a shadowy figure who stalks him, sexually assaults him, and who will not allow him to take medication. Above all the others, this character may have had one foot in the real world and one in Mark's mind. I think this one is the scariest. He might be a real person. When Mark reported this person to the police, the officer asked him to describe him. A blind man was asked to describe his attacker. No one believed him or helped him. It didn't matter whether he was a delusion or a real person. It was Mark's truth. It was his reality along with his cast of characters. He was left to deal with the characters alone. His life depended on it. Voices gave him orders and commands, but delusions made him follow them. He was in a desperate situation, with no way to differentiate between what is genuine and what is not. He was stuck in a world of delusions and terror, with no one to help him escape. It is a disturbing tale of a blind man's struggle to deal with delusions and navigate the dark world of schizophrenia, and the real evil surrounding him.

The helicopter carrying our father flew in circles but did not land, taunting Mark and disrupting his sleep. He said that when he looked into our father's coffin and found it empty, it made him extremely angry. This was a military conspiracy. That event never happened. He has never been to the grave or seen the coffin. Our dad's burial instructions were very specific that no one attend his burial in 1995. Our father was not dead, according to Mark. Occasionally, he would scream at us with such intensity that we were afraid to argue with him about it. He was adamant that our father was still alive. We couldn't convince him otherwise. He believed our father was still alive and none of us believed him. It seems this is the way of delusions. It's like a speck of truth or memory gets twisted and regurgitated, taking on an entirely different meaning or reality. What was clear was that this delusion had a powerful impact on his emotions. It was a reminder of how delusions can manifest and take on a life of their own.

He'd been chased by the KKK for decades who followed him from Missouri, where he lived with our other sister for a year. He believed they were controlling his mouth and using it to say racist things he didn't intend to say. He said he wanted them arrested for speaking through him. He said they hijacked his mouth, forcing him to use discriminatory language he wouldn't normally utter. He talked a lot about wanting them arrested. In fact, he was so terrified that they were close to catching him that he ran away from a board and care home to another city. Even though he was blind and sick. We tried to coax him back to familiar surroundings for months. But nothing could stop him from fleeing, not even his physical limitations and the fear of the unknown.

Police and sometimes a commander from space or a secret underground base were behind the voices he heard. They implanted microchips in Mark's brain. Extrinsic microchips let him hear voices. The implants also allowed the distrustful police to 'grow' more police officers inside of Mark. As they grew and left his body, they returned night after night threatening to arrest him and spreading his secrets. He desperately searched for a way to silence the voices. When he spent 8 months in the hospital recovering from critical injuries caused by being hit by a car for the second time, the voices stopped after being given antipsychotics. Still, he thought the voices were outside of his head. But he learned that medication kept them quiet. He was stuck in a cycle of trying to escape the voices and being too scared to take medication because of the delusions. He felt helpless and scared. Even though he was determined to stop the voices, Eddie wouldn't let him take the medicine.

He begged for his yellow diamonds from behind my twin sister's heart. "I need them" he shouted at her. She ultimately was the last who could get to him on the streets as his curbside caregiver. She brought him the necessities we collected for his survival. Yellow diamonds symbolize love, happiness, hope and wisdom. It is a sign of the sun, its warmth and power, and its ability to bring light and clarity to one's life. Yes, he needed his yellow diamonds and all their powers. He needed his family, but we had no rights under the law. Like the lyrics in the song 'Weary Traveler' we played at Mark's memorial... "You were never meant to walk this road alone."

He would also beg forgiveness from us for killing his baby brother, Mitch before we moved from Napa to Vacaville... despite being a toddler at the time in 1967. We could not convince him that he didn't need forgiveness because it never happened. We tried to explain to him that he was only a baby at the time and our mother never gave birth to another son. He still refused to believe us and continued to blame himself for the tragedy he imagined. Despite our explanations, he still held onto his belief that he had killed a baby. We eventually accepted that we would not be able to convince him otherwise and allowed him to carry on with his belief. He was determined to make amends for something that never happened.

While Mark sat on the sidewalk, he rewinded the years back to 1987 before the motorcycle accident that took his sight and damaged his brain. With his last $10, he bought a pocket watch. What would a blind man need from a pocket watch? Mark was contentious about time. With the invention of the cell phone, he thought time had changed. Even if his family thought it was 2022, he needed that watch to prove he was right. All he wanted was to make sure we knew he understood our world. Mark believed time was more than the ticking of a clock. He believed that time was about understanding the world and controlling one's life. Having that watch made him feel as if he had some control of not only his reality, but ours.

As he sat on the ground explaining the fire raging beneath the city along the grid, we grew to know who and what these characters were just by his one-sided conversations with the voices. Despite never speaking to us directly, he revealed a cast of characters whose intentions were clear. Day in and day out, his story was the same: a battle against the unknown and a fight for survival. A cast of powerful, captivating characters accompanied him everywhere. As he sat on the sidewalk, they were not seen by anyone. They were familiar to us, though. The fear and power of his words were palpable. It was clear that this was his own personal battle, and his characters were his own mental strengths and weaknesses. We listened and empathized, hoping he would win the fight. Everyone rooting for him, and yet, we knew that in this fight, he was alone. He was a hero, a warrior, fighting unseen enemies.

We never knew what would happen next, but we all knew one thing - we were here to listen and be part of his story. It was a story of courage and strength that we all needed to hear. He was a beacon of hope, and his words gave us courage and comfort. We were all inspired to be brave and embrace the unknown, no matter what the outcome. His story reminded us that we can all find strength in the face of adversity. He lost his battle, but his legacy will live on in our hearts and minds. We are forever thankful for his courage and strength and will strive to continue his legacy. His story will remain a powerful reminder to us all.


Cast of Characters

There are many people on the street, but none can see. Characters behind this curtain of reality. A collage of things and people, with stories to tell. A hood, a knife, a baby, an alien as well. What do they all mean? What is it they want to convey? Do they symbolize hope, or just despair and dismay? Are they random or chosen with care and intention? Are they clues to a puzzle or source of contention?

Cast of characters, who are you and why are you here? What is the message and are you certain that it's clear? As words linger in the air, a hush falls on the stage. The characters appear wise and deceptively sage. Each step forward, revealing history, purpose and plight. Unveiling their stories, casting shadows in the night. The first character, with his eyes full of mystery, Whispers, "I'm the seeker, searching for lost history." I am here to discover the truths hidden within, To unravel the enigma, find where tales begin." A new figure emerges, their heart worn on their sleeve. "It is I who love, though tragic, I leave all to grieve. A tale of delusions, weaving loss and affection. The power I possess is beyond comprehension." A third character steps forth, wears a mask of disguise. "I'm the trickster, the demon, master of guile and guise. My purpose is to challenge, keep you all on your toes. Reminding you life's twists and turns are just how it goes." Lastly, a figure, stooped with a cane, takes center stage. "I am the mentor, guiding you through life's endless maze. Bringing wisdom and insight to your life... take my hand. I'll help you understand the message this poem has planned."

The cast of characters' confessions will now reveal. A tapestry woven of meanings, frightful and surreal. Each character here had something to take or offer. Put together, reveals deeper truths by the author. The real tale was always hidden from view in plain sight. A true portrait with the entire cast in the spotlight. The cast dressed in the fabric of imagination. Characters bow awaiting their standing ovation. The message becomes clear, like a beacon in the night. Promoting introspection and sparking new insights. As the curtain falls, the essence of this tale remains. A testament to words' power and poetic reign.


The Battle

As the soul reaches out, the shadow reaches back.

Cold, clammy hands ensnare, making the soul feel black.

The soul tries to resist, to break free from the grip.

The shadow is relentless, its fingers won't slip.

As the soul cries out help, "Please, someone hear my voice!"

The shadow muffles its screams, leaving it no choice.

The soul trapped and hopeless, in a dark, endless night.

The shadow feeds on despair; grows stronger with fright.

The soul wonders, "Can I escape from this nightmare?"

The shadow whispers to the soul, "No one will care!"

The soul starts to believe, loses all sense of worth.

But the shadow is not truth, it's a liar and curse.

The soul has a fire that the shadow can't quench.

A spark of light and love, making the shadow flinch.

Then the soul finds its allies, who stand by its side.

Helping fight the dark shadow, with courage and pride.

It is the soul that reaches out in search of light,

The shadow is sly, seeking the darkness of night.

The soul freed from the shadow that was bound to fall.

The soul has found peace, while the shadow has lost all.

Digital Art & Poetry © Catherine J Rippee-Hanson 2023

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