My Daughter Phe
Ronald L. Ruiz
My daughter Phe suffers from paranoia schizophrenia. Until she was 14, she was a good student and an outstanding athlete. As a freshman in high school she began staring off into space in the classroom and on the softball diamond standing on second base and staring out at the outfield. I hired a tutor for every one of her classes to get her through the school year and she quit the softball team.
Her behavior became more bizzare and knowing nothing about mental illness I was in complete denial. Finally, I called my sister, who was a clinical psychologist, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and it was decided that Phe should move to Santa Fe and live with my sister and become a patient of one of her associates. For the first year in Santa Fe, per telephone conversations with Phe and my sister, things seemed to be working for Phe´s benefit. Not long after that, Phe refused to talk to me on the telephone and my sister said only that Phe had decided to start out a complete new life for herself, which meant blotting out her past life. My sister thought it was best for the time being.
Two years passed without any direct contact with Phe and then my sister died. Phe returned to live with me in California. That was no life. I would leave for work in the morning and Phe would be staring at a wall. When I returned from work late in the afternoon, she would still be staring at the wall. All she would say was that she wanted to return to Santa Fe and her therapist, Michael. I finally relented and set her up in an apartment in Santa Fe. Michael would not talk to me about Phe’s condition without a written consent from Phe, which she hadn’t given him. Still concerned with Phe’s condition, I flew to Santa Fe three times in eight weeks. On my last visit, Phe had a complete physical breakdown in a restaurant. She was hospitalized for 10 days. On her return to California, a psychiatrist told me she was suffering from paranoia schizophrenia which was a lifelong illness.
The medically prescribed drugs worked wonders with Phe. She lived with me for six years and underwent incredible, positive changes. She attended the San Francisco Art Institute where she studied painting and then became a successful artist with shows and awards. And then came another break. Medicaid was paying for Phe’s psychotropic drugs and in 2009 California decided that the Zyprexa her psychiatrist was prescribing was too expensive and that Phe needed to take a less expensive drug. Her psychiatrist mistakenly prescribed 2 mgs of Respirol when Phe needed 4mgs. Then came a complete downward spiral.
For three years she led a terrifying chaotic life in which all of her family members were in a conspiracy to kill her. Phe´s mother was finally able to get her into the psychiatric ward at Stanford Hospital where she was for 45 days, then she was placed in a locked facility for six months and sent on to a half-way house. Slowly but surely she has put her life together. It’s a tough life but one that I admire completely. She is painting again after years of refusing to paint.
The cover of my novel Long Life is a scan of one of Phe´s paintings. I have dedicated the novel to her. All of the facts in my novel Long Life are completely fictitious. The symptoms of Raymond´s illness come of course come from my experience with Phe´s illness.
After reading Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment at the age of 17, Ron Ruiz says he knew he wanted to be a writer. But, he adds, he knew nothing about the craft. His first novel, Happy Birthday Jesús, was published 36 years later to good reviews.
After college, Ruiz went to law school “for all the wrong reasons.” After ten years of practicing criminal defense law, Ruiz returned to writing. He quickly turned to writing about what he saw working in the criminal justice system, and began working on his critically acclaimed first novel, Happy Birthday Jesús (Arte Público Press, 1994). He says he carried that book around with him for over ten years and was on the verge of giving up when it was finally accepted for publication. His second novel, Giuseppe Rocco (Arte Público Press, 1998), is the recipient of a national literary prize.
Ruiz practiced criminal law for over 30 years in California. One of only six Mexican-American lawyers in Northern California during his early years, he saw a transformation in the criminal justice system that would make anyone wonder whether this was “progress.” A graduate of the University of San Francisco Law School, criminal defense attorney, and former District Attorney of Santa Cruz County, Ruiz retired from criminal law and continues to write every day.