Excerpt from “I, Mental Patient”

By Tessa Rudolph


We skip the diary this time, start meditating right away. As soon as I’m settled on the couch, Dr. Khan pulls out her stopwatch, tells me to take a couple deep breaths before we begin. This is really not a good day for meditation: I have an English paper due tomorrow, on animalism in Othello, and this morning I had begged Mom to let me skip my appointment. “Absolutely not,” she’d said, pouring orange juice into my glass. “You’ll have time to work afterward. And anyway, why worry? Your English grade’s high enough.”

I close my eyes. Dr. Khan is doing her thing: “As you inhale,” she says, “focus on quieting your mind. And as you exhale, release your tension.” She repeats it, a mantra: “Inhale, quiet your mind; exhale, release your tension. Inhale, quiet your mind; exhale, release your tension.”

I try. I do! I sit there and I breathe and I stare at the swirly star pattern I always see when my eyes are closed. I feel my chest rise and fall, rise and fall. I search for something spiritual in my dry lips, in the slow sucking of my breath.

But my mind is escaping me, running amok like a kid after too many Hershey’s Kisses. I hear Dr. Khan say, “Inhale, quiet your mind; exhale, release your tension” again, but my brain is calculating exactly how long it will take to finish my paper if I have six pages left and there are 250 words per page and I write 500 words per hour, maybe 600 if I push myself. And by then I know I’m a goner.

I open my eyes. I open my mouth too, to tell Dr. Khan that I screwed up, that I can’t do it anymore. But before I can force the words out, I notice something: Dr. Khan is meditating too! Her lips are parted slightly, her hands resting on her thighs, her eyes squeezed shut like the women I see at synagogue. She keeps muttering, “Inhale, quiet your mind; exhale, release your tension”—more to herself, I realize now, than to me.

It takes me a moment to register the significance of this discovery. Then I feel it, an idea burgeoning, unraveling in the pit of my stomach. I try to resist. I do! But before you can say “Shakespeare,” I’m removing Othello from my backpack, flipping through the pages, perusing my annotations. I glance up; Dr. Khan is in another world, still repeating that mantra. I find a pencil on the table beside me, start to draft sentences on the inside cover.

In Othello, William Shakespeare juxtaposes humans and beasts to convey that, despite the pretenses of civilized society, humans share many fundamental traits with animals.**

“Inhale, quiet your mind; exhale, release your tension.”

From the outset, the comparison of jealousy to a “green-eyed monster” reflects a non-human component to jealousy, for by definition monsters are not human—a fact that contributes to people’s fear of them.**

“Inhale, quiet your mind; exhale, release your tension.”

Further, by comparing Othello and Desdemona’s lovemaking to the purely physical reproduction of animals, Iago implies that beneath societal customs and niceties humans share many primordial instincts with the rest of the animal kingdom.**

“Inhale, quiet your mind; exhale, release your—”

A bell goes off, high-pitched and abrupt, like the chirping of a bird. Dr. Khan’s stopwatch. I move quickly—my fingers are already struggling with the zipper on my backpack when I hear her say, voice measured, “Is that what I think it is, Joanne?”

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