The over-drugged and under-loved make their own way in the world, even when the FBI tries to make them forget. An entry in The Revealer‘s “Experimental Religion” series.
By Marissa Kantor
Numbing the senses can be glorious. Just ask some of the members of Fellowship Place, a psycho-social club in New Haven for adults living with severe and persistent mental illness. You can always pick out the ones who have been fixed. Like a spade or neutered dog or a cat, they no longer feel urges. Larry shuffles across the dining room floor to grab a cup of coffee; Audrey slurs her words and one corner of her mouth droops; Teddy has slumped down in the blue vinyl chair and his head is bobbing from side to side. Sometimes they misplace the concept of personal hygiene. Their clothes are stained with coffee, spaghetti sauce, or other condiments, and they like to scratch themselves in public in what are considered “off limits areas.” They are, in technical terms, “overmedicated.”
At Fellowship, you can mark time by cigarette stubs on the patio floor; at the beginning of the month, the ashtrays overflow, while closer to the end it becomes difficult even to bum a stray Marlboro off someone. Today is Friday; I know this because in the front corner of the room, the Fellowship singing group is practicing. Their 3 p.m. time slot on Fridays is like the pre-dinner entertainment on a cruise ship; it is important only because it means food is soon to follow. The singers finish “Edelweiss,” then take up “Tomorrow.” The rest of the Fellowship members don’t really take notice. Some pace; others flip through newspapers; and others engross themselves in heated conversation.
Judy prances around the room. Everything about her is petite: She is small-boned and soft-spoken, mid-forties, with salt-and-pepper curly hair that frames her face and bobs up and down to her rhythmic movements. She speaks so gently that I have to almost touch my ears to her lips to hear her. “Do you want to do Israeli dancing today?” she asks. “We’re going to do Ushavtem mayim beasason mimayanay hayeshu’a.” She pops a tape in her portable player and takes to the dance floor, which is a small space between the long, white plastic tables and the billiard table. A perfect space for Judy.
Jon, pot-bellied and awkward, can be heard above the din, as he announces yet again the same sentence these members have heard proclaimed a thousand times: “I just want to say, that I have a graduate degree from NYU, and I was a member of the Chinese Underground, and I have ancestors who were royalty in England, and I can’t get a job as a janitor or even an attendant at a gas station. They keep telling me I’m too overqualified. What do people think of that?”
Jon and I first met nearly ten years ago. I was a college sophomore volunteer just beginning to learn about community-based psychiatry. He would educate me about the English royalty, and I would tell him about my architecture class.
Jon was my ticket to the rest of the members. He is gregarious in a friendly neighbor way, with a laugh that sounds like a dying bird. He is well respected at the club. While I was there to help the members, Jon worried about me. He took me under his wing to ensure that I didn’t “fall through the cracks.” Whenever a member would pass by, Jon would explain, with his uncomfortable laugh-stutter, “Um, yeah, this is Marissa (laugh, laugh). She goes to Yale (laugh, laugh). She wants to talk to you.” Most members would just walk by, smiling and nodding.
But not Andre. When Jon introduced me to Andre I was scared. When I first saw him — all 350 pounds of him, six feet six inches, scraggly white hair popping out from an ill-fitting Yankees cap, beard covering what I assumed had to be an angry-at-the-world visage — I remembered why most Yalies are scared of “these people.”
“Hey, how’s it goin’?” I asked.
“Not bad, you?” he replied, as he engulfed my hand in his own, which was bigger than my head.
“Yeah, I’m good. Whatcha got there?” I asked, trying desperately to focus on anything but his immense frame.
“Oh, these?” He pointed to a crumpled bunch of notebook papers, the kind you tear out of a spiral notebook, confetti fraying off the edge. “These are my pages I’m working on for a book. Do you type?”
That afternoon I transcribed what would be the first of many pages of Andre’s book about his decade-long experience as a victim of alien abductions.
It is nearly dinnertime. Members are drinking flimsy plastic cups of Kool-Aid and anxiously awaiting the main meal. Four-thirty finally arrives and out walks Sara Mag, social program director, to serve dinner. A meal at Fellowship costs $2.00. This is steep in comparison to the $1.00 meal sold just a few years ago. Mealtime is mostly a silent time. Members slouch in their blue and green vinyl chairs as they shovel heavily buttered noodles into their mouths with plastic forks. It is a race to see who will make it back to the line first for seconds.
Enter Andre. His belly hangs down over his pants. His work boots thump. A chain runs from the front of his jeans to his back pocket, where a wallet may or may not be attached. His face is scarred and red and patchy. He is 56 years old, and he has lived all his life in New Haven. He has been frostbitten, soaked, sweaty, and thirsty. There was a time years ago when he’d do anything for just one more line of cocaine, but not anymore. Not with his often-hospitalized seventeen-year-old daughter Jackie to worry about. She had cystic fibrosis but recently received a double lung transplant. He whispers to me over the phone one day, with a crack in his voice, that he still does not think she has long to live, even with a new set of lungs. It’s just too risky, he says. Andre keeps track of time by counting the crumpled dollar bills he shoves into his pocket from the odd jobs he does around town. He is a famously strong and a relentless worker; spending all day emptying dumpsters for 10 dollars does not bother him in the slightest. “It’s just work, kid,” he’ll say.
Andre has other wisdom to share. It is contained in the book, The Real Truth About Alien Abductions, which he self-published in 2002. His goal in life is to share it with anyone who will pay attention. He has spent the better part of the last 10 years detailing his experiences with aliens. He has identified government conspiracies; he has analyzed dream patterns; and he has documented specific interactions. He has written his book to reveal to the rest of us what we may not suspect or be able to see. It is an effort to protect us, to shield us from the painful existence that he has had to endure.
According to Andre, there are five dreams that are indicators that you may have been abducted. They are: 1) dream of flying 2) dream of going through solid objects, doors, walls, ceilings, windows, floors etc. 3) dream of being operated on by grays or doctors or both 4) dream of spaceships or being on them 5) dream of being with grays or military personnel or both.
Andre details the government’s involvement. The FBI and the CIA are letting people get addicted to drugs; then they allow the grays to swoop down and experiment on addicts’ bodies while they’re high.
Andre pauses to roll up his sleeve. “Here, kid,” he says. “Take a look, right here. See this hole?”
It’s more like a lump, actually.
“That’s from the air needle. It’s from the drug the FBI puts in my body so I’ll forget about what happened. It hurts for half a day. I wonder if the drug can be picked up in a drug test? Maybe in a full-spectrum analysis, because I’ve taken regular drug tests and it hasn’t shown up. No dice. I think they’re doing this because I already know too much. And now I’m writing this book and they don’t like that. This book will wake other people up from their dreams and take them into reality so they remember what happened to them too.”
On page 10, Andre’s wife, Anne, leaves with their then one-year-old daughter, Jackie, because what Andre was saying was too much for her to take. A heavy drug user, she went, fresh track lines in one arm and Jackie in the other, to a New Haven women’s shelter to file a complaint against him. Andre didn’t see Jackie again for almost two years. (Anne has since died of cancer.) A few pages later there are drawings of procedures that occurred during dream-like states. He was not supposed to remember these. Several pages later he describes the ships have abducted him, with detailed measurements.
There’s a taxonomy of the seven different types of aliens Andre has encountered: A small alien with dragonfly wings, 14 inches tall; a gray two feet tall with three fingers, one thumb on each hand; a gray, 4.5 feet tall with three fingers, naked, with no sex organs; a very old gray who wears clothes and looks part human; a human-looking being, 14 feet tall, called The Enforcer; and a three foot tall being covered with brown hair. According to Andre, the aliens all take their orders from gray number four (the very old, part-human looking one).
“The bigger picture is a very scary one,” the book ends. “I see our race being enslaved by the grays in our immediate future if we don’t do something now. They are experimenting on our race on a larger scale each day, and the government is either being fooled or scared or is just plain evil.”
When Andre speaks of these concerns, the members of Fellowship Place tend to listen. It may be because of his menacing stature. It may be because of his preacher-like demeanor, his big, booming voice. Or it may be because those who have experienced science to its core — so overmedicated that feeling ceases to be a word in their lexicon — are more distrustful of rationalism’s merits than the rest of us. A lifetime spent over-drugged and under-loved by a system that purports to offer rehabilitation services makes a theory of alien abduction begin to sound plausible.
Today Andre is especially antsy. He taps Jon on the back of the head as he eats his spaghetti.
“Hey Jon, what’s going on?”
Jon sits in a blue vinyl chair, belly emerging over his too-tightly-belted polyester pants, his hair greased-back, and imparts his own wisdom. Today’s lecture is on Princess Christina and Jon’s relationship to the royal family of Sweden. Most are quick to label Jon as another intellectual-turned-crazy-man. He is one of several Fellowship members with advanced degrees. But Andre listens to Jon. Jon, in turn, listens to Andre. They are both people who have taken Reality and turned it into realities. They are the reason that “who’s the crazy one here?” was first asked, and why, sometimes, a few off-white pills are not a good enough answer.
Andre shoves his chair back with a screech, announces he’s leaving. He has to go haul a load of scrap to the junkyard. He is driving a gold ’87 Lincoln that he bought for $300. He’ll be back next week, he says, with more drawings and more pages.
“See ya, kid,” he says as he throws his arm around me in an awkward embrace. I want to take a picture of this moment and show it to the world. Instead, I pull Andre in a little tighter, reaching my arm around his big belly. I am hugging a 350-pound scary madman who has punctures all over his body from his alien abductions. I am hugging a crazy person. I am hugging Andre Ness and there is nothing Science can do about that.
This essay first appeared on The Revealer’s sister site, Killing the Buddha. With pictures! Marissa Kantor, an alumnus of NYU’s graduate journalism program, is a writer living in New York.
Some other entries in the “Experimental Religion” series:
Toro! Toro! Toro!
A visionary artist embroiders her religions.
By Joe Tuzzo
For God and Country
A Jew Visits Jesusland for the Fourth of July
By Elizabeth Rich
The Happiness of Alligators
The father of American environmentalism had God, and other man-eaters, on his mind.
By Meera Subramanian