Photo by Angela Carone
Lee Edwards was bleeding from the left side of his head when he was rushed to The Queen's Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, on July 4, 1995. He'd been found unconscious on the rocky shoreline at Kakaako Park. When he arrived, doctors realized he was also bleeding inside his skull and half his body was paralyzed.
Lee's hospital admissions record leaves no doubt about the gravity of his condition: “The patient is in a life-threatening situation. Without surgical intervention, he will most likely die or be severely disabled.”
Hospital staff called each of the emergency contacts on Lee's chart, but all were outdated. “We decided to proceed with surgery on an emergent and life saving basis,” the admissions document says.
Doctors cut open Lee's head and removed part of his left temporal lobe and part of his anterior temporal lobe and drained the blood that had collected and put pressure on his brain.
Staff at the hospital knew Lee, who was 44 at the time; he'd been admitted multiple times with less severe head injuries. His chart indicated that he was HIV-positive and had schizoaffective disorder and a history of suicide attempts and substance abuse.
“He is homeless,” the admission record says. “There is no family available.”
But there was family. Hospital staff eventually found Lee's brother Dane, and his sister Sherry volunteered to fly to Hawaii to retrieve him. Lee recovered within about five weeks, except for some diminished cognitive abilities. He was up and walking around, protesting his impending relocation to the mainland. He was just fine, he thought.
Lee was released into Sherry's care on Aug. 13, largely marking the end of his independence. She brought him to San Diego to try to get his life straightened out. She never dreamed how hard that would be.
Sherry Edwards has grown to understand that to get through to people, you have to meet them where they are. It's July 18, 2009, 14 years after Lee's brain injury, and Lee is seated on a stool at the center island in the spacious kitchen of Sherry's rented Encinitas home. His notebooks, filled with names, phone numbers and addresses, as well as his “bylaws” and other writings, are spread out before him. Leaning in beside him, Sherry talks to him, trying to reach her brother on his terms.
Lee's paranoid schizophrenia manifests as grandiose religious delusions: Sitting on a heavenly mountaintop in 1950, for example, he decided to come down to Earth when he saw his mother. And, these days, he's in cahoots with God on a plan to unleash natural disasters to kill off anyone carrying disease. Co-mingled with his delusions are serious trust issues.
“Is trust a religious law?” Sherry asks Lee. “Is that a law of God?”
“Yes, trust is definitely in there,” Lee answers in his typical slow, nasal monotone. “Because God said, ‘Trust one another as I have trusted you.'”
“Well, he said ‘love,' but trust is part of love,” Sherry politely corrects him.
“‘Love one another as I have loved you,'” Lee says. “That was the last thing he had to say before he disappeared, vanished into the sky.”
“So, what would it take to trust me?” Sherry asks her brother, in a way that sounds like they've been here before. “If you practice what you preach, and you preach trust, what would it take to trust me?”
Lee can be hard to understand, both in the manner of his speech and in the content of what he says. This is one of those times. He talks of “honor” and “respect” and then of “God's creation” and the “laws of the United States of America.” He makes one of many mentions of his bank account, which Sherry, as his court-appointed conservator, controls.
“So, Lee, out of all the things you said, I still couldn't catch what it is that would let you trust me,” his sister tells him.
“Because, Sherry, I really feel… that you need to repent your sins of God's creation.”
“I repent,” she says.
Then Lee mumbles something and adds, very quietly, as if to raise the bar for his sister: “Lee's creation.”
“Oh, and Lee's creation, too?” Sherry laughs a big laugh. “OK, so, OK, OK, OK, OK, OK, OK, OK—OK. So, that means—I get it—so, that means, if I agree with you, then you'll trust me.”
“Ohhh, OK, OK, that's a tall order, dude.”
“That's all it would take—it's really quite simple,” Lee assures.
The source of Lee's aggravation with his sister is that she runs his life—where he lives, how much money he can spend.
“But you change,” Sherry says. “You change over time. Several times you've said you want to get to a healthy life, and I said, ‘OK, I can work with that. I can help you with that.' I know how to help you get there. I, for sure, know how to help you get there.”
“That's definitely what I do want, what I do desire, what I do pray to God for,” Lee says, before following a new tangent that's hard to decipher.
Lee is 58 now and hasn't been able to manage his own affairs since his head injury, but, really, he's had constant trouble taking care of himself his whole life. Indeed, more than anything, he wants his independence back, but the very nature of his mental illness makes him his own obstacle; Sherry's tireless efforts have often come in spite of Lee's obstinacy.
Lee and Sherry, who's two years older, grew up in an abusive home in the Midwest. Lee became a chronic alcoholic soon after high school and moved on to a life in California and Hawaii, where much of his time was spent homeless. In addition to his psychosis and his HIV status, he has hepatitis C and has survived rectal cancer.
Meanwhile, Sherry's put her own life on the back burner as she's tended to Lee for the better part of the last two decades—searching for him on the streets; arguing with doctors about medication; finding new facilities when others fail or Lee flees; appealing to judges; seeking help from lawyers, activists, politicians and journalists; pleading her case with county and state officials. It goes on and on.
For the past five of those years, she's been on a quest to get him housed in a facility where doctors understand how his triple threat of ailments—mental illness, alcoholism and severe brain injury—interact together.
Since 2004, she's been trying to get the state to fund, through Medi-Cal, out-of-state rehabilitation, but the county of San Diego, serving as an agent of the state, has maintained its position that adequate care exists locally. Sherry believes that Medi-Cal interprets its rules too narrowly. (A county spokesperson said he couldn't comment on a specific patient's case and didn't respond to a request for a more general interview with a mental-health official.)
Laws that are intended to protect the mentally ill and disabled place patients in the least-restrictive setting possible, and that's made it even more challenging for Sherry. But sometimes that means folks like Lee are treated and then left to fend for themselves, and if they don't have family ready to intervene, they often end up on the streets, in emergency rooms and jails.
“Everybody in the system is good-willed,” Sherry says. “I have no issue with them at a personal level. I would just like the system to step up and advocate harder for people like Lee.”
Part of the problem, says Greg Ayotte, director of consumer services for the Virginia-based nonprofit Brain Injury Association of America, is that while there are community-based facilities for people with mental illness or developmental disabilities, there's a serious shortage of places that specialize in treating people with debilitating head injuries plus substance abuse and/or mental illness. That's because there's no dedicated federal funding stream for it, Ayotte says.
“In many programs for people with mental illness,” he says in an e-mail, “the approach is ‘psychodynamic,' which means you talk with the person about how they are feeling, what is causing the symptoms to get worse, and discussing strategies to try to use the next time.
“For a person with a brain injury, this is like asking them how a rocket is made. They have no idea what you are asking them, because quite often they have no insight into their behaviors, or what causes them. It is part of the injury.”
Patients with brain injuries need to be in the temporary care of doctors who understand how brain injury and mental illness intersect and can teach the necessary coping strategies, Ayotte says. Too often, people with brain injuries are plopped into mental-health programs and—as has at times been Lee's experience—are found to be “noncompliant” when they fail to participate.
“My argument would be that the state ends up paying for them anyways in some way, shape or form,” Ayotte says. “They end up in nursing homes, psych hospitals or prisons. Why not use that money more effectively?”
Lee was born in 1951 in Rapid City, S.D., into a family headed by a domineering father. The Edwards clan lived in several Ohio towns—Eaton, Greenville, St. Mary's—when the kids were young. Sherry was the first born of six children—three boys (Dane, Lee and Neal) and three girls (Sherry, Lynn and Donna). Lee was born third, after his brother Dane.
Their dad, Don Edwards, married their mother, Alice, in 1948. He'd been an engine mechanic during an eight-year stint in the Air Force. When he got out, he drove a semi for a while and then worked in a textile mill before embarking on a 13-year career as a highway patrolman.
Sherry and Donna, the youngest, describe a household laden with chaos and gripped with fear of the father, who ruled with violence. They said their dad would use his heavy patrolman's belt for punishment. “He would double it over, and he would just wail on us,” Sherry says.
“You never really knew if what you were doing was going to be something that was going to just trigger an episode of abuse,” says Donna, who, along with Sherry, describes numerous violent incidents, including one that left their sister Lynn with a broken leg.
Lee's sisters say he was quiet and sweet when he was young, and he preferred doing housework—ironing and cleaning—rather than playing sports. Donna believes these feminine traits angered Dad.
“Our father didn't care for Lee's personality too much, so whatever the rest of us got, it seemed like Lee got it twice as bad,” Donna says. “Lee was fairly artistic when he was young and more effeminate, I think, than what our father was looking for in a male.”
Asked how he and his dad got along when he was young, Lee recalls an incident when he was in grade school.
“Father tried to kill me,” he says, claiming that his dad threw him “across the ground” and left him with marks on his face that Lee's siblings were told not to explain at school. Lee says that kind of thing happened many time before, but this was the time he believed his dad was really trying to harm him.
Don left the family when the older kids were in their teens, although both Lee and Lynn later lived for a time with their father. (Lynn and Dane declined to be interviewed for this story.)
Donna says the chaotic home life “damaged” each child to a degree. “Some portion of us was destroyed, but a lot of us were able to just recover from that.” She says she didn't get herself fully sorted out until her 40s.
Donna, who lived in San Diego County in the mid-1990s and now lives in North Carolina, spent time with Lee when he was recovering from his head injury. “Unfortunately, I don't keep in touch like I should,” she says in an e-mail. “Since it is a bit challenging to have a conversation with him and my workload is heavy, it is easy to put it on the back burner. I need to do better, call more often and send birthday and holiday greetings. I'm going to work on that.”
Don Edwards is 84 years old and lives in Fort Wayne, Ind. He tells CityBeat that his relationship with his children is a mixed bag.
“At present time,” he says in a phone interview, “I have three that don't like me at all and three that do like me, and I was always surprised about the three that did like me.” He names Sherry, Neal and Lynn as the children who've maintained ties with him. He attributes Donna and Dane's distaste for him to the way he treated their mother. For her part, Donna acknowledges wanting nothing to do with him.
And for his part, Don acknowledges that he was a lousy parent.
“I don't think I was ever mentally or emotionally equipped to be a father, and so I really didn't do a very good job of it,” he says. “We did not have a loving home, and I didn't know how to get it. And the kids were not loving with each other. They verbally fought all the time, and it just went from not too good to worse.”
Don doesn't describe the same level of discipline his daughters relate—he says he merely spanked his children when they lied to him. However, when asked if he thinks a reasonable person would consider what he did “abuse,” he says, “In this day and age, yes, they would. Then, they wouldn't. But I think the majority of the things that I did were not right. At the time, they seemed like the thing to do.” When asked for details, Don was evasive.
As for Lee, Don, too, describes him as a “fairly quiet and a well-behaved kid.”
“One of the first things I remember when he was young, he wanted to wear dresses, and we didn't let him do that,” he continues. “We weren't really shocked about it; we just didn't let him do it.”
He says it never crossed his mind that Lee could be gay—not until he had a conversation with an administrator at a troubled-boys home to which Lee's mother sent him.
Don doesn't recall being particularly hard on Lee.
Sherry, on the other hand, assigns considerable responsibility to her father for what's happened to her brother, but her desire to repair relationships seems far stronger than any lingering anger. She says she had to fight for her relationship with her mother before the latter died in 1998, and despite her father's abuse, she refused to shun him.
She has this “vision” that Lee can be rehabilitated to a degree that not only could he care for himself, but also take care of his father in his old age.
“It would heal my dad. It would help heal the family,” Sherry says, her eyes welling up with tears. “That's one of the reasons I've done this—it's because a family doesn't deserve to have somebody fall through the cracks, to actually lose a whole person. Families don't deserve that. They deserve to carry forward a legacy that is beautiful.”
Lee exiled himself from the family after high school and moved to California. By that time, Sherry says, he was a heavy drinker. Having always felt a religious calling, Lee tried the seminary, but that didn't last long. Eventually, he was on the streets or in the homes of men he'd meet along his way.
“He was really good-looking. He was very handsome,” Sherry says. “So, it was easy for him to get picked up and kept for some periods of time.” But Lee's drinking worsened, and it became harder for him to maintain relationships. It also became harder for Sherry, who'd also fled the Midwest for California, to keep track of him.
Unable to hold down a job in the Bay Area, Lee made his way to Los Angeles before moving to Honolulu. There, Sherry says, he drank to excess and would get so scared about what was happening to him that he'd check himself into an emergency room to get sober. Then he'd get released to a halfway house before heading back to the street and the bottle. “This was a consistent pattern for [about] 25 years,” Sherry says.
By the time of Lee's head injury, Sherry had relocated to San Diego. Before flying to Hawaii to retrieve him after his surgery, Sherry did some research into San Diego County's mental-health system. “I called a social worker at UCSD, told her the story and said, ‘What can be done here?' She literally told me these words: She said, ‘It's really unfortunate there are people like this; it's a tragic situation. The system can't accommodate them. They fall through the cracks. Don't try to help him. It will break your heart.'
“That just went to that place in me that raises armies and says, ‘Not good enough.' So I thanked her and took off to Hawaii to get Lee.”
Once she brought Lee back to her apartment in Hillcrest, Sherry planned to get him into treatment, but she says she was told that even though he had a documented history in Hawaii, he'd have to wait until he was in crisis locally before he'd be admitted. Lee quickly became too much for Sherry to handle, and so for him, at age 44, it was back to drinking on the streets.
Once again, Sherry lost track of him—that is, until she got a call from Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital, where Lee had been admitted after re-injuring his head in a fall. Sharp transferred Lee to a longer-term facility, and while Sherry was visiting him, she noticed that Lee was having trouble sitting up straight. At her urging, doctors performed an MRI and found internal bleeding in the left side of his head, leading to emergency surgery and a six-month convalescence.
Donna Edwards, who was living in San Diego County at the time, was named Lee's conservator. According to a county document filed years later, Donna and Sherry disagreed at this time over what to do with Lee. Their ongoing battle resulted in the government taking control of Lee's affairs in 1997. The county document, citing Lee's conservatorship file, says that Sherry took on a “strong advocacy role that was sometimes interpreted as counterproductive. She was viewed as perhaps ‘overoptimistic re patient's potential, but very dedicated to trying.'” Sherry became conservator temporarily in 1998, but struggles between Donna and Sherry persisted, and it wasn't until 2003 that Sherry gained uninterrupted control of Lee's affairs.
Meanwhile, after recovering from his second head injury, Lee did a two-year stint at a county psychiatric unit. “At this point,” Sherry says, “he wasn't really talking to me. He was angry. He was in complete denial of everything: alcoholism, mental illness. He was absolutely fine, according to him.”
This was the beginning of an eye-opening experience for Sherry. In no time at all, she became appalled with the care that poor, mentally ill people get. Activities for psych-unit patients included games created for toddlers. Staff seemed distant, as if their job was simply to control and pacify their charges, rather than engage them in a productive manner. She believed that Lee and others around him were being overmedicated.
“God bless their hearts for being there and having the initial impulse to want to do that work, and it's not easy,” she says. “Those individuals are at the desk all the time; same questions 18 hours a day or however long they're awake, and you just wear out, and so the best thing that the staff could think to do is to keep them at bay, and if they're overmedicated and they're sitting, drooling, whatever—that's OK.”
After two years, the psych unit shut down, and during the next decade, Lee, still drinking, bounced from place to place: board-and-care homes, jail, emergency rooms, the street, locked psychiatric facilities—not only in San Diego County, but also in Los Angeles, Long Beach, Rosemead and Simi Valley. He remained angry at Sherry and the world for his lack of freedom and in denial about his alcoholism and his mental illness, regularly suffering severe seizures resulting from the head injury.
Lee's been living at Michaelle House, a board-and-care home in Vista for people with HIV and AIDS, since June 2008. It's not ideal because it doesn't focus on rehabilitation and because Lee's erratic behavior at times presents challenges for the staff. Sherry is grateful that they allow him to stay.
“Without Michaelle House, Lee would be on the streets,” she says in an e-mail. “Thank God he is HIV positive—what a shame to have to be thankful for that.”
Sherry and Lee sit at an outdoor table at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf on Broadway, Downtown. It's Sept. 17, 2009, and they've just come from the county courthouse, where Lee's lawyer agreed to have Sherry continue as Lee's conservator for another year, despite rumblings from Lee about wanting to gain access to his bank account and move into an apartment.
Sherry needs to tell Lee that she's decided to move to Atlanta to be with a man she's been seeing. But first she wants to hear Lee say he understands why he needs to get his mind around the idea of her moving away from San Diego and being an enthusiastic participant in a yearlong rehabilitation program in Minnesota. He needs to realize that it's the only pathway to getting what he wants. As they talk, Lee smokes cigarette after cigarette.
“I have to go to the house on the East Coast and obey everything I'm being taught,” he says, thinking that's what his sister wants to hear.
No, that's not quite it, Sherry says. She repeats what she wants him to grasp: that in order to regain control of his life, he needs to complete a program that gives him the skills to manage his illnesses and make choices that will lead to a healthy, independent life. Lee laughs as he tries several times to repeat what she says.
Sherry finally gets around to telling her brother she's moving away.
“Well, congratulations!” Lee says histrionically, turning to the reporter sitting with them. “She has found a new home in a new city.” He laughs.
Lee says he's happy to hear the news, saying he'd like Sherry to move as far away as possible. As the conversation continues, he becomes agitated and criticizes his sister's meddling in his affairs. “I find it all very distressful,” he says, describing her handling of things “totallingly unorganized.” Lee often inserts an “ing” into adverbs.
Sherry takes his attitude in stride. She's heard it many times before. She says Lee has trouble reconciling his appreciation for her always being there when he needs her with his frustration regarding her control of his life.
“Part of rehabilitation,” Sherry tells Lee, “is being able to recognize when someone is being nice to you and trying to help you.”
Sherry's help is represented in a thick binder full of correspondence to and from doctors, judges, bureaucrats and politicians. It documents much of their medical, legal and political journey together. It's several inches thick and yet it's not even complete.
The first document in the binder is a July 2002 letter from Sherry to a San Diego court commissioner—written 77 days into Lee's sixth jail stint in the previous 13 months—arguing that requiring Lee to complete any alcohol treatment without also providing mental-health treatment would be a waste of time and that continued time behind bars would be counterproductive.
“The problem is that the amount of trauma he carries is making it impossible for him to quit self-medicating with alcohol,” she wrote. “His anger and rage have been an impasse to him making a dent in his drinking problem, which is hard for him to admit because he sees his problem as one of how he feels and what happens at the hands of others, including the criminal justice system.”
Lee would spend nearly all of the next six months in jail, mostly on charges of being drunk in public, and was released for the last time on Jan. 31, 2003.
A month or so later, Sherry reestablished conservatorship, setting off a six-year period of intense, non-stop advocacy aimed at keeping Lee off the streets and out of jail and getting him into genuine rehabilitation. This is when Lee began bouncing around from facility to facility, sometimes for just a couple of days, other times for more than a year. Lee's behavior swung from helpful to counterproductive, hitting just about all points in between, but never stable enough for Sherry to relax.
During this time, Lee was evaluated by several doctors who diagnosed him with schizophrenia and recommended highly structured rehabilitation, but United Behavioral Health, the private company that administers San Diego County's system of mental healthcare, was initially unwilling to budge from the position that Lee's primary problem was alcohol-caused dementia and, therefore, intensive mental-health treatment was unnecessary. Instead, focusing on Lee's physical problems, the county offered to place him in a skilled-nursing home.
Sherry appealed, unsuccessfully, to a state administrative-law judge and as Lee struggled to cope with his surroundings. In April 2006, for instance, he was taken from a board-and-care home in Rosemead to a psychiatric hospital in Sun Valley. When he got there, he was “rambling and could not give any history whatsoever,” according to an evaluation report. “When asked if he is single or married, he said ‘I am married to an angel, God himself married me to an angel.'”
County officials finally relented, to a degree, by sending Lee to a locked treatment center in Lemon Grove in July 2006. It wasn't what Sherry wanted—she'd been trying to get Lee into a rehab center in Sylmar—but she considered it a major victory. Still, Lee's problems were far from over; it was there that he was diagnosed with rectal cancer. Sherry says she had a hard time getting him to accept his condition and go to his doctor appointments. She struggled with him right up to the time of his scheduled surgery.
“He's navigating his network of delusions, reactions, responses, getting in touch with something deeper, his inner motivation, and he pulled it through and he decided to go through with this,” Sherry says, her face brightening as she recalls the conversation. “That's Lee. That's amazing to me. He's amazing.”
Lee took his last drink of alcohol during that year at the Lemon Grove facility, and Sherry believed his mental health had improved so much that he was ready for the next step—intensive, multi-diagnosis rehabilitation. At the same time, she was trying to get local radio and TV news interested in Lee's story and also taking her crusade for easier access to care national, with letters to Hillary Clinton, Tipper Gore, celebrity activist Erin Brockovich, filmmaker Robert Greenwald and, later, Michelle Obama.
By early 2008, Sherry had identified two new places to send Lee for treatment: Brookhaven Hospital in Tulsa, Okla., and Vinland National Center in Loretto, Minn. She just needed Medi-Cal, California's version of the federal Medicaid program, to agree to fund out-of-state treatment. She persuaded county Supervisor Bill Horn and U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa to write supportive letters to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
In May, Sherry got a letter from Brookhaven informing her that Lee had been accepted to its program, contingent on her securing funds for the $505 daily cost. Sherry's handwritten note on the letter says, “These folks subsequently gave up over funding issues.” The state concluded that the specific treatment Lee would get there wasn't covered, and Sherry turned all of her attention on finding funding for Vinland, a substance-abuse treatment center focusing on people with disabilities, particularly adults with brain injuries.
At times, Sherry's struggles have gotten the best of her. On Feb. 11, 2009, for example, she sent a letter to Nik-Cole Johnson at the state Department of Mental Health, explaining the anger behind a heated phone conversation that the two had apparently had over Medi-Cal.
“It is unfortunate that you received a big dose of the frustration today that is too quickly available in me these days,” Sherry wrote. “Not only is the legwork on my plate to do, I have to daily help to keep Lee hopeful that there is a solution and it is coming.”
She urged Johnson to visit the website Sherry and her sister Donna created, www.leesrecovery.com, and look at the photos of Lee. “Once you have seen Lee's picture,” she wrote, “you can begin to understand what an amazing miracle he is accomplishing....”
In April, UCSD Medical Center asked the state to pay for a year's worth of treatment at Vinland, saying Lee needs a “specialized facility that treats brain injury, schizophrenia, epilepsy, and substance abuse concurrent diagnoses—inpatient care.” But in June, a state health official denied the request, reasoning that Vinland is primarily a chemical-dependence treatment center, albeit one that caters largely to people with brain injury, and Medi-Cal doesn't cover it. Furthermore, Medi-Cal covers inpatient psychiatric care only in cases of medical emergency, and Lee doesn't qualify.
There have been several examples of Lee failing to benefit from the kind of outpatient care the county is willing to pay for. In August, a pre-doctoral psych intern at Palomar Pomerado Health wrote a letter saying that Lee was “overwhelmed and disruptive in group and individual psychotherapy sessions” while he participated in a program there. He had trouble processing information and was unable to grasp the “psychotic” nature of his religious preoccupations. Like others before it, the letter recommended a program geared for people with mental illness and brain trauma.
But on Oct. 5, Beth Olin, Lee's program manager with the county Office of the Public Conservator, told Sherry that her office would not be able to support a request for Medi-Cal funding for treatment at Vinland. Olin's e-mail gave no specific reason.
Sherry will take another crack at a state judge on Dec. 8 in a San Diego courtroom. She's hoping a new lawyer she has helping her can convince the judge that Medi-Cal rules can be interpreted so that they pave the way to the Vinland Center.
It's been a tremendous struggle for Sherry; even in the short six months CityBeat has been aware of her story, there have been times when she worried that she simply couldn't go on.
She acknowledges enduring her own struggles as an adult and being considered by her siblings something of a black sheep. But she's spent considerable energy on spiritually based self-improvement while advancing professionally from working as a waitress to driving a bus to sales and administrative work to going back to school to get her degree in psychology and working as a research associate at a psychiatric lab at UCSD's Veterans Administration hospital.
“Sherry spent a lot of her life trying to find her way, and she's taken on this role as kind of peacemaker and intermediary,” her sister Donna says. “Now, when she approaches life, she's always trying to look toward peaceful reconciliation. I think that's a result of the trauma that she experienced.”
“When I was 18,” Sherry says, “I think there was a moment there where it would have been decisive—it was decisive. I really felt like I was teetering mentally, and I could feel something letting go. And I just had a blessed moment, where I was with myself, subjectively, and I just looked ahead and saw that if it goes like this, nobody's going to be there to take care of me. And I said, ‘It can't happen.'
“To me, life is a spiritual experience—all of it,” she says. “You don't let people out. You don't leave people out. We're the fabric of humanity. Humanity is supposed to mean something in the scheme of things.”
And Sherry's humanity seems to have impressed even the man who bears much of the blame for Lee's troubled life and the pain the family has endured. “I'm proud of her,” Don Edwards says. “She's a very intelligent girl, and she's put herself through a lot of education, and she got the [career] she apparently wanted, and from our phone conversations and when I went out to see her, we were reconciled as people.”
He says Lee probably couldn't have survived without Sherry.
“I think she's gone above and beyond anything anybody would have normally done for him.”
Lee, however, continues to maintain that he doesn't need any help. Just as he said he was fine that day when Sherry came to get him in Hawaii, he says he's fine now and wants to be left alone to manage his life the way he sees fit.
It's the day after Thanksgiving, and other than some lower-back pain, Lee's feeling good. He says he wants to move into his own apartment, but he also says he doesn't want to leave Michaelle House. Then again, he expresses a desire to move away from the people with AIDS who live there. But if one thing is clear, it's that he has no interest in going to the Vinland Center. He says he's tired of moving from place to place.
“When it really comes right down to it,” Lee says, “the bottom line is that Sherry and I really don't trust each other, because she knows I really don't trust her to do what I would really like her to do for me and with me.
“I really do believe that if Sherry saw me again,” he says, “she would be willing to readjust, as I readjust to society and individuality and to be more direct, personable, adjustive, responsible, respectful, with a lot of dignity and a lot of trust, with all my emotional feelings, all my thoughts and ideas and all my spiritual expressions.”
Sherry says that before she left California, Lee acknowledged that he is afraid to fail in Minnesota, and he believes that if he can get through another year at Michaelle House without incident, he can be released from conservatorship next September. Sherry has told him that unless he completes a rehab program, that's unlikely to happen. She'll go ahead with the Dec. 8 hearing to keep the Minnesota option alive; she believes Lee will go if the funding materializes and he can talk to the folks at Vinland. Meanwhile, Sherry sees progress in Lee's awareness that he hasn't successfully completed an outpatient program.
Lee remains a study in contradictions. When he's not talking about working with God to wipe people off the face of the Earth, he's saying he just want to be an average, everyday person with a job and a bank account.
“Sitting here, just talking to you,” Lee says, “it makes me feel a lot more normal, a lot more well adjusted and a lot more in better touch with myself, in all relaxing and in a constitutionally right direction.”