A new patient arrives, also named Lisa. The girls decide to call her Lisa Cody in deference to the other Lisa. The Lisas sit in two different phone booths and have conversations with each other, yelling playfully back and forth. The doctors have yet to diagnose Lisa Cody. Cynthia suffers from depression, Polly and Georgina from schizophrenia, Kaysen from a “character disorder,” and Lisa is a sociopath. Soon, Lisa Cody is pleased to discover that she is a sociopath as well, a diagnosis that puts her in the company of her idol Lisa. Lisa, however, isn’t happy to share her diagnosis, of which she is quite proud. She turns on Lisa Cody, acting out in order to prove that the other girl’s condition isn’t as severe as her own. A competition of illness begins between the two girls as Lisa challenges Lisa Cody to match her own self-destructive behavior. Lisa accuses Lisa Cody of being a fake drug addict, a suburban imitation of the real thing. Eventually, Lisa stuns the ward when she steals all the light bulbs and hides them in a closet. Lisa Cody finds the bulbs, and, perhaps realizing that she can’t compete, runs away from the hospital. When Lisa escapes some time later, she returns with the news that Lisa Cody has become “a real junkie now.”
The girls discuss the difficulty of having sex within the time limits imposed by the nurse’s periodic checks. They agree that five-minute checks leave too little time, but that sex might be possible with fifteen minutes. The staff insists on supervising guest visits with guests after catching Kaysen performing oral sex on her boyfriend. The girls argue about who has a boyfriend and who is simply pretending to have one. Lisa says that Georgina will lend Wade to Kaysen to test the fifteen-minute proposition. The girls advise Kaysen to stop seeing her boyfriend. Lisa urges her to find meet someone at the hospital, but Kaysen balks at the prospect of having a “crazy” boyfriend. The girls imagine the luxury of half-hour checks but mock the possibility as hopelessly out of reach.
The doctor who pressed Kaysen to admit herself to the hospital claims that he interviewed her for three hours, although she remembers only twenty minutes of it. She wonders whether it matters which account is the accurate one. The hospital admission report records Kaysen’s entrance at 1:30 p.m. Retracing her steps from that piece of evidence, Kaysen concludes that she must have spent three hours with the doctor. Other evidence appears to contradict the original conclusion. A hospital doctor’s note claims that she reached the hospital at 11:30 a.m. If this were true, then Kaysen’s twenty-minute estimation must be correct. She leaves the responsibility of deciphering the ambiguity to us.
The Lisa Cody episode serves as a pocket analysis of the original Lisa’s character. We already know that Lisa can be entertaining and that she enjoys any novelty that relieves the routine of the ward. Lisa Cody is simply a novelty to her. Lisa sparks an immediate friendship with Lisa Cody, who shares her interest in mischievous, playful behavior. But Lisa cannot tolerate any threat to her status as the strongest personality on the ward, and she quickly turns on Lisa Cody. Lisa is a sociopath, a uniformly selfish personality who insists on serving her own interests exclusively. Her attacks on Lisa Cody, performed in front of the other girls, are cruel and personal. Lisa Cody can’t help but engage Lisa in competition to determine which of them is most daring, but she misses the point of the competition. Lisa’s status is already secure, in her own mind and in the minds of others; the point of the competition is to undermine Lisa Cody’s position and perhaps her own conception of self. Lisa wins, of course, in a more dramatic way than even she could have expected. When Lisa triumphantly reveals that Lisa Cody has become an actual junkie, we understand the depth of Lisa’s perverse nature.
The title of the chapter “Checkmate” refers to the oppressive timetable by which the nurses inspect the girls: with five- and fifteen-minute checks, the girls are almost never able to engage sexually with their boyfriends. Sex is arguably the most pressing urge for adolescents, for many, a crucial expression of independence and emerging adulthood. Authority’s intrusion on this personal expression highlights the extent to which the girls have been stripped of their freedom. The girls are resigned to their plight, made clear when Lisa Cody compares the likelihood of half-hour checks to winning a million dollars.
Kaysen startles the reader when she revisits her initial diagnosis and investigates her memories of that morning. The inquiry that follows reveals the nature of a memoir, by definition a subjective stringing together of a writer’s memories to fit an agenda, whether conscious or not. Kaysen’s anger that a twenty-minute diagnosis resulted in her two-year stay in a psychiatric facility is understandable. Earlier, we’re told that she had never before met with the psychiatrist, who seems eager to confine Kaysen to a mental ward. But in presenting hospital admission records and other inconclusive circumstances, Kaysen confesses that her memories are an uncertain guide. Kaysen unsettles us by demonstrating that even paper evidence can be as unreliable as memories. This weakness of judgment and memory appears elsewhere in the book, a warning to readers that every voice of authority, even the narrator’s own, should be questioned.
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