Each time I drove the five-hour trip to the Dwight Correctional Center, Rebecca Bivens was on my mind. Becca, as she was called, was found guilty-but-mentally ill for the murder of her five-year-old step-daughter. The fact that she had been diagnosed as having a bipolar disorder grabbed my curiosity. As an investigative journalist, I try to get into the subject’s head and experience what she must have felt.
As an experiment, I imagined that I was Becca, diagnosed as bipolar and off my medication. I would then write what might have gone through Becca’s mind on a normal day. After writing three examples, a shared them with Becca, asking her if this is similar to what goes on inside her brain. While not a scientific experiment, I found it interesting that her initial reaction was, “Yes, that’s me. That’s what goes through my mind.” This was later published in Cherry Blossoms and Barren Plains: A woman’s journey from Mental Illness to a Prison Cell” by Larry L. Franklin
My name is Rebecca Bivens. It was the 1980’s. I was barely a teenager and the summer days were long and dry. Bacon was frying in a black metal skillet, and the morning was clear. My mother was talking and pouring her first cup of coffee. Her voice was faint and the words made no sense and the sounds became one, like the annoying hum of a fluorescent light. She probably told me that Dad and my brother were going fishing for the day, or that my room was a mess, or that I was a bad kid.
I might have been thinking about the fish heads I saw at Friday night’s fish fry. The severed heads were stuffed into open bags. The bodies were gutted, washed, and rolled in seasoned flour, and cooked in black skillets like my mother used. The heads were alive. Their eyes and mouths continued to open and close, and called out for help. Their misery was real and hard, just like mine. My mother’s shouting brought me back to her reality. My mind jumped around a lot in those days. Maybe that’s when my mind began to slip away.
The voices have no name. They’re not these booming commandments from up above or down below. They’re more like thoughts, racing thoughts that pound the inside of my head like a jackhammer. Sometimes I write the words on a piece of paper, and then another and another. Later, when I’m kind of normal, people tell me that the words made no sense. They stare at me like I’m different, and then they turn and walk away. It’s so lonely in my world of cherry blossoms and barren plains. I wish that I could take you on a tour of my brain. All of the twists and turns through the cerebral matter must be a bit like running through a maze. Wherever I turn, I’m always lost.
It’s been nearly ten years and some ten-thousand pills later since I killed Dani. I can barely say it since I still don’t remember doing it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought about it. But each time I try, I end up seeing fish heads in an open bag. Now I try not to think about that part. I just think about what a wonderful girl Dani was. I tell Larry, my writer friend, to write more about Dani. I want everyone to know her like I did. I want them to know how she liked to read books, listen to music, and play make-up. I bought her a long blond hairpiece. She loved wearing that hairpiece.
I haven’t gone completely manic since I’ve been here. I take my meds every day. I can’t take a chance on losing control of myself. But the meds are not easy. I never feel right. My hands shake, I get nervous, and I always have some kind of depression. Sometimes I wonder if that’s God’s way of letting me know that I’m a bad person. But that’s not what my psychologist says. I get to see him one time a month. And that’s not what Larry or the Pastor say.
The only reason that I agreed to tell my story is so other people can better understand what happened; and my poor kids who have been without a mother for so many years. I want them to know that I’m not a terrible person as some might say. I want them to know about my world of ”Cherry Blossoms and Barren Plains,” and how I sometimes see fish heads in an open bag.