Lisa has run away again, and all the women on the ward are sad, since it is the funny, charismatic Lisa who keeps their spirits up. Lisa runs away all the time, but she is always caught. When she returns, she always has “wild eyes”—eyes that have seen freedom—and always screams angry but playful obscenities at her handlers as they return her to her room. Lisa is usually found within twenty-four hours, but this time, she has been gone for three whole days. Susanna writes that Lisa isn’t hard to identify—she is rail-thin and sallow-skinned, with huge bags under her eyes. Lisa rarely eats and never sleeps. When Lisa is finally brought back to the ward, her eyes are bugging out, and she is angry but silent. She is brought straight to the seclusion room, while her fellow patients look on eagerly.
In this passage, the wild and unpredictable Lisa is established as the soul of the ward, and as a beacon of hope for the other girls who see in Lisa not brokenness or instability but the chance at a future. Lisa is the messenger from the outside world who represents the concerns of her fellow patients—they trust her vision of the world, and rely on her to bring them information and truth untainted by the perspectives of the controlling staff and untrustworthy therapists. Lisa’s return from her most recent visit, however, is somehow different, and her stoic silence puts Susanna and all the other girls on high alert.
When Lisa comes out of seclusion two days later, her long nails have been cut down to the quick—the nurses declared them harmful “sharps” which Lisa could use to harm herself or others—and the cheap beaded belt she always wears has been taken away so that Lisa cannot hang herself. What the nurses don’t understand, Susanna says, is that Lisa would never hang herself. Once Lisa is back on the ward, her belt is given back to her and her nails are allowed to grow out, but Lisa herself does not “come back” fully. Lisa sits and watches TV all day, though normally she has nothing but scorn for patients who waste their time watching television. Susanna misses the old Lisa, who was wise, truthful, and pragmatic, and who now moves through the halls as a shadow of her former self.
After a stay in seclusion, Lisa has been stripped of many of the things that make her who she is—her signature long nails and beaded belt, but also her fire, her recklessness, and her rebelliousness. This worries the other girls, who know that Lisa is too full of life to ever harm herself—but are unfamiliar with this mute shadow of their spirited friend–who is now more unpredictable in her sullen state than she ever was in her more wild, manic one.
Susanna asks one of the nurses whether Lisa is being doped up with meds, but the nurse refuses to discuss other patients’ medication with her. Susanna’s roommate Georgina insists that Lisa is “of course” being drugged. Susanna asks Lisa directly whether she’s being given anything, but Lisa does not even look at Susanna.
Susanna and her fellow patients fear for Lisa’s well-being, and worry that they will be unable to help Lisa pull herself up out of her new and frightening catatonia if medicine is involved.
After a month or two, Lisa begins spending more time away from the TV—primarily in the bathroom. Susanna notices that Lisa goes to a different bathroom every time and has lost a significant amount of weight. Some of the girls wonder if Lisa has dysentery. One morning, during breakfast, Lisa appears in the kitchen and pours herself a coffee, acting like her old self again. She smiles at the other girls devilishly. Soon, Susanna hears the sound of footsteps running through the halls, and then the head nurse appears in the kitchen accusing Lisa of having done something bad. All of the girls proceed to the hall to see that Lisa has wrapped all the furniture, the TV, and the sprinkler system on the ceiling in toilet paper. Georgina and Susanna are relieved that their friend hadn’t been drugged up and was simply plotting a grand prank.
As Lisa’s true motives are slowly revealed, her fellow patients rejoice in realizing that their de facto leader is still the same strange, wild, and anti-establishment renegade they believed her to be. Lisa’s total disregard for authority is displayed through her gleeful prank, and through the weeks of self-isolation she had to endure in order to bring her grand statement to fruition. Lisa purposefully toys with the perceptions of those around her as a means of entertainment, as a means of manipulation, and as a means of making a point about control and authority. Susanna establishes Lisa in this chapter as a person to be both trusted and doubted, just one of many people on the ward who represents an almost irreconcilable dichotomy.