A Father-Daughter Relationship Strained By 'Mental Illness And Time'

Mar 15, 2019
Originally published on March 15, 2019 12:10 pm

Shotzy Harrison grew up not really knowing her dad, James Flavy Coy Brown.

He was in and out of her life. James, who has been treated for multiple mental conditions, spent most of his adult life homeless. Once, Shotzy, now 30, found him living in the woods behind a hotel.

At StoryCorps in 2013, the two had reunited, and he had moved in with her and her two daughters in Winston-Salem, N.C. But her dad's presence was short-lived. and they would lose touch again that same year.

In their 2013 conversation, they remember looking at pictures of the basement Shotzy had fixed up for James.

"You said, 'I'm going to be living like a king,' " she told James.

"You rescued me!" he told her.

Earlier that year, James had been one of around 1,500 patients who had been discharged from the Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas without support services and bused out of state and across the country. A reporter covering James' story — and the eventual civil lawsuit filed against the state on his behalf — had called Shotzy to tell her he was living in a boarding home in Sacramento. Shotzy decided to take him in.

As a parent herself, Shotzy had been cautious about the living arrangement.

"I have two young girls and I don't always feel like you're the best influence on them," she told James at StoryCorps. "It's just that you're a little rough around the edges and uncouth and used to being homeless and not used to anybody — especially your daughter — telling you what you can and can't do."

Still, over what became nearly 10 months spent together, they shared fond memories.

James recalled one night in particular. "I was feeling real bad, and you held my hand until I went to sleep," he said. "You said, 'Daddy, you can stay with me as long as you want to.' "

Shotzy had looked forward to making up for the time they'd lost and hoped his mental illness would stabilize so that they wouldn't lose any more.

"I'm going to try my hardest to make sure that I don't lose you again because you're good at that disappearing act," she told him. "I'm lucky to have you back in my life. I love you."

But Shotzy and James lost contact a few months after the interview.

Shotzy says she hasn't lost hope that she'll see him again. But she can't help but think about the worst-case scenario.

"I absolutely want to reunite with him again," she told StoryCorps in December 2018. "And it's in the back of my mind that he's gonna be already dead and I'm gonna find that public record. That's a crushing thought."

"One of the things that keeps me going is I have a little of his stubborn will," she says. "And there's something powerful between a father and a daughter that mental illness and time hopefully can't break."

Produced for Morning Edition by Michael Garofalo and Jud Esty-Kendall.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It is Friday, and it's time for StoryCorps. And today we hear from Shotzy Harrison and her father James Flavy Coy Brown. They sat down for StoryCorps six years ago. Recently, Harrison came back to talk about that interview. You'll hear parts of both recordings. This is a clip from the first one.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

SHOTZY HARRISON: My father has a southern drawl.

JAMES FLAVY COY BROWN: I'm James Flavy Coy Brown, and I'm here with my daughter.

HARRISON: I'm Shotzy Harrison. I think of Yosemite Sam, almost like he's trying to be funny. But that's just his real voice. You were with me until I was 3 years old.

FLAVY COY BROWN: Yeah. When I got off work every night, I'd pick you up from the day care center. And I always brought you one of those great, big, huge lollipops.

HARRISON: And then you kept disappearing on me.

GREENE: Harrison's father has been treated for several mental illnesses. He spent most of his adult life homeless. She only saw him a handful of times growing up. Once, she found him living in the woods behind a hotel. But in 2013, Harrison brought Brown home to live with her in Winston-Salem, N.C.

HARRISON: I showed you the pictures of my house. You know, here's the basement I fixed up for you. And you said, I'm going to be living like a king.

FLAVY COY BROWN: You rescued me. Shotzy, do you ever worry about me living here with you?

HARRISON: I do. I have two young girls. And I don't always feel like you're the best influence on them. It's just that you're a little rough around the edges and uncouth and used to being homeless and not used to anybody, especially not your daughter, telling you what you can and can't do.

FLAVY COY BROWN: You know, it's hard. But I'm working on it. I don't pee in the backyard anymore.

HARRISON: (Laughter) The good outweighs the bad. You have tea parties with my daughters.

FLAVY COY BROWN: Yeah.

HARRISON: So many favorite moments between us - which one pops into your head first?

FLAVY COY BROWN: That night I was feeling real bad and you held my hand until I went to sleep. And you said, daddy, you can stay with me as long as you want to.

HARRISON: I didn't know that meant so much to you.

FLAVY COY BROWN: Yeah. What are your hopes for me?

HARRISON: I hope that your mental illness either stays stable or improves. I hope that you can continue to live with us. Family Christmases, family birthdays - we have so many years to make up for. I'm going to try my hardest to make sure that I don't lose you again 'cause you're good at that disappearing act. I'm lucky to have you back in my life. I love you.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLUE DOT SESSIONS' "WATERMARKS")

HARRISON: Dad and I lost contact only a few months after the interview. I absolutely want to reunite with him again. And it's in the back of my mind that he's going to be already dead. And I'm going to find that public record. That's a crushing thought. But one of the things that keeps me going is I have a little of his stubborn will. And there's something powerful between a father and daughter that mental illness and time, hopefully, can't break.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLUE DOT SESSIONS' "WATERMARKS")

GREENE: Shotzy Harrison - we also heard from her dad James Flavy Coy Brown from six years ago. To hear more from them, you can get the StoryCorps podcast by going to npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLUE DOT SESSIONS' "WATERMARKS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.