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Friday, July 14, 2017

(2) "SOCIETY HAS A NAME FOR WOMEN LIKE THAT: SLUT."

        WITH  ED AND HIS PACKARD, SPRING 1939         
December, 1971
Glenside Hospital
       Timmy was wonderful—so kind, so loving. Strangely, I’d forgotten I even had children. He held my hand in the ambulance to Mass. General. He sat by my bed for a long time, holding both my hands in his and repeating gentle, caring words.
     When I was transferred to a psychiatric facility, hallucinations were my reality: I saw an endless motion picture of Ed and a young girl. I was frozen, unable to turn away from scene after scene. They were in a convertible with the roof down, her long hair streaming behind her as she laughed at something he had said. Suddenly the girl's face dissolved into mine. I saw Ed and Barbara's courtship of thirty-two years ago . . . .
      I was here for two or three days before I realized that the burly attendants patrolling the ward were not nurses but custodians. It was not part of their job to be kind or sympathetic. Their vigilance consisted of seeing to it that we suicide freaks didn’t make another attempt—not on their shift.
     It was worse than being arrested. I was not allowed a phone call—not even to my mother—during the first 48 hours. What logic dictates this insane rule? When does a human being have more need for the sound of a caring voice than at this critical moment—plucked from death’s door, perhaps, but still emotionally poised on the threshold?  The authorities seem to be saying: “You attempted to kill yourself. You must be punished for this crime.”
      I felt totally lost and abandoned until Mother appeared in my ward, bringing a dozen roses and an armful of my magazine articles.
     "For your coffee table," she smiled, ignoring the bars on the windows.
     The articles accomplished their purpose. Mother was reminding me that in real life I was a writer who could make people laugh.
      "Barbara," she said, "I've got to tell you something. I can't help it. I still love Edward."
      “I wouldn't want it any other way, Mom. Maybe I'll love him again myself some day.”
      The next gift I received was even more appreciated than roses and magazines—permission from my keepers to use my favorite weapon, this dear, familiar, comfortable pencil. Already I feel the taut muscles in my stomach relax as words flow from brain to pencil point to paper to a description of my fellow prisoners, some pitiable, some scary, like Gina, the girl-man.
      She is locked in the seclusion room today. She arrived three days ago, and ever since the door clanged behind her, she has been frightening the rest of us with her attempts to escape. Night before last she seized a chair in her muscular arms and smashed the “shatter-proof” window in the side exit. It took two husky custodians to subdue her.
       After she quieted down, Gina leaned against the door with her shaggy head hanging through the opening created by the flung chair, breathing in the freedom that lay beyond. The repairman arrived. Gina paced restlessly as the new window was inserted from the other side of the door, and nails were hammered home. The task was nearly completed when she rushed at the door and roared, “No more nails! No more nails!”
      Lois is a tall, strongly built woman with a sinister face and unkempt yellow hair issuing from brown roots. She marches up and down the corridor outside the wards, her eyes narrowed to slits, smiling evilly at some horrible secret. At times her mirth explodes into laughter, which is almost more harrowing to hear than Gina’s screams from the seclusion room.
      I try not to imagine myself locked up in that room.
      Mrs. Hennessey is a skeleton-thin old lady who never feels like eating. The custodian cuts up her food and pushes it into her mouth while threatening, if she doesn’t swallow, to have the food ground up and forced up her nose. Last night I looked at my dinner and felt like gagging at the cold slab of hamburg, the scoop of mashed potatoes, the chunk of lettuce without dressing. Then I thought of Mrs. Hennessey and managed to choke down a few bites.
      I drink a lot of milk. Perhaps milk will save my life. My weight yesterday morning was 114 pounds . . . ten pounds lost in ten days—or is it twelve days? I’ve lost track.
      Each night, when the rest of us are getting ready to retire, gray-haired Mrs. Lawson puts on her hat and coat, picks up her suitcase, and announces she is ready to leave.
      "Has anyone seen my Dorothy?” she asks, wandering from one ward to the next. She approaches my bed, peers into my face, and softly inquires: “Are you my darling Dorothy?”
       
     I received another visitor, a shrink named Dr. C., coincidentally the same one Vonnie has been seeing since her divorce. His proposed road to sanity was via shock treatments. Seeing my expression, he launched into a long, plausible discourse about how effective this therapy had proved to be. Trying to conceal my terror, I said I'd read about this kind of therapy and its side effects of memory loss.
       “I don't want anyone tampering with my brain,” I said.
       "It's perfectly harmless," he said.
       "Have you ever had a treatment?"
       He looked surprised and said no.
       "If you'll have a treatment and let me watch, maybe I'll consider it." Looking at me as if I were crazy (hah!), Dr. C. brushed off my proposition and suggested I talk it over with my husband.
       Other patients informed me if They wanted to give me shock treatments, They'd do it, whether I liked it or not.  Ed said, "But dear, if the doctor thinks it will make you better, doesn't he know best?"
       I found a telephone and placed a frightened call to Kathie, who said, "Don't let them do it, Mom. I'll speak to Dad." 

     As is obvious from this account, my brain was not assaulted. I am as brilliant as ever (she said humbly). However, in order to get sprung from Glenside, I must agree to visit Dr. C. once a week. I imagine the only patients who will see him are those who must.
     Following my release from the hospital I returned to the smaller home Ed and I bought in Westwood after our children had grown and left home.
      Ed aska for a forgive-and-forget resolution to our rift, but despite his vows that the affair is over and will never happen again, I feel unmoved.  I've been sleeping in the guest room since I got home. Ed is threatening to go crazy, too.  I wonder how he'll like Glenside.  I'll visit him every day and bring him Golden Delicious apples and a file.
     "If it's this bad after three days," he said this morning, "how am I going to feel after three weeks?  I love you.  I've never stopped loving you.  I need you . . . now."
     When I proposed that we live as brother and sister for at least a year, his bellow was of the kind heard on a farm where they make steers out of a calves. Unable to persuade me to change my mind (“Can’t we discuss this with our clothes off?”), the man gave up chasing me around the kitchen and left for the office, murmuring something about sweet torture.
     I am not trying to punish Ed or even amuse myself with a little friendly sadism. I just don't feel physically toward him the way I used to.  I can't force emotions that aren't there.  Parts of me long to be held and loved, but the real me cries out for something more.  The need to know I am desired is more important to me than the consummation of desire.  To be accused of sweet torture sounds better than the condescending pat on the head and the comment:  "You're a nice girl."   I don't want to be a nice girl.  If I'd wanted to be a nice girl I wouldn't have gotten pregnant at eighteen.  
January 24, 1971
     I have succumbed.  But we were not alone, Ed and I.  Someone else had joined us, someone whose name and face are unknown to me.  Even as my body appeased its hunger, my mind shrank back.  She was present for him, too, adding for him a bizarre deliciousness to his lovemaking.  I know that he knew that I knew this.  How do I drive her from our rites, once so tender and private?  Can a vision be assassinated?
March 20, 1971
      In the past, Ed went out of his way to convince me our marriage was special; he assured me he would never jeopardize it by being unfaithful.  When I finally learned the truth, the straying itself was as great a shock as the accompanying deceptions.
      "Why?"  I asked him during one of our many confrontations, "Why did you make such a point of assuring me you were the world's most true-blue husband?"
     "Because I'm a male chauvinist, that's why," Ed said.  "I didn't want you doing what I was doing."
     He knew me well.
     He also said what men and women always say in defense of their lying: "I didn't want to hurt   you."  
May 25, 1971
     I'm still desperately trying to accept the unacceptable.  Ed has become so bored and irritated with my recriminations that he dreads coming home.  I watched through the kitchen window last night when his car pulled to a stop; he sat slumped over the wheel, bracing himself for his entrance into the witch's lair. I hate him for transforming me into a witch and then disliking what he has made of me.
      Dr. C. has been no help. He is a male chauvinist anachronism who can’t understand what all the fuss is about. Marriage has always been this way, he says; why did you expect it to be different for you?
     But Ed always told me we were different.
     When I remarked to Dr. Chauvin that I was thinking of sampling some forbidden fruits myself, he said, “Society has a name for a woman like that: slut.” I have sent him a final check but still owe him a kick in the groin.
June 2, 1971
     Ed and I continue to live as man and wife in a traumatized marriage, my emotions seesawing from one day to the next.  I try to believe his promises but bitterly resent the years of deception.  Ed would like to turn back the clock, but I'm not sure that's possible.  When trust is shattered, its shards lie too close to the heart.
June 21, 1971
     I decided recently to try the little blue pills prescribed by Dr. C.  It took a few days for them to work. Then, surprisingly, the world began to look brighter.  Past injustices no longer seemed worth dwelling on.  I feel stronger and thankful to be alive for the first time in months.  I take three tablets a day except during my "bad" period," when an extra one helps.  I'm only sorry I resisted medication so long.
     No need to seek out a new psychiatrist.  I not only feel more forgiving toward Ed but toward myself, as well.  I recognize now that in attempting to end my life I was diverting the rage I felt toward him back against myself.
     I started reading a poem in A Book of Irreverant Poetry:
                          Hope is looking up
                         Hate is looking back
                        Love is looking ahead
                  Fear is eyes all over your head.
     That line stopped me cold.
     My darkroom is almost finished.  Soon I'll be able to start making enlargements.  I'm grateful to Ed for the Nikon.

5 comments:

  1. I just discovered Tim's comment--made the day before my 90th birthday.

    Thanks, Tim!
    11-24-11

    ReplyDelete
  2. It's amazing!

    Looking for my comment about your movie. I like you picks - they'd be perfect. I'm going to have to think of who I'd pick other than them...

    ReplyDelete
  3. Where would I find your comment about my movie?
    Do you know why it isn't here?
    Barbara

    ReplyDelete
  4. Here we are on March 16, 2013 and suddenly my Comments function has started working. I had set up a special post for pasting comments and responding to them, but now it looks as if everything is copecetic. I just Previewed this, and that worked too.
    Another blogger recently wrote of problems with this function. I hope he/she will have the same good fortune that has so mysteriously come my way today.

    ReplyDelete