Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Hell on Earth

This is Hell. Like so many well-intended big ideas of mankind, psychology is the biggest of them. The 20th century is a warehouse of great ideas that paved so many roads to Hell. This particular road goes to Osawatomie Kansas. To the State Mental Hospital.

Oh sure, it looks serene and lovely. Bucolic, even, but don't let the picture fool you. In the 1960s Osawatomie was a place of utter despair and hopelessness. I visited my mother here through out her stays, which were frequent.

They say that the sense of smell is the most powerful trigger of the memory, and for me, that smell is Lysol cleaner....the brown bottle. It is a hideous memory. It is the smell of a coverup. The smell that the men and women in white used to coverup the other smells...the smell of people in straight jackets, tied to their wheel chairs, with only their feet to guide them here and there...the smell of shit and Lysol. The smell of sweat and Lysol. The smell of vomit and Lysol. Lysol was the coverup of the really ugly truth about Osawatomie. That Osawatomie is where you go to be punished and tormented til you wish you were dead.

I could never understand my mother. I could never understand mental illness. In the sixties, a maleable person believed everything the doctors said. If they told you to take Valium, you did it without question. Hell, psychiatry was all the rage. EVERYONE had it. If they tell you that you needed to have electroshock therapy, then you did it, without question. My mother never questioned anything. She was a good girl. When everyone said, "Malinda, you are crazy," and they said it over and over and over...she believed them. They, being her older brothers and sisters who stood to collect on her inheritance if she were ever found mentally incompetent.

Her daddy died a rich Texas oil man. Her siblings were all much much older than her and had already received their shares. Momma, not yet 21, didn't come into her inheritance until well after they had squandered theirs
. But if she were, you know, not all there, well...what a nice windfall is this!

To be fair, Momma had her demons. She was unsure about her decisions, so she would go her mother, who would promptly tell her to go to the psychiatrist and talk to him, and he would put her on a diet of pills. She lost so much weight, and became so nervous, that she became paranoid. This was AFTER she began taking all those helpful drugs. Then her memory went. She lost track of the days, often sending me out to wait for the school bus on Sunday or Saturday. I would try to reason with her, but to no avail. Hours of standing outside, waiting for the bus, and she finally rememered the day. Driving home, she'd forget where she was going. She would turn down one way streets the wrong way. The police were always bringing her back home. She would bundle us up and take us out to the car and start driving, til the police would bring her back home. By this time, she really was insane.

Her problems began when she eloped with my father. He was not liked by the Family. It was the Family which made all the important decisions, and the Family was not pleased that Little Sister had run off with a jazz musician..who played in stripclubs....GASP! Who played the Devil's music...No! ...who consorted with BLACK PEOPLE! No, say it ain't true Missus Bunn, Say it ain't so! T'is.

Something had to be done....they were expecting the first child. Persuade her that her husband is unfit, and bring the child to live with the Family. Get an anullment. Get a divorce. You're still young and pretty! And so the Dutiful Daughter did just that....until one month after the boy was born, she was pregnant again! Divorce is off. And so it went. Three more of us followed in quick succession.

Each child was an opportunity for the Family to take away from the youngest, most pliable sister and divvie it all up for themselves.

First, get rid of the boys....they look like their father. The girls can go live with Mary Anne or Sharon and Roy, but the boys...let their sisters forget about them.

All this while, Momma was in Osawatomie, "getting better". We visited every now and then, and always with the caveat not to be loud, or laugh, or make Momma cry.
So we took a bottle of Bubbles and a bubble pan, and a bubble paddle that made huge bubbles and lots of them all at once....and as always, Momma would get quite winded from the visits and we would go. She was barely there, in her eyes or in her body. She had wasted away to a mere 90 lbs. At the age of 26 years, she was shriveled and old. She barely recognized any of us.

(Next: Father rescues us through blackmail and other dark arts)

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous8:54 AM

    To be a good human being is to have a make of openness to the world, an gift to trusteeship uncertain things beyond your own control, that can lead you to be shattered in very exceptional circumstances as which you were not to blame. That says something exceedingly impressive thither the prerequisite of the ethical autobiography: that it is based on a corporation in the unpredictable and on a willingness to be exposed; it's based on being more like a shop than like a prize, something somewhat tenuous, but whose very precise attraction is inseparable from that fragility.

    ReplyDelete

Don't just sit there, say something!