As an experiment, try rewriting one of your past assignments the way you would tell it to a friend. What comments and details would you use to try to keep your friend’s interest or to get a laugh? Are there parts of the scene that you would skip to avoid boring your friend? See what happens if you shorten or cut them.
I had just signed myself into the NS (our local mental hospital) last week and started the insulin shock treatments my doctor had prescribed. They are nasty, let me tell you!
Anyway, that’s another story. The main thing I wanted to talk about was the visit from Mom and Dad. I hadn’t expected them, and was in my room aimlessly going through my belongings. I was obsessing over the night that Dick walked out on me, when I noticed someone at my door. I looked up and was surprised to see Mom and Dad standing there. No one had mentioned that they would be visiting, and I was especially surprised to see Dad – he’s never been one for hospital visits, let alone a mental hospital!
I noticed right away that they seemed uncomfortable. Dad was smiling nervously and fidgeting with his hat in his hands, but Mom’s expression was almost defiant. I was puzzled – what’s going on with her? She spoke up:
“Your doctor tells us that you feel we don’t love you because you’re the middle child. We want you to know that we do love you and we care about what happens to you.”
I was dumbfounded – first of all, I had no idea that they were meeting with my doctor. But besides that, I was shocked and not too pleased that my doctor had given them that information. After all, I’m an adult, not a minor whose parents are still responsible for me. When Dr. Poole had initially interviewed me, he didn’t want to talk about Dick leaving me (which was, after all, what precipitated this terrible depression).
He just said “Forget about him. He’s not worth it.”
Then he went on to say that I had financial problems that needed my attention, and that’s what I should focus on. He suggested also that I should have some assertiveness training, but he didn’t carry on to say what that would entail. I don’t really care for his manner, but he’s the psychiatrist I was assigned to, and he’s also an administrator of the hospital. That comment about me not feeling loved “because I was the middle child” not only sounds dumb, it shows me how much of what I actually said was arrogantly discounted by my doctor. His questions were centered on my childhood, and it seemed to me that he was looking for a quick diagnosis and locked in on my statement that I didn’t feel as loved as my siblings.
When he asked me why I would say that, I responded, “Perhaps because I’m the middle child.”
So, to get back to what I was saying about Mom’s declaration, when I didn’t respond right away, Mom blurted out:
“Your sister Nina is not your father’s child. I was pregnant with her before I married your father.”
I stood there with my jaw hanging open.
“So you see,” my father injected, “You are my first child, and I love you.”
I can’t remember my exact words, but as I moved to embrace both of them, I know I must have expressed my love for them. Of course, my responses were slow due to the chloral hydrate meds I was on, and I cannot recall the specific words. What I do remember is feeling like I’d been hit by ton of bricks! Finally – I understand it all!
You may remember that I’ve mentioned from time to time that she was always on me about not allowing boys to touch me “down there.” So THAT’S why she interrogated me so often and so sternly about what I was doing with my boyfriend. THAT’S why she used to check the Kotex box every month to see if any had been used. THAT’S why she went through my school books and my pockets and purse looking for evidence of… what? That old porch light flicking like a strobe seconds after my date and I arrived out front after the dance, the reports she received on a regular basis from her “informants” around town… I always felt that my own mother thought I was a slut; that she was expecting me to get “in trouble” and come home pregnant!
So, finally I know why my mother was so suspicious and distrustful of me. Thinking back, I realize that, to my mother, being an unwed mother was the worst thing that could happen to a young woman. And can you imagine how people in our small town condemned and ostracized her when she was an unwed mother herself? People were very narrow-minded and, let’s face it, hypocritical about sex outside of marriage in the 1940’s.
When I was a teenager and in the midst of my mother’s neurotic watchfulness, I thought for sure that if I turned up pregnant, my parents would throw me out on the street. But not too many years later, imagine how shocked I was to see both of my parents lovingly supporting my younger sister when she became pregnant. Her fiancé was attending university at the time, and she told him no when he asked her to marry him. She was afraid he would end up dropping out of school if they got married, so they waited until he was finished (and their daughter was 2 years old) before they were finally married.
My Mom was prideful, and I know it was difficult for her to admit the truth to me. Perhaps she expected me to throw it back in her face, but I never would. I admire her for rejecting the father of her baby when he seemed reluctant to marry her right away. I think she was very brave to have her baby outside of marriage, and I also admire my grandparents for being so supportive of her, not to mention my father. Not too many men in those days would have been willing to raise another man’s child, but he did. You know, I never once thought that he treated her any differently than the rest of us. We never questioned that she was our sister, even though it was mentioned from time to time that our sister didn’t look much like the rest of us.
“Oh, that’s just Nina!” we always said. “She’s just different, that’s all.”
If only Mom had explained all this to me when I was younger. I’m glad I know now, but knowing it doesn’t change the way I feel about myself – I still feel that I’m just not good enough.
What’s something you were afraid of when you were a child? Write a scene in which you show it from your childhood perspective.
I was still very much a child when I was in my early teens – naïve, gullible, and very impressionable.
Of course I had heard of the “NS” (the nuthouse, insane asylum, loony bin, etc.), even driven past it from time to time with my parents. At that time, there was only the one building, a big dark brick structure built on a rise overlooking the harbour, but surrounded by huge old trees which made it seem secluded and sinister. Forensics patients were detained there right along with the rest of the “crazy” patients.
There were a lot of stories attached to this facility, some no doubt with a grain of truth to them, but I was told a story back then of a married woman whose husband had grown tired of her and had taken up with another woman. Now, he wanted to marry this other woman, but divorce was not considered respectable in those days, and he was a “respectable businessman.” One of his friends was a doctor, and this businessman confided in his friend about his wish to get rid of his wife somehow.
The doctor friend enlightened the businessman about the process involved in committing a patient to the NS. All that was needed in order to deprive a wife of her freedom and lock her away, possibly for the rest of her life, were the signatures of her husband (lord and master) and one doctor on a document that the doctor would submit to the authorities.
So the end of the scary story was that the wife was committed to the NS against her wishes, locked away for as long as her husband wanted her locked away. It probably wouldn’t have taken long to drive her out of her mind. The husband, of course, walked away as free as a bird from all responsibility to his wife.
This scared the absolute bejesus out of me. It was probably the first time I became aware of the inequities of being a woman. Women had the vote back then, of course, but that’s about all they had in the way of equality. Even though they had worked in the factories during WWII, doing “a man’s job”, once the men returned from overseas, women were gently (or not so gently) nudged back in the kitchens and bedrooms of their “better halves.” Suddenly, they were relegated back to traditional roles for women whether they wanted to be or not. Certainly, a lot of women were happy in those roles (under the direction of their benevolent dictators) and did not want to work outside the home. But I think there must have been a great many women who would have appreciated the independence women enjoy today. (Perhaps some of them had husbands who were not all that benevolent.)
Although I had not dreamed of being a wife and mother someday to the extent that some young girls do, I had just taken for granted that I would eventually be married. After hearing this horrible story, though, it occurred to me that not being married might be preferable in order to avoid the same fate, or something just as nefarious.
Fast forward to my third marriage. My husband Ernesto was Bermudian and I had moved to the Island after we were married to live with him there. Talking about growing up on the Island, he one day had mentioned how he was segregated from the whites in the movie theatres as a child because he was of Portugese descent. I was appalled at this, of course, and as our conversation continued I related the story of the wife who was committed to the NS. I told him how much it had terrified me and made me afraid of being married. He was very sympathetic and expressed how awful it was.
Our marriage deteriorated quickly. Before I even suspected what was going on, the police did a raid on my husband’s properties and seized marijuana and hashish they found there in large enough quantities for them to charge both him and his son with trafficking. Although I decided to stick by him, his moods rapidly became volatile without the quantity of drugs that he usually smoked, and we argued and things became adversarial.
At the time I was being treated by Dr. Harding, a psychiatrist my MD referred me to for treatment of anxiety and depression. I was prescribed sleeping pills and anti-anxiety medication, which my husband vehemently objected to, claiming that his “natural medication” would be so much better for me.
Dr. Harding asked to me to bring my husband to meet with him, thinking that he could perhaps sway Ernesto from his rigid views about psychiatry and medications. The meeting was a dismal failure, which I had predicted, and which Dr. Harding later advised me he had doubted would have a successful result. After hearing my history with Ernesto and then meeting him personally, Dr. Harding informally diagnosed my husband with Borderline Personality Disorder. He was very concerned for my safety.
Of course, in short order things got violent and I moved to the women’s shelter. Ernesto tried to contact me, but I was advised by the Women’s Resource Centre not to take his calls or meet with him at that dangerous time.
One day during my appointment with Dr. Harding, he told me about something curious that had happened a few days previously. Ernesto had called his office, wanting to speak with him. Dr. Harding’s wife looked after his office and she took the call, saying that Dr. Harding would not be able to speak with him. He told her that he wanted to speak to Dr. Harding “about dear Gail,” saying that he was very concerned about my behaviour and my mental well-being. He was quite solicitous in his conversation, a complete 180 degree turn from his demeanor in his meeting with Dr. Harding.
Upon hearing this, I was mystified and told Dr. Harding so. He was unable to come up with a motive behind Ernesto’s call, and was thoughtfully rubbing his chin when I suddenly recalled that conversation Ernesto and I had about the wife who was committed to the NS. When I related this to Dr. Harding, his brow cleared and he exclaimed,
“That’s it! He thought that he could talk me into having you committed to St. Brendan’s mental hospital here on the Island!”
I gasped. That exact thought had been in my mind, but as usual I couldn’t credit my belief until an authority figure confirmed it to me. The feeling that reverberated through me was as if someone had struck a metal pole. The cold, calculating intent of someone who still claimed to love me jarred my soul.