Elegy On Walking Through the Empty Halls of a Mental Hospital Soon to Be Condemned
By Linda Larson
Incoherent thoughts become complete sentences. Thought begins. Unbound by common reasoning. Transparent eyes window the routine terror of people in glass houses dodging imaginary stones.
Dreams of glory careen into nightmares of war-torn psyches. In whose eyes are wars sane?
The docs weave filaments of reason trying to contain neon flares of fear. Creations of doom surround us and infect us.
The ‘We’ here is royal, a happing out-of-tune congregation praising the persistence of our own ardent seeking souls.
(We know horrors that would take Tom Ridge’s breath away.)
We open our mouths and flowers fly out. Angels hover like moths impassioned by a light bulb in the night. We bloom up and out stringing words together as exultantly as the blue trumpets of morning glories on the vine. We are caught in the literal. Our rolling stones gather no moss, and we mean moss, not metaphor.
Today, we flourish. The list of what we cannot do grows shorter and shorter.
We become comfortable in a world of three dimensions; we gladly surrender the fourth, fifth and sixth.
The ink on our delusions fades; the pages of our misspent passions are yellowing. We find ourselves free of demons, yet cannot help our nostalgia for their intensity.
We wander bewildered from the shadows of Plato’s cave into other labyrinths of commonly held misconceptions of reality. We create a reality that we can bear. Who among us chooses to live in darkness? Plain and blunt reality is radiant with promise in its simplicity.
Having had to fight so mightily for a handle on today, we are drawn to the black and white of reason, delighting in the clarity of the tangible, dimly lit from behind with acceptance.
But there we are. It’s called therapy. Your eyes seem to see through us. You don’t touch, but your hands reach out. You inspect us as if thoughts could translate into sentences with a beginning, middle and end. Subject, verb, object are in disarray; You trick us into living a bit longer. ‘Don’t leave before the miracle happens. ‘ Mother told us, 36 years ago, “Hang on. They’ll find a cure.”
Now we tell our children, graceful and lithesome as deer in the woods, “Don’t fear. Take the medication that makes you heavy and confines your mind. Sacrifice your youth and beauty on the fickle altar of coherence. They are close to a breakthrough.”
And the aching we remember seeing in their young sweet eyes, battling the nuances of despair, willing hope against the odds, refusing to surrender to elementary genetics, which stalks them like a bounty hunter laying claim to their light. We ask ourselves, what will happen when we die and they are on their own?
Once we were alone until we found each other in the hospitals, in meandering corridors we walked painstakingly our way through the maze. We found legitimacy here for our suffering. We shared a salute to our survival. We united and many of us came to love ourselves, sharing the same roller coaster rides of thoughts and beliefs. Some how we were released from our dungeons of self-enforced solitude. We became a community based on the mutual respect and understanding of our peers. The people whose faces and stories we shared gave us permission to love self. Instead of incarceration, the doors of the hospitals were unlocked and the hallways, the library, the research beds, the clinics and the small rooms where intensive work was being done by clients and therapists, the old quiet rooms of pained, disease-ridden reflection became battlefields for our liberty. If we so chose, we learned to live outside the hospital. We learned to navigate the reality of the majority. We learned to stop on red and find the way to go on green.
In these haunted hallways, spirits of the people we have known and who have known us are still passionate, resounding with vitality remembered and respected, sometimes by osmosis, sometimes by default. We who remain give each other the recognition, the salutation of our fragile fellowship, living or dead. Some died too soon or disappeared along the way, but are not lost to us. We hear their footsteps, their voices, their paintings and poems, their whispers and cries. We see them out of the corners of our eyes. We see their identifying walk, their frantic, mute gestures directed at what only they could see. We remember the names of their gods, and we embrace them with our memories.
We remember them as we go up to the fourth floor, the ICU, a locked unit and remember the plastic-green pallets smelling faintly of urine on the floor, all of us crowded into a little space and forging bonds unlike any other. We are not all friends, some of us are angry people, but we are all from the same region. There are many dialects but it is the same language. Why did we end up in this place of hope and light, when so many of us were locked into prisons of filth and despair or took or lost their lives.
Just lucky I guess. And today…oh so grateful…beyond any words, so grateful. Grateful to be out in the air, to touch a tree trunk, to look up unhindered at the great sky, whatever its mood.
Lives and sufferings have been redeemed in this swaying building. We stand for one last time on the front steps where we begged for cigarettes and shared coffee, pouring it from cup to cup, and got to know each others’ first names. We were there for better or for worse; in sickness and in health, we were stuck with one another.
So fling out the shutters! Open the windows of this old Ark, which has brought so many of us so far. Emancipate the souls we left behind so they can fly out freely through the opened windows. Let them fly out into the chill autumn air, redolent with leaves rotting into the earth, and migrate into long-awaited, blessed freedom. We conscientiously set free our memories, for good or ill; we let go, unbind the fetters that drag us down…the hurts, the rage, the swamp of self-regret and the lowlands of self-pity.
We forgive our lives for capturing us, and eventually we are released from this crumbling, temporary home. Today we returned to this doomed building and celebrate we have outlived it and remember the ones, brilliant in memory, who did not.
© Linda Larson 2003
(photo by Anna Schuleit borrowed without permission from the web site http://1856.org/bloom/setting.html)