I think we can all agree that 2020 has been a very hard year. Here in New Mexico, the covid-19 cases are spiking and we have been ordered to shelter in place once again.
Throughout this year I have written at least a few words in my memoir every day. I am writing about events that happened more than fifty years ago, when I had a post-traumatic breakdown and my abusers put me in a state mental institution. They did this when I was 14 years old, against my doctor’s advice.
I feel like I need to write this story, both for my own peace of mind and for the many hundreds of others who had a similar story, but were never given the chance to tell it.
Sometimes I feel like I’m time traveling, from one crazy year to another. I am so thankful for my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, which gives me a deep, abiding peace, regardless of my current circumstances. Without Him, I doubt if I could write this story, especially now, in the middle of a worsening pandemic and another lockdown.
I am posting here below, the 460 words that I wrote in my memoir today. Be warned, this story is sad. It involves a death. Not violent or gory, but still sad. Please don’t read this if you believe it may be a trauma trigger for you.
In almost all of my memoir I am changing everyone’s name, for the sake of privacy. But in this story, I will use what I believe was my fellow patient’s real first name, as a memorial to her.
* * *
Margaret. She was skin and bone when I first saw her. Tall and lanky, with wispy gray hair. She had the haunted eyes that so many of my fellow patients had, dark and hollow.
She wore threadbare dresses and scuffed slippers, shuffling around the hallways like a silent ghost. I never heard her speak. Occasionally, Margaret would smack herself in the head with the heel of her hand. But she never did it hard enough to incite the ire of the ward attendants.
I noticed when she stopped eating and drinking, because it was my duty, at that time, to clear away the dishes after every meal and help wash them. Margaret’s plate and glass were always left full and untouched.
Every day, for each of our three meals, Margaret obediently moved with the crowd to the dining room, limping down the hall in her scuffed gray slippers, sitting in silence at her customary seat, staring at nothing, while everyone around her ate and drank with abandon. She sat in front of the door at the first table when you entered the dining hall, so it was impossible not to notice her sitting there like a frozen statue, staring into the distance, never taking a bite or a swallow of her food or drink.
I wondered why someone so skinny did not want to eat. During those two years between my mom’s two marriages, when we rarely had food in the house and I never had money for school lunches, with my stomach constantly growling and the other kids making fun of me for being so thin, I would have been thrilled to have this much food to eat, three times a day, every day of the week.
There was always at least one nurse attendant with us in the dining hall. Did any of them ever notice that Margaret was not eating?
It never occurred to me to say anything to the nurses about it. Margaret was at least my parents’ age. Surely she would start eating and drinking again, when she got hungry and thirsty enough.
I was walking out of my dorm room, a few feet behind Margaret, when I saw her collapse. She didn’t appear to be breathing. Just a moment ago she was alive, like me, like all the rest of us, shuffling down the hall of the state mental institution, going nowhere. But now, looking down at her colorless, sunken face, I knew she was dead.
A nurse checked for a pulse, then ran to the office phone. Two men dressed in white came and carried her lifeless body off the ward.
Margaret. She lived a sad life and died a sad death. And I saw it happen, when I was fifteen years old.