Several months after my grandmother’s death. After the discovery of my father’s misdeeds. My mother who had started becoming more and more incapacitated with delicate bones, infirm lungs, depression, anxiety, domestic abuse…etc, etc.
I had set into a routine of going every other day to the, little, almost log cabin, in Canterbury. Cleaning, walking dogs, doing laundry, being transcended back to childhood. Reliving life as a ten year old. Witnessing my father forbid my mother from leaving the house, driving a car (when she was capable), talking to her friends, going to church, with holding certain required nutrients, scolding her for not letting the dogs out, scolding her for burning dinner, accusing her of making him out to be the bad guy. The five or six years I took care of my mother, which in turn meant, keeping an eye on the devil in father’s clothing; most neighbors did not realize my mother had two other adult children. Those children were rarely seen. They children were rarely heard from. That situation arose from my father’s need to control my mother. Though, I would hazard to guess that it would be easy to forget of the difficult parents in a small New Hampshire town. Far away from life on life’s terms…In my brother and sister’s life.
My grandmother had been buried in the dead of winter. Just like my grandfather, before, her…dead trees, solid frozen ground, impenetrable landscape. It seems that is how the Irish come and go. Hard times in life. Hard times in death.
Sometime in mid May, my wife and I had made arrangements for taking my mother to Waltham. So she could see her mother’s grave. So bushes could get planted. So the rosary could be said. So the heavenly father would understand my mother’s remorse.
This was not to be an easy trip.
Calvary Cemetery, is filled to the brim with Irish immigrants…Past and not so present. It also resides in the out skirts of Boston. Finding the name Quinn among hundreds to perhaps, thousands, of other impregnated with the blood from the motherland…is not simple.
It had been Megan, my spouse and my, chore to play detective. How much had my mother known about the ‘murder?’ Had my father ever divulged, in between the threats and physical abuse…
What he had actually done to his first wife?
Where had he and my mother first met?
How much of his former indulgent and psychopathic life…did she know about?
Digging the past out of my mother was never easy. She always remained guarded about her history. Her transgressions were meant for the confessional and no where else.
But with this secracy, what had been the cost? Having driven my brother thousands of miles away. Having forced my sister into her own form of shallow narcissism. Having driven me into infidelity, lack of nearness, addiction and anger. How much the cost of guarding the truth?
‘Did you know he killed his wife?’
‘I knew something. Your father never liked sharing much about his past! He didn’t have a good childhood you know. And, look at where I was at!’
Meaning, she had been in the midst of a nervous breakdown when they met. Meaning my father was brought up during the depression and his family very poor.
Meaning, to me, WTF! You married this man. You were at the state hospital. You were a victim of abuse. You needed to get your children out of an orphange…
Meaning, you didn’t ask questions?
Even now, several years later, I can recall the day. Sybil, my sister declined coming with us. Having said, she couldn’t get time off from work or, if she did it would cut down on her vacation time. There seemed always to be an excuse.
‘You guys always do stuff with Mom during the week.’
‘We always go with just your friends!’
‘I don’t want to see that movie.’
Sitting adjacent to the graveyard. Side by curb side with the neighboring flower shop. Watching trash blow back and forth across a well traveled street. Finding myself at wit’s end.
My wife, Megan, poked me in the thigh. She gently patted my leg. Meaning…calm down, you’ll get nowhere if you push.
She, as always, had been correct.
With this slight interogation, I did not get far. Very little information came out of my mother. Her exact words will never escape me…
‘After all, look where I was. I wasn’t well.’
Laughing to herself…The only other sentence had been seemingly a joke…
‘We met at Lover’s Lane.‘
Having been a product of the 50’s and 60’s. I shunned my mother’s attempt at levity. Oh, how I wish I had known what the truth had been.
Janice, my mother, gave off such fragility, that one did not push. If an argument was on the horizon. Somehow, she appeared as though a light wind would blow her over. She turned inward. As if, another question or loud word, would disable her completely. Janice, had always been this way.
No more questions were asked. My only statement being…
‘My mother and father met at the New Hampshire State Hospital. Great. No wonder I’m fucked up!’
I cannot convey, in words, what it is like to wish to not have been born. To sit in awe in my own instability and wonder, what if.
What if I had not been born to a psychopath? Someone hospitalized due to insanity. A person who conceived of the act and followed through, with the murder of his wife.
Or, a woman, so distraught. So saddened by herself that suicide seemed the only option. I have tried on numerous occasions to explain to others…The saddness provoked by their joining together. By the severe disappointment in choices they made. By the decisions I could have made differently…Had I known that from the get go…my life had no chance of productivity.
This year, after some research. After documentary upon documentary. Article upon article about psychiatric institutes of the 1960’s. Pictures, data, recourse, etc.
After much forbearance from my siblings of law suits, insults, threats, etc. Family secrets must remain secret…after all.
After all I discovered ‘Lover’s Lane.’ The place in which I had been conceived. Where my parents, with total disregard for repercussions, engaged in producing…me. Me, the addict, lesbian, wanderer. Me, the poet with questions…
My mother, had been in the Brown building. My father, the Kent building. I was conceived in the catacombs!
The population continued to rise every year until 1955 when over 2,700 patients resided at “the State Hospital”. The crowding was extreme. For some years in the 1940’s and early 1950’s each psychiatrist had an average of more than 250 patients to treat. While kindness was still the philosophy, providing individual care of any type had become impossible. And, for the most part, society had come to view the mentally ill, not as people who needed humane treatment but had consigned the mentally ill to a dark and humiliating corner of American life. State hospitals became the physical reflection of that attitude. Books like “The Shame of the States” and “Asylum” or movies like “The Snake Pit” drew attention to the plight of the mentally ill. The annual reports make clear that despite the best efforts of staff and administration the New Hampshire State Hospital had become quite a different place than the Asylum of the nineteenth century. In New Hampshire as well as nationally, the “problem” of mental illness had become a simmering pot, waiting to boil.