April Bernard: Ghastly but possibly interesting

Alvin Lightman’s life first touched mine when both of us were staying at Holdon House Facility upstate. Formerly it was Holdon Hospital, before that Holdon Asylum, and called variously by those who have worked and lived there, among other witticisms, Hold It, The Hold, and Hold On I’m Coming.

That I had “committed myself” was a distinction that became meaningless within moments of my arrival. (I had not written anything in three years; eight months earlier I had lost a newborn child, to death; and shortly thereafter a nonhusband, with whom I had lived for a dozen years, to the winds.) I felt cold all over all the time, even in the heat of July, even in the heat rising in silken ripples off the asphalt drive up to Holdon House. I emerged shivering from my taxi and tugged on my luggage. Weak and petulant as well as chilled to the bone, I gave way to babyish whimpers and was glad to let the attendants carry my things up the shallow steps.

Alvin Lightman, though I did not yet know his name, was sitting in the front parlor, designated the “lounge,” his long legs stretched out across a wicker ottoman. As he later told me, he watched my arrival circumspectly, from behind the traditional screen of an open newspaper. He thought I looked “ghastly” but “possibly interesting.”

Plenty of people have suffered worse than I; I knew it but the knowledge did not rouse me from my chilly and haphazard torpor, my thoughts that alit and then slid away from ideas, or names for things, or images. It was difficult to focus on the kindly man, not wearing white thank goodness, who showed me to my room, speaking gently and moving smoothly, as might an expert with wild animals. In my small private room, whose window looked out on a broad sloping lawn interrupted by tall pines, the attendant helped me unpack—that is, he relieved me of my laptop and cell phone and explained that Holdon was firm about these things. Supervised email once a week for each patient; no cell phones; no TV.

Television deprivation might be serious. Recently it had become necessary for me to sit in front of the television set with my eyes averted from the screen, and to sit in this posture for most of the day. Once in a while, I would slide my eyes back to the dazzling pixilated world of cars and pets and investment strategies; of carefully dressed women turned sideways in their chairs to ask slightly younger and more beautiful women about their movie roles; of Rice-A-Roni, which apparently people still ate somewhere; of soothingly incomprehensible yet ostensibly tense discussions between characters from old television shows, cops and doctors and cop-doctors and hookers and dealers and hooker-dealers. For an entire week, a channel that claims to air programs “for women” aired a “reality” series called “Snapped! Women Who Lose It.” Wonderful stories, I thought, if only I could have followed them …

Read more of April Bernard’s story “The Fixed Idea” this week in Little Star Weekly

April Bernard is the author of two novels, most recently Miss Fuller (read some here), four book of poems, and numerous essays and reviews.


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