After attending a writer’s conference to move forward in publishing a memoir I had written, I found myself experiencing deep fear, and the sense that something – some painful memory – was trying to come to the surface. For several weeks I had asked myself why I felt drawn to Sycamore Park in Fort Worth, a place I hadn’t thought about in 45 years. I had felt a strong pull to find out what had happened there, but I could only remember my grandmother, Mamaw, taking me there to play miniature golf in 1958.
It felt like time for another inner child exercise, like the Gestalt, or empty chair exercises, I had done before. I would place two chairs facing each other, then sit in one chair as the adult, and speak to the inner child. Then I would stand up, go and sit in the other chair, and answer as the child.
Those exercises had worked well in the past, as I described when I remembered that my grandmother had said to me, “They’ll call you crazy – and lock you up!” I felt ready to try another one, and again it felt right to do it as a written exercise. Since the library had been a safe place for these exercises before, I decided to go there again. I went to the library branch near me, sat at a table in the back with a legal pad and a pen. I sat for a few minutes to compose myself, then began writing. I wrote it as though it were an actual conversation, to help me hear the words. Once again, I could sense the child answering was around eight years old.
July 18, 2007 10:30 AM Fort Worth library.
“I’d like to talk to you now.”
“We’ve been releasing a lot of feelings recently, haven’t we?”
“Yes, and I don’t feel as scared as I did before.”
“That’s great! I’m glad to hear it. And so do you know more of the truth now?”
“What do you mean?”
“That it is safe for you to write. Dad won’t hurt you if you do, and Mamaw won’t have Doctor R. lock you up.”
“Yeah, I know the part about Dad, but I’m not so sure about the Mamaw part.”
“OK, that’s all right. Where are we now?”
“In a library.”
“And you feel really safe in libraries, don’t you?”
“Yes, I do. I always have, all the way back to Farmington.”
“Good! Well, since you’re feeling really safe, we need to dig up and let go of one more ugly message from Mamaw. Are you ready to do that?”
“Yes, I am. I’ve been getting ready to tell you for a while now.”
“It’s about Sycamore Park, isn’t it? When Mamaw took you to play miniature golf?”
“Yes, that’s it.”
“OK, Danny, I’m ready to hear it. Take your time and tell me what she said.”
“It was that summer when she told me if I were a famous writer when I grew up, they’d call me crazy and lock me up.”
“Yes. How old were you?”
“I think I was eight.”
“What happened at Sycamore Park?”
“She had been harping on the crazy thing for about a week. The next day I was going over to Big Mommy’s and wouldn’t have to be around her any more that summer. So she took me over to Sycamore Park as a treat on my last night with her.”
“Was it fun?”
“Not so much. She sat in the car and watched me as I played putt-putt by myself.”
“That couldn’t have been much fun.”
“It wasn’t. It was hot and sticky, there were strange people around, and a mosquito bit me.”
“Not much fun. What happened next?”
“I went out of the putt-putt and Mamaw was standing by her car. She said she needed to tell me something. She had talked with Doctor R., and he had told her that if she needed him to, he could have me committed if I became a writer. He could have me locked up in an asylum if I went crazy from writing. She just wanted me to know that.”
“How did she look?”
“She had a stern look on her face, but she also looked pleased.”
“How did you feel?”
“I was terrified. I didn’t know exactly what an asylum was, but being locked up sounded horrible, and I didn’t know a doctor could just do that to you. It was really scary.”
“I can imagine? What happened then?”
“She told me again that I must not talk with anyone about this except for her, because others weren’t qualified to know whether I might be crazy or not. Only medical people had enough knowledge. I mustn’t tell Big Mommy (maternal grandmother) especially, because she was too fragile and might get upset.”
“What did that make you feel like?”
“I felt like I was suffocating. I couldn’t breath. Being a writer had always felt like life to me, and here she had taken it away. I was very sad.”
“What happened next?”
“We went back to her house. And after that, I don’t remember. It really didn’t matter anyway.”
“Danny, do you understand that what she told you was not true?”
“I’m beginning to see. It sort of doesn’t make much sense.”
“No, Danny, it doesn’t. What Mamaw told you was a lie. There was no truth to it. Mamaw was a very sick woman, and she told you that from a very sick, mean place. Do you understand?”
“Yes, but in case I forget, will you remind me?”
“Yes, Danny. Of course I will. You just relax and know the truth. OK?”
“I love you. I will take care of you.”
“Thank you. I love you too.”
So there it was – what had been hidden at Sycamore Park. What a horrible thing to say to a child. Over the next couple of weeks as I came out of shock about this revelation, I was to have an emerging sense that there was a new word involved here. Evil. What this woman did to an eight-year-old child was nothing short of evil. Her pleased expression as she told me this awful lie was a very telling sign. Yet, all of that aside, I had to figure out how to deal with this lie, and try to move past it.
One thing started to become clear: Going to a writer’s conference had brought this lie to the surface where it could be exposed to the light. Logically, continuing to move forward toward publication of Freedom’s Just Another Word, the memoir I had written, seemed to be key to flushing those old messages to the surface and out of my system. It sure didn’t sound like a whole lot of fun, but I knew I had to keep pursuing it, or I would continue to strangle the writing gift I had been blessed with.
A nagging fear, almost below the surface, where I didn’t really acknowledge it, was that I still might not be to the bottom of all of this – there might be other memories buried deep within my soul. My fear was well grounded.
“South Carolina State Mental Hospital” DouG!! @ Flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.
“Henry Hobson Richardson 1870 Buffalo State Asylum Buffalo NY 1332” Bobistraveling @ Flickr.com Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.