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Sue Nelson Buckley

State Hospital Bars II
Photo Credit: Andrew McFarlane

I kept my eyes shut.

There was no need to see what was going on around me. It was the same every day. It never changed. It never would again.

Once I accepted that I was a lot calmer. I stopped bouncing against the walls trying to find a way back outside.

They called me quirky at first. They smiled and patted me on the head when they said it. I took it as a compliment. Back then I was five; approval meant everything. Then it changed. Quirky was no longer a fun word. It was used to separate me. Make me feel different than everyone else.

I have to admit I rebelled a bit. But not nearly to the extent that those witnesses who claimed to watch implied. It was as if their minds had collected into one, like a Borg mindshare that could not be shaken, no matter how reasonable my reasons.

No sense on dwelling on that now I supposed. I relaxed against the padding and let my mind wander. At four I was precocious, at five quirky, and at seven-and-a-half my mother began to look at me with fear in her eyes.

After the day she found me in my bedroom braiding Fluffy’s intestines into a rug.

I wanted to squish them with my toes.

I hadn’t planned to hurt the cat. I was napping and it pounced. Before I was even half-awake I’d flung the creature across the room where it landed on the pointy end of my pink Barbie umbrella. Apparently, hell hath no fury like a grumpy child.

When I went to investigate I found out how warm and slippery its innards felt. We’d been learning to make rugs in Brownies. I thought it was a great idea.

Mom didn’t. “What are you doing?”

Even at seven-and-a-half I knew she was trying not to freak out.

“Wanna help?” I asked her as I held up my handiwork. “I’m making a squishy-rug to play on.”

“No darling, you keep playing, Mommy has to make a phone call.”

I still remember the look on her face as she backed slowly out of my room.

Men came and took me away. Years later, they deemed me ‘cured’ and I was able to go outside again. They got me a job and eventually I returned to the house where I’d started to grow up. Mom didn’t live there anymore. They say she just packed up and left the day after they took me away. Not a word to anyone.

It wasn’t hard to find her. Even the best-covered trails are easy to find.

Now, as an adult—a cured adult, able to integrate and be a productive member of society—I understood why she had done what she had done. But seeing her again made me feel like a seven-and-a-half-year-old all over again.

This time when the men came, I knew from the looks on their faces that there was no hope of me ever going back outside. I saw my file as the last Borg-like mind doctor turned away. On the cover, in bright red Sharpie, he wrote: #fail.


Sue has been a storyteller since she could talk and a writer since she learned her alphabet. These days she is co-owner and managing editor of PaperBox Books and one of the senior story consultants at Fiction Therapy. Email: sue[at]suebuckley.com

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