I pick up the fat brown folder of notes. This is the second folder, the first one being in Records – deemed irrelevant.
‘Continued from 1st June 1953. Admission date 2nd May 1931,’ I read. ‘She is a cretinous idiot…’ I check again. ‘She is a cretinous idiot…’ (in beautiful copper plate by some doctor long retired). I know they were everyday clinical terms, but even so they do seem a little harsh.
Born 1st May 1915, admitted 2nd May 1931. Who were you Dolly May? What happened to you in those first 16 years of life to lead to this hellish sentence, or was this truly asylum? Were you saved or condemned? I’m glad I haven’t got the first set of notes and I won’t go to Records to retrieve them. I know the officious and misogynistic judgements that will lie between their tattered binding.
You seem happy enough now though Dolly. In fact I heard you singing this morning “Here we are again, happy as can be…” while the doctor examined you rectally to establish the state of your bowels. You brighten our day with your unaccountably happy nature. We try to make life as good as we can for you. Hoping to make up for the crimes of psychiatry past. Could we ever do that? I think not.
I wonder if you enjoy your energetic debates with ‘Harry bloody Secombe’ every Sunday during Songs of Praise. It’s the only time I ever see you angry – you hate him so, but you will never let us turn him off. Is he your scapegoat? A TV Christian who can never harm you?
You said to me on my first morning when I was searching in the clothes cupboard for something pretty for you to wear: “These are my clothes nurse, the ‘special’ ones. I’m ‘special’ you see.” I looked, and sure enough they were labelled ‘special’. I check that out later but no one here knows what it means – it’s just another institutional mystery from days of old. Or maybe they are for you Dolly May – you would know better than anyone after all.
© Catriona Windle 2013