You’ve Got to Read This
Once the psychiatric emergency room visits
started, my father decided to bring a book with him.
Preferably a long one.
My mother always made the mistake of thinking that once she
felt fine, she would immediately be released.
All she had to do was ask.
She never understood that she was on their time, and they
decided when it was time to let her go.
What better way for my father to wait for my mother to pass
her evaluations than to read a book?
My mother confessed to me that once she was dressed in the
gown, and was guided to her room, she worried about my father.
The only thing that comforted her was her husband sitting in
a chair behind the big black door.
All she could see was his bald head, and this was almost
enough, especially when she imagined him reading.
“I feel a little less guilty,” she said. “At least it’s not a
complete waste of time.” The
Great Gatsby was one of his favorite books.
“Reliable,” he said. “In a way that most things aren’t.”
Whenever mother was at her most manic, needing to go right
away, and he didn’t have time to choose something, that was what he
grabbed. Once, my
mother was having a particularly difficult time.
My grandparents were on vacation, so my father had no choice
but to take me with him.
I can still remember the people in charge shuffling her into
the room. It looked
ugly and scary. My
father kissed her on the forehead and then she vanished.
The security guard shook my father’s hand and said, “My
favorite regulars.” It
wasn’t sarcasm in his voice.
In a weird way he seemed to be grateful. The security guard
looked at the book in my father’s hand and said, “What are you going
to read to us tonight?” My father said, “I thought some passages
from The Grapes of Wrath?”
The video surveillance operator then popped out of his
office. He said, “Nice
choice. Can’t wait.”
Was my father leading a book club in the psych ward?
The operator and guard and then even an attendant pulled up
chairs. They sat around
my father, waiting for him to begin.
The guard immediately told my father to speak up.
“Some of these crazies grunt and scream.
You need to be loud,” the guard said.
My father’s voice was strong.
It seemed unshakeable. You could almost see the words in the
air, as ethereal as ghosts, vacant spaces grateful to be filled.
Steve Fellner has published a book of poems
Blind Date with Cavafy (Marsh Hawk Press) and a memoir
All Screwed Up (Benu
Press). He currently teaches at SUNY Brockport.