Who's Crazy?

Every family has secrets. Mine had more than its share. If there were a way that my mother could have avoided telling me about Aunt Rose, I am sure that I would never had found out about her. 
 
Rose had been in Rockland State Hospital since the 1930s when her brief marriage failed, and she lost custody of her only child. Now, in 1956, her three sisters (Aunt Fanny, Aunt Yetta, and my mother) were planning a visit. We went in two cars: Uncle Irving’s DeSoto Deluxe, and Uncle Mac’s Oldsmobile Rocket 88. 
Rockland State Hospital
Mac was my favorite uncle. He was warm in a manly way: a World War II veteran whose speech was seasoned with crude slang. Having a Christian uncle, meant that every year I got to help decorate a Christmas tree. Although Irving was Jewish, my parents seems to consider him almost as unrefined Uncle Mac.
 
“Irving eats hotdogs at Yankee Stadium,” my mother said disdainfully, “even though he has ulcers.” My father agreed. Yetta, the eldest sister and the only one born in Europe, was stylish; sophisticated; and loved the hell out of Irving, despite his hot dogs and cigars. 
 
It was a sunny day and there was not much traffic. We had just left the City when a convertible pulled alongside. But instead of passing, the people inside were pointing at our car and yelling something. Irving ignored them. Apparently referring to their color — they were Black — Irving said: “Don’t pay any attention. They think it’s funny to play tricks on white people.” 
 
Pretty soon, we had to pull over… to change the flat.
 
Finally, we arrived. The Rockland Psychiatric Center in Orangeburg New York, was a huge, adult residential facility on 600 acres. The grounds were like a big park, and we quickly found shaded benches. Before leaving with Yetta and Fanny to see their sister, my mother repeated the warning she had given me at home.
 
“Remember, if you see us you must not say anything or show any recognition. Aunt Rose thinks everything is the same as it was 25 years ago. She does not know that her sisters are married and have children. If she found out, it would be too upsetting for her, she could not take it.”  Then the three women headed for the main building. 
 
Uncles Mac and Irving went off together, leaving my father to take care of me and my sister. We talked, and played quietly. In this strange place we were subdued. I had not expected to see my mother, but before long, the four sisters appeared. It felt really weird to ignore my mother as they strolled by, but I knew how important it was to protect my fragile aunt. That brief moment was the only time In my life that I saw Aunt Rose. Like Fanny, she was a redhead. 
 
During the ride home, my mother talked about how estranged from reality Aunt Rose was. 
 
“We ran out of things to say to Rose,” said my mother, “so we started to talk about politics. We were talking about how Trotsky had been erased from Soviet history. Rose asked what we were talking about. Fanny said, ‘In Russia, they can make a person disappear, as if they never existed.’”
 
My mother continued: 

“What Rose said next, did not make any sense. She said, ‘Then I must be in Russia.’ Rose is mentally ill, and cannot comprehend reality.” 
 
I was eleven years old. What Rose said made perfect sense to me.
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2 Responses

  1. Families have crazy secrets and beliefs that go unquestioned by the majority. Entire institutions are built to defend those secrets and beliefs. Only a few dare to point out that the emperor has no clothes.

  2. I agree with Joey, in matters pertaining to psychiatry, the emperors, plural intended, indeed have no clothes, and neither do the empresses.

    This story made me very sad. Psychiatry has damaged and destroyed many promising lives, both in the past when women like your aunt were put away to be forgotten, many for reasons having nothing to do with so-called insanity. And of course many things were deemed “insane” in order to justify this practice.

    I don’t know what Insane means. I don’t know what “schizophrenia” or “bipolar” or “personality disorder” or any other label psychiatry puts on people in order to control them mean either, but I do know that it’s all just name calling, and these supposed maladies, which the emperors call “constellations” forgetting that constellations are utterly imaginary, do not exist as entities, not the way real maladies do. People suffer, yes, and suffering is real, but such labels only add to suffering, they don’t alleviate it. Labeling someone is a political act, an act of social control, but it remains nothing but name calling, like the N word (though the consequences of these labels are extremely real and dangerous, especially when the emperors have the power to deprive people not found guilty of any “crime” indefinitely of their freedom.)

    In my view, we have give our power away to the Emperors and Empresses of psychiatry, and continue to allow psychiatric nonsense (spewed by the unclad, no less!) to run society. This is an enormous problem, as psychiatry touches nearly every realm of life these days. A problem worthy of many more and lengthy discussions. But that likely can’t happen here.

    Thanks for this story. Best wishes,
    Phoebe

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