If you have never been taken to a place against your will you don’t know how it feels to be imprisoned.
Perhaps we all as children experience the impotent rage of being put in a car or sent to school or any of those innumerable impositions that childhood engenders. As a children we are made to do things all the time. As adults though we become accustomed to a degree of automomy. We can choose whether we walk one route or another between home and the gym. We can take a moment to look at the gauzy expensive dresses we will never buy displayed in that shop along our way. We can eat what we want when we want. More or less. Most of us as adults aren’t locked up.
This locking up thing has happened to me three times in my adult life. The first time was then the cops took me from the brokers open house with the real estate agents all evaluating the light in the kitchen, the rough boards in the attic, the choices I had made about where to plant the privet hedge or what color to paint the living room. They were trooping in and out evaluating my choices about how I lived in my life. And then within minutes I had no choice.
The second time I was removed from the now hollow home. The lack of choice didn’t really matter quite so much this time because I recognized it and was resigned when the cops told me about the dance I had to attend. I knew then that there was no point in fighting.
And the third time years later after I had put my life back together after the other two. It seems almost as if I hadn’t quite forgiven myself so I engineered a new imprisonment. I had got onto a scooter. A big heavy old scooter in a field in the country. My friend who owned the field and the house in the field and the barn with the scooter in it had mentioned that there was a scooter and sent me down to the barn with the two boys. The boys then were eleven. My child and the almost cousin born three weeks later to my closest friends. The boys had grown up awkwardly beside each other fighting and playing and jousting for attention and acclaim from us the parents. And having not seen my own one for months when my friend suggested blithely that I ought to try out the scooter-- “the kids have been riding it all summer’—I thought I’ll show off to my child. Show him how much fun I am. Instead I broke my knee.
I had broken my knee and been in unimaginable pain and on unimaginably strong drugs and been told that it would be a long time before I would walk again and maybe I would never walk properly again. I was taken then from the hospital of the first surgery to a rehab center (aka a nursing home). Again I had no say so and found myself institutionalized. That third time of being trapped of having lain in the back of an ambulance driving through the snowy night. I could see out the back window white puffs evaporating into the blackness of night and asphalt. I asked the emts where we were going. I told them about the pain and one of them dark-skinned slight, funny but also kind reminded me of the alternative to feeling pain. I was saying to myself over and over and over ‘it’s only pain” and so I could remove myself from my body and from the insignificance of pain but it took all of the energy I had to make pain small. Knee pain is a particulary bad species of pain I learned later. At the time though it was me and the pain and the snow melting into blackness and the emts who were kind to me. Close to the end of the drive when I realized we were back in New Jersey and wherever they were taking me was now a reality to confront, I asked them “Have you ever taken people like me who can’t move to a place that you don’t think is a good place?”
When they hesitated, I realized, that indeed they had left people in bad places before. Probably I shouldn’t have asked that question. It had been dawning on me how vulnerable I was. The knee was near intolerable just lying still. There was going to be no walking for a long long time. There was going to be another surgery but not for three weeks so for three weeks I was going to be warehoused. As we pulled up the long driveway and I said goodbye to my emts and was most horribly tortured by the move across the pavement, even the tiniest jolt to the stretcher pierced deep and vibrated through all of my body, I saw the magnificence of the nursing home. It had fountains and courtyards and sat on a hill with a long expanse of lawn. I tried to think that maybe this was going to be a good place where they would help me make it through the pain. All of the injectibles from the hospital had ceased worked long ago and I had nothing to muffle the insistence of my shattered knee. When they didn’t assure me that I has being to taken to a good place that if I was being taken to a terrible place, they couldn’t do anything about it, I realized for the third time what imprisonment was about.
If you’ve never been hauled off to a bin or the like, you don’t know. There are two sets of doors that lock. You know as you go in that you can’t just walk out. I asked my first roommate in the bin, a slight Asian girl who talked a lot but seemed not associated to her words, how to get out. She told me there is only one way out. Go to all of the activities, she said. Talk at group, she said. Comply, she said.
I had imagined the bin as a much more restful place than it is. When I awakened in the Quiet Room.