Some cannot stand the sound of sandpaper, others cringe at a steel rake on pavement. For me, the sound of ice cubes clinking in a tumbler makes my stomach turn and my skin crawl.
When I was a child I had a fever. Once the fever broke I was prone to fits of uncontrollable shaking. The family doctor was called; he took my temperature and timed my pulse. He told my parents that it was a phase and I would “grow out of it”. But I didn’t grow out of it and the shaking grew worse. The family doctor was again called; he shone a pen-lamp in my face and told me to follow the light with my eyes. He told my parents I had “the shakes” and it would pass over time. But it didn’t pass, and, when I was eleven years old, I started sleepwalking.
In my dream I was balanced on the prow of an ocean schooner with my arms spread wide. As the bow of the ship cut through the sea water the cool spray splashed on my face. In the distance I could hear my mother yelling at me to get down. But I couldn’t understand her insistence; I was enjoying the spray on my face and the wind in my hair.
The screen door slamming shut awoke me suddenly. I had crawled out my bedroom window and was standing on the roof’s edge of the veranda. My arms were spread and I was pale and shaking. My pulse was racing and my nightgown was damp with rain. My father ran out the front door and looked up just as I fell.
The family doctor set my leg in a plaster cast and left to have a conversation with my father. The spoke in hushed tones while my mother stroked my head and cried. When they reentered my father announced that I would move into the Glenview hospital for adolescent girls.
I took the change of scene in stride. I was already used to being different. My parents and teachers handled me with velvet gloves and I was ostracized by my peers. At Glenview I was no stranger than Margaret “Mittens” who compulsively picked at her scabs or “Foul” Fran the Illinois Mormon who was prone to shouting obscenities and touching herself inappropriately in public.
Due to a lack of space elsewhere I was placed in Ward 8 with the older girls. I roomed with a 14-year-old named Temperance. Her parents must have indulged in wishful thinking on naming her as she was wild and headstrong with a proclivity for mischief making. She, like many of the other girls at Glenview, was placed here when her parents could no longer control her.
We couldn’t have been more mismatched: me, pale, wan, and wide-eyed with naiveté and her, strong, free and freckled from the sun. She immediately took me under her wing and cared for me like the older sister I never had. She had been there for over a year and tought me which girls I should befriend and which I should avoid. When I needed to navigate the stairs between our room and the dining hall she carried my crutches and hooked my arm across her sunburned neck. When someone was stealing things from the other girls in Ward 8 Temperance spread the word that she slept with a softball bat in her bunk and we were never targeted.
Temperance’s best friend at Glenview was Maria. Maria was a year older than Temperance and had been at Glenview longer than just about anyone. Maria flew into fits of uncontrollable rage where she bit and kicked and struck out at the orderlies. Maria took an immediate dislike to me and my friendship with Temperance. Temperance loved Maria unconditionally and, in retrospect, I suspect her love may have been more than platonic. Maria was beautiful and vain and welcomed Temperance’s devotion. Maria spent her time at Glenview traveling between Ward 8 and the neighboring Ward 9. In Ward 9 lived the girls under heavy sedation, those undergoing insulin shock therapy, or the unfortunate few “treated” by trans-orbital lobotomy.
The Glenview psychiatric hospital was run with a firm and loving hand by Dr. Lawrence Greene. A Kentucky émigré, Greene had come to Connecticut to pursue his doctorate at Yale. He took an immediate liking to me and me to him. He touseled my hair and called me his “Angel”. When we took our year-end picture in the front lawn of Glenview he insisted I stand next to him even though I was among the newest arrivals. Most of the girls idolized Dr. Greene; for some he was the loving father figure they never had at home. An injury he sustained to his leg and subsequent surgery left him lame and he walked with a cane. A source of constant amusement for both of us was him referring to the two of us collectively as the “crips”. Each night after lights-out he would pour himself a bourbon and soda on ice and make his rounds. I would lie awake and listen to him make his way down the hall.
Tap, clink, scrape, scrape, clink-clink, tap, scrape, scrape, clink.
Maria hated Dr. Greene absolutely and he was the target of much of her vitriol. We expected as much from Maria who held the staff at Glenview in the utmost contempt. Still, it took us all by surprise when Maria attacked Dr. Greene at meals with a steak knife, Temperance most of all. Maria was transferred back to Ward 9 after that incident. The things Maria had screamed at Dr. Greene as she was restrained by the orderlies echoed in my ears. Nobody believed them, of course, but the hatred and conviction in her voice planted the seeds of doubt in my mind. Almost a week after the attack I lay in bed and listened to Dr. Greene making his nightly rounds.
Tap, scrape, scrape, clink, tap, scrape, scrape, clink-clink.
Once the sounds of his footfalls had faded into the distance I threw back my bedsheets and quietly got out of bed. The halls of Glenview were quiet, the illumination from night lighting interrupted the darkness with dim pools of light. At the end of the hall I stopped. I could hear Dr. Greene retreating to my left. Tap, scrape, scrape, tap. Then a pause and the sound of doors opening. I leaned on my crutches and peered around the corner to see the frosted glass doors marked “Ward 9” closing behind him.
I was flushed and my pulse was racing. I pressed my back against the cool ceramic tile and fought the urge to turn back. After a long minute I slowed my breathing and followed.
Dr. Greene must have heard me gasp when I saw him. As I started backing away he lurched after me awkwardly with his trousers around his ankles. He tried pleading with me. “My Angel, this isn’t what it looks like. I get so lonely sometimes—” In horror I backed away, retreating through the double-doors of Ward 9, turned and ran back towards my room as fast as my crutches would carry me.
I could hear Dr. Greene following me as I turned the corner.
Tap-scrape-scrape, tap-scrape-scrape, tap-scrape-scrape.
His voice had turned from pleading to anger. “Young lady, don’t you run from me, stop this instant!” My hands were shaking uncontrollably and I lost control of my crutches and went crashing to the floor. Abandoning my crutches I pulled myself to my feet and hobbled as fast as I could toward my room.
Dr. Greene caught up with me just as I turned to shut my bedroom door. He stopped the door with a foot and I fell backwards onto the cold hard floor. He was livid, his white hair disheveled and lit like flames by the hall light. He entered after me and raised his cane.
That’s when Temperence hit him. There was a sick dull thud when the bat struck his skull. A thin stream of blood ran down his forehead. He staggered and, still standing, stumbled toward me, and that’s when Temperance hit him again.
There was talk of criminal charges, I think Temperance got it worse than me, but they heard my story and everything was dropped. I think the administration of Glenview feared the publicity a trial would bring.
I returned home and lost touch with the girls of Glenview. I have to admit my family doctor was right, eventually I did grow out of the shaking and sleepwalking. Once, years later, I reconnected with Temperance. It’s strange, but even though I had grown to become a strong self-assured woman when we embraced to say goodbye I felt myself letting the scared girl within be comforted and protected by her.
My experiences at Glenview led me to a career in social work and, eventually, to the care of a house of girls of my own. After the girls have gone to bed I do my nightly rounds. I find myself humming to myself as I walk through the halls. One evening I find one of my girls, Violet, sitting in her bed and rocking. As I lay her back and turn off her light she tells me she finds my singing comforting.
“It drives the ghosts away.” she tells me.
“Sometimes, when the lights are out, I hear someone walking down the hall but your singing makes them go away.”
After tucking her in I continue my rounds and resume singing, trying to ignore the noises in my head.
Tap, scrape, scrape, clink, tap, scrape, scrape, clink-clink.