A character is like an acrostic or Alexandrian stanza; read it forward, backward, or across, it still spells the same thing. - Ralph Waldo Emerson
The dream had been so lovely; Anna was walking barefoot across a field of wildflowers along the verge of a wood, not in a park but in some unspoiled place without fences, signs or crowds. The sun was shining on her face and birds were singing, and she came across a stag caught by his antlers in a thicket. He was absolutely magnificent, but all his great strength was useless against the bramble in which he had become entwined. She knew that if she left him there he would soon become easy prey for some predator, so she moved slowly, gingerly toward him, intending to pull the thorns away with her bare hands if necessary so he might go free. But just as she reached out for the nearest of the vines, she was shocked awake by the slamming of the outer door and the braying voice of the guard announcing breakfast.
It was the same thing every day. There was no earthly reason why any of them needed to wake up at a particular time; it wasn’t like the food was hot or worth getting up for, and even if one of them was going to be released or transferred that rarely happened before noon. It was just part of the petty sadism which characterized nearly every prison procedure, like the lights being kept on all night and the prisoners being reshuffled every few days to keep friendships from forming. Anna tried not to let it break her down; for example, once the guard had left she would simply cover her head again and go back to sleep, letting the others take what they wanted from her breakfast tray. But today was different; the guard actually came into the cell and shook her roughly.
“Get up, Cleopatra; you’re rolling out this morning.” The guards had lots of stupid, mocking nicknames for her; she tried to ignore that as well. But the rest of that statement was definitely unexpected.
“What do you mean, rolling out?”
“Just what I said, Princess; your presence has been requested elsewhere.”
Anna knew better than to inquire further; if she expressed any interest at all the guard would refuse to answer on principle. She’d find out soon enough. For a moment she wondered if this might not be some sort of mental torture, but quickly realized the guards didn’t have that kind of imagination. Then she dared to think for a moment that she might have been paroled, but immediately strangled the idea before it could grow into a hope. It was better just to wait and expect the worst.
Four and a half hours later, the wait finally ended; the guard came back and told her to stand, roughly jerking her by the arm without waiting for her to get up on her own. She was then hustled to an anteroom and given back her own clothes, the ones she was wearing when she was arrested; they were wrinkled and had a musty odor, but she still preferred them to the horrible, shapeless prison uniform and so she eagerly exchanged the latter for the former, heedless of the guards she knew were leering at her through the two-way mirror.
She then exited through the far end of the room as instructed, where she was met by one of the dress-uniform guards who interacted with government officials and the like; next to her was a woman in a lab coat, accompanied by what Anna assumed was an orderly. So that’s what this was about; she had been committed to a psychiatric facility. She wasn’t surprised, and was in fact relieved; the treatment there couldn’t be any worse than it was here.
And indeed, it wasn’t. The nurse was friendly and the orderly didn’t bully her; the ride was long and peaceful and Anna slept for most of it, and when the nurse woke her it was with a gentle shake rather than the slam of a door. The state hospital at the end of the journey was still a prison, of course; the doors were just as locked and the guards just as vigilant, but she had a private room with a soft bed and the lights were actually turned off at night. The food was good and she was able to eat sitting at a real table in the cafeteria rather than from a tray in her lap; there was even a little park, thought it was surrounded on all sides by the walls of the huge facility.
For a whole week, she was largely left to her own devices; she listened to music and read books from the ward’s library, and every night they screened a movie. Other than the locked doors and the rigid schedule, the only real reminders that she was in a hospital were the various medical tests and questionnaires to which she was subjected, and the technicians were always polite and friendly. It was so nice, in fact, that Anna began to think that if it weren’t for the lack of privacy this might not be a bad place for a holiday.
Then on the morning of the ninth day, the chief ward nurse told her that she had been assigned a doctor and would start her therapy that afternoon. Anna actually found herself looking forward to that; everyone else here was so pleasant, she couldn’t imagine the doctor being less so. For the first time, she allowed herself to accept the idea that maybe it might be nice to be cured of her problem, to be able to live like everybody else and form normal relationships as her friends did. Perhaps it might even be possible for her to eventually forgive Eve for turning her in; after all, she had done it because she was worried about Anna, and was clearly remorseful when she found out about the brutal way her friend had been treated by the police.
Dr. Lil was a somewhat plump, maternal woman in late middle age, and Anna instantly liked her; she therefore resolved that she would cooperate in every way possible so as to hasten the day when she could rejoin society as a healthy, functioning member, and told the doctor so.
“How wonderful!” she said with genuine emotion. “I’m so very glad to hear you say that, Anna; you see, it was I who initiated the process to have you transferred here. I reviewed your case history and interviewed your friends, and I could clearly see you weren’t an incorrigible deviant.” She opened the folder to refresh her memory. “Now, in school you never showed any signs of perversion; when did you first start feeling sexual attraction to men?”
(With grateful acknowledgement to the work of Charles Beaumont).
One Year Ago Today
“Convenient and Inconvenient Victims” examines the way that government defines consenting individuals as victims, or else victims as consenting individuals, depending on what’s convenient for the government.