Monday, July 07, 2008

Card in a drawer.

A couple days ago, going through an old drawer of cards and Valentines, I think I found a holiday card sent to my mother from her Aunt Averial. (I always thought she had an "Aunt Averille" or "Aunt Avril," but, to trust the card, it's "Aunt Averial.")

My mom can't talk about her aunt without tearing up, but I always try asking about her. My mom's aunt, you see, was sent to an institution and lobotomized during the 1970s - I think - after having a nervous breakdown. But, to hear the stories from my mother, Averial wasn't crazy. She was smart, strong and a battered wife. Apparently, for speaking out against her husband or defying her husband or something like that, she was institutionalized. When she wouldn't comply with being locked away, her husband had the authorities there treat her "madness" by cutting off a portion of her brain so that her personality would subside, so that she would lose the supposed crazy defiance she had for being a strong, smart and independent woman trapped in a bad marriage.

I found out about this in an odd way. There were occasional mentions of Averial's lobotomy, none with too much explanation, but I got the most detailed descriptions of the story after I watched ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST and asked my mom if she's seen the movie in the theater. My mom tells me that she had to walk out of the theater while seeing it with my dad in 1975 because the ending - which, sorry to spoil it, features a creepy, creepy lobotomy - reminded her too much of what Averial had gone through.

While driving through Paulding on a trip there while my grandfather was in better shape than he is now, we drove past the "county institution," though it wasn't the one where Averial stayed. It was an earlier one, maybe from the 1920s. It was a dark, renovated shack - practically falling down. My grandfather pointed out the graveyard with no marked graves. He pointed out to me that, in the '20s, that's where parents were encouraged to send their children if they were retarded or disabled or such, for that was how mental health was treated in those days. It was horrifying, particularly for someone born disabled, for I often wonder how my life would've gone if I'd been born at a time when disabilities like mine - even ones as mild as mine - were treated with "care" that was a good deal more harsh.

Her name was spelled "Averial." As it happens in the family, her handwriting was almost exactly like my mother's.

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