In here, everything is 70’s Government Issue, all browns and
orange-beige, except for the gown you’re wearing which is gray, covered in
smiling cartoon cats and missing one of its ties. The copper tint of madness and melancholy's
lavender assaults are camouflaged in here, like something shameful and
difficult to hide is sometimes called a sacrilege instead. Pain has been
reduced to the contents of a petri dish in here, suffering only visible when
magnified at high power on a slide, and there’s nothing institutional green at
A nurse gently dabs your arm with a cold, wet cotton ball and
says, we’re starting you on a new medicine today, the words pop out like smoke
rings from her mouth.
Built in the days of Prohibition, in large part with the sweat
and bones of those the infamous Jim Crow laws prohibited from its services,
this edifice of Southern gothic lore sits in the heart of Bolivar, Tennessee,
and signifies a fate even children understand it’s better not to tempt. In
every family there were stories only safe to tell in whispers, of aunts and
uncles never seen or never seen again, and they’d say your cousin so-and-so did
such-and-such and he wound up in Bolivar, ya know, when children’s games began
to grate on parents’ nerves. Now in these lobotomy-free and stigma-reduced
days, “Western State Institute of Mental Health” or simply “Western State” is
what it’s called, but to those of a certain generation and to the locals,
“Bolivar” alone is quite enough to say.
This is how it happens: back when it was your
job to mow the lawn in summer, you finished then stood guzzling Kool-aid
until you felt that ache in the middle of your head. She knew you drank it
straight out of the pitcher, too, and never said a word—but if you were one of
the one per cent who wound up frozen on the inside of that ache, back then they
blamed your mother for it.
is how it happens, and this is meant to tempt you back to dreams you’ve long
forsaken that have long forsaken you, of a home where taupe-colored carpet
stretches wall-to-wall, where you learn easily how to cook an egg without the
yolk breaking, or whether that boy likes you and whether you like him, where
only Kool-aid makes a frozen ache inside your head.
On one side torn and frayed from boredom, faded out by apathy
and sunlight on the other, the artificial ferns and ficus trees dot a
landscape called “the dayroom”, a boorish punchline to a cruel insipid joke.
More than care is managed here, hope is dosed out like a pill; the treatment
goal is ending both your nightmares and your dreams. There’s nothing
institutional green today and no one stays here long. But everyone who comes
here now comes back, and everything is late November leaves and winter cream,
at Bolivar these days.