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Prologue: Caged










(February 19, 1969)
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Caged.

I was caged.

Then, I was driven.

Driven to Cherokee.

A hazy memory of riding caged in the back of a police car.



Two shadows in the front seat, the county sheriff and a female escort.

Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” buzzing from a tinny transistor radio.

Outside, the Iowa landscape bleak:



Cloudy and cold, condensation and frost riming the windows, piles of dirty snow dotting the countryside.

I, cargo.

Destination: Cherokee’s other place, the outline on the hill.

Shifting, crossing my legs…

Please, can we stop?

Hot and steamy inside.



Shivering, my teeth rattling.

Please…I have to go!

Hear something, George?

Naw, nothin’ important.


Laughter.

Cargo has no voice.

Madness has no voice.

Listen, crazy girl…

Two voices: We have come to take you away, ha, ha…

“I’m crazy, crazy…”

Fragments, crazy-quilt impressions, acid flashbacks…

I, crazy?



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From I, Driven: a memoir of involuntary commitment ("Prologue")


© 2008-2010, by Jennifer Semple Siegel

Excerpt may not be used or copied without author’s permission.

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Monday, September 29, 2008

Excerpt--April 2002: Driven 2

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(York, Pennsylvania)


Ignited by writer’s block and a spark: driven to question.

As I stared at a blank screen and keyboard, my foot bumped against a chest.

My letters to Jeff, his to me.

At first, just a gentle nudging, eventually an incessant nagging. I tried ignoring the impulse to read them, those reminders of a past that no longer existed, not even as a puff of fog

I don’t want to become like some older people who dwell in the past, who talk incessantly about the “good old days”

I couldn’t remember too many good old days. Yet the letters tugged at me, chanting like sirens, “Read, read, read us.”

So I opened the chest, selected a letter, and read.




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Holden Caulfield.

I folded the letter, postmarked February 14, 1969, and slipped it back into the envelope.

I married Holden Caulfield.


Drawn on the front, just below the canceled 6-cent stamp, a G.I. firing a rifle, his bloody target a shirtless barefoot Viet Cong in the defensive position. The caption below the address:
WE CAN WIN IN VIETNAM: PROVIDED WE KILL EVERY MAN, WOMAN, CHILD, PIG, SHEEP, BIRD, DOG, BUFFALO, AND GOAT.
Jeff. A long distance courtship, a child, a marriage, a divorce, another husband–in that precise order. A whole slew of letters, intense, hot, yet oddly ambiguous love dispatches, saved for over 33 years, last read, God knows when.

Years ago, my brother-in-law Keith built and finished a small cherry chest for me as a Christmas present; I gathered together all the letters Jeff and I had exchanged between December 1968 and May 1969, arranged them in order according to postmark, put them into the chest, then forgot them. When we divorced in 1980, I asked Jeff if wanted my letters to him back–I didn’t offer him his letters to me.

“Naw,” he said. “Throw ‘em away.”

Why would you want to keep souvenirs of a failed marriage?

But I couldn’t bring myself to toss them. They represented history, a painful and, at times, ugly history, but it was an important personal history, chronicling in some detail a landmark in my life. I hadn’t thought about those letters in years. They simply existed, tucked away underneath my work table, waiting for an opportune time to open a fissure.

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"Girl" (The Beatles)



jkbbr549

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Driven to read.

It took three full nights to read the 90+ letters. I read them covertly after Jerry went to bed–a guilty secret. What would I find in those dispatches from the past?

My own letters, a disappointment: I had remembered them as being great art, the inner workings of a young girl-woman who had taken on the Establishment and won. Instead, young Jennifer recounted, sometimes endlessly, the minutiae of life in a mental institution. She often obsessed about her relationship with Jeff, the tone of her letters often immature, manipulative, and rambling, some implying future self-destruction should Jeff decide to ditch her. Still, I perceived some insights, epiphanies, self discoveries, and a vague sense of searching for meaning out of a horrifying experience.

Jeff’s letters hinted of a vividly curious mind that it hardly seemed possible that he would even consider me as a future mate. Yet he loved me as only an exuberant 18-year-old boy can; in a March 8, 1969, letter, he wrote:
I can get out your picture, and imagine (if I try real hard) you’re here: your voice, your matter-of-fact way of speaking (always as if you’re explaining something somewhat important–as much, or more, to yourself than anyone else–with a casual formality of tone, and abundance of asides [“and you see,” and “it’s like this”] and very expressive hand movements), your smile (much too sunny and radiant for a street chick. You’re a hopeless idealist!), your old hat, brown outfits with yellow handbags and shoes, very light freckles, skin too white to ever allow you to be a native Californian, and long, brown hair, sometimes dyed black, that, I enviously recall, could blot out your whole face when you combed it.
What girl wouldn’t melt at such a description?

Throughout our brief, but intense, correspondence, his letters, for the most part, retain the optimistic exuberance of a young man who saw a formidable challenge ahead, but who knew that the outcome would be positive.

I was jealous of his letters, even after all those years.

And, yet, despite the superficiality of my own letters, I realized that I just had to read between the lines and reach deep into my memory for the fear, anger, sadness, guilt, and ecstasy I felt back in 1969.

Perhaps I would write a book. First, I needed my hospital records.

I took a deep breath and emailed Cherokee.

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"This Boy" (The Beatles)



gustavopoeta

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Excerpt copyright 2008, Jennifer Semple Siegel.

Text may not be reposted or republished without permission.


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