Melby was raised in the early 1950s—a time when doors were not locked, children were free to explore, and friendships were lasting. She had the perfect childhood until her life was turned upside down when her perfect world vanished and she became victim to a life that was far behind where it should have been, in a mental health facility. Filled with drama and surprises, readers will quickly become advocates for Melby as she learns firsthand life isn’t always fair. With the help of her rag doll, Melby manages to overcome hardships and to become the person she was meant to be.
Melinda Spiker Chambers
Melinda Spiker Chambers
Melinda Spiker Chambers
Publisher Page an imprint of Headline Books Terra Alta, WV
Melby by Melinda Spiker Chambers copyright ©2021 Melinda Spiker Chambers All rights reserved. This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents, except where noted otherwise, are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any other resemblance to actual people, places or events is entirely coincidental. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any other form or for any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording or any information storage system, without written permission from Publisher Page. To order additional copies of this book or for book publishing information, or to contact the author: Headline Books, Inc. P.O. Box 52 Terra Alta, WV 26764 www.HeadlineBooks.com Tel: 304-789-3001 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Publisher Page is an imprint of Headline Books
ISBN 13: 9781951556570 Library of Congress Control Number: 2021938331
P R I N T E D I N T H E U N I T E D S TAT E S O F A M E R I C A
This book is dedicated to the Louis Bennett Public Library, a place where a person can get immersed in stories that span one’s imagination.
Foreword............................................................................... 5 The Orientation ................................................................... 9 Good Times........................................................................ 14 Bad Times ........................................................................... 20 The Big House .................................................................... 25 Books, Books and More Books ........................................ 31 The Great Escape ............................................................... 36 Back at the Women’s Ward ............................................... 41 Surprises ............................................................................. 44 Life Beyond the Classroom .............................................. 48 The New Friend ................................................................. 54 Mysteries Revealed ............................................................ 60 Sissy ..................................................................................... 64 Opening Day ...................................................................... 68 Epilogue .............................................................................. 70
Foreword The Baby Boomer Generation refers to people who were born between the end of WWII and the mid-1960s. Because of their high numbers, they were characterized as a generation of hard workers, strong work ethics, and competitive spirit. At the end of WWII, many Americans were eager to marry and start a family and thus the name, Baby Boomer. Due to a general lack of world news that was available in the early 50’s, life seemed to be worry-free and prosperous. However, as more people got televisions in the homes, knowledge of worldly events began to change the perception of this generation. The Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought us very close to another war, the Civil Rights Movement, which brought unrest among Americans, the Vietnam War, which brought distrust of our own government, the political assassinations, flower children, Beatle mania, Woodstock, Hippies, and the Moon Landing were all a part of this generation’s youth. I was born in 1950, so I was right in the middle of the Baby Boomer generation. I experienced an awesome childhood, consisting of leaving my home in the morning with a packed lunch and my bicycle and not returning until evening for dinner (my mother would honk the car horn with a long and two shorts to let me know it was time to come in). But this carefree lifestyle soon changed.
My freshman year of college I dressed in a suit, heals, and hat to go to a football game. By the time I was a senior, we were wearing raggedy blue jeans, tee shorts, short skirts, and had long hair (men and women).Pot and acid (LSD) were easily available on campus, along with much alcohol. The temptations to use these things to cope with worldly events were all around us. We had choices to either go the high road and avoid these ways to cope, or we could choose the easy road and try to forget about our problems. We became known as the rebellious generation, and much effort was made by my generation to make the rest of society upset with us by the way we dressed and wore our hair. Folk songs became the norm and flowers were often painted on cars and vans. As men began to return from Vietnam, they were often greeted by sneers and profanity. Many of the veterans suffered from PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) but were not properly treated. Many coped with drugs and alcohol and jobs were hard to come by, forcing some to live on the streets. I grew up in Weston, West Virginia, which was also the home of the State Mental Hospital. I would visit from time to time at the hospital, and quickly observed that many of the patients were normal people who had experienced traumatic events in their lives. Some were tied to their chairs, while others were able to walk freely outside. My 4-H club would have parties for some of them, and it was fun to get to know them better. Many people from Weston worked at the Hospital so it was a very important part of our community. It wasn’t until I left Weston that I discovered the stigma that many people had about mental disease. I found it disturbing that there were some patients who had committed crimes who were in the hospital behind bars (visitors not allowed). Our home was close to the hospital, and occasionally a prisoner would escape, to be captured on the other side of the river across from our house. I can’t deny having an uneasy feeling about this, so I chose to include this in my book. 6
Although my novel is fictional, there are a few things based on my own childhood. As you read my book, I hope you will feel attached to Melby and the way she deals with the life she is given. I hope you will realize, at least in part, that mental health is an issue that we all need to have a better handle on. We should never be ashamed that we need someone to talk to sometimes and that we can all use a helpful hand. It is not for us to judge others, but instead to lift them up.
The Orientation It was my first day on the job. With less than a year remaining for my nursing degree, this was my chance to get some good field experience. The opportunity to be the nurse on duty at the state mental hospital was more than I had even hoped for, especially since I would be on the ward for young women. I had a particular desire to learn more about the mental health field since my father suffered from depression since he returned from the war. The mental health facility was a large, two-story structure built from hand-carved stone. Showing signs of age, it branched out on both sides and resembled a castle of olden days. I don’t know when it was built, but the tile floors were cracked and made a creaking, echoing sound when walking across it. The ceiling was very high and the hallways were dark, giving the place an eerie atmosphere. It comes as no surprise some believed the place to be haunted. My friends all thought I was crazy to want to work here, but I looked forward to getting to know the patients. Upon entering the building, I went to the front desk to register. The receptionist directed the security guard to take me to the young women’s ward. The guard on duty was a bit gruff and appeared to be annoyed with the disruption to his routine. He had a short, burly beard and a belly that hung over his belt. The loop of his belt contained a ring of numerous keys 9
that jingled as he walked, causing me to chuckle to myself. He casually mentioned the ward seemed to have a hard time keeping night staff. I could feel my anxiety rising as I waited at the door of the ward. I rang the buzzer to let them know I was here. I was promptly greeted by an elderly woman who seemed rather pleased her shift was over. Leaving me with very little instruction, she only told me the women all knew the routine. They were to get their showers and their medications before bed at 9:00. The individual medicine doses would be delivered by the security guard at 8:30. Lights should be out by 9:30. The security guard would be close by if there were any problems. Just ring the buzzer by the office. With that being said, the woman hurried down the hall to the exit. She turned to me and yelled, “If you have any questions, just ask Melby. She’s a very odd child but seems to know what’s going on.” Taking my coat off, replacing my street shoes with my white nursing shoes, and placing my nurse’s cap securely on my head, I could feel the women’s eyes watching my every move. I was new to their world, so it was understandable they would probably keep their distance from me. This, however, couldn’t have been more from the truth. They immediately surrounded me. Some were touching my hair, others were feeling my clothing, and a few were holding on to my hands as though they were afraid I would leave them. All I could think about at this moment was how much love and attention these dear women needed. After the brief meet and greet, showers were next on the agenda, but instead, I decided to pull up the rocking chair and read a story from my favorite book, Aesop’s Fables. I chose to read The Tortoise and the Hare. The women quietly gathered around, some in chairs and some on the floor as they listened intently to the story. I imagined that few of them had ever been read to. When I finished reading the story, I talked a little about what the story meant and then asked them if they were ready for their showers. They dutifully lowered their heads and headed into the shower room. There were a few misplaced 10
splashes of water and some yelling, but no more than I would expect from any group of women taking a shower together. Personal privacy was not an option. Once the women had showered and dressed for bed, the security guard was buzzed in to deliver the medications, although he seemed a bit peeved I was already off schedule. The women lined up to get their meds and a cup of water. The cups were then dropped in the trash can and the women headed to their sleeping quarters. The metal cots and pillows were against the walls so the women’s feet would be facing the middle aisle. Small footlockers containing their belongings were at the end of the beds, reminding me of an army barrack. The women were busy combing their hair and wandering from bed to bed to share any secrets they might have. I was sure I was the topic of conversation tonight, and hoped it was all positive. As the clock approached 9:30, I slowly walked down the aisle, reading aloud the name of each woman as I passed. I tried to make a mental picture of each of their faces, but they all seemed to have the same faraway look of despair. At the end of the aisle, I read the name, “Melby.” A light clicked on as I remembered what the day nurse said about her. She had a very young face and deep blue eyes. She was holding a rag doll that had seen better days and probably served as her security blanket. Meanwhile, Melby was staring at me as intensely as I was at her. I stopped staring first and quickly walked down the aisle to the door and turned off the light. “Night night, sleep tight,” I whispered as I turned to leave. Someone from the back of the room whispered back, “Don’t let the bed bugs bite.” There were a few giggles as I went to my desk, hoping there weren’t really any bed bugs. I knew there would be a lot of down time on my shift, so I brought some medical books with me to study. As it got quiet, the creaking noises of an old building took over, but didn’t bother me since I grew up in an old house. About an hour passed since I started reading, and my weary eyes were about 11
to close. It was so peaceful. The only sound I now heard was the gentle purring of the resident cat who was curled up at my feet. I don’t know how long I had been asleep, but suddenly I was awakened by the face of a ghost-like creature staring at me. I’m sure it was the remnant of a Halloween mask, but at that moment, all I could do was scream at the top of my lungs. The sudden noise awakened the cat, who pounced on my lap, causing me to tilt my chair so far back that I landed on the floor. I looked again where the ghostly figure had been, but it had disappeared as quickly as it had appeared. Did I imagine it? Getting up slowly and straightening my uniform, I decided to walk to the sleeping dorm to see if there was anything strange happening there. As I cautiously entered, I heard heavy breathing, which could only mean the women were all sound asleep. I was glad I hadn’t awakened them with my screaming. I slowly walked down the aisle, looking for anything out of place. When I got to the end of the room, I thought I saw a piece of string hanging out from under Melby’s pillow that could possibly be part of a mask. Leaning in to get a better look, Melby opened her eyes and began to scream. When she screamed, I screamed, and then all the women started to scream. Not sure what to do about the commotion I had just caused, I decided to leave the room quickly and wait for the security guard to enter. I was sure he heard the ruckus, as it was loud enough to wake the dead. True to form, he entered the ward out of breath with the look of terror on his face. He found me at my desk, smiling up at him as if nothing had happened. He walked quickly to the sleeping quarters to find that all the women were sleeping soundly. He then returned to my desk. I again smiled up at him as he scratched his head and mumbled something about ghosts. I said, “Perhaps you had a bad dream.” He left with a slam of the door. I was familiar with “initiations” often performed before becoming a member of a club, so I imagined I had just been initiated into the fold of the lovely young women’s ward of the 12
hospital. No longer able to study, I decided to read a file from the drawer titled “Melby.”
Five years earlier. . .
Good Times “Melby. Your breakfast is getting cold,” Mom yelled up to her from the bottom of the stairs. “It’s a beautiful day outside and your friends will be by shortly.” Looking at the clock on the wall, Melby couldn’t believe she slept in so late. It was the first day of summer and she had lots of things planned. Getting dressed at lightning speed, she hurried down the stairs and began slurping her oatmeal. “Slow down, Melby. You’ll choke yourself. I already packed your lunch for you, so you have plenty of time to eat your food the right way. Are you all going to the strip mine?” Melby smiled as she thought about the good times she planned to have at the abandoned strip mine at the end of the hollow. It had once been an active mine full of heavy equipment and miners who stripped the sides of the mountain in search of coal veins close to the surface. Once the work was completed it was abandoned, leaving it rocky and void of any grass or suitable plant life. What it did have was plenty of slippery shale rocks on the sides of the stripped mountain, making it a unique place to find fossils. As unappealing as it looked, it also made a great place for make-believe games. It had become the neighborhood girls’ own personal playground. Melby had a vivid imagination, which went along with all the books she read and the stories handed down to her by her 14
mother. She and her friends enjoyed playing the parts from the stories, especially when it involved making up their own endings. Pirates, cops and robbers, and damsels in distress were among their favorites. Melby didn’t grow up in the age of television, computers, phones without cords, pizza, shopping malls, and 24-7 news clips. Her knowledge of what was going on in the world was from what she read in her library books, her friends, and from the brief news clips at the beginning of movies at the movie theater. To most people, Melby seemed like a happy, free-spirited child. Only those close to her knew of the sadness she hid just under the surface. Her father recently died in a car accident when a drunk driver ran into him. Days before the accident, her father gave her a rag doll and told her any time she felt alone to hold the doll and she would feel comfort. Melby now kept the doll with her at all times, which might explain its worn condition. No one dared take it from her to clean it because they knew Melby would rather fight than relinquish the doll. It was just an unspoken rule not to discuss or to bother the doll. As Melby washed her breakfast dishes, her mother stood beside her and asked, “Melby, you haven’t said much since your father passed on. Are you doing okay?” “Not really. I don’t understand how another person can kill someone I love. Daddy should be here. My friends all have their dads. It’s just not fair.” “No, Melby, it’s not fair. Life’s not fair. But there are still lots of people here who care for you and want you to be happy. You could mourn all your life about it, or you could be thankful for the time you had with him. He would want you to always be good to people and to help make the world better.” “From my view, the world could use a lot of help.” Her mom smiled and nodded her head in agreement. Hearing the knock at the door, Melby’s friends had all arrived. Instead of going to the strip mine, they decided to go to their clubhouse so they could discuss their summer plans. Riding their bikes up the dirt road, one of her friends asked 15
the others if they had heard the commotion at the river last night. Some had, but even though Melby’s house was closest to the river, she was such a sound sleeper that she hadn’t heard anything. Her friend seemed to know a lot about it since her mother, Mrs. Cox, worked at the state mental hospital in town. She said another patient escaped, but they caught him where they always catch the escapees--trying to cross the river. The river wasn’t very deep, but at night it could look larger and deeper than it actually was. “I thought the patients at the hospital weren’t dangerous. I often see them walking outside. I even stop to talk to them sometimes. In fact, I had some relatives that were there as patients for a while right after the war so they could get on the right medications,” said Melby. “My mom says they have a special ward for the criminally insane. That means they caused a crime because they weren’t in their right minds and needed to be medicated before they could go to trial.” “If I ever got caught, I think I would act insane just so I could go here,” said another friend. “Let’s change the subject,” said Melby, who avoided negative conversations whenever she could. She wanted this summer to be a special one, free of bad stuff. “Sounds good to us,” they all agreed as they hurried to their clubhouse. Benches lined two sides of the clubhouse and posters of movie stars lined the walls. The clubhouse was really just an abandoned shed, but with a broom and a little paint, the girls claimed it as their own. A shelf on one side of the clubhouse held cards, table games, puzzles, magazines, the latest Sears and Roebuck catalog, and plenty of paper and writing utensils. Even with its rustic exterior, the place was like a mansion to the girls. While sitting on the benches, the girls talked about the past school year, including the teachers, boys, and clothes. It was good to get together again, as they didn’t always see each other during the school year. During the conversations, plans were 16
made for the summer. Tomorrow would be a visit to the strip mine to see what had changed since last summer and to collect anything that looked interesting. They ate their lunches and spent the rest of the day playing cards and starting a puzzle. The summer was filled with activities, to the point where time slipped by all too quickly. School was to start up again the following week, so school clothes, classroom supplies, and questions about teachers were on everyone’s mind. A friend of theirs who lived in town had invited the girls to an end-ofsummer slumber party, so that would probably be their last summer fling before school started. Since the party was in the evening, however, they planned one last visit to the strip mine. To get to the strip mine, the girls could only ride their bikes part way. They then trekked through a wooded area before they came to the top. They wanted to make one last trip around the mountain to look for fossils and unusual rocks they could take to school. Since the day was hot and they had a party to get ready for, they gathered up their treasures and headed back to their homes by early afternoon. Scaring off a snake on the way down, the girls spent most of their hike down the mountain giggling and talking about what they were going to wear to the party. As Melby opened the door to her home, she could hardly wait to tell her mom about the snake they saw on the trail. Her mom had a deadly fear of snakes, so Melby loved to tease her about them. “You better not bring one of those things here, Missy, if you know what’s good for you! In fact, you can just leave your strip mine treasures outside in case any crawly thing slipped in your bag.” “Oh, shoot. I left my bag at the strip mine,” Melby said. “We started talking about the party and the beginning of school and I completely forgot about it. I need to go back to get it before anything happens to it.” “Remember, you need to take a bath before your party. Your feet are filthy. Don’t be long up there, and be careful,” 17
Mom cautioned. “I won’t be long. I remember right where I left my stash. I’ll be back before you even miss me.” True to her word, Melby wasted no time getting to the strip mine to retrieve her bag. It was just where she thought it would be. Hearing a bird chirping above her, she looked up to see what kind of bird it was. It was then that she noticed a large tree on top of the stripped mountain top. Not having noticed it before, and since she still had plenty of time to get ready for the party, she decided to try to climb up the steep shale side of the mountain so she could look around. I guess the vein of coal ran out before all of the mountain was stripped. The tree at the top might make a good hideaway for us next year, Melby thought to herself. Having been cautioned numerous times about the danger of climbing the side of the mountain, Melby figured it was time to see for herself if the shale could be climbed. Carefully placing each foot on the pieces of rock, she slowly made her way almost to the top. Before she could take another step, however, the shale gave way sending Melby down the side in a cloud of dust and rocks. Coming to her senses, Melby slowly got up, dusted herself off, and checked her arms and legs. Seeing no blood, she figured she would live, but the tree at the top of the mountain would have to wait until next year. As she turned to go home, she noticed the fallen shale had unearthed something odd. Upon closer inspection, it appeared to be a tattered cloth that was used to wrap something up. Melby’s curiosity couldn’t stand it, so she carefully went back up the side to retrieve it. Digging it out of the earth, she gently unwrapped the cloth to see what treasure it held. With hands shaking, she then added it to her bag of treasures. Arriving home, Melby quickly got ready for the party with time to spare. “Mom, I need your scissors, needle, and thread so I can mend my doll before the party. It shouldn’t take too long.” 18
Receiving the sewing items, Melby carefully worked on her doll and tried to clean her up. The new stitches looked pretty good, so she tucked the doll in her satchel and waited for her mom to take her to town. “You don’t need to pick me up in the morning because Mrs. Cox said she could bring us all home.” “Be sure to thank her for me.” “I will. So, what are you going to do without me this evening to bug you,” Melby said with a smile. “I think I’ll pick some things from the garden so you can help me preserve them tomorrow,” Mom said as she returned the smile. Upon arriving at her friend’s house in town, she hugged her mom and took off running to join her friends. Much giggling, eating, and storytelling ensued as the girls ended their summer on a good note. No one got much sleep, but that was okay. The following morning the girls ate their breakfast, giggled some more, and then piled into Mrs. Cox’s car. Melby’s house was first, but as Mrs. Cox started to turn into her driveway, she was stopped by a policeman flagging her down. There were four police cars parked in front of the house and Melby’s heart immediately fell to the pit of her stomach.
Bad Times “Sergeant Wilcox, here’s the daughter. She’s okay. Had been staying with friends.” “Good. Put her in your squad car and tell her what happened.” Trooper Smithfield cringed a bit, knowing how hard this would be. Opening the door where Melby sat, he reached in and took her hand. Goodness, he thought. She doesn’t look any older than my little sister. “You’ll need to come with me,” he said with a forced smile. Melby slid across the seat and forced herself to get out of the car, even though she knew when she did, her life would change forever. “Is my mom okay?” Melby asked with a shaking voice. “Let’s sit in my car for a bit and I’ll tell you what I know.” Opening his squad car door, he helped Melby get in as he went around the vehicle and sat on the other side. Looking into Melby’s large, tear-filled eyes, the trooper took a deep breath and began, “There was a prisoner from the State Mental Ward who escaped last evening about dark. We can usually capture any prisoner before he’s able to get far, but this escape happened right after roll call and he was gone for a while before he was missed. He got as far as the river and decided to cross it. Your home was probably the first one he saw. The door wasn’t locked and he went in, possibly to seek refuge, a change of clothes, and something to eat. Your mother was in the kitchen at the 20
time. We’re guessing she grabbed a knife to protect herself. The escapee, who was guilty of murder in the past, was just too strong and was able to overpower her. I’m sorry to say that your mom died before we got to her. With a blood trail leading out of the house, we’re sure she was able to cut him up pretty badly before he got the best of her.” At this point, Melby was dazed and could only picture her mom smiling and waving goodbye to her when she left for the party the night before. The officer continued, “Melby, we know your father has also passed on, so we need to find you a suitable place to stay. We understand that your closest relative is your aunt, who lives on the other side of town. We have called her and she said she would be here to pick you up.” Melby shuttered at the thought of living with her aunt, who had the mean, spoiled, and obnoxious son. She hated to think she was related to him, but now she was going to live under the same roof. Melby stared at her home, probably for the last time, as she waited for her Aunt Louise to arrive. Melby remembered her aunt as a gossip and a terrible cook, which was probably why her mother didn’t visit her very much. At this point in Melby’s life, she didn’t think it could get any worse, so she buried her emotions deep inside her and accepted her fate. At least she had her doll with her, which was the only comfort she would find for some time. Aunt Louise arrived with quite the flair, making sure everyone knew she had come to rescue her dear niece. Since the house was now a crime scene, an officer gathered a few things that looked like they belonged to Melby and handed them to Louise. She dramatically handed the sack of belongings to Melby, then they headed to her home. Aunt Louise’s fake smile quickly faded as she approached her home. “Melby, I know you’ve had a hard day, but don’t think for one minute that I’m going to baby you. I expect you to follow my rules and to help around the house. I want 21
no bickering with Samuel, as he was not too happy with you moving in. Since I don’t have a spare bedroom, you can sleep in the den above the carport. It will need to be cleaned, but I can give you the necessary cleaning supplies for you to make it livable.” Melby was not surprised Samuel was not looking forward to seeing her again. He was known as a bully at school, but he never bothered Melby because he knew she would beat him up in a heartbeat if he messed with her or her friends. Melby was younger than he was but had more spunk than anyone else in the school. Upon arriving at Aunt Louise’s house, Melby gathered her things and walked in. Samuel met them at the door, trying to look as tough as possible, but immediately felt intimidated when Melby gave him a mean look in return. He then headed to his bedroom while Melby prepared her place above the carport. At least it’s a roof over my head, Melby thought to herself as she hugged her doll for reassurance. “Life can certainly change in a day’s time,” she muttered to herself as she made up her bed on the sofa. As evening approached, there was a knock at the door and Aunt Louise yelled for Melby to answer it. It was Trooper Smithfield at the door. “Melby, I wanted to check on you to see if you got settled in. I also wanted you to know that we found the escapee. We had dogs track the blood trail and found him midway up the mountain. He was evidently weakened from the loss of blood and had stumbled over a few rocks, landing on top of a copperhead den. Stirred by the surprise “attack,” the snakes wasted no time biting him. Between the loss of blood and the snake bites, the prisoner probably died soon after. He was dead when the dogs got to him. Melby was glad the man who had killed her mother would not be able to hurt anyone else, but she had to smile to herself at the thought her mother got the last laugh, with snakes giving him the fatal blow.
Her mother’s funeral was sad, of course, but Melby managed to get through it without having to talk to anyone. It was important to her to keep her defenses up because she knew she would break down if anyone got her to talk about it. She squeezed her doll through the service and then rode in silence back to Aunt Louise’s house. “Once your mom’s house and possessions are sold, the money will be used to pay off all of her bills. If there’s any left, it will be put in a trust fund for you to be able to access when you are 18, but I doubt if that will be much, her Aunt said to Melby while they were still in the car. Melby knew her mother had put a sum of money aside for her education, but decided her aunt didn’t need to know any of that, as she would probably try to get access to it to help Samuel. Melby’s mom had always said Aunt Louise was a poor manager of her money. School started the next day and Melby knew there were a lot of whispers about her. She didn’t have many classes with her close friends, so she managed to avoid the questions. The teachers seemed exceptionally kind to her, but she avoided eye contact with them as well. When Melby got home each evening, she would go straight to her room and work on her homework. She was also in charge of setting the dinner table and cleaning the dishes. Aunt Louise rarely talked to her and Samuel only smirked at her when he got the chance. True to form, Samuel continued to be the school bully. Some of the students begged Melby to put Samuel in his place, but it wasn’t her fight and she wanted no more drama. Feeling more confident with his bullying success, he decided it was time to show everyone that he was tougher than Melby. After all, she only lived at his house because his mom let her, so he was sure she wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize that. Gathering a few of his friends as backup, he carefully snuck up behind Melby at the end of the school day and grabbed her doll, throwing it out the school door and into the bushes. 23
Turning around to face her enemy, Samuel saw a look from Melby he had never seen before. His friends all ran, but Melby grabbed Samuel before he could get away. With a strong right hook, she hit Samuel squarely in the eye, causing him to drop to the ground crying. Melby immediately grabbed her doll from the bushes and headed home, determined he would never do that to her again. When Melby got home, she packed up her few possessions and made plans to escape that night after everyone went to bed. But before nightfall came, Aunt Louise knocked on Melby’s door. She told Melby she wanted her to go with her to visit her elderly aunt. A bit confused and knowing that she must have seen Samuel’s eye by now, she grabbed her doll and followed her to her car. “Where does your aunt live?” Melby asked. “She’s a patient at the State Hospital. I wanted you to go with me since you are familiar with the place. I’m not sure where I need to go.” “We will need to go to the front desk to register and then someone will escort us to her ward. Are you sure it’s okay to visit her now? Visiting hours are usually in the afternoon,” Melby responded with a confused look. “Yes, I called ahead and they said it would be okay. I think she just needs some company,” Aunt Louise said with a sly grin. Upon entering the State Hospital, they were greeted by a couple of men in white uniforms. They took Melby’s arms and immediately wrapped her in a straitjacket. Aunt Louise went to the front desk and filled out some forms and then left the facility as quickly as she could. “I guess that will teach that young lady that she can’t hit my son. I can’t have someone in my house who is violent like that. To hear Samuel tell it, he’s lucky to be alive. Well, he won’t have to worry about her anymore. Good riddance, I say,” Aunt Louise said to herself as she got back in her car.
The Big House Once again, Melby’s life took a fateful turn from her aunt’s house to the mental hospital. Still wrapped in the straitjacket (a white coat that bound her arms so she couldn’t fight back), she was escorted to the entrance of the young women’s ward. While all eyes were on her, she calmly walked in as her straitjacket was removed. Fortunately, her doll had traveled with her. As she stood in the middle of the room, she noticed the stares coming from the women in the ward. Melby started to return those stares when she was taken to a seat where a woman stood holding a pair of scissors. The long tresses of Melby’s hair fell to the floor as her beautiful hair was cut, leaving short, stubby hair remaining. Melby shot a questioning eye at the woman with the scissors, who explained it was important to cut her hair in case she got lice, as short hair made it easier to control. Although that made sense, Melby had never had lice before, but assumed these women had. Anyway, it really didn’t matter to Melby, who by this time had taken the “I don’t really care” attitude, and no one could blame her. Melby was then taken to the shower room and handed a bar of soap and a towel. Relieved she could wash off all memories of her Aunt Louise’s house, she scrubbed long and hard. When the shower was over, she noticed the clothes she had worn in were replaced by a dreary, old and faded gown that matched the other women’s clothing in the ward. With a sigh, Melby 25
decided to accept her fate with as much dignity as she could muster. Although her pride had been beaten down, she was not out for the count. As she walked back to the main room, she remembered her mother telling her that life wasn’t fair, but she should replace evil with good. Sound advice, she thought as she straightened her gown, raised her head high, and prepared for the next chapter in her life. Sleep that night was difficult. The pillow was too lumpy, the cot was too hard, and the covers were too hot. On top of that, there was plenty of snoring and night sounds as all the women slept in the same room. Melby wasn’t used to sleeping with other people so close to her, but she finally drifted to sleep about an hour before it was time to wake up. Attempting to rub the matter from her eyes, she tried to focus on her roommates. In the bed beside her was a young woman who never seemed to look anyone in the eyes. Anxious to make friends, Melby asked her what her name was. “Sissy,” she mumbled. The woman in the bed next to Sissy whispered, “You’re lucky to even get her name, as she rarely speaks to anyone. She was abused badly as a child by her stepfather every night. She tried to run away from him, but when her family found her, they sent her here. We often hear her crying in the middle of the night.” Understanding how easy it was to have your spirit broken, Melby decided that Sissy would be her first project. She wanted to help Sissy learn to deal with her past and only look ahead. While Melby was making plans for Sissy in her mind, she noticed Sissy kept looking at her doll. “My dad gave it to me just days before he was killed in a car crash. He told me that if I ever needed a hug, to squeeze my doll and he would be there in my mind. I guess that’s why it looks so tattered. Anyway, the doll stays with me at all times.” Just then, the floor nurse in charge announced breakfast was ready. Everyone lined up and walked single file through the 26
cafeteria and picked up their trays. Melby knew already, since she grew up nearby, that most of the food served at the hospital was grown or raised on the property. She had to chuckle to herself as she remembered wondering a few years ago if the food was any good. Guess she would be finding out firsthand. Returning the empty trays, as the food was indeed very good, the women then went to the bathroom to brush their teeth and to get ready for the day. Privacy in the bathroom was not to be attained. Melby wondered why they hadn’t at least put up some shower curtains for dividers, but she also knew she needed to keep her opinions to herself since she was a patient and not the one in charge. Once bathroom duties were over, which included mopping the floor, cleaning the sinks, and putting their toiletries back in their baskets, the women were able to mingle around the main room. Seeing the nurse on duty at her desk, Melby went up to her and asked, “Is there a library where I can go and read or a place I can write?” The nurse stared at her for a minute and then replied, “You’re new here. Guess you came in last evening after my shift. Let me give you a brief tour of what you can and can’t do during your stay.” She studied Melby’s file for a moment and then continued. “It says here that you can be harmful to others and you are a flight risk. That means you will be staying in this ward unless you are escorted somewhere else. Don’t attempt to touch or to harm anyone here, or I will personally see to it that you will never see the light of day again.” Hoping her speech served to properly scare Melby into submission, she then told her there were a few old books on the shelf in the corner she could read. A bit shocked at the severity of the nurse’s attitude toward her, Melby turned and went to get a book. If I cause no trouble, then I should be able to stay out of trouble, she thought as she hid her spirit deep inside her being, which was the safest place she could find at the moment.
The books were covered in dust but still interesting to read. The adventures she discovered on their pages reminded her of better times when she and her friends acted out the parts from the books she read. Staring at one of the pages of the book for an extended period of time, Melby drifted off to sleep, only to be loudly awakened by the nurse in charge. “Melby, the doctor needs to see you now. The security guard will escort you to his office.” Once again, the straitjacket was brought out and placed on Melby. She was escorted briskly down the long, dark hallway to the doctor’s office. Busy with his paperwork, the doctor seemed annoyed by the disturbance. “This is the young lady brought in last night and here is her file,” the security guard said as he handed the doctor her file. He stood in the corner to wait since Melby was considered a flight risk and could not be left alone. Studying the papers for a few minutes, the doctor looked up at Melby. “Well, you don’t seem to be such a scary person. How do you like your stay here so far?” Melby thought to herself, what a stupid question. She wanted to be in her own home with her mom and dad. But that was just wishful thinking. Probably the best thing to do would be to say nothing. “So, you don’t choose to talk? Well, I can tell you this. You will need to prove to us you are not a threat to anyone before we will even consider letting you out of here. Also, you will need to show us you can get along just fine without that doll. It is just a crutch.” He then closed Melby’s file, wrote down the recommended medication and dosages and handed the paper to the guard. The guard then returned Melby to her ward. The rest of the day was very mundane, consisting of lunch, followed by soft music, a group session with the nurse, and quiet time, which Melby used to take a much-needed nap. When Melby awoke from her nap, she noticed that several of the women were sitting near her as if to protect her. Melby
smiled and thanked them for being there, as it felt good to have some friends again. Once the showers were over for the evening, the women all lined up near the nurse’s desk for evening medication. Melby missed this the night before. She noticed there was now a different nurse on duty. Melby was trying to avoid the medication line but was quickly placed at the end of the line by the security guard who brought in the medication. Melby watched as each medication was handed out. The pill was in one small cup and the water was in another. When Melby got to the front, she carefully placed the pill in the corner of her mouth and pretended to sip the water. She then placed both cups in the trash can, making sure the water poured out of the cup as she placed it in the can. Going behind the corner of the room, she found it fairly easy to remove the pill and dispose of it in the fake flower box that was filled with small white stones. Before getting into bed, Melby searched her few belongings for a pillowcase that she had brought with her. She then worked to remove some of the stuffing from her mattress and placed it in the pillowcase, shaping it to look like a head. She then ripped some narrow strips of fabric from her sheet to use for string and wrapped it around the neck, waist, arms, and legs, fashioning it to look like a quaint doll. She put a smile on its face and handed it to Sissy, who was already in bed. “Sissy, I want you to keep this doll beside you as you sleep. If you feel scared, just squeeze it and know that you are safe. No one is going to bother you anymore.” Sissy looked at Melby as if that were the first nice thing that had ever happened to her. For the first time in a long time, she was able to sleep undisturbed for the entire night. The days came and went quickly and uneventfully in the ward and soon the women were hearing Christmas carols playing over the speaker. It was funny how a person’s mood could change so quickly with music, but soon everyone, staff included, seemed to smile more. Melby was even enjoying the music a little bit when she heard someone enter the ward. It was 29
too early for the nurses to change shifts, so she was intent on seeing who was coming into their domain unannounced. And then Melby smiled from ear to ear, seeing it was the mother of her friend from her old neighborhood, Mrs. Cox.
Books, Books, and More Books “Oh, Melby. The girls and I have wondered for weeks what happened to you. Your Aunt Louise said you were staying somewhere else and Samuel just smirks. It wasn’t until this week when I happened to see the names of the women in your ward, that I noticed your name. What happened? How could you have possibly ended up here?” Melby could only smile at Mrs. Cox. It felt so good to see someone from home. “Well, you must have known that something was bound to happen with Samuel and me under the same roof. All I can say is that I won the battle, but Samuel won the war, at least for now. But don’t feel too sorry for me because this place, as bad as it may seem, is definitely better than staying at my Aunt Louise’s house.” “Well, we all wondered about you staying in the same house as Samuel. He’s not afraid of much, but he would always steer clear of you. So, Melby, I see you got your hair cut. I miss your beautiful long hair, but I like how you’ve managed to style your short hair.” “Yes, one of the staff members let me borrow a pair of scissors for a little bit. She liked my hair so much that she let me work on the other women. I think we look quite stylish, now,” Melby said with a grin. “You were always so positive, Melby. With all you’ve gone through in your short life, I don’t know how you can still smile. 31
The girls were wondering if you still had your doll, and I see she is still your companion.” “Yes. I know I wouldn’t have made it without her. As for everything that has happened to me, I just try not to think about it.” “Is there anything I can do for you or bring you?” Melby thought for a moment, then said with a grin, “I need books. Lots of books. And do you think I could do my school work while I’m in here? Could someone bring me things to work on?” “Let me think about it. I know a woman who recently retired from teaching. I know she misses the children, so maybe she would enjoy teaching you. She would have no problem since you were always the best student in your class. I’ll also check with our library to see if they would loan you some books to read. If I can swing it, you might be able to graduate with your class.” A tear ran down Melby’s eye as she thought about school once again. “Oh, Mrs. Cox, finding me a teacher would be the best Christmas present you could get me.” “Well then, Melby, we’ll just make it happen. Also, I wanted to tell you the abandoned strip-mine where you girls played was sold to someone from out of state. He is in the process of leveling it up, putting topsoil over the shale, and building homes on it. The girls were sad about it but knew it would never have been the same without you, anyway. I know you all found some interesting treasures there.” “Yes, we did,” Melby said with a smile, remembering her biggest treasure. “Tell everyone I’m fine and that I’m okay about the strip mine. We’ll always share fond memories of the place. Also, tell them I’ve made friends here and they seem to enjoy my stories. As I think about it, they’re like family to me now.” “They’ll be glad to know you’re doing so well. I’ll keep in touch.” As Mrs. Cox got up to leave, she gave Melby a big hug and a kiss on her forehead. “Take care, sweet child.”
Melby fought away her tears as she watched Mrs. Cox walk down the hall. Melby quickly walked to her favorite chair in the main room and started reading one of the books left there. The truth is, however, she had no idea what she was reading since all she could think about was the possibility of getting a teacher to work with her. True to her word, Mrs. Cox talked to the retired teacher, Mrs. Collins, that evening about working with Melby. Mrs. Collins was excited about the idea and went to Melby’s school the next morning to see what work she had missed so far. The teachers met during their planning and outlined a schedule of work for the first week. They recommended that Mrs. Collins meet with Melby every Monday with assignments. She was to explain everything to her and would pick up her work the following Monday when she was to give Melby the new assignments. The teachers even made Mrs. Collins her own mailbox at the school to make it more convenient to pick up and deliver Melby’s assignments. The project became known as “Team Melby.” The following week Mrs. Collins went to the state mental hospital to work with Melby. After checking in at the front desk, she was informed that Melby could possibly attack her, but she hadn’t caused any trouble so far. She was also informed Melby was a flight risk and she would have to meet with her in the ward. They checked her book bag to be sure she wasn’t carrying anything Melby could use to harm others. After all of this, Mrs. Collins wasn’t sure what she was getting herself into. The security guard escorted Mrs. Collins to the women’s ward, introduced her to the nurse in charge, and promptly left. Melby was sitting in her favorite chair reading when the nurse took Mrs. Collins to her. Melby looked up at her as her eyes filled with excitement. “Are you my teacher?” What a sweet young lady, Mrs. Collins thought as she met Melby for the first time. Mrs. Cox told her that she would enjoy working with her and now she could see why. How could anyone think that she could be a behavior problem? 33
“Melby, let’s find a table and get to work.” After about an hour, Mrs. Collins stood up and told Melby she would be back next Monday to pick up these assignments and give her more. She left the ward and started skipping down the hall, which she hadn’t done since she was in her twenties. As she got in her car, she said out loud, even though no one was around, “Thank you, Lord, for letting me be a part of this beautiful child’s life.” The next week Mrs. Cox showed up to give Melby a few things—Christmas cards she could give to her newfound friends in the ward, ornaments to decorate the main room, and books she had checked out from the library. The librarian was more than happy to send the books since Melby used to go there all the time. Life on the ward had certainly improved once Melby was able to continue her schoolwork and have a wider selection of books to read. Mrs. Cox continued to give her notes from her neighborhood friends and kept her supplied with various holiday decorations, all within the accepted hospital requirements, of course. As one year turned into another and then another, Melby developed a close bond with the women in her ward, but Sissy was probably her best friend. She was able to tell Sissy a few things about her past while Sissy listened in silence. It was hard for Melby to talk about the loss of her parents, as that wound was still too deep for her to bring up anytime soon. Sissy still couldn’t talk about her past but didn’t have nightmares anymore. Over the years, Melby and Sissy developed a special bond that meant they understood each other without much conversation between them. Each day was pretty much the same at the women’s ward, but sometimes, particularly on the night shift, they would get a nurse on duty who didn’t like them talking to each other or taking too long in the shower. When that nurse was in hearing distance, Melby would sometimes make up stories about the resident “ghost” who lived in the women’s ward. She would 34
talk about the creepy noises they heard in the middle of the night and how a few of the women had actually seen the ghost roaming around their beds at night. This story became more realistic with the help of a Halloween mask that Melby had received from Mrs. Cox back in the fall. She had to turn in all holiday decorations after each event, but kept the mask in case she needed it in the future. As a result, the ward had a reputation for being haunted and most of the night shift nurses moved on to other employment shortly after getting there, leaving more experienced nurses to fill the vacancies. It was now January, and Melby was in her senior year of school. Things were back to routine on the ward when they heard rumors a new nurse would take over the duties at night. Wonder how long this one will last? Melby thought to herself. Some of the women thought they should “initiate” this nurse the first night just to find out how badly she wanted to be there. They were sure she would hear stories about the ghosts in the ward before she got there. They figured if she stayed the night, she must be okay. That evening, Miss Mary Sumpter showed up for duty. Miss Sumpter arrived with a book bag full of medical books, probably meant to fill the downtime during the night. Little did she know there wouldn’t be much downtime that night.
The Great Escape My first night at the young women’s ward of the mental hospital was one filled with surprises. Getting scared by a silly Halloween mask, falling off my rocker, waking up the entire ward with screaming, and scaring the security guard, I settled back down and started reading Melby’s file. I was greatly saddened by the fact that such a smart, creative, and pleasant child could be labeled as a threat to society and sent here. The poor child must have been devastated by the loss of both parents so closely together. I hope to get to know Melby better during my stay here if she will let me. The rest of the night ended uneventfully, thankfully. When the day nurse took over the next morning, she looked at me quizzically, probably expecting to see me rush out the door and never to be heard from again. Much to her surprise, I smiled at her and told her it was a very relaxing, uneventful night. The women who were closest to me smiled when they heard me say this. “Well, Miss Simpson. I hope you will be able to spend the rest of the year with us, at least until you finish your education,” the day nurse said as she prepared for the day. “Yes, I hope so, too. Mental health is an area that I think I can do the most good,” I said in return. The day nurse gave a slight grunt when I said this. “Good luck with that, Miss Simpson. I believe you’ll find what you 36
think about things don’t really matter much, and it never will unless you’re the one in charge and making the rules.” For several weeks life on the women’s ward went as predicted with some yelling, a few nightmares, and a lot of Melby’s storytelling. But this time, her stories had happier endings. Her favorite stories involved her friends and their trips to the strip mine. The women were always asking her to tell those stories again. Each time she told the story, she tried to add a few new things. She even included finding a pirate chest that was full of loot. I noticed Melby always carried her doll with her. This doll, however, was obviously worn, raveled, and dirty, as though she had been carrying it for some time. When I finally asked the day nurse about it, she said Melby’s father gave it to her right before he had been killed and she always had it with her. I found it interesting that none of the women tried to take it from her. Mrs. Collins came by every week to help Melby keep her assignments up. Everyone on the ward, including the staff, was excited Melby had only a few months to go before graduation. That would be a great accomplishment and hopefully, it would encourage other patients to try to better themselves, as well. One cold and windy day in March, there was a “changing of the guards.” The current doctor in charge of the women’s ward had taken a job at another facility and a new doctor took his place. No one knew what this doctor would expect, but he wasted no time getting to know the women. He met with each woman, went over her file, and made recommendations that often meant making changes in the medication. The women seemed upset with the new doctor, mostly because he didn’t seem to care about their personal lives and was only interested in medicating them. The next patient to be seen by him was Sissy, who still didn’t talk much and was very uncomfortable around men, considering what she had gone through as a child with her stepfather. The doctor studied Sissy’s file and determined she 37
needed to be more comfortable around men since not all men were like her stepfather. Although his reasoning made sense, the reality was much different. The doctor moved Sissy’s chair closer to his, thinking she would see there was nothing to fear of him. However, Sissy immediately went into panic mode and ran from the room crying and asking for her homemade doll. The doctor made note to increase her medication and to remove her doll immediately. “She needs to face reality, and the sooner the better,” he wrote in his file. When Sissy returned to the ward, Melby immediately went to Sissy’s side and told her to think of something happy. She also told her to hide her doll. By this time, Melby had labeled the new doctor a “bully.” The only woman patient the new doctor hadn’t met with yet was Melby, so the next day, he sent the guard to get her. Not seeing a reason to put on the straitjacket since Melby hadn’t been a threat since she had come to the hospital, the guard just walked beside Melby to the doctor’s office. “Melby,” the doctor said as he shuffled through the papers in her file. “I see you are a violent person and a flight risk, yet you have exhibited none of these behaviors during your stay here. In fact, it says you are working toward a high school diploma. This speaks well of you, so now I believe we can address that silly doll you keep dragging around,” as he grabbed the doll from her clutches. Feeling an immediate chill in the air, the security guard stood on alert as he saw Melby slug the doctor with her fist across his nose. Jolted back to his seat with pain, the doctor pushed the button that sounded the alarm. Meanwhile, the guard held Melby’s arms behind her to keep her from attacking him again. Two men in white coats came in and immediately gave Melby a shot that made her unconscious. They then carried her back to the ward and placed her in her bed and tied her down.
After they left the room, the doctor, a bit shaken by the event, wrote in Melby’s file, “Patient is a risk to others and should immediately be put in a ward suitable for her outbursts of anger.” He then changed her medication and scheduled a brain exploratory surgery for the next morning. Not feeling the best and thinking his nose was probably broken, he left for the day. The remainder of the day in the women’s ward was very quiet. Not knowing what had happened to Melby, the realization the doctor was in total control hit a somber note among all the women, including staff. Meanwhile, the security guard, who had also been shaken by what had just happened, came into the ward several times to check on Melby. During his last visit, before he went off duty, he brought in Melby’s doll, telling the nurse that maybe she could keep it safe for Melby until she felt better. He laid Melby’s revised file on the nurse’s desk. When I arrived for the night shift, the day nurse tried to explain to me what had happened to Melby and then rushed out of the ward. I immediately noticed all the women staring at me as I took off my coat and checked my desk for my assignments. Melby’s file was on top of the paperwork, so I started reading it to see if there had been any changes. As I began reading, my face turned red and I had to sit down. “How could anyone with any kind of a degree do this to such a fragile and special person as Melby?” I asked myself. I immediately went to Melby’s bedside, followed by all the women patients. As Melby continued to sleep, the women and I began hatching out a plan to save Melby from the exploratory brain surgery. Results from this surgery for other patients had been sketchy at best and many were damaged for life. Once our plan was complete, we continued with our regular schedule so no one would be the wiser. I sat at my desk and made a few phone calls and then supervised the women as they took their showers and got their medications. After they settled in their beds, one woman remarked that it was almost like one of Melby’s stories, to which several women chuckled. 39
Once things were quiet in the ward, I was able to get Melby awake and told her what she needed to do. She was a bit groggy but nodded her head that she understood. Then one of the women went to the shower room and immediately started to scream, which brought the security guard, the other women, and myself to check on the drama. The woman screamed she had seen a mouse, which then made the other women scream. I handed a broom to the security guard and pleaded for him to find it and kill it, explaining that I was also scared of mice. Puffing out his chest a bit, the guard took the broom in hand and tiptoed to each stall and corner. When the guard was in one corner, a woman would scream that she saw it running in the opposite direction. This lasted about fifteen minutes until the guard finally said that he would set a trap for it tomorrow and they needed to get to bed. During all of the commotion, Melby snuck into my office, put on my street shoes, coat, hat, and went to the exit door, which I had propped open after the guard had entered. Melby then walked down the hall, went down the steps, and out the side door. Looking all around, she saw a car’s lights coming toward her. When it stopped, she got inside the car and off she went. Melby was still in a daze as to all that happened to her, but she knew leaving that place was the best thing she could do right then. Cold from the night air, Melby put her hands in her pocket and then started to smile. Inside the pocket of the coat was her rag doll. Melby didn’t know whose car she was in or where she was going, but she really didn’t care. She closed her eyes and dreamed she was back home with her mom and dad.
Back at the Women’s Ward When the day shift nurse arrived, I quickly gathered my things and headed out the door. “Where is your coat, Miss Simpson? It’s cold outside.” I smiled at her and said I had left it in the car. I then hurried down the hall in hopes there wouldn’t be any more questions. The day nurse went over the day’s agenda and noticed Melby’s file. She quickly read it and then looked around for Melby. Not seeing her anywhere, she assumed she had already been moved to the other ward. It’s a shame. I really thought she would do better here, she thought to herself as she prepared herself for the day. As I left the hospital, I knew I needed to talk with Mrs. Collins since she had been so kind to help Melby with her studies. After seeing her, I planned to check on Melby. I hoped she would be fine with my aunt and uncle, who lived a distance away. I knew they would enjoy Melby, and they live close to the University, which should also be a good thing, I hoped. Mrs. Collins was surprised to see me at the door. I knew I needed to be careful what I told her, as what I had done was against the law and I didn’t want her to be involved. However, I thought I could tell her a few things without lying to her. “Well, Miss Simpson, it’s good to see you. I was planning on seeing Melby on Monday. Is she okay?” Mrs. Collins asked as she looked surprised to see me. 41
“May I come in? There are some things I need to tell you.” Mrs. Collins took me into her living room and offered me some coffee, which I gladly accepted. It had been quite the night. I told her as much as I could about what had happened. I explained to her that a few things had happened with the new doctor and he felt Melby needed a different environment. “Your lessons will need to be suspended for now,” I said. Mrs. Collins wiped away a tear and then said that she understood, but of course, she really didn’t. “I’ll talk to her teachers.” “Would it be possible for you to get a record of her grades up to this point?” I asked. “That shouldn’t be a problem. I’ll go today and get her records.” “That would be wonderful, but if anyone asks what happened, just say that she has been transferred. The fewer questions, the better.” As I got up to leave, I jumped as I heard a snapping sound under my chair. “Oh, sorry, Miss Simpson. I had set a mouse trap last night under your chair and I guess it finally took the bait. I hope that didn’t scare you too much. This is an old house and I can’t seem to get rid of these mice.” I grinned and said, “I will be glad to dispose of the mouse for you.” “Please do. I can’t stand those things.” I carefully took the mouse and trap outside, released the trap, and placed the mouse in a tissue and then in my purse. I went back inside and handed Mrs. Collins the empty trap and washed my hands. Since my brother’s house was close by, I stopped in and used his telephone to check on Melby. “Aunt Maude, thank you for what you did for me last night. Is Melby doing okay?” “Yes, Mary. She is a sweet young lady, but very quiet. She’s in her room now. I plan to take her shopping today to get some clothes. I can’t believe how poorly she was dressed and she said 42
that was all she had. I’m going to enjoy her since our children have all grown up and have families of their own.” “Yes, I’m sure you’ll find her to be very special. You might want to consider calling her by a different name. Maybe you could say that she’s the daughter of a close friend and that she was interested in taking classes at the University.” “Don’t worry, Mary. We’ll stay under the radar. We don’t have nosy neighbors since we live out of town.” Relieved that Melby was now safe, I took a nap and then prepared for my evening shift. On the way to the ward, the security guard handed me a mousetrap. “Do you want me to set it for you?” he asked. “No, I believe I can do it, but I will ask for your help if we catch the mouse.” “Of course,” he said as he stood a little taller. After checking my desk and greeting everyone, I headed to the showers to put the mouse I had taken from Mrs. Collin’s house in the trap. I then returned to business as usual, knowing that the mouse would soon be discovered. It wasn’t long before I heard a scream coming from the shower room. Everyone ran toward the sound of the scream and the mouse was discovered. “Don’t touch it. I’ll get the guard to take it out,” I said with a bit of excitement as I rang the buzzer for the guard. He came in a huff and had no trouble picking up the mouse in the trap. He held it in front of him as he proudly marched out the door. “I’ll return the trap in case there are any more. I don’t want you women getting scared anymore.”
Surprises After receiving my nursing degree, I quit my night job at the Mental Hospital. I knew I would miss everyone there, especially the patients in the Women’s Ward, but I learned the hard way there was much more to be learned in the field of mental health. I planned to continue my education and to be among the decision-makers and not the ones who only took orders from them. I kept informed of Melby’s progress through my aunt and uncle. I couldn’t be prouder of her and felt a sense of pride that I helped her to escape her prison and discover what she was capable of doing. Melby’s life had been filled with highs and lows, but perhaps as she approached her 18th birthday, she could finally get some control of her life. Thanks to my aunt and uncle, she now had a beautiful bedroom, a closet full of new clothes, and an adopted Mom and Dad, as it didn’t take Maude and Edward Sumpter long to fall in love with Melby. Thanks to Mrs. Collins and the other teachers, Melby was also able to complete her senior year at the local high school, receiving a diploma with the name Melanie Sumpter (after all, Melby was short for Melanie). Her graduation gift from her adopted parents was a car to commute to the local University. The money Melby’s real mother had invested in her education would come in handy, as well as the scholarships she received.
Mrs. Cox continued to volunteer at the Mental Hospital, encouraging other patients to continue their education. After a brief encounter, I convinced Mrs. Cox not to worry about Melby and not to discuss her. Melby’s childhood friends had either found jobs locally or moved away. The old neighborhood was a thing of the past. Aunt Louise had to move into a low-income apartment since she could no longer afford her nice home. Samuel was drafted into the Army and sent to Viet Nam. Unfortunately, he was killed in a bar fight before he ever saw battle. Probably the biggest news was the secret Melby had been keeping from everyone. But I didn’t find out about this secret until many years later. Melby’s secret revealed On her 18th birthday, Melby knew she could no longer keep her secret to herself. During dinner, she asked her parents for a big favor that would require the utmost secrecy. She held a pair of scissors and carefully cut the threads holding the belly of her precious rag doll together. From the belly, she then pulled out several pieces of old jewelry. Edward, a banker by trade but also a trained gemologist, looked at the jewelry in awe. He had never seen such beautiful and priceless pieces. “Melby, where in the world did you get these?” “I found them buried in the ground when I fell down a hill on the day before my mom was murdered. I wasn’t sure what I had found, but decided to hide them in my doll until I found someone who could help me with them.” “Do you know where you found them?” “Close to my home, but I have no idea where exactly. These were all I found. They were wrapped in an old cloth.” “I will need to study these for a while and let you know what I find out,” he said as he went into the kitchen and got out his equipment. He knew he wouldn’t be able to sleep until he had some idea of their worth. Melby, however, slept like a baby. 45
The next morning when Melby entered the kitchen, she saw Edward sitting at the table with bags under his eyes, sipping a big cup of coffee. Edward looked up when he saw Melby and asked her to join him. Maude set the coffee pot on the table, figuring they would all need plenty of coffee before the day was over. “Melby, as best I can tell, your jewelry is of early European descent, probably from royalty. Most likely, it was handed down through the generations, ending with someone who decided to make America her home. I am guessing the jewelry was hidden to protect it either from Indians or soldiers. Since it was never recovered, most likely, the owner perished before revealing where it was buried. With the age of the jewelry and the nature and quality of the gems, your find is borderline priceless,” he said with a shaky voice. “I will take pictures of the jewelry and talk to some reputable jewelers and antique dealers. Meanwhile, I recommend you put them in a safety deposit box at the bank where they can be in a vault. Maude, will you please take her as soon as I get my pictures? We are not to mention this again until I can find my answers,” Edward continued. Maude agreed and then fixed a large breakfast before heading off to the bank. “Hello, Maude. And is this your adopted daughter, Melanie?” the bank teller asked as she prepared the safety security box for them. “Where is she from?” “She’s the daughter of a good friend of mine from my childhood who recently moved to California to get specialized cancer treatments. Unfortunately, she passed away, but she had in her will for my husband and me to take care of her daughter if she passed before Melanie was an adult. We have enjoyed her immensely and she helps to fill the void we felt when our children grew up and left the house. She plans to commute to the University this fall. She just turned 18 and I thought it would be a good idea for her to keep her adoption papers in a
safety deposit box for safekeeping. She’s young and it would be easy to lose them,” Maude said with a smile. The teller nodded and left Maude and Melby alone in the vault where the boxes were kept. Melby looked around the room and, seeing no one, carefully placed the jewelry in a cloth bag and then in the box with her adoption papers on top. She closed the lid, locked it, and slid it in the slot. She and Maude left the vault, signed the needed paperwork, and went to get ice cream. “You’re pretty good at making up stories,” Melby said as she grinned at Maude. “From what I hear, you’re pretty good yourself,” she responded. “Yes, I’ve had to spin a few tales, but I don’t think God would mind, considering the circumstances.” Changing the subject, Maude continued. “You’ve certainly led a challenging life so far, Melby. Are you excited about starting college and have you thought of a degree you might be interested in?” “I have been playing with the notion of being a lawyer. After what I’ve been through, there are a few laws I would be interested in changing, if given the opportunity.” “That’s a noble field as long as you keep your integrity. You’ll find it to be a man’s world but if anyone could do it, I believe it would be you,” Maude said as they got in the car.
Life Beyond the Classroom The summer passed quickly and before long, Melby was attending her first class at the University. She was hoping she wouldn’t run into anyone she knew, and so far, she hadn’t. To change her appearance, she streaked her hair and changed her hairstyle. She also kept away from groups of people, choosing to study alone at the library before leaving for home. She had to admit the campus was a bit of a culture shock to her. Up to then, she had led a very sheltered life, some by choice and some not. However, during that time, she hadn’t been exposed much to the news. Even Maude and Edward had said very little about worldly events. They felt Melby dealt with enough stress in her life thus far. It wasn’t until Melby took a local Current Events class the summer before entering college that she learned about Kennedy’s assassination, student protests, inequality, and the draft. Maude suggested the class might better prepare her for college. Even Maude wasn’t aware of how rapidly college life was changing. To rebel against what was happening globally, many from her age group were doing everything they could to upset the older generation. Guys let their hair grow long, faces and clothing were painted in bright colors, some went barefoot even in the winter, classic clothing was replaced with tee shirts
and blue jeans with holes in them, and protests and “hippie camps” became the norm. One of the main reasons for the rebellious attitude was the draft, where all guys who turned 18 had to register with the military. At the time, the United States was drafting young men to fight in Viet Nam. It was not declared a war, and many of the men drafted were conflicted about the reasons they were being sent to fight. Some even decided to give up their citizenship and fled to Canada to avoid the draft. It was a confusing time and many chose to turn to alcohol and drugs to help numb the reality of what was happening around them they had no control over. Although the guys enrolled in college were exempt from the draft, it didn’t stop them from rebelling, as many of their friends were being sent away, only to return in body bags. Thinking she had properly prepared for college, Melby soon realized she stood out because her clothes were too traditional. An immediate wardrobe change was called for if she wanted to maintain anonymity. She picked out some tee shirts, several pairs of jeans, and sandals she bought at the campus clothing store. Even though it was a drastic change from what she thought she would be wearing, she had to admit that the clothes were comfortable. After several months of her freshman year had passed, Maude asked Melby, “Are you enjoying college life? Have you made any friends or gone to any of the concerts they have throughout the year?” “No, I’ve kept to myself. Truth is, it’s been so long since I’ve been in the real world free of doctors and bars on the windows that I’m still uncomfortable about reaching out. It’s just easier and safer for me to stay to myself.” After a brief pause, Maude continued. “Well, Melby, it might be safer, but you won’t get anywhere if you keep yourself boxed in. Start going to some of the events. Meet some people. You don’t need to tell anyone your private life, and if they ask, you can always change the subject. People love to talk about 49
themselves. I think I read in the paper where there’s a concert coming up this weekend at the new coliseum. Maybe you’d like to go.” “I heard some of the other students talking about it. They said the tickets had been sold out for a couple of weeks. They were going to try to sign up to be usherettes, but they weren’t sure if there were even jobs left. I guess I could check that out tomorrow.” “Good. That would be a wonderful chance to get a taste of university life. After all, if you want to be a successful lawyer, you need to have knowledge of the world around you, outside of what you read in books.” The rest of the evening, Melby thought about what she might wear and hoped to herself that she didn’t have to talk to anyone. As confident as she looked on the outside, she was still afraid to venture out of her comfort zone. But she knew Maude was right about meeting others and joining in on-campus activities. The next day she went to the coliseum to check on tickets or the possibility of working at the concert. “You’re in luck. We just had a cancellation. An usherette resigned just 5 minutes ago and I didn’t know how I would find someone to fill her position on such short notice. Looks like you were meant for the job.” Melby was not a stranger to work and she thought the pay would help her buy some more supplies from the bookstore. “I’ll take it,” she said as she showed the woman her student ID and signed the work agreement. “You will need to be here two hours before the concert. That’s when the doors open. You can pick up your check at the end of the concert. You will be responsible for keeping all alleyways and steps free and clear of people and debris in case of a fire. Also, you may see some students drinking or smoking. The coliseum security will take care of those things. You will need to wear this orange vest so they know you are an usherette, and you will be on the top tier. Have fun and enjoy the concert.” 50
Melby had never been to a concert and the only music she had listened to was soft and slow. When she heard the band was hard rock, she questioned her sanity a bit and then chuckled at the irony. Arriving at the venue the next day, she climbed the many stairs to the top tier. While climbing, she noticed the stairs got narrower and steeper the higher she went. Once at the top, she concentrated on the students taking their seats and made a point of not looking down. Although she was not afraid of heights, she had never been this high before. It helped their seats were assigned, so all she needed to do was help them find them. Before long, the concert started with cheers of approval from the crowd. Soon cigarettes were lit and passed around to other students. The place began to smell like burning grass as a thin haze of smoke gathered at the top of the coliseum, right at her tier. That, along with the loud sounds from the band and the elevation, took her far from her comfort zone. Occasionally students would sit on the steps, probably to stretch their legs, but they were very understanding when asked to go back to their seats so the stairs could remain open. Finally, and not nearly soon enough, the concert ended with students standing and screaming. As they slowly started to filter out of the coliseum, Melby made the mistake of looking down at the tier below her. With the high noise level, the smoke, and the distance to the bottom in her sights, Melby passed out. When she came to, she was looking into the eyes of a very handsome med student. “Glad you’re finally back to the living,” he said with a smile. “I guess that was one way to escape the band, although I wouldn’t recommend doing it again. We took your vitals and you seem to be okay. Sit here a little bit longer until you feel comfortable before getting up.” With that said, he was on to the next patient. There were several more who had passed out. Gathering her composure, she slipped away to get her check
and to go home for a long, relaxing shower. She was glad that experience was behind her. The next day Maude asked her how the concert went, expecting to hear how wonderful it had been. Surprised at her answer, Maude responded, “Oh, Melby. If I had known what you had to go through, I never would have suggested it. Maybe in the future we’ll do a little more research on the performances before you go.” “I think it will be a while before I do this again, but I did learn a lot. And in a way, it was worth it just because of the med student I met.” “Did you get his name?” “No, but now that I’m in college, guys seem much more attractive than they used to. The funny thing is I never thought I’d say that.” Maude smiled at Melby as she turned to leave, thinking to herself that just maybe Melby would find trust in other people once again. The rest of her freshman year was somewhat uneventful, although Melby was concerned with the amount of drugs and alcohol available around campus. It would have been very easy to get them, but fortunately, Maude had talked with her at length about the importance of choosing her friends wisely and making smart decisions. As Melby continued to adapt to her college surroundings, she found she could save money if she packed her lunch each day. When the weather was nice, she enjoyed sitting on a bench by the lake to eat her lunch, which helped clear her mind and gave a welcomed break from her studies. It also allowed her to observe people. It was fun to watch people. Although they came from different parts of the country and the world, they all seemed alike in the way they needed to be accepted by their peers. The more they tried to rebel and to look different, the more they looked alike. Melby also wondered how many secrets each one
held inside. She learned long ago a smile on the outside was not an accurate description of how one felt on the inside. When her freshman school year was over, Melby was on the dean’s list. Wanting to enroll in law school as soon as possible, she also took a full class schedule during the summer months. After three years, Melby had completed her undergraduate degree, making her eligible to apply for law school. She was accepted into several law schools with her high grades but decided to stay where she was and close to Maude and Edward since they were her only family (except for her Aunt Louise, but she didn’t count). She didn’t know that she would soon be making another friend and a handsome one at that.
The New Friend With a feeling of anticipation that was hard for Melby to explain, she began her first year of law school. There was only one other woman in her class, causing the two to be stared at a great deal. She was sure some of her classmates didn’t think she would last, but that only made Melby more determined to excel. There were plenty of books to buy, so much of Melby’s savings went toward their cost. Maude and Edward helped where they could. Melby was thankful she had a place to live and a car to get her to and from school. When the weather was nice, Melby continued to go to her bench at the lake to eat her lunch. She noticed lately there had been a young man walking the lake path on the days she was out there. With her imaginative mind, she enjoyed making up stories about him as she ate her lunch. Strangely, he looked familiar to her. Maybe he had been in one of her classes. Most likely, the young man was also noticing Melby sitting on the bench when he walked. It could have been that he chose to walk during the time Melby was out there. Anyway, it seemed they were destined to meet, so one day when he was close to Melby’s bench, she beckoned him over. As he sat down, Melby introduced herself as Melanie and said she enjoyed sitting outside and watching nature. “I assume you are a student here. What are you studying?” 54
“Yes, I’m in medical school specializing in the mental health field.” “That’s an interesting topic. I’d love to know more about what you’re studying,” said Melby. “I know what you’re probably thinking—why would I chose such an unpopular field. I feel we have much to discover and many of life’s problems could be made easier if we understood the mind better. That was probably more than you needed to know, but it seems I’m always defending my interests, especially since there is such a negative stigma attached to mental health disease. My name is Steven. Enough about me. So, Melanie, what are you studying?” “I’m in my first year of Law School. I, too, feel there is much to do to change a few laws, particularly in the mental health field. Our interests are probably closely related.” “Do you mind if I join you on your bench on the days you’re here? I can bring my lunch,” said Steven as he looked fondly at Melby. She is a beautiful woman, he thought, but I doubt if she has any idea of her beauty. “Feel free to sit with me anytime,” said Melby as she packed up her lunch and went back to class. I hope he’s as nice as he seems and not someone that’s just nosy, she thought. Her personal and private life needed to remain just that—personal and private. Once home, Melby was in a hurry to talk with Maude about her new friend. She wanted to get to know him better, but was afraid to get too close. She needed a woman’s advice as to how to handle this. This wasn’t something she could look up in a book. Maude was only too happy to talk on this subject, as she was beginning to wonder if Melby would ever be able to open up to anyone, considering all the things she had been through. “You need to listen to your heart, Melby. If you enjoy being with him and he makes you happy, then I would encourage you to get to know him better. Find out where he’s from, what he likes to do, and you can even invite him here for dinner sometime if you 55
want to. Edward and I would be glad to give you our opinion of him. But don’t rush things. Enjoy the journey.” That night Melby dreamed about marrying Steven. When she awoke, she felt very silly and tried to convince herself this was just a school-girl crush of hers and she probably meant nothing to Steven. The next several days were rainy, so Melby stayed inside to eat her lunch. She thought she saw Steven walk by, but then it was probably wishful thinking. The next week was filled with sunshine, so Melby made haste to the bench in hopes of seeing Steven again. When she got there, he was already sitting on the bench. “I brought you a cookie,” he said. Melby smiled and handed him a piece of cake she had made in the hopes she would see him today. “Guess great minds think alike.” “This may sound a bit forward of me, but I missed you. Do you have a boyfriend?” Steven asked. Melby looked into Steven’s beautiful brown eyes and said, “Only if you’re willing.” From that moment on, the two of them met as often as possible and talked about anything and everything, or at least Steven did. He realized there were things Melby chose not to talk about, but he wasn’t about to push her. “So, Melby. How have you liked the University life so far?” “I’m glad I chose to go here. I’ve learned a lot. The professors seem to be well-informed. I also wanted to get involved with campus life beyond the classroom, but after the first concert I went to, I decided it was safer to sit on my bench and observe campus life.” A light sparked in Steven’s mind when she mentioned the concert. “Was this a hard-rock concert, and did you happen to faint at this concert?” Blushing at the question, Melby nodded her head. “And do you remember the guy who was treating you?”
Melby looked at Steven in shock as she realized he was the same guy. “I thought you had the most beautiful eyes I had ever seen.” “I thought the same thing about you.” “Steven, would you like to eat dinner at my home this evening? It’s not very far from here and we can take separate cars.” “I’d love to. Are you living with your mom and dad?” “Sort of. They adopted me since my parents died.” Dropping that subject, Melby asked, “Do you like spaghetti?” “That’s my favorite! Can I bring anything?” “No, just meet me at the library at 6:00, if you’re done with your classes.” “See you then,” Steven said with an extra pep to his step as he went back to class. Meanwhile, Melby found a payphone and called Maude so she could set another place at the table. Maude told her that morning she was cooking her famous spaghetti. As Steven opened the front door for Melby, Maude and Edward were standing right there, eager to get a glimpse of the man who seemed to have earned Melby’s attention. Once they saw him, they both broke out in laughter. “Steven, it’s good to see you again! How’s your mother doing after her arm surgery?” “I thought this was your house,” as he returned the laughter. He then turned to Melby and told her that his mother was Maude’s sister. “Guess we’re cousins,” as he gave Melby a quick hug. Melby was having trouble getting this story together in her mind. After all, her life had been filled with major twists and turns, but this was a completely different twist altogether. It was obvious that Maude and Edward approved of Steven. And because she was adopted, they weren’t blood cousins. Okay then, Melby thought to herself. I’ll just enjoy the journey, as Maude recommended. Maude’s spaghetti was delicious and Melby and Steven both had seconds as if they hadn’t eaten in weeks. Too full to 57
do much else, they all went into the living room while Steven got caught up on all the relatives. Before long, it was time for him to head back to his apartment. He told them all good-by and kissed Melby on the forehead. Maude and Edward headed off to bed, leaving Melby alone on the couch to ponder what had just happened. The next day, Melby was waiting for Steven at the bench. When he got there, he looked quite troubled. “What’s wrong? I can spot a troubled mind a mile away,” Melby said. “Sorry to be on a downer. I just got an assignment I don’t know how to complete. All of us in our class got different assignments, depending on our areas of interest. My assignment is to interview someone who was wrongfully treated for mental illness. It’s due in a week and I don’t have the foggiest idea how I’m going to do this. Maybe I’ll just make something up.” “That would be wrong, you know,” said Melby. “I might be able to help you. Do you have time this evening to meet with this person I have in mind?” “Sure! You don’t have any idea what a relief that would be for me, but I don’t want to take away from your studies.” “Oh, I’m sure you’ll find a way to make it up to me,” Melby grinned as she batted her beautiful eyelashes at Steven. “Meet me at the bench at 6:00 and bring your notebook and pen.” “See you then,” as he hurried off to his next class. When Steven got to the bench that evening, he only saw Melby. “Could your friend not come?” “Have a seat, Steven. I have a few things to share with you.” Melby started with the doll her father had given her, followed by the awful car wreck, her mother’s murder, and life with Aunt Louise and Samuel. She told him how she was labeled as dangerous and a flight risk and sent to the mental hospital. She continued to tell him all the things that happened to her while she was there and even about the great escape. Steven was speechless. He quit taking notes after the first sentence.
“Steven, this is the most important part. You cannot tell anyone who this person is. We had to break the law in order to escape, but I would never have been normal if they had gone through with the brain exploratory surgery. I had to get out of there. Because I have told you this, you have to know that I trust you with my life. Just tell your professor this person continues to be in hiding and you are not willing to break the confidentiality agreement you signed with her. Okay?” By now, it was dark, so Steven escorted Melby to her car. Before opening her door, he kissed her on the lips and said her secret would be safe with him. It was all he could do to make it back to his apartment before he broke down in tears. Now he knew the reason he had chosen this field if only to save others like Melby.
Mysteries Revealed Melby graduated from Law School in the top ten of her class, specializing in human rights and mental health cases. She received several job offers, but wasn’t interested in any of them. She just knew she would recognize the right one when it was offered. Steven received his doctorate in Mental Health, specializing in treating mental, emotional, and behavioral problems. He was at the top of his class and offered a prestigious job at the University as a part of a groundbreaking research facility. The position called for a specialist in the medical treatment of the brain and its links to diseases that currently have no cure. Steven couldn’t have been more excited. Although he lacked experience in the field, there weren’t many people with his knowledge or interest in mental health disease. Meanwhile, after several years of research and attending antique auctions, Edward was able to sell Melby’s jewelry for an unheard-of amount, which he immediately invested. When he told Melby, she was speechless for a few minutes, but then responded, “I want this money to be given as an anonymous donation to go toward a clinic to help train staff to work with the mentally ill. I would like it to be a part of Steven’s research facility, but separate. I want to be on the Board of Directors and would like to name the facility the MELBE Clinic (Mental Education and Long-term Behavioral Expectations).” 60
“I would like for you to approach the University with this offer and to see where it goes from there,” Melby concluded. Edward was surprised Melby had already given this so much thought. “Yes, I’ll set up an appointment today and get back to you as soon as I can.” After talking with Edward, Melby went into the living room to talk with Maude. “I realize I haven’t talked to your niece, Mary, for quite some time even though I know she has kept in touch with me through you. Could you please tell her I need to see her?” “Certainly, Melby. I’m sure she would be very anxious to see you, as well. Did you know she has her doctorate in Psychiatry?” “I’m not surprised. I knew she wasn’t happy at the mental hospital as a nurse. There were too many things that happened that shouldn’t have, but she couldn’t change the rules.” “That’s exactly what Mary said. I’ll call her right now. Maybe she can come for dinner.”
Mary’s story continues: “Of course, I would love to see you all and to come to dinner. I want to congratulate Melby on her Law Degree, as well as her appointments and family changes,” I said. Maude’s house looked the same, but I didn’t recognize Melby at first. The last time I saw her, she was wearing an old hospital gown, and her hair was all in tangles. She has turned into quite the attractive lady. When Melby saw Mary at the door, she ran and hugged her. Both women had tears in their eyes. “Thank you for saving me, Miss Simpson,” said Melby. “Thank you for turning out the way I knew you were capable of. I’m so proud of you.” Melby continued, “I wanted to ask a big favor of you. Soon, there will be a clinic built at the University for Mental Health Education and long-term behavioral expectations. I need someone to run the clinic. Would you be interested?” “Oh, Melby. I will need to think about this, but it sounds very interesting. Thank you!” “Before you leave, have you heard how Sissy is doing?” Melby asked with a concerned look. “I have tried to keep up with the women from our ward. I believe Sissy is becoming even more of a recluse than ever. I do worry about what will become of her.” With this being said, I closed the door behind me but couldn’t help but think about the opportunity Melby had just presented me. I opened the door again and told Melby that I would be honored to run her clinic. With a broad smile I hadn’t had in quite some time, I was on my way home. *** Edward had good luck talking with the University medical authorities about the clinic. After all, who could refuse an anonymous donation? The construction took several years to
complete, but as it was being built, a statue was placed in the front of the clinic of a young child holding a rag doll. While the clinic was under construction, Melby bought a home of her own close to the clinic to supervise the construction. While busy with this project, she was appointed to serve on the National Judicial Committee for Mental Health in D.C. She didn’t hesitate to make recommendations to overhaul the archaic laws currently on the books for mental health. But the hardest barrier to overcome continued to be the public’s stigma toward mental disease. She vowed to be a part of the slow movement to change society’s mindset, but felt like a little fish in a big ocean. Meanwhile, Melby had a very big favor to ask of Steven. “I know you’re very busy with your new career, but I have a problem I think only you can fix.” Steven, totally devoted to Melby’s whims, was anxious to help. “I need you to set up an appointment with the State Mental Hospital to diagnose the mental status of a close friend of mine.”
Sissy Arriving at the State Mental Hospital, Steven continued to be amazed at its magnitude. Although he had been here several times before as a part of his medical training, he could feel the spiritual presence of the building as he entered it. Stopping at the front desk, he gave his name and was told to go to the upstairs conference room. Since he was a few minutes early, he was able to look around a bit. Most people ignored him, but the doctor on duty seemed offended at his presence as he inquired about Steven’s interest in Sissy. “I’m just following up on some past case studies. I’m attempting to get some patients lined up who might be a good fit for the new initiatives were are trying at the University. I thought Sissy might meet the criteria. “Well, I don’t like my files to be scrutinized,” replied the doctor on duty. “Rest assured that is not my purpose. But with the new findings in the medical field, we at the University feel some patients could be helped with what we now know about mental health disease. We’re sure you would be most eager for your patients to receive the very best treatment available,” Steven said with a sly grin, knowing the doctor would find it hard to argue with this. The doctor shrugged and went to the ward to get Sissy.
Sissy followed several feet behind the doctor and was nervous, not knowing what this new person would try to do. Her fear of men had not diminished over time. Steven, knowing Sissy’s history from her file, and particularly with the information Melby had given him, tried to put her at ease as best he could. “Sissy, I will be sitting in this chair. Feel free to sit wherever you would like.” Sissy chose the chair the furthest from Steven, which was no surprise to him. Making sure the door was closed and there were no hidden mics, Steven began. “Sissy, your friend, Melby, asked me to meet with you. She hoped I could recommend you as one of the patients to be treated at the University in the new mental health facility. You wouldn’t be living there, but close by with Melby. Would you like that?” Sissy couldn’t hide her excitement. “Is Melby okay?” Sissy asked in a very low voice. Straining to hear her, Steven answered, “Yes, she now has her doctorate in Law. But the most important thing she would want me to say is we are now newly married.” Sissy began to cry with tears of joy. There hadn’t been a day go by that she hadn’t thought of Melby. She no longer had the doll Melby made her, but Sissy was able to replace it with her pillow. Even though it didn’t look like a doll, she hugged it at night as though it were. Making a few notes, Steven closed his file and went to find the doctor. “I believe Sissy would be the perfect patient for our new program. I am prepared to take her back with me today.” The doctor looked at Sissy and, with a knowing eye, asked her if she was ready to leave with this stranger. He was sure she would start crying and run from him. However, she simply nodded her head in the affirmative and prepared to leave. Steven signed some paperwork and left the hospital with Sissy. After driving only a couple of miles, he stopped along the road behind another vehicle. Once stopped, Melby jumped out 65
of the car in front and opened Steven’s side door. “Sissy! I knew Steven could do it! Get out of the car and jump in mine. We have a lot of catching up to do.” Sissy immediately got in Melby’s car and looked at her with her big eyes. This had been a lot to process in one day, so she began to cry again. “It’s okay to cry because I know those are happy tears. I will show you your bedroom and we can catch up when you’re ready. But the first thing we are going to do is get you out of that awful gown and into some decent clothes.” The rest of the car ride was quiet except for a few muffled sniffles from Sissy. Melby, on the other hand, couldn’t stop smiling. Once at home, Melby showed her to her bedroom with a bathroom. She also showed her the closet that already had some new clothes in it. Melby couldn’t wait to get Sissy’s hospital gown from her so she could burn it. “I will be downstairs fixing dinner. Come on down when you’re hungry. Steven will join us later.” Melby could hear Sissy moving around upstairs. It wasn’t long before she came down to join Melby in the kitchen. She sat down at the table as Melby handed her a cup of coffee and joined her. She immediately started telling her all the things that had happened to her since the great escape. Sissy had never been so happy. “Sissy, Steven really does think he can help you develop some trust in men, but only when you’re ready to talk to him. I promise you he will never touch you and is the nicest man you will probably ever meet. He’s also a good listener.” Sissy drank her coffee and helped Melby set the table. “Sissy, there’s something else I wanted to share with you, and it’s something I haven’t even shared with Steven yet. I just found out I’m pregnant, and I’m sure I will need someone to help me with the baby. Do you think you would enjoy this?” “Oh, Melby, you know I would. I used to take care of my younger brothers and sisters before I was sent away.”
“I hear Steven coming in the drive now. I think I’ll spring this news on him right after dinner.” Steven sat down to eat, but knew something was up. Both Melby and Sissy had smiles that went clear across their faces. He calmly placed his fork back on the table and said, “Okay, girls, spill it. I know you have some big news and I’m not eating another bite until you tell me.” Not being able to stand the suspense, it was Sissy who blurted out the news first. “Melby’s going to have a baby and I’m going to help her take care of it!” Melby chuckled at Sissy’s enthusiasm as they both looked in Steven’s direction. He was nowhere to be found until they looked on the floor. He fainted at Melby’s news and the fact Sissy had talked. It was just all too much to take, as this day had already been traumatic enough for him after his visit to the State Mental Hospital. As Steven came to, he looked up at two pairs of eyes, as both women were concerned with his status. “It’s okay, girls. I just needed a moment,” he said as he slowly rose and sat back down on his chair. Eight months later, Melby gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby girl. Melby, Steven, and Sissy decided on the name, Dawn, to represent the dawn of new beginnings.
Opening Day After two years, the clinic was completed. Melby met Mary at the front door of the new clinic. “Hello, Dr. Mary Simpson Baker. I heard you recently got married. Congratulations.” “Hello, Melanie Sumpter Parker. I understand congratulations are in order for you and Steven as well. How is that baby of yours?” “Quite the handful, but Sissy is a wonderful nanny. She’s the reason I can serve on the Judicial Committee for Mental Health in D.C. I must say I have enjoyed being a part of making the mental health laws and recommendations.” “Well, Melby, I’m sure no one is better qualified than you for this position.” “Thank you. You are probably aware, but in case you’re not, we are having a ribbon-cutting ceremony this afternoon and the press is invited. Would you mind saying a few words when you cut the ribbon for us?” “I’d be honored,” Mary said humbly. “But first, I want to look around this marvelous facility.” Upon opening the door, the first thing she noticed was the glass display case. The title of the display was “Good and Bad Ways We Cope.” On display were pill bottles, alcohol bottles, blankets, stuffed animals, music note, hobbies, pictures of friends and pets, gang tattoos, Bible, notecard with the word suicide printed on it, a stick with a bandanna to represent runaway, picture of a rehab facility, 68
and the last object was a faded, soiled rag doll that looked oddly like Melby’s. At the end of the display were the words, “How are you coping?” As the crowd approached the clinic entrance, Mary stood in front of the doors, feeling elated at the importance of this moment. She hadn’t prepared a speech, but had no difficulty expressing her emotions to the audience. “The brain is filled with nooks and crannies waiting to be discovered. As the hospital for Mental Health, on our right, works to make these discoveries, it will be our responsibility at the MELBE clinic to educate the teachers to properly treat each mental health issue and work with parents and the public to understand family issues. This disease may result from trauma, family genetics, poor decision-making skills, environmental exposure, and more reasons yet to be discovered. Over the years in dealing with mental health patients, I have made a few discoveries of my own. No one has a perfectly made brain, which makes us each unique. We have no right to judge others as inferior to us and all people should be treated with respect. I vow to do my very best to train those who plan to work in the mental health field so they can make a positive difference, one step at a time. I hope, in time, we can all have a place to discuss our problems without fear of losing our job or not being able to afford treatment. The stigma of mental health disease should be a thing of the past.” Taking a deep breath, Mary continued, “I now cut this ribbon and officially open the MELBE Clinic for business. Refreshments are available inside, along with a tour of the facility.” Funny how you think your life is heading in one direction and then you find yourself in a totally different direction. And yet, this was the direction you needed to be going all along, Melby thought to herself as she drifted off to sleep that night next to Steven.
Epilogue When I was a child in the 1950s, mental diseases were not discussed. The only way to receive treatment or medication for mental issues such as depression, anxiety, or trauma was to be admitted to a mental hospital, so many refused to go and chose to suffer in silence. Addiction (drugs, alcohol, gambling, etc.) was often a self-prescribed way to ward off those feelings. The addictions, however, brought on a whole new set of problems, often leading to death through suicide, homelessness, and broken families. Psychiatrists were available outside of the hospital, but they couldn’t prescribe medications and were too costly for many people. There was a stigma about getting treated by a psychiatrist, which meant to the public the person was mentally unstable. People often were fired from their jobs if it was discovered they were under a psychiatrist’s care. Over the years, proper medications became available outside of the mental institution, and many patients were taken out of the hospital setting and placed in halfway homes. Although this was a positive move, it also fell short of providing the proper care for the people most in need. Many people slipped through the cracks and were forced to live on the streets. We are now discovering the brain has many secrets yet to be revealed. All of us fall short of perfection. Genetics and 70
environment play important parts in our mental well-being. While we are all individuals, we are also alike in many ways, requiring the ability to cope with life as it comes. Tragedies are all around us and none of us are immune. Some can get through them and excel with the help of understanding friends and family and inward strength. Others, however, cannot. There is much yet to be learned. Many societal issues can be properly addressed once we better understand the workings of the brain. We need access to proper ways to cope with our issues without the stigma that “our elevator doesn’t go up to the top.” We all have a place in this world and can contribute in a positive way, as Melby was able to do.
Melinda Spiker Chambers is a multi-award-winning author and a retired educator with degrees from West Virginia University and Ohio State University. She has worked as a WVU Extension Agent and then middle school teacher, followed with Nutrition Director for Hampshire County. Melinda currently lives in Hampshire County, West Virginia with her husband, Byron. Together they have two children and five grandchildren. Melinda currently volunteers her time as a Sunday School teacher, creative writing teacher, 4-H volunteer, counselor, and mentor. She is a Zoom Into Books Author, part of the Headline Kids School Show Program, and is a soughtafter speaker. Her back to nature series includes We Are Whoo We Are, The Day the Snapdragons Snapped Back, Fraidy Cat, and Chilly Billy are all won Mom’s Choice Awards as is And We Helped – a middle grade book for making family memories in the kitchen. Melinda has been a featured author at Book Expo America in New York City; the WV Book Festival in Charleston WV; the National Education Association (NEA) national conferences in Orlando, FL, Washington DC, and Boston, MA; The Southern Christmas Show in Charlotte, NC; and does annual book signings at The Greenbrier Resort, White Sulphur Springs, WV. 72
Melby was raised in the early 1950s—a time when doors were not locked, children were free to explore, and friendships were lasting. She had the perfect childhood until her life was turned upside down when her perfect world vanished and she became victim to a life that was far behind where it should have been, in a mental health facility. Filled with drama and surprises, readers will quickly become advocates for Melby as she learns firsthand life isn’t always fair. With the help of her rag doll, Melby manages to overcome hardships and to become the person she was meant to be.
Melinda Spiker Chambers
Melinda Spiker Chambers