Describing the Unspeakable
I just took a break from the Byrne book for a week, trying to let the contents of my most recent chapter settle in my heart. I’m trying not to recount stories Byrne told me on our porch in Beaufort, but rather to put myself in her shoes and feel what she felt. It’s difficult, and most of the time I’m loving it, except for the truly sad parts. Like when her oldest daughter was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a child. The doctors wanted to institutionalize Alison but Byrne refused. The only treatment at the time was shock therapy.
Not ever having had a child, it’s hard for me to grasp what that news must have felt like. I wonder if any readers might be willing to share any emotional insights with me – not necessarily about shock treatments but what it feels like to hear devastating news about your child’s health — either in the comments or just by email if its too painful.
Sylvia Plath, one of my favorites, described shock therapy like this: “I shut my eyes. There was a brief silence, like an indrawn breath. Then something bent down and took hold of me and shook me like the end of the world. Whee-ee-ee-ee-ee, it shrilled, through an air crackling with blue light, and with each flash a great jolt drubbed me till I thought my bones would break and the sap fly out of me like a split plant. ‘I wondered what terrible thing it was that I had done.”
When I think about how Byrne must have felt when the doctors ordered shock therapy for Alison, a dance image comes to mind, as if she walked into the doctor’s office straight from rehearsal.
“She sweeps into the hospital examination room with a walk that leads from angry hips. The doctor speaks, but his words are crashing cymbals in a discordant orchestra. The noise hits her in her stomach and she is momentarily off balance. She struggles not to fall, grips her bare feet in second position parallel, knees in demi-plié. Her core is in contraction, breath exhaled, hands flexed at the end of hyper extended arms. She is pushing the doctor away, the palms of her hands telling him no, he cannot take away her wounded daughter.”
Like I said, I’m still wrestling with this part, and I welcome any suggestions from my sisters-by-Byrne, friends and readers. Thanks!