Excerpt CALL ME ZELDA
An hour later, I returned to Mrs. Fitzgerald to reassess her vitals and begin a relationship with her. It was Dr. Meyer’s philosophy that people with mental illness needed a comforting place of physical and emotional calm to work out their disturbances. He was revolutionary in the practice at a time when sanitariums often involved starched areas of decay and neglect, overcrowded dormitories polluted with the noise of people with not only mental illness, but all forms of physical handicaps, sexually transmitted diseases, or simple homelessness.
But this was not a public institution. It was an expensive private clinic connected to a research hospital, for those with the means to afford it. The wall hangings and tapestries were warmly colored and calming. There were moldings, chandeliers, and various rooms of amusement for billiards or bridge. It had the look of a posh hotel, and I’d felt an enormous sense of relief since I’d begun working here, years ago. The schedule and routine framed my existence in small, manageable blocks the way Walter Reed Army Hospital had done at the start of the war, and the clean, muted environment soothed me. Until today. With Mr. Fitzgerald gone, at least the air seemed lighter. Mrs. Fitzgerald was standing at the window when I knocked and opened the door. Her bags were open and she looked as if she’d brushed her hair and washed her face. She continued to hold the papers. “White February, with the crispness of a paper envelope,” she said in her graceful, Southern drawl, nodding to the snow sprinkled garden outside her window. “Sugar plum fairies were playing in the bushes there, but your knock scared them off.”
She gave me the smile one would give a child. I returned it, relieved to see her lightness and feel my own.
“It’s the white uniform,” I said. “Intimidating.”
Mrs. Fitzgerald’s smile touched her eyes, and she regarded me warmly, seemingly happy that I played along. This was a very good sign and one I’d not expected.
“He’s gone,” she said. “My husband?”
“Yes, Mrs. Fitzgerald, he left to tend to your daughter.” “But he can’t really leave if we don’t drop his name, can we?” she said. “Call me Zelda.”