A Trip to New York
A trip to New York
by Alison Barnet
Wednesday Feb 23, 2011
Noah, the ne’er-do-well on the top floor, was always talking about going to New York for a weekend. We didn’t pay much attention, because most Fridays he was either sick or broke. One evening in August, however, he actually left on a bus. When he wasn’t home by Tuesday, everyone in the house was worried. Mary, the landlady, was greatly relieved when he called from Bellevue Hospital at the end of the week to say he’d been in a bus accident. Although a retired nurse, she didn’t seem aware that Bellevue was known as a mental hospital.
A couple of weeks later, Noah sent a letter from Manhattan State Hospital, clearly a mental hospital.
August 18, 1969
I am afraid that it is going to be quite a while before you and I see each other again.
I am worried about my gas bill, electric bill and Household Finance. . . Please ask Alison to take my field glasses and black portable radio in the kitchen and bring them downstairs [for safety].
Tell Dixie I was asking for her. I miss Sammy.
Dixie was the third floor tenant, and Sammy was Mary’s fat collie.
I wrote back saying I’d be in New York over Labor Day and would like to visit.
August 27, 1969
I would like to see you very much . . .
The next few lines are going to be hard to write.
Please do not under any circumstances tell Mary the contents of this letter.
I have voluntarily committed myself to a hospital for a mental problem. It is too involved to explain in a letter, but because of this deviation of mine, I lost my job at the children’s hospital.
I feel that you are an understanding person and also I abhor deceit.
When I arrive home I will tell Mary something of the truth but not as much as I will tell you.
If you come I would like a few apples and pears.
Deep regards, Noah
Female Liberation was in force in New York that summer. While as yet little was happening in Boston, women in New York were meeting in consciousness raising groups and going without bras. So it was that I was without a bra when my friend Carrie drove me out to visit Noah at stark and depressing Ward’s Island, staying in the car while I went in. I felt uncomfortable in the noisy and chaotic men’s admissions ward of an insane asylum without a bra, but what could I do? It also wasn’t the best place for Noah to confess that the "deviation" he’d lived with all his life was child molesting.
He said that on the bus he’d touched a young woman on the arm, and she’d told the driver, who stopped the bus and called the police. The woman was very nice and said she wouldn’t press charges if Noah agreed to get help. Poor schlump that he was, Noah dutifully went off to get help - or maybe the police "helped" him - at any rate, by the end of the day he was a mental patient. I was happy he felt free to talk to me, but I didn’t know where to go with it. I couldn’t tell Mary, but I couldn’t wait to tell Carrie.
"He must have touched more than the arm," Carrie said.
When he came home a couple of months later, everyone was full of hope. Mary opened another joint bank account - Noah agreed to match her every dollar - and he resumed walking Sammy. But not for long. Pretty soon, Mary was sending me up to the top floor to find him. Once he opened the door-just a crack-and a blast of hot air hit me. He had both of his gas space heaters cranked up full blast as well as the oven, and he was wearing several coats and sweaters. He asked me to tell Mary he had a cold and would be down to walk Sammy tomorrow.
"He’s not sick at all," said Mary, suddenly cynical.
Noah had entrusted me with his secret, and I wanted to help him. I started calling around trying to find a treatment program. Finally I heard about an opening in a child molesters’ group. I thought group therapy made sense for Noah, since he always took others’ advice so much to heart. I couldn’t wait to give him the good news.
When I got home that day, he was puttering around outside the house. "That’s okay, Alison," he said, "I’m all set." "Oh, did you find a therapist?" "No, I won’t be needing therapy. I joined the Jehovah’s Witnesses."