A Magdalene Laundry Tale.
In 1962, My grandfather, that looming figure of authority, suffered a stroke, an unraveling of his neural circuitry that left him a man reduced to outbursts of profanity. Tourette’s, the doctor speculated, but what did it matter what we called it? It was as if someone had revised the script of our lives without notifying the cast, and suddenly, he was a stranger delivering lines that made no sense to anyone but himself.
In 1962, the year unfolded as a sequence of uneasy realities, each event refracting onto the next like light bending under water. I was caught in the center of these concentric circles when I sustained a concussion during a Girl Guides evening.
Shortly after that, a seizure — unpredictable and terrifying in its own right — left me grasping for the flimsy assurance that life would proceed as it had before. A seizure was not just a seizure but a point of demarcation, a sharp line separating my life into ‘before’ and ‘after.’ And yet, the medical authorities remained inscrutable, withholding the possibility of my situation being a one-time occurrence. If they had told me, just told me, that this was not unusual after a brain injury and that subsequent tests gave cause for optimism, how different my emotional landscape would have been.
But what they didn’t say engulfed me in a narrative of my own vulnerability, a tale scripted not by facts but by the looming possibility of another seizure. Anxiety was not a state but a place where I lived, teetering on the precipice of what could happen next, the ground constantly shifting beneath my feet.
And in the absence of certainties, in the shadowy realm of might-be’s and could-be’s, one becomes fluent in the language of dread.
It turns out I never had another seizure. The worry, the anxiety, proved in the end to be an unnecessary burden I carried. But I was not to know this, for nobody told me. I was left to wander in my imagined labyrinth, with no Ariadne’s thread guiding me out.
So, more than other years, I went through the year of 1962 with a sense of perpetual vulnerability carried not just in my body but in my mind. And the mind, I’ve come to learn, can often be a more unyielding landscape to navigate than any physical terrain. It is the place where we confront our deepest fears, the place where we become, most acutely, ourselves. And sometimes, the self one encounters in those dark corridors is harder to…