|Me, fifth from left, with fellow winners. Photo: www.indepic.com|
I covered that institution’s dying days – even lived there for a week on a closed ward to write a story.
And one of my favorite stories ever for The Providence Journal was that of Hope Lincoln, who was locked away or the rest of her life after having a "nervous breakdown," which today would be addressed most likely by outpatient treatment including medication and therapy.
So I knew what happened when many patients breathed their last.
They were buried in a potter’s field, their insubstantial, identical concrete tombstones containing only a number -- no name, or dates of birth or death. Nothing to identify or affirm that a human life that began as all do, at birth with promise, had ever existed. No story ever told.
The afternoon after receiving my Metcalf award, I drove to one of those potter’s fields. I visit periodically, to remember and pay respects. And wonder.
-- Who was 1276? A woman? Man? Wife? Mother? Father? Husband? A once-favorite nephew or niece? The "odd" cousin no one ever understood? Does a baby picture exist in some attic somewhere? Why does the moss grow on this stone more thickly than others?
-- This one, with the flag, only stone with one in the entire potter’s field. Was it randomly placed? Does a relative or friend still visit? Was the person a veteran, perhaps returned from war with PTSD?
-- And this, with the Christmas wreath?
My respects paid, I got back in my car and drove past the adjacent landfill – it towers over the potter’s field, another indignity – and past a couple of red-brick buildings that remain from the Institute of Mental Health. Then, onto Route 37, toward home.
Hundreds of others lie buried under that road. Another potter’s field lay there when Route 37 was built, but the crews building the road simply buried it with foundational fill, then paved over it. Not even numbered tombstones can be seen today.