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Artifacts of the Heart
 

After a spate of floral photography, I found myself scrounging for something more architectural to display in my LiveJournal's daily picture feature and came across this photograph in one of my folders of pictures of the old Camarillo State mental hospital. I hadn't given this particular image more than a passing (albeit a positive) nod when I first downloaded this batch, but now that I consider it more carefully, there's something that definitely draws me to this image. It suggests the echoing emotional vacancy of an institution now gone, its sepia-like tones accurately portraying the dimensions, though not plumbing the depth, of the life that went on here for so many decades.

I have received quite a number of e-mails in response to my online pictures of the old hospital campus: many from former employees who remember the place with fondness; some from people whose parents were confined here. One of those recalled visiting as a child, waiting under a courtyard window for a glimpse of her mother through a barred opening. The other woman's mother had committed suicide here; she now harbors a wish to visit and lay flowers somewhere--on a lawn--anywhere--in memory of the mother she never really knew.

Last week for the first time I received a note from a former patient. "I'm sure that my recollections of those places are quite different than yours," he said jauntily, though his darker meaning was obvious enough, and I feel deep in my bones how true that statement must be. Just catching glimpses of the pain of the women whose mothers were confined here tells me that. As a society (or perhaps as a species) we tend to like our vistas clean and pleasant. Certainly the current keepers of the campus have no desire to have anyone reminded of the pain or the outbursts or the dull but constant yearnings that went on here. And yet in a way we cheapen the experience of those who were confined here by sweeping their memory under a rug of neatly-trimmed lawns and normalcy. They deserve, at the very least, a moment of silent reflection--a paying of our respects for the lives they lived and for experiences that would, no doubt, drive many of us to madness.


 

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