The Victorian Asylum
August 20, 1887
They buried Elizabeth's ashes yesterday and only I was able to see it (because of my sneaking around the asylum)… Today was bathing day. The girls on the right side of the ward (in plain words, the “ugly girls”) were sent out to the backyard, stripped down to our under clothes (camisoles and bloomers) and sprayed with hoses. The water was ice-cold, as always (and worse in the wintertime). Whereas, the beautiful girls got better arrangements, they got to sit in bathing tubs with warm water and used soap to wash their skin and hair. We got nothing to clean our bodies with—just hosed down and rushed back into the asylum.
After our morning hose down, it was breakfast; and we all gathered in the dining room to wait for our “slop”. That’s what we called it, because it wasn’t real food, it was just scraps of food put together and made into a stew. The adults have a real dining room to eat in, but because we’re just teenage girls, we get the privilege of eating on the floor where we live.
Because I was the girls’ leader and because I was one of the first inmates admitted to the asylum, I got served first. We each got one spoon, one bowl, and a glass of water. I sat down in my usual seat next to the window and waited for my friends to join me. Alice was the first to sit next to me. She was my roommate.
“I hear we got a new girl coming later today,” I told Alice as she sat down beside me.
“How do you get this information, Heather? I mean, really, you’re always the first to hear everything,” Alice said dipping her spoon into her bowl of slop.
“I’ll never tell,” I said.
“Is she going to be another Ophelia?” Alice asked.
“That I don’t know.”
“What don’t you know, Heather?” Nicole asked as she sat down across from me.
“I don’t know if the new girl is going to be one of the Ophelias’.”
“We’re getting a new girl, so soon after Elizabeth’s suicide?” Nicole asked. Elizabeth had been her roommate. She didn’t find her body, but she did find her diary, which was now in my possession.
Violet Thompson sat down and Angel Willard joined her.
“Doesn’t surprise me.” Violet said, “With insanity on the rise, we should probably have a ton of girls brought in by the end of the month.”
“There’s always the women’s ward. They come and go there all the time,” Angel said, as she pushed her bowl of slop away from her. She usually never ate—which was one of the reasons why she was here (that and because her family sold her to the asylum).
“Angel, you should try and eat something. You’re as thin as a rail,” Violet said to her friend, with concern.
“I would rather die than to eat that slop. My family was very poor but, we never ate slop. When I become of age and leave, I’ll be able to fit a corset very nicely; and, by then, my hair will have grown back and I’ll be beautiful again.” Angel’s head had been shaved, so her family could sell her beautiful strawberry-blonde hair to a wig master.
All the girls were seated now—eating and talking about the different things that they always talked about; they didn’t care if the nurses and orderlies overheard them.
“So what do you know about the new girl?” Angel asked me.
“I know she comes from a rich family; and that she tried to commit suicide by drowning herself in the river near her home.”
“Oh dear, so she truly is insane,” Nicole said.
“Yes, but I bet she has a very good reason for doing it. All those rich girls usually have a horrible life. I guess we’ll find out soon enough. She’s supposed to be admitted here around lunchtime,” I answered.
“Do you know who her roommate is gonna be?” Alice asked.
“That all depends if she’s beautiful or not. She’ll either be Nicole’s new roommate on the left wing or Betsy Marion’s roommate on the right wing. Those are the only vacant beds available,” I answered.
Betsy Marion heard her name being mentioned and came over to our table. “What’s this about me?” She asked, as she sat next to Angel.
“Heather heard we’re getting a new girl, but she doesn’t know who she’ll room with. Do you have any idea?” Angel told her.
“No, I don’t. Sorry,” Betsy said.
“Like I said—we’ll find out soon enough,” I replied.
Breakfast was over and all of us girls gathered up our bowls, glasses and spoons and put them on the cart as we left the dining room. It was time for the good doctor to make his rounds and talk to us individually…
It was a couple of hours later, after lunch and I made my way back from the Doctor’s office to the girls’ ward. That’s when I saw her. I thought I’d died and gone to Heaven. She was the most beautiful girl I’d ever laid eyes on and she was being escorted towards Betsy’s room on the side of the ward where the “ugly girls” lived. I didn’t understand this. How could this beautiful creature be ugly? She had long, pin straight blackish-brown hair and the prettiest blue eyes that could melt a grown man away to nothing.
She saw me and smiled. I smiled back. My heart melted and I immediately felt butterflies in my stomach. The nurse, that was taking her to her room, told her my name, where my room was and that Alice, who was standing in the hallway down by the end of the hall, was my roommate.
They disappeared into Betsy’s room, where I’m sure she was given the rules and regulations of the girls’ ward. The nurse came out of the room several minutes later; and I waited. When it was a long enough time to approach her—I did.
I walked across the hall to her and Betsy’s room and knocked on the door.
“Come in,“ I heard Betsy say.
I opened the door and entered the room. Betsy was sitting on her mattress, on the floor with the new girl.
“Hi, Betsy!” I said; and then turned to the new girl. “Hi, I’m Heather McGregor. I’m pretty much the leader of the girls here. If you need anything, just ask. I’m sure I can get it for you.”
“I’m Eugenia Merryweather,” the new girl said. “And right now, all I need is a drink of water. I’m so thirsty.”
“I can get that for you. Be right back.”
I left the room and went to the nurses’ station to get a drink of water for Eugenia. They were rude to me as usual, but they gave me a glass of water. I went back down to their room and knocked on the door again. Eugenia answered the door this time—and I handed her the glass.
“Oh, thank you so much, Heather. I really appreciate it.” Her voice was soft and rang like a bell.
“I don’t mean to be so nosey but, why are you on this side of the ward and not the other side? I mean, you’re so beautiful—you should be one of the Doctor’s ‘Ophelias’,” I said.
“I didn’t know there was a difference. I think you’re beautiful too, Heather. Your red hair is truly divine. I’m extremely jealous of your hair.”
“Yes, I’m completely honest about that. And you can call me Gina.”
Betsy got up and left the room. We never heard her leave.
“Not much gets by me; so, I know you tried to commit suicide. Why did you try to drown yourself, if you don’t mind me asking?”
Gina sighed and then she sat on her mattress on the floor and patted it for me to sit beside her. “My father is a pig, Heather. For years he’s been having his way with me and I didn’t know how to get out of that house. So, I tried to drown myself. My mother didn’t believe me when I told her about him. She’s the one who admitted me here. She said, and I quote, ‘No daughter of mine is going to tell the world that her father has been touching her.’ The thing is, Heather, he wasn’t just touching me, he was putting his thing in me.”
“How awful! No wonder you tried to kill yourself,” I told her.
“Yes, it was truly awful,” Gina agreed. “I promise you, I will never let another man touch me again.”
I was afraid to tell her about our orderlies but, I did. “Gina, there’s something you should know. The orderlies around here like to make you suck them off. It’s a good thing you’re on this side of the ward. If you were on the other side, they would force themselves onto you and make you have sex with them.”
“Men are such pigs!” She said. “You don’t hear of women doing such things with women in charge.”
“That I don’t know. The nurses here don’t do anything to us girls, but I know they do something to the men on the men’s ward,” I said to her.
“Are you serious?” She asked, with sincerity.
“I'm as serious as a heart attack! But, they don’t get pleasure from it. It’s the men that do. Like the sick perverts like your father. They make the nurses rub them ‘til they squirt.” I told her.
“Oh! That’s so disgusting!” Gina said. “This place sounds horrible, Heather. I don’t want to be here.”
“Don’t worry, Gina. I’ve got your back. I keep a close eye on all the girls. We lost one just a few days ago, sadly. I had no idea that she was in the predicament she was in. She had serious secrets that no one knew about.”
I couldn’t help but stare at Gina. Her eyes had a way of giving me butterflies. I didn’t understand it. I wanted to ask her if she felt that way too. That’s when she suddenly reached out and moved a stray strand of hair away from my face. The butterflies fluttered more.
“Why are you here?” She asked me.
“I’ve been here since I was 12. I’m 17 now. My parents sold me to the asylum because they couldn’t afford to take care of me (which was a lie). They told the doctor that I had frequent displays of inappropriate anger. I’m Scottish and I’m a redhead. We’re known for our tempers. My father had a huge temper. My brother and I got beatings every night at one point or another. My brother would get them more than me. Then I would stick up for my brother. He’s younger than me and it bothered me that Father would beat him. I’d throw a huge temper tantrum and then, I’d get beaten. Finally, when they moved away, they brought me here and sold me. I am the asylum’s property. They can use me and keep me for as long as they see fit.”
“That’s terrible, Heather,” Gina said.
Then, after a long pause, she said, “So, what's on the schedule for the rest of the day?”
“Well, we had lunch already (the food here is appalling, trust me when I say that, especially since you’re used to having the best). In an hour—it’s group therapy with the doctor’s assistant, Dr. Fell. That’s always fun.” I laughed. “Then, it’s private time in our rooms. If you have a diary, that’s always the best time to write in it. That’s when Elizabeth wrote in hers mostly. She kept that thing with her always, though. I think she was so afraid of someone reading her secrets. It was those secrets that ended up in her committing suicide.”
“This isn’t her bed is it?”
“No. Her room was on the other wing. She shared her room with Nicole Edwards.”
“Thank Heavens! I would really be freaked out to be in that room.”
I smiled. She smiled back at me. Then we both laughed.
“I like you, Heather. You’re really nice,” Gina said.
“Awww…thanks, Gina. You’re really nice too. I promise to stay by your side as much as I can throughout your stay here.”
“Promise?” she asked and reached out and held my hand.
“I promise,” I promised her and took her hand and held it to my heart. I stared into her eyes as she did the same to me. My smile grew serious. The butterflies were fluttering all throughout my body. I had this sudden feeling that I had to kiss her. She beat me to it.
She kissed me on my lips and sat back and giggled. I couldn’t believe it! I couldn’t believe that she really kissed me. So, I kissed her back. She giggled even more and hugged me. I returned the hug.
“What just happened?” I asked her.
“I kissed and hugged you, “she said with more giggles. “I just had the sudden urge to do so. This has never happened to me. But I feel like I have to kiss you and…”
Just then, Betsy came in and saw the two of us wrapped in each other’s arms. She just shook her head and showed us a pack of cards she brought back with her. We giggled and sat up and straightened our tangled hair and clothes.
We three lovely ladies played a few hands of card games until it was time for group therapy with Dr. Fell.
Therapy started out with the usual. Dr. Jonathan Fell, a young chap of a fellow who truly loved his job, asked each of us how our day was, so far. Now, let me tell you, this is an asylum and there truly are insane girls here. One, I might mention, who thinks she’s a witch incarnate. She was rather “witchy” today and proved to be noisy and disruptive more than usual.
“Double, double toil and trouble. Fire burn, and cauldron bubble,” Victoria quoted. “Spider’s legs and wart from toad, this is my spell, so mote it be.”
“Victoria?” Dr. Fell called her.
“Yes, Medicine Man?” She answered.
“I know it’s important for you to cast your spells but, you must let the other girls tell us how their day is so far.”
“Oh, okay. If you say so,” Victoria said and sat back down in the circle of chairs and tried to be quiet. Every once in a while, she would mutter under her breath some kind of spell ingredient or spell itself.
“We have a new addition to our family,” Dr. Fell announced. “Girls, this is Eugenia Merryweather,” he introduced.
Gina said ‘hello’ to everyone.
“So, tell us, Eugenia, how has your day been so far?” Dr. Fell asked her.
“Well,” she started. “I met my roommate, Betsy, and made a new close friend named Heather, so far.”
“Ah, yes, Heather—our star patient. If you ever need anything, she’s the one to seek out,” he said.
“So I’ve been told. She’s a wonderful gal, too; and she’s also a great card player,” she said and laughed. I laughed with her. I had won all three hands of cards that we played.
Soon, group therapy was over and it was private time in our rooms. I walked Gina back to her room while holding her hand and lingered there as long as I could. That’s when Charles the orderly caught me and sent me on my way. He was one of the decent orderlies.
I laid on my bed and thought of Gina and how I felt when I was around her. Just thinking about those feelings made me feel them all over again. I didn’t understand them. I got the intense sensation of butterflies flying around my stomach and a tingling sensation when she touched me. Like when she holds my hand. And even though they’re quick kisses, her kisses made me feel exhilarated. And her laughing and giggling made me smile more too. Is this what Elizabeth was talking about in her diary about falling in love? Could I be falling in love? And if I am, is she falling in love with me?
I was baffled, confused and pretty sure I was falling in love with Gina. I never thought I would fall in love, especially in a place like this.
I took Elizabeth’s diary out of its hiding spot and flipped through the pages, to see if she wrote about falling in love and how it felt. She wrote a passage or two about it in the beginning and basically described the same feelings that I was experiencing.
I couldn’t wait ‘til after private time was over.
“Alice,” I called out to her.
“Yes, Heather,” she answered me.
“Do you know what it’s like to fall in love?”
I didn’t know Alice’s life before she came here and she was relatively new here at the asylum (meaning she’s only been here a year or so). So, I decided to ask her a question about her outside life—before the asylum.
“I don’t know, Heather. I liked this one boy that came to my house to work now and then. He always gave me chills and butterflies when I’d see him.”
“Did he ever kiss you or hold your hand?”
“He kissed me once. I was so scared of kissing him wrong too. But he didn’t laugh at me. He told me that my lips tasted sweet. That was because I was eating strawberries before he kissed me.”
“Alice!” I said, chastising her for eating before kissing.
“What? So I had sweet kisses for him.”
“What else happened or what else did you feel?” I asked her.
We never cared about talking about these things before because, we’re all girls. This was such a different case, though. This was about two girls—in potential love.
“Why don’t you ask Eugenia if she’s in love with you, Heather, instead of asking me about what I felt when I kissed for the first time.”
“OH! I’m gonna get you, Alice,” I said to her as I turned over and faced my barred window, away from her. I was feeling all confused and I didn’t need Alice to talk to me with smart comments
“Heather, if she’s the one who kissed you first and then you kissed her afterwards, I would pretty much guarantee that she’s feeling something for you and that could possibly be love.”
I smiled, but Alice didn’t see it. I was glad because, I wanted whatever feelings I had to be mine and no one else’s.
As soon as private time was over, I was out of my room and running down the hall to Gina’s room. She was waiting for me at the door. The first thing I did when I reached her was give her a huge hug. She laughed and hugged me back. I wanted to kiss her, but I waited.
She grabbed my hand and we walked up toward the hallway towards the dining room and waited for the nurses to let us in so we could eat. Dinner was just as gross as breakfast and lunch and Gina was totally grossed out by our slop.
“This is our food?” She asked.
“I warned you earlier,” I told her.
We grabbed our bowls and I showed her to my favorite table. To my surprise, none of my friends joined us. I was shocked but not shocked because Alice knew I wanted to talk to Gina privately.
Dinner went by so fast, and I was so disappointed because now it was time for more group therapy. I wanted to talk to all the girls and the doctor about Gina but, I knew better not to. This was all new to me. Now, I was the one keeping secrets.
When group therapy was done for a second time, Gina and I decided to go to the dining room and sit and talk. We talked about everything, including us and how people, mainly the nurses and some of the girls, looked at us. We were definitely in love.
We sat facing each other and held hands.
“Yes, Heather,” she replied.
“Have you ever been in love before?”
“No, this is all new to me.”
“Me too,” I told her.
I couldn’t believe I was in love with such a beautiful girl and that she was in love with me. It was the most beautiful feeling in the world. I leaned forward to kiss, Gina. She accepted my kiss and kissed me back. I felt her love for me in the way she held my hands and the way she kissed me. Even though this was something new to us, we reveled in it. I didn’t want these feelings to go away, ever! I wondered to myself if all couples thought like this.
No one bothered us for the evening until it was time for evening medicine checks. Gina got her medicine and I got mine and we walked up the hallway, hand in hand. Her room was further down than mine, so we skipped mine and walked to hers.
“I wish we were roommates,” Gina commented. “Then we wouldn’t have to leave one another right now.”
“I know. This has been the best day of my entire life; and it’s all because of you, Gina,” I told her.
We reached her doorway and said our goodbyes. I saw a tear fall down her cheek. She really didn’t want Betsy to be with her, but rules were rules and we had to go to our assigned rooms. I wiped the tear from her face and hugged her.
“Good night, sweet, Gina,” I said and gave her a small kiss on the lips.
“And a good night to you too, sweet, Heather,” she said to me and kissed me on my lips. I put my hand up to my lips and held it there as if holding her kiss there permanently. I was sad that I had to leave her on her first night here in the asylum. I was thankful that the insane girls were pretty quiet at night and were mostly disrupted during the day. I didn’t want Gina to get scared by all the noises they would make. Hopefully, she would fall asleep fast. I hoped for the same, for myself.
I lay in bed for what seemed like hours (though, I’m pretty sure it was just minutes). I heard the nurses going into each room and doing bed checks. That meant it was close to midnight. I could hear footsteps approach and I pretended to be sound asleep. The door opened just enough to let the light from the hallway light the room and show that both Alice and I were in our beds sleeping. Without a word, the door went shut again and the footsteps went further down the hall to the next room.
My eyes shot open. I was never going to get any sleep. I was too hyper and happy. I really wanted to sneak down to Gina’s room and sleep with her until morning bed checks. This was my plan and I was definitely going to go through with it. I just hoped that Gina would be awake too.
I told Gina that I liked to sneak around the asylum at night when the nurses take their little snoozes around 3:00 a.m. It’s like clockwork for them. There’s nothing for them to do so, they take a nap. We girls sometimes have secret meetings in the dining room during this time. We had one several nights ago when Elizabeth committed suicide and her roommate; Nicole gave me her diary to read to everyone. That’s how we found out about Elizabeth’s biggest secret. She was in love with an orderly here at the asylum. But he was married and she couldn’t handle the truth; so, she committed suicide by hanging herself in her room with a bed sheet tied to a pipe directly above her bed. Robert, the orderly she was in love with, had to cut her down and clean her the next morning when he found her. Talk about punishment.
I listened for footsteps and didn’t hear any, so I got out of bed and went towards the door. Carefully, I opened it, just a bit, and peeked out into the hallway. Clear. Bed checks were over. I opened the door a little more and stuck my head out into the hallway and looked towards the nurses’ station. No one was standing on the opposite side of the desk so I was free to take my chance and go to Gina’s room.
Quickly and quietly I tip-toed down the hall to her room and opened the door and went in.
“Gina!” I whispered as I slightly shut the door behind me.
“Heather?” Gina asked and sat up in her bed.
I walked over to her mattress on the floor and sat down. Gina pulled the sheet down and patted for me to lie beside her—so, I did.
“What are you doing here? Aren’t you afraid you’ll get caught?” Gina asked quietly.
“Nah, I’ll be okay. No one is gonna know other than Alice and Betsy. And they know better than to tell.”
Gina smiled but, I could barely see it. “I couldn’t stand the thought of you sleeping by yourself in this place. So, here I am!”
Gina gave me a huge hug, then pulled me down to her and kissed me. We got comfortable, given the conditions, and held each other and cuddled. She ran her fingers through my curly red hair. I twirled a large strand of her hair through my fingers making a little ringlet that stayed that way for only a few seconds. We were literally putting one another to sleep.
“I’m so glad you came here, Gina. I’ve never felt this before and I never want it to go away. I will do everything in my power to stay with you, forever!”
“I’m glad my mother admitted me here and I met you. These feelings I’m experiencing are unbelievably fantastic. I feel like I’ve loved you all my life!
“Me too! Isn’t that the strangest thing?” I asked.
“Yes, it is quite queer,” Gina replied. “But, I don’t want it to end! It’s you and me always, right?”
“Always and forever!” I leaned in and kissed her, but this time I did it slowly. I wanted to savor this moment. She obviously wanted to savor it too because she was kissing me slowly. A rich, young insane woman and a homeless, young insane woman—what a pair!
We stopped kissing and just held each other in silence.
“I’m tired, Heather. Don’t leave me until it’s time. Make sure you wake me and let me know you’re leaving.”
“I promise, love. Now let’s get some sleep. Tomorrow’s another day in this hell hole.”
“Good night, Heather. I love you!”
“Good night, Gina. I love you too!” I gave her a quick kiss on the lips and snuggled into her more. She smelled wonderful. Her expensive perfumes and oils wouldn’t have been packed with her things for this place and she would soon smell like a sterile institution.
I closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep. For once, my dreams were actually pleasant. Gina was in them and we were free of this place and out on our own and living a wonderful happy life. Finally the dreams ended and I just slept peacefully in the arms of my new found love.
Around 5:00 a.m., I woke and gently woke Gina. “Hey, sweetheart, I have to go back to my room. They’ll be doing bed checks in an hour.”
“Hmmm?” She moaned. “Oh, okay. I love you! See you when we wake and get ready for the day.”
I kissed her forehead and she grabbed my hand and brought it to her lips. “I love you too, Gina! Get some more rest.”
Gina let go of my hand and I quickly went to the door to see if the coast was clear. The hallway was quiet and empty. Thank goodness that Victoria or one of the other insane inmates didn’t wake up in the middle of the night. That would have ruined everything. I quickly went back to my room and plopped onto my mattress. It was so weird—but, I was already missing Gina. I hadn’t slept so well in so long and Gina had made that possible. Sleeping with her and cuddling with her had relaxed me so much that I slept the best night of sleep ever since being here at the asylum. I guess this was going to become a habit now—sleeping with Gina. I sighed. I was really falling hard for her.
I pulled my sheet up and curled up with it and wrapped it around my body. Thank goodness it was still summer. The sheet was plenty cover for now. I laid there and tried to fall back to sleep. Soon, the new day would begin. And I knew that because of our public display of affection for each other, the doctor will want to know about it and how deeply I’m in love. I’m here to tell you, if he touches her or moves her or touches me or moves me, there will be hell to pay! With this thought in my heart, I felt my eyelids start to flutter like the butterflies that Gina gave me when she kissed me.
I soon fell fast asleep and didn’t wake up again until it was time to get washed for breakfast.
Copyright © 2012 Karen Elizabeth Waters
Edited by ZyWa