Rain pattered steadily against the roof of the carriage, while its wheels continued bumpily on down the muddy road, but Robert didn’t mind the uneven ride. He laughed his peculiar throaty chortle every instant he was bounced up from his seat, making his head brush the ceiling of the carriage. This warranted a severe “Hush now, child!” from his mother. At this, Robert lowered his blue eyes to his shoes and remain silent. That was until the next bump sent him upward once again.
The early morning shower had given the air a fresh clean scent, and despite the tenacious precipitation, the sun still shone through the clouds; creating a rainbow that spread above the trees, and in the trees themselves, droplets of water clung to every leaf sparkling like diamonds. Robert loved the rain. “Nothing but another inconvenience.” said his mother stiffly, “Robert John Chambers, come out to the carriage this instant. We’ve somewhere to go.” Mary Chambers - Robert’s mother - always called him that. Never had she once called out to him lovingly “son”, or “Robert dear”. In all of his eight years of life he had received nothing but cold indifference from his mother. Robert’s father - William Chambers - was different. William had always been the one to wake Robert in the morning, and kiss his forehead at night. Robert never questioned why the difference in behavior towards him was so drastic between his parents. However, this morning, it was his Mary that roused Robert from his dreams. William Chambers had left home earlier than usual.
“Mother, where are we going?” Robert inquired softly. Upsetting his mother, and causing her to become hysterical as she was so inclined to when he asked questions, in the close confines of the carriage was the last thing he wanted to do. “And why have we brought a suitcase?” he added. Mary Chambers fixed her pitiless gaze on her son. “The suitcase is yours. It contains all you will need; your clothes, your books, that ridiculous bear you still insist upon carrying around. Lord knows a boy your size shouldn’t need one.”
Any other child might have felt shame, or hurt at those venomous words. Sadly, however, Robert was familiar with this. As far back in his memory that he could recall, his mother had often chastised him about his size; remarking on it whenever he misbehaved, or simply whenever she felt that she ought to remind him of his abnormality.
Not taking the slightest notice of the rebuke, Robert asked in a slightly louder voice: “Why do I need the-” His mother cut him off sharply: “Enough of your questions, boy. We are nearly there, you will see soon enough.”
Within a few minutes of this exchange the carriage came to a rattled halt. Looking out of the window, Robert saw a tall, red-brick building, with a sign posted by the door that he didn’t yet know how to read - His parents had kept him closeted in their home his whole life, he had never gone to school. - : “Lancaster Mental Health Asylum, Established in 1783.” Mary Chambers explained when Robert gave her a questioning look; still afraid to directly ask her what was on his mind. “They will provide for you, take care of you...” Mary’s voice trailed off as she saw two women in clean, white skirts and aprons exiting the asylum doors, and making their way down its steps to approach the carriage.
Robert began to panic. “Mother...” A lump formed in his throat, and a knot burned in his stomach. “It’s for the best.” Mary murmured softly from her side of the carriage. This was the first time Robert had ever heard softness in her voice, and it was just before she was sending him away.
The carriage door opened, the two women in white stood on the last step, awaiting their new “patient”.
“Mother!” Robert exclaimed pleadingly, “Please! Don’t....leave me... here!” Tears cascaded in a mass tempest down his round cheeks. “I... want to... go... home!” He cried out around his sobs.
Sensing that now would be a prudent time to act, the two nurses each secured Robert by an arm and began hauling him, kicking and screaming for his mother’s help, out of the carriage. Three more people - a nurse and two doctors - came sprinting outside to help the two nurses with the struggling boy.
Robert had been carrying on so in the carriage that he never heard his mother have a sharp intake of breath, when she heard his desperate pleas. Overwhelmed, outside by all the people surrounding him, Robert could not look back to see that she had quickly shut the carriage door, and turned away to hide her own tears of anguish. All those years of his life; distancing herself from him, being openly cruel to him. Mary Chambers then realized that it was not enough to numb the pain of separation. No, not separation: utter abandonment, was what this was. “I abandoned my son... my child...” she sobbed into her hands, as the carriage drove farther away from the dramatic scene on the steps of the Lancaster Mental Health Asylum.
That had been fourteen years ago.
Looking out the window of his room, Robert Chambers saw the sky; the clouds had rolled in quickly, and rain already began to beat against the glass. Today was the anniversary of his incarceration. Mary Chambers had convinced her husband, William, that Robert would be better off in an asylum, that this would make him feel more accepted, to be around people with nonconformities such as his. At least this was what the staff had told him. His only crime in the world was being born with a disease that made him overly tall. At 22 years of age, he reached 7 feet 5 inches in height.
A fly buzzed around his head; he swatted at it, annoyed at being pulled out of his reverie.
Did he feel more accepted here? No. The doctors treated him as a specimen to be tested upon, rather than simply a taller than average person. The nurses were afraid of him, and often never spoke to him unless necessary. And the other patients of The Lancaster Mental Health Asylum? Most were too busy screaming in their beds because they were tied down after bloodletting therapy, or defecating on themselves to play chess. Needless to say, the asylum was a place for society to hide the less desirables, that was all. While they called it a hospital, no one ever went home cured. In fact, no one ever went home. The asylum was a prison. And it was where Robert knew he would spend the rest of his life. Putting his fingertips to the window, he murmured to himself,“Just another day in the land of the forsaken...”