SUMMARY: The story is set after Hoss’ death when Adam is reunited with his family, and Adam and Joe have to reconnect which uncovers what could have been a second tragedy for the family. There is some description of the barbaric practices used in insane asylums in the 1800s in some states.
Word Count: 3705
Sitting at his desk, Ben tried to work but was distracted by two things that wouldn’t let him concentrate. One had been an issue for weeks as accepting that he would never see his middle son again was almost impossible to believe. After telling himself over and over that a father should never bury a son, he realized that was what had happened and it wasn’t a nightmare that would release him with the sun’s rise. Jamie and Joe had done their best to help him with his grief but were carrying their own sorrow as a burden. Then Adam had come home and neither Joe nor Jamie seemed inclined to be welcoming although both were cordial. Jamie had been polite but greeted Adam as he would a businessman visiting the ranch which Ben could understand. Jamie’s reaction to the brother he had never met made sense, but Joe’s cool response had been a surprise. Now the two older brothers were outside talking as Jamie sat and read by the fireplace, and it was the second worry that kept him from his work. When the door opened, he expected to see both sons, but only Joe came inside.
“Adam decided he needed to take a walk around.”
“How did your talk go?”
“Spoke a lot of words, I don’t know if I spoke the truth.”
Seeing how carefully composed Joe still was, Ben suspected what had happened. “You told him it was all right that he wasn’t here. You probably said it didn’t bother you that he didn’t make it back for the funeral and that we didn’t even hear from him for two weeks after that. You said all the right words to make him feel fine.”
Shrugging, Joe looked off to the side unwilling to meet his father’s gaze. “Why not? No need to make him feel bad. There’s nothing he can do about anything anyway.”
“You’re making him pay though, aren’t you? You’re treating him like he isn’t part of this family. This isn’t how you and Adam were ever like together. You challenged him at every turn. Right or wrong, you made him explain himself. Now your message is that he doesn’t matter. He hasn’t lost one brother. He’s lost two, and by your example, he’ll never know the third.”
“He hasn’t got the right.” Without thinking, Joe had spoken from his heart. HIs anger at his older brother had come spewing out in those five words.
“Tell him, Joe. Talk with him.”
“All right, I’ll tell him, but there won’t be any talking. Don’t be surprised if he leaves when I’m done!”
The walls were down. Joe left the house intent on finding Adam, but when he found him, it wasn’t what he expected. His brother was seated on a bench in the garden. By the way he was bent over and moving, it almost looked like he could be crying. Anger was replaced first by confusion and then by some compassion.
Startled, Adam stood and moved away into the shadows. The last thing he wanted was for Joe to see his eyes. “I think you know. Hoss is gone, and you have let me know this isn’t my home any more. You want me gone. You made that clear, and you’ll get your wish. I’ll be gone as soon as I get a chance to visit with Pa and settle some things with him.”
“Why bother? You didn’t you come home for Hoss’ funeral. You didn’t care about him then so why act like you do now? Why don’t you do what you always do and take care of yourself first?” Any hint of compassion was gone as the anger resurfaced.
“Joseph, that’s enough. In fact, that’s more than enough. I asked you to talk with your brother not attack him.” Ben had come outside and heard the last exchange.
“I only told him the truth. If he can’t handle the truth, that’s his problem.”
“Are you so sure you know the truth? Are you sure you can handle the truth?” Turning to Adam, Ben could see the defensive posture of a man who had been hurt and was worried that he was going to be hurt more. “Why don’t you tell us why you didn’t come home when you found out what happened? I know how close you and Hoss were. There had to be a good reason.”
“Yeah, why didn’t you come home when I asked you to?”
“I did. I responded and booked the trip as soon as I got out of the hospital and got your wire.”
Both were open-mouthed with shock at that response. Ben had noted how Adam had moved rather stiffly on arrival and how he seemed thinner and paler than he had expected. He had put that off to working in an office, to the rigors of travel, and in general to being older. Now he worried about what had happened to him. Those months of not hearing from him especially when Joe sent telegrams after Hoss’ death had been painful to bear. To finally hear from him had been a relief but just as painful thinking about the delay in response. Now he knew there had been a terrible reason for it.
“Son, why were you in the hospital?”
How could he tell them? The thought of it made him shudder. The steel doors clanging shut that first night had made him angry. He had tried to fight them, but that had been a terrible mistake. It had led to the tranquilizing chair. For hours at a time, he was confined to it. His head was held in a box padded so much that no sound, light, or vibration got through. He could breathe but that was all. There were thick leather straps that held his arms, chest, and legs immobile. It was to calm him down, they said. When he was first removed from it, he was unable to use his arms and legs because they were numb from the straps cutting off blood flow and pressing down so tightly on muscles and nerves. He tried to resist but couldn’t effectively fight them so they laughed at him knocking him to the floor kicking him until he curled into a ball to protect himself. They plunged him into a cold bath and put a wooden cover over the tub that only allowed his head out of the ice-cold water. It numbed him even more thoroughly. He shivered for hours after one of those treatments. That was the first few weeks.
Because he continued to fight them, the methods became more basic. He was beaten. He spent his time in his cell behind steel doors often in a strait jacket. He wouldn’t eat like a dog so he was malnourished too. All the methods failed to subdue him, but the overall effect was to make him weaker. The rough handling especially by the guards who kneeled on him to put on the strait jacket and bruised and cracked his ribs doing so finally broke him physically. He could no longer fight back after that.
Ninety-seven days after being committed to an insane asylum, his friends got him released. They found him filthy and nearly unable to communicate. He had gone in a sane, healthy man, but he needed hospitalization when he was released. How could he tell his father and brother this story?
“You know that I was supposed to marry?”
“Yes, and then we heard nothing more. We didn’t know what happened.”
“I found out that she didn’t love me. It was all set up by her father, my boss and my partner. He owned the majority of the stock in our company. The plan was for me to marry his daughter and then be used by him as the front for his criminal enterprises. I worked long hours in the office and one night, he forgot to put the books away before he went home. I saw them and realized I had never seen that set of books. I looked inside and found entries that made it clear he was taking kickbacks from the political machine in Philadelphia. I had no idea. I confronted him and that’s when it all blew up.”
Joe was curious. “How could a marriage to his daughter help him with that?”
“He had created dummy companies in his daughter’s name. When I married her, they would all be legally mine. If anything blew up in his face, he could say it was all my idea, my plan. All the evidence would point to me.”
“Did he hurt you? Is that how you ended up in the hospital?” Joe’s anger had turned to concern.
“No, he did worse.” Neither Ben nor Joe had any idea how it could be worse. Both were frowning as Adam took a deep breath and decided to tell them the worst part of his story. “He and his allies had me committed to a mental asylum. They claimed I had gone insane.” Adam saw the shock and disbelief on their faces and waited for the look of shame he was afraid he would see. He didn’t. Ben moved to him and put a hand on his shoulder even as tears coursed down his cheeks. “Oh, Pa, I was so ashamed.”
“Son, you have nothing to be ashamed of. Something terrible was done to you.”
“How did you get out?”
“I was there ninety-seven days. It felt like years before my friends found out what happened to me and were able to get me released. By then, those secret books were gone of course, but I remembered enough to tell the authorities. They had to guard me in the hospital so nothing more would happen to me. But I was in such bad shape, I spent months there. When I got back to my house, there were stacks of mail and telegrams. It was then that I got the wires from you.”
“I almost lost both my brothers.”
“I almost lost another son, and I wouldn’t have even know what happened to you. I don’t understand how they could do that to you. What possible grounds could they use to have you committed?”
“I backed out of marrying one of the most beautiful women in the city who is from a wealthy family with great social connections and a powerful father. I guess their argument was what sane man would do that. Luckily I had confided to a few friends some of the reasons for why I had done it and what I had found out. They were able to use that and some money to the right people to get me out.”
“Are you all right now?”
Silence was the answer. Ben and Joe both knew then that there was some kind of serious problem. It had to be serious or Adam would have said he was fine. What was puzzling though was that he looked more embarrassed than worried or upset. It seemed clear that he didn’t want to tell them what the problem was and appeared to be in an agitated state and uncomfortable only because he was thinking about it. To reduce the tension, Ben thought it might be time to take a break from such serious conversation and get everyone back in the house. There they might have something to eat and perhaps a drink
“We should go in the house. We can talk more tomorrow.”
“I should go back to town.”
“Nonsense, you should stay here.”
Looking at Joe, Adam was hesitant to say anything more. It was Joe’s turn to look embarrassed.
“I was out of line. You stay here. It’s your home.”
With a slight nod, Adam turned and followed his father back toward the house. Joe took a good look at him then and realized as his father had noted earlier that he didn’t look well. He moved stiffly too.
It was that night that the rest of the problem became clear. Adam stayed awake in his room as long as he could hoping that complete and utter exhaustion might allow him sleep so deep that nothing would wake him. It almost worked except his nightmare and the screams woke everyone else in the house who came rushing to his room. They found him fully dressed except for his shoes. He was laying on top of the bed covers, rigid, and with his mouth open in a type of rictus. When his father touched him, he lashed out violently knocking Ben back against the wall. With arms flailing around, Adam obviously was going to stop anyone from coming near him. Jamie wanted to rush in to subdue him, but Joe grabbed his arm to pull him back.
“Help Pa and get him out of here. You can take care of Pa and keep him calm. Shut the door on the way out.”
“Joe, you’re strong and he’s not doing so good, but you can’t take him when he’s like this. No one can.”
“I’m not going to take him. I’m going to talk to him.”
“Are you crazy?”
“Nope. Now go on and do what I said.”
When the door closed, Joe stood silently for a time until Adam stopped thrashing about. He listened for his brother’s breathing to sound less labored and then he spoke.
“Adam, can you hear me now?”
“I can hear you.”
“You’re completely awake?”
A little petulant in his answer to that one, he made Joe smile with his affirmative answer.
“Did you get released from that hospital or just leave?”
“I got released. I don’t lie.” Joe waited. He guessed there was more to the story. “All right. I told them if they didn’t release me, I was going to keep trying to escape.”
“How many times?”
“Only a dozen or so.”
The brothers smiled at each other then. Neither liked being a patient and neither liked being confined. They understood each other on those issues.
“What were the terms of your release?”
“A full time nurse at my house and I wasn’t to leave my house unsupervised.”
“Yet, here you are.”
“I had to come.”
“I know, but what are we going to do now.”
“She was a very pretty nurse. I hated to leave her behind. You don’t suppose you could find one here like that, do you?”
“No, and I’m being serious here.”
“I know. I’m sorry, but I don’t have any answers.”
What did the nurse do for you?”
“The main thing was give me medication when it was time to sleep. They didn’t like me having these fits either.”
“So the plan is to drug you up at night for the rest of your life? That doesn’t sound like a good plan. No wonder you look sick. What did you do on the train, for sleep, I mean?”
“I didn’t sleep.”
“It must have taken you three days to get here. You didn’t sleep for three days?”
“I think it was because I didn’t have any drugs. I felt like I couldn’t sleep. Then tonight I tried not to sleep because I was afraid of what would happen, and I had to sleep. Then you saw what happened.”
Reaching a decision, Joe moved closer and sat on the edge of the bed. “Tomorrow, we talk to Hop Sing to see what he can do to help. Then we go to town and talk to Doctor Martin. We’re going to come up with a plan to beat this thing.” Then he frowned. “Is there a reason you wore all your clothes to bed?”
Although Adam didn’t want to answer that question, he did. “Yes, but can we wait until we talk to the doctor before I tell you why?”
“As long as you do.”
Almost as if cued, there was a knock on the door then and Hop Sing asked to enter. Joe opened the door and the cook entered with a tray. He had tea and a few other items.
“Should help sleep tonight. Not good to do every night, but for one night is safe.”
Adam didn’t question Hop Sing about what he was taking. He trusted the man. As it turned out, Hop Sing was correct too. Adam slept for the next five hours without a nightmare or a night terror.
Adam awoke feeling better although he was still sleep deprived. Joe had told Jamie and Ben what he and Adam had discussed so after breakfast, they all went into the kitchen for a short meeting with Hop Sing. Then Joe and Ben accompanied Adam for a trip to see Doctor Paul Martin.
After Doctor Martin got the basics of the story, he wanted to know the details of the treatment Adam had received. Adam began by telling him of the tranquilizer chair and how he spent hours in it every day for the first few weeks he had been in the asylum.
“That’s barbaric. If I wanted someone to be insane, that’s what I’d use on them. It should be outlawed and in some states it is, but sadly, it is taking longer to get other states to follow suit especially where it has been used the longest.”
However Ben and Joe didn’t know what it was so Doctor Martin had to explain. In an old text, he even found an illustration of one. Ben and Joe got very quiet when they saw it and realized what it must have been like to be confined in it.
“Now, I’ve heard you had injuries so I assume you were beaten. I would guess by the look of you that you weren’t fed decently. I would assume they used restraints. What else did they do?”
“Restraints sounds so civilized. Strait jackets and leather straps are much more brutal than that. They used ice cold baths.”
“You couldn’t resist them after one of those.”
“It wasn’t one time. I had one of those almost every day too for weeks. It was only when I was too weak to walk that they gave up on those.”
“Adam, last night you told me you would tell us here why you sleep in your clothing on top of the bed covers.”
Joe could see that Adam didn’t like being reminded of that. He looked exhausted too and Paul noted that as well.
“Perhaps Adam has been through enough for one day.”
“No, if you’re going to help me, I guess you should know it all. After the ice water bath, they would roll me up in a wet blanket and lay me on a bed. I was cold and numb and shivering. It would take hours to get warm again. Sometimes it was the next morning before I felt warm.”
“You were wrapped in that wet blanket until the next morning. How did you . . .oh.”
“Yes, Joe, that happened quite often. They didn’t care. The whole place smelled of piss and shit and vomit. After a while, you hardly noticed. It was hell on earth and I was in it for ninety-seven days.”
“No wonder you have trouble sleeping.”
“In the hospital, were they dosing you with laudanum at night?”
“Yes, usually with a high concentration of alcohol in the mix.”
“It wasn’t a way to cure you. It masked the symptoms but did nothing for the underlying causes.”
“What can we do about the causes, Doc. Adam needs to sleep, but you should have seen him last night. He knocked Pa clean across the room.”
“Joe, I think we’re already starting. Adam needs to face what happened and get it out. Hiding it only lets it fester in his mind.” Paul could see Adam looking skeptical. “Adam, you will never forget. What I’m saying is that right now, you’ve hidden these memories away and they come out at night. The more you can talk about them or write about them and get them out so you can face them in daylight, the less they will haunt your nights. It’s what a lot of soldiers I’ve worked with have had to do with their experiences in war.”
With Hop Sing’s soothing teas, Joe’s counsel, and Jamie’s help with writing and drawing, Adam faced down each of those horrible memories over the next month. The nightmares didn’t go away but as Paul had said, they diminished and the night terrors did stop. The more rested Adam was and the better nutrition he got, the stronger he felt so he began doing more physical labor as well which aided his sleep too. It was funny, but he observed to his family that the more sleep he got, the more sleep he got.
At the end of that first month, Adam wired instructions to lawyers in the east to sell his properties and deposit the money in banks for him to withdraw the funds and transfer the funds to banks closer to the Ponderosa. He planned to make his life there in Nevada. He wasn’t sure what he would be doing, but he knew he needed his family by his side.
Jamie wrote to his grandfather explaining the whole situation. On his next visit, there was a job offer for Adam who could do some work on the Ponderosa and ship it to the offices in San Francisco. The railroad spur line connecting Virginia City to the railroad system made turnaround time fast enough that it was not a problem. As part of the deal, Adam began teaching Jamie the things he knew about business preparing him to inherit from his grandfather someday.
At breakfast one morning, when Ben began grousing that he wondered when his sons were going to give him some grandchildren, his sons broke out in hearty laughter. Life had finally returned to normal.