The Black Box…
Shotgun weddings continue in the lives of many southerners, arranged marriages among the wealthy in the Deep South are still tradition; such a marriage would be the beginning; and end of one innocent life in the summer of 1950. Rebecca Darwin returned home after living in an all girl boarding school in western Georgia for twelve years; within weeks she was married to Carter Clayborne one of Tennessee’s’ most eligible bachelors; a union arranged by her mother.
Rebecca was forced into a loveless union arranged by her mother that quickly turned into a never-ending nightmare, one far worse than she could have imagined. Her days filled with constant commands from her mother and mother-in-law, and long nights surrendering to the cruelness of her husband. She would never have believe that being the daughter of Randall Darwin and Katherine Gilhanna-Darwin of Gilhanna Stables in Shelby County Tennessee.
She had seen her parents only once a year for a few days during the past twelve years. In her mind, Rebecca had created a loving father who gave in to the cruel ways of her mother. It was her father that drove her home from graduation; the agonizing silence was overwhelming as she stared out the window at the rolling hills. Her father dropped her off at the front door of the main house; she let the tears spill over her pale cheeks when he drove down the driveway toward the stables and the carriage house where she knew he lived. During the past few visits, Randall Darwin had, for some reason decided to tell Rebecca of his meeting her mother, their marriage and the circumstances surrounding her unwanted birth. Had the father she created been real after all, no!
Now, she was married to a monster with no one to help her. She had given up hope of her father, or that anyone would question the bruised cheeks and swollen lips that appeared the day after her wedding; she knew that everyone, including her father looked the other way; never questioned the heavy make-up or sunglasses. Time moved slowly, it took one year for her to get pregnant; and after losing a baby due to the inhumanities forced to endure from Carter; Rebecca knew that she was doomed. The day she decided to leave Carter; she drove quickly to Gilhanna, her father had to understand, as he had to tolerate the wrath of her mother himself; if she stayed in this marriage one more day, she would die.
Rebecca drove the winding back roads through the hills of eastern Tennessee with lighting speed; as her eyes focused on the rising line from the blacktop road her mind traveled back to her childhood; even her birth and before into the stories she had heard from her father, and Gilhanna staff…
It was at the Gantry County Bar-B-Q and Harness Race that her father Randall Darwin a young Irish horse trainer came into her mothers’ life. Her father came to the United States from England to train racing horses. He knew of the stone-faced Miss Katherine Gilman, and thought she might be of use to him. Yet, his plans did not turn out as he had imagined; Katherine Gilman possess him as if he were one of her horses, he was a unique breed.
“I don’t think we’ve met, do you plan to make Tennessee your home Mr. Darwin”, the inquiry came from a youthful but plain looking Katherine Gilhanna and rolled like honey from her lips.
Katherine was twenty-years older than Randall she instantly offered him a contract to train her horses and the carriage house to live in while he worked for her. It was her late night visits to the carriage house that resulted in her getting pregnant, a pregnancy she did not want; southern tradition, you marry. They were married in a civil ceremony in the local judges’ chambers six weeks after they met; Randall would continue to live in the carriage house and Katherine’s visits to him ended. Katherine lived up to her reputation, as a “cocksure” southerner and she would not have her reputation smeared by an unwanted pregnancy; employees, if they expected to work at Gilhanna Stables signed confidentiality agreements. Her life as a prominent member of the community would not change; her fake performance, as a loving mother-to-be would be the talk of the county.
The only child Katherine would ever have was born on August 27, 1930. Now, Katherine Gillman had two people to hate, her husband and this red headed half-Irish child. She named her Rebecca, a name she did not particularly like and placed her in the care of a small staff of housekeepers, and a nanny. Katherine had no intentions of dealing with a screaming baby. She would instill a fear like no human would ever know in this child.
On her daughter’s sixth birthday Katherine placed her in a Georgia boarding school, she was not to return to Gilhanna until she was eighteen years old. Katherine only allowed her to come home during the Christmas holidays.
In June of 1948, Rebecca graduated from Highland, the Georgia boarding school had become her home. The years of being away from her family had gone by quickly and her dreams lay in another place; the future, college, and then working in some big city or even going to Ireland to live. She could not have known as they drove toward Gilhanna that her endless threads of thoughts would turn an intangible existence created by her mother.
Katherine Gilman set out to buy her daughter a suitable husband, even before Rebecca graduated; arranged marriages… a commonplace solution to control and meet necessary southern social requirements. Randall left Rebecca at the front door and went to the stables he did not want to see what was going to take place in the main house.
Returning to reality, Rebecca pulled over to the side of the road; these memories frightened her and she was no longer able to hold back her tears. Where had those dreams gone? She could see Gilhanna from where she stopped the car; her first day there after eighteen years came flooding back, and the day she met Carter.
As Rebecca thought back, she remembered entering the foyer; seeing her mother doing what might resemble a peacock’s mating dance with her long time friend Ronnie Clayborne. Rebecca look back at the front door wishing her father had come in with her. Sitting on the sofa was Ronnie’s son Carter; she had remembered both Ronnie and Carter from her childhood; before she was sent away to school.
Instantly she had hated his nauseating southern drawl, he had some years ago graduated from college, and still lived with his mother. Rebecca greeted them both politely and excused herself, going to the stables where she knew her father would be…
“So, you’ve had enough of the grand dame of Gilhanna, her confederated friend and lazy son?”
Rebecca’s’ fathers’ rationalization of certain situations could sometime be very straightforward. Randall Darwin walked among the stalls with Rebecca beside him, both in silence; then he told her that he thought Katherine was arranging a marriage between her and Carter Clayborne. Rebecca remembered running to her room using the kitchen entrance to miss seeing her mother. She soon found that she could not hide for long, when her mother entered the room.
“I have arranged for you to go to the Country Club with Ronnie and Carter, you will be
ready by eight.” An unfeeling Katherine turned leaving the room.
“I will not go anywhere with those snobs.”
Rebecca was not surprised with the pain that the sting of her mother’s hand coming violently down across her face had caused. The tears of degradation and rage did not come until her mother slithered from the room, the venom from her hand leaving Rebecca numb.
During the weeks that followed, Katherine forced Rebecca to be with the Claiborne’s day and night. She could do nothing but keep silent, and conform to her mothers’ wishes. Then suddenly, her mother announced her impending marriage to Carter. Rebecca remembered running to the stables.
“Daddy,” it was all she could get out between breathless sobs.
Randall Darwin held his child close, he knew that he could not help her; he was incapable of helping himself. Rebecca had hoped that he would fight for her freedom until the end, but she lifted her from him and walked away. Three weeks later, Rebecca stood by Carter in the middle of the garden beneath an arbor of fresh cut flowers wearing a simple blue linen suit, everything arranged by her mother, her mind paralyzed by the pills she had been forced to take early that morning, and her gloved hands held no bouquet, only each other.
Rebecca woke that spring morning and decided that she would leave. She pulled back onto the road turning toward Gilhanna. Running from the car straight into her father’s arms, Rebecca cried…
“Daddy, I am going to divorce Carter.”
“Now Rebecca have you talked to your mother, and have you thought this out clearly, what you are about to do that is?”
Randall did the only thing he could do; he called Katherine from his office, waited for her return call and then drove Rebecca to the main house. He stared at the hardwood floor of the drawing room, unable to face his only child; he tried not to make eye contact with her. He stood silently pouring himself a drink as Katherine talk to the family doctor. He left when the doctor entered along with Carter, they were talking about how Rebecca had threatened to kill herself and she needed treatment for her own good.
Rebecca watched her father walked through the double door without looking back at her. Her mother and Carter seem to be making a big fuss over how she had been upset with the miscarriages and talking of killing herself. She looked at her arm, the rubber tubing, the syringe, and felt the numbness that caused her to feel heavy, yet weightless at the same time. Her vision blurring, the fleur-de-lis wallpaper became waves of beige and gold swaying in an invisible breeze. The reason she was there dissolved into an ocean of oblivion.
When Rebecca began to regain her senses, she was lying on an examining table in the Shelby Medical Clinic, she recognized doctor who had given her the shot. Standing in the corner of the room were her mother, husband and two sheriff deputies. This time Rebecca did not protest when the doctor gave her another shot of his magic that sent her to a place where she no longer cared. The wheelchair bumped over each crack in the sidewalk, each feeling as if she was falling into a crater. The doctor and nurse put her in the back of a squad car as her mother began to tell Carter that his wife would never leave him. She leans far into the back seat, and in her own heartless way said in a low evil voice…
“You see what happens when you try to disgrace me,” Katherine said cruelly, “putting you away for being insane will be more acceptable than have you leave your husband.”
Her body quivering beneath the threadbare blanket Rebecca fought violently against the straps confining her to the bed, her mind battled with drugged hallucinations; when she slept, they became chaotic dreams. In the end she always gave in, lie quietly watching the unwanted souls shuffle back and forth in the dimly lit hallway. Rebecca knew of Challis Manor, at the edge of the Appalachian foothills it provided medical treatments for the mentally ill, a place where wealthy Tennesseans paid to have members of their families placed to avoid embarrassment; Rebecca was not there because she had a mental or physical problem, she was there because she tried to leave her husband.
Rebecca struggled in the confusion, she had undergone several shock treatments, and it had not taken away her need to be free. She fought confinement, she fought treatments and she wanted her father to come and take her away.
A nurse brought Rebecca two small pills, it was extra medication and it could mean only one thing, it was time for another treatment. They put her on a gurney and placed her in the hallway outside her room. She could not stop her mind as it suspended itself between reality and the delusional. Should she doubt herself, she examined the redness of her wrist made by her constantly fighting the heavy leather straps causing deep cuts, after more medication, Rebecca’s involuntary thrashing turned into calmness.
Rebecca’s mind seemed frozen in time and her body was controlled, but they could not free her of the madness of her confused memories. She would drift for hours in hopelessness, her flesh burning, she wondered if she would ever escape her anguished nightmares of her childhood, her marriage, her life.
“Daddy, is that you?”
Rebecca’s visions clung to her like the sweat that gathered and rolled down her face in her fretful attempt to free. It is hot, no one cared, she turned over on her side a white clad figure took her hand, the gurney was moving, and then stopped. A glass vial of a syringe glittered in the semi-lit room; it was more medication to help them imprison her mind.
“Daddy I’m afraid.”
“Daddy, are you out there?”
Rebecca’s visions clung to her like the sweat that gathered and rolled down her face; she remembers a little girl riding with her daddy on the back of a fine Tennessee walking horse in an open field. She felt someone pick up her hand, turning it was a white clad figure, the gurney was moving, and then stopped. A glass syringe glittered in the semi-lit room; it was more medication to help them imprison her mind.
“Daddy, daddy are you out there, I’m afraid.”
Rebecca knew about the small room designed for suffering; the plastered walls had cracks that snaked toward the ceiling resembling leafless trees in winter. She tried to open her eyes but the glare from the lights blinded her. The room filled with people, nurses, doctors; one saying shock treatment again might be risky; somewhere in the distance, Rebecca could hear her mother’s voice fervently auguring with someone. She could picture her mother’s face contorted with anger; then remembered, her mother preferred a lunatic in the family instead of a divorced daughter.
“You see what happens when you try to disgrace me, putting you away for being insane will be more acceptable than have you leave your husband.”
White flecks began to explode behind the lids of Rebecca’s closed eyes. Her arms and legs strain against the leather straps as convulsions, a reaction from the drug raced through her body. She opened her eyes and watched as the blood coming from her bound wrist spread across her pale flesh leaving a crimson trail down to the sheet. She drifted among abysmal visions of pain and humiliation; traveling into a realm of kaleidoscopic dreams when she heard her mother say…
“I am paying you people enough to take such a risk, and I signed a waiver, what else do you want?”
Rebecca opened her eyes and looked at the mirrored window across from her; she knew behind it stood her mother, and Carter. The poignant smell of antiseptic became heavy in the air. Rebecca felt herself losing control of her thoughts; she could feel her eyes as if on a mission of their own dart back and forth taking in the limited boundaries of the small treatment room, a surge of electricity violated her body, her mind, and her senses. A nurse put a wooden paddle between her teeth; the electrical current coursed deeply into her brain. If she woke, she would try to remember once again who she was; how she got into the asylum and the Rebecca Darwin that she was before she married Carter Clayborne.
Rebecca’s eyes opened and were oblivious of the intense light invading her enlarged pupils; she tried to focus on a large mirror above her. In its reflection was that of a young girl lying on a small narrow bed, leather straps on her arms, legs and across her chest, her skin had a bluish tint of death; her body emancipated, her hollow raven eyes seem more animal than human. Then the lights became soft, a white garment of serenity blanketed the young girl. Rebecca closed her eyes then opened them for one last look looked; she knew that she and the young girl were the same and would soon be free; she smiled.
It was just a small black electrical box sitting on a chipped white enamel table; nineteen-year-old Rebecca Clayborne her eyes now like dark stagnant pools was unhooked from the box. Before they wheeled her from the room she closed her eyes for the last time, she had firsthand knowledge of the power of the little black box! It altered minds, made people submissive; Katherine Gilhanna-Darwin and Carter Clayborne would no longer have to worry about being embarrassed, there would be no a divorce in the family. Rebecca knew that her mother and the Gilhanna money controlled “the black box”!
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