A Good Place to Take Girls

From Karelia Stetz-Waters
Monday, July 29, 2013

One of the things I liked most about attending Smith College in the mid 90′s was the abandoned mental asylum located just beyond the athletic fields.

What English major and aspiring writer doesn’t want to go to school in the shadow of a Gothic castle in which people were once shocked, water-boarded, and sent into insulin coma? The Smith girls brave enough to enter the asylum said the walls were smeared in blood. Eighteen, Gen X, and goth, this impressed me immensely.

It was also a good place to take girls.

The asylum had been the site of one of my first dates with my wife. I was 22 and knew nothing about women. She was 32, classy, tough, and athletic–a perfect combination. Plus, she was incalculably rich–in my barely-post-college estimation–that is to say, she had a real job. She was a catch. I had to impress her so I bought a bottle of cognac and took her drinking in the woods behind the asylum.

My wife married me, so the asylum date must have worked.

This summer, I thought I’d go back to pay homage. After all, my wife married me, so the asylum date must have worked. Plus the asylum was the inspiration for my first novel, Dysphoria, and I was still basking in the glow of graduating from aspiring writer to published author.

“They tore it down,” my friend said.

I took the news like the news of a sudden death. I didn’t believe it. Leaving my friends in town, I trudged across the athletic fields, hoping reports of the asylum’s demolition had been overblown. It had to be there. It was so massive, so dark, so unspeakable. It couldn’t really be gone.

But it was. It was worse than gone. It was gone, and in its place, someone had built an idyllic suburb, with water-saving landscaping, communal bike sheds, and green space. There was bark dust and Japanese maples and little children running through sprinklers.

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