ward n. a division, floor, or room of a hospital for a particular class or group of patients.
The Great Depression was a grim time for countless people who lost so much. But perhaps none more-so than little Deirdre Willow.
Upon the untimely and suspicious death of both of her parents, Deirdre became a ward of the state. She was a bane on the under-staffed state-run orphanage and the frequent recipient of corporal punishment for biting, kicking and pinching not just the other children, but the staff as well. After two cherub faced little boys were found strangled amidst their own soiled sheets, Deirdre was committed to the Hellingly Mudgett Asylum for the Criminally Insane.
Deirdre was the youngest inmate in the female ward. But not shock treatments, excessive sessions of hydrotherapy or even sedatives curbed her violent tendencies.
Finally, for the protection of the nurses in the facility, the doctors had no choice but to prescribe the drastic new treatment of a prefrontal cortex lobotomy. By severing connections between the frontal lobes and the rest of the brain, psychosurgeons believed they could render otherwise incurably unstable patients calm.
ward n. a person or thing under guard, protection, or surveillance.
Since her lobotomy, Deirdre has shown remarkable improvement of character. She no longer bites, kicks or pinches. She is prone to extended periods of quiet contemplation and she seems to enjoy fresh air, sunshine and long walks.
I named Deirdre after the heartbreaking Irish legend of Deirdre Queen of Sorrows. Thought to be based on real events that occurred in Ireland around 1000 BC, the Deirdre of the story was an ill-fated ward herself. She was sent away from her home to be cared for by an elderly woman in the forest as a baby after an alarming druid prophecy was made that her beauty would surpass that of other women, but that she would bring death and grief to the men around her. The King knew of the prophecy, but still decreed that when she came of age she would be his lovely bride. Before she returned, however, she fell deeply in love with a knight. Deirdre and the knight eloped to Scotland, but were tricked into returning to Ireland by the King. The knight and his party were slain as traitors. And Deirdre was so grief-stricken that she collapsed dead upon his grave.
ward v. (used with object) to avert, repel or turn aside (danger, harm, an attack, an assailant, etc.) (usually followed by off).
Each summer I like to reflect over the last year by creating a ten most wanted list. I made the fourth such list this July and named one of Stefanie Vega’s art dolls as my most-coveted thing of the year because her dolls are magic. They are imbued with intention and history that gives them transformative powers.
I have also been blessed with Vega’s friendship over the last year. We have a similar outlook, but she has a unique way of asking questions and offering advice that helps me gain perspective.
But I never in a million years expected this gift she’s given me in The Ward. From her detailed lobotomy scar, her slightly bloody nose, her working straight jacket and her striped stockings, I can’t imagine anything more perfect. She’s my talisman, my darkest destiny and even therapy.
I myself am prone to extended periods of melancholy, violent urges and instability. But when I hold Deirdre close I feel profoundly calm. The space created by her lobotomy becomes a vessel for my own torment so that I no longer have to bear it. And if my traumas disturb her, she has a straight jacket to prevent her from harming herself or others. Sitting on the couch with Deirdre in my lap, her hair brushing my cheek, while I watch a gothic horror movie is my new heaven.
I haven’t come up with a proper thank you to Vega yet. Words seem so inadequate because her gift is more than a thing — it’s a relief from the pressures in my own crazy head and a symbol of hope. I love my little dolly and I’m sure she’ll be appearing in quite a few photos in the future.
Vega has a show, Hallowed Be Thy Game, opening on October 9 at Bash Contemporary Gallery in San Francisco. The reception is Saturday, October 11 at 6pm. She’ll be traveling north to attend and if you’re in the area you must treat yourself to the experience of seeing her art in person and talking to her.
To learn more about Vega’s work, visit her website.
What do you think of The Ward?