"1974 was a bad year to go crazy," Virginia Holman writes in this astonishing, beautiful, and painfully funny memoir of life with her schizophrenic mother in a disintegrating decade.
In May 1974, one year after Patty Hearst and her captors robbed Hibernia National Bank, a second kidnapping took place, far from the glare of the headlines. Virginia Holman's mother, in the thrall of her first psychotic episode, believed she'd been inducted into a secret army. On command of the voices in her head, she spirited her two daughters to the family cottage on the Virginia Peninsula, painted the windows black, and set up the house as a field hospital. They remained there for four years, waiting for a war that never came.
At first, it was easy to explain away her mother's symptoms in the context of the changing times -- her mother was viewed as "finding herself" in the spirit of the decade. When challenged about her delusion of the secret war, she invoked the name of Martha Mitchell. When she exhibited florid psychosis, her aunt, influenced by Hollywood's smash hit movie The Exorcist, seriously suggested that an exorcism might be in order. Even after she was hospitalized and diagnosed with schizophrenia in the early 1980s, Holman's mother retained just enough lucidity to appease caseworkers in a system seemingly more concerned with protecting a patient's rights than with halting the progress of a woman's desperately dangerous illness.
Rescuing Patty Hearst is an unflinching account of the dark days during which Holman's family was held hostage by her mother's delusions and the country was beset by the folly of the Watergate era. It is a startling memoir of a daughter's harrowing sojourn in the prison of her mother's mind. And, finally, it lingers as a moving portrait of a young woman defined by her mother's illness -- until at last she rekindles a family love that had lost its way.
Nineteen seventy-four was a bad time to go crazy. The talk in our townhouse complex in Virginia Beach was of the Stockholm Syndrome, the Hearst kidnapping,
Watergate, and what the government had done to Martha Mitchell. "I had Viet Cong hold guns to my head, but I never proposed," spat one Navy man whenever talk turned to the young women in the Stockholm bank robbery who married their captors.
The story I stuck on was Patty's. That spring the famous photo of Patty Hearst appeared. Citizen Tania's image was everywhere, her fine soft face turned tough. The beret; her warrior stance; the way she held the butt of the carbine against her pelvis -- everything about her thrilled me. I studied the photos of Patty and Tania like reverse before and after pictures from a Mary Kay makeover. Was there any princess left in Tania's eyes? I secretly hoped she hadn't been brainwashed and that the kidnapping had been a fortunate excuse to abandon her rich-girl life. I imagined Tania ...
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