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  • Carlotta Lively


© Rock Creek Aviation

I am driving down the mountain now, and as the road winds down to the left the city below, the river valley, and the farther mountains- dark lovely green- are all laid out before me. My heart beats faster. I am closer… I swing right and now the highway runs above and through the heart of the city, soaring modern plate-glass and antebellum refined. I love Southern cities. I especially love this city, because he is here. I finally exit, turning left, passing beneath the underpass, left again into an industrial area, incongruously peppered with joggers and cyclists. So close… I turn left again, and catch my daughter’s gaze…calm deep-set eyes in her lovely face benevolently acknowledge my emotions, then return to the view, wisps of her long reddish-brown curls blowing in the breeze from the open window.

We slow down now – the deer might be out feeding – their quiet families belong in this place. We are so close now…The trees are huge - a Southern pine forest - my favorite kind. We pass through the gates and pull up next to the guard house, sign in and receive our visitor’s badges. Ahead is the building itself - a benign, nondescript brick structure, built in the early 60s, like me. The mountain that rises massively behind it is magnificent though, defining, almost holding it, adding majesty to this such a place. We park and gather up our little gifts...books and clothes, and a meatball sub. We enter with a subdued whoosh through the double sliding doors, and enter the large cool quiet foyer. I nod at the switchboard lady. Does she know I am the woman who calls every evening at 7 pm, asking for Unit 5? Maybe she does. We turn right, pass the small chapel, and then left, exiting into a small courtyard. I am back in the Deep South...holly, crepe myrtle, and magnolia. We reenter the building across the courtyard, and there it hits me - the heat and smell of bug spray.... he is close! I smile at my daughter and quicken my step. We ring the bell and are buzzed in to the waiting room. The furniture greets me, anticipating a joyous reunion. It is both modern and retro at the same time. It could possibly be from the early 60s as well, like the building and myself. I am getting jingly with anticipation and finally I see shapes moving behind the mirrored window, toward the locked door at the far end of the waiting room. The door is buzzed open... there he is.

If you have ever seen your child after a long, long absence, or after a short gut-wrenching absence, you know that feeling... The world contracts to one point and your child is the only real thing in it.

He moves toward us, his grin lighting up the room, handsome face melting with relief. We are here. I hug him, and kiss his hair. My son. I found him. At the foot of this mountain, at the end of a long hot bug-sprayed corridor, in the depths of the South, behind two locked doors, in a state mental hospital. I found him. My first- born child. 23 years old. We are here, together, for three hours.

We sit, smiling at each other, and he peruses his new clothes and books. He gobbles his meatball sub. He has been doing well and has free access to the beautiful grounds, deer and wild turkeys keeping him company on solitary walks. He just has to check in with his unit every 20 minutes. How far he could run in 20 minutes. But he doesn't run.

We are buzzed out of the waiting room and reenter the hot corridor, joyfully glancing at each other, my quiet girl keeping unobtrusive company with us.

For 3 hours, Joshua has a family, a home - with us. He is himself. He is found.

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