The Crazy Husband and the Yellow Wallpaper

by Silvo Montealegre and artist/illustrator Nathazha Tassa

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EDITOR’S NOTE: We at Other/Wise are pleased to introduce the work of two young and gifted contributors, the author Silvio Javier Montelegre, and artist/illustrator Nathazha Tassa. Mr. Montelegre is a student at Broward College, and Ms. Tassa is a student at McFatter Technical College. Mr. Silvio has written a short story response to the well-known short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper”, a short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, first published in1892 in The New England Magazine. the original late 19th century story is in the form of journal entries by a woman who has received a diagnosis of depression and hysteria, and the “treatment” is a “rest cure.” She is locked up in a room and forbidden to work. I first came across the story when it was assigned in a course I was taking at a psychoanalytic institute, and has remained in my memory as both a profound depiction of depression and despair, and as a warning against cruel and meaningless “treatment” responses. It was a delight to discover Mr. Montlegre’s creative vision, in which he tells the same story, also in journal form, from the husband’s perspective, the “crazy husband” of his title. And the delight was further enhanced by the imaginative illustrations provided by Ms. Tassa, who captures visually the “crazy” state of both husband and wife, the sufferings of depression and despair. The art work evokes what art therapy encourages – emotion in imagery. It is a delight to come across the work of these two students, work that is rich with psychoanalytic resonance.

THE CRAZY HUSBAND AND THE YELLOW WALLPAPER

June 14, 1890

I have been searching for seven months for the ideal home in a rural and inexpensive house. Weir Mitchell has shown me some of the potential candidates for the perfect house in order to perform my studies as a physician and be a further assistance to my lovely wife Charlotte.

The trip took five days by carriage before we finally arrived, but it was all worth it. The house, a colonial mansion, was located in Hartford, Connecticut, about three miles away from the village, and it composed of a low population. The breeze was always chilly and your view could expand to vast horizons. The entrance of our new house was surrounded by an immense amount of trees, on the biggest hill of Hartford. The house consisted of old, red bricks, with white trim, and with an intriguing garden, surrounded by little houses for the servants and gardeners to finally relax and complain about their daily misfortunes.

The entrance hall is big and welcoming surrounded by framed pictures of the old owners of the house. The house consisted of five bedrooms, a large scullery, five water closets, a library, a dining room, a parlor, a piazza in the back yard, and a study. Out of all the rooms in the house, this study intrigued me the most. It has two large windows located at the west of the room like eyes viewing the sunrise. The temperature of the room was below 60oF and the entire wall consisted of large caddies used to organize files. At the right of the entrance stood a large black couch, probably moldy and rotten, and at the left stood an antique lamp with a bizarre ink spot which at moments looked like a butterfly resting its wings and at others a mask for a costume party.

June 16, 1890

We had finally moved all of our new furniture into the new house, unpacked all of our items, and put them accordingly throughout each room. The difficulty wasn’t to move everything from one house to the other, but to coordinate and to compromise our different styles. I always get worried about her when she dedicates a lot of time and energy performing any tasks. Especially those tasks that drain your energy and make you forget about your own problems. That is why I directed my sister, Jennie, to do all my wife’s most time consuming and enervating responsibilities.

After further evaluating each room, I finally have decided to confine her to a room upstairs to isolate her from company, big enough for her to roam about. The room is composed of three windows, so it doesn’t seem like a coop, blocked with bars but with enough room for an abundance of sunshine to come through. I think the yellow wallpaper will be good asset for her to keep her entertained and engaged in the different beginning and ends of the wallpaper’s design.

I often wonder if neglecting her for long amounts of time is the healthiest of decisions. I am not trying to avoid or elude her; however, I am trying to observe, and ultimately enhance, her aptitude to persevere and survive. I want her to depend on herself and to take charge, in order to make her feel she is worth something. I sometimes wonder if she is like a white vermin in an enclosed cage and I am a white coat with a pen and a memorandum of thought and ideas. I try to interact with my son as little as I can, so I can lead her to feel more at ease and more focused on her health. I would be delighted to see us as a blissful family, ordinary and whole.

June 19, 1890

It worries me to see her adhering to her irrational thoughts, as if she were unwilling to get better. Jennie has even informed me several times that she had discovered Charlotte writing her thoughts in a small journal. Apparently, what she thinks is good for her is really what is intoxicating her, even slowing her down from her process of rehabilitation. She is in a state of denial and confusion, stuck and unaware of her actions. Sometimes, I question if she is really sick or if she is playing a disturbing game of who is superior both intellectually and emotionally.

After hour of debating my next move, I finally decided to play an important role in her recovery. I will act as if her condition is irrelevant but at the same time I will be supportive and persuasive. I want her to believe she is not ill and what better way of showing that than treating her as if nothing has happened. I will try to calm her down by cajoling her and deceiving her to believe it is all in her mind, an illusion created to escape reality and her responsibilities as a wife and a mother.

What frightens me the most is her ability and tendency to invent elaborate stories. Especially when I know she loses track of reality almost instantaneously. Her imagination leads her to enter realms beyond reality, but what is truly dangerous is that her ability to remain in touch with reality is weak and unstable. I am afraid of losing what I have left in this world and struggle to keep her within my reach. I hope I am not too late!

June 20, 1890

As I slowly snapped into reality, I noticed Charlotte was facing towards me with one hand adhered to mine, while the other was holding her pillow against her face. A part of her face was covered with her beautiful smooth brunet hair and her eyes were peacefully closed with no expressions of anger, pain, or resentment. I slowly smiled and softly removed her hand away from mine. As I stood up, I looked out the window and felt a warm and welcoming feeling and knew today was going to be a productive day.

I approached the bathroom slowly and carefully in order not to disturb her, opened the door, took of my cloth, and got in the shower. As I was getting out, Jennie knocked and said, “John, I need to talk to you about Charlotte.” Suddenly, that warm and welcoming feeling became an agonizing and sharp ache like a blade slowly penetrating each layer of skin and tortuously cutting through my stomach. I quickly put on my cloth and ran out of the bathroom door towards the bed to see if she was well. Apparently, my sister didn’t mean to startle me but just wanted to talk to me about Charlotte’s condition.

Jennie and I quickly left the room, passed through the hallway, and into the library. I immediately could tell she was nervous, confused, and not herself. Her hands were trembling just like her voice, and her eyes were quickly moving from side to side at an alarming speed. Right when I was going to ask, “Are you well,” she covered my lips and said, “John, do you really think this is helping her? I know this is neither the time nor the place for me to say this but she is only getting worse. We are slowly closing her doors for hope and giving her very little to work with. Last night, I saw her staring at the yellow wallpaper and mumbling some words about a women crawling through the walls trying to escape. ”

Right when she was finished, I gently patted her shoulder and said, “You are right, this isn’t the time nor the place for you to tell me this. She is my burden and mine alone and this has nothing to do with you. You are only here to help, not to give your points of views or to tell your little fantasies. Have you forgotten your role in this matter? Have you forgotten what your place is in this house? You are only further delaying me and I have to get ready for my job.” As I finished my direct and sincere points regarding this subject, I could see her tears gathering in the corner of her eyes, shaking as if death had appeared in front of her and had said, “Your time is up.”

She gently moved two steps back and answered with a trembling voice, “You know, John, the more I speak to you, the more I realize how you are becoming like our father, and that can be terrifying.” She slowly turned around and left the library with her head high but her face covered with pain and remorse. What have I done, have I truly become what I have despised about our father, or she is just mad at the fact that I know what is best for her?

July 4, 1890

I can’t wait for my mother, my sister Nellie, and the children to arrive. I have been waiting for this moment for quite some time and I have made sure to tell Jennie to be in charge of the decorations and arrangements in the house and to let Charlotte either sleep in the room or to give some of the options for the decorations.

However, I can’t seem to get the contradictory thoughts out of my mind concerning Charlotte having company this soon. Is this the best thing to do? I wouldn’t even let Charlotte meet her family when she asked for permission to have them visit. And of course I have to consider the reaction Charlotte is going to have when she encounters my mother, and vice versa. Knowing my mother, she will overwhelm her with questions almost every second of the evening just like Jennie would when she meets someone new and I would have to intervene, just like my father did to my mother, in order to ease the situation.

At exactly 5:00 pm, my mother, with my sister Nellie and her children, arrived at our front door. As soon as Charlotte overheard some of our conversations, she ran through the upstairs door, down the stairs, and into the dining room in her white and distinctive dress, to mingle with the group. Apparently, Charlotte was more desperate than I previously recognized to join us, and didn’t care whether it was my mother or Jack the Ripper at the door.

At the beginning, I was really nervous to see both of them greet and converse so freely within minutes. However, Charlotte’s expressions of joy, hope, and enthusiasm made it seem all worth it. Yet I wondered, how much could she face before collapsing? I was worried she was going to overload herself by drawing on her reserves of energy. Energy she needs to maintain in order to survive through her tiresome process of rehabilitation. She was like an energy source in a state of depletion, soon to cease to exist. What I have I done? Was this worth it or did I put her at the frontier between life and death?

July 7, 1890

When I arrived home at 4:00pm and saw charlotte cuddled against her pillow, it reminded me of the night my father had brought me into a profound encounter with reality. I had fallen asleep with my pillow covering part of my face and he had just returned from work. I had cried myself to sleep thinking about the cruel ways people had treated me throughout my school year and was tired of moving forward in life. Within minutes, my mother had explained everything to my father in great detail and within seconds, he rushed through the hallway and into my room. The sudden bang of the door being slammed shocked me half to death. He slowly got close to my bed, stared at me with a glare of disappointment, sighed and said, “You are making this harder than what it is and at the same time you are giving them what they want.” That is all it took to awaken me from this slumber and from that point I became a new person.

As I grew up, my father would always have the final decision in regards to all of the dilemmas in our household. He was intellectually superior and believed there was no limit to what we could achieve. It was nearly impossible for him to show any weakness, and he certainly would never cry. He always spoke to our mother in a demeaning manner. He believed our emotions weren’t a fundamental part of our survival, but rather a huge obstacle in our daily life. He used to say, “Believe what you can see and prove, but never allow anything to have the power to control you.” He taught me that everything from opinions, belief, thoughts, ideas, concepts, fantasies, fears, and even personalities were constructed in our minds, and the only problem would be if we began to believe in the irrational and unexplainable. On the other hand, my mother was very emotional and understanding. She was easy to confide in, but would readily feel injured and disappointed. Interestingly enough both of my parents were completely different from one another, yet were able at times to show within themselves the best of each other. It was as if they had become one. I guess that is the reason I view our relationship the same way. Charlotte manifests emotion; she is the essence of pureness, love, belief, and forgiveness, while I in fact embody reason, knowledge, and perseverance. The older I got, the more I behaved like our father and the older Jennie got, the more she behaved like our mother. The further I analyze my habits and those of Charlotte, the more I realize that what Jennie had said might be relevant and crucial for her recovery and we had to act soon.

July 10, 1890

After dwelling for three days on the matter, I began to feel chills throughout my body and I found it more and more agonizing to concentrate, to think, to eat, and even to sleep. At the same time I had thought of a way to help her, and yet I would have developed an inner sense of contradiction, an opposing force that would bring me back to the beginning. I am slowly losing my grasp of what my objective is, and it is gradually devouring me. I can’t let this happen, not know, not when she needs me the most.

It doesn’t matter how much I try, she just keeps slipping away. Is she really happy? Does she really want to end it this way? Why isn’t she fighting to live, to smile, to cry, to love? One side of me is interested to see how far is she willing to go, but my other side slaps me, awakens me, and says, “This is not a game, she is your wife, she is a part of you, and you can’t let her die.” What is really happening? Am I two beings trapped within one body? Do I have two different views, two different beliefs, and two different ways of facing life? My old self is shouting and screaming; while, the side incorporated through my father just smiles and says, “Observe, analyze, detach, and develop a hypothesis. How far is she going and how much is she willing to give for her happiness? How much is she really worth?”

As I curled up against the wall and covered my ears, Charlotte entered the room, gasped; shook with fear, and tears ran down her cheeks. She just stared like a little girl would upon seeing her mother being beaten down to death by her father. She knelt, placed her hands under my chin, raised my head slowly and gently, gazed into my eyes, smiled and gracefully kissed me on the lips. My tears ran down my cheeks like a river flowing without any hesitation, and my crowded thoughts had fragmented into oblivion. I returned to myself and became what I had lost throughout the journey for her recovery.

That is when I was shocked into awareness, I finally envisioned the day I told her about the lease and how we had to stay until it expired. Jennie and I had come with this idea to use it as a motive to stay for a little bit longer. I was hoping she would forget about this as an option, to move on in her daily tasks, to finally learn how to adapt with what she has and apparently she did. Even though it wasn’t the way I wanted her to change, she did prove me wrong. She was able to work with what she had, and adapted to a whole new environment.

July 15, 1890

She has proved me wrong and, in a sense, she has been playing around with me. Maybe she is sick; she just wants everything to be like it was at the beginning. Physically she is recovering but emotionally she is losing it. She is gaining flesh; her natural skin color is getting better, and her usual appetite is coming back. However, she ceases to amaze me. I could tell she is beginning to develop a certain fear towards me and Jennie. Every day her behavior becomes more and more mysterious. Some days, I feel I am being watched and followed; when I turn around to see if someone is there, she simply vanishes.

July 19, 1890

I had just arrived home from the town’s market, when Jennie barged through the front door with a depressed and agitated look upon her face. I was petrified and even had thought not to ask, “What is the matter”, but my emotions simply overtook my rational side. As I yelled, “What is wrong? Is something wrong with Charlotte?,” She just stared at me, radiating stress and powerlessness, and I began to imagine the worst scenario. Had I finally lost her? Was this just a joke?

Within seconds, I simply shoved Jennie out of the way and rushed into the room to see my biggest fear become reality. The fears that I had been taught to handle throughout my childhood overtook what was left of my sanity. Just seeing her crawling along the floor like a beast without remorse, embarrassment, purpose, and soul made me realize the crime I had committed and the mistake I could not alter. A reality I don’t wish for any living soul. She was just an empty shell wondering around, while her mind had escaped into a better place. As I thought these last words, my sight began blur, my hand began to sweat, my voice had completely disappeared, and I finally succumbed into the darkest reaches of my mind.

August 13, 1890

Apparently, I had been in a coma for weeks and I could barely remember what I had gone through. A part of me just wanted to continue my life without ever wanting to know what had happened; yet, my intellectual side craved some answers. Had it all been merely a dream, a figment of my imagination? Was Charlotte real?

As I felt a headache approaching, the door suddenly slammed against the wall and an image of a woman walked through the door. It was Charlotte, carrying some white roses, dressed in her wedding gown, and smiling, as if her pain had faded away. What had happened? Is this a dream? Have I lost what was left of me or had I joined Charlotte into her little fantasy world? Had I left an empty shell behind just like Charlotte did, in order to be with her? Maybe the man I thought I should be was artificial and a hypocrite. Maybe this was the escape, an opportunity for happiness and joy, and a whole new world!

Dedicatory

To our dad, Silvio Jose Montealegre:

From: The family!

“You have been my greatest example and I always try to follow your step.” Gabriel Eduardo Montealegre.

“You are my hero; the best part of me.” Oscar Daniel Montealegre.

“You’re my role model. You are no longer bald, so you classify as my best friend as well.” Fernando Jose Montealegre.

“You are the love of my life; the one and only, forever.” Martha Eugenia Montealegre.

“You have been an inspiration to me and everyone around you. Your perseverance to live life at the fullest has taught me that anything in life is possible. Your dedication as a father, has contributed into the man I am today and I LOVE YOU.” Silvio Javier Montealegre.

You have become a representation, in our minds, which we are constantly trying to reach. You are our HERO!! La Familia

To our mom, Maria Lourdes Solorzano:

From: Silvio Javier Montealegre and Fernando Jose Montealegre!

“You have been next to me throughout every battle of my life and not once you have stepped down throughout my journey. You have helped me fight for who I am and what I am worth.” Silvio Javier Montealegre.

“Your better half loves you very much.” Fernando Jose Montealegre.

Biographies:

Silvio Javier Montealegre was born on February 26, 1988. He is the oldest of four brothers (Fernando Montealegre, Oscar Daniel Montealegre, and Gabriel Eduardo Montealegre) and son of Silvio Jose Montealegre and Maria Lourdes Solorzano Gil. His father and mother got divorced when he was 3. Later, his father married Martha Eugenia Meneses. From a young age, Silvio has developed a great passion for Psychology, Biology, and Math. During his first years at Vanguard School, he got selected as the President of The National Honors Society, submitted and published a short horror story in his high school news letter. Silvio graduated in 2008 and was awarded the Presidential Award, along with the English and Chemistry Medals of Achievement. Currently, he attends Broward College with the goal of pursuing a career in Business Management, and dreams of managing his own farm.

Nathazha Tassa was born on March 18, 1991; the oldest of three and daughter of Sandra and Guy Tassa. She is a self-taught artist; she has been expressing her artistic creativity since she was a child. Most of her inspiration comes from movies, video games, anime, books, music and landscapes. Nathazha has won awards in middle school for her drawings and in high school was awarded a scholarship for her artwork. Currently, she attends McFatter Technical College to pursue a career in Optometric Assisting as she continues to expand her artistic abilities. Nathazha’s contact is blueicefox54@yahoo.com and you can see more of her work at http://www.blueicefox54.deviantart.com.


4 Responses to The Crazy Husband and the Yellow Wallpaper

  1. Kelly Miller, M.S. says:

    Silvio, you are such an inspiration. This detailed and thought-provoking account is poignant and moving. And knowing you as a kind and giving young man makes your gift so much more incredible. I know you your future will be filled with success, and more importantly, love.

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